“Lead by Example”: A Phenomenological Study of School Counselor-Principal Team Experiences with LGBT Students

Added August 16, 2018

This phenomenological study explored the collaborative experiences between school counselors and principals in their work with LGBT students. The school counselor-principal teams in this study reported four themes with respect to their collaborative advocacy experiences for LGBT youth: (a) learning through storytelling, (b) “leading by example”, (c) creating intentional partnerships, and (d) “pushing the system.” This study can be used by school counselor-principal teams to guide their partnerships and collaborative work to support LGBT students. These practices may include: focusing on how vicarious learning challenged teams to be stronger advocates, creating a collaborative shared vision, and intentionally building relationships outside of school in order to strengthen trust in the working relationship.

One of the significant contributions of this study acknowledged the importance of creating a supportive and effective relationship in which all team members can take risks, share personal and professional stories in an open and authentic manner, as well as assess their level of support from the perspective of both principal and school counselor. As such, school counselor-principal teams are encouraged to schedule regular meetings and intentionally welcome input and conversation from either counterpart[s] as a means to assess and enhance a positive and effective working relationship. Assessing the relationship status (i.e., strengths, barriers) may help teams determine if they are on the same page as well as determine a starting point for their work with LGBT students.

With specific efforts to increase authentic communication and storytelling, school counselor-principal teams can begin by referencing the Principal-School Counselor Toolkit developed by NOSCA, ASCA, and NASSP (College Board, 2011). This toolkit may help teams establish a solid foundation of appreciation and respect, which may be particularly beneficial with assisting members to feel supportive and comfortable to share personal stories, experiences, and philosophies/visions regarding LGBT youth with one another. Teams can also discuss ways to help educators, administrators, and school stakeholders learn vicariously about LGBT youth needs.

Next, school counselor-principal teams can strengthen their work on behalf of LGBT youth through intentional role modeling across various levels for LGBT youth, including: create a Gay-Straight Alliance club, develop school-wide programming (i.e., Day of Silence, Ally Week), advocate for student and faculty dress codes that are inclusive to all identities, as well as share best practices and policy recommendations with the school board, neighboring districts, and professional organizations. Presenting together and sharing LGBT school climate data at community events as well as at state school counselor and educational leadership conferences can be additional ways to broaden the shared advocacy intentionally among these professionals. In efforts to share best practices as well as inspire other teams to engage in this work, school counselors and principals may consider gathering LGBT youth perspectives and their experiences of safety through use of the Local School Climate Survey developed by the GLSEN Research Department (GLSEN, n.d). Implementing this survey may serve as collaborative strategy regarding how both school counselors and principals can utilize LGBT youth perspectives to inform and educate stakeholders and address obstacles and policy initiatives that work for (or against) LGBT youth.



Matthew J. Beck, PhD