School Counseling Interviews for CNS 550
Western Kentucky University
October 14, 2011
“I don’t sell college or apprenticeships; I sell post secondary opportunities, whatever that means for the interests, abilities, and aptitudes of the students coming through.”
ASCA, 2011, School Counselor of the year, Randy McPherson (O’Grady, 2011).
Few statements resonate stronger than one that is unwaveringly positive mixed with a sense of the “Rebel” because the author knew when he wrote it that some may not agree. Does this statement fit exactly with the ASCA model? Are there schools where a counselor saying, “Let’s look at other options,” would be a slap in the face?
I believe the quote is more than a statement about the future, but a line in the sand. One that says, “I advocate for every students, everyday, with best practices. I will give a nod to the rules. I have knowledge of research, and even a belief in the institution. But I will add a sense of compassion, and integrity to realize the job is to create productive self-actualized and hopefully generatively complete adults.
Randy McPherson is a fierce proponent of his clients. His years of experience have shown him that students are unprepared for the future: most students don’t know how to connect classroom work in high school or even college with the job market and a career (O’Grady, 2011). Without a doubt this is a great starting point for a paper on “strong feelings” toward being your schools counseling advocate for students, but only a start. There is no mention of internal wellness, self-actualization, lotus of control, or issues of emotional development. An effective school counselor needs a holistic approach to his client, the student body, his colleagues, an administrator, parents, and a society at large with laws and responsibilities that need constant balancing, and sometimes choices have to be made. The ASCA Model
The American School Counselor Association in 1997 published the National Standards for School Counseling Programs (Campbell & Dahir, 1997). The document, which outlined nine standards, three each in the domains of academic, career, and personal/social development, gave direction to a floundering profession unifying its identity and school role (Erford, 2011). This gave way to the ASCA National Model: A framework for School Counseling Programs (ASCA, 2005a). The model broke down and focused counselors on key areas and more comprehensive approaches under four core elements: foundation, delivery, management, and accountability- and infused four themes: leadership, advocacy, systemic change, and collaboration and teaming (Erford, 2011). The framework of a school counseling system would furthermore provide multiple levels of services including Guidance, Individual Student Planning, Responsive Services, Individual Counseling, Small Group Counseling, Consultation, Referral, Crisis Response, Peer Facilitation, Program Management and Operations, Professional Development, and Collaboration and Teaming (Erford, 2011). Interviews
Jody French, M.Ed. is the guidance counselor for Perry Central Schools in Southern Indiana. The entire district resides in one building with separate sections by grade level, and she is the only counselor for elementary, middle and high school. This is a small rural district, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t working with more than 400 students per year.
Kristin Scheumann, M.Ed. is a counselor for Preston Middle school in Fort Collins, Colorado. She counsels grades 7 (A-M) and grade 8. This middle school is larger than the entire Perry Central Corporation. Kristin counsels 450 students.
Julie Baker, M.A. is the other counselor at Preston Middle School. She works with grade 6 and grade 7 (N-Z). She has 360 students.
Keith Herston is the school counselor for grades 5-8 at the Wilson School in the Lauderdale County School Corporation in Alabama. This is a large corporation in an area with 11 medium and small sized schools over hundreds of miles in Northwestern Alabama. Keith has over 300 students. Guidance/Advocacy/Program Management
Keith Herston had an advantage over the others because of his fewer numbers of students, hence when he talked about guidance and counseling he used words like, “I can,” “I incorporate,” “I do.” When speaking about working with his students. Everybody else used a fair amount of, “I wish I had time to,” or “If we had the funding,” and “We try, but.”
“I prefer a person-centered approach while counseling students,” said Keith Herston.
Knowing Keith is seeing “best practices” in action. In two paragraphs he sums up his day, his job, and, what I guarantee from seeing him in action for four hours, he is creating well-adjusted kids. Many of these students are from neglectful and/or poverty-filled situations. 1.I incorporate strategies from other theories such as “reality” and “solution-focused.” I find that the most powerful thing I can do for my students is to be an active listener. Many times the students I counsel do not have an adult in their life with whom they can speak freely. Also, many of these students feel they have no voice with their teachers or peers. Sorta like the old saying, “They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Writing 70 pages will get you no closer to counseling excellence than those words spoken by a huge bear of a man with a heavy dark beard and mustache. He connects with students; he speaks of the individual side of his counseling job. He is aligned with the ASCA and the model attitude of Personal Social Development. He is out front in his beliefs that a person-centered approach, which I would term child-centered, can be the ultimate path to “relationship building.” He knows every child by name and circumstance. Do you think he is in tune with the “leads” he needs to help troubled students realize and self-actualize themselves? Yet, he also is a deep proponent of “solution focused” counseling, and “reality” based intervention. Keith has a great luxury. He has fewer students and a great time management scheme. Yet, as moving as his first paragraph looks, it only scratches the surface of the definition of a “Transformed School Counseling Profession.” We still need to understand and implement the other components of the ASCA Model, but do not misunderstand the power of Keith’s connection with each student and its ability to help. Keith continued in another paragraph following his normal working day as a school counselor.
