Image of pensive teenage girl using cell phone at high school.

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, the role of school counselors has never been more critical. Recently, we had the pleasure of engaging in insightful conversation with three distinguished school counselors: Kristin Nye, Lead School Counselor, Anna P. Mote Elementary School, Wilmington, Del.; Jennifer Sack, Lead School Counselor, Booker T. Washington High School, Tulsa, Okla.; and, Brian Coleman, 2019 School Counselor of the Year and school counselor at Jones College Prep in Chicago, Ill. Moderated by Richard Long, executive director of the Learning First Alliance, the discussion shed light on the growing and intensifying challenges facing school counselors today. 

Trends and challenges:

One of the foremost challenges highlighted by the counselors is the increasing need for counseling services among students. With this growing demand, school counselors are having to adapt to meet diverse needs, while at the same time, developing preventive techniques. Staying current with best practices and approaches requires counselors to navigate at least four domains: mental health, behavior, development, and academics. Counselors also must be able to understand what young children are asking for even when the child or youth doesn’t have the vocabulary or life experiences to communicate clearly. Counselors also need to help guide parents through the complexities of what is frequently a daunting mental health system at a time of family crisis.

Telehealth’s impact:

A significant shift discussed during the interviews was the rise of telehealth services, particularly during the pandemic. The counselors shared anecdotes about students continuing their sessions at home by phone during school hours. Now back in the school setting, students want to continue with their therapists, presenting privacy concerns and challenges. For example, one counselor found that a student was simply stepping into the hall, with no privacy. There are many other potential disruptions and challenges to consider. These include the question of who is checking on the therapist who is working with the student and, what if the session leaves the student feeling vulnerable or at loose ends? Also, is there adequate private space for the counselor to meet with the student? 

Given the rise in the need for counseling services, schools frequently have the school counselors looking for spaces for the students to meet in private, and to have a counselor nearby to check on the student before they go back to class.  But what if there are several students needing a private place, and there is only one room? 

For the elementary school counselor, telehealth presents unique challenges, especially during crisis situations where immediate evaluations are required. Balancing the needs of individual students while ensuring the well-being of others is a paramount concern. 

Building relationships and emotional literacy:

The interviews also delved into how school counselors are working with teachers to assess students’ needs and find the time to build relationships with students. This also includes knowing how to recognize and affirm students’ emotional skills. The reason being that students need to learn what emotional tools are and how and when to use them, providing them with lifelong tools for emotional regulation. 


In conclusion, our discussions with the school counselors highlighted the multifaceted challenges counselors are currently facing and their invaluable contributions to students’ well-being. From logistical and traumatic issues to psychological and developmental hurdles, school counselors need to be adept in various disciplines so that they can quickly assess what each child needs, and then figure out how to best meet those needs. Our conversations underscored the evolving role of school counselors and the importance of equipping them with the knowledge and resources to effectively support their students. Follow this link to listen to the entire interviews and gain deeper insights.