Developmental counseling and therapy as a model for school counselor consultation with teachers.
The allocation of school counselors' time is among the emphases of comprehensive school counseling program models (e.g., Gysbers & Henderson, 2000). Burnham and Jackson (2000) found that the percentage of time school counselors spend on individual counseling is elevated compared to the recommended percentage discussed by Gysbers and Henderson. Jackson and White (2000) indicated that "requests for individual counseling pose the biggest threat to developmental and preventative counseling programs" (p. 278). Furthermore, they found that teacher referrals for students' individual counseling are frequently guided by the belief that the school counselor's role is to solve students' current behavior problems rather than to prevent future problems. Offering to serve as a consultant to a teacher is one way that school counselors can reframe referral requests into an opportunity to intervene at the systems level and emphasize prevention.
Consultation is an integral activity for school counselors working in comprehensive, developmental programs. They can use consultative techniques to provide both responsive services and system support (American School Counselor Association, 2005). For example, a school counselor can respond to a teacher's request for consultation regarding a student concern, and through that interaction the teacher might gain skills, knowledge, or insight that can help him or her to be better prepared to respond to or prevent a similar situation in the future (Parsons & Kahn, 2005). Thus, consultation can be both a preventative measure (Jackson & White, 2000) and an efficient use of a school counselor's time (Brigman, Mullis, Webb, & White, 2005; Parsons & Kahn).
Through consultation with a teacher, school counselors can target the individual who is most likely in a position to effect change in the classroom environment. If a teacher implements changes that make the classroom system function more effectively, then the frequency or intensity of some student behaviors may decrease (Marzano & Marzano, 2003). Changing the system not only may help a student to make immediate behavioral changes but also might help a student to sustain those changes (Ivey, 1991). Furthermore, classroom management affects not only the student identified in the referral but also the class as a whole and has a substantial effect on students' achievement (Marzano & Marzano; Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1993).
There is a plethora of literature indicating that students' behavior and classroom discipline are significant sources of teachers' stress (Kyriacou, 2001; Montgomery & Rupp, 2005; Wiley, 2000). Specifically, student behaviors that are emotionally charged and social (e.g., impulsivity, anxiety, hostility, and aggressiveness) rather than academic in nature are the "most significant and universal of teaching stressors" (Greene, Abidin, & Kmetz, 1997, p. 240). Although there is limited agreement on the definition of stress in the education literature, Wiley, in a synthesis of research on teachers' stress, offered the definition "job related factors [that] interact with the worker to change her psychological or physiological condition such that she is forced to deviate from normal functioning" (p. 1). It may be important to address the stress that some teachers feel in relation to student behavior because stress may impact a teacher's ability to manage a classroom effectively (Wiley).
Greene et al. (1997) hypothesized that the stress teachers experience relative to student behavior is both person-specific and situation-specific. These characteristics of teachers' stress are among the factors that might guide school counselors toward considering developmental counseling and therapy (DCT) as a basis for a consultation with teachers. DCT parallels Green et al.'s hypothesis; the way an individual initially makes meaning and emotionally experiences a situation can be person- and situation-specific (Ivey, Ivey, Myers, & Sweeney, 2005). Applying DCT to consultation is likely to help school counselors respond to the person- or situation-specific emotional experience of teachers while helping teachers to consider alternate ways of understanding and working with student behaviors that may be stressful.
DEVELOPMENTAL COUNSELING AND THERAPY
Developmental counseling and therapy and the assessment of meaning making are grounded in Piagetian theory and the metaphorical interpretation of Plato's allegory of the cave (Ivey, Ivey, Myers, et al., 2005; Myers, 1998). DCT offers a means of clinical assessment and intervention, which has been successfully adapted to serve a variety of populations (Cashwell, Myers, & Shurts, 2004; Ivey, 1991; Ivey et al.; Myers; Myers, Shoffner, & Briggs, 2002). A relevant strength of DCT is the speed through which a counselor who is proficient in the use of this theory can assess how an individual makes meaning of a specific situation and expand his or her understanding, "build a more solid foundation," or "reach more complex ways of thinking" (Ivey et al., p. 140). The theory's strength in developing more complex ways of making meaning out of a situation and the generalization of learning is likely to meet the goals of school-based consultation (e.g., helping teachers to become more self-reliant problem solvers; Brigman et al., 2005). Four primary cognitive developmental modalities are used to understand ways in which individuals make meaning of situations and explain their experiences.
COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENTAL MODALITIES
Ivey (1991, 1993, 1999; Ivey, Ivey, Myers, et al., 2005), much like Piaget, articulated four cognitive developmental modalities that individuals use to understand and explain the world. The cognitive developmental modalities are sensorimotor, concrete, formal-operational, and dialectic/systemic. The sensorimotor modality consists of an emotional and physiological response frequently described as an embedded feeling. The emotion is intertwined with the experience and behaviors are often erratic and irrational. Individuals using the concrete modality to tell their stories explain details in a linear manner and articulate causal relationships. Typically the stories are told with great detail and in the past tense. The formal-operational modality is characterized by the identification of patterns of thinking, feeling, or behaving. Absolute language (e.g., "always") punctuates the stories and meaning is reflected in the described patterns. Finally, the dialectic/systemic perspective includes understanding patterns within patterns or interacting systems. Stories typically reflect multiple perspectives and emotions change in response to the perspective taken.
Preferences and Developmental Blocks
Individuals might use all of these cognitive developmental modalities, but specific situations often yield preferences (Ivey, Ivey, Myers, et al., 2005; Myers et al., 2002). Preferences are not intentional choices that individuals make about how to conceptualize a situation but rather the most comfortable modality for understanding or explaining a given situation. These preferences are typically demonstrated through the modality in which a story is initially told (Ivey et al.). For example, if a teacher's situation-specific preference is concrete, he or she will likely begin by describing the situation in a detailed, linear manner. Although a teacher may be able to process a situation in multiple modalities, he or she is likely to return to preferred modalities at different points in the consultation process.
Some situations also create blocks in processing the experience (Ivey, Ivey, Myers, et al., 2005). A block is defined as a situation-specific inability to function in a particular cognitive developmental modality (Myers et al., 2002). A block can represent an inability either to access a particular cognitive developmental modality or to move outside of a particular cognitive developmental modality, and it can limit the way a teacher makes sense of a student's behavior. For example, both the inability to see patterns emerging in the classroom and only seeing patterns might be blocks in the formal operational modality. The classification of cognitive developmental modalities is fully articulated by Ivey and Rigazio-DiGilio (2005).
Examples of Cognitive Developmental Modalities in the Classroom
Understanding the strengths and limitations of each cognitive developmental modality is a necessary precursor to developing an intervention (Ivey, Ivey, Myers, et al., 2005). The following case examples are used to conceptualize how the same event might precipitate different responses by teachers with different cognitive developmental preferences.
Sensorimotor. Mr. S's description of Johnny's behavior can be categorized by a here-and-now reaction. Overwhelmed, Mr. S is unable to separate his emotions from the experience. He paces around the school counselor's office, his face is red, and he is short of breath. "I can't take it anymore! He's just got to go! I'm so angry at Johnny; this is unacceptable!" Mr. S's description is disjointed and does not follow a logical pattern. It is difficult for the school counselor to understand what actually happened in class. Mr. S is likely, however, to recognize his stress associated with Johnny's behavior, and he identifies the need for change.
Concrete. If Ms. C's preferred cognitive developmental modality is concrete, she might describe a classroom disruption in a linear manner. For example:
I started to go over the homework. I asked the students to open their books to the page assigned and to hold their questions until we got to that number. I put the answer to number 1 on the blackboard. Johnny raised his hand and blurted out a question about number 3. I reminded him we were on question number 1, and it happened again. I was frustrated because we talked about the appropriate time to ask questions just minutes before.
Ms. C's story is linear and detailed. Her emotions are described in the past tense. Ms. C is explaining the current situation to the counselor and the behavior that caused her frustration. A limitation is that Ms. C is focused only on the current situation and is not considering the patterns that have emerged in her classroom. She is also not considering Johnny's perspective or that of other students in the room.
Formal-operational. Mr. F might describe the same event differently if he is functioning in the formal-operational cognitive developmental modality:
Johnny always interrupts me when I'm talking. He never waits his turn. He can't seem to contain himself no matter what the format of class. When I think about it I get angry with him and just want him out of my class forever.