2.A school counselor’s job demands much time behind a desk doing paperwork and computer functions. A healthy balance of a student contact and clerical work is a must. (Keith is speaking primarily of data collection and record keeping.) I try my best to conduct small group guidance lessons once a month for each grade level I have. I also see an average of 3-5 students per day in a counseling setting. I spend time daily talking to my teachers and administrators about current needs and concerns. I communicate with parents, outside agencies, other schools on a daily basis. Mr. Herston is a counseling textbook in two paragraphs. Being a middle school counselor the only true missing puzzle piece would be career counseling, but by also personally working with Keith for a full day, he stressed a great personal passion: Taking steps in middle school that can guide your career. Counselors and programs in middle school need to stress how the Internet can be a great tool or incredible detriment to your career goals long before you even have those goals in mind. Keith knows this and was a great help in teaching the message. Jody French
“I really struggle because the job of counselor can be so different from one minute to the next. I think there are four areas of school counseling. I have listed them and will explain each.” Jody French, Perry Central School Counselor.
As with Keith, Jody is juggling not only a full school day, but a great deal of work at home. She talks of doing most of her paperwork and notes at home because the department of education makes increased requirements, but does not provide the resources to get the job done. Jodie’s definitions are edited for length, but not content. 1.Guidance – I focus on student learning. As a counselor, we teach students how to study. We learn about their learning styles, and teach them how to handle conflict resolution, etc. All of these affect student performance in the classroom. Education is much more data driven. I spend lots of time pouring through data and figuring out trends. What do students need and how are we going to get them there? I even work with curriculum and understanding the new standards. Jody is in a tough place. Her job stretches her to the outskirts of the National Model of appropriate use of time such as only presenting guidance curriculum and not teaching or working extensively on other curriculum alignment (ASCA, 2003b, p. 168). She is on a slippery slope, and you could see in her exhausted face the levels of responsibility were creeping ever higher. 2.Advocacy – This supports guidance. Advocacy for students is an important counselor role. It means working with at-risk students, calling home and talking to parents, checking grades and helping put every intervention in place to help students. It also means working with administration and teachers. Sometimes a counselor finds themselves on an “Island.” You are not a teacher and you are not an administrator, and in a small school system like mine you are by yourself. This also means hers is the only voice from a counseling professional background, and keeping up with current trends is twice as hard because all the research is on her shoulders. 3.Counseling – Luckily, (unlike Keith) we have a social worker and a new homeless liaison, but I still do my share of counseling. I do not feel prepared for this part of my job, but I am getting better! Basically, it’s about finding student resources. I do a lot of referrals to the local counseling agency and sometimes just listen to students and help them make decisions that are good for them. Jody is not trained or comfortable with individual counseling, but has the sense to “refer” when just talking with a student isn’t getting the job done. This goes directly to knowing your strengths. Jody has a full time social worker onsite. She knows enough to point students to the correct person or agency for help instead of make it up as she goes. 4.Program management – Obviously, there is going to be management. At the first of the year, I spend a lot of time enrolling new students, filling out college applications, etc. I also have to attend PD to keep abreast of new trends and research – which is frequent! I attend every department meeting that goes on in our building along with other special education meetings and response to intervention team meetings. I am also in charge of our Olweus program. Are there ASCA lawyers available to help Jody advocate for herself and her time? A bit of a joke, but also a joke is the fact she is given the task of enrolling and registering new students. We could agree that “helping” to fill out college applications is an integral use of time and knowledge, but Jody is doing a great deal of the actual “filling out” for high school students. Her program is “managing” her into doing her actual job at night and at home. By being required to attend every department meeting we see a good deal of time spent listening to how the math teachers will chose their textbooks for the coming year. It’s interesting that Jody said, “I do not get stuck with a lot of things that are not important like some schools do.” A bit terrifying to think of what the “others” are stuck with. Julie Baker and Kristin Scheumann
Kristin: I love my job, but my caseload has grown from 350 to 450 students this year. I am passionate about connecting with students, but I am still trying to figure out exactly how to do it. I wear many hats.
Julie: Due to funding, we would love to do more prevention with kids – like small group discussions about how to handle bullies, (the entire sixth grade reads, Don’t Feed the Bully each year and has a video conference on bullying with the author) how to avoid drug use, how to be a successful community member, etc. We do some, but seldom. Often our days are spent with parents who may not be sure of how to handle their teens; some aren’t sure how to get their kids to school, out of bed, out of the door. We would love to teach more parents, how to parent.
Kristin: I am the test coordinator, 504 coordinator*, National Junior Honor Society Advisor, student scheduler, phone call responder, meeting attendee, Student Leadership team advisor, “locker-drama” investigator, morning hall monitor, transition-to-high-school queen, lunch duty extraordinaire, and much more. I could spend ALL of my time returning parent phone calls, responding to emails, and coordinating the standardized tests (this is a huge job!).
