Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Transforming the School Culture: A Model Based on an Exemplary Counselor

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Transforming the School Culture: A Model Based on an Exemplary Counselor

Article excerpt

Over the past few years, school counselors have been admonished to assume a more activist role and move from a peripheral to a central position in schools (Osborne et al., 1998; Sandhu & Portes, 1995) in the interest of creating a school climate conducive to student learning (Kaplan & Geoffroy, 1990). In addition, a call has been made for school counselors to redefine and expand their roles and functions in schools (Anderson & Reiter, 1995; House & Martin, 1998; Napierkowski & Parsons, 1995; Paisley & Borders, 1995). Various authors have also noted the need for counselors to demonstrate leadership within their schools and the need for counselors and principals to work in partnership with staff, parents, and community to raise student aspirations (Green & Quaglia, 1991; George, 1986).

An elementary school counselor quietly came to our attention in the early 1990s as she pursued professional development. She wanted to increase her proficiency in a counseling approach she had continually adapted to fit her school. As she described the results of her innovative applications, we recognized Claudia Vangstad as an exemplary school counselor. Her leadership skills had helped her transform the culture of her school.

Curious about what works in counseling (de Shazer, 1985), we decided to study this counselor within the context of her school. Initially, we explored what had precipitated the changes she described, the general and specific changes that had occurred, her roles in fostering the changes, and what additional elements contributed to the changes. As we explored further, three elements emerged as keys to understanding the transformation of the counselor's school from a culture of violence into a culture of problem solvers. The purpose of this article is to explore three interrelated elements that contributed to the school's transformation: (a) a school in turmoil with a readiness for change; (b) a counselor with vision, identity, core beliefs and basic values, capabilities, and behaviors that were aligned; and (c) a systematic and systemic problem-solving program. Collectively, these three elements provided the basis for changing the culture of the school.

Method

Ethnography

This study was ethnographic in nature, involving "thick description" (Geertz, 1973), with an emphasis on language, activity, and context. We were immersed in the counselor's school and community for several days on each of three occasions, for approximately one month over the course of 3 years. Systematically, using appropriately nonrandom and purposive sampling procedures (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), we interviewed administrators, school board members, teachers, clerical staff, parents, cooks, custodians, and other members of the community, with data recorded simultaneously on audiotape and/or laptop computer. We planned some interviews in advance, but many occurred because interviewees recommended other individuals. Both spontaneously and at scheduled times, we met to report on progress, compare notes, discuss emerging themes, and plan further data collection.

Subsequently, audiotapes were transcribed and all data analyzed, first independently and later jointly, for emerging themes. We used a constant comparative method of analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Data were not fitted into predetermined categories. Instead, statements were coded according to emerging themes and statements similarly coded were continually and reflexively compared with each other, with subsequent and appropriate adjustments of the coding scheme.

Methodology for Creating Models

To assist in creating a model that captured the essential aspects of Vangstad's work, we employed a methodology developed by Bandler and Grinder (Bandler & Grinder 1975a, 1975b; Grinder & Bandler, 1976) and Dilts (1996, 1998). Dilts (1998) stated that behavioral modeling "involves observing and mapping the successful processes which underlie an exceptional performance of some type" (p. …

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