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Middle School Counselors’ Competence in Conducting Developmental Classroom Lessons: Is Teaching Experience Necessary?

August 2, 2008

By Bringman, Nancy Lee, Sang Min

Is teaching experience necessary for school counselors to feel competent when conducting developmental classroom lessons? The study in this article investigated the relationship between previous teaching experience and practicing middle school counselors’ perceived competence in conducting developmental classroom lessons. Results suggested that although teaching experience was significantly related to competence in conducting developmental classroom lessons, this effect decreased dramatically and became nonsignificant when school counseling experience was considered. Implications of the findings for school counselors and counselor educators are presented. The debate as to whether school counselors should have classroom teaching experience prior to obtaining school counselor certification has existed for many years (Baker, 1994; Olson & Allen, 1993; Quarto, 1999; Smith, Crutchfield, & Culbreth, 2001). Those who support a teaching prerequisite argue the advantage that teachers have in understanding school policies and procedures (Olson & Allen; Quarto), in being able to develop relationships with teachers and administrators, in being able to assist students with educational problems (Quarto), and in possessing classroom management skills (Olson & Allen). Those who believe teaching experience should not be a prerequisite for school counselor certification believe the requirement may prevent good “prospects” from entering the profession. In addition, prior teaching experience may lead to less favorable interviewing behaviors (Baker). For example, Campbell (1962) found that counselors with a teaching background tended to use advising, information giving, and tutoring much more so than those without a teaching background.

The trend seems to be growing toward allowing individuals without prior classroom teaching experience to obtain school counselor certification. Roughly 40 years ago, 33 states mandated prior teaching experience as part of their school counselor certification requirements (Dudley & Ruff, 1970). This number dropped to 16 about 10 years ago (Randolph & Masker, 1997). Currently, 7 states (Arkansas, Connecticut, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Wyoming) require school counselors to have a teaching certificate in order to be certified as a school counselor (American Counseling Association, 2007). Despite this trend, administrators and teachers still seem to prefer school counselors to have classroom teaching experience prior to obtaining school counselor certification (Peterson, Goodman, Keller, & McCauley, 2004). Issues raised in past debates regarding the possibility that school counselors with no prior teaching experience lack knowledge and experience in school culture (Peterson & Deuschle, 2006) and classroom skills (Akos, Cockman, & Strickland, 2007; Peterson & Deuschle) especially seem to persist. Although both are equally important, the focus of this article is on classroom skills, or more specifically, developmental classroom lessons.

Developmental classroom lessons fall under the school guidance curriculum component of the ASCA National Model(R) (American School Counselor Association, 2005). Its importance is seen in the suggestion that 35-45% of total school counselor time be devoted to the guidance curriculum at the elementary school level, 25-35% at the middle school level, and 15-25% at the high school level (Gysbers & Henderson, 2000). Given large studentto- counselor ratios, developmental classroom lessons are an efficient and effective way for school counselors to meet the increasing needs of a maximum number of students (Myrick, 2002; Schmidt, 2008).

School counselors implement developmental classroom lessons in several ways. First, they may assume total responsibility for developing, organizing, and leading the lessons (Goodnough, Perusse, & Erford, 2007; Myrick, 2002; Schmidt, 2008). In this situation, counselors who want to address important topics related to student development teach the lessons themselves (Goodnough et al.; Schmidt). Second, school counselors may work collaboratively with teachers when developing, organizing, and presenting developmental classroom lessons (Goodnough et al.; Myrick; Schmidt; Thompson, 2002). A collaborative approach may be most effective because it increases the probability that teachers will follow through and reinforce skill development on an ongoing basis in the classroom (Thompson). Finally, school counselors may consult with teachers regarding ways teachers can incorporate developmental classroom lessons within their regular curriculum (Goodnough et al.; Myrick; Schmidt). School counselors who teach developmental classroom lessons themselves, or who collaborate with teachers in the delivery, deliver their program directly to students. As a consultant, program delivery is more indirect (Goodnough et al.; Schmidt). In this study, the two approaches that include direct involvement of the counselor will be examined.

