Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Applying APA's Learner-Centered Principles to School-Based Group Counseling. (General Features)

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Applying APA's Learner-Centered Principles to School-Based Group Counseling. (General Features)

Article excerpt

Like most educators, school counselors assist students with a wide range of concerns and abilities. Counselors should not approach their profession with a "cookie-cutter" set of plans and interventions that fail to meet the needs of their constituents (Paisley & McMahon, 2001; Sink & McDonald, 1998). Similarly, the educational reform literature advocates that school professionals restructure the schooling process from a teacher-centered approach to a learner-centered perspective, focusing on the qualitative experiences, interests, talents, backgrounds, and requirements of individual students as well as how learning, motivation, and achievement can be encouraged in every learner (see McCombs & Whisler, 1997). Since the school counseling profession is strongly influenced by the educational reform movement (Bemak, 2000; Herr, 2001), counselors ought to revisit their program's framework, components, and interventions to determine if they are in accordance with educational mandates. Herr recently suggested that the reform measures provide further impetus for counselors to sharpen their planning skills, implement a comprehensive perspective on their services and roles in the schools, and produce relevant outcomes that are aligned with the learning goals set by the district and school administration. By using a learner-centered approach, school counselors have a solid theoretical and research foundation for their comprehensive guidance and counseling programs (CGCP; Sink, 2002).

Recasting a school counseling program, however, is not an easy or welcomed task. Counselors already feel the burdens of program implementation and management (Sink & Yillik-Downer, 2001). Fortunately, several counseling functions naturally lend themselves to a learner-centered pedagogy. For instance, school-based group counseling is especially well suited to such a focus. This article first introduces the American Psychological Association's (APA) learner-centered principles (LCPs; APA, 1997) and provides a brief rationale for infusing them into CGCPs. Second, using small group counseling as an illustration, we explain how counselors can apply a learner-centered approach to their work.

APA's Learner-Centered Principles

For decades, the call for the transformation of public education has been expressed from a variety of political sectors. With the publication of A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) and the subsequent passage of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act (U.S. Congress, 1994), educators face mounting pressure to raise achievement, while at the same time, are asked to effectively serve the highly diverse learning needs of American students.

Given the gravity of the personal and social problems experienced by millions of students today, this restructuring challenge must extend to these concerns as well (Green & Keys, 2001; Keys & Bemak, 1997; Texas Education Agency, n.d.). The APA (1997), in response to the educational reform mandates, published a series of learner-centered principles that target students' academic, personal, and sociocultural formation. Derived from developmental theory and extensive research, the LCPs provide school counselors, teachers, and administrators with useful guidelines for making learning relevant, engaging, and purposeful for all students (Sink, 2002).

According to Lambert and McCombs (1998), LCPs assume that students:

1. Possess distinct perspectives or frames of reference, contributed to by their cultural history, the home environment, interests, goals, beliefs, and ways of thinking.

2. Demonstrate individual differences, including emotional states of mind, learning rates and styles, stages of development, abilities, and feelings of efficacy.

3. Construct their own knowledge within a process that makes learning realistic, meaningful, and personally engaging. …

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