Added October 22, 2018
This case study explored the dynamics of a professional development opportunity designed to support school counselors’ transformative leadership practices as equity-centered change agents. Throughout the professional development, participants reflected on their individual and collective identities in relation to the populations at their schools; identified the inequitable discourse at their schools and opportunities for change; brainstormed ways to hold themselves, other stakeholders, and the school community accountable for change; and discussed the dilemmas they face moving forward as leaders that promote and facilitate educational equity through intentional school counseling practices (Peters, 2016). Through various presentations and activities, participants examined how language, structures, and interactions in schools perpetuate inequity through systems of oppression, such as the concept of Discourse I and II (Eubanks, Parish, & Smith, 1997). Discourse I language refers to traditional discourse in schools that prioritizes the dominant culture, while appearing responsive to the need for improvement (Eubanks et al., 1997). For example, educational stakeholders often discuss student difficulties by exploring assumed deficits of students, while assigning blame to students and families for educational disparities. In comparison, Discourse II requires stakeholders to ask themselves how they, as educators, are failing these students. Throughout the professional development, participants addressed the need to reframe Discourse I language into Discourse II language to deconstruct dominant narratives to make space for those that have been silenced in traditional school settings (Eubanks et al., 1997; Peters, 2016).
Nineteen school counselors participated in individual interviews to reflect on their experiences in this transformative leadership professional development. The collective voices of these school counselors revealed common themes, which included positive perceptions of the professional development and transformative school counselor leadership. For many participants, the leadership professional development offered clarity regarding the district’s shared vision for comprehensive school counseling programs implementation and educational equity. One participant stated, “I think the training helped shake me out of the tendency to want to keep blaming all the reasons why it's [implementation] hard. Because it is. And there was one question in the training which was the one major thing that I take away from it, which is what would you do differently if you felt that you were individually responsible every time a student failed? That question has helped me kind of pick up what I can; do a little more. Take a little more responsibility for some of the problems or things that are broken.”
In some cases, school counselor leadership requires that school counselors push back at times when inequitable situations arise. In these moments, participating school counselors expressed commitment to Discourse II language to flip the script of oppression in schools. As articulated by a participant, “Why are we failing certain students…we might be a little better than the district average, but we’re still failing some of these kids that were brought to us to not fail… Why are African American boys and Latino boys still failing? We’re saying that we’re coming up with a curriculum that’s about social justice and about empowering young people and they’re still dropping out.”
Many participants echoed this sentiment, highlighting the role of school counselor leadership for fostering educational equity for historically marginalized student populations. Thus, the results of this study suggest that transformative leadership professional development opportunities have the capacity to support school counselor leadership efforts to address students’ educational needs through an equity focused framework.
Practicing school counselors may benefit from similar types of transformative professional development opportunities to increase school counselor confidence while engaging educational stakeholders in conversations about inequities in schools. School counselor leadership is a necessity to foster educational equity. When armed with supportive administration, clear vision, trusting relationships, and reflective practices, school counselors are positioned to lead this work. This study also illustrated that intentional partnerships with school and district level administrators can contribute to school counselors’ capacity to use student data to assess the needs of each unique school community, intervene in a culturally responsive manner, and determine the outcomes of such interventions.
This study illuminated the passion and partnership necessary for districtwide implementation of comprehensive school counseling programs. As school counselors engaged in a transformative leadership professional development, it became apparent that a common voice and vision supports the implementation of comprehensive school counseling programs that provide services for students from a platform of social justice and educational equity. The participants in this study provided valuable insight into transformative school counselor leadership, as they strive to transform their school counseling programs to align with a common professional identity of current best practice.
Molly M. Strear, PhD, Patricia Van Velsor, PhD, Daniel A. DeCino, PhD, Gregory Peters
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