EVOLVING WITH THEIR STUDENTS
Guidance counsellors are helping with new problems such as social media bullying,
These days, not only do students face a highly competitive academic climate and uncertain future, they’re also bombarded with challenges that didn’t exist a few decades ago — such as the prevalence of social media — that create additional sources of stress and anxiety.
As student needs have evolved, so too has guidance counselling. In the private-school system, supports tend to be multi-faceted, focusing on everything from academic success to coping with emotional distress.
“We are an academic school and we do have high-achieving students — and that can bring with it other needs, (such as) perfectionism and how to manage that,” said Ruthie Cowper Szamosi, a full-time guidance and learning counsellor at the Linden School, an all-girls’ school in Toronto. “Students should be learning through making mistakes, but that can be difficult if you’re a highachieving student.”
If a student is having difficulties — whether she’s a procrastinator or overscheduled with extracurricular activities — Szamosi helps her work through those issues and build personalized skill sets. But she also addresses other issues that girls face, such as bullying or aggressive behaviour — from eye rolling to exclusion and the silent treatment. “We watch out for it and call out that behaviour,” she said.
Szamosi works with students oneon-one, but also holds small group sessions and classroom workshops, as well as teaches guidance-related courses, including a university prep class for Grade 12 students. That course goes a step beyond university applications: “We don’t just want students to get in, we want them to be successful when they’re there,” she said.
With 100 to 110 students from kindergarten to Grade 12, Szamosi said she’s able to devote more attention to students compared to schools with hundreds of students, who might on- ly have access to a guidance counsellor one day a week.
Some larger private schools have dedicated teams for guidance. At University of Toronto Schools (UTS), a coed private school for Grades 7-12, students have access to three guidance counsellors, as well as a student success counsellor and social worker.
“We brought in a social worker because we wanted to make sure students’ social and emotional needs are being met,” said Anand Mahadevan, the school’s head of academics.
While there’s a significant academic component to guidance, that almost always comes with social and emotional components, he said, such as anxieties about getting into a certain university or meeting parental expectations.
“Perfectionism and competitiveness can be an issue,” said Julie Klein, UTS’s student success counsellor, who works closely with the guidance department and helps students with learning challenges and disabilities.
“Students should be making decisions on their own true passions and aptitudes over what their peers are doing or what their parents expect or applying to universities that have a certain prestige,” she said. “We offer a wider definition of success. It has to be as much about personal fulfilment as the name of the university.”
Students might also seek out a guidance counsellor if they’re having difficulties at home — perhaps their parents are getting divorced, or they’re coming out to family and friends — and their school work is suffering as a result. In some cases, they might be referred to the school’s social worker, who also teaches inclass workshops on topics such as dealing with social media.
Crescent School, an all-boys’ school in Toronto for Grades 3-12, also takes an integrated approach to student support, with six learning support teachers, three guidance and university counsellors, two social workers and two nurses.
Parents are part of the guidance process. “Starting in Grade 9, we sit down regularly with parents to talk about what they’re thinking about for their son, particularly if their son is looking at schools in the U.S. or U.K.,” said Crescent School guidance and university counsellor Susy Bellisario.
Acareers class is taught in Grade 10, and the guidance team has ongoing touchpoints with both students and parents to come up with a master plan — and deal with any issues that come up, such as being overscheduled with extracurriculars, such as hockey.
“We spend a lot of time with the boys helping them manage time around their homework and balance that with extracurriculars,” said Crescent School learning support specialist Gina Kay.
When it comes to working in an all-boys’ school, Bellisario said a unique challenge is the need to spend time building relationships — and gaining trust — with the boys. Every boy is also part of a mentor group led by a staff member, so they have multiple avenues of support.
Whether at an all-boys, all-girls or coed school, guidance extends far beyond academics — and even beyond the guidance department.
“What we are finding is that teachers are spending more time trying to understand where the children are coming from and addressing the whole child,” said Mahadevan. “You can’t just be a math teacher and only address math.”