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Day-to-day activities of school counselors: alignment with new directions in the field and the ASCA National Model[R].

Role changes in the profession of school counseling take considerable time to be enacted in practice. The purpose of the study in this article is to examine whether newly hired elementary school counselors working in urban settings can implement (a) new directions for practice that have emerged in the recent school counseling literature (i.e., a programmatic, collaborative, and preventive approach), and (b) the components that reflected these new directions embedded in the Delivery System of the ASCA National Model[R].


Role changes in any profession take considerable time to be enacted in practice. In elementary school counseling, new directions for practice have been signaled in the professional literature over the past several years (Adelman & Taylor, 2002b; Bemak, 2000; Borders, 2002; Green & Keys, 2001; Gysbers, 2001; Lapan, 2001; Myrick, 2003; Paisley & McMahon, 2001) and have been recently promulgated in the guidelines for the profession, such as Campbell and Dahir's (1997) National Standards for School Counseling Programs and the ASCA National Model[R] (American School Counselor Association, 2005). However, there is little evidence to date about how these new directions and models of practice have been or can be implemented in the day-to-day practice of elementary school counselors.

The purpose of this article is to examine whether newly hired elementary school counselors working in urban settings can engage in best practices by implementing the new directions for practice that have emerged in the recent school counseling literature and that have been operationalized in the Delivery System of the ASCA National Model. School counselors in this study work in schools that are members of an established university-community agency partnership called Boston Connects, whose mission is to develop coordinated, comprehensive, and systemic approaches to student support in urban schools. The work of the school counselors is informed by the partnership's mission and is shaped by ongoing professional development provided by the partnership. The school counselors' salaries are paid for primarily by government and foundation grants secured by the administration of the partnership with small but growing contributions from schools and community agencies. In the schools, the school counselors report directly to the principal.


Changes in the roles of school counselors have not occurred in a vacuum; they have been shaped by the context of the American educational system. Education reform's concern for accountability and outcomes has led educators to a laser-like focus on improvements in teaching and learning (Marshak, 2003; Monty, 2003; U.S. Department of Education, 2001). However, despite the best efforts of teachers, a significant achievement gap remains between students from upper- and middle-class families and their counterparts from families living below the poverty line, particularly students of color (Barton, 2001, 2003; Isaacs, 2003; Newsom, 2003). It is apparent that closing the achievement gap and attaining high academic standards will require more than new instructional approaches. A review of recent research (Darling-Hammond, 2000) has indicated that improved teaching and learning practices account for only about 40-60% of the gap, while class size accounts for an additional 8%. Family and community issues are estimated to account for the significant remainder of the achievement gap. The emergence of the "new morbidities" (e.g., sexual abuse, domestic and community violence, poverty, drug abuse, and homelessness) in family and community environments poses significant threats to children's well-being and constitutes significant barriers to learning (Becker & Luthar, 2002; Bemak, 2000; Center for Mental Health in Schools, 2003; Dryfoos, 1990; Greenberg et al., 2003; Urban Institute, 2000; Walsh & Murphy, 2003).

Increasing recognition of the impact of nonacademic barriers to learning has important implications for the role of school counselors. By examining the day-to-day activities of urban school counselors in a school-community-university partnership, this study will demonstrate that the work of newly hired, urban, elementary school counselors can be aligned with (a) new directions emerging in the field of school counseling as well as (b) the ASCA National Model.


Among the significant emerging trends in the school counseling literature, three were selected for this study because they appear to be particularly relevant to the work of school counselors in urban settings: (a) the implementation of programmatic approaches to school counseling, (b) the development of collaborative practice, and (c) a focus on prevention and advocacy. These trends also reflect education reform's focus on systemic approaches to whole school change, collaboration with family and community agencies, and its core belief that all children have strength and all children can learn (Adelman & Taylor, 2002b; Borders, 2002; Gysbers, 2001; Myrick, 2003; Osborne & Collison, 1998; Paisley & McMahon, 2001; U.S. Department of Education, 2001; Walsh, Howard, & Buckley, 1999; Weissberg & O'Brien, 2004).

