The Role of a School Counselor After a School Shooting

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School counselor meets with student after disturbing incident.

The primary role of a school counselor is fairly straightforward: to guide students through both their personal development and their academic performance. But in practice, that can vary greatly by the student and by the school environment. In particular, the school counselor may have to deal with unexpected, even tragic situations that disrupt morale and distract students from their academic pursuits. One of the most harrowing examples is a school shooting.

The Role of the School Counselor

It can be challenging for some students to truly thrive in their academic setting. The counselor is tasked with working closely with students who are undergoing problems, either with their studies or their personal lives, helping them to develop strategies for overcoming hurdles to academic excellence or to healthy, personal development.

What School Counselors Do

School counselors can serve the diverse needs of the student body in numerous ways, including:

  • Providing direct instruction to students, focusing on subjects such as test-taking and individual study habits
  • Helping students take stock of where their strengths and interests lie, planning for the future accordingly
  • Counseling students during seasons of heightened stress, whether due to traumatic issues at home or at school
  • Consulting with parents or with other educators to ensure that students are receiving the support services they need
  • Referring students and their families to additional resources in the community, as needed

Responding to Crises

As the counselor helps students to reach their full potential, it may become necessary to address crises that appear in their lives, hindering or distracting them from their academic goals. One important role of the school counselor is to not only identify these issues but also help students develop strategies to minimize their effect. Some common issues include:

  • Bullying
  • An abusive home environment
  • Learning disabilities
  • Issues involving substance abuse
  • Personal grief or loss
  • Sudden tragedy, including school shootings

School Counselors and School Shootings

The specific strategies that a school counselor employs may vary by student and by circumstance. In the tragic event of a school shooting, counselors must follow a few important steps.

Regaining Normalcy

One of the most important things a counselor can do following a school shooting is to help the student body, as well as the faculty, to return to a sense of normalcy. Routine can be an important source of comfort, and school counselors play a unique role in encouraging everyone in the school to return to their typical activities.

Providing Information

Following a school shooting, students will naturally be hungry for answers; they’ll want to know who did it, why it was done, how law enforcement is responding and what kind of damage was done. It’s important for information to be provided, but also for students to be shielded from overstimulation: Receiving too much information can be overwhelming, especially in the sensitive moments following a school shooting. School counselors can work with administrators and teachers to determine what should be shared, and in what manner.

Nurturing Relationships

The role of a school counselor always involves listening, and in the aftermath of a tragedy, listening becomes all the more important. Counselors must make themselves available to listen to students’ fears, anxieties and concerns as much as possible, offering a safe space to air worries and grievances. Additionally, counselors can play a positive role in helping students to rebuild relationships and attachments both at school and within the community, providing a structured way for students to talk, reconnect and remind one another of their commonalities. This can be a critical way to help students cope, reminding them that they’re not alone in their sense of loss and that the world is still a good place.

The Core Skills of Counseling

For counselors to help students in the wake of a school shooting, it’s vital to have a well-defined counseling skill set. The skills needed include advanced listening skills, interpersonal skills and analytical ability. Being able to communicate clearly and compassionately is also important, as is having empathy.

Wake Forest University’s online Master of Arts in Counseling – School Counseling program provides a curriculum that will help cultivate each of these skills at the highest level. The program offers foundational skills in collaborating with school administrators and faculty members, designing environments in which students can flourish. Through an emphasis on relationship building, career and lifestyle development, and student appraisal, the program teaches enrollees how to be compassionate advocates for students in their care.

Prepare for the Role of the Counselor

Today’s students may face many unpredictable challenges to their academic success, including the grief and confusion that attend school shootings. It often falls to counselors to help them to develop a path around these obstacles. Consider Wake Forest University’s online Master of Arts in Counseling – School Counseling program as your starting point in this meaningful career path.

Recommended Readings

How an Advanced Counseling Degree Can Help with Different Types of Crisis Management

Counselor vs. Social Worker: Choosing a Path to Inspire Positive Social Change

How to Become a School Counselor


American School Counselor Association, Helping Kids After a Shooting

American School Counselor Association, Role of the School Counselor

The Baltimore Sun, “School Counselors May Be the Best Defense Against School Shootings”

Wake Forest University, Online Master’s in Counseling Program

WebMD, School Shootings and Lockdowns: How Do Kids Cope?