Bridging the Research to Practice Gap in School Counseling
UVA students studying to become school counselors are learning how to translate research into practitioner-focused briefs, building their own skills and benefiting counselors already in schools.
On any given day, school counselors engage with students who are facing a wide range of needs. And even when students are navigating a similar difficulty—being chronically absent from school, for example—the underlying reasons can be very different. A challenge school counselors face having limited access to current research that best supports the myriad student needs.
Students in the counselor education program at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development are tackling this challenge by writing practitioner-focused research briefs, summarizing research into an easily digestible summaries with clear takeaways—both for their own use and to be distributed to school counselors already in schools.
These students are part of the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health (VPSMH), an effort to expand support for school mental health services in Virginia through graduate student training and professional development for school divisions across the Commonwealth. The briefs are being distributed to current practitioners through the partnership network.
“School counselors are expected to navigate a diverse spectrum of needs from students at the same time,” said Julia Taylor, associate professor and co-director of the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health in the School of Education. “As a result, it is important that they have access to research they can utilize as they support the students at their school.”
Taylor and Natoya Hill Haskins, associate professor and counselor education program co-director, wanted to ensure that students graduating from the UVA school counseling program who participated in the VPSMH program had the skills to identify the needs of their future students and access culturally responsive research and resources they could use to help meet those needs. That is where writing the practitioner-focused briefs came in.
Like her classmates in the second year of the counselor education master’s program, Sam Conner has transitioned to spending more time in her placement school than in classes on Grounds. This semester she spends 4 days a week in her school—up from 3 days a week last semester—working closely with the school counselors and administrators.
These in-school experiences are the foundation for the students’ engagement with the research.
“We started by asking our students what needs they saw in their schools,” Haskins said. “We wanted this exercise to connect to what they were experiencing in real time in their current placements.
“Schools are incredibly diverse, as are the students in those schools. We want this exercise to not only develop their skills for their future but benefit their practice now.”
The cohorts of students gathered to share what they were seeing in their schools and to decide what topics they would explore when they wrote their briefs. Conner, who is currently placed in a high school, paired up with a classmate who has a placement in a middle school. Together they are exploring evidence-based resources for how to support adolescent boys acting out in aggressive ways.
“Working together on the brief allows both of us to hear middle and high school perspectives on this issue,” Conner said. “But working with a partner in the program is also modeling the partnerships and collaboration happening in schools.”
Haskins and Taylor are intentionally designing these research briefs to be useful for school counselors to share information with colleagues. By including a summary, equity considerations and a few specific practitioner tips, the briefs can be helpful for all adults supporting students in schools including administrators, and teachers.
“Sometimes, I may only have 5 minutes to discuss a student with an administrator at my school—who has a high level of respect for school counselors and supports what we do,” Conner said. “It is just that time is short during the school day. These briefs are so helpful in summarizing what challenges we see and what we recommend doing to support the student. And that is such a helpful tool in these short conversations.”
Conner is also thankful for the ways the briefs can support equity among students, acknowledging circumstances beyond the school that are sometimes contributing to students’ challenges. “They can help us consider ways to support students in an attempt to level the playing field for them and even prevent some future challenges from happening,” she said.
For Conner, the benefits of the briefs will also have a big impact in the future.
“UVA’s counselor education program has always been intentional about giving us things to move forward with,” Conner said. “I’m going to be at a school next year that could be so different from the one I’m in now. And these briefs give me a glimpse into other schools which will be so helpful for what comes next.
“And I’ll also show up with a compilation of these briefs, which will definitely help me in my future school.”
Become a School Counselor
Learn more about the M.Ed. in Counselor Education.