By working programmatically, the school counselor works within an overall, organized, and integrated program of services, supports, and projects that can effect change both in the individual student as well as in the systems that surround the individual, such as school, family, community, and neighborhood (Green & Keys, 2001; Lee, 2001; Lerner, 1986, 1995; Paisley & McMahon, 2001). In practice, this shift involves an increase in indirect services, such as consultation with a parent or teacher, and a corresponding decrease in direct services, such as individual counseling and crisis management (Green & Keys).

Collaborative practice involves attending to multiple domains of development (i.e., physical, psychological, and social) and engaging families as well as a wide range of professions (Green & Keys, 2001; Gysbers & Henderson, 1994, 2001; Lerner, 1986, 1995; Paisley & McMahon, 2001). School counselors, teachers, administrators, nurses, and other professionals on student support teams (SSTs) make recommendations for interventions that can include in-school services and supports (e.g., counseling, special education referral), community services delivered in schools (e.g., after-school programs), or services in community agencies (e.g., ESL classes, family counseling, legal counseling) (Adelman & Taylor, 2002a; Comer, 1995; Green & Keys, 2001; Keys & Bemak, 1997; Sears & Granello, 2002). Collaborative practice not only broadens the range of accessible services so that students' needs are met with appropriate supports, it also engages community resources critical to addressing issues that reflect larger community concerns.

School counseling's renewed focus on prevention and advocacy has resulted in an overall shift away from addressing individual student problems or crises toward providing prevention services that help to protect all students from developing problems that interfere with learning and growth opportunities (Education Trust, 2003; House & Martin, 1998; Lee, 2001). In addition to providing prevention services, school counselors also function as "developmental advocates" by fostering prosocial skills and problem-solving competencies (Masten, Best, & Garmezy, 1991; Werner & Smith, 1992).


A programmatic, collaborative, and preventive approach is concretized in the ASCA National Model for School Counseling Programs, which defines a consistent identity and philosophy for school counselors. In particular, the Delivery System of the ASCA National Model describes the activities, interactions, and areas in which counselors work to deliver the program. The Delivery System is made up of four components: (a) guidance curriculum, (b) individual planning, (c) responsive services, and (d) system support (ASCA, 2005).


In the present study, the daily activities of the school counselors will be examined directly in light of two different frameworks: (a) new directions for the field of school counseling and (b) the components of the Delivery System of the ASCA National Model. The three emerging trends in the field are (a) the implementation of a programmatic approach, (b) the development of collaborative practice, and (c) a focus on prevention and advocacy. For the purposes of this study, these trends are referred to as "New Directions." Because these three New Directions are reflected and operationalized in the ASCA National Model, the activities of school counselors will further be examined in fight of the four components of the Delivery System of the ASCA National Model--guidance curriculum, individual planning, responsive services, and system support.



School counselors in four of the Boston Connects public elementary schools participated in the study. The two larger schools each had full-time counselors and the two smaller schools had half-time counselors. The school counselors in this study work within a particular context--that is, a multischool systemic program that provides students with comprehensive, coordinated services and supports. Known as Boston Connects, the program is implemented by a public school--community agency--university partnership. Embedded in the schools, the program coordinates comprehensive student support for 3,300 students in nine Boston Public Elementary Schools in one geographic cluster of city schools (Allston/Brighton and Mission Hill/Roxbury neighborhoods).

By implementing effective student support and connecting individual students and families with well-developed community agency resources, the program is working toward systemic change in both schools and community agencies. School counselors are assigned to individual schools to coordinate services and resources that support student learning and development. They are funded primarily by government and foundation grants with growing assistance from schools and community agencies. It should be noted that the school counselors in this study serve as the only school counselors in each building; the district as a whole does not provide school counselors at the elementary level.