Julie: I love my school and try to help students feel loved as well. I connect with students sitting alone at lunch; I try and connect with an 11 year-old “little person” who has lost her mom to cancer. Maybe it’s bridging the gap at a home where meth has been the norm and dad got tasered and arrested last night by 13 police officers. Maybe it’s helping a 13-year-old raise funds for two defibrillators in the school that she sees a need.
Kristin: I try to spend as much of my day as possible checking with students, mediating conflicts between students, teaching a class that focuses on developing social-emotional skills/awareness, and running groups. With that said, I have to return phone calls and emails and coordinate tests and all that, “STUFF,” so this means, long days, nights, and weekends in the office.
Julie: Lastly, our days are too often spent on testing facilitation, like CSAPS and others. This is NOT time we enjoy, but again, because of funding, that is a need we fill.
Kristin: Most days I feel like a firefighter, which means rushing from one fire to the next, whether it is an upset parent, teenage drama, teacher frustration. I am REACTIVE! In my perfect job, I would have more time to be PROACTIVE. I wish I could spend my time working with students, bringing in programs, groups, curriculum, and supporting students as they navigate these important adolescent years.
The dream of the “Transformed School Counseling Profession” seems not to be coming to fruition. Kristin and Julie spend most of their time watching students take tests! There can be no transformation without reformation. Applauding their wish lists of their time and “best practice” goals is like cheering an addict who isn’t on drugs for part of the day. They are trying honorably to fit in their actual job. This school is a continental stone’s throw away from Columbine, but the district hasn’t learned any of its lessons. One being, “An informal relationship is vital to a safe school” (Daniels, 2010). The levels of counseling direct from the RTI (Response to Intervention) model (Erford, 2011) are a pipe dream in a school this large. Tier 1, or universal tier, at Preston manifests itself as a couple times a year programs for intervention addressing all students. They have replaced that time with testing. Tier 2, or targeted tier, is explained directly by Kristin, “We would love to do small groups,” on a variety of subjects, but there are 890 students. Tier 3, or intensive tier, is non-existent except for connecting with a student alone at lunch or in extreme cases of family death. These activities should be icing on the cake, not the meat of their counseling sandwich.
There is a laundry list of items that these active counselors of today don’t even have time to think about in their day-to-day work. The concept of the legal implications is rarely a topic of conversation. This may be due to the fact they are all very professional and aware of the rules of reporting, conduct, and how to keep records, but in real world application legal issues are in the background, or are they flying by the seat of their pants? The real problem facing this career is reactive vs. proactive in a large school setting. A question to ask, “Would the Preston counselors look with envy at a man like Keith Herston who can actual prioritize his day along the side the ASCA national model s?”
These counselors deal rarely with sensitive issues such as gay and lesbian questions, or competency on multicultural issues. They are all in very homogeneous population areas with low-income and rural being their greatest diversity problems.
But are they all effective counselors?
The counseling profession has been “reforming” since Sputnik scared the bejesus out of a government trying to drag our country, fresh from war, into a “new world” technological powerhouse trying to race to the top of innovation. When the reality of societies concept was that hard work means getting dirty. Schools counselors jumped to the call, but had support, funding, and an almost singular purpose. The Lofty and honorable goals, and laws of a new generation of counseling ideals, are a great gold ring waiting to be grabbed by a nation of school districts. All suffer from every growing problems on each level of student growth from academic, career, and social-emotional development, but gold is very expensive. The current climate of economic downturn and the political flavor of the month trending away from the principles of student advocacy make “Transforming of the School Counseling Profession” a slow slog, but a worthy fight. A data driven, information based, and research-laden advocacy can only take so long to sink in, but for a very long time we will continue to see the problems outweighing the transformation. When the interview response is in all CAPS, “I am REACTIVE!” You know we need a great deal of more work to change.
*Section 504 is the part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that guarantees specific rights in federally funded programs and activities to people who qualify as disabled. Section 504 states: "No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States... shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance..." Section 504 is enforced by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). OCR can be contacted by calling (303) 844-5695. The School District is responsible for the implementation of Section 504. For more information contact the Section 504/ADA Coordinator for your District.
Under Section 504, a grievance may be filed with the School District or a complaint may be filed with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. For more information on Section 504, click on the links below to access the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.
American School Counselor Association. (2003b). The ASCA national Model: A framework for school counseling programs. Professional School Counseling, 6, 165-168.
American School Counselor Association. (2005a). The ASCA national Model: A framework for school counseling programs (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Author.
Campbell, C., & Dahir, C. (1997). The national standards for school counseling programs. Alexandria, VA: American School Counselor Association.
Colorado Department of Education, (2009). Improving Academic Achievement, The Exceptional Student Leadership Unit. Section 504. Retrieved from http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdesped/504Info.asp
Daniels, J, (2010). Lessons from Columbine. , Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University.
Erford, B. (2011). Transforming the school counseling profession (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
O’Grady, K. (2011). Leading the Way: Randy A. McPherson, the 2011 School Counselor of the Year, shows the students of Memphis, Tenn., how to meet the future head on. School Counselor, 48, 11-17.