Cultivating strengths-based professional identities.
Learning ability (Evaluation)
Group identity (Educational aspects)
Lewis, Rolla E.
|Publication:||Name: Professional School Counseling Publisher: American School Counselor Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Family and marriage; Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 American School Counselor Association ISSN: 1096-2409|
|Issue:||Date: Dec, 2008 Source Volume: 12 Source Issue: 2|
|Topic:||Event Code: 200 Management dynamics|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
This article shares how school counselors-in-training are oriented
to cultivate strengths-based professional identities based on culturally
relevant and evidence-based practices that support the developmental
learning abilities of all students. Professional identity and positive
youth development are tied to practices, Web sites, and resources that
preservice school counselors and graduates use to promote and construct
Strengths-Based School Counseling programs (Galassi & Akos, 2007)
that align with the ASCA National Model[R] (American School Counselor
Professional identity is complex and best viewed eco-contextually to include social identities such as race, ethnicity, religion, economic status, social class, gender, nationality, chosen interests, sexual identity, politics, and personal history (Miller & Garran, 2008). School counselor professional identity is embedded in and connected to a multilayered network of ecological relationships that influence both our inner and outer worlds--an inner world where we aspire to author our own identities, and an outer world where the social reality of our identities can be assumed by others or even imposed by others, a world where we seek to be recognized and validated as professionals (Miller & Garran). Framed in this article, strengths-based school counselor identifies enable professional school counselors to cultivate an understanding of themselves in multiple systems and a willingness to take action to construct educational environments grounded in the belief that all students have learning power.
Like all social identities, strengths-based professional identities develop in the person's relationship to the environment and in the person's understanding within oneself; identity is never fully external or internal, it is constructed holistically in individuals transacting with the environment and generating stories within themselves (Appiah, 2005; Conyne & Cook, 2004; Miller & Garran, 2008). Strengths-Based School Counseling (SBSC; Galassi & Akos, 2007) opens possibilities for practitioners and school counselor educators to enter conversations and to advocate for social justice directed toward promoting more inclusion, more agent status, expanded notions of leadership, and an understanding that all students have islands of competence (Goldstein & Brooks, 2006; Lewis & Borunda, 2006; Palmer, 1998; Westley, Zimmerman, & Patton, 2007).
As an evolving framework, SBSC draws upon knowledge and interventions from a variety of philosophical positions, conceptual frameworks, and accepted methodologies. Strengths-based school counselors have the courage to engage the data and to evaluate it from a developmental and reflective position necessary to critically explore what worked, for whom, and from what perspective (Westley et al., 2007). Courage and the ability to dwell in uncertainty are necessary in creating systems in which success and failure are not evaluated as fixed points but as developmental markers in a process centered on learning. In order to illustrate how strengths-based professional identities are cultivated in action, the remainder of this article highlights three of the six SBSC principles.
STRENGTHS-BASED PRINCIPLES IN ACTION
Promoting Strengths-Enhancing Environments
Counselor educators have an important role in assisting preservice school counselors to gain cultural consciousness and the knowledge, attitude, and skills necessary to respectfully enter diverse school communities. As Californian counselor educators, we know diversity has a profound impact upon counselor education cohorts and public schools; a supportive and diverse cohort can promote conversations on issues such as White privilege, institutional racism, and more. Although difficult, such conversations bring to light that diverse communities are resilient, are life enhancing, and open up possibilities for all who are engaged in contributing to them.
Our programs at both California State University, East Bay (CSUEB) and San Diego State University (SDSU) seek to provide complementary roles that support professional success for school counselors-in-training by fostering structure, opportunities to learn, support, climate/relationships, modeling, standards, and expectations (Benard, 2004). Preservice counselors learn leadership, advocacy, and systems change skills as they become connected and bonded to each other within the program. Retreats, ropes courses, and various activities designed to draw them out of their comfort zones and into their roles as future leaders in schools are provided. Preservice school counselors also are encouraged into participatory leadership roles, including representing graduate students on faculty committees, serving as graduate assistants, working on special projects and grants with professors, submitting conference proposals, and presenting at conferences.