At the time of data collection, the experience level of the participants ranged from I year to 5 years. The school counselors are all Caucasian women with master's degrees in school counseling. Supervision and professional development provided for the school counselors by the Boston Connects program are consistent with best practices in school counseling as reflected in both the emerging trends in the research as well as the guidelines and models of the field.


The data for this study were collected through weekly logs in which the school counselors documented their service delivery activities. They were asked to describe on a single page "all of the major service delivery activities" in which they had engaged during that week. Written in narrative form by each of the school counselors and submitted weekly, the logs described activities in which they had engaged during the week.

Data Analysis

In their reports, the school counselors provided a wide range of responses. For the purposes of data analysis, it was essential to group the responses into a more manageable set of categories that summarized the reported activities. The researchers used a qualitative, deductive methodology for classifying the activities reported by the school counselors (Miles & Huberman, 1994). In a pilot study, the researchers had derived an initial set of 11 categories on the basis of activities identified in the school counseling literature (e.g., individual student services, family support and outreach). When these initial 11 categories were field-tested, 9 categories emerged to encompass all of the reported school counselor activities. These 9 categories, termed "School Counselor Activity Categories" (SCACs), served as the unit of analysis for this study.

Table 1 shows the percentage of the total number of activities represented in each SCAC. For example, of the total number of activities that the counselors reported over the course of the school year, 16% were characterized as individual student appraisal. In order to assess inter-rater reliability of the categorization of school counselor activities, an independent rater coded 20% of the data. The results from both raters were highly correlated; they agreed in their assessments on 90% of the data.

The SCACs data not only provided immediate information to local program evaluators, it also constituted the basis for examining the activities of the school counselors through two lenses: (a) the three New Directions in the field of school counseling (programmatic approach, collaborative practice, and a focus on prevention and advocacy), and (b) the four components of the Delivery System of the ASCA National Model (guidance curriculum, individual planning, responsive services, and system support).

Although the ASCA National Model states that counselors should devote 80% of their time to service delivery and the other 20% to program management and maintenance (ASCA, 2005), this study focused only on the service delivery activities of the school counselors, not on program management. Thus, the school counselors were only asked to report activities that fell within the Delivery System of the ASCA National Model.

It is also important to note that some SCACs conceivably could have been categorized into more than one of the three New Directions in the field, or into more than one component of the Delivery System of the ASCA National Model. However, in order to avoid overcomplicating the data, the researchers categorized each of the nine SCACs into the single New Direction as well as the single component of the ASCA National Model's Delivery System that best represented that activity.


School Counselor Activity Categories in Light of the New Directions in School Counseling

The ways in which the SCACs reflected the three New Directions in the school counseling literature were assessed by classifying each SCAC according to which of the three New Directions it best reflected. The categories of staff support (13%) and agency support (4%) best reflected a programmatic approach to school counseling. Four SCACs (i.e., service connections [29%], individual student appraisal [16%], family support and outreach [10%], and individual student services [5%]) were judged to be reflective of the second New Direction, collaborative practice. The third New Direction, focus on prevention and advocacy, was reflected in the following SCACs: school climate activities (14%), group services (8%), and school screenings (1%). See Table 2 for the results and percentage breakdowns for each of the SCACs. Researchers familiar with school counseling literature and practice independently judged which New Direction was reflected by each SCAC; their judgments correlated at .90.

In summary, a programmatic approach was reflected in 17% of school counselor activities, a collaborative approach was represented in 60% of their activities, and a focus on prevention and advocacy characterized 23% of school counselor activities.

The ASCA National Model Delivery System

The SCACs also were analyzed in terms of how they reflected the Delivery System of the ASCA National Model. By using the definitions and examples provided by ASCA (2005) for each of the four components, the researchers were able to determine the SCACs that would reflect each of the components.

The guidance curriculum component consists of group services (8%), family support and outreach (10%), and school climate activities (14%). The component of individual planning consists of individual student appraisal (16%) and school screenings (1%). The responsive services component was made up of individual student services (5%) and service connections (29%). The final component, system support, included staff support (13%) and agency support (4%). Three judges independently confirmed these ratings. See Table 3 for the results and percentage breakdowns for each of the SCACs.

