School Counseling Curriculum Objectives

Learn why curricula have been developed for and by school counselors

Studies show that all school children – not just those at-risk or having learning problems- exhibit higher academic scores and improved classroom behaviors when guidance counselors teach social and emotional coping skills in the classroom. Counselors use curricula based on scientific theories of child development and behavior to teach social and emotional learning (SEL) skills to students at all grade levels.

Guidance school counselors have always known that SEL directly affects students’ academic progress and achievement, but now a growing body of research and literature proves this claim.

Ken Breeding, an elementary school counselor with a PhD in counseling psychology, and author of the well regarded curriculum “Connected and Respected, Lessons from the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program,” said that a wide range of SEL curricula exist for counselors. But he stressed the importance of selecting curricula based on core competencies that have been reviewed and recommended by respected nonprofit organizations such as the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

CASEL, based in Chicago, promotes children’s healthy development and bridges SEL research and practice. The organization works closely with educational leaders putting research and theory to the test in schools nationwide. Using evidence-based results, CASEL develops standards that schools use to ensure that all students learn the core skills of a socially and emotionally capable person.

Breeding, an elementary school counselor for over 29 years with several West Coast school districts, compared social and emotional standards to academic standards issued for math, science, and reading. Instead of an academic emphasis, however, social and emotional standards provide a framework for learning in three major areas, summarized as follows:

  1. Development of self-awareness and self-management skills by identifying and managing one’s own emotions and behaviors.
  2. Use of social awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.
  3. Demonstrated decision making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and community contexts.

Breeding said that it’s evident that when students are taught SEL skills, violence, acting out and other disruptive behaviors are “tremendously curtailed.” And it’s no surprise that students who lack these skills, who are afraid and anxious, who are victims of everyday teasing and bullying, struggle with learning - and fail to achieve.

Breeding’s curriculum, “Connected and Respected” is used within the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program provided by Educators for Social Responsibility. Breeding first became involved with RCCP in 1991 while working as a counselor at Vista Unified School District in Vista, Calif. He was impressed by the comprehensive nature of RCCP, which trains teachers, administrators and parents, as well as counselors. Also, Breeding liked that fact that RCCP worked to address racial bias and prejudice.

“So in terms of my role as an elementary counselor with a vision of creating a school culture that supports healthy development of all children, RCCP embodied everything that I believe in,” Breeding said.

To write the “Connected and Respected” curriculum, Breeding drew on his experience of implementing the original RCCP curriculum he used as school counselor. He gave SEL lessons in hundreds of classrooms in the Lincoln County School District along the Oregon Coast, and Modesto City Schools, a large urban district in Northern California, to every grade level over a four to five year period. Breeding saw firsthand what engaged students, and how students reacted to certain activities and assignments.

Using his experiences and feedback, he was able to write, with coauthor and colleague Jane Harrison, 16 lesson plans for each grade level, kindergarten through grade 5. The lessons focus on several themes such as emotional literacy and conflict management, building on each other so that counselors reinforce and build on skills that were introduced at earlier grade levels.   

Breeding maintains that these types of school-wide guidance counseling programs have an important preventive function as well. Researchers have shown that programs based on solid research can proactively stop behavioral and emotional disruptions before they occur, while increasing academic progress and test scores.

Research conducted by three professors from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, supports what Breeding and other proponents of SEL learning maintain. Assistant Professor Linda Webb, Professor Greg Brigman, and former FAU Professor Chari Campbell authored a counselor curriculum for elementary and middle-school students entitled the “Student Success Skills” (SSS) program. The lessons focused on goal setting and personal progress monitoring, memory skills, interpersonal skills, social problem-solving, listening, teamwork, paying attention, motivation, and anger management.

These researchers also encouraged supportive and caring environments so that children can safely make mistakes, report progress, and see themselves and their classmates gradually improve. The program is based on the belief that SEL skills can be taught within environments where the students feel safe and empowered.

Results from four studies they conducted using the curriculum and reported in Professional School Counseling are impressive. The researchers report that 86% of over 1,100 students who participated in an “SSS” program improved their Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores, and 78% improved their reading scores. The “SSS” program was given to children in grades 5, 6, 8 and 9 in 36 schools and across two school districts. More than 50 school counselors participated in the program.

Counselors went into classrooms once a week for five weeks at the start of school in the fall, and delivered the lessons. One lesson, for example, taught kids how to take themselves out of stressful situations by stopping negative self talk, and creating safe places to go in their imaginations. Another lesson taught deep breathing skills for students anxious about taking tests, and yet another taught students how to listen to others with not only their ears, but also their eyes and hearts.  

Booster sessions starting in January helped students correlate what they learned in the fall with test-taking and self-management skills in preparation for the standardized tests they take in the spring. Yet test taking was not the only dramatic result of using “SSS.” In addition to the improvement in test scores, teachers reported that seven out of ten students improved their behavior based on a measurement called the School Social Behavior Scale.

But educators and counselors state that the importance of programs like “SSS” and   “Connected and Respected,” go far beyond improving test scores. What children learn from these programs provides skills that guide them throughout their lives – as they become responsible citizens, and as they move into the workforce.             

As the CASEL website states: “SEL helps students become good communicators, cooperative members of a team, effective leaders, and caring, concerned members of their communities. It teaches them how to set and achieve goals and how to persist in the face of challenges. These are precisely the skills that today’s employers consider important for the workforce of the future.”

If you find working with children enjoyable, and you believe that empowering them with important social and emotional skills critical to their futures – and the world’s future – you should consider getting a master’s degree in school counseling.

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