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Factors impacting the successful implementation of comprehensive guidance and counseling programs in Nova Scotia.

Responding to the increasing challenges faced by Nova Scotia schools, the provincial Department of Education initiated, 4 years ago, the development of a comprehensive guidance and counseling program to address the guidance and counseling needs of students. A task force, established with representation of interested groups, was committed to the concept of shifting guidance and counseling from a position-based model to a program-based model (Gysbers & Henderson, 2000). The task force, guided by the work of Gysbers and Henderson and by the Alberta Department of Education (1995), designed a framework, including a number of essential characteristics, within which schools could develop programs to meet their particular counseling needs.

The Comprehensive Guidance and Counseling Program (CGCP), the name given to the program, was designed and developed with defined outcomes and benefits for students from grades one to 12 in Nova Scotia. The program reflects a strong developmental approach, systematically presenting activities appropriate to student developmental levels and including achievable and measurable outcomes in the area of personal, social, educational, and career domains (Gysbers & Henderson, 2000). The four components of the program include guidance curriculum, professional services, life and career planning, and program management and system support. In addition to articulating preventive and responsive activities throughout all program components, the CGCP also outlines roles for all members of the school community, the establishment of an advisory committee, and the design and administration of a program needs assessment. Implementation of the CGCP requires qualified school counselors to coordinate the program and to deliver components of the program requiring this particular professional expertise.

Most comprehensive guidance and counseling programs in existence today are rooted in the Missouri model (Lapan, Gysbers, & Sun, 1997) and are suggested to be the choice of schools in the United States (Whiston & Sexton, 1998). Though some problems were reported with the implementation and delivery of these comprehensive guidance and counseling programs, there was general agreement mat me programs were more effective at accessing more students than were traditional models of school counseling. In an edited work by Gysbers and Henderson (1997), there was consensus among the authors who were involved in the implementation of the comprehensive guidance programs that more students were served, and that the school counselor and the program had a higher profile than before initiating the program. In earlier research, Hughey, Gysbers, and Starr (1993) also examined the impact of the Missouri Comprehensive Guidance Program. Their research yielded positive results for students, teachers, and parents, and they recommended that counselors work constantly to inform the school staff and the community about the guidance program, and work more fully to address the guidance needs of all students.

Research on comprehensive programs has generally yielded positive outcome results, including enhanced student learning (Kuhl, 1994), and has been recommended as the preferred model of guidance service delivery to schools (Gysbers, Lapan, & Blair, 1999; Sink & MacDonald, 1998). Lapan et al. (1997) reported that schools with more fully implemented guidance programs had students who were more likely to report that they had earned higher grades, were better prepared for their future, had more career and college information available to them, and their school had a more positive climate. Despite the generally positive perception of comprehensive programs, MacDonald and Sink (1999) found that comprehensive programs lacked clarity as to how the program components were integrated with one another. In recommending a model that would yield positive changes within schools, Gysbers et al. (1999) and Rowley (2000) stressed the importance of collaboration among school counselors, administrators, and counselor educators.

Literature on comprehensive guidance and counseling programs in Canada remains scarce. Hiebert (1994) provided guidelines for an outcome-based approach to comprehensive guidance and counseling programs in a publication for the Alberta Department of Education. Based upon this report, the Alberta Department of Education (1995) produced guidelines for Alberta schools to implement a comprehensive guidance and counseling program.

The primary purpose of our investigation was to assess factors that contribute to the successful implementation of comprehensive guidance and counseling programs at the elementary, junior, and senior high school levels in Nova Scotia. Specifically, the research aimed to assess counselors' perceptions of what helps or hinders successful implementation. Based upon these perceptions, we wanted to articulate more clearly and precisely why some counselors experience success, and wanted to explore more fully the level of satisfaction that counselors had with the implementation and delivery of the CGCP at their schools.



