School Counselors’ Emotional Intelligence and Comprehensive School Counseling Program Implementation: The Mediating Role of Transformational Leadership

Derron Hilts, Yanhong Liu, Melissa Luke

The authors examined whether school counselors’ emotional intelligence predicted their comprehensive school counseling program (CSCP) implementation and whether engagement in transformational leadership practices mediated the relationship between emotional intelligence and CSCP implementation. The sample for the study consisted of 792 school counselors nationwide. The findings demonstrated the significant mediating role of transformational leadership on the relationship between emotional intelligence and CSCP implementation. Implications for the counseling profession are discussed.

Keywords: emotional intelligence, school counselors, transformational leadership, comprehensive school counseling program, implementation

School counselors have been called upon to design and implement culturally responsive comprehensive school counseling programs (CSCPs) that have a deliberate and systemic focus on facilitating optimal student outcomes and development (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2017, 2019b). To this end, school counselors are expected to align their activities with the ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2019b) with an aim toward facilitating students’ knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviors to be academically and socially/emotionally successful and preparing students for college and career (ASCA, 2021). Relatedly, ASCA (2019a) urges school counselors to apply and enact a model of leadership in the process of program implementation. Several studies (e.g., Mason, 2010; Mullen et al., 2019; Shillingford & Lambie, 2010) have provided empirical evidence that supports the predictive role of school counselors’ leadership on their program implementation outcomes. Still, little is known about the relationship between school counselors’ program implementation and their leadership practices grounded in a specific model such as transformational leadership (Bolman & Deal, 1997; Kouzes & Posner, 1995). Understanding this relationship may allow school counselors to better align their practices within a specific leadership framework consistent with best practice (ASCA, 2019a).

Although leadership has been broadly established as a macro-level capability, emotional intelligence has started to gain interest in recent literature, as intra- and interpersonal competencies are central to school counselors’ practice (Hilts et al., 2019; Hilts, Liu, et al., 2022; Mullen et al., 2018). For instance, school counselors must be emotionally attuned to themselves and others to more effectively navigate the complexities of systems in which they operate (Mullen et al., 2018). One way to achieve such emotional attunement may be by respecting and validating others’ perspectives and providing emotional support to enact interpersonal influence aimed at facilitating educational partners’ keenness toward programmatic efforts (Hilts et al., 2019; Hilts, Liu, et al., 2022; Jordan & Lawrence, 2009). The purpose of the current study is to examine the mechanisms between school counselors’ emotional intelligence, transformational leadership, and CSCP implementation.

Comprehensive School Counseling Programs
     Although school counseling programs will vary in structure based on the unique needs of school and community partners (Mason, 2010), programs should be comprehensive in scope, preventative by design, and developmental in nature (ASCA, 2017). CSCP implementation, which comprises a core component of school counseling practice, involves multilevel services (e.g., instruction, consultation, collaboration) and assessments (e.g., program assessments, annual results reports). The functioning of these services and assessments is further defined and managed within the broader school community by the CSCP (Duquette, 2021). Moreover, CSCPs are generally aligned with the ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2019b) to create a shared vision among school counselors to have a more deliberate and systemic focus on facilitating optimal student outcomes and development.

Over the past 20 years, researchers have consistently found positive relationships between CSCP implementation and student achievement reflected through course grades and graduation/retention rates (Sink et al., 2008) and achievement-related outcomes such as behavioral issues and attendance (Akos et al., 2019). Students who attend schools with more well established and fully implemented CSCPs are more likely to perform well academically and behaviorally (Akos et al., 2019). Additionally, researchers have found that school counselors who engage in multilevel services associated with a CSCP are more likely to have higher levels of wellness functioning compared to those who are less engaged in delivering these services (Randick et al., 2018). As such, CSCP implementation seems to not only be positively related to student development and achievement but also the overall well-being of school counselors.

