Can overworked school counsellors ethically meet student needs?
Dealing with constant crises leaves little time to help students with career development
Is it possible for today’s school counsellors to meet the career counselling needs of K-12 students in Canada, given the ever-increasing demands on our time? I believe all counsellors want to be proactive in their practice and address career development, but in the midst of ongoing student crises – panic attacks, debilitating depression, high levels of absenteeism, a child-welfare system in desperate need of an overhaul – working with students on their post-secondary planning is often the last thing we are able to address. But isn’t the development of the whole student – including how they plan to live as an independent, functioning member of society – the goal of education itself? I believe it is, but there are days when I have no idea how, as educators, we are meeting that goal and that’s when I struggle with ethics and professionalism.
A recent series of articles from Global News captured the changing role and challenges faced by school/guidance counsellors. Citing the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA), one article noted that school counsellors often “feel stretched and pulled in several directions, often away from career counselling. In the long run, this is hurting our students and their futures.”
The role of a school counsellor according to the CCPA is to support “the personal, social, academic, and career development of students in order to provide children and youth with the opportunity to achieve their true potential.” However, there are no national certification standards for counsellors across Canada; each province has different course requirements and regulations. This inconsistency contributes to a lack of support for school counsellors who are doing their best to tackle a growing laundry list of responsibilities while wondering when the shoe will drop. School counsellors need to consider, can we ethically fulfill our obligations to students in the current environment? I personally struggle with this question daily.
Why career development matters in school counselling
In a recent edition of Careering magazine, Ed Hidalgo, Chief Innovation and Engagement Officer for the Cajon Valley Union School District, wrote: “Providing career development in the early grades affords educators the opportunity to proactively moderate contextual barriers that can impede students’ success, such as gender, race, learning differences and socio-economic status. Integrating career development with classroom learning ensures access for all students, which in turn benefits the communities where they live by putting them on a path to gainful employment.”
“… school counsellors who are doing their best to tackle a growing laundry list of responsibilities while wondering when the shoe will drop.”
I couldn’t agree more. However, in my experience, career exposure is often relegated to annual events such as Take Your Kid to Work (TYKTW) Day rather than integrated into curriculum or ongoing support from school counsellors. While some students benefit from this event, it is not a comprehensive approach to career development. I have also found that students who are able to obtain useful TYKTW Day placements are often those who already have the privilege of being exposed to post-secondary education options and career-exploration discussions.
Tools for career development
So, how can school counsellors provide career development to students amid competing priorities and insufficient government support for education? There are useful tools and success stories school counsellors can draw on.
For instance, My Blueprint is a career development program that offers streams for K-6 (“All About Me”) and 7-12 (“Education Planner”). The All About Me stream allows children to explore their interests and develop online profiles, learn about hundreds of different career options in kid-friendly language and earn rewards. The Education Planner is one of the best tools I have ever used with students in terms of giving them real-time information about high school, post-secondary education and career options. They start the process by completing surveys designed to home in on their strengths, interests and what challenges they might face in achieving their “dream career.” These tools expose students to thousands of careers and help them map out how to achieve their goals. Given the limited time that many counsellors can devote to career development, a tool like “My Blueprint” can fill that gap quite nicely. It does an excellent job of providing specific details regarding any given career option such as educational requirements, job prospects, salary information, etc.
I am also inspired by school divisions that understand the importance of investing in career planning. For instance, Portage la Prairie, MB, recently established a mandatory Grade 9 career development course. It includes information on resume-building, interview preparation, safe work and more. This course is taught by a teacher but is still relevant to the practice of school counselling for two reasons: one, it demonstrates career development is a priority for the school district; and two, it frees up counsellors’ time to deal with student crises.
Helping unlock potential
Adults often ask children what they want to be when they grow up without giving them specific tools to help them answer the question. For kids who are more concerned with fulfilling their basic needs, career discussions may seem even more out of reach. But isn’t that what we are here for? To help them reach and show them how? To me, that’s really what career counselling is all about – supporting students in becoming the best person they can be, unlocking potential and providing hope for a brighter future.
When I reflect on my work and the challenges I face in my profession, I try to tell myself the same thing I tell the students I work with: at the end of the day, can you look yourself in the mirror and say that you did everything you could that day? That you had an honourable day? That doesn’t mean every day is successful; it means that all I can do is try my best. That is how school counsellors ethically meet the challenge of doing the job that has to be done. We can know that in increasingly difficult circumstances, we’re doing the best we can.
Canadian School Counselling Week is taking place Feb. 3-7, 2020. Learn more: ccpa-accp.ca/chapters/school-counsellors/
Danielle Savage works as a School Counsellor in Winnipeg in a Grade 5-9 school. She is on the executive of the Manitoba School Counsellors Association (MSCA) and a Member-at-Large for Manitoba on the School Counsellors Chapter of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA).
All about me, (n.d.). Retrieved from myblueprint.ca/products/allaboutme
Collie, M. (2019, September 24). Canadian school counsellors are stretched thin — and it’s our students that suffer. Retrieved from globalnews.ca/news/5903259/school-counsellors-canada-career-planning/
Education planner, (n.d.). Retrieved from myblueprint.ca/products/educationplanner
Hidalgo, E. (2019). Principles in action: Elementary career education equips students to navigate complex world of work. Careering. Retrieved from ceric.ca/2019/10/principles-in-action-elementary-career-education-equips-students-to-navigate-complex-world-of-work/
School counsellors, (n.d.). Retrieved from ccpa-accp.ca/chapters/school-counsellors/#id17