School Counselors and Cultural Awareness

School counselors work to support students from various backgrounds and experiences, which is essential in this diverse, modern world. Counselors learn about different cultures and adapt their approach to ensure equitable learning opportunities for diverse groups. They use numerous strategies to develop student cultural awareness and create an inclusive school culture that welcomes multiculturalism. Counselors can provide training for school staff to ensure they understand educational equality. They can be influential in raising awareness across the school among students and staff.

Culture means the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society. It can be divided according to race, ethnicity, or geographical location, but there are differences within these groups. For example, there is a recognized Native American culture, but there are great differences between tribal cultures. Culture is a complicated subject area. It influences how people see and respond to their surroundings, what they think will help them and what is irrelevant. Counselors must understand that a patient’s background is an important part of who they are and needs to be recognized in assessment and treatment. They can look into how different groups and cultures deal with mental health and counseling and adapt their treatment plans accordingly.

Cross-cultural counseling examines how experience and behavior are influenced by culture. Counselors need the skills, knowledge, and self-awareness to apply counseling techniques to diverse settings and populations. Culturally competent counselors should respect and acknowledge students’ values and opinions related to ethnicity, race, belief system, and region. Cultural awareness relates to various subjects, such as race, age, disability, sexual preference, and more. Counselors are prepared to engage in cross-cultural conversations through their education.

Ethical standards for school counselors

The ASCA (American School Counselor Association) has developed the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors. These standards are the ethical responsibility of all school counselors and were developed to clarify the profession’s beliefs, values, and norms. School counseling aims to advocate and contribute to an education system that provides equal opportunities to all students. School counselors promote equitable access to students from all circumstances and backgrounds, regardless of but not limited to nationality, racial/ethnic identity, religious/spiritual identity, homeless, incarceration, economic status, age, social class, language, abilities/disabilities, family type, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, wards of the state, living situation, and immigration status.

Numerous standards relate to cultural awareness and equity. Counselors must support all students and work to remove biases or barriers that impede student development. They must be culturally aware when providing instruction and counseling. There must be an acknowledgment of the rights of parents/guardians and tribal communities and respect shown for beliefs, values, and cultural backgrounds. Counselors must only use valid tests and assessments that are culturally sensitive.

The International Day for Tolerance

This is a school-wide initiative that takes place on November 16th each year. School counselors can promote this event to reduce prejudice and encourage positive student relationships. The United Nations General Assembly introduced this occasion in 1996 to promote tolerance and respect throughout the world. The United Nations described tolerance as “neither indulgence nor indifference.” It is respect and appreciation of the rich variety of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression, and ways of being human”.

School counselors can teach students about the United Nations’ six strategies for education, law, individual awareness, access to information, local solutions, and countering intolerance. This is a time for students to learn about respecting others and how to reflect on the negative effects of intolerance. There could be a discussion group about local problems and how to resolve these issues. For example, students could write campaigning letters or run a fundraising campaign for organizations promoting tolerance in their communities. Counselors help students understand respect, tolerance, non-violence, and human rights. These activities could promote tolerance throughout the school and also reduce prejudice.

Counseling and culture

When helping people from diverse communities, we tend to offer solutions that suit our own cultural context. For example, we may view a cold as best treated through over-the-counter medication, but other cultures can have different approaches. Counselors must understand the cultural values they hold and how they lead to prejudices and biases. Assessing their own biases is crucial when working with people from other cultures. There should be mutual respect with clients, and solutions offered must be culturally appropriate.

There is more travel between countries in current times. Counselors can help when people have difficulty settling into new societies and experience mental health difficulties like anxiety. In communities with diversity in ethnicity, race, socioeconomic background, sexuality, and gender identity, counselors must adapt to support a wide range of people who need their services. Counselors must understand how identity and cultural issues affect mental health, and how these factors affect a patient’s connection with counseling. The more counselors understand what influences their students, the more effectively they can assist them.

