Getting Real about School Counselors and Research

Let’s be real here. I know many school counselors who claim they rarely read a research article once they left grad school. I was a school counselor for many years and would put myself in this category for much of that time. Unless I was in school pursuing another degree, I rarely read research by my own choice. While I would find it interesting when I did read, it was just too much most of the time, and I was just too busy or too tired.

Research articles take time, focus, and headspace to digest because they are written in a unique academic format that has little appeal to those outside of academic circles. Many school counselors I know are likely to consult sources that are shorter, to the point, provide practical suggestions, and don’t use unnecessary scientific jargon. I get it. When you are short on time and energy, why read a 25-page article when you can read a 5-paragraph blog post, watch a 3-minute video or spend quality time with another school counselor hearing about what they do in their school? School counselors have A LOT on their plates, increasingly so as seems to be the case for most educators, so there’s little time to waste when it comes to independent professional learning.

School counselors DO benefit from research. Yes, I know you are thinking, “you are a professor, Erin, of course you are going to say that!” I wasn’t always a professor though, and recognize the value my school counselor identity has in shaping every aspect of my position as a counselor educator. Admittedly I have a greater appreciation for research because it is a job requirement, but I also hope you’ll stick around long enough to read about my campaign to make research more user-friendly for school counselors. I’ve come to have a much broader view of how I even define “research” thanks to so many who help me conquer my research imposter syndrome on the daily. If you are curious and contemplate all of the small and large conundrums of the world of school counseling, you have a mind for research.

So why should we care about research?

  1. Research provides insight into what is of concern in the field, and what is working or not working. The ASCA Model provides a useable framework but knowing which interventions and programs actually work, and deciding which ones to use, can seem like a crapshoot. There are SO many options, and research can help narrow things down.

  2. Research is an advocacy tool. There are times where your individual voice and the stories of your students can win people’s hearts over. And there are other times where you need to connect with stakeholder brains to demonstrate that what you do is based in evidence. Having an emotional plea and a research-based case to be made are handy to have in your back pocket at all times, on the issues you feel strongly about.

  3. Research elevates the profession. School Counseling has a loooong history of trying to make a name for itself. I can’t remember a time when we haven’t been working to legitimize our value at all levels and settings. When we engage with research, we help stakeholders and other professions know we are serious about what we do.

  4. Research challenges the profession. There are any number of issues in school counseling that should be represented and illuminated but may not be because of biases held within the various circles in our field. Research can strategically up-end the status quo and encourage us (especially those with privilege) to expand our view and take a more critical look at ourselves and the way we go about our work.

  5. Research can bring us together. School counselors work hard, and so do the counselor educators I know. When we collaborate together through research, we bridge the gap between theory and practice, between grad school and the real world, and we add cohesiveness and validity to all the hard work that gets done for the sake of students.

My personal campaign to make research more relevant will include a couple of actions:

  1. I’ll create short videos about any research I take the lead on and publish (per approval of the publisher and any co-authors). I’m hoping one way to make research more relatable is for you to see the face behind the research. In each video I’ll spend a few minutes highlighting the key results and addressing the “so what” question. And I’ll spend a few minutes sharing the backstory of the research so viewers understand why I did it and any shareable adventures I ran into during the process. Vulnerability has always been one of my superpowers so I’m aiming to get real about my research with anyone who wants to listen. I’ll start with this article that was published this month, and will share a video here soon: Mason, E. C. M., Griffith, C., & Belser, C. T. (2019). School Counselors’ Use of Technology for Program Management. Professional School Counseling, 22(1), 2156759X19870794. https://doi.org/10.1177/2156759X19870794

  2. I’ll regularly share research on social media that I think is worth school counselors’ time. Not everything published in our discipline has a bent towards the practicing school counselor so I’ll focus on those articles, books, and sources that do. To help with tagging such posts, I’ll use #scresearch (not anything there yet but there will be!). I checked the hashtag on Twitter and it does not appear to be longstanding. The last use of it was in 2017 with most use being in 2013 during a conference.

