Enhancing school counselor accountability: the large group guidance portfolio.
Professional school counselors (PSCs) are an integral part of the national movement to promote standards-based and reflective practice in education (Sink & Spencer, 2005). PSCs are obligated to demonstrate how their comprehensive, developmental programs support student outcomes (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2005; Dahir & Stone, 2003; Gysbers, 2004; Lapan, 2005; Sciarra, 2004). School counselors must be able to effectively show the results of their work with students in concrete and measurable ways, illustrating to others why having a school counseling program is critical to student success. More specifically, "school counselors and school counseling programs must answer the question, "How are students different as a result of the school counseling program?'" (ASCA, p. 59).
In addition to the need for accountability, PSCs also are called upon to work within the multiple systems that impact students and achievement. These systems include the school faculty/staff/administration, parents, caregivers, and community stakeholders. All of these constituents form the support network and partnership framework that are vital to fostering student success (Lapan, 2001). PSCs must promote connectivity between the stakeholders in order to strengthen support for the student, the school, and the school counseling program. Therefore, identifying and connecting with stakeholders is a crucial element in PSC accountability.
Additionally, PSCs must be sensitive to the diverse needs and abilities of students, and should consider the unique needs of their school when designing their school counseling program, the components of the program, and the application of standards-based evaluative measures. PSC program evaluation should be an ongoing process with continuing assessment of student and school needs coupled with adaptation of program services to meet those identified needs (Lapan, 2005). One of the school counselor's roles is to comprehensively and systematically support the academic success of all students; PSCs must work to close the achievement gap between groups of students based on characteristics such as ethnic/racial status, economic status, special needs, English as a second language, or other language group (ASCA, 2004; Eschenauer & Chen-Hayes, 2005). Every student should have exposure to, and the opportunity to participate in, the school counseling program curriculum as well as a forum to demonstrate application of the competencies and standards promoted through the program.
While it is important to engage students and families in the school counseling program, it is also necessary to gain the support of teachers, administration, and other school personnel. It is common for school administrators, teachers, families, and other groups to hold different views about the role of a PSC (Culbreth, Scarborough, Banks-Johnson, & Solomon, 2005). Thus, PSCs need to become proactive professional advocates, clarifying and promoting the school counseling services they provide. This often means making others aware of what PSCs do, and how the school counseling program impacts the lives of students. As Bailey, Getch, and Chen-Hayes (2003) stated, PSCs "must publicize to internal and external publics their roles as academic leaders, advocates, team members and collaborators, users of data for assessment of academic success ..." (p. 430). Thus, professional advocacy and school counseling program accountability are complementary. In this article we offer a tool to support both school counseling accountability and stakeholder engagement via the large group guidance portfolio.
LARGE GROUP GUIDANCE PORTFOLIOS
The first author began using this accountability and engagement tool while working as an elementary school counselor. At that time, the school district was emphasizing the need for all school personnel to incorporate standards-based accountability measures in curriculum design. Already in use were data-based evaluation approaches to measure program outcomes including (a) state standardized test scores, (b) the number of discipline referrals, (c) absences and tardiness counts, and (d) simple tallying of activities such as documenting the number of large group guidance presentations conducted in one week. In addition, assessments in the form of survey questionnaires completed by students and parents were being used for program design and evaluation. These methods were useful, but they did not document and capture the personal relevance and application of the guidance curriculum to individual students.
The first author also wanted to improve the school personnel's understanding and connection to the school counseling program, and parental/caregiver and administrative support for the program. To accomplish this, a new adjunctive approach was sought to capture the essence of the work done by students in large group guidance, provide a visual link between large group guidance and the school-wide academic mission, and demonstrate the ASCA (2005) advocated domains--academic, career, and personal/social--facilitated in guidance as part of a comprehensive developmental program (Myrick, 2003). Student large group guidance portfolios were selected as the means for achieving these objectives.
While professional literature has addressed how PSCs can create work portfolios (James & Greenwalt, 2001), we found no mention of student school counseling portfolios. Portfolios have been suggested for use by PSCs for their own professional development because they allow the counselor to collect, organize, and display professional materials that represent his or her own unique capabilities in a personal and creative fashion (James & Greenwalt). They show the counselor's strength through work samples and illustrate growth over time (Boes, 2001; James & Greenwalt). They also allow the counselor to choose the most personally meaningful artifacts for inclusion, giving viewers an in-depth picture of how counselors construct meaning and relevance in their work. Further, artifacts link the PSC's work to the National Standards (Boes). The rationale for this initiative, therefore, was that perhaps some of these benefits would transfer to students if they created portfolios of their large group guidance work.
Several logistical concerns were considered. To begin with, the first author advocated for this project with the school administration prior to the beginning of the school year. Both the principal and assistant principal were supportive and willing to assist as needed. Next, materials had to be procured that would be attractive, user friendly, and durable (James & Greenwalt, 2001). It was also important for the data collection method to be easily implemented--designed as a part of the everyday routine (Stone & Dahir, 2007). The Parent Teacher Association (PTA) was asked if it would be willing to provide the folders needed for student portfolios. The PTA agreed and purchased 800 three-prong, double-pocketed folders in six different colors (red, green, blue, yellow, orange, and purple). These were purchased from a sponsoring community retail partner to the school at a wholesale cost of 4 cents per folder. Six milk crates also were purchased.
