Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Promoting Professional Identity in an Era of Educational Reform

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Promoting Professional Identity in an Era of Educational Reform

Article excerpt

As a counselor educator, whenever I get the opportunity to speak to school counselors in groups-such as when conducting in-service training sessions or presenting conference workshops-I make a point of asking those present to identify the biggest problems confronting the profession today. Although they are all too familiar with the daunting nature of the personal problems facing the students with whom they work on a daily basis, their most visceral responses rather speak to problems that relate to the organizational context of their work. Comments that commonly prevail in the discourse include "there are not enough staff or resources to do the job," "no one knows what we really do," "we are delegated too many administrative assignments that take away time from working with our students," "we are not considered a central component of the school," and "our caseloads are too large for us to be effective in carrying out our role."

Responses such as these from practitioners in the field make it all the more difficult to address the conundrum of professional identity when speaking to school counselors-in-training back in the classroom. For the most part, counselor education programs today are high-mindedly preparing school counselors to practice under a comprehensive, developmental model wherein their role is defined as proactive, and their work is centered around a planned, sequential guidance curriculum aimed at promoting the academic, personal, and career development of all students. Despite their contemporary training, there is little that tangibly can prepare newly credentialed school counselors for what lies ahead in terms of the professional identity struggle they are likely to face in the schools where they will eventually find themselves working with caseload and workload expectations that defy professional standards (Anderson & Reiter, 1995; Gysbers, 1990; Johnson, 1993).

The literature is rife with illustrations of how the role of the school counselor is seen as an ancillary one in the school system. Suffering from low visibility and role ambiguity, school counselors have been engaged for many years in an uphill battle to establish their credibility within the school system (Aubrey,1993; Baker, 2000). In all too many schools, there exists no clear-cut sense of what the school counselor is technically supposed to do (Brown, 1989). If truth be known, most educational administrators and classroom teachers have little understanding of what counselor education is all about and what school counselors are qualified to provide in terms of developmental, responsive, and consultative services as a result of their graduate training. Sadly, this is as true today as it was three decades ago when ardent claims about the imperilment of school counseling first were being made (Pietrofesa & Vriend, 1971).

Given the variable slate of duties assigned school counselors across different schools and districts, it is no wonder that most school personnel are hard pressed to accurately define the role of the school counselor, let alone the overall function of the school counseling program. All too commonly, the guidance department is assigned extraneous administrative and clerical responsibilities resulting in a disproportionate amount of counselor time being spent on systems support and nonguidance tasks and less on providing the direct services they were trained to perform (Johnson, 1993; Partin, 1993). The resulting public perception is that these relegated functions are what indeed defines the school counseling program. From this perceptual base, students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community and school board members cannot possibly fathom the comprehensive program of developmental services that certified school counselors are trained to provide. While the lack of public information has obfuscated the professional identity of school counseling through the years, allowing one's constituents to remain "in the dark" seems particularly treacherous in these times of system-wide reform. …

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