Mr. F is responding to the patterns he sees in Johnny's behavior. He is able to generalize and his emotions reflect responses to more than one similar situation. He understands that Johnny's behavior is not just an isolated incident but the pervasive inability to delay gratification and that his hyperactivity crosses multiple instructional formats. A limitation is that Mr. F's frustration is not specific to what Johnny did or did not do in this instance in class. The anger and frustration might be disproportionate to today's infraction, because it is not viewed in isolation but as part of a pervasive pattern.
Dialectic/systemic. Ms. D describes Johnny's behavior in a reflective manner and looks for patterns within patterns, or a systemic approach to making meaning out of his behavior and her response:
I want all my students to be excited about math and seek to understand the why's behind the right answers. It is difficult to balance each of their needs and respond to them as individuals in the context of such a large class. This is one of the problems of our educational system and the high student-to-teacher ratio. My frustration is a result of not feeling like I'm serving Johnny well and my entire class at the same time.
Ms. D is likely to overanalyze her emotions and the situation. She is looking to systemic reasons to explain her frustration and might lose sight of the "if-then" relationship (e.g., "if Johnny interrupted, then I felt frustrated"). Ms. D may present as a cool, calm, and collected teacher but might miss what she is doing to increase or decrease the classroom disruption.
The case examples of teachers telling their stories of the same student behavior from different cognitive developmental perspectives illustrate how a preference or a block might limit the ability of a teacher to respond holistically to a student or to manage his or her classroom effectively. Each of the aforementioned teachers is using only one of the cognitive developmental modalities. It is likely that functioning solely in any one of the modalities, as illustrated by the case examples, would limit a teacher's ability to manage stress related to challenging student behaviors.
When teachers report feeling stress as a result of students' behaviors or classroom situations, it may be an indicator that they are not able to consider the situation from enough modalities. "It is the interaction between the person and the environment that determines whether an individual has adequate access to enough orientations to adapt to or influence the environment" (Myers, 1998, p. 3). The DCT-based consultation model is designed to increase teachers' access to cognitive developmental modalities so they may successfully respond to individual students, decrease their own stress, and manage the classroom environment.
DCT MODEL FOR CONSULTATION
The DCT model for consultation seeks to effect second-order change (i.e., help teachers to consider a situation from a different modality or perspective) while emphasizing accurate assessment of the problem and protecting the emotional experience of the consultee. The consultation model might best be conceptualized as a blend of DCT's clinical and educational uses. DCT as a clinical intervention guides the assessment component of the consultation model. The complete clinical interview is published in Ivey, Ivey, Myers, et al. (2005). The application of DCT to education (Ivey, 1991) guides the consultative emphasis on affecting work-related performance. The integration of the clinical and educational uses of DCT directs the process of utilizing DCT in school-based consultation.
DCT-Based Consultation Steps
The first step of the DCT consultation intervention is assessing the current modality a teacher is using to describe a student's behavior. Ivey (1991) indicated that counselors can assess preferred modalities in as few as 50 to 100 words. The second step involves determining which modality might help the teacher to understand the situation in a way that is likely to effect change in the classroom environment. For example, a teacher whose preference is concrete might benefit from seeing patterns emerging in his or her classroom (i.e., formal-operational). Similarly, a teacher whose modality preference is formal-operational might not initially identify a cause-and-effect relationship between his or her behavior and student behavior (i.e., concrete). The third step is co-constructing a professional development plan that is grounded in the assessment of preferred modalities.
DCT-Based Consultation Questions
Once a school counselor has assessed a teacher's preferred cognitive developmental modality and the goal of consultation (e.g., movement from the sensorimotor modality to the concrete modality), the following questions can be used as a guide for facilitating movement from one cognitive developmental modality to another (Myers, 1998). Teachers who move from one preferred cognitive developmental modality to another will ultimately perceive their concern differently. Facilitating second-order change through DCT consultation is a developed professional skill. Accurate assessment and goal setting takes practice (Ivey, Ivey, Myers, et al., 2005); therefore, school counselors may choose to use supervision as a means for honing their usage of the DCT consultation model. The questions outlined below are adapted from Ivey, Ivey, and Rigazio-DiGilio's (2005) standard cognitive/emotional developmental interview and are modified to fit the school environment and the consultation delivery system.
