The foundation of a guidance department, much like the foundation of a house, provides the grounded support for the rest of the program. The American School Counselor Association calls this the what of the program - the foundation defines what the students will know and be able to do. There are three elements to the foundation:
A good counseling program begins with dialogue. It is important for all team members to share their beliefs about students, schools, education and where counselors fit in the school. These are complicated issues - there need not be full agreement on every point, but by sharing and discussing beliefs, team members gain a better understanding of each other, and are able to see the multiple perspectives represented within their department.
The American School Counselor Association recommends discussion of these questions for exploring beliefs:
- What do we believe about achievement for every student?
- Do we believe all students can achieve given proper support?
- Do we believe there are differences in learning styles for students and that children respond differently? How do we react to those responses?
- What do we believe about the program's ability to provide academic, career and personal/social development for every student?
- When we look at the school's mission of academic achievement, what responsibility does the school counseling program have to support this mission?
- What do we believe about educational reform and the school counselor's role in it?
- What do we believe about the role of parents or guardians, staff and community members within the school counseling program?
It is in the formation of a philosophy that guidance departments must move toward consensus. A department's philosophy is a clear statement that addresses: shared beliefs, the counselor's role and who shall be served.
A guidance department's mission statement is more specific than a philosophy statement, and states clearly the program's overall vision and purpose. The St. Paul Secondary Counselors created the following vision/mission statement as part of their movement toward the ASCA model:
St. Paul School Counselors...Helping Students Make Sense of Their World.
The school counseling program facilitates academic success, career development, and personal and social growth in order to raise student achievement.