Technology and the School Counselor

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Technology has the potential to enhance and change forever the way school counselors support teachers, foster student development, and interact with families.

A little more than a decade ago, in the midst of an avalanche of national reports on school reform, I felt compelled to write a Commentary for these pages taking note of the glaring absence in the reports of how school counselors can and should take part in the reshaping of our schools ( "Clarifying the Role of School Counselors," June 1, 1988.). At that time, I cautioned policymakers not to overlook the unique and important contribution school counselors could have in the reform movement.

Well, here we go again.

Today, we are witnessing a barrage of reports on the use of educational technology in our schools and classrooms; and once again, no mention in any of these reports is made of the unique and important use of technology by our school counselors.

So, once again, I am compelled to take keyboard in hand and offer the following 10 suggested competencies that all policymakers (local, state, and national) should expect their school counselors to have in the area of technology:

  • Possess basic computer-literacy skills. School counselors must know how to use a computer, computer peripherals (for example, printers, CD-ROMs, scanners, modems), and computer-application software, including word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software. They also must be proficient in either a PC/Windows or a Macintosh platform, knowing how to access files, install software, and use on-line help menus.
  • Understand and be conversant in the current and emerging state of technology in education. Guidance professionals must have a general framework of knowledge on how technology is and is not affecting students, teachers, families, and their communities (especially low-income and minority). Specifically, we should expect school counselors to be familiar with state and national technology initiatives, quantitative and qualitative research on the use of technology in and out of schools, pedagogical issues and concerns raised by the use of computers, instructional-intervention methods made possible by computers, social and cultural inequities in access and use, and the current literature on issues affecting educational technology.
  • Comprehend and employ all major Internet components in guidance activities. The Internet will soon become the major communication tool available to schools and families. School counselors, then, must know how to incorporate such Internet tools in their work, from the World Wide Web, e-mail, mailing lists, chat rooms, and newsgroups and bulletin boards, to file transfer protocol (FTP), gophers, Telnet, and video-conferencing. They should know how to use the Internet to access professional and academic information, exhibit proper "netiquette" while on-line, and be able to locate and communicate with other school counselors worldwide. Counselors also should possess the skills and knowledge needed to create or participate in Internet forums, Internet projects, and distance-learning activities. They must learn how to contribute to the design, construction, and maintenance of their department's Internet Web page, as well as a personal home page.

Most important, school counselors must be able to use technology to harness and gather resources for students and their families.

  • Articulate the implications and opportunities of technology. Counselors will have to examine and discuss how technology will change various aspects of their current duties and responsibilities, as well as the ways they have traditionally worked with students, parents, and colleagues. The paradigm shift occurring in the society at large will increasingly result in counselors' becoming more of the navigator, as opposed to the pilot, in the student-counselor relationship. As the navigator, counselors will have to know when and when not to use technology with their constituents, and how to help those constituents properly interpret and apply information gained through this new medium.
  • Act as an educated and objective consumer of technology. Technology is constantly changing. Newer and faster computers are being sold each year. Thousands of new software programs are being developed and marketed to schools as the "best" product to meet their students' needs. So school counselors must learn how to objectively and systematically analyze the features, functions, and benefits of new products before they are purchased with departmental funds. They need, also, to be aware of software that will lessen the time spent on administrative tasks and permit them to spend more time working with students and families.
  • Grasp the ethical and legal implications of technology. Although we don't yet know with certainty their full dimensions in the field, the ethical and legal implications of technology represent an area in which school counselors should be well versed. Current ethical standards for counseling must be examined and discussed to determine their applicability within the emerging technological environment. Legal experts should be consulted to ascertain what new guidelines might be needed when working within this emerging environment.
  • Construct group and "virtual" guidance activities using technology. Synchronous and asynchronous on-line activities that help students exercise judgment, develop values, and analyze and evaluate information and opinions should be implemented by school counselors. Likewise, they should design and place on their schools' guidance Web pages Web-based activities for families, with a focus on how parents and other family members can assist a child's academic, career, and social and personal development.
  • Use relational databases to monitor and articulate student progress. The use of data in planning and evaluating the effectiveness of an entire school and of its guidance department is critical. Collecting and analyzing the data should be a team effort, with input from the instructional staff, administrators, and parents.

