Being a school counselor is difficult work. School counselors often have little time to tend to hundreds or thousands of students, but the impact that they can have makes the profession one of the most rewarding for those willing to pursue it. Here are 10 of the top traits every school counselor should have:
1. Be a good listener. The first thing that comes to mind is that school counselors must be able to listen. To their students, parents, other faculty…A large portion of a counselor’s time is spent listening and processing the information given to you by others. Remember to listen first and ask questions later. If you need clarification on something, always speak up but be sure to add details that let the person know you heard what they said in the first place. Listening is a crucial trait for any school counselor to possess.
2. Be able to assess. Part of a counselor’s job is to make accurate assessments of their students to prepare them for life beyond school. If you want to work in a high school setting, this includes being able to accurately assess a student’s successes and shortcomings when it comes to making college choices, where to apply, and helping them narrow down what can be a daunting list of choices. Making these assessments accurately – and being able to report your findings to parents, other faculty, or higher education institutions – is an important part of counseling.
3. Be an excellent communicator. Having excellent communication skills is one of the most important skills a school counselor can have. Being able to communicate ideas, thoughts, and feelings verbally is a trait that can never go unsung as a school counselor. Often, you will be bouncing ideas off a student to help them reach a crucial decision – or discussing a student with their parent or a team of faculty members. Making sure that you can convey your assessment of your student verbally is vital.
4. Appreciate diversity. Students come from a multitude of backgrounds, and being able to accept and embrace diversity is another trait that is crucial of a school counselor. Students come from all walks of life and all types of families, and helping students learn to accept and embrace their own diversity in a school setting is critical to a counselor’s success.
5. Be friendly. School counselors must be warm and approachable to their students, and also to parents and faculty members. Being open and gregarious will often mean that students will trust you more than they trust their parents, and getting students to open up and let go of their burdens is one of the most rewarding things a school counselor can accomplish. Often, students are overworked and set with heavy accomplishment lists, so having someone to listen to their troubles is a way to make students feel less stressed.
6. Be authoritative. When the situation calls for it, a guidance counselor must cross the boundary from friend to professional. If abuse or neglect is suspected or present, or if a student is engaging in risky or harmful behavior, a counselor must know when to show their authority and take the proper steps to ensure their student’s safety.
7. Be well-rounded. A school counselor will often have a wide range of interests outside of work, and you never know when one of these interests will resonate with a student and prompt a connection that gets your student to open up to you. Having a variety of hobbies and talents outside of the office makes for a happier, friendlier school counselor. Being able to speak about your experiences in life will allow you to bridge gaps with students and offer advice and share tips and building blocks for social development that you may not have otherwise had.
8. Be able to coordinate. Counselors serve as coordinators for many school programs and activities. From college visits, setting standardized test schedules, and even administrative tasks – the counselor must be able to coordinate a number of tasks at a time. Making sure these things dovetail and all run smoothly (even when they may look chaotic on the outside) is a vital part of what makes a successful school counselor.
9. Have good evaluation skills. Counselors spend a lot of their time evaluating test scores or administering tests to students. Being able to accurately evaluate and translate these results to discuss a student’s academic performance, or aid a professor in making an accurate assessment of a student’s skills is vital. Being able to evaluate the results of these exams as more than just numbers on paper, and seeing the meaning beyond the exam is a part of what makes an effective school counselor. Often, students will see their test scores as very black-and-white in regards to their future prospects. It is the job of their guidance counselor to offer the many shades of grey in between and explore all opportunities available to their students, regardless of test scores.
10. Have a sense of humor. Often, having a sense of humor will be a school counselor’s biggest asset in gaining a student’s trust. Being able to laugh at yourself, and offer amusing anecdotes for what you have experienced in life will show students that you’re surprisingly human, too! Being able to see things with a side of laughter is a crucial trait for any school counselor, and goes a long way toward making your days brighter.
It takes a lot of traits to make an effective counselor, but this list is only a handful of the traits that a school counselor should have. If you feel you’re lacking in a certain aspect, there are many organizations that help evaluators and counselors, such as the American Evaluation Association. They offer annual conferences to those in the evaluation field, and have many interest groups that allow counselors to meet others within the same field. There isn’t only one trait that makes a counselor rise or fall, and being able to offer a wide variety of skills to help your students succeed is the best gauge there is.