Indiana Gold Star School Counseling: A Gold Star Journey

Sue Reynolds

Published in the ASCA School Counselor Magazine, January 2, 2007

Over the past 17 years, the state of Indiana has taken an amazing journey, one that’s been both exciting and challenging, to transform school counseling. It started in 1989, when a state legislator asked, “Why would I want to spend taxpayer dollars to hire more people to sit around, read the newspaper and drink coffee?” We knew immediately that before Indiana school counselors could successfully advocate for school counseling programs as a means to raise student achievement and close achievement gaps, we needed to clearly and concretely answer three questions.

  1. How do students benefit from school counseling programs?
  2. What do school counselors do to bring about these benefits for students?
  3. What skills and knowledge do school counselors possess that qualify them to do these things?

The Indiana Gold Star School Counseling Initiative developed as a way to provide answers to these questions. Following is a description of the initiative and the lessons we learned as we journeyed through its development.

More than 40 state-level organizations worked together to develop the Indiana Gold Star Schooling Counseling Initiative. The group included representatives from the governor’s office, multiple state agencies, professional associations (teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards, school counselors), chambers of commerce, economic development boards, universities and parent associations. By bringing together these groups to develop the Indiana Gold Star School Counseling Initiative, we ensured that the initiative would represent many different perspectives and increased the likelihood that each organization would support the initiative and, more importantly, incorporate its components into their work.

TRANSFORMATION TOOLS

Various writing teams created the following documents as we worked to create the tools that would provide answers to the questions about school counseling. These documents became the foundation of the Indiana Gold Star School Counseling Initiative and can be found at www.asainstitute.org/schoolcounseling.

Indiana Student Standards for Guidance: The Indiana Student Standards for Guidance list the knowledge and skills students should master during grades K-12 in the areas of academic, career and citizenship (personal/social) development. The Student Standards Writing Team was asked, “What do students need to know and be able to do in order to become successful learners, responsible citizens and productive members of a global economy?” Care was taken to clearly write the standards in a language that would not be subject to interpretation. When finished, the writers were asked to incorporate the student standards into their individual organization’s initiatives.

Indiana Program Standards for School Counseling: The Program Standards Writing Team consisted of practicing school counselors from elementary, middle and high schools. The writers were asked to describe the components of a sound school counseling program. A sound program was defined as one that would help students master the Indiana Student Standards for Guidance and overcome personal and social concerns that interfere with learning. The writing team created nine school counseling program standards: program foundations, data-based accountability, student guidance, student counseling, student advocacy, program management, professionalism, resources and school counseling improvement plan.

Indiana Licensing Standards for School Counselors: The Indiana Licensing Standards for School Counselors also support the Indiana Gold Star School Counseling Initiative since many members of the first two writing teams also served on the Licensing Standards Writing Team. The licensing standards describe the knowledge, skills and dispositions needed by school counselors in the areas of student guidance, counseling and leadership (including student advocacy and systemic change). Since Indiana universities are required to address the licensing standards in their school counselor preparation programs, future school counselors will be prepared to design and implement a school counseling program that aligns with the Indiana Gold Star School Counseling Initiative.

 

THE JOURNEY

Ten years prior to writing the initiative documents, we began advocating for developmental school counseling across our state. We joined forces with the Indiana Association of School Principals and conducted several statewide campaigns to help all school counselors and principals learn about and become interested in developmental school counseling. In the early years, our presentations focused on the general concepts of developmental school counseling. In later years, we added the Gold Star documents to our presentations. Principals especially liked the practicality and concreteness that the Gold Star documents brought to the discussion.

As schools moved from interest to action, we needed to provide tools to help them make the transition to the Indiana Gold Star School Counseling model. These tools included: incentives to focus school counselors, principals and communities on the common task of transforming school counseling; no-cost resources to support schools as they implemented the Gold Star model; and no-cost professional development to help schools make the transition to the Gold Star model.

