How safe are America’s kids?

That’s a question that many are asking as headlines about shootings and violence surface again and again in the news. For school staff, such questions are top of mind. What role can educators and staff play in preventing such problems? What might they need to do if something happens at work?

Many future school counselors wonder about their role and what they may encounter in the field, says Joshua Stanley, EdD, NCC, ACS, Faculty Chair of School Counseling and Addiction Studies at  Capella University. “One of the questions that comes up is with students is: ‘Is this something I’m actually going to face?’ Our response is, ‘We hope not, but we want you to be prepared in case you do.’”

A Focus on Prevention

As part of their job, school counselors often work with students who are struggling with their feelings. They can play a key role in helping young people find productive ways to process their emotions, Stanley says. Students who act violently often indicate that they have been victims of bullying or social isolation—and their grievances lead them to strike out at others. “We really try to focus on prevention so, as school counselors, we’re not just responding to an event but rather trying to keep them from happening,” Stanley says.

Well-trained counselors also interact with teachers and other school staff to identify students who may be struggling. By meeting with such students, counselors communicate the staff’s commitment to caring for them and protecting them—potentially deescalating the student’s sense of isolation or helping them cope with negative thoughts and feelings, Stanley says. What’s more, by helping students help themselves, counselors lessen the myriad behavior challenges that teachers deal with in classroom settings.


Dealing with Violence and Its Effects

When violence does occur in a school setting, counselors play a key role in the response team. In addition to specific duties as outlined in the school’s crisis response plan, counselors can help students directly or indirectly affected by the situation as they process their reactions to the event. “Afterward, the goal would be for every student to meet with a school counselor or ‘crisis responder’ even if it’s just for a brief assessment,” Stanley says.

Stanley says he wants to prepare his counseling students to handle prevention, de-escalation, and post-event support. “Certainly, we hope the worst case scenario never happens,” Stanley says. “But if it does, I want our school counselors to be ready.”


Students in Capella’s counseling programs connect with faculty experts and develop skills to make a positive impact in the field of school counseling. Learn more about Capella University’s online counseling programs .