“There is no amount of preparation that fully prepares you for what happens in the classroom or on the job,” writes Heather J. Fye, co-editor of the third edition of Critical Incidents in School Counseling, in the opening chapter of the book.
A school counselor’s graduate degree and academic training serve only as a base for the continuous learning that happens on the job — in classrooms, via interactions with students, via collaboration with colleagues, and through professional development. Teachable moments, Fye writes, can happen both spontaneously and as planned elements of time spent with students.
As much as school counselors grow, learn and evolve on the job, the discipline itself continues to change. With this in mind, co-editors Tarrell Awe Agahe Portman, Chris Wood and Fye recently updated Critical Incidents in School Counseling to reflect an ever-changing landscape that now includes challenges such as cyberbullying. The American Counseling Association published a third edition of the book in December 2018.
Portman is dean of the College of Education at Winona State University; Wood is an associate professor in the counselor education program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; and Fye is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama.
CT Online sent the trio some questions, via email, to learn more.
Q+A: Critical Incidents in School Counseling
Note: Responses co-written by Portman, Wood and Fye.
In providing case studies, one of the goals of the book is to bridge the gap between the academic learning that school counselors receive in graduate school and in-the-moment practical experience. Besides using your book, what else do you suggest to help school counselors bring themselves up to speed?
School counselors need to be lifelong learners, continually reading professional literature and attending professional development [opportunities] such as workshops and conferences. One of the added features of the new edition of the book is that a list of resources is included by the authors [of each chapter] in response to the critical incidents. These resources include additional reading on the topic, websites with tools and information on the specific topics, and resources from professional organizations such as ACA and the American School Counselor Association.
Small steps are important. It is important for school counselors to find supports within the counseling community. If school counselors are unfamiliar with other school counseling professionals in their school district or surrounding areas, it may be helpful to reach out to them.
It may be helpful for school counselors to attend a local, regional or national conference or take part in volunteer activities, as time permits, from a counseling organization. If national involvement does not seem possible, start with the local or state chapters [of professional organizations]. State school counseling organizations or chapters often have excellent websites, newsletters and resources available.
Lastly, networking with school counselor educators at the university level may provide engaging and collaborative opportunities between counseling professionals.
Fill in the blank: I wish I had known ________ when I was in my first year as a school counselor. What would you want to share with new or soon-to-be school counselors who might be reading this?
Chris Wood: How much I still had to learn.
Much of this is not because of inadequate training. It is just due to the incredible demands on professional school counselors and that the unique and ever-changing needs of students and schools make any new school counselor face a challenging learning curve. So, I would want new school counselors to recognize the importance of constantly improving their knowledge, awareness and skills through professional development.
Heather Fye: How I fit in to making a difference in the lives of students.
Do not just accept the status quo. Change takes time. Remember why you became a school counselor and try to do something — even five minutes each day — that aligns with your passion. You know yourself best.
Tarrell Awe Agahe Portman: More about policies, procedures and standards which directly impacted student success.
I would want new school counselors to feel reassured of their purpose and influence on the lives of generations to come. This can be overwhelming but is really just a part of the circle of life.
School counselors might be the only counselor in their building, working with educators and helping professionals who have different licensure and training. What advice would you give to school counselors about remaining true to their counselor identity?
Professional school counselors should draw their identity from their training and certification/licensure, not from how others in the building may perceive them. Certainly, there are many threats to the identity of professional school counselors that could push them into tasks or actions that are inconsistent with their training or even their ethical standards. An obvious example is the fact that school principals may want school counselors to engage in activities that help fulfill some school need but ultimately inhibit the professional school counselor’s effective functioning.
Staying connected to the profession, reading the professional literature — including research — and regularly attending professional development that is specifically targeted toward school counselors can help buffer the negative effects of those who don’t understand a professional school counselor’s role.
Professional school counselors should remember to reflect upon why they wanted to become a school counselor, stay aware of positive changes in schools from their school counselor program, and stay true to their training and self as a professional.
School counselors gain many techniques throughout their graduate training that can help them build professional relationships. Finding supports, staying connected with others who want to make a positive impact in the school setting, and [engaging in] continuous learning through professional development can be integral to self-care as well as professional identity.
The last edition of this book was released in 2000. What prompted a new edition? Why is it relevant and needed now?
Societal changes and new demands on school counselors created the demand for the new third edition of the critical incidents text. It was 27 years between the first edition and almost 20 years between the second edition and this newer third edition. So, one of the reasons for a new edition is a need to provide incidents that are more contemporary, embedded in the current school climate, and [which] address incidents based on the current generation of students.
Just the advances in technology since the last book highlight the different world that students live in today. When the second edition of the text came out there, was no Facebook or Myspace — these came several years later — and the word cyberbullying wasn’t a common concept. By 2006, there was some research to suggest that cyberbullying was affecting almost half of all American teens. So, obviously, the rapidly changing world of students in schools warrants a book that can help school counselors respond to critical incidents.
The original rationale for the first two editions is still relevant: to assist school counselors and school counselors-in-training with knowledge, critical thinking and related resources in order to respond to the many critical incidents that they face in their career.
Importantly, in this newest edition, we focused on having school counselors author the incidents and used experts with actual school counseling experience to author the responses. We felt that this would help lend the book toward offering more pragmatic learning and direct application to professional practice.
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
Hopefully, readers will be able to relate their own professional practice to many of the critical incidents in the book and leave with two takeaways.
1) We hope the readers will feel validated in what they are experiencing on the job and benefit from multiple perspectives in addressing professional challenges.
2) We hope the readers will feel greater confidence in relying on their own knowledge [and] awareness and put their skills into direct action that benefits students. Reading the incidents and responses is intended to help school counselors improve their ability to problem-solve situations, advocate for themselves and their profession, build a foundation in peer consultation, and engage in ongoing professional development.
The landscape of school counseling is ever-changing. Do you feel graduate programs across the U.S. are keeping up?
Yes, in the case of graduate programs that maintain the highest levels of accreditation, train their students in the most current models of evidence-based practice, and teach students to apply their learning in innovative ways. Such programs are equipping their students to face changes and challenges that we can’t even name yet.
In general, there is a progressive movement happening in graduate programs across the U.S. However, there continues to be a disconnect between schools and universities — counselor or educator. School counselors have many demands, and this is true for university faculty as well. So, there may always be a need to produce books and other resources that can help bridge the knowing-doing gap between what school counselors learn in graduate programs and the practical application of such learning in an ever-changing landscape.
Critical Incidents in School Counseling is available both in print and as an e-book from the American Counseling Association bookstore at counseling.org/store or by calling 800-347-6647 ext. 222.
Bethany Bray is a staff writer and social media coordinator for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.