Surveys were sent to all 72 school counselors involved in the CGCP in Nova Scotia; 64% returned their surveys. The survey results indicated that 16 of the counselors were involved in year one of implementation of the CGCP, 16 in year two, 12 in year three, and 2 in year four. Seven of the counselors reported involvement at the elementary level, 17 at the junior high level, 10 at the junior/senior high level, 10 at the senior high level, and 2 represented all school levels. School counselors had worked an average of 8 years in their particular school with an average of 2.32 years involvement in the CGCP.

Counselor Survey and Interview Questions

For Phase I of the research, we developed a 21-question survey to gather information from counselors on the degree of satisfaction they felt with the implementation and delivery of the CGCP. The first part of the survey consisted of demographic information such as number of years of counseling experience, length of involvement with the CGCP, and year of program implementation. The second part of the survey, assessing satisfaction of the program, consisted of a 7-point Likert scale. The scale ranged from 1, very dissatisfied to 7, very satisfied. Questions related to various aspects of the CGCP focused on acceptance and support of the program by various stakeholders, and on time and resources allocated and available to the counselor. One open-ended question, placed at the end of the survey, invited counselors to add comments regarding the CGCP. The survey was developed in consultation with two school counselors and revised based on their feedback to enhance clarity and relevance.

In-depth individual interviews with eight school counselors, selected from the returned surveys, constituted Phase II of this research. Four open-ended questions framed the individual interviews: What factors contribute to the successful implementation of the CGCP? What are your concerns and issues regarding the implementation of the program? What are the professional needs of counselors delivering the program? and What suggestions or recommendations do you have regarding the program?


During Phase I, surveys were mailed to all counselors involved in the CGCP in Nova Scotia. Counselors were requested to complete and return the surveys by a specified date. The research assistant contacted and reminded the counselors of the deadline.

The reported level of satisfaction on the returned surveys was one of the criteria used to select counselors for individual interviews in Phase II. We selected counselors who rated between 3 and 5 on the 7-point satisfaction scale. In choosing the participants for phase II, we selected those who were moderate in their level of reported satisfaction with the CGCP, neither extremely positive nor extremely negative. Grade level was another of the criteria used in the selection of participants for Phase II. Of the school counselors chosen, three represented the elementary level, two represented the middle school level, and three represented the high school level.

We asked selected school counselors questions related to the program advisory committee, the needs assessment, the various components of the program, the involvement of others in the program, and the perceived benefits for students. School counselors were contacted by a research assistant to organize interviews at the school in which each of the school counselors worked. The research assistant, who held a master's degree in school counseling, attended all meetings and recorded all interviews. The interviews with school counselors lasted approximately 2 hours.


Phase I: Survey Responses

Results on the overall "satisfaction with the CGCP" show that 87% of counselors selected a rating of 4 or above, indicating that a large majority were positive about the overall success of the program (M = 4.88, SD = 1.36). A slightly lower proportion (74%) chose a rating of 4 or above as their level of satisfaction with the rate of implementation (M = 4.53, SD = 1.62). When asked about resources allocated to the delivery of the program in their schools, 43% of counselors at all school levels selected ratings from 1 to 3 (M = 3.48, SD = 1.66). Forty-six percent of school counselors indicated that they were concerned with the time available to them to coordinate the program (M = 3.53, SD = 1.50), and 42% selected ratings of 1 to 3, expressing dissatisfaction with the time available to deliver various components of the program (M = 3.64, SD = 1.56).

In addition to expressing their opinion on how they perceived the acceptance of the program by stakeholders, school counselors expressed an above-average level of satisfaction with the degree of actual support and cooperation they received for the program. Ninety-five percent of school counselors reported ratings of 4 or above as their rating of satisfaction with support they received from administrators (M = 5.86, SD = 1.36), and 81% selected a rating of 4 or above for the support provided by school boards (M = 4.63, SD = 1.73). Similarly, a large number of counselors (83%) chose a rating or 4 or above for teachers' support (M = 5.07, SD = 1.49), and a large number (87%) chose a rating or 4 or above for parents' support (M = 5.29, SD = 1.47). Virtually all counselors (97%) chose a rating of 4 or above indicating their satisfaction with support they received from students (M = 5.63, SD = 1.13).