Incentives: The main incentive to schools occurs as a result of the schools’ and communities’ genuine caring for their students. “Once you understand the benefits to students in terms of preparing for success in a global economy, it only makes sense to transform to the Gold Star model,” said Aimee Portteus, Plymouth High School.

A secondary incentive is the Indiana Gold Star School Counseling Award for schools that successfully implement the Indiana Program Standards for School Counseling. Schools seeking this award create a portfolio to document the implementation of each of the nine program standards. Their portfolio is evaluated against a rigorous rubric, and those that meet the standards receive the Indiana Gold Star School Counseling Award. A representative of the Indiana Association of School Principals presents a plaque to them during the annual Indiana School Counselor Association conference. The school also receives a special Gold Star School Counseling Award logo to use on the school’s Web site and print materials. Through a special arrangement with ASCA, following a careful analysis of the Indiana Gold Star School Counseling Initiative by ASCA representatives, these schools also automatically qualify for the Recognized ASCA Model Program (RAMP) designation.

A third incentive is provided by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. This agency awards extra points to schools that have the Gold Star School Counseling Award when evaluating the school’s Indiana Career Majors Grant application.

No-cost resources: Like most states, Indiana does not have surplus funding to support additional school counseling positions. With that in mind, Indiana school counselors have been very resourceful in finding others to help implement the Indiana Gold Star School Counseling Initiative. Some school counselors, for example, give their list of guidance standards and indicators to teachers and ask, “Where could you incorporate a guidance indicator as a real-world application for your academic content?” Other counselors disseminate the guidance indicators to community organizations, asking them to adopt an indicator as a project for their organization. School counselors also use community mentors, teacher-advisors and peer-helpers to provide interventions for students. By working together with others, Indiana school counselors are able to expand the available human resources and widen the reach of their Gold Star School Counseling programs.

Indiana school counselors use the Gold Star definition of “non-program activities” to gain time with students and parents. Non-program activities are defined as those tasks that don’t help students master the Indiana Student Standards for Guidance or overcome a social or personal concern that is interfering with learning. Thus, master scheduling, registrar duties (transcripts, report cards, honor rolls) and substitute teaching are not considered school counseling tasks. School counselors simply release the results of their time-use logs including the percentage of time spent performing non-program tasks. At the same time, they release a “wish list” of guidance lessons and counseling interventions they would do if they had more time to spend with students and parents. In a statewide survey conducted in 1989, Indiana school counselors estimated spending approximately 50 percent of their time performing school counseling program tasks. In a similar survey conduced in 2002, Indiana school counselors estimated spending 76 percent of their time performing school counseling program tasks.

Many Indiana school counselors have little or no budget to implement their school counseling programs. Knowing this, the Indiana Department of Education and Indiana Commission for Higher Education, both of which were part of the Student Standards Writing Team, joined forces to provide school counselors, students and parents with resources designed to help students master the Indiana Student Standards for Guidance. These resources include:

  • Student Success Mini-Magazine Series
  • Indiana Guidance Portfolio
  • Indiana Online Guidance Lesson
  • Learn More
  • The Indiana Guidance

Professional development: Sound professional development is key to helping schools transform their school counseling program. The Indiana Student Achievement Institute (InSAI), a nonprofit organization that assists schools with the process of change, provides professional development for the Indiana Gold Star School Counseling Initiative. Using InSAI’s Vision-to-Action process for systemic change, InSAI brings small leadership teams of two-six people from schools wishing to transform their school counseling programs to a four-part workshop series. After each workshop, teams facilitate guided discussions with a local School Counseling Advisory Council composed of teachers, parents, students and community members. The Advisory Council meets once a month for eight months during the planning year. After analyzing several sets of data, the Advisory Council suggests school counseling program goals in the areas of student achievement, student choices and mastery of the guidance indicators. The Advisory Council also makes recommendations concerning a locally appropriate program balance between guidance, counseling, student advocacy, management and non-program activities. InSAI provides the teams with meeting agendas, PowerPoint presentations, facilitator notes, document templates and consensus-building tools. These materials, which may be adapted for other states, are available at www.asainstitute.org/schoolcounseling. The workshop series is also available as a video series online at www.doe.state.in.us/media/video/private/GoldStarTraining.html.

