Social Emotional Considerations at an Elementary Level
The school counselor is a vital staff member at all grade levels. The student needs differ in elementary, high school, and higher education settings. However, their impact on the social and emotional well-being of students is tremendous. This past year, in the state of Montana, the accreditation committee met to discuss the importance of a school counselor. There were lengthy discussions about what the ratio of school counselors per student should be. The need for more school counselors was a priority in their discussions. Montana has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. By late summer, the Board of Public Education approved ratios of one counselor per 500 students. As educational stakeholders, it is essential to understand the demands of a school counselor.
Role of a School Counselor
Discussing this topic with a school counselor offered an alternative perspective. Knowing that students are coming to school with less social and emotional preparedness due to many factors. With increased access to technology, cognitive and emotional development has been delayed in many students. More
intense behaviors are being displayed in young learners. They are dealing with violent outbursts in kindergarteners, self-harming third graders and physical threats in 5th graders, which are now common aspects of the job. As a teacher trained in school counseling, they are also required to teach guidance lessons that pertain to all students. With one counselor per 500 students, their time is very limited.
Why School Counselors are Needed at an Elementary Level
Some may say, students don’t need a counselor in their elementary years. Since students are highly emotional, they need access to a school counselor. Students are learning to be independent and may require more interventions, including working with their school counselor. Sometimes, the school counselor provides instruction to classes to meet the needs of all the students. Other duties may include promotions for “drug-free week” or suicide prevention programs like Hope Squad. Schools may even partner with outside counselors who work with insurance to get counseling sessions for students and parents, and the school counselor helps facilitate all of this.
Counselors and teachers must work together to help students achieve success in an elementary setting as a district or school building guidelines need to be established on when students may visit the school counselor, behavior, plans, rewards, and incentives schoolwide. When these are in place, it will provide structure, support, and resources to the entire student population. These situations require all educators to be mindful of these topics. Which 30 years ago would have never been on educators’ plates. Hence, the past professional development in our district focused on Dr. Ruby Payne’s work and her book entitled Emotional Poverty. This book provides practical ideas to use in the classroom to help motivate, engage, and even prevent emotional breakdowns with students. Emotional poverty is not a low-income school problem; emotional poverty occurs at all levels of socioeconomic status.
The school counselor plays a vital role by providing stability. Many districts utilize a check-in/checkout system to help students bond with one adult, allowing them to monitor behavior. This staff member receives training and is in contact with the classroom teacher and the counselor.
Monitoring Behaviors with Rewards and Incentives
Working as a building, behavior expectations are established. A systematic approach to rewards and incentives allows the counselor to see who needs more interventions to help them achieve success.
Many resources can help counselors; they may include:
Books and supplemental materials can help teach a difficult topic.
Flexible seating can help students with 504 accommodations.
Outside counseling and therapy dog services
Financial support to help with backpack meals or food pantries
At an elementary level, the school counselor is an essential staff member. Yet, they can’t do their job alone. All stakeholders need to work together to help elementary students. This adds an extra layer of support when working with students. Implementing a social-emotional school-wide plan that includes structure, support, and resources ensures everyone has a role. As a valued stakeholder, the help you provide is necessary to make an impact in the lives of elementary students.
Written by: Teresa Marchant
School Librarian at LOCKWOOD SCHOOL DISTRICT 26
Teresa has been an educator for over 25 years. She holds a Master’s in Educational Technology with an emphasis in Online Instruction from Montana State University as well as a certificate in School Library Media from the University of Washington. Over the years she has served in many capacities at the state and local level. Highlights include being the Vice Chair of the Certification Standards and Practices Advisory Council to the Montana Board of Public Education, a member of the School Leadership Team and Chair of the Professional Development Committee for her school district, and a member of the Montana Library Association board. She loves learning and enjoys helping others!
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