Phase II Responses: Interview Responses

We reviewed independently all interview transcripts from the eight participating counselors selected for in-depth interviews. Each researcher read the transcripts of the interviews several times and identified what he considered to be concerns and issues related to implementation of the program. We compared the results of our analysis and agreed on the common concerns and issues articulated in the interviews. The two major themes were support/involvement of others and time/ resources.

Support/involvement of others. Without exception, school counselors said they believed that the success of the CGCP was positively related to the involvement and support they received. Support from the school principal, teachers, staff, students, advisory committee, and the Department of Education were touted as vital during the implementation phase as well as the ongoing delivery of the program. During the interviews, counselors commented on the manner in which these different groups advanced or hindered the implementation of the program.

School counselors reported that principals' involvement in (a) the initial professional development of the concepts, (b) implementation, and (c) delivery of the CGCP contributed to the program's success in their schools. The following comments represent the views of the majority of the counselors interviewed: "Administrative (principal) support is critical ..."; "The principal is on board--is interested and supportive ..."; "It is so very important to have an involved administration in the program"; and "If there had not been administrative support this would not have happened at this school."

All eight counselors believed that principals' involvement enabled them to become educated in the concept of counseling as part of a program rather than simply providing a service to the school. One counselor who articulated this sentiment stated, "Yes, they (principal and vice-principal) have `caught the vision.' They just let me go. I consult with them and they are supportive."

Where counselors expressed dissatisfaction with implementation, they pointed to a lack of adequate support from their schools' administration. In these cases, they felt that the administration did not share ownership of the program. They expressed the view that the principal "should take more interest and initiative, and promote it (CGCP) with the staff and come up with some ideas." These counselors believed that the principal needed to be more active in the promotion of the CGCP with teachers and the community rather than to give only symbolic support. One counselor commented, "The principal supports everything, but does not do the little things that would indicate to the staff that this (the program) is important." Similarly, where support from the principal was not perceived to be present, one counselor suggested that in times of cutbacks, teachers and principals could say, "Oh well, we could hand part of the CGCP to the resource teacher and some to the physed teacher and some...." All in all, counselors wanted tangible support from their principals, and this support seemed to come from those principals who had been informed as a result of the pre-implementation professional development on the CGCP.

Counselors generally believed they needed more assistance from their school boards. Though it was agreed that they felt personally supported at the board level, all counselors expressed a need for more tangible support for the program. Similar to their view of principals, counselors expressed a desire to have the school board give more than "lip service" to the CGCP. Some comments summarizing the counselors' perceptions of support at the board level included the following: "They (school board) don't necessarily promote the CGCP, but they support you"; and "I feel that if I call my supervisor, I am verbally supported." Most counselors agreed that they were receiving support from the coordinators of student services but felt they needed support from someone at the board level whose primary interest was school counseling.

Counselors believed that the school board needed to offer financial support for program delivery and professional development. One counselor commented: "It is time for the board and community at large to support us." One counselor who did not hold this conviction stated "... that the (board) members feel (the CGCP) is a priority, but there is always something else before this program."

There was general agreement that the success of the program was directly related to the involvement and support offered by teachers. Where teachers were perceived as supportive, counselors talked about the formers' involvement on the advisory committee as well as the support of these advisory committees in the delivery of different aspects of the program. One counselor commented, "It is crucial to have teacher input." Because the nature of the CGCP is to have teachers deliver aspects of the program through the curriculum, counselors believed that one of their most challenging tasks was to convince teachers that the CGCP could be integrated into their existing workload rather than adding more to their workload. Where counselors perceived encouraging teacher support and affirmative teacher involvement, their comments were mostly positive. Such comments included: "... good relationship with the teachers here. Lots of team building has gone on here"; "Three staff members on the Advisory Committee are very supportive but moving to the wider staff is the problem"; and "There are gifted staff here who could certainly provide many services."

