Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Critical Incidents in the Development of Supportive Principals: Facilitating School Counselor-Principal Relationships

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Critical Incidents in the Development of Supportive Principals: Facilitating School Counselor-Principal Relationships

Article excerpt

The qualitative study in this article explores critical incidents that may facilitate the support a principal provides for a school counseling program. Through structured interviews, supportive principals are asked to reflect on their prior experiences with school counselors, their educational exposure to school counseling, and their recommendations for school counselors. Results suggest that by demonstrating effective leadership and systemic interactions, school counselors can foster relationships with principals that can help them expand their roles and their programs.

Principals are undeniably school leaders (Henderson, 1999), and in most schools, they have the power both to initiate and to stop change, determining the definition and direction of the school's counseling program (Amatea & Clark, 2005). As school counselors strive to implement the ASCA National Model® (American School Counselor Association, 2005), principals have the power to shape both the timing and the outcome of that effort (Amatea & Clark). This power can even shape the professional identity formation of the school counselor; in a study examining induction into the school counseling profession, Matthes (1992) found that, due to the isolation of the counselor "without the support of a colleague with similar preparation and perspective" (p. 248), principals became the primary referent group. In the context of this administrative referent group, it is easy to see why "principals frequently assign school counselors non-counseling duties (such as discipline and keeping attendance records) that detract from a comprehensive program of counseling services in school settings" (Barret & Schmidt, 1986).

Zalaquett (2005) summarized the importance of principals in the selection, retention, and definition of school counselors in their schools, describing the roles of principals and school counselors as "natural partners who should complement one another in the task of serving students and form a partnership based on knowledge, trust, and positive regard for what each professional does" (p. 456). It is not surprising that literature describing leadership strategies for school counselors calls for the involvement of principals (Dollarhide, 2003; Meyers, 2005; Murray, 1995a, 1995b).

To be successful, leadership strategies are based on understanding the relationships between principals and counselors. While it is expected that both professions value the successful education of children, each profession focuses on different ways to accomplish this goal as manifestation of the profession's values (Shoffher & Williamson, 2000). Kaplan (1995) elaborated on these differences, stating that counselors encourage positive classroom climate while principals work to establish a safe and orderly learning environment. Counselors look at the causes and issues that lead to negative behavior; principals look at the effects. Principals may view counselors' attempts to assist students as enabling, instead of teaching personal responsibility. Although many principals do seem to understand the role of the school counselor, there is still some evidence of dissonance in the literature (Beale, 1995; Beale & McCay,2001).

Research on principals' perceptions of school counseling is mixed. Examining the characteristics of a principal who supported the school counseling program, Vaught (1995) found understanding, respect, cooperation, openness, consideration, communication, and support. Similarly, Ponec and Brock (2000) found that the counselor-principal relationship in an exemplary elementary counseling program included mutual trust and clear communication, and they highlighted that supportive counselor-principal relationships required continual maintenance.

In examining roles of school counselors, a 1998 study involving middle school counselors suggested that principals tended to view counselors as administrators (Remley & Albright, 1998). …

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