In orienting preservice professionals to the importance of school climate, a simple Google search reveals that most states have youth behavior surveys that measure progress toward developing a safe and drug-free learning environment; such youth behavior surveys are required for all schools accepting funds under the federal No Child Left Behind Act's Title IV Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities program. The California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS; www.wested.org/cs/we/view/pj/ 245) is used by over 80% of all K-12 schools in California. In addition to other items, the CHKS assesses three environmental protective factors: high expectations, care and support, and meaningful participation (Benard, 2004; Hanson, Austin, & Lee-Bayha, 2004). The CHKS also offers a "Resilience Module" to assess student perceptions of the protective factors in their school environment.
We foster becoming participatory leaders who experience high expectations, care and support, and meaningful participation in their own graduate learning environment. For instance, at SDSU, preservice school counselors implement federal grants (providing counseling services to Native American populations as well as to students with special needs). Throughout these projects graduate students implement evidence-based practices and share the results of their activities at state and national conferences. The San Diego State University-Mountain Empire Collaborative for Native American Student Success grant sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education provides an opportunity to be involved in school counseling activities with Native American youth, and for Native American preservice school counselors to provide leadership in their culture while in the program. In this way, the program provides a caring and supportive connection to the professional community and their indigenous community.
Preservice school counselors at SDSU have been instrumental in promoting a meaningful strengths-enhancing environment by operating the Center for Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership (CESCaL). CESCaL is a Web site (www.cescal.org) that enables SDSU graduate students to promote quality training and support for school counselors looking to implement the ASCA National Model[R] (American School Counselor Association, 2005). The high expectations challenge preservice school counselors to contribute talents for technology, marketing, accounting, and event planning. Subsequently, as they design and implement components of the ASCA National Model on this Web site, school counseling program alumni mentor preservice school counselors and other school counselors with care and support.
Emphasizing Evidence-Based Interventions and Practices
The ASCA National Model's call for the use of data is best viewed in action. In our school counselor education programs, data projects represent evidenced-based school counseling practices (Dimmitt, Carey, & Hatch, 2007). From the beginning of their training, preservice school counselors learn about evidence-based practice. Subsequent courses build on this understanding. First, graduate students are asked to discover what needs to be addressed in their schools. They accomplish this by determining which data to access, such as the results from the CHKS, and ways to disaggregate the data. Second, they look at what outcome research says might likely work in their context. Third, preservice school counselors then evaluate whether the intervention made a difference (Dimmitt et al.). By measuring and evaluating what works, school counselors build on strengths, support continuing activities that are successful, and focus on improving those that are not working.
Courses at both institutions require that preservice school counselors disaggregate academic and personal/social data from their field sites, such as SATs, college readiness rates, dropout rates, enrollment rates in rigorous courses, discipline, and special education. University courses are intentionally designed to ensure that graduate students know where to locate the data necessary to explore specific questions (e.g., DataQuest at www.cde.ca.gov and kidsdata.com), and how to interpret, analyze, and share data with stakeholders, as well as make recommendations for strengths-oriented interventions. Preservice school counselors share their data PowerPoints with their site supervisors and also are encouraged to share them with larger audiences, such as on-site counselors, faculty, administrators, and other appropriate stakeholders.
Data analysis and sharing requires preservice school counselors to investigate evidence-based interventions to recommend to their school counseling team; this involves recommending schoolwide guidance curricula and intentional guidance (closing the gap) activities. Graduate students design action plans, create lessons plans, align them to standards, and create pre-post assessments. Once the activities are completed, the preservice school counselors report results using Hatch's (2007) Flashlight PowerPoint approach to their school site and to faculty at the university. Finally, they are encouraged to share their work with larger audiences on the CESCaL or WestEd Web sites. Sharing their evolving work on Web sites promotes participatory leadership and builds a professional community interested in recognizing the developmental nature of ASCA National Model programs, as well as sharing a step-by-step process for designing action plans, pre-posts, and results-based PowerPoints.
Emphasizing Promotion-Oriented Developmental Advocacy at the School Level
One of the greatest challenges for counselor educators who orient new school counselors with data-driven practices, cultural competence, strengths-based practices, and social justice issues involves the needed conversations about and differentiation between mindful advocacy and angry militancy. In our school counselor education programs, many of our graduate students were once classified as underserved, underrepresented, and/or underperforming as youth who were faced with environmental and personal barriers to learning. As preservice school counselors, these men and women are filled with a passion for social justice and seek to right the wrongs of their own or others' educational histories. Conversations must take place between graduate students and counselor educators that orient the graduating preservice school counselors to politically assess each situation, to know when and where to advocate, and to determine what actions are best for achieving results.
One recent event occurred when a recent graduate, a Mexican American (first-year professional school counselor), called to report that his Latina student had been treated unjustly. He explained that she had been overlooked as valedictorian when in fact she had a higher grade point average (GPA) than the European American student who was named. The issue was twofold for him. First, as a new, nontenured school counselor he saw that the system had failed his student. He researched the database and policy to determine how the valedictorian was determined and found that GPA alone determined the award. There was no other policy. Knowing the GPA was inaccurately calculated due to improper weighting, he sought resolution. The lead counselor advised him that since the valedictorian was already named, it would be best to drop the issue, especially because of his nontenured status. He sought guidance for how to advocate for his student to the administration without showing disrespect for his colleague, the lead counselor, and, importantly, without getting fired. Additionally, as a passionate advocate for his student, he was concerned that the European Americans would view him as merely looking out for Latinos, his people (la raza). He believed his responsibility was to advocate to right an injustice and to address the barriers that impeded his student's opportunity for scholarships as a valedictorian.
Time, patience, courage, and support were required for him to maneuver the political issues (including multiple questions from the principal, accusations from the previously honored student's family, central office investigations, attorneys, and pressure from his student's parents to publicly support their daughter). As he emerged from the fires of advocating for his student, he drew upon his strength of consciousness and character to recognize himself as a professional school counselor. He moved his concern forward by using data to discuss the issue at hand, and he positioned himself an inquirer using his savvy ability to pose important questions focusing on justice. Rather than accuse, he sought to understand. He kept in mind advocacy for his client, and he remembered that it was not only a high school he worked for, he worked for the well-being of all students. In the end the problem was resolved, and the strengths-based, culturally competent, evidenced-based school counselor was praised both for his advocacy and for his professionalism.
In the end, counselor educators' success is best defined by the actions of the professional school counselors trained in their programs in the school communities where they work. How counselors think about and understand their work frames their actions. This article presented ways to cultivate strengths-based professional identities in graduate students though the lens of three SBSC principles, and it concludes with three recommendations.
First, construct school counselor education programs that frame the importance of cultivating strengths-based professional identities, cultural relevance, positive youth development, and social justice in school counseling programs guided by the ASCA National Model, data, evidence, and learning. Support courageous actions and the capacity to dwell into uncertainty. Second, provide preservice school counselors with tools and resources for transforming systems, such as Web sites for CESCaL, the CHKS and WestEd, and state academic data. Third, recognize that counselor educators can cultivate strengths-based identities in preservice school counselors and graduates by supporting professionals in taking courageous and mindful actions in contexts where the outcomes are uncertain, recognizing that learning is a meaningful outcome and form of authentic accountability.
Cultivating a strengths-based approach brings out the best in the school counseling profession because it requires that we believe in the capacity of professional school counselors to foster the learning power of all students and to act upon those beliefs.
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Rolla E. Lewis, Ed.D., is an associate professor with California State University, East Bay. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Trish Hatch, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and School Psychology, San Diego State University, CA.
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