The Heroic Work of School Counselors

Recently, I was asked to put into writing the role our counselors have in our school, as the school leaders are discussing staffing. As I am wont to do, I probably wrote more than they intended to read and they regret asking my opinion. Since this week is also National School Counselors Week, I’m going to share that email below.

Cura personalis. That phrase is uttered often by administrators here, stamped on the admissions brochures, and posted throughout the school. It is at the core of everything we do here. One thing I have learned is that the work of cura personalis doesn’t really scale. If we add ten more students to the community, the daily workload of the Registrar or the Asst. Principal does not change significantly. But if a counselor has ten more students, they don’t suddenly have more time in the day to meet with those students. They can only be present for one student at a time.

The work of cura personalis is messy. It is slow work, getting a student to go from failing her classes, to passing them, to getting As and Bs. To help a student grieve for a lost friendship or a lost parent is a process full of stops and starts. The timeframe is not measured in 60 minute meetings, but often in semesters or years of the students’ time here. That work is simply not possible without our counselors. Period, full stop.

The needs of our students are not declining. In fact, there is much evidence that the mental health of adolescents nationwide is as precarious now as at any time in our nation’s history. Depression, anxiety, social isolation, addictions, perfectionism—our students have very real struggles. We are fortunate that many of our students come from homes with very supportive parents, but that is far from an inoculation against these challenges. In addition, the school is actively looking to bring in a more diverse population, to be a school for all students who want to be a part of our mission. Many of these students have even more external pressures, and our counselors are a vital source of support for them.

What would additional staffing in the counseling department mean for our community? It would mean making a commitment to live out the mottos that are so frequently bandied about. It would mean making a commitment to our students that we care about their well-being, not just their grades. I could go on for pages about the students in crisis who are still here only because of the tireless work of our counselors. One need only to attend a single retreat to hear of the times our counselors have literally saved the life of a student. However, just as important are the names I don’t know, the students who passed through here or transferred out without having made a connection.

Our counselors are not the only ones responsible for our students’ wellbeing, of course, but their role cannot be understated. I'm fortunate to work at a school with a focus on the students' whole person, and that mission is embodied in the work of every adult here. But if you are a teacher or administrator, give your school counselors an extra "thank you" this week for all their tireless work.