Student Well-Being

Survey Probes Principal-Counselor Relationship

By Catherine Gewertz — June 09, 2009 2 min read
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What does an effective principal-counselor relationship look like, and what role can it play in improving high school student achievement?

Those questions led the College Board, the American School Counselor Association, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals to survey nearly 2,400 principals and counselors and issue a new set of reports today outlining their findings. They are sending them to thousands of high schools across the country.

One report, “A Closer Look at the Principal-Counselor Relationship,” examines the findings of the survey. It probes the elements necessary to a harmonious team. An accompanying study, “Finding a Way,” profiles good principal-counselor working relationships at seven schools in an attempt to define what makes them work so well.

The respondents identified four things they viewed as key to a strong relationship between principals and counselors: communication, collaboration, respect for one another’s views, and a shared vision of their school’s work.

But they didn’t always see them the same way. Principals, for instance, more often talked about the quality of their communication with counselors, while counselors highlighted the need for more frequent communication with their principals. Discussing respect, principals more often emphasized that they sought respect for their vision and goals, while counselors sought respect for their themselves and their expertise.

Some of the stuff that struck me as particularly interesting, given the national emphasis on preparing all students for postsecondary education, was the principals’ and counselors’ assessments of the gap between what’s really important for counselors to spend their time on, and what actually ends up consuming large chunks of their time.

Both principals and counselors said they viewed these things as important counseling functions in helping students succeed: using vertical teaming to ensure that students entering high school are prepared to enroll in rigorous coursework; increasing the numbers of students in advanced courses; developing strategies to boost graduation rates; and helping parents and families of first-generation students learn about college.

But the study found that counselors actually spend less time on that work than on these tasks, which they identified as less important to student success: doing supportive administrative tasks; serving as coordinator/facilitator for standardized tests; and doing scheduling tasks.

Both principals and counselors said lack of time was a key barrier in building a strong relationship. I wonder if that means that the thousands of folks who will get this report out in the schools won’t make the time to review it and figure out how they could do better. Let’s hope not.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School Connections blog.