When the COVID-19 pandemic closed most U.S. schools for in-person learning, students needed their counselors more than ever. Yet at the same time, virtual or hybrid learning conditions created roadblocks to reaching those students.
An August 2020 report authored by researchers from Harvard Graduate School of Education and Boston College's Lynch School of Education and Human Development made clear the challenges school counselors face. A survey of nearly 1,000 school counselors found that during the pandemic, they had less time than usual to work directly with students on social-emotional issues, career counseling and other topics.
As the U.S. prepares for post-COVID education in virtual and in-person settings, counselors must navigate the fallout students are continuing to experience from drastic disruptions as of late. Just because students are back in school doesn't mean they're not still grappling with serious effects of the pandemic that impact their academic and emotional well-being.
Are Schools 'Post-COVID'?
Reopening guidance from the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) encourages schools to prioritize support for students and adults to address short- and long-term emotional, psychological and physical health needs. Education experts agree they will have to consider residual and ongoing trauma resulting from the pandemic.
As researchers wrote in the December 2020 issue of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NAASP) bulletin, COVID-related trauma can have potentially severe consequences for students' mental health: "Due to social isolation and adverse childhood experiences, there are concerns of suicidality, technology addiction, and school safety as schools attempt to transition to a state of normalcy in the months to come."
While the world may begin to use the term "post-COVID," the pandemic's effects are still very real for many students, especially the most vulnerable. As a result, counselors must be attune to their students' continuing needs and how the pandemic exacerbates their challenges.
Drawing on Resources
Resources are available to help school counselors adjust and respond to the unique challenges of this moment. For example, the American Counseling Association (ACA) has created a resource hub where counselors can find information about general pandemic-related topics — including telehealth tips, self-care practices for stressful times and career counseling considerations — as well as those specific to school counseling. The latter includes information about how to talk to students about coronavirus and how to provide school counseling remotely.
The Harvard Graduate School of Education's research study, "School Counselors and COVID-19," also contains general guidance for how schools should approach counseling in the wake of the pandemic. Guidelines from the AASA on reopening schools also contain action steps designed to target school communities' psychological, social and emotional needs.
Additionally, John J-Kim and Kathleen Choi of the Public Education Leadership Program at Harvard University developed an actionable framework for successfully reopening schools after COVID-19. Their framework includes four working groups, one of which is dedicated to "Instructional Core/Social-Emotional Learning," which a counselor's leadership would well serve.
Perhaps most germane for counselors' return to schools is the American School Counselor Association's document, "School Reentry: The School Counselor's Role." It contains tangible advice for both direct and indirect student services to help students "develop skills that will help them navigate changing expectations and environments."
Almost all these resources make a point of reminding school counselors that they must tend to their own health as well as that of their students. As the American Counseling Association puts it: "It's easy to say we know that we need to do self-care, but how often do we as counselors actually care for ourselves?"
The ACA's suggestions include establishing grounding practices, creating routines that fit new schedules, being realistic and flexible with self-expectations and seeking support from others.
American School Counselor Association:
School Counseling and School Reentry During COVID-19
School Reentry: The School Counselor's Role
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