Designing and implementing a culturally responsive CSCP demands a collaborative effort between both school counselors and educational partners to create and sustain an environment that is responsive to students’ diverse needs (ASCA, 2017). This ongoing and iterative process requires school counselors to be emotionally attuned with school, family, and community partners to co-construct, facilitate, and lead initiatives to more efficaciously implement equitable services within their programs (ASCA, 2019b; Bryan et al., 2017). School counselors must engage in leadership and be attentive toward their self- and other-awareness and management to traverse diverse contexts involving differences in personalities, values and goals, and ideologies (Mullen et al., 2018). Although researchers have reported that school counselors’ CSCP implementation is positively related to their leadership (e.g., Mason, 2010), no studies have investigated the relationship between emotional intelligence and CSCP implementation.

Emotional Intelligence
     Emotional intelligence generally refers to the ability to recognize, comprehend, and manage the emotions of oneself and others to accomplish individual and shared goals (Kim & Kim, 2017). Scholars have purported that emotional intelligence can be subsumed into two overarching forms: trait emotional intelligence and ability emotional intelligence (Petrides & Furnham, 2000a, 2000b, 2001). Trait emotional intelligence, also known as trait emotional self-efficacy, involves “a constellation of behavioral dispositions and self-perceptions concerning one’s ability to recognize, process, and utilize emotional-laden information” (Petrides et al., 2004, p. 278). Ability emotional intelligence, also referred to as cognitive-emotional ability, concerns an individual’s emotion-related cognitive abilities (Petrides & Furnham, 2000b). Said differently, trait emotional intelligence is in the realm of an individual’s personality (e.g., social awareness), whereas ability emotional intelligence denotes an individual’s actual capabilities to perceive, understand, and respond to emotionally charged situations.

Over the past two decades, scholars have expanded the scope of emotional intelligence to have a deliberate focus on how emotional intelligence occurs within teams or groups in the workforce context (Jordan et al., 2002; Jordan & Lawrence, 2009). Given the salience of emotions in various professional and work contexts (e.g., Jordan & Troth, 2004), Jordan and colleagues’ (2002) Workgroup Emotional Intelligence Profile (WEIP) facilitates a better understanding of how emotional intelligence manifests in teams. The WEIP centralizes emotional intelligence around the “understanding of emotional processes” (Jordan et al., 2002, p. 197). Using the WEIP, researchers revealed that higher emotional intelligence scores are positively related to job satisfaction, organizational citizenship (e.g., performing competently under pressure), organizational commitment, and school and work performance (Miao et al., 2017a, 2017b; Van Rooy & Viswesvaran, 2004). Conversely, higher scores of emotional intelligence were negatively associated with turnover intentions and counterproductive behavior (Miao et al., 2017a, 2017b).

Emotional intelligence has also gained increased attention in the counseling literature. For example, Easton et al. (2008) found emotional intelligence as a significant predictor of counseling self-efficacy in the areas of attending to the counseling process and dealing with difficult client behavior. Following a two-phase investigation, Easton and colleagues demonstrated the stability of emotional intelligence during a 9-month timeframe in both groups of professional counselors and counselors-in-training; thus, the researchers argued that emotional intelligence may be an inherent characteristic associated with the career choice of counseling. In an earlier study with a sample with 108 school counselors, emotional intelligence was found to be significantly and uniquely related to school counselors’ multicultural counseling competence (Constantine & Gainor, 2001). More recently, school counselors’ emotional intelligence was found to be positively related to leadership self-efficacy and experience (Mullen et al., 2018).

School Counseling Leadership Practice
     Leadership practice is a dynamic, interpersonal phenomenon within which school counselors engage in behaviors that mobilize support from educational partners to achieve programmatic and organizational objectives aimed at promoting student achievement and development (Hilts, Peters, et al., 2022). The focus on leadership practice entails an emphasis on the actual behavior of the individual, which scholars have contended is a byproduct of both individual and contextual factors in which these behaviors occur (Hilts, Liu, et al., 2022; Mischel & Shoda, 1998; Scarborough & Luke, 2008). For instance, school counselors’ support from other school partners (Dollarhide et al., 2008; Robinson et al., 2019) and previous leadership experience (Hilts, Liu, et al., 2022; Lowe et al., 2017) have been found to influence school counselors’ engagement in leadership. Hilts, Liu, and colleagues (2022) found that intra- and interpersonal factors significantly predicted school counselors’ engagement in leadership such as multicultural competence, leadership self-efficacy, and psychological empowerment. Across several models of leadership (e.g., Bolman & Deal, 1997; Kouzes & Posner, 1995), transformational leadership has been situated in the context of school counseling (Gibson et al., 2018).