The skills used by school counselors in developmental classroom lessons are similar to those used by effective teachers (Akos et al., 2007). Most important are preparation and planning, presentation skills, classroom management, and being able to evaluate the effectiveness of lessons (Goodnough et al., 2007; Schmidt, 2008). The ASCA National Model (2005) includes the following statement: “Although teaching experience is not required in some states, it is important for school counselors to receive training in student learning styles, classroom behavior management, curriculum and instruction, student assessment and student achievement” (p. 16). School counselors without prior teaching experience may feel uncomfortable with developmental classroom lessons due to a lack of skills in classroom management (Geltner & Clark, 2005; Peterson & Deuschle, 2006), lesson planning, and lesson delivery (Peterson & Deuschle).

Previous studies regarding the issue of teaching experience as a prerequisite for school counselors have examined school administrator (Beale, 1995; Olson & Allen, 1993), teacher (Quarto, 1999), and counselor educator (Smith et al., 2001) perceptions. Although it is important to consider these views, what seemed to be missing in the professional literature until recently were studies involving the perceptions and experiences of school counselors. Peterson et al. (2004) examined the internship experience of school counseling students with and without a teaching background and found that interns without prior teaching experience noted a lack of classroom management and presentation skills. These students tended to rely on personal qualities and professional behaviors, such as an ability to read students’ reactions, when developing their competence in classroom interventions more so than those with teaching experience. Desmond, West, and Bubenzer (2007) examined the effects of mentoring by veteran school counselors with prior teaching experience on novice school counselors without prior teaching experience. Although the novice counselors did not believe their lack of prior teaching experience was a detriment, the need for assistance with lesson planning and delivery was reported by one novice counselor.

PURPOSE OF THE STUDY

In their studies, Peterson et al. (2004) and Desmond et al. (2007) began to address the perceptions of competence in school counselors with and without prior teaching experience. However, both were qualitative studies with relatively small sample sizes (26 and 4, respectively), and only the latter study focused on practicing school counselors. Still missing in the professional literature are the perceptions of a large sample of practicing school counselors with and without teaching experience, especially with regard to feelings of competence in conducting developmental classroom lessons. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between previous teaching experience and practicing school counselors’ perceived competence in conducting developmental classroom lessons. In addition, the relationship between years of professional experience as a school counselor and school counselors’ perceived competence in conducting developmental classroom lessons was investigated.

METHOD

Participants

The participants of this study were middle school counselors who were current members of ASCA. Web-based surveys were sent to individuals in ASCA’s membership database who had professional memberships, whose work setting was listed only as “middle,” and who had an e-mail address. A total of 922 middle school counselors listed in the membership directory met these criteria. Of these, half, or 461, were randomly selected to participate in the study.

Of the initial 461 e-mail messages sent, 135 (29.3%) were returned as “undeliverable.” Of the 326 e-mail messages that were delivered, and after an e-mail reminder was sent, a total of 64 counselors (19.6%) chose to participate in the study. Due to the low initial response rate, a second set of e-mail messages were sent to the remaining 461 counselors who met the initial selection criteria for inclusion in the study. Of these, 134 (29.1%) were returned as “undeliverable.” Of the 327 e-mail messages delivered, 57 counselors (17.4%) chose to participate in the study. With both sets combined, a total of 121 surveys were returned. Of these, 4 participants returned incomplete surveys that were not used for the data analyses (incomplete surveys included those without responses to four or more items). After exclusions, 117 total surveys (17.9% of those delivered) remained eligible for inclusion in the study. This sample size was appropriate because the results of a power analysis showed that a sample size of 107 was needed to detect the effect size R = .10 in 80% power and .05 level of significance (Wampold & Freund, 1987). Of the total respondents, 18 (15.4%) were male and 99 (84.6%) were female. The range of years of experience as a school counselor was 1 to 35 years. Of the total respondents, only 2 counselors (1.7%) reported that they spend no professional work time conducting developmental classroom lessons. The range of professional work time spent conducting developmental classroom lessons was 0 to 70 percent. The mean percentage of work time spent per month conducting developmental classroom lessons was 15.64, with a standard deviation of 12.16.

