The School Counselor and Virtual School Counseling
(Adopted 2017; revised 2023)
ASCA PositionSchool counselors working in a virtual setting provide a school counseling program with the same standards and adherence to ethics as school counselors in an in-person setting. In virtual environments, school counselors work collaboratively with school, family and community partners to ensure equity and access to opportunities that positively affect students’ academic, career and social/emotional development.
The RationaleOnline learning is becoming increasingly relied upon in the United States as students ranging from kindergarten to the postsecondary level are enrolling in virtual schools and online distance-education programs via internet or web-based methods (Holmes & Kozlowski, 2016). The U.S. Department of Education defines virtual school as a “school that offers only [virtual] instruction in which students and teachers are separated by time and/or location, and interaction occurs via computers and/or telecommunications technologies. A virtual school generally does not have a physical facility that allows students to attend classes on site” (Keaton, 2021, para. 3).
Students can be involved in online programs, ranging from a part-time, hybrid model in which some components of their education are offered in an in-person environment and some in a fully digital environment, to fully online programs and degrees (Holmes & Kozlowski, 2016).
Students from diverse backgrounds enroll in virtual schools for various reasons. These reasons include:
- Dealing with mental health needs that require a smaller environment
- Being medically unable to attend a physical school
- Preferring a smaller class size or independent learning environment
- Experiencing bullying or other traumatic experiences in a traditional school setting
- Seeking a more rigorous school curriculum (i.e., gifted or accelerated courses)
- Needing more individualized instructional support
- Developing asynchronously, such as being accelerated in some courses and below grade level in others
- Participating in athletics or performing arts at the professional level
Due to the prevalence of online learning and the need to incorporate virtual/distance/hybrid activities into school counseling programs, it is necessary for school counselors to understand best practices for engaging in this work.
The School Counselor's RoleSchool counselors working with students in a virtual/distance/hybrid school counseling setting:
- Adhere to the same ethical guidelines as school counselors in an in-person setting
- Educate students about appropriate conduct in the online setting
- Facilitate classroom instruction, appraisal and advisement, and counseling sessions that foster academic, career and social/emotional development
- Recognize, acknowledge and problem-solve the challenges and limitations of virtual/distance/hybrid school counseling
- Implement procedures for students to follow in both emergency and non-emergency situations when the school counselor is not available
- Recognize and mitigate the limitation of confidentiality within virtual/distance/hybrid school counseling, which may include unintended viewers or recipients
- Inform both the student and families of the benefits and limitations of virtual/distance/hybrid school counseling
- Educate students on how to participate in the virtual school counseling relationship to minimize and prevent potential misunderstandings that could occur due to lack of verbal cues and inability to read body language or other visual cues that provide contextual meaning to the process and relationship
- Recognize the challenges in virtual/distance/hybrid settings of assisting students considering suicide, including but identifying their physical location, keeping them engaged on the call or device, contacting their parents/guardians and getting help to their location
SummarySchool counselors understand the expectations, benefits, and challenges of providing virtual/distance/hybrid school counseling services to students. This form of program delivery increases students’ access to activities and enables school counselors to assist them with a variety of diverse and unique needs outside of the in-person environment.
ReferencesClark, T. (2001). Virtual schools: Trends and issues. WestEd/Distance Learning Resource Network.
Greenidge, T., Smith-Adcock, S., Cakmakci, H., & Su, Y.-W. (2023). A transcendental phenomenology of school counselors’ lived experiences transforming remote counseling services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Professional School Counseling, 27(1). https://doi.org/10.1177/2156759X231161524
Holmes, C. M., & Kozlowski, K. A. (2016). A group counseling collaboration model: Support for virtual high school students. VISTAS online, 2016. https://www.counseling.org/knowledge-center/vistas/by-year2/vistas-2016
Setzer, J. C., & Lewis, L. (2005). Distance education courses for public elementary and secondary school students: 2002–03 (NCES 2005–010). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2005010