Sensorimotor goal. The purpose of helping a teacher to experience a situation in the sensorimotor modality is for him or her to explore emotions associated with a student's behavior. Locating the embedded feeling or the physiological response to stress is likely to help a teacher to recognize more easily the stress associated with a specific person or situation. Nagel and Brown (2003) noted that for teachers, acknowledging the source of stress can be the first step in managing factors that create it. The exploration of a teacher's stress within the sensorimotor modality is grounded in identifying a specific event and delving into what is seen, heard, and felt in that moment (Ivey, Ivey, Myers, et al., 2005). The DCT consultation questions listed below, paired with present-tense reflections and mirrored body language, are likely to help facilitate a sensorimotor experience. The use of present-tense language and mirroring assists the consultee in exploring the emotions in the here-and-now (Ivey et al.).
What are you seeing and hearing? What does the classroom look like? Describe in detail. Who else is present? What are they doing? Where are you in the room? What are you feeling? Where are you feeling X in your body?
Re-creating the emotional and physiological experience of the stress related to a specific incident might help a teacher to understand fully and to acknowledge his or her stress. Because the consultation relationship between a teacher and a school counselor is collegial and not therapeutic (Brigman et al., 2005), maintaining an awareness of the consultee's emotional experience is an important task of school counselors choosing to facilitate sensorimotor experiences (Ivey, Ivey, Myers, et al., 2005). If the stress a teacher is experiencing extends substantially beyond job-related stress or if the school counselor assesses that the support a teacher needs is more therapeutic than consultative, making a referral might be necessary.
Concrete goal. The purpose of helping a teacher to describe a situation from the concrete perspective might include (a) establishing a linear account of what happened and documenting the incident, (b) separating the emotion from the experience, and (c) establishing a causal or if-then relationship (Ivey, Ivey, Myers, et al., 2005). DCT consultation questions that might guide the facilitation of a concrete storytelling modality are as follows:
Can you think of a specific example? Tell me what happened just before the student did X? What happened just after the student did X? What did you do or say? How did you feel? So when you did Y, then the student did X and you felt Z?
These questions are designed to facilitate a detailed and linear description of the event and work toward a causal relationship that includes the teacher as part of the environment. School counselors summarizing the story should use the teacher's language to further the process rather than paraphrasing (Ivey, Ivey, Myers, et al., 2005). When possible, school counselors should highlight the teacher's interaction with the student rather than simply focusing on the problem student behavior. The emphasis on the teachers' interactions maintains the focus on what the teacher can directly control (e.g., his or her reaction to an event).
Formal-operational goal. The formal-operational cognitive developmental modality is useful in creating connections between multiple situations (Ivey, Ivey, Myers, et al., 2005). The formal-operational modality might help to validate strong emotional responses experienced by a teacher as it takes into account not only the current situation but also the pattern emerging in the classroom. If the formal-operational modality is a goal, it is necessary to first generate multiple situations from which patterns can emerge. Generating multiple examples might best be achieved in the concrete modality, because the concrete modality is characterized by linear accounts of events and emotions are often less intense than in other modalities (Ivey et al.). Once two or more examples are identified, the following DCT consultation questions might help school counselors to facilitate movement into the formal-operational modality:
Is this a pattern for the student/teacher? Does this happen a lot in your classroom? What are the exceptions to these patterns? What are you saying to yourself when this type of situation occurs? How do you act or respond?
The emphases of processing an experience in the formal-operational modality are to identify patterns and exceptions to the patterns and to understand the cognitions and the behaviors that occur for both a teacher and the students in his or her classroom. It is likely that those patterns of thinking and behaving can be used to understand systemic issues through dialectic processing.
Dialectic/systemic goal. Processing in the dialectic/systemic modality involves considering the interactions among systems as well as taking into account multiple perspectives (Ivey, Ivey, Myers, et al., 2005). Using the dialectic/systemic modality might help a teacher to understand a student's behavior more holistically than through other modalities. Consultation questions drawn from the DCT interview (Ivey, Ivey, & Rigazio-DiGilio, 2005) that guide movement into this complex modality include the following:
What purpose do you think the student's behavior is serving? How do you think the student learned this way of acting in the classroom? How did you learn your way of responding to this pattern of behavior? What else might be impacting your response to this particular situation? What is the rule or the cognition that guides your response? What are the limitations of that rule?