Transformational School Counseling Leadership
     Transformational leadership is described as behaviors aimed at encouraging others to enact leadership, challenge the status quo, and actively pursue learning and development to achieve higher performance (Bolman & Deal, 1997; Kouzes & Posner, 1995). Individuals employing transformational leadership foster a climate of trust and respect and inspire motivation among others by facilitating emotional attachments and commitment to others and the organization’s mission. More recently, Gibson et al. (2018) constructed and validated the School Counseling Transformational Leadership Inventory (SCTLI) in an effort to support school counselors in conceptualizing and informing their approach to leadership. The SCTLI (Gibson et al., 2018)—grounded in the ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2012) and the general transformational leadership literature (e.g., Avolio et al., 1991)—offers a framework to support engagement in leadership within a school context. For example, school counselors build partnerships with important decision-makers in the school and community and empower educational partners to act to improve the program and the school. School counselors engaging in transformational leadership ascribe to an egalitarian structure in which they engage in shared decision-making, promote a united vision, and inspire others to work toward positive change among students and the broader school community (Lowe et al., 2017). Beyond being studied as an outcome variable itself (Hilts, Liu, et al., 2022), school counselors’ enactment of leadership has also been found to be positively associated with their outcomes of CSCP implementation (Mason, 2010; Mullen et al., 2019).

Emotional Intelligence and the Mediating Role of Transformational Leadership
     Over the past several decades, emotional intelligence has been increasingly attributed as a critical trait and ability of individuals employing effective leadership (Kim & Kim, 2017). For instance, Gray (2009) asserted that effective school leaders are able to perceive, understand, and monitor their own and others’ internal states and use this information to guide the thinking and actions of themselves and others. Mullen and colleagues (2018) found that, among a sample of 389 school counselors, domains of emotional intelligence (Jordan & Lawrence, 2009) were significant predictors of leadership self-efficacy and leadership experience. Specifically, Mullen et al.’s (2018) results showed that (a) awareness of own emotions and management of own and others’ emotions were positively related to leadership self-efficacy; (b) management of own and others’ emotions significantly predicted leadership experience; and (c) awareness and management of others’ emotions was positively associated with self-leadership.

Moreover, initial research has revealed that not only is emotional intelligence an antecedent of leadership (Barbuto et al., 2014; Harms & Credé, 2010; Mullen et al., 2018), but that leadership, particularly transformational leadership, mediates the relationship between emotional intelligence and job-related behavior such as job performance (Hur et al., 2011; Hussein & Yesiltas, 2020; Rahman & Ferdausy, 2014). For example, Hussein and Yesiltas’s (2020) results indicated that not only were higher scores of emotional intelligence positively associated with organizational commitment, but that transformational leadership partially mediated the relationship between emotional intelligence and organizational commitment. In another study, Hur and colleagues (2011) sought to examine whether transformational leadership mediated the link between emotional intelligence and multiple outcomes among 859 public employees across 55 teams. The researchers’ results showed that transformational leadership mediated the relationship between emotional intelligence and service climate, as well as between emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness. Scholars have explained this relationship as the ability of individuals employing transformational leadership to inspire and motivate others to accomplish beyond self- and organizational expectations and redirect feelings of frustration from setbacks to constructive solutions (Hur et al., 2011; Hussein & Yesiltas, 2020).