Cultural awareness

There are numerous strategies counselors can use to improve cultural competence in their work.

Counselors can use positive ways to improve their connection with students. Creating an environment where every student feels accepted regardless of differences is essential. Counselors can be role models by celebrating different cultural issues of a school’s community and treating diversity as something positive. They can create a positive framework for learning about cultural groups.

Counselors can develop cultural competence with a commitment to learning more and developing culturally congruent skills. Using lifelong learning to deepen cultural understanding, they can relate issues to the cultural context. 

School counselors should avoid making assumptions about students due to their demographics. They should make respectful, informed adjustments in line with cultural competence. They should listen and be open to what they hear. Cultural and social influences are complex, so learning and absorbing information is useful. Ways of learning can include consuming media, news articles, literature, and professional texts, which gives a wider understanding of various aspects of culture.

Multicultural education

There has been an increase in people from ethnic and diverse backgrounds in America. School counselors can expose students to cultural diversity and prepare them for life at university and work. In culturally diverse schools, they can ensure interaction between students from different cultures ensuring students have knowledge and respect for others. Counselors aim to provide students with the skills to function well in a multicultural society.

When students learn how to manage similarities and differences with others, they can have more healthy and worthwhile relationships. Students who can interact with diverse people often thrive at work and in their mental health. Students living in communities with little diversity can learn from a multicultural education as it gives them a wider perspective and useful social skills they can use when they leave school.

Multicultural education focuses on reducing prejudice and ensuring equal educational opportunities for all students. The aim is to provide students from majorities and minorities with the skills to function well in a multicultural society. This education incorporates many elements, such as teaching materials, course curriculum, teaching styles, assessment, and school culture.

School counselors have the skills to work on social skills, behavior, human development, crisis intervention, and interpersonal relations, making them ideal for improving cultural awareness among students. Counselors are trained in reflective listening and have compassion when hearing about students’ feelings which helps them manage challenging discussions about multicultural concerns with students. Programs in School Counseling prepare counselors with the research and practical experience necessary to succeed in a school setting. Training and practice in relational skills help counselors assess and improve relationships between school staff and students. School counselors support school professionals with the cultural and social aspects of working with students, and this role makes them suitable leaders for multicultural education.

Content integration

School counselors can use various strategies to ensure counseling programs support students in developing the knowledge and skills needed to interact with people who are different from themselves. They can apply content integration to their lessons by using information and examples from different cultural groups when teaching ideas. For instance, when teaching a lesson on friendship skills to younger students, they can use storybooks about Native American, Latina, Asian, and African American people.

They can use role play when teaching middle school students about bullying. High school counselors can invite speakers from different countries, and ideas from different cultural groups can be embedded into every subject. Studies have shown that when students learn about content related to their culture, they are more likely to engage with the learning process.

School counselors can encourage teachers to use content integration in their lessons and can advise them on how best to do this. They can collaborate with library staff to develop a resource library with materials from different cultures. Students continually exposed to various cultural groups develop more positive racial attitudes, and minority students improve their academic performance.

Knowledge construction

Students can be taught to explore bias in the content they are given through knowledge construction.

Bias can relate to ethnicity, race, social class, or gender. Students can learn to challenge information and recognize bias. School counselors can include knowledge construction in their counseling programs. Students can critically analyze and assess the bias in information. They can explore the values and biases of the creators of information. These biases could be due to someone’s background or cultural assumptions and could relate to race, ethnicity, gender, or social class. It is useful for students to challenge information and question how it has been selected. Critical thinking skills can be used in all types of learning. Counselors can show students different media outputs asking them to look for biased or objective news. The students can listen to radio reports or look at magazine and newspaper articles. Students can be helped to develop positive attitudes toward ethnic, racial, or cultural groups and be less likely to stereotype others. Students are more likely to value people, whatever their multicultural characteristics.