The dialectic/systemic modality might allow a teacher to analyze a situation in the context of the classroom or school system. The teacher then might be able to understand better the purpose of a student's behavior, the impact on other students, and his or her response to students.
A CASE STUDY
The following case study illustrates a school counselor's use of DCT-based consultation. The high school science teacher (consultee) experienced stress related to inattentive behavior exhibited by a student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Through consultation the school counselor assessed the teacher's access to and preference for cognitive developmental modalities, facilitated movement to a new modality, and, with the teacher, co-constructed a professional development plan.
Ms. K is a high school science teacher who stopped by the school counselor's office following second period to make a referral based on her class. The school counselor asked how he could help, and Ms. K began to tell her story:
I don't know what to do with Rob anymore. He was unprepared for class again today, which frustrated me. His failure to complete assignments keeps him from earning the privilege of participating in lab. He needs a lab science credit to graduate; I want to see him succeed. My class requirements and the school system are not working for him; I don't know how I can help him be successful. Sometimes I'm frustrated with Rob and other times I'm angry with the system.
The school counselor assessed Ms. K's description as dialectic/systemic. Ms. K is considering the system and her emotions shift to reflect the perspective taken.
School counselor: "I'm happy to talk with Rob, but if you are interested maybe we could work together to consider how you might respond to this and similar situations in the future."
Ms. K agreed. The school counselor reminded Ms. K of confidentiality in consultation and its limits as well as his system for tracking consultation with teachers (as recommended in Brigman et al., 2005). The school counselor decided to begin the consultation by gaining a clear understanding of what happened that day as well as the pattern of behavior (concrete then formal-operational).
School counselor: "You said he was unprepared for class today. Can you tell me what that looked like?" (Concrete.)
Ms. K: "Sure. I asked the students to pull out their pre-work for lab and switch with a partner to grade it. Earning 80% or better on the pre-work is the students' ticket into lab because the pre-work is based on the lab activity for the day."
School counselor: "You asked the students to pull out their pre-work for lab, and then what happened?" (Concrete.)
Ms. K: "Rob dug through his bag for a few minutes; papers were falling out everywhere. And then he stated he did the homework but could not find it. I'm frustrated because I spent an hour with Rob last week organizing his biology notebook!"
School counselor: "So papers were falling out everywhere, and Rob said he did his homework but could not find it. You are frustrated because you spent an hour with him last week organizing his notebook."
Ms. K: "Yes."
School counselor: "So what did you do next?" (Concrete.)
Ms. K: "We graded the pre-work and then I dismissed everyone but Rob to the lab. Rob lost credit and lab time for that day. I felt terrible."
School counselor: "Is this a pattern?" (Moving toward formal-operational.)
Ms. K: "For me or for Rob?"
School counselor (jokingly): "Yes...."
Ms. K: "Of course! I get frustrated when I spend time helping students get organized and they can't seem to maintain the systems. My job is to prepare them for college and if I can't teach students how to get their homework to class, then how are they going to succeed in college?"
School counselor: "So your job is to prepare them for college, and you get frustrated when students can't maintain the systems you put in place."
Ms. K: "Yes."
School counselor: "What are you saying to yourself when this happens?" (Formal-operational.)
Ms. K: "I'm not doing my job well."
The school counselor better understands Ms. K's problem. She is telling herself that it is her job to prepare students for college and she has systems in place to help them. Yet, when the students do not use the systems, Ms. K gets frustrated and feels terrible because the end goal of the lab experience is not being met. The school counselor has a hunch that as an experienced teacher, Ms. K has developed a repertoire of organizational interventions that work for most students and the frustration might be connected to feeling like she is failing the students when the strategies do not work.
Ms. K's preferred cognitive developmental modality is dialectic; however, she demonstrated through DCT consultation that she can understand this situation through concrete and formal-operational modalities as well. As the school counselor shifts his focus to co-constructing a professional development plan, he uses the cognitive developmental modalities as a guide. For example, the school counselor in this case draws upon Ms. K's ability to consider the problem in an abstract and reflective manner (formal-operational).
School counselor: "What would your classroom look like if this problem was fixed and you were a successful teacher?"
