Confusion regarding School Counselor Functions: School Leadership Impacts Role Clarity

Article excerpt

The ultimate responsibility for the appropriate and effective utilization of all school-based personnel resides with the school principal. Finding the optimal marriage between the needs of a particular school and the diverse training and specialization of the school staff remains a constant challenge for school administrators. The imperative for optimal service provision becomes even stronger at times when fiscal austerity and new school initiatives are imposed at the Federal, State, and local levels. As reform continues in its process, the expectations for improved performance of staff continue to rise if schools are to be successful and no child is to be left behind.

Although the appropriate utilization of school-based personnel has been related to student and school success (Lapan, Gyshers, & Sun, 1997; Miano, Forrest, & Gumaer, 1997), effective utilization requires clarity regarding the role and function of all school-based professionals. Such clarity of role has not existed for school counselors for some time, with strong implications for schools and the counseling profession, as well as for school leadership. This paper examines the confusion surrounding the role of school counselors, explores the related responsibilities of school leaders to promote increased clarity, and highlights an opportunity to effectively utilize the forthcoming American School Counselor Association (ASCA) 'Counselor Role Statement.' It is believed that gaining clarity on the appropriate counselor role may guide school leaders in the appropriate and effective utilization of such personnel for enhanced programs and services. This approach may ultimately contribute to the overriding goals, functions, and success of the school.

Being a university mentor to neophyte counselors who are placed in schools throughout New York City is not unlike being the proverbial fly on the wall. Feedback from graduate counseling student interns over the years has confirmed the considerable diversity of tasks and functions performed by counselors in the various schools. This variety of activity may be attributed to differences in population, school level, and size. The literature suggests a deeper causality. There has been overwhelming evidence revealing the pervasive confusion which exists regarding any consistent role functions for professional school counselors. The appropriate and effective utilization of school counselors appears to be unclear, not only to students, but to practicing counselors, school leaders, and the larger educational community.

Confusion on the Counselor Role

Confusion and lack of clarity regarding the role and function of counselors in schools has been highly visible and problematic in the educational field for years. Observing the field decades ago, Lortie (1965) concluded that role confusion had been rife in the field up to that point. The intervening years did little to clarify the counselor role. A more recent review by Murray (1995) similarly concluded that the role of the counselor reflects a history of unclear definition and confusion. Others writers and researchers confirm the lack of clarity and report that recognition of counseling as a profession is hampered by role confusion (Poidevant, 1991), role conflict (Coll & Friedman, 1997; Coll & Rice, 1993; Van Sell, et al. 1981.), and by the inability of the profession to maintain a consistent role (Coll & Friedman, 1997).

The implications of this on-going confusion of role and function are numerous. "The literature suggests that it is not only students who may suffer from poorly defined school counseling programs, but the very profession itself." (Ballard & Muratroyd, 1999, p. 21). Dire predictions for the field, as a result of this confusion, has come from many sources. Some have noted that the field of counseling is currently at risk (O'dell et al, 1997; ACA, 1987), a "Threatened Profession" (Tennyson et al, 1989a & 1989b), and an endangered species (Dury, 1984). …