School Counseling, M.Ed.

Preparation Model

The M.Ed. program in School Counseling at the University of North Carolina is predicated on the Strengths-Based School Counseling (SBSC) model that asserts that the school counselor’s primary role is to promote and advocate for positive youth development for all students and for the environments that enhance and sustain that development. Unlike traditional guidance counseling, SBSC includes efforts that engage educational policy and seek to promote social justice.

The SBSC approach characterizes positive youth development as nurturing and enhancing empirically-identified and culturally relevant student strengths or competencies rather than focusing on student weaknesses and problem areas. 

SBSC provides a framework to guide the practice of school counseling in the 21st century that is both compatible with and operationalizes many of the features of the ASCA National Model for School Counseling Programs.

Strengths-based school counselors employ a variety of direct (e.g., counseling, classroom guidance) and systemic (e.g., consultation, advocacy) level interventions to promote culturally relevant student development in the academic, personal/social, and career domains. The strengths-based perspective identifies the counselor as a school leader who collaborates with students, teachers, administrators, parents, and other members of the community and promotes strengths-enhancing environments for all students. SBSC is guided by six principles listed below.

The Six Guiding Principles of Strengths-Based School Counseling

Promote Context-Based Development for All Students

Contemporary developmental theorists and researchers emphasize the influential and interactive role that context (e.g., culture) and environment play in human development. Thus, school counselors should acknowledge and seek to incorporate contextual factors in their efforts to facilitate positive development for all students.

For example, the strengths-based school counselor recognizes the role that culture and contextual factors exert on students of color and those of inner city, urban environments.  One successful program is The Model Program for students K-12.  This program endeavors to link academic and other success behaviors to students’ cultural identities as African Americans.  Meetings take place in an African American church in a low-income African American community.

Promote Individual Student Strengths

Strengths-Based School Counseling focuses on helping students build on or further enhance their current culturally-relevant strengths and competencies as well as develop additional ones that have been shown to be associated with positive development.

For example, Strengths-Based School Counseling utilizes counseling theories such as Solution-Focused theory, a theory that encourages students of all ages to identify positive goals, recognize strengths, and continue to do in the future what has worked in the past. Additionally, promoting strengths such as hope, optimism, and persistence are the focus interventions designed to help youth thrive.

Promote Strengths-Enhancing Environments

Strengths-enhancing environments are associated with positive youth development; therefore, an important function of the school counselor is to actively promote these types of environments through leadership, collaboration, advocacy and other system-level interventions.

For example, the strengths-based school counselor could establish a Career Academy in his or her school to promote students’ engagement and career development.  Career academies usually include a smaller-learning-community format (e.g., school-within-a-school), A college-prep curriculum with a career theme (e.g., health care, business), and partnerships with employers (Stern, Dayton, & Raby, 1988).

Emphasize Strengths Promotion over Problem Reduction and Problem Prevention

Rather than placing the school counselor in a reactive mode of functioning by focusing on problem prevention and remediation, Strength-Based School Counseling focuses on promoting positive development which allows the school counselor to assume a more proactive role and serve a much larger number of students.

For example, Strengths-Based School Counseling promotes teaching all students to be self-regulated learners and increase academic self-efficacy.  As self-regulated learners, students evaluate the results of their learning and adjust their efforts accordingly.  They set higher goals, learn more effectively, and achieve at higher levels in the classroom (Omrod, 1999). By teaching students early how to self-regulate, school counselors take a proactive role in enabling students to succeed in the classroom.

Emphasize Evidence-Based Interventions and Practice

Adhering to the premise that research knowledge provides the most reliable source of guidance in determining appropriate and effective interventions, the strengths-oriented school counselor is committed to evidence-based and research informed practice.

Strengths-Based School Counseling encourages school counselors to utilize research in academic journals (e.g., Professional School Counseling Journal), publications put forth by professional organizations (e.g., the American School Counseling Association), reputable online resources and other high-quality resources to inform their interventions and programs.  For example, one program that has garnered very positive support in the research is Second Step, a social and emotional learning program for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Emphasize Promotion-Oriented Developmental Advocacy at the School Level

In Strengths-Based School Counseling, school counselor’s advocacy efforts will focus primarily on lobbying for system policies and environments that enhance development for all students and secondarily on identifying and removing barriers. The school counselor’s advocacy is concerned with assuring access, equity, and educational justice for all students, with a primary focus on the school or school system.

For example, school counselors can advocate for the inclusion of learning disabled and other students with special needs into regular education classes and for providing both the classroom teacher and these students with the necessary instructional resources to be academically successful in that environment. This is not the same as advocating against a policy of self-contained classes for these students. With an emphasis on the former, school counselors can push for and contribute to solutions rather than merely expose problems.