School counselors rise to meet changing K–12 landscape By Dr. Alan Burkard
A few years ago, to address a class assignment for one of my research classes, a school counseling student examined reading scores at the school where she was completing her practicum experience. She noticed the student scores had remained consistently at the basic or minimal performance levels but was puzzled because the school had a reading intervention designed to elevate these scores. I encouraged her to scrutinize the problem further, specifically examining other factors that may have been contributing to the problem. She discovered that most students did not arrive at school until about 10:30 a.m. The reading intervention, however, was scheduled during the first class period of the day, just after 8 a.m. Consequently, many of the students in need of reading assistance did not receive the full benefit of the intervention. Needless to say, my student was shocked and initially speechless, although her concern drove her to action. Having traveled the country as the president of the American School Counselor Association this year, I find that this kind of story illustrates the typical concerns that today’s school counselors are compelled to address. The field of school counseling has undergone significant transformation in the past 15 years. No longer is graduate training simply promoting the development of strong counseling skills. Although contemporary school counselors must develop these foundational helping skills, they are also expected to be strong leaders who rely on the use of data to make decisions about curriculum, standards-based education and interventions. They are agents as well for systemic change in schools. They specifically target academic, career and personal-social concerns for change at the individual, group and classroom levels. They collaborate with other educational professionals and parents to promote positive development for students. Furthermore, they are particularly
attuned to social justice concerns, such as gaps in achievement that are too often apparent across culturally and economically diverse groups. We have been particularly blessed at Marquette to have a program that can and has evolved concurrently with the changing landscape of contemporary education. Current school counselors consider themselves to be reformers and social justice advocates. Similarly, our students are encouraged to develop the leadership and advocacy skills to influence school climates positively and to identify — and intervene to close — achievement gaps. These skills and the innovative spirit of our students will be critical to addressing the difficult political environment of schools and the communities in which they reside. Certainly the past year in Wisconsin politics has demonstrated the difficult environment that graduates of our school counseling program will face as new professionals. Perhaps fortunate for elementary, middle, and high school students and their families, our program students were selected to attend Marquette because of their energy, passion and excitement for the school counseling profession. Upon graduation, these students leave our institution ready to act as leaders and advocates in schools, having acquired the knowledge, skills and dispositions to develop comprehensive school counseling programs that meet the needs of students and their families. As such, I know that every graduate of our program will have a positive effect on the schools in which they are employed, for coming to Marquette meant they elected to care for the whole person by becoming leaders, advocates, educators and counselors for the benefit of all students. Dr. Alan Burkard is an associate professor and chair of counselor education and counseling psychology.