Purpose of the Study
     Taken together, emotional intelligence has been identified in the counseling literature as a significant predictor of counseling self-efficacy and competence (Constantine & Gainor, 2001; Easton et al., 2008). It has also been well established in the workforce literature as being positively related to job performance and leadership outcomes (Hussein & Yesiltas, 2020; Kim & Kim, 2017). The broader leadership literature also comprises evidence in support of the mediating role of transformational leadership between emotional intelligence and performance outcomes (Hur et al., 2011; Hussein & Yesiltas, 2020; Rahman & Ferdausy, 2014). Emotional intelligence has not been examined in relation to school counselors’ CSCP implementation and service outcomes, although CSCP implementation has been widely embraced as a core of the ASCA National Model. Likewise, although emotional intelligence has been studied with counseling practice and leadership separately, we identified no empirical research that has examined the mechanisms between school counselors’ emotional intelligence, transformational leadership practice, and outcomes of program implementation. The present study seeks to address these gaps. Thus, the two research questions that guided our study were: (a) Does school counselors’ emotional intelligence predict their CSCP implementation? and (b) Does engagement in transformational leadership practice mediate the relationship between emotional intelligence and CSCP implementation? Given the synergistic focus on collaboration (or teamwork) shared by the school and workforce contexts coupled with previous empirical evidence, we hypothesized that (a) school counselors’ emotional intelligence predicts their CSCP implementation, and (b) transformational leadership practice mediates the relationship between emotional intelligence and CSCP implementation.


Research Design
     In the present study, we utilized a correlational, cross-sectional survey design. We used the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS, version 27). To test our hypotheses, we performed a mediation analysis using Hayes’s PROCESS in order to establish the extent of influence of an independent variable on an outcome variable (through a mediator; Hayes, 2012). Mediation analysis answered how an effect occurred between variables and is based on the prerequisite that the independent variable/predictor is often considered the “causal antecedent” to the outcome variable of interest (Hayes, 2012, p. 3). Furthermore, we expected that the effects of school counselors’ emotional intelligence on their CSCP implementation would be partly explained by the effects of their engagement in transformational leadership.

     Participants included for final analysis were 792 practicing school counselors in the United States, 94.6% (n = 749) of which reported to be certified/licensed as school counselors and 5.4% (n = 43) indicated to be either not certified/licensed or “unsure.” The sample’s geographic location was mostly suburban (n = 399, 50.4%), followed by rural (n = 195, 24.6%) and urban (n = 184, 23.2%); and 1.8% of participants (n = 14) did not disclose their setting. Public schools accounted for 86.2% (n = 683) of participants’ work settings, followed by charter (n = 42, 5.3%) and private (n = 40, 5.1%), while 3.4% (n = 27) of participants indicated “other” or did not disclose. For grade levels served by participants, 13% (n = 103) worked at the PK–4 level, 20.8% (n = 165) at the 5–8 level, 28.4% (n = 225) at the 9–12 level, and 37.8% (n = 299) worked at the combined K–12 level. Participants’ race/ethnicity included Asian/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (n = 26, 3.3%), Multiracial (n = 47, 5.9%), Black/African American   (n = 56, 7.1%), Hispanic/Latino (n = 70, 8.8%), and White (n = 593, 74.9%). Lastly, participants’ mean age was 43, ranging from 23 to 77 years of age. Of the 792 participants, 82.4% (n = 653) identified as cisgender female, 11.0% (n = 88) as cisgender male, 0.3% (n = 2) as transgender female, 0.3% (n = 2) as transgender male, 3.8% (n = 30) chose “prefer to self-identify,” and 2.2% (n = 17) chose “not to answer.” Our sample was representative of the larger population based on the results of a recent nationwide study by ASCA (2021), in which approximately 7,000 school counselors were surveyed; demographic statistics from that study similar to ours included 88% of participants working in public, non-charter schools; 19% working at the middle school level; and 24% working in urban schools..

Procedures and Data Collection
     Prior to engaging in data collection, we received approval from our university’s IRB. According to our a priori power analysis conducted using G*Power 3.1 Software (Faul et al., 2007), a sample size of 558 participants would be considered sufficient for the current study, assuming a small effect size ( f 2 = 0.1); therefore, we attempted to achieve a nationally representative sample through a variety of recruitment methods. In efforts to represent the target population, non-probability sampling methods (Balkin & Kleist, 2016) were used and included either sending, posting, or requesting dissemination of a research recruitment message and survey link to (a) school counselors of current or former Recognized ASCA Model Program (RAMP)-designated school counseling programs, (b) state school counseling associations, (c) several closed groups on Facebook for school counselors, (d) the ASCA Scene online discussion forum, and (e) the university’s school counselor listserv. In addition, similar to recruitment methods used by Hilts and colleagues (2019) in previous school counseling research, we emailed ASCA members directly with an invitation to participate. We shared one to two follow-up announcements through these same methods between 2 to 4 weeks after the initial recruitment message.

