Relationships among Elementary School Counselors and Principals: A Unique Bond

By Ponec, Debra L.; Brock, Barbara L. | Professional School Counseling, February 2000 | Go to article overview

Relationships among Elementary School Counselors and Principals: A Unique Bond


Ponec, Debra L., Brock, Barbara L., Professional School Counseling


The addition of counselors and their guidance and counseling programs is relatively new to many elementary schools (Hardesty & Dillard, 1994) and a unique experience for many principals and counselors. Research has indicated that the support of the school principal in the implementation and maintenance of guidance and counseling programs is imperative (Beale, 1995; Coll & Freeman, 1997; Ribak-Rosenthal, 1994). In addition, it has been determined that teamwork among the professionals in a school, especially the crucial relationships between school counselors and principals, is an important factor in determining the effectiveness of a comprehensive guidance and counseling program (Brock & Ponec, 1998). Stickel (1990) found that no relationship is possibly more vital to the success than that of principal and counselor.

Key Factors to Success

Current school counseling literature recommends that guidance and counseling programs should be developmental and comprehensive in nature (Campbell & Dahir, 1997; Neukrug, Barr, Hoffman, & Kaplan, 1993). Research and anecdotal reports of practicing school counselors and administrators revealed these key factors in supporting exemplary guidance and counseling programs: (a) the principal's support of the counselor's role is essential (Beale, 1995; Ribak-Rosenthal, 1994; Vaught, 1995); (b) a clear definition and understanding of the counselor's role is critical (Cormany & Brantley, 1996; Stickel, 1990); and (c) trust and frequent communication opportunities must be present (Brock & Ponec, 1998; Vaught, 1995).

The intent of this study was to explore and describe the relationships among elementary school counselors and their principals in programs that were deemed exemplary and beneficial for school communities. Aspects of principal influence, the role of the counselor, and communication have been discussed and explored when describing these relationships.

Principal's Influence

The principal determines the role and function of the counselor within the school and often must be educated to that role (Neukrug et al., 1993; Ribak-Rosenthal, 1994). Principals' definitions of the role of the counselor may range from that of administrative assistant to helper/advocate of children. Ribak-Rosenthal (1994) related that principals utilized counselors in performing various clerical and administrative tasks rather than counseling duties when their own administrative positions had excessive demands. In contrast, Vaught (1995) described her experiences with her principal as supportive in the following ways: understanding the guidance and counseling program; respecting what the counselor had to say about students, curriculum, and school community; and believing that counselors and principals should work together for the benefit of students. Principal-counselor partnerships advocated an open, supportive relationship as the foundation of an exemplary program (Cormany & Brantley, 1996; Stickel, 1990). Research implied that ignoring this relationship and the influence of a principal regarding the implementation and maintenance of guidance and counseling program could be disastrous.

Role Identification and Confusion

Role confusion is an issue for counselors and principals (Coll & Freeman, 1997; Hardesty & Dillard, 1994; Napierkowski & Parsons, 1995; Ribak-Rosenthal, 1994; Stickel, 1990). The confusion is promoted through the myriad of tasks that a counselor performs, school sites having various needs related to counseling activities, and a difference of perception between principal and counselor in determining a congruency between an administrative role and that of helping students. This confusion illustrates the disparity found in the performance of an elementary school counselor's role and remains an impediment to the process of establishing the ideal counselor's role within a comprehensive guidance and counseling program (Ponec & Dickel, 1991). …

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