Criterion Variables

Two competence variables for conducting developmental classroom lessons were assessed from middle school counselors’ responses to two questions and measured by using a 10-point Likert-type scale as follows: a scale from 1 to 10 (where 1 = low and 10 = high) rating one’s competence (a) to conduct developmental classroom lessons by oneself (i.e., without collaborating with a teacher in the classroom), and (b) to conduct developmental classroom lessons with a teacher in the classroom.

Predictor Variables

The main predictor variable investigated in this study was classroom teaching experience, which refers to self-report of the total number of years working as a classroom teacher. Approximately 33.3% of respondents in the present study reported having no classroom teaching experience. Of those having classroom teaching experience (66.7%), the range of years of experience as a classroom teacher was 1 to 35 years (M = 6.03, SD = 6.65). The other predictor variable investigated in this study was school counseling experience, which refers to selfreport of the total number of years working as a school counselor. The range of years of experience as a school counselor was 1 to 35 years. The mean number of years of professional experience as a school counselor was 10.86, with a standard deviation of 7.44.

Data Analysis

Before creating models examining the effects of the predictor variables on middle school counselors’ competence, preliminarily, the correlations between two predictor variables and two criterion variables were examined. To test the relationship between the two predictor variables (classroom teaching experience and school counseling experience) and two criterion variables (competence to conduct developmental classroom lessons by oneself and competence to conduct developmental classroom lessons in collaboration with a teacher), multivariate multiple regression analyses were conducted, rather than running a series of multiple regression equations for each of the criterion variables. A multivariate procedure was used to examine the effects of several factors on multiple criterion variables at once.

For our multivariate multiple regression analyses, variables were entered in two blocks (hierarchical multivariate multiple regression). The first model included only our main predictor variable, classroom teaching experience. The second model included another predictor variable (i.e., school counseling experience) as well as the classroom teaching experience variable. This arrangement is for investigating the unique amount of variance of classroom teaching experience on competence for conducting developmental classroom lessons by our main predictor variable, classroom teaching experience, above and beyond what is explained by the school counseling experience variable in this study.

RESULTS

The mean of self-rated competence to conduct developmental classroom lessons alone (first criterion variable) was 9.11, with a standard deviation of 1.14. The mean of self-rated competence to conduct developmental classroom lessons in collaboration with a teacher in the classroom (second criterion variable) was 9.20, with a standard deviation of 1.15. The two criterion variables were highly correlated with each other (r = .63, p = .00). The correlations between the two predictor variables and the two criterion variables can be seen in Table 1. The results show a statistically significant positive relationship between school counseling experience and the two criterion variables. There is also a statistically significant relationship between classroom teaching experience and the two criterion variables.

To test the first model, which included only our main predictor variable (classroom teaching experience) and two criterion variables (competence to conduct developmental classroom lessons by oneself and competence to conduct developmental classroom lessons in collaboration with a teacher), multivariate multiple regression analyses were conducted. The analyses revealed that the equation for the influence of teaching experience on the two criterion variables was significant (Wilks’ lambda = .94, F [2, 111] = 3.88, p = .02, *^sup 2^ = .06). Follow-up analyses were conducted to examine the univariate F tests for each criterion variable. The results revealed that teaching experience was significantly related to changes in the two criterion variables-competence to conduct developmental classroom lessons by oneself (B = .04, p = .01, *^sup 2^ = .06) and competence to conduct developmental classroom lessons in collaboration with a teacher (B = .04, p = .02, *^sup 2^ = .05).

Next, using multivariate multiple regression analysis, the second model was examined, which included the additional predictor variable (school counseling experience) and the two criterion variables. The results show that the equation for the influence of school counseling experience on the two criterion variables was significant (Wilks’ lambda = .92, F [2, 110] = 4.20, p = .02, *^sup 2^ = .08). However, unlike the previous results, no significant effect of the equation of teaching experience was found (Wilks’ lambda = .97, F [2, 110] = 1.76, p = .12). Follow-up analyses were conducted to examine the univariate F tests for each criterion variable. The results revealed that school counseling experience was the only variable that was significantly related to changes in the two criterion variables-competence to conduct developmental classroom lessons by oneself (B = .03, p = .02, *^sup 2^ = .05) and competence to conduct developmental classroom lessons in collaboration with a teacher (B = .04, p = .01, *^sup 2^ = .07).

