School Counselors' Strategies for Social Justice Change: A Grounded Theory of What Works in the Real World

Article excerpt

A qualitative study used a grounded theory methodology to explore the strategies that 16 school counselors who self-identified as social justice agents used to advocate for systemic change within their school communities. Findings included seven overarching themes: (a) using political savvy to navigate power structures, (b) consciousness raising, (c) initiating difficult dialogues, (d) building intentional relationships, (e) teaching students self-advocacy skills, (f) using data for marketing, and (g) educating others about the school counselor role of advocate.


A rich body of literature identifies the important role of school counselor advocacy in addressing issues of societal inequity in schools (Bailey, Getch, & Chen-Hayes, 2003; Cox & Lee, 2007; Holcomb-McCoy, 2007; House & Martin, 1999). However, limited research addresses the question of how school counselors can be trained to assume this challenging role (Ratts, DeKruyf, & Chen-Hayes, 2007; Trusty & Brown, 2005). Further, few published studies explore the subjective experiences of school counselors with regard to what their advocacy "looks like" in practice (Field & Baker, 2004; Pennymon, 2005). The voices of practicing school counselor advocates are thus absent from the social justice literature in school counseling. Recent literature suggests that qualitative approaches offer important ways to gain in-depth understanding of how school counselors develop and implement advocacy strategies (Singh, in press; Trusty & Brown). The purpose of the present study is to contribute to the literature on school counselor advocacy through identification of a grounded theory of how school counselors who identify as social justice agents advocate for systemic change within their school communities.


Over the past decade, the school counseling literature has focused increasingly on the importance of advocacy work on the part of school counselors (Bailey, Getch, & Chen-Haycs, 2007; Bemak & Chung, 2005; Cox & Lee, 2007; Holcomb-McCoy, 2007; House & Martin, 1999). School counselor advocates are encouraged to address educational inequities and differences in academic achievement that may be grounded in issues of race/ethnicity, gender, class, disability status, and sexual orientation, and that may prevent many students from maximizing their academic, social, and personal potential (Cox & Lee; Singh, in press). In order to address these systemic injustices, there has been a growing movement to expand the counseling role from its traditional emphasis on the intrapsychic concerns of individual students to a broader focus on the external forces that have ah adverse effect on students' intellectual, social, and psychological development (Goodman et al., 2004, Kiselica & Robinson, 2001; Lee, 2007).

Although a thorough review of this movement is beyond the scope of this article, there are important school counseling initiatives that have laid the groundwork for advocacy. The Transforming School Counseling Initiative (TSCI), a collaboration with the Education Trust, began in 1996 to examine innovative roles for school counselors. TSCI asserted that advocacy must be a critical counseling role, especially as it relates to the collection of data to highlight educational disparities (Paisley & Hayes, 2002). Shortly thereafter, the American School Counselor Association created the ASCA National Model[R]. This model defined school counselors' roles as advocates and addressed the question of "How are students different because of what school counselors do?" The ASCA National Model (2005), which offers a comprehensive framework to guide school counseling programs, is based on the qualities of leadership, advocacy, and collaboration, which are intended to lead to systemic change.

Further, in 2003 the American Counseling Association (ACA) endorsed its formal Advocacy Competencies (Lewis, Arnold, House, & Toporek, 2003). …


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