School counselors wear many hats.

Testing coordinator. Lunch monitor. Bus duty attendant.

“Too often, counselors are given a lot of administrative duties,” said Dr. Rachel Geesa, assistant clinical professor of educational leadership at Ball State University.

This is just one example of the ways that districts can unintentionally undermine the primary mission of its counselors — which is to meet the academic, social, emotional, and career development needs of all students.

A new program at Ball State called the Comprehensive Counseling Initiative aims to help improve school counselor effectiveness by building a bridge between counselors and principals.

Refocusing on the student

The idea is to promote a better understanding among school leadership about the proper role of school counselors. That improved relationship could result in principals devoting more time and resources to counseling to better meet students’ needs.

“Students would have more opportunities to work with a counselor,” Geesa said. “In addition to talking about college readiness, they can talk about career pathways; they can talk about socioemotional needs. Conversations about bullying, friendships, and family situations can be facilitated through a school counselor.”

The initiative is funded by two 3.5-year Lilly Endowment grants that were awarded individually to the Department of Educational Leadership and the Department of Educational Psychology in 2018.

Geesa is the grant director for educational leadership and Dr. Renae Mayes is grant director for educational psychology. Faculty in both departments are involved in the work and collaborative focus of these grants.

“We have been able to make substantial changes in our respective programs to enhance training and support pre-service and in-service professionals,” Mayes said. “As a result, more students will be in school environments that support their academic, socioemotional, and career development through culturally responsive practices.”

Curriculum plus community outreach

The initiative is multipronged, with elements that include:

  • an improved, interdisciplinary curriculum for pre-service graduate students at Ball State
  • career development opportunities for in-service professionals across Indiana
  • research
  • presentations to administrators and educators across the country
  • modeling a collaborative framework for other universities

For pre-service grad students in the master’s in educational administration and supervision program and master’s in school counseling program, the collaboration begins with the coursework.

Course redesigns added school counseling components to educational leadership curricula and vice versa.

Combined, those programs have hundreds of current students and are the largest programs of their kind in the state.

But the opportunities to learn about more comprehensive school counseling aren’t just limited to the University classroom.

Faculty in both departments are continually working on new research manuscripts and presenting at conferences their research related to this collaboration. For instance, four peer-reviewed papers and one book chapter by the team have been published since the grant began, and more projects are in progress.

A conference this spring

The initiative is also hosting a statewide conference for pre-service and in-service counselors, administrators, and educators called the Indiana School Counselor and Administrator Collaboration Institute: Collaborating for Student Success.

Kaylee McDonald, a graduate assistant funded by the Lilly Endowment grant, is helping organize the gathering.

“I’m hoping the conference will help people see that this issue is important and that it’s a change that they can start to make right now.” she said.

The conference will be Sunday and Monday, June 14-15, at the Embassy Suites in Noblesville. Registration and more information is at


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