Educational inequity and social justice issues permeate our school systems. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA)’s ethical standards outline where school counselors are called to be influential in these matters: “School counselors demonstrate their belief that all students have the ability to learn by advocating for an education system that provides optimal learning environments for all students.”
Examine Your Own Biases
The first step school counselors must take when weaving educational justice into their curriculum is to examine their own biases as human beings. This exercise aims to reveal intentional and unintentional, known and unknown biases that one holds as a product of their lived experiences.
To do this, school counselors explore their own cultural and personal attitudes and beliefs. Learning more about oneself helps to reveal how that may impact the counseling relationship they form with students and how that has the potential to influence and truly understand the student’s perspective.
Counselors are encouraged to pursue professional training to learn more about how their biases may interfere with their ability to offer services and to seek the support of colleagues when they have a conflict.
Acknowledging one’s own identity is the first step toward meaningful action in the fight for educational justice within a school system. If we are unaware of our own biases, how can we serve our students authentically or establish trust and mutual understanding?
Understanding the Student’s Unique Environment
In order to infuse an educational justice mission into a school counseling curriculum, it is essential to avoid a blanket approach to counseling tactics and programs. Every student has a unique background, which factors into who they are as a person and how they behave. School counselors must also take the time to learn about the sociocultural context surrounding each individual student as well, and whether or not these factors are influential to the presenting issue.
Given large caseloads, this can be a daunting task, but it cannot be avoided. This call to avoid stagnancy and generality in counseling switches the focus from a mentality where the student is the root of the problem to one where they are unique beings that more often than not need assistance from others.
Social, cultural, and economic structures alter access and opportunity. Taking the time to tease out these factors when working with students helps to unearth where schools may be failing students.
Get to Know the Greater Community
Authority figures are often viewed as untrustworthy because of longstanding systemic inequity in schools. This gap can be bridged by reaching out to build genuine connections with the families of students, proactively if possible. This opens up lines of communication and indicates that counselors are interested in learning more about them in order to understand and better serve their children’s unique needs. It is a step away from archaic expectations that students and families must conform in order to benefit from school counseling.
On a broader scale, counselors can also become better acquainted with the greater community in which they work. This includes having a better grasp on common issues as well as what services and resources are available to students.
Develop Social Justice-focused Counseling Initiatives
Educational justice strives for a more equitable school environment that better represents and serves its diverse population of students by examining the impact of race, socioeconomic status, cultural identity, and learning abilities.
In school counseling, this mission honors the unique needs of students and aims to ensure they are better equipped for success across all facets of their life at school. Examples of social justice-focused school counseling initiatives include:
- LGBTQ student organizations and counseling groups
- Multicultural awareness weeks
- Developing community partnerships to support students facing housing and food insecurity
- Sessions on the impact of racism on mental health
- College prep workshops for first-generation students
Collaborate With Colleagues Schoolwide
An educational justice focus does not have to stay within the confines of the school counseling office. In fact, it shouldn’t.
Create a welcoming school environment by connecting with fellow counselors, teachers, and administrators in a shared mission of improving student life and addressing systemic social justice issues. Maintaining a transparent culture of open communication between colleagues maximizes an understanding of the areas of opportunity to improve; it also promotes an authentic connectedness.
As school counselors, we are called to be advocates. Accordingly, we must use our knowledge and voice to promote tangible change in our school system. This includes advocating for professional development for all faculty and staff in multicultural matters and pushing for better representation for all students in academic curriculum, extracurricular activities, and athletics.
Advocate for All Students With an Educational Justice Informed School Counseling Curriculum
Weaving an educational and social justice mission into a school counseling curriculum is a rewarding, albeit challenging, long-term process. It begins with an honest examination of oneself and the larger school system in order to address issues and implement purposeful solutions that create a school environment that better serves all.
Get to know the University of Redlands School of Education’s Master’s in Education, School and College Counseling degree to learn how you can become a School Counselor today!