The first author divided the milk crates by grade (kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade, and fifth grade) and assigned each grade a different folder color. Teachers then were provided with colored folders for each student in their class. The students' names were written on the outside of their folder. The crates were locked in the PSC's room and the folders were only removed when the PSC went to a classroom for large group guidance.
The first author then had a plain piece of white paper printed with the words "MY SCHOOL COUNSELING PORTFOLIO" inserted into each student's folder. This was done by parent and caregiver volunteers. On the first day of large group guidance delivery, each student was given their folder along with crayons and they decorated the cover page. After that, the first author had students add their own work to their portfolios during each large group guidance unit presented.
Some examples of artifacts in the students' school counseling portfolios included the following:
* As part of a unit on diversity and multicultural awareness, students were given a personal Coat of Arms worksheet. The first author gave them directions to divide the Coat of Arms into four sections. They then completed each of the four squares by writing or drawing a picture of the following personal information about themselves: favorite book, favorite holiday, favorite school subject, what they would like to be when they grow up. They completed their coat of arms and then shared their drawings in a small group. Afterward, the personal Coat of Arms was placed in the student's portfolio. This activity was used to illustrate that all students are unique and different (Personal/Social Domain).
* During a study skills unit, fourth- and fifth-grade students were asked to generate three academic goals and three steps to achieving each of their goals. This sheet was added to the portfolio (Academic Domain).
* During a career guidance unit, students were asked to draw a picture of a career they found interesting and to write a paragraph about that career (Career Domain).
The PSC found that the stakeholders of the school counseling program were very interested in, and supportive of, the portfolio project. Often, teachers would have assignments related to large group guidance that were added to the portfolios from the classroom. Many of the teachers commented that they had a better understanding and appreciation for what the students were learning and taking away from large group guidance. For example, one teacher stated, "I understand now what school counselors actually do. Before, I wasn't really sure what they were trying to accomplish. I can really see what the students are gaining." More importantly, the students took great pride in their portfolios. In fact, students would bring their families to the PSC during open house and parent-teacher conferences in order to show their portfolios to their families.
The portfolios allowed students to illustrate the personal relevance and meaning derived from large group guidance lessons. Based on teacher reports and interactions with students, it was apparent that the students demonstrated higher levels of competence beyond recognition of imparted knowledge--they were better able to apply and synthesize the information from large group guidance. For example, one of the third-grade teachers had her students add updated academic goals throughout the year and each time the students had more concrete, measurable goals. During subsequent years, the first author continued to use the same portfolios for each student (regrouping the portfolios under each teacher's name every year by classroom roster). The school only had to purchase folders for incoming kindergarten students each year, reducing the cost to about $20 per year. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and the maintenance of this project took a negligible amount of the counselor's time.
The large group guidance portfolios allowed the first author to demonstrate the standards-based curriculum by illustrating, in a concrete fashion, student competencies by standard. The students were able to apply their newly gained competencies in a personally relevant manner. This made it easier to advocate for the benefits of the school counseling program. It also provided a connection with stakeholders because the students and first author could show parents/caregivers what students were doing in large group guidance. This fostered a stakeholder-PSC connection that in turn benefited the program. Donations of colored pencils, markers, and other materials filtered in throughout the year from supportive parents/caregivers. In addition, every family had an opportunity to connect with the school counseling program in a positive manner. The portfolios promoted positive dialogue and connection, which supported a strengths-based perspective when assessing students. In addition, throughout the year, more parents and caregivers met the first author and more volunteered to help with activities hosted by the counselor throughout the year--donating time and resources to the program.
EXTENDING THE USE OF THE LARGE GROUP GUIDANCE PORTFOLIO
While this case illustration is of an elementary PSC's experience, portfolios also would be useful in middle and high school. For example, high school PSCs may consider career portfolios to include (a) career interest inventories, (b) financial aid calculations, (c) research obtained on a particular career along with projections about how it fits with economic trends and business climate, (d) essays for college entry, (e) scholarship essays (Dahir & Stone, 2003), (f) curriculum vita/resume, and (g) volunteer service records and documentation. We believe that student school counseling portfolios can easily be tailored to the unique needs of individual schools and students, as well as be adapted developmentally for middle and high school levels.
In order to connect the large group guidance portfolio with academics, it would be useful to have teachers assign projects and writing samples relevant to both the school counseling curriculum and the school's instructional program to be integrated into the portfolio. It is suggested that PSCs collaborate with grade-level teachers to infuse and align the guidance portfolio to that of the academic curriculum. For example, when studying the history of particular cultural groups, the large group guidance portfolio may be utilized for narrative reflections, debating topics relevant to cultural conflict, and investigating political and social impetus for change. In math class, students may design financial plans for volunteer projects. In reading, students could write reflections about characters from classroom novels that resonate with them based on personal values and ethical decision making. The possibilities for using the portfolio are limitless.
This article introduced the large group guidance portfolio as a creative way to increase program accountability, foster stakeholder understanding and investment in the school counseling program, promote family-child connection with the school counseling program, and serve as a tool for counselor advocacy. There are many ways to use school counseling portfolios to meet the unique needs of the school community and individual students. The portfolio is one pragmatic approach to supporting PSC accountability, student holistic development, and stakeholder engagement.
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Jennifer Curry is a doctoral candidate and Glenn W. Lambie, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in Child, Family, & Community Sciences, University of Central Florida, Orlando. E-mail: je005421@ pegasus.cc.ucf.edu
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|Author:||Curry, Jennifer; Lambie, Glenn W.|
|Publication:||Professional School Counseling|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2007|
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