A school counselor’s job is to deliver counseling programs that improve student outcomes. They can provide guidance to students at crucial turning points in their lives, advise them through difficult periods, and can profoundly impact a student’s life.
The benefits of having diversity in high school counselors and an inclusive workforce also translate to the teaching and counseling environment. It’s an essential step in closing the achievement gap and boosting overall academic performance.
Meeting the Needs of Diverse Students
Diversity in high school counselors impacts the academic and social-emotional development of students. And unsurprisingly, students of color fare much better when assigned to a counselor of color. They show improved academic performance and have better graduation rates. As such, they are more likely to attend college.
For one, every person has implicit bias. Even though school counselors undergo training to recognize their preferences, it’s impossible to eliminate bias as it tends to be unconscious. Even well-meaning counselors can limit opportunities for students of color without meaning to. As noted by Education Week, students of color are more likely to graduate high school and pursue post-secondary education when matched with nonwhite counselors.
A person’s culture affects their language, communication, way of being, and behavior. However, cultural differences don’t have to be a barrier to practical guidance and counseling. One delicate aspect of a school counselor’s job is to support students’ ambitions while providing practical, real-life advice. A cultural difference can lead to a breakdown in communication as there’s no sense of relatability. Today it’s why most schools go the extra mile to ensure their counselors have undergone cultural sensitivity training.
However, it’s one thing to be a trained, open-minded, and accepting professional and quite another to relate to the lived experiences of students of color. Therefore, it’s crucial to have counselors with insights into the inner realities of these students as they can better care for their social and emotional needs. For instance, students from collectivist cultures are more likely to value college education when framed as a win for their families rather than as a win for themselves.
The need to provide culturally sensitive counseling to the needs of a diverse student population cannot be ignored. Counselors significantly impact how students perform in high school and afterward. Having a diverse group of counselors can improve student performance and encourage more students to pursue a university education.
With all this said, schools cannot wait for the population of guidance counselors to reflect the diversity of their student bodies. While sharing a racial/ethnic background with students has its benefits, there’s still a place for cultural sensitivity training. Counselors can also take time to learn more about their students’ lived experiences and use what they learn to shape the services they offer.
Toward Culturally Competent School Counseling Environments
A few words from a helpful guidance counselor can alter a student’s life trajectory for the better. In addition, increasing the diversity of counselors can help close the achievement gap by getting more students of color into college and improving their academic performance.
Students come from different backgrounds and all walks of life. Therefore, guidance counselors must approach counseling in the context of a student’s world. This requires them to undergo training to recognize their implicit biases and gain knowledge, sensitivity, and awareness of other cultures.
A culturally competent counselor has the tools to promote all students’ academic, career, and social/emotional development. They’re what every guidance counselor should purpose to be—impactful.