Effective School Counsellors
Fr. Romuald D’Souza, S.J.
It is indeed good news that the Government of Goa is actively considering to appoint counsellors in schools. This will certainly be a giant step forward for Goa’s education system depending, of course, on how clearly the goals which the school counsellor is expected to achieve, are defined. The preliminary task for the appointing authority is to define the counsellor’s mission and to formulate in clear terms her place in the school system.
At present the school counsellors are being assigned functions by default, often resulting in an inappropriate and ineffective use of their services.
Since its creation, the profession of school counselling has been evolving to mirror the changes in society. School counsellors have gone from working as vocational counsellors, career counsellors, and crisis interventionists, and in today’s changed social environment are being called on to function as “agents of change, leaders, and advocates”. School counsellors have moved from maintaining the status quo to helping to modernise the school system by removing, with the help of the teachers, the students’ families and the local community, the barriers that impede student academic and personal achievements. The ultimate authority and responsibility for the appropriate and effective utilization of all school-based personnel and resources always resides in the school principal. Since the counsellors are specially trained in childhood and adolescent development, they can take the leadership role in effecting positive changes in the school system to correspond to evolving needs of society.
A successful school counselling programme is based on the shared vision of all stakeholders of what the school must be and do, and should involve the collaboration of parents, students, administrators, teachers, and the support staff, all working together with the counsellor for the benefit of every student. The concept of “leadership density” should exist in all schools. Leadership density refers to the overall leadership available from different staff possessing various expertise and perspectives within their own areas, on behalf of the school's goals. It is the leadership provided by various staff working in concert to promote “state of the art” education in their own area of competence. It supports the school’s overall mission by promoting academic achievement, career planning, and personal and social development of the students. One of the counsellor’s most important tasks is to mobilise the leadership available in every section of the school to achieve optimal results.
The school counsellor’s responsibilities should include the expectations of the families, the local community and the government, and state what she is supposed to achieve for the students, the school, and the community. Only under the leadership of the principal and in cooperation with the school staff will she be able to function effectively and achieve her mission.
The counselling programme is an integral part of the service which the school provides to all its students to ensure their best academic performance and personal formation. The school principal and every member of the school community must consider it a crucial resource for student progress, and the counsellor should consider herself a partner in every student’s progress and achievement. The counselling programme should show the students how they can achieve the level, and also assist individual students to formulate personal goals and to develop future plans.
The primary responsibility of the counsellor will be to involve the family and the community along with the principal and the staff of the school in formulating a shared vision of what they want the institution to be. It should really be a shared vision.
Counsellors should work with the school staff, the families and the community to design projects and programmes in which teachers, administrators, parents, and community partners collaborate, and help schools to involve more families, assist more students, and prevent or reduce the problems that counsellors are presently trying to solve all alone. School-family-community partnerships should be seen as an official constituent of school organization for promoting the best student learning. Students learn more when parents, educators, and others in the community show that the progress of students is also their shared goal, and work together to enhance it. Family involvement has a positive effect on a child's social and academic success, and there are fewer behavior problems when parents are involved in children’s education. Families can more successfully address barriers to learning by working in partnership with schools and the community.
Bridging connections with teachers, school staff, families, and community members allows the school counsellor to impact children's lives by creating supports and resources that empower them. The school counsellor’s job should be to build these links one at a time with one teacher, one family, and one community organization, for the success of all our students.
The Government’s intention to appoint school counsellors needs full support from all citizens as it will mark a beginning of modernisation of Goa’s school system to bring it in line with the requirements of the knowledge economy and progressive society. A suggested starting point is for the Government to identify a location where school counselors can meet and exchange their experiences and formulate a plan for the updating of existing counselors and for the training of new ones.