In short, the guidance curriculum represented 32% of school counselor activities, individual planning represented 17% of their activities, responsive services represented 34% of their activities, and system support represented 17% of school counselor activities.


The activities of school counselors in this study are consistent with the three New Directions for the field as well as the components of the Delivery System of the ASCA National Model. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that newly hired, urban school counselors can practice in a way that is aligned with both new directions in the field of school counseling as well as the guidelines of the ASCA National Model Delivery System. These positive results, coupled with the particular relevance of these new directions in best practices for schools with limited resources, support the relevance of this study for school counselors working in urban settings.

On the one hand, it may not seem surprising that school counselors who are exposed to a new vision through the guidance and professional development provided by the Boston Connects program are able to implement best practices. On the other hand, there is substantive evidence to indicate that implementing best-practices ideals in the day-to-day context of busy and under-resourced settings is not an easy or quick process (Holcomb-McCoy, 1998; Trevisan & Hubert, 2001). That these school counselors were able to work within best practices speaks to the good fit of the New Directions in the field as well as the usefulness of the Delivery System of the ASCA National Model for providing support for urban students.

Further, evidence that is emerging from both the qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the Boston Connects program suggests that the best practices exemplified by the counselors are contributing to more and better supports for student learning and health development. In addition, this model of practice is perceived positively by principals.

Principal Feedback

By practicing according to the field's emerging trends and guidelines, the school counselors earned the support of the school principals. Because the school counselors are employed by Boston Connects, principals' support for the school counselors was not necessarily a given at the time they were hired. However, the positive outcomes for individual students as well as the school culture over a 2-year period have led the principals not only to support the presence of the school counselors, but to argue staunchly for it. In particular, principals acknowledge that the school counselors have improved and refined the student support process:
 Prior to [Boston Connects], Student Support
 was maybe meeting three or four times a year
 and now we actually meet weekly, which is
 extraordinary and very much needed.... In
 the past, Student Support was seen as more of
 a pre-referral for special education, and now
 people really understand Student Support is
 about support ... and that has happened in
 just 4 years and that's pretty good. (Principal
 interview, fall 2003)

In addition to improving the student support team and process, principals have acknowledged that the work of the school counselors has increased the number of prevention and intervention services available for the students and also has engaged families successfully. For example, one principal said,
 I think [the school counselor] this year has
 broken new ground. If you look at her role, in
 many ways she connects social services to the
 school; she connects parents to the school; she
 connects businesses to the school. I think
 those are vital to the roles of the [school counselor].
 (Principal interview, spring 2003)

Finally, in the simplest but perhaps most poignant endorsement of the work of the school counselors, one principal stated, "I feel supported in a way that I never have before" (principal interview, spring 2003). This statement indicates that the school counselors' work has not affected only the periphery of the school community, but it has become embedded in the schools and central to their teaching and learning missions. Such positive principal support has resulted not only in the principals arguing for maintaining the school counseling program, but also in their willingness to stretch their budgets to support the school counselors' salaries. In each school, the school counselor now sits on the instructional leadership team.

Alignment with the New Directions of School Counseling

Programmatic approach. The school counselors in this study are implementing a coordinated and coherent program of school-wide activities and curricula. Data suggest that about one sixth (17%) of the activities were described as helping both school and agency staff to build more effective structures for delivering student support (e.g., participating with mental health agencies in designing the delivery of mental health services in schools). In the context in which the school counselors in this study work (i.e., Boston Connects Program), the implementation of a programmatic approach was a task shared at both local and system-wide levels. This arrangement freed up some of the school counselors' time for other activities. Had the approach to building the school counseling program not occurred at the systemic level as well as the local level, the percentage of activities that school counselors devoted to program development in their schools likely would have been higher.