Where counselors expressed dissatisfaction with implementation, there was an expressed sense of anxiety and frustration because they did not feel the program had the full support of teachers. Though this frustration was felt at all levels, high school counselors expressed the sentiment more fervently. High school counselors said that it was difficult for teachers to move beyond the traditional service model of counseling. They found it more difficult than elementary and junior high school counselors to enlist the support of teachers in the delivery of various parts of the CGCP. They attributed this to the subject-oriented approach of high school teachers. Examples of statements included "Teachers know the counselor is doing the CGCP, but there is a bit of turf protection. In high school it is core specific, more subject oriented"; and "The largest road block is integrating the CGCP into the existing curriculum."

Counselors maintained that parents needed to be more informed about the CGCP. One counselor stated: "Parents seem more comfortable with me and with the (counseling) position, but you have to work at it." They believed, for the most part, that parents were supportive of the counselor, but did not fully understand the role of the counselor in the delivery of the CGCP. Similar to their perceptions of parents were participating counselors' beliefs that students were approving of the CGCP. Various student groups were represented on some advisory committees, and plans were underway to encourage greater student involvement in the program.

Time and resources. Counselors were unanimous in articulating the constraints placed on them by the lack of available time, and by the absence of adequate resources provided to them to fully support the delivery of the CGCP. One counselor commented, "We want our fair share of resources, like material and personnel, and to do that we need to educate people about the value of the program." They commented on the stress involved in trying to manage and coordinate all aspects of the CGCP. Though some counselors were able to secure funding through specialized grants, most counselors did not view fund raising as part of their mandate, but believed this activity was another constraint on the time they had available to deliver their program.

All counselors acknowledged the need for more time to coordinate the program and to deliver the various components. Many expressed frustration at the lack of available time to plan, prepare, and evaluate. Counselors identified as concerns responsibilities in teaching, involvement in multiple schools, and transitional issues associated with the program. Depending upon the percentage of time allocated to each role, counselors found it difficult to balance all they needed to accomplish. Because not all schools met the criteria required to participate in the delivery of the CGCP, elementary school counselors, who were shared by more than one school, delivered the CGCP in only one of their designated schools. Coordinating the program and consulting with teachers when in these split positions was difficult for counselors.


Results from the current study indicate quite clearly that the successful implementation of the CGCP depends on the participation and support of others in the school and adequate time and resources allocated to the program. In the first year of implementation, the establishment of an advisory committee and design and implementation of needs assessment take precedence. Similar to other program initiatives, issues of time, resources, and involvement as well as support of others become ongoing concerns. The challenge is to share the vision and to negotiate a fair division of the resources with others. Sharing the ownership of the program with others, including administrators, parents, teachers, students, advisory committee, and school board is necessary for the survival and growth of the program. For service-oriented professionals, the coordination of the program is a new role for school counselors, a role that is crucial to the success of the program. It is, at times, tempting for all interested parties to hold the opinion that the school counselor is wholly responsible for the guidance program. The responsibility for coordinating the program and delivering some of its activities is quite different, however, from owning the responsibility of the program. The CGCP is a school program and, as such, needs the ownership by and participation of all those affected.

Our interview data indicated that high school counselors had to work harder to help teachers and administrators understand their new role as articulated by the CGCP. Interestingly, the counselors themselves expressed difficulty relinquishing nonguidance responsibilities that were once defined, often by administrators, as part of their domain. Counselors often expressed concern, and sometimes fear, that certain historical duties would not be performed to their satisfaction if they themselves did not do them. Despite the transitional problems encountered, most counselors expressed optimism that progress was being made toward a full and successful implementation of the CGCP in their schools.

Implications for School Counselors

The current research suggests that key factors involved in the successful early implementation and delivery of comprehensive guidance and counseling programs include the support and involvement of others, and adequate time and resources. As with many other program initiatives, leadership and commitment are key components to successful implementation. This finding supports the view that the collaboration of the principal and school counselor are key ingredients to success (Fields & Manley, 1997; Gysbers et al., 1999; Rowley, 2000). Professional development sessions on comprehensive programs provide the opportunity for both principal and counselor to understand and commit to the vision of the program. Counselors and principals can then engage others in the implementation of the program.