DISCUSSION

The results show a significant relationship between classroom teaching experience and self-perceived competence in conducting developmental classroom lessons by oneself and in collaboration with a teacher. The t-test results, conducted as post-hoc analyses, also showed that there are significant differences between school counselors with teaching experience (M = 9.36, SD = .90) and those without teaching experience (M = 8.62, SD = 1.38) on selfperceived competence in conducting developmental classroom lessons by oneself (t [114] = -3.49, p = .01). In addition, there are significant differences between school counselors with teaching experience (M = 9.42, SD = .82) and those without teaching experience (M = 8.76, SD = 1.54) on self-perceived competence in conducting developmental classroom lessons in collaboration with a teacher (t [114] = -2.96, p = .01). Overall, participants reported feeling competent in conducting developmental classroom lessons.

School counselors with teaching experience reported higher competence in conducting developmental classroom lessons than did school counselors without teaching experience. Higher competence from school counselors with teaching experience may be due to the fact that many of the skills used by school counselors in developmental classroom lessons are similar to those used by teachers (Akos et al., 2007). However, given that the mean competence ratings also were high for school counselors without teaching experience, a definitive conclusion cannot be made. Therefore, caution should be used when interpreting these statistically significant results. For example, the results of this study showed that most school counselors (approximately 70%- both school counselors with and without teaching experience) rated their competence for conducting developmental classroom lessons as a “9″ or “10″ on a 10-point Likert scale (where 1 = low and 10 = high).

In addition, it should be noted that the independent contributions of competence might be problematic because competence, as a construct, is complex and its usual measure may only represent certain aspects of competence. For example, even when school counselors state they feel competent, they might not be; some may actually not perform competently. Therefore, the relationship between competence and teaching experience should be studied further in future research, using multiple measures (e.g., competence ratings from coworkers) of this construct.

The results of this study also show a statistically significant relationship between school counseling experience and self- perceived competence to conduct developmental classroom lessons by oneself and in collaboration with a teacher. Interestingly, although teaching experience was found to be significant in the first regression model, this effect decreased dramatically and became nonsignificant once school counseling experience was considered in the second regression model. These results suggest that although teaching experience may be helpful in developing feelings of competence, school counseling experience is more important when it comes to having self-perceived competence in conducting developmental classroom lessons. These results partly support the argument of those in favor of a teaching prerequisite, in that the results seem to show that prior teaching experience is an important factor for explaining the level of competence in conducting developmental classroom lessons for novice school counselors. This result is consistent with Desmond et al. (2007) who found that novice school counselors without prior teaching experience noted the need for support with lesson planning and delivery. Although prior teaching experience may be an important variable to explain the competence levels of novice school counselors, prior teaching experience is not a vital factor to explain the competence levels of experienced school counselors. That is, teaching experience becomes unimportant once school counselors obtain experience working as counselors in the schools. This finding may be explained in terms of Bandura’s (1977, 1986) selfefficacy theory, in which he describes two sources of motivation: outcome expectations and efficacy expectations. Outcome expectations refers to the belief that given behaviors will lead to specific outcomes. Efficacy expectations refers to individuals’ beliefs about their own competence to achieve the outcome. Bandura believes these expectations are interrelated and underlie a person’s willingness to initiate and sustain actions- one’s actions are determined by the confidence one has that a behavior will lead to a specific outcome and the confidence one has in one’s ability to perform the behavior. It is possible that confidence in one’s ability to perform developmental classroom lessons grows along with years of experience working as a counselor in the schools.

