Education Research

Pandemic Has Changed Main Challenges of School Counselors

For once, the number of students an individual school counselor is responsible for advising wasn't the overwhelming choice when they were asked to examine their day-to-day challenges. Many more school counselors responded that the big obstacles were getting access to students in a virtual environment (cited by 68 percent) and providing counseling and lessons to students in a virtual environment (mentioned by 62 percent). Just a little over half (53 percent) said managing a high caseload was either "challenging" or "extremely challenging." And 51 percent said it was a continual challenge to close "opportunity and achievement gaps."

Those results came out of a newly released study from the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), produced just in time for "National School Counseling Week," which takes place between Feb. 1 and Feb. 5, 2021. The survey was done in October 2020 and derived from a sampling of U.S. K-12 school counselors representing a population of 110,000.

Pandemic Has Changed Main Challenges of School Counselors

School counselor duties related to COVID-19. Source: "State of the Profession 2020" from the American School Counselor Association

The number of students being advised by each counselor continued to decline, from 455 students for every one counselor, reported in 2019 by the organization, to 430:1 in the latest survey. The optimal ratio recommended by the ASCA is 250:1. Just a quarter of counselors reported that they were responsible for 250 or fewer students.

The report noted that job responsibilities had changed for most respondents in response to the pandemic. Some 73 percent said they now followed up with students who weren't participating in virtual classes. That share was higher (80 percent) for counselors working in schools that are operating in an all-virtual mode and far lower (44 percent) for those in in-person schools. More than half (53 percent) said they now followed up with students who hadn't returned to school since the fall reopening. Forty-eight percent participated in attendance and check-ins. And 45 percent focused more on social-emotional learning "implementation"; in fact, six in 10 (63 percent) said they had spent more time on SEL in the past year than in previous years.

As part of addressing racism and bias in their school counseling programs, more than two in five (42 percent) spent time monitoring student behavior, both in person and in virtual chats, "to identify racist behavior or speech." Thirty-eight percent said they provided individual counseling; 35 percent offered classroom lessons; and 22 percent worked to identify and advocate for the revision or removal of policies that disproportionately affected students of color.

Interestingly, almost a quarter of respondents (23 percent) said they weren't part of crisis planning and response for their schools. That count was even higher--31 percent--for those working in high schools.

The full report is openly available on the ASCA website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.