Ms. K: "All my students would be participating in lab and meeting the requirements for graduation."
School counselor: "So for you to feel successful, all your students need to be participating in lab on a daily basis, which helps them meet graduation requirements."
Ms. K: "Yes."
School counselor: "What's keeping students like Rob from participating in lab?"
Ms. K: "Losing or forgetting the pre-work ticket."
School counselor: "And what purpose is the ticket to lab serving?"
Ms. K: "It ensures that students are prepared to participate in lab."
School counselor: "So you need your students to be prepared for lab and to participate in lab. Are there other ways of reaching that goal?"
Ms. K: "I hadn't thought about that; I've gotten stuck on being frustrated when students like Rob lose their ticket and try to change their behaviors."
School counselor: "Is changing the classroom system something you are willing to consider?"
Ms. K: "Yes, I may talk with some of my science department colleagues and try to figure out alternative ways of meeting the goal of full participation in lab. Thanks."
IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PRACTICE
Some teachers may seek consultation when they feel stress related to a student's behavior or patterns of disruptive or inappropriate behavior in their classroom. The reality, however, is that teaching can be a lonely and isolating profession (Schlichte, Yssel, & Merbler, 2005), and it is likely that some teachers feel stress but do not ask directly for help. Because written referral documents are one way that school counselors encourage teachers to communicate their needs, considering both the content and stylistic aspects of these student referral documents in the context of historical referral data from each teacher might be helpful in determining when to reach out to teachers and offer consultation.
Sensorimotor-like characteristics emerging in written referrals might be a window into the stress a teacher is experiencing in relation to the student's behavior. For example, fragmented or exaggerated writing styles, such as short disconnected sentences or the use of multiple underlines, exclamation points, and all-capital letters, might reflect the emotions a teacher experienced while writing the referral. Comparing the current referral to other referral documents written by the same teacher may be helpful to contextualize the writing style of the referral. If the sensorimotor-like characteristics of a written referral diverge substantially from past referrals made by a teacher, it may serve as an indicator of the teacher's stress level and checking in with that teacher could be helpful.
Conversely, characteristics associated with the concrete developmental modality may mask a teacher's stress level. A referral document that includes a detailed linear account of a classroom event might not include allusions to the teacher's affective experience. It is likely that a teacher utilizing the concrete modality to make sense out of a classroom event is separating his or her emotions from the experience. Multiple referrals based on similar student behavior from one teacher, however, might suggest that there may be a systemic or stress-related component to the referral that can be addressed through consultation (Brigman et al., 2005) despite the teacher's presentation as an objective observer of student behavior.
Absolute language such as "always" that punctuates the formal-operational cognitive developmental modality might be considered in the context of the pattern of referrals (or lack of referrals) received in reference to an individual student. If multiple teachers report that a student frequently engages in a particular set of inappropriate or disruptive behaviors, then working directly with that student or with a team of his or her teachers might be more appropriate than consulting individually with one teacher. Alternatively, absolute language that does not fit contextually with other teachers' reports may be an indicator of an individual teacher's difficulty managing a particular student's behavior or type of student behavior in the classroom. Functional behavioral assessments are also a good resource, when available, for determining the frequency and intensity of a student's behavior across classrooms (Kampwirth, 2006).
Of course, consultation is not an appropriate response to all teachers' referrals or requests for individual counseling. Consultation, however, might be particularly helpful when there are factors indicating that providing support to a teacher in an effort to help him or her directly facilitate change might positively impact not only the referred student but also groups of students (e.g., a class). Ultimately, a school counselor's choice to offer DCT-based consultation to a teacher who refers a student for counseling should be guided by a determination of whether or not the teacher is limited in his or her conceptualization of the situation.
A DCT-based consultation model provides a practical and efficient approach to consulting with teachers. The DCT model for consultation is an assessment, used to simultaneously understand a problem and also the consultee's range of access to the four cognitive developmental modalities. It is also an intervention that can facilitate a teacher's access to more cognitive developmental modalities and direct future professional development. DCT-based consultation can help school counselors to maximize their time and provide support to teachers while also empowering teachers to effect positive change in their classrooms.
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Elysia Clemens is a doctoral student, Department of Counseling & Educational Development, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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|Publication:||Professional School Counseling|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2007|
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