The link within the research recruitment announcement directed participants to an informed consent page. After indicating their willingness to participate in the study, participants were then directed to the online survey managed by the Qualtrics platform. On average, the survey took approximately 15 minutes to complete.

Demographic Questionnaire
     The demographic questionnaire consisted of 18 questions asked of all eligible participants. The demographic form included questions about participants’ school level, geographic location, school type, and student caseload. We also asked participants about other demographic information including race/ethnicity, gender, age, and years of experience. 

Workgroup Emotional Intelligence Profile
     The Workgroup Emotional Intelligence Profile-Short Version (WEIP-S; Jordan & Lawrence, 2009), a shortened version of the WEIP (Jordan et al., 2002) and the WEIP-6 (Jordan & Troth, 2004), is a 16-item, self-report scale that measures participants’ emotional intelligence within a team context. Jordan and Lawrence (2009) selected just 25 behaviorally based items from the 30-item WEIP-6 (Jordan & Troth, 2004). Through confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) to achieve the best fit model, the final WEIP-S measure consisted of 16 items with four factors, each of which had good internal consistency reliability in the sample: awareness of own emotions (4 items, ⍺ = .85), management of own emotions (4 items, ⍺ = .77), awareness of others’ emotions (4 items, ⍺ = .88), and management of others’ emotions (4 items, ⍺ = .77). To enhance construct validity of the WEIP-S, Jordan and Lawrence employed model replication analyses and test-retest stability across three time periods. Examples of items from each dimension are (a) “I can explain the emotions I feel to team members” (awareness of own emotions); (b) “When I am frustrated with fellow team members, I can overcome my frustration” (management of own emotions); (c) “I can read fellow team members ‘true’ feelings, even if they try to hide them” (awareness of others’ emotions); and (d) “I can provide the ‘spark’ to get fellow team members enthusiastic” (management of others’ emotions). The items are measured on a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). For analyses, we summed scores of all dimensions, with higher scores indicating a greater amount of emotional intelligence. Cronbach’s ⍺ and McDonald’s omega (ω) for the WEIP-S were both .93, which indicated good internal consistency.

School Counseling Transformational Leadership Inventory
     The SCTLI (Gibson et al., 2018) is a 15-item, self-report inventory that measures the leadership practices of school counselors. The items are measured on a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (always or almost always) and a total score indicates the self-reported level of engagement in overall leadership practices. Sample items on the SCTLI include “I have empowered parents and colleagues to act to improve the program and the school” and “I have used persuasion with decision-makers to accomplish school counseling goals.” Findings from Gibson et al.’s (2018) exploratory factor analyses (EFAs) and CFAs revealed a one-factor model of transformational leadership practices based on transformational leadership theory and responsibilities as described within the ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2019b; CFI = .94, TLI = .93, RMSEA = .08). Through Pearson’s correlation, the researchers revealed that concurrent validity was significant (r = .68, p < .01). Additionally, in their sample, Gibson et al. reported strong internal consistency reliability with a Cronbach’s α = .94. In the current study, Cronbach’s α and McDonald’s (ω) for the SCTLI were .93 and .94, respectively.

School Counseling Program Implementation
     The School Counseling Program Implementation Survey-Revised (SCPIS-R; Clemens et al., 2010; Fye et al., 2020) is a self-report survey that measures school counselors’ level of CSCP implementation. The SCPIS-R (Fye et al., 2020), used in the current study, is a 14-item Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (not present) to 4 (fully implemented). The factor structure was established through two studies that utilized EFA (Clemens et al., 2010) and CFA (Fye et al., 2020) to test the factor structure. The data from the original study (Clemens et al., 2010) yielded a three-factor model structure of the SCPIS, which includes programmatic orientation (7 items, α = .79), school counselors’ use of computer software (3 items, α = .83), and school counseling services (7 items, α =. 81), and a total SCPIS of α = .87. That said, Fye et al.’s (2020) CFA findings suggested a modified two-factor model was a more appropriate fit; thus, the modified two-factor model structure of the SCPIS includes only programmatic orientation (7 items, α = .86) and school counseling services (7 items, α = .83) and a total SCPIS of α = .90. Examples from each factor are (a) needs assessments are completed regularly and guide program planning (programmatic orientation) and (b) services are organized so that all students are well served and have access to them (school counseling services). We calculated participants’ total SCPIS scores with higher scores indicating greater CSCP implementation (Mason, 2010; Mullen et al., 2019). In the present study, the SCPIS-R demonstrated good reliability (Cronbach’s α = .90; McDonald’s ω = .90) in our sample.