Collaborative practice. The new direction of collaborative practice accounted for the greatest percentage of the overall activities performed by the school counselors in this study (see Table 2). This finding suggests that the school counselors are not working in isolation, but are partnering with professionals both within the schools as well as in the community. For these school counselors, the collaboration occurred primarily with three groups: (a) community agency staff, (b) in-school professionals, and (c) families.

One of the major collaborative activities (29%) of these school counselors was making connections with local community agencies (e.g., boys and girls clubs, YMCAs, hospitals, health providers, mental health centers, community health centers, after-school providers, and community centers). The service connections were used to refer a child or a family with a specific identified need for individual services and/or to establish a sustained formal partnership between the school and the agency. These partnerships led to the development of collaborative programs (e.g., after-school, youth development programs) and to novel school-agency partnerships (e.g., the local mental health center agreed to provide a counselor as a regular member of a school's SST). The school counselors also enhanced collaboration with professionals within the school by developing more effective and efficient SSTs that involved multiple school-based professionals (e.g., teachers, school nurses, administrators, curriculum coaches).

The neighborhoods in which this study was carried out, although some of the poorest in the city in terms of per-capita income, have a substantial number of services and resources that can provide positive opportunities not only for students, but also for families. In the past, the lack of connections to schools has limited the ability of agencies to reach out to families who might benefit from community agency services. The percentage of activities that the school counselors devoted to family support and outreach (10%) suggests that they significantly facilitated these critical connections and recognized the critical role that parents play in supporting academic and social development. For example, the school counselors recruited parents to be employed in the before- and after-school programs.

Focus on prevention and advocacy. Nearly a quarter of the school counselors' activities reflected the third emerging direction, focus on prevention and advocacy. Many of the group counseling activities (e.g., anger management, bullying groups) had a clear focus on prevention. However, it is important to note that the activities of the school counselors also extended to fostering prosocial competencies in students (e.g., social skills groups, friendship groups). This emphasis on encouraging student competencies is consistent with the recommendation that counselors act as developmental advocates (Galassi & Akos, 2004).

Developmental advocacy also was evident in new student screenings, which linked students with supports that would foster healthy development (e.g., YMCA summer camp). In addition, in promoting a healthy and positive school climate, the school counselors helped to establish goals and standards that fostered an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for differences. Proactive efforts to improve school climate allowed school counselors to serve all of the students, not just those identified as at risk.

Alignment with the Delivery System of the ASCA National Model

The data from this study also suggest that newly hired school counselors working in urban settings can effectively implement the four components of the Delivery System of the ASCA National Model. The school counselors' activities were distributed fairly evenly across all four components of the Delivery System. This finding contrasts sharply with earlier decades in which the roles of school counselors were mostly confined to activities such as orientation, individual appraisal, counseling, information, placement, and follow-up (Gysbers, 2001)--activities that are now defined as responsive services. In this study, however, responsive services made up only about one third of the total number of school counselor activities, with the remaining two thirds distributed among the other three components of the Delivery System of the ASCA National Model (i.e., guidance curriculum, individual planning, and system support).

Measuring Alignment with the ASCA Delivery System: Recording Frequency Versus Time

It is important to recognize that the focus of this study is not the time spent on individual activities, but rather the frequency of the major activities performed by newly hired school counselors. Studies that have tracked time on task (e.g., Holcomb-McCoy & Mitchell, 2005) limit the number of data points because of the burdensome nature of documenting time spent on activities. By contrast, tracking frequency of activities allows multiple data points (in this case, one per week for 40 weeks), thus expanding the sample of school counselor activities over an extensive period of time. Scarborough (2005) recently developed a measure of school counselor activities that also employed frequency of activities as its unit of analysis because of its "perceived ease, comprehensiveness, and flexibility" (p. 276). Clearly, there is not a perfect correspondence between the frequency of activities and the time spent on these activities. However, when the data are collected over an extended period of time, it is more reasonable to assume that the frequency of occurrence and time will correspond fairly well.

