#114 Making School Counselors More Accessible for All Students
Associate Professor Junko Iida, Faculty of Human Sciences
Quite a few children feel that school is not always a pleasant place to be. In addition to such problems as bullying and absenteeism, there are many issues in day-to-day school life that can be stressful for a child, such as difficulty in following classes and doubts about one's academic path. Prof. Iida is working to develop tools that can measure children's school life skills so that schools can identify students having difficulty adjusting to school life as early as possible and provide appropriate support, while also looking at ways to effectively use school counselors.
What reasons might there be for a child to not feel happy in school? In fact, there are many different possible causes--difficulty understanding the subject matter, inability to get along with teachers or friends, failure to find something interesting to do, and so on. Prof. Iida looks at how psychology can contribute to relieving stress in such children and improving the quality of school life for children in general.
School psychology is an applied field of psychology that focuses on schools as its field of study. This includes research relating to the imparting of skills which are separate from so-called subject education but are necessary for daily living, such as skills for communicating and for dealing with stress and the like, in order to provide support for a more fulfilled life well into the future. Various activities are demanded of children at school, and each of these requires certain skills. Prof. Iida has been working to develop tools that measure the skills that children have and wield in the spheres of academics, psychosociology, career, and health, and identify the relationships between these skills and the sense of self-esteem and academic accomplishments of children. She is also developing educational programs that further extend such skills.
These studies use a questionnaire format. From the results, it is possible to identify children who are struggling with school life or whose confidence is declining. When a child has such problems, the adults in the child's life (teachers and parents) also have a difficult time coping, but such experiences are said to spur personal growth. The school counselor's role is to provide these persons with psychological support.
Explaining that the job of school counselor is very challenging, but also very rewarding
In Japan, the full-fledged introduction of school counselors began in 1995, due to such problems as serious bullying and absenteeism. In recent years there has been a surge in activities involving entire schools, such as classes addressing stress management and interviews with all children attending a school. Unfortunately, school counselors are not yet full-time staff, their powers are limited, and children are often self-conscious about visiting them; for these and other reasons, they are underutilized. On the other hand, they have a high degree of freedom, and, with the ability to cooperate with teachers and parents, the job can be highly rewarding.
Before assuming her position at the University of Tsukuba, Prof. Iida acquired extensive experience in the field as a school counselor. In counseling, it is important to provide support that enables those being counseled to find answers for themselves. The consultation of teachers and parents in contact with the child is also indispensable. Teachers and parents constitute a part of the child's environment. How they understand and influence the child can either be extremely helpful, or a source of stress. If the adults around a child understand what the child is struggling with and what will be helpful for the child, in many cases, their attitudes change significantly. Prof. Iida has seen any number of instances in which a slight change in an adult's attitude has caused a child's expression to brighten. Drawing on these experiences, she is currently coordinating counseling services at eleven schools attached to the University of Tsukuba.
Prof. Iida took an interest in school counselors during her high school days in the United States. At American high schools, students always had one interview per semester with a school counselor. At these meetings the counselor would provide academic advice to the student such as which classes to take at what level, according to their intended path and academic grades. They would also help the student with course registration on the spot, as well as listen to any problems the student might have. When the student didn't get along well with a teacher, the counselor might also arrange for the student to switch to the class of another teacher. Prof. Iida says that during a period in which she didn't understand the language well and felt isolated, this was a huge help to her. In college, a psychology textbook that she happened to pick up proved to be extremely interesting, and when she decided to pursue psychology, her earlier experiences lead her on a path toward work as a school counselor.
The circumstances surrounding today's children are unforgiving, and specialized support based on psychological and welfare perspectives is deemed necessary. There is a need to effectively utilize the professionals such as school counselors and school social workers who have been newly assigned to schools, so that the school can better function "as a team." On the other hand, when the school system as a whole is considered, there are some aspects unique to Japan that are admirable, such as support for children in class units and events that are based on school-wide participation. Various issues with education are common to countries around the world. Prof. Iida has also directed her attention to foreign countries, particularly in Asia, and is newly invigorated by the prospect of joint research in which there are mutual exchanges of beneficial practices.
A class at a "grad school for working adults." People working in broadly different areas, such as schools, hospitals, and corporations, learn about counseling.
Article by Science Communicator at the Office of Public Relations