Data Analysis
Missing Data Analysis and Assumptions Test
     We received a total of 1,128 responses. Of all these responses, 336 respondents missed a significant portion (over 70%) of one or more of the main scales (i.e., WEIP-S, SCTLI, and SCPIS-R). We assessed this portion of values as not missing completely at random (NMCAR), and we proceeded with employing listwise deletion to 336 cases. The data NMCAR may be because of the survey length and time commitment, which is discussed more in the Limitations section. With the remaining 792 cases, the missing values counted for 0.1%–0.7% of missing values across respective scales. We performed a Little’s Missing Completely at Random test using SPSS Statistics Version 26.0 with a nonsignificant chi-square value (p > .05), which suggested that the missing values (across cases) were missed completely at random. Therefore, we retained all 792 cases and followed multiple imputation (Scheffer, 2002) to replace the missing values, using SPSS. Our data met assumptions for mediation analysis, normality based on histograms, and linearity and homoscedasticity as demonstrated through the scatterplots generated from univariate analysis. 

Mediation Analysis
     In our mediation model (see Figure 1), given its combined trait-ability nature and stability over time, school counselors’ emotional intelligence was hypothesized as the causal antecedent to program implementation; we then hypothesized transformational leadership practice to be a mediator for the effect of school counselors’ emotional intelligence on program implementation. We tested our mediation model based on Baron and Kenny’s (1986) approach. Specifically, our mediation analysis entailed four steps involving (a) the role of school counselors’ emotional intelligence (X) in predicting CSCP implementation (Y), with the coefficient denoted as c to reflect the total effect that X has on Y; (b) the predictive role of school counselors’ emotional intelligence (X) on transformational leadership practice (M), with the coefficient denoted as a; (c) the effect of transformational leadership practice (M) on CSCP implementation (Y), controlling for the effect of emotional intelligence (X), with the coefficient denoted as b; and (d) the association between school counselors’ emotional intelligence (X) and CSCP implementation (Y), using transformational leadership practice (M) as a mediator with coefficient denoted as c’ (MacKinnon et al., 2012). The difference between the coefficients c and c’,
(cc’), is the mediation effect of transformational leadership practice.

Figure 1
The Hypothesized Mediation Model

Note. SC = school counselors; CSCP = Comprehensive School Counseling Program.


Hayes’s PROCESS v3.5 (with 5,000 regenerated bootstrap samples) was used to perform the mediation analysis. Hayes’s PROCESS is an analytical function in SPSS used to specify and estimate coefficients of specified paths using ordinary least squares (OLS) regression (Hayes, 2012). We consulted Fritz and MacKinnon (2007) regarding sample adequacy for detecting a mediation effect. Specifically, in order to allow .80 power and a medium mediation effect size, a sample of 397 is recommended for Baron and Kenny’s test, and a sample of 558 is considered adequate to detect small effects via percentile bootstrap (Fritz & MacKinnon, 2007). As such, our sample size of 792 met both criteria. According to MacKinnon et al. (2012), the mediation effect is significant, if zero (0) is excluded from the designated confidence interval (95% in our study).


     We performed a bivariate analysis on the main study variables of school counselors’ emotional intelligence (measured using the WEIP-S), transformational leadership practice (measured using the SCTLI), and school counselors’ CSCP implementation (measured using the SCPIS-R). School counselors’ emotional intelligence scores were positively correlated with their transformational leadership practice (r = .42, p < .001) and were positively correlated with their CSCP implementation (r = .34, p < .001). Similarly, school counselors’ transformational leadership practice was found to be positively correlated with CSCP implementation (r = .56, p < .001). Table 1 denotes the correlations among variables.

Table 1
Correlation Matrix of Study Variables

Variable EI TL CