School counselors and school and community partnerships

Local schools face an array of challenges in preparing students to succeed in the classroom and life. Recently, The Columbus Dispatch called attention to issues impacting youth who experience significant problem behaviors. Local officials proposed a “summit” to bring together child-welfare workers, juvenile court officials, foster care providers, educators, mental health experts, and other stakeholders. As indicated by a convener, “We need all the players. And we have to be more collaborative than we’ve been” (Price, 2013, p. A1 and A4).

It is clear that problems facing children and families are often complex and multi-causal. In the face of such problems, school officials are often called upon to develop school and community partnerships to address significant youth development issues. For example, Adelman and Taylor (2008) and other educational theorists (American School Counselor Association, 2012; Bemak, 2000; Bryan & Holcomb-McCoy, 2004, 2007) have promoted collaborative school and community partnerships as a means to support student success. The Center for Mental Health in Schools (2014) calls for a “unified and comprehensive” approach that would weave resources together in an integrated fashion.

In the last decade, school counselors have been encouraged to take an active role in developing and facilitating school and community partnerships (Bryan & Holcomb-McCoy, 2007; Griffin & Farris, 2010). It is clear that school counselors have highly relevant leadership, consultation, and management skills and may be well positioned to work with other partners to promote academic success (Bryan & Holcomb-McCoy, 2004, 2007; Colbert, 1996; Mitchell & Bryan, 2007; American School Counselor Association, 2012; Bemak, 2000). To that end, many theorists suggest that school counselors should move beyond an emphasis on direct one-on-one services and adopt the role of change agent (Keys et al., 1998). Promoting effective school and community partnerships would appear to offer the opportunity to act as change agents and such action presupposes adequate knowledge and skills.

Epstein and Sanders (2006) indicated that many deans, chairs, and others in colleges of education thought that it was important for school counselors to know how to work effectively with communities. However, these authors indicated that only one-third of educators reported that training programs prepared students to participate in school and community collaborations. In response to this situation, a research and development team of CETE staff within the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University has begun the process of developing a curriculum to train school counselors to manage school and community partnerships. The curriculum consists of more than a dozen modules focused on topics, such as assessing needs, forming collaborative partnerships, and evaluating specific programs.

The curriculum builds on a problem-solving process described by Bryan and Henry (2012). The Bryan and Henry process includes seven steps:

  1. preparing to partner
  2. assessing needs and strengths
  3. coming together and forming a collaborative group or partnership leadership team
  4. creating a shared vision
  5. taking action
  6. evaluating and celebrating success
  7. maintaining momentum

CETE’s research team added three additional elements, including defining a focal community, establishing specific partnership roles, and formally managing the problem-solving process. The CETE research team proposes that school counselors are ideally positioned to take on the management role.

CETE’s team is collecting data to help understand the extent to which various school stakeholders are supportive of such an approach and the extent to which school counseling students might be interested in gaining collaborative community problem-solving skills. It is clear that there are significant challenges to this approach for supporting school and community partnerships. Overwhelming caseloads and lack of time, training, and support from school officials are obvious barriers to counselor involvement. However, there is general agreement that schools are not able to address students’ complex, nonacademic obstacles in isolation (Anderson et al., 2008). In addition, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) National Model (2012) indicates that school counselors should take an active leadership role in planning, implementing, and evaluating school and community partnerships.

Youth development issues confronting schools and communities are significant and have profound implications on efforts to promote school success. Effective partnerships between schools and communities would appear to have much to offer in terms of addressing such problems. However, current efforts are often fragmented and in many cases have had limited impact on critical outcomes. A formal process and competent management might have important implications for the support of local school and community partnerships. Thus future efforts might be directed toward training school counselors to manage local school and community collaborations. Work to implement and evaluate such collaborations may provide another tool in local, state, and national endeavors to address significant issues that adversely impact school success.

For more information on the school counselor curriculum, contact David A. Julian, PhD, director of Community Planning and Evaluation, CETE, College of Education and Human Ecology, The Ohio State University, at 614-292-5046 or julian.3@osu.edu.

Co-researchers at OSU:
Beth Chatfield, Educational Studies
Sabri Dogan, CETE
Colette Dollarhide, Educational Studies
Kathryn Monda, Educational Studies
Melissa Ross, CETE


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Contributor: David A. Julian