 

LESSONS LEARNED

Over the past 17 years, we have learned much about the challenge of change as we developed and implemented the Indiana Gold Star School Counseling Initiative. These lessons can be summed up in four words: cooperation, data, simplicity and relentlessness.

Cooperation: The Indiana Gold Star School Counseling Initiative became a reality because many individuals, professional associations and state agencies joined forces to create a shared vision for school counseling and leverage resources across multiple public and private funding streams. We were not concerned about who got the credit for the work, and we were not married to our favorite words. Instead, we asked, “What can each of our organizations do to help all Indiana students master the Indiana Student Standards for Guidance and overcome any personal and social concerns that are interfering with learning?” Over a period of several years, trust was built with the understanding that by working together as an informal coalition of associations and agencies, we could better meet the guidance and counseling needs of Indiana’s young people and, as a result, raise student achievement.

Data: The use of data was key in building a statewide commitment to transforming school counseling. We used data to define the direction of Indiana Gold Star School Counseling Initiative and are currently using data to measure the degree of success experienced by the Gold Star schools. Gold Star schools measure the school counseling program’s impact on targeted student achievement areas (in conjunction with other programs in the school), targeted student choices areas (e.g. attendance, discipline referrals, enrollment patterns) and mastery of targeted guidance indicators.

Simplicity: As we first started talking about developmental school counseling in Indiana, we found that it helped to use terms that were familiar to non-counselors. We defined guidance, counseling and student advocacy as the “scope of practice” for school counselors and referred to academic, career and citizenship development as counselors’ “subject areas.” Many principals told us this was the first time they understood what school counselors were all about.

Relentlessness: Perhaps our greatest lesson learned was the importance of relentlessness. When we started transforming school counseling back in the late 1980s, we had no idea this would be a 17-year process. Year after year, each Indiana School Counselor Association board developed a no-excuses approach as it supported change that would improve school counseling in our state. Hurdles were not seen as dead ends but as temporary roadblocks. “Yeah buts” were met with practical solutions. Collegiality between school counselors became the norm as they worked to better their profession. Dreams, data and determination created a culture for success. After 17 years, that effort has paid off over and over again for Indiana schools – and Indiana students.

 

Sue Reynolds is the executive director of the Indiana Student Achievement Institute, a nonprofit organization that assists schools with the process of change for the purpose of raising student achievement and closing achievement gaps. She is the former guidance and counseling specialist at the Indiana Department of Education, executive director of the Indiana School Counselor Association and counseling director at Indian Creek High School. She can be reached at reynolds@asainstitute.org.

For More Information

Indiana Gold Star School Counseling Initiative

Student Success Mini-Magazine Series
This collection of 10 developmentally appropriate student magazines contains articles and activities related to academic, career and citizenship development.

Indiana Online Guidance Lesson Planner
This online resource includes guidance lesson plans that are searchable by building level and by the Indiana Student Standards for Guidance. The lesson plans were written by Indiana school counselors and were juried by a committee of practicing Indiana school counselors.

Learn More Indiana
This is the foundation of Indiana’s communication system to support academic and career development, pre-K to college. Learn More provides Indiana students, parents, school counselors and adults with educational and career information via a comprehensive Web site, online newsletter and help-line.

The Indiana Guidance Report
This annual statewide survey of 52,000 ninth-graders and 42,000 eleventh-graders asks students to self-report their mastery of targeted indicators from the Indiana Student Standards for Guidance, identify the guidance activities in which they have participated and report on several key areas related to postsecondary attendance.