School counselors can work with students of all ages, getting them to critically analyze information and assess any biases that may have influenced the creators. They can present lessons suitable for students of all ages requiring students to analyze information and assess any biases critically. High school counselors can use classroom guidance to teach students to analyze the information they learn in classes critically. They can put the students into small groups and give them an exercise where they compare some classroom information with content on the same subject found from a different source, such as a newspaper or website.

Prejudice reduction

Prejudice reduction is about helping students to have positive attitudes toward ethnic, racial, and cultural groups. Strategies can reduce stereotyping among students and make students more likely to value all individuals. Counselors can challenge students to appraise prejudice and justice critically. The counselor’s role lends itself to working with students to reduce prejudice and promote positive racial attitudes.

School counselors can reduce prejudice by using experiential activities with students. The activities can help students have the skills and awareness to interact well with students from diverse cultural groups. The activities can take place in individual counseling, group counseling, or during classroom guidance. Counselors can lead discussions about similarities and differences between various cultural groups. They can help to reduce prejudice by encouraging friendships between students of different racial and ethnic identities.

School culture empowerment

School structure empowerment entails restructuring school cultures to promote student equity. Disproportionality must be addressed, and interaction of staff and students across racial and ethnic lines must be encouraged and facilitated. There is an emphasis on having more positive experiences in school culture. School counselors can empower the school culture by promoting student social action, such as community projects. When students participate in volunteer work, they can learn about community needs and citizenship.

School counselors can teach school staff to use teaching strategies that suit particular minorities. For instance, working in groups to achieve shared goals. Studies have found that students from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds perform better academically when working in collaborative learning situations than in competitive learning situations. This approach considers all participants as equal and expects everyone to join in and do their share of the work. Small group work can be used in schools so that students cooperate and improve each other’s learning.

Equitable teaching

Equitable teaching can include culturally related instruction which uses students’ characteristics, customs, perspectives, and experiences to make learning more relevant to students. Teaching can focus on students interests and questions, as well as what students already know. These lessons are interactive and student-centered, with an emphasis on small group work. Portfolio assessments evidence what students have learned. Students can have responsibility for choosing which work to include in their portfolio. School counselors can teach other staff about these approaches and how they benefit their students.

School counselors can use equitable teaching in their counseling lessons. A cooperative approach with students working in small groups can be effective. Counselors can ask many questions, and students can work together to develop ideas. When counselors use teaching techniques that benefit students from minority cultures, they use equitable practice and give their students direct support.

School counselors can empower school culture and promote student equity. School cultures can be restructured to allow minority students to be culturally empowered and experience educational equality. Students can be encouraged to promote social action to give everyone more opportunities. Counselors must believe that all students can learn, whatever their background or culture. They can teach school staff about educational equality. They can provide statistics showing achievement gaps among students of different ability levels and races in the school. They can give examples of students they have worked with who have faced inequality in school. Counselors with multicultural training are well-positioned to teach other staff and share their experiences with them.

For those interested in how to become a counselor in schools, studying on a degree path for school counseling offered by a reputable institution such as St Bonaventure University can help you learn the intricacies of counseling different age groups, and how to help both students and teachers navigate social and cultural difference in school. School counselors support children throughout their education, promoting their academic, professional, and social/emotional development. A quality program such as St Bonaventure University’s online MSED in School Counseling track will provide students with the skills they need to apply best practices in a school environment.


School counselors work to reduce student development barriers and provide all students with equal educational opportunities. They are well-positioned to increase cultural awareness and understanding among students and staff. Living in a culturally diverse society makes it important for students to learn positive attitudes to other cultures and recognize intolerance when they see it. School counselors can promote cultural awareness throughout schools and embed information about diverse cultures in their guidance lessons. They can train other staff to implement equitable education and acknowledge cultural diversity in their lessons. School counselors are vital in developing inclusive school environments where all cultures are recognized and celebrated.