The main concern expressed by counselors in the current study was the time required to adequately and effectively implement the program. School counselors need to be aware of the disadvantages of being assigned as counselor in more than one school, and of nonguidance duties as part of their job description. With more time and resources, more students can be reached, and more guidance; and counseling needs met. This research finding supports Henderson's (1997) view of the importance of the resourcefulness of the school counselor.

In his closing comments on successful comprehensive programs, Gysbers (1997) noted the importance of perseverance and strong leadership. Counselors interviewed in our study believed that the success of their program was directly related to the strong leadership and support given by the Department of Education, school boards, and principals. While some states and provinces have guidance leadership positions at the state and provincial levels, the local school principal and school counselor are most often the leaders who will share the vision of comprehensive guidance and counseling with others and will persevere with its implementation when issues such as time, resources, and involvement of others arise.


Alberta Department of Education, Special Education Branch. (1995). Comprehensive school guidance and counseling programs and services: Guidelines for practice. A program development and validation checklist. Edmonton, AB: Author.

Fields, G., & Manley, P. (1997). The comprehensive guidance program at Cassville, Missouri. In N.C. Gysbers & P. Henderson (Eds.), Comprehensive guidance programs that work-II (pp. 75-88). Greensboro, NC: ERIC/CASS.

Gysbers, N. C. (1997). Developing and implementing comprehensive school guidance programs: Some key points to remember. In N.C. Gysbers & P. Henderson (Eds.), Comprehensive guidance programs that work-II (pp. 293-295). Greensboro, NC: ERIC/CASS.

Gysbers, N. C., & Henderson, P. (Eds.). (1997). Comprehensive guidance programs that work-II. Greensboro, NC: ERIC/CASS.

Gysbers, N. C., & Henderson, P. (2000). Developing and managing your school guidance program (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Gysbers, N. C., Lapan, R. T., & Blair, M. (1999). Closing in on the statewide implementation of a comprehensive guidance and counseling program model. Professional School Counseling, 2, 357-366.

Henderson, P. (1997). Leadership and supervision of school counselors in comprehensive programs. In N. C. Gysbers & P. Henderson (Eds.), Comprehensive guidance programs that work-II (pp. 25-48). Greensboro, NC: ERIC/CASS.

Hiebert, B. (1994). Moving to the future: Outcome-based comprehensive guidance and counseling in Alberta schools. Edmonton, AB: Special Education Branch, Alberta Education.

Hughey, K. F., Gysbers, N. C., & Starr, M. (1993). Evaluating comprehensive school guidance programs: Assessing the perceptions of students, parents, and teachers. The School Counselor, 41, 31-35.

Kuhl, J. (1994). Guidance and counseling program evaluation. Des Moines, IA: Des Moines Public Schools, Iowa, Instructional Division. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 375 342)

Lapan, R. T., Gysbers, N. C., & Sun, Y. (1997). The impact of more fully implemented guidance programs on the school experiences of high school students: A state wide evaluation study. Journal of Counseling and Development, 75, 292-302.

MacDonald, G., & Sink, C. A. (1999). A qualitative developmental analysis of comprehensive guidance programs in schools in the United States. British Journal of Counselling, 27, 415-427.

Rowley, W. J. (2000). Expanding collaborative partnerships among school counselors and school psychologists. Professional School Counseling, 3, 224-228.

Sink, C. A., & MacDonald, G. (1998). The status of comprehensive guidance and counseling in the United States. Professional School Counseling, 2, 88-94.

Whiston, S. C., & Sexton, T. L. (1998). A review of school counseling outcome research: Implications for practice. Journal of Counseling and Development, 76, 412-426.

Ron Lehr, Ph.D., is an associate professor and John Sumarah, Ed.D., is a professor. Both are with the Counseling Program, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
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Author:Sumarah, John
Publication:Professional School Counseling
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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