Action Research and School Counseling: Closing the Gap between Research and Practice

By Rowell, Lonnie L. | Professional School Counseling, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Action Research and School Counseling: Closing the Gap between Research and Practice


Rowell, Lonnie L., Professional School Counseling


Action research can be a valuable resource for strengthening the link between theory and practice in school counseling. Action research emphasizes practitioner action for change in conjunction with rigorous reflection on practice and careful gathering and analysis of data. This article presents background information on action research as well as the case for the relevance of action research to the situation that school counseling now faces as an emerging profession.

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Action research is emerging as a potentially significant perspective within school counseling. From a colorful and at times controversial past, action research has evolved both as a method of inquiry and as a means to mobilize and guide communities, classrooms, and professionals in taking action to improve social conditions and conditions of practice. In school counseling, initial references to action research go back 25 years (e.g., Pine, 1981). Pine called for a "renaissance of the field-based research that characterized the progressive era in education" (p. 496). Although Pine's opinion piece outlined a comprehensive approach to rethinking the relationship between research and practice in school counseling, one cannot find reference to major initiatives adopting an action research orientation for school counseling in response to his proposed model. Nevertheless, action research has continued to receive some attention in the school counseling literature (Gillies, 1993; Ponte, 1995; Rowell, 2005; Whiston, 1996; Zinck & Littrell, 2000). For example, Whiston argued that counselors need to develop an awareness that "practice and research are not two mutually exclusive activities" (p. 616), and she advocated action research as a way to bridge the gap between counseling practice and research.

In a recent article, I asserted that collaborative action research holds great promise for helping school counselors adjust to the accountability environment in public education and for strengthening counselors in their efforts to advocate for further professionalization within their ranks (Rowell, 2005). In general, however, action research continues to be discussed more often as a tool for teachers (e.g., Arhar, Holly, & Kasten, 2000; Johnson, 2005; Sagor, 1992), with the tradition of using action research for improving classroom practice now able to claim more than 50 years (Smith, 2001). No evidence of such a tradition taking root in school counseling can be found.

However, growing recognition of the importance of outcome data in school counseling (Whiston, 2002; Whiston & Sexton, 1998) coupled with increasing pressure for accountability in counseling interventions and programs (e.g., Dahir & Stone, 2003; Fairchild & Seeley, 1995; Isaacs, 2003) have led to an increase in critical reflection on the relationship between research and practice in school counseling (e.g., Bauman, 2004; Brown & Trusty, 2005) and the state of school counselor training (e.g., Astramovich, Coker, & Hoskins, 2005; Bauman; Hart & Jacobi, 1992; Rowell, 2005), as well as to an intensified search for stronger collaboration between university researchers and practitioners in the field (e.g., Rowell; Thomas, 2005). At the national level, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) convened research summits in 2003 and 2004 to explore these issues, and states are now following suit with state school counseling research summits (Arizona School Counselors Association, 2004; Center for Student Support Systems, 2005).

The purpose of this article is to discuss the position of action research on the pallet of methods available for conducting research in school counseling. Background is provided on action research as a form of inquiry and as a tool for social change, with a particular emphasis on change efforts in school counseling. The article recognizes traditions of action research and describes the practical implications of school counselors as action researchers and as "practitioner partners" (Rowell, 2005, p.

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