Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Stretching Leadership: A Distributed Perspective for School Counselor Leaders

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Stretching Leadership: A Distributed Perspective for School Counselor Leaders

Article excerpt

Leadership is a central role of the school counselor. However, this role is often intimidating to school counselors and school counseling students when viewed as a solitary undertaking. In contrast to the view that leadership is an individual responsibility, the distributed leadership perspective offers a counterview in which school leadership is stretched over multiple leaders. The application of the distributed leadership perspective to school counseling practice might serve to alleviate school counselor apprehension regarding leadership, while contributing to an understanding of "how" this leadership occurs, as well as how it might be improved.


Over the past 20 years, there has been growing discourse regarding the importance of school counselors functioning as leaders in schools (Bemak, 2000; Gysbers & Henderson, 2001; House & Hayes, 2002; House & Martin, 1998). Educational reform initiatives suggest the necessity for school counselors to serve as leaders (Brott & Myers, 1999; Education Trust, 1997; Erford, House, & Martin, 2003; Lambert, 1988, 1998). These reform initiatives are based on an imperative to address social and institutional impediments that limit academic achievement for students who have been traditionally underserved by public educational systems (Education Trust). Thus, the call for school counselors to exercise effective leadership skills is directed toward transforming systems and practices that potentially suppress opportunities for students to maximize their learning and academic achievement (House & Martin; Lee & Walz, 1998).

During much of this same period, the demand to improve student achievement has driven systemic school reform and has impacted educational theory, research, and practice. Many of these educational policy, scholarship, and preparation initiatives have emphasized issues of leadership in schools (McDonnell, 2004). This emphasis recently led to the emergence of educational leadership models suggesting that leadership in schools must not be the sole responsibility of the principal, but rather might best be distributed among other professionals in schools (Spillane, 2006).

Instead of the imposing individualistic view that the provision of leadership should merely be shifted from principals to other school professionals such as school counselors, distributed leadership offers a perspective in which leadership is stretched across numerous school staff including counselors, thus expanding its potential impact on students while also serving to build a stronger sense of school community. When leadership is distributed among multiple leaders, their collective strengths and talents are better utilized. This shift in perspective then can serve to build leadership capacity and promote leadership density within schools. Additionally, an important corollary to this shift might be the reduction of anxiety that some pre- and in-service school counselors experience as they begin to view leadership as something beyond isolated, unilateral practices.


As noted previously, there has been a growing body of scholarship regarding school counselor leadership. This literature has largely focused on the unique position and skills of school counselors to be leaders and descriptions of barriers to school counselors assuming leadership roles. For example, it has been suggested that the unique position, training, and skills of school counselors make them "natural leaders" (Borders & Shoffher, 2003), who might use their leadership to enhance the academic achievement of students, facilitate educational reform, and increase the effectiveness of their school counseling programs (Clark & Stone, 2000; Coy, 1999; Dahir, 2001; Dollarhide, 2003; Gysbers & Henderson, 2001; House & Hayes, 2002; Sears, 1999). Conversely, literature focusing on school counselor leadership also has explored impediments to school counselors' roles as school leaders (Amatea & Clark, 2005; Baker, 2000; Cobia & Henderson, 2003; House & Sears, 2002; Martin, 2002). …

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