Limitations

Although this study showed the effect of prior teaching experience when conducting developmental classroom lessons in middle schools, certain limitations are inherent in survey research and, thus, may have affected the outcome of this study. First, all measures were obtained by self-report questionnaires. That is, self- report responses are subject to biases, dishonest responses, and limitations in conceptualization of questionnaire items. For example, those participants who may have perceived low levels of competence when conducting developmental classroom lessons may have been less motivated to participate in this study in order to avoid consideration of the issue (Heppner, Kivlighan, & Wampold, 1999). In addition, there was a possible tendency for participants to respond to the questionnaire in a manner of social desirability. This tendency may have influenced scores on the competence scale by contributing to a desire to place higher competence in conducting developmental classroom lessons. Second, it is possible that survey questions were not clear to participants. Without a qualitative component, it is difficult to determine how participants conceptualized terms such as collaboration and competency.

Third, through restricting the participants to a specifically defined population (middle school counselors who were members of ASCA) and due to low response rates, the conclusions are limited to this defined population and are not generalizable to all middle school counselors in the nation. Finally, the total variance explained regarding self-perceived competence in this study is limited (8%). This result shows that further studies are needed to explain the remainder of the variance (92%) of self-perceived competence to conduct developmental classroom lessons.

Implications for School Counselors and Counselor Educators

The findings from this study show that although teaching experience is helpful, it is not necessary for school counselors to feel competent when conducting developmental classroom lessons. Most important for self-perceived competence in developmental classroom lessons is school counseling experience. Given these findings, it is important for counselor education programs to provide school counseling students without prior teaching experience with opportunities to gain experience in conducting developmental classroom lessons. School counseling students should be required to conduct a number of developmental classroom lessons during their internships in order to obtain practical experience. This recommendation is supported by Peterson et al. (2004), who reported that the more that school counseling interns with no prior teaching experience gave classroom presentations, the more comfortable they felt. Peterson et al.’s findings also may be explained in terms of outcome and efficacy expectations from Bandura’s (1977, 1986) self- efficacy theory.

Few school counselors felt fully competent. Also, school counselors who rated themselves as competent may not actually perform competently. Therefore, interventions at the pre-service and inservice levels could be helpful to address this issue. Although not explored in this study, it also may be important for counselor education programs to provide school counseling students without prior teaching experience with the teaching skills necessary for effective developmental classroom guidance (Goodnough et al., 2007). These skills include understanding student learning styles, curricula, and instruction (ASCA, 2005); preparation and planning (Geltner & Clark, 2005; Goodnough et al.; Peterson & Deuschle, 2006; Schmidt, 2008); presentation skills (Goodnough et al.; Peterson & Deuschle; Schmidt); classroom management (ASCA; Geltner & Clark; Goodnough et al.; Peterson & Deuschle; Peterson et al., 2004; Schmidt); obtaining student feedback (Schmidt); and evaluating the effectiveness of presentations (Goodnough et al.; Schmidt). These skills can be taught through required courses or seminars.

Given that school counseling experience is important for competence in conducting developmental classroom lessons, novice school counselors may need additional support in this area. This support may be found by utilizing veteran school counselors as mentors (Desmond et al., 2007). Veteran counselors with experience in planning and delivering developmental classroom lessons may be especially helpful.

Although this study begins to fill the gap in research on the perceptions of practicing school counselors with and without teaching experience, additional research is needed in this area. More specifically, further research on competence and experiences of practicing school counselors with and without teaching experience in performing various counselor roles and responsibilities would be helpful. More objective measures of competence may be used, including those that examine student outcome data resulting from school counselor interventions. In addition, outcome studies on the effects of counselor education curricula and supervision practices designed to assist school counseling students without prior teaching experience are needed (Peterson & Deuschle, 2006).

The trend seems to be growing toward allowing individuals without prior classroom teaching experience to obtain school counselor certification.

The skills used by school counselors in developmental classroom lessons are similar to those used by effective teachers.

It is possible that confidence in one’s ability to perform developmental classroom lessons grows along with years of experience working as a counselor in the schools.

It may be important for counselor education programs to provide school counseling students without prior teaching experience with the teaching skills necessary for effective developmental classroom guidance.

References

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Nancy Bringman, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Advanced Educational Studies, California State University, Bakersfield.

Sang Min Lee,Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Education, Korea University, Seoul.

E-mail: leesang@korea.ac.kr

The authors would like to thank Kumlan Yu, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, for her assistance with this article.

Copyright American Counseling Association Aug 2008

(c) 2008 Professional School Counseling. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.




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