Gysbers and Henderson (2000) offered guidelines for the amount of time that school counselors should devote to each of the four components of the Delivery System of the ASCA National Model. They recommended that (a) 30-40% of the school counselor's time be devoted to responsive services, (b) 5-10% to individual student planning, (c) 10-15% to system support, and (d) 35-40% to guidance curriculum. This study found that (a) 34% of the school counselor activities reflected responsive services, (b) 17% of school counselor activities reflected individual student planning, (c) 17% reflected system support, and (d) 32% reflected guidance curriculum. The frequency of activities reported by the school counselors in this study approximates these recommendations (see Table 3). The largest discrepancy occurs in individual student planning, which likely reflects a critical challenge of balancing a focus on services for individual students with a focus on all students. It is also possible that the unique challenges faced by urban students require a slightly different arrangement of services than these general estimates recommend.

As scholars and practitioners in the field of school counseling have pointed out (e.g., Galassi & Akos, 2004; Green & Keys, 2001; Gysbers, 2001; Gysbers & Lapan, 2001; Paisley & McMahon, 2001), practice that is informed by new directions in the field can significantly enhance the life chances of children, particularly those who struggle with limited access to health care, youth development opportunities, and quality education (Keys, Bemak, & Lockhart, 1998; Paisley & McMahon). Designing programmatic approaches to school counseling, working collaboratively with school and community-based stakeholders, and providing meaningful prevention and advocacy services for students will contribute substantially to integrating school counseling into the central academic mission of the school.


While this study includes qualitative outcome data from the perspective of the principals, a future study could assess the success of implementing these New Directions by examining quantitative data, such as improvements in student academic achievement. Further, this study tracked the activities of school counselors in four schools, all of which were located in a specific context (i.e., the Boston Connects Program). While it would be ideal to track the activities of a large number of school counselors who worked across a variety of contexts, this study represents a good first step and provides a useful methodology for collecting this type of data.

The findings indicate that newly hired, urban school counselors are capable of engaging in best practices by effectively implementing trends that emerge in the school counseling literature and that are operationalized by the American School Counselor Association. Further, these best practices in school counseling appear from the perspective of principals to be integrated and effective components of their whole-school change strategies. The New Directions for school counselors and the guidelines provided by the ASCA National Model appear well suited to support the education reform agenda of schools and the healthy development of students.

The activities of the school counselors in this study provide evidence of an important transition occurring in the field of school counseling. The shift in focus from providing services predominantly for individual students to working systemically to serve all students centralizes the role of school counselors in supporting the teaching and learning mission of schools and situates them as essential figures in the nation's goal to reform education and leave no child behind.


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Mary E. Walsh, Ph.D., is a professor, James G. Barrett, Ph.D., is a research associate, and Jillian DePaul, M.A., M.Ed., is a doctoral student, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA. E-mail:
Table 1. Percentage of Service Activities Performed by School

School Counselor Activity Category Percentage of Activities

Service connections 29%
Individual student appraisal 16%
School climate activities 14%
Staff support 13%
Family support and outreach 10%
Group services 8%
Individual student services 5%
Agency support 4%
School screenings 1%

Table 2. Percentage of Activities Reflecting the New Directions
in School Counseling

New Direction School Counselor Activity Category Grand Totals

Programmatic Staff support (13%) 17%
approach Agency support (4%)

Collaborative Service connections (29%) 60%
practice Individual student appraisal (16%)
 Family support and outreach (10%)
 Individual student services (5%)

Focus on School climate activities (14%) 23%
prevention Group services (8%)
and advocacy School screenings (1%)

Table 3. Percentage of Activities in the ASCA Delivery System

ASCA Delivery School Counselor Activity Grand
System Component Category Totals

Guidance curriculum Group services (8%) 32%
 School climate activities (14%)
 Family support and outreach (10%)

Individual planning Individual student appraisal (16%) 17%
 School screenings (1%)

Responsive services Individual student services (5%) 34%
 Service connections (29%)

System Support Staff support (13%) 17%
 Agency support (4%)
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Author:DePaul, Jillian
Publication:Professional School Counseling
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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