  3. I’m also open to interviewing others who engage in research about school counseling topics and sharing their videos here too. There are many friendly faces of research in our profession and I’m just one of them. If you have published something that has practical implications for those in field or if you just want to record a chat about research in general, let me know and we’ll set something up.

This will be an ongoing post that will likely be updated here and there. Stay tuned for more!

Hey school counselor, you're already doing a great job!

Maybe you are a new school counselor, or perhaps you’ve been at it for a while, either way, you’re already doing a great job. Seriously, I mean it. I’m not saying you’re perfect or that there isn’t room to improve, but you’re in this profession, making a difference in the lives of students, families, and in the school or schools you serve. In today’s world, now more than ever, the world needs you, and you’re here. Being a school counselor is not for the faint of heart, but it is a career with meaning, and that is worth something. I spent some time recently with a few people who spoke quite apathetically about their careers and seemed entirely unfulfilled despite the hefty salaries and opportunities to advance. Conversely, I enjoyed a walk with a like-minded and thoughtful school counselor educator colleague, (@bultsmas) who reminded me how fortunate we are to be in this profession. We may not be rolling in the dough, but our rewards come in so many other ways.

This is year 25 for me; 13 as a school counselor, and so far, 12 as a school counselor educator. It’s apropos for me to be in a reflective place as the school year begins, as I’m sure it might be for you. Recently I’ve thought a lot about how the profession has changed since I started in 1994. In addition to acknowledging some major historical markers like the introduction of the ASCA National Model by Dr. Trish Hatch (@hatchingresults) and the late Dr. Judy Bowers in 2003, one of the changes that stands out to me is the access to resources school counselors have now. Social media, for all of its other challenges, is largely responsible for this change. Early in my career, when there was no social media, we relied heavily on books we had from grad school, catalogs that might have books or videos we could use, resources we bought at conferences, or any other school counselor we had access to. Now, the ability to connect with other school counselors and share ideas nationally and internationally is incredible and is defining this time period of our profession.

All the benefits of these connections and accessibility will only grow exponentially, largely to the benefit of the profession, and especially for those who are more likely to feel disconnected such as rural school counselors, the solo school counselor, or those who are new and establishing their identity. However, I write this with a word of caution which explains this post’s title. Beware of the pressure to compare yourself. Some recent research is conflicted in the conclusions about the assets and liabilities of social media use by adults. And as much as I am a proponent of technology, including social media, for the reasons mentioned above, I recognize that it is also may be creating a culture of comparison in our profession. Achieving RAMP for your school counseling program or being selected as your district or state’s school counselor of the year are all worthwhile goals but, in truth, the recognition from these is relatively short-lived compared to the impact you have on your students and your school community. While I support these kinds of professional recognitions for the school counselors I know and the future school counselors I help prepare, I know that what matters most to our society and the future of our profession is the commitment you make every day when you get up to go to work.

As we all ride the high of a new school year and the excitement it brings, I hope you’ll remember that you are already doing it, something that really matters, because you chose to be a school counselor. The pressures may be on to do more or be more, but most school counselors are already lifelong learners, always working to improve ourselves and our programs, we seek growth by default. So I say, set the goals for those extrinsic rewards if you need and want to but remember that the intrinsic rewards are what got you to the profession in the first place. Just by virtue of being a school counselor, in a time when the world needs you, you are already doing a great job.

What is E-Merge?

E-Merge is a personal blog about professional lessons. “E” is what my partner and some of my close friends call me, shortening my already short name, Erin, to a single letter. “E” is friendly and casual, and such is the nature of this blog. “Merge” captures the format of the blog, a mash-up of personal reflection, research, other sources, and conversations with people in the school counseling field. Finally, “emerge” suggests the ongoing development of the posts here, which are, on the whole, always in-progress and never complete because neither is my learning. Don’t expect a regular schedule because there won’t be one. I’ve tried that before and failed miserably; however, I will share and crosspost when there is something new. Follow me or SCOPE on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.