As a key member of this team, counselors need to be knowledgeable and proficient in software that collects the aggregated and disaggregated data needed to review, monitor, and improve performance, specifically in the areas of student achievement, attendance, enrollment, discipline, socioeconomic status (number of students receiving free lunch and so forth), mobility rate, language, dropout rate, graduation rate, college scholarships, postsecondary options, and standardized-test participation and results. Moreover, counselors should help make the data more available and understandable for parents, perhaps by including access to personal information on the Web.

  • Contribute to the development of their schools' or districts' technology plans. As schools develop and revise their written technology plans, counselors must have the technical know-how to present clearly the rationale behind various equipment and training requests. They must understand the language and the various components of a technology plan, be able to review and critique sample school-based technology plans, and know how to develop an effective technology component for their guidance departments.
  • Identify national, state, and private funding for technology. An estimated $5.2 billion or more will be spent on educational technology in fiscal 1999-2000, with 45 percent of the funding coming from the federal and state governments (25 percent and 20 percent, respectively) on a competitive basis. Districts pay for about 20 percent, and private sources account for approximately 15 percent of technology spending. All told, there is an unprecedented amount of money available to school counselors, if they are taught how to identify sources and submit effective proposals.

Infusing technology into the guidance suite, like infusing technology into the classroom, will require a concerted district, state, and national effort. Policymakers at all levels must first recognize that technology has the potential to enhance and change forever the way school counselors support teachers, foster student development, and interact with families. While their use of technology may be different, it is no less important than that of the classroom teacher.

If we fail to include school counselors in the technology equation, we risk frustrating the public's expectation that high cost will result in enhanced learning.

At the district level, administrators must re-examine the role and responsibilities of their counselors. Should they spend their time, for instance, on clerical tasks or on creating virtual guidance activities and forums for students and families? Imagine having the guidance department arrange and host a "Virtual Financial Aid Night," for example. Hundreds of parents could participate--at home--in a live chat-room discussion with the directors of financial aid from major universities. Better yet, imagine a counselor creating and moderating an Internet listserv/mailing list for parents, thereby enabling the guidance department to e-mail its weekly newsletter to parents, and giving parents the chance to easily e-mail each other about colleges they have visited with their children or suggested ways to support a child with a learning disability.

Clearly, district administrators must provide school counselors with the necessary resources--in-service training, modern equipment, technical support--and, most important, the time needed to incorporate technology into their professional activities. It would be advisable, as well, to include at least one counselor on all technology planning committees.

Our schools and colleges of education must re-examine their requirements for technology courses for school counselors and such courses' specificity, recognizing that a generic or a teacher-oriented course will not help counselors address the needs of today's students and families. These targeted technology courses should center around the national standards for school counselors established this year by the American School Counselors Association. Moreover, as college faculty members, we who teach such courses must practice what we preach, actively using technology in all of our graduate-level courses. No school counselor should be permitted to graduate without first demonstrating his or her proficiency with and use of technology in a counseling setting.

State departments of education can help ensure that technology is being used by school counselors by requiring districts to include counseling and guidance activities in their state-approved technology plans. Technology funds should be carefully allocated to foster and create model high-tech guidance departments throughout the state, rewarding those schools that use technology and the Internet to partner or link with other organizations (community health agencies, local government and law enforcement, drug and alcohol counseling centers, and so forth).

The federal government can assist by instituting policies requiring that states and districts appropriate a portion of federal technology funds to support guidance- and counseling-related initiatives. At the same time, a national forum should be arranged, perhaps under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education, allowing educators, scholars, government officials, and private-sector executives to discuss methods, products, and resources needed to bring school counseling into the 21st century.

We, as educators and policymakers, have sent a very clear and loud message to parents and taxpayers about educational technology: Put a computer in reach of every child in every classroom and we will show you higher student achievement. In sending this message, we have, either intentionally or unintentionally, established the expectation that the high cost of technology will result in enhanced teaching and learning.

If we fail to include school counselors in the technology equation, whether by commission or by omission, we will risk frustrating the public's expectations and finding ourselves someday in a ditch alongside the information superhighway.

Kenneth E. Hartman is the author of the Internet Guide for College-Bound Students, Second Edition (The College Board, 1998) and The Internet Guide to Graduate and Professional Schools (Peterson's, 1998). In January he will become an associate professor of instructional technology at Widener University in Chester, Pa.

Vol. 18, Issue 9, Pages 40, 43

Published in Print: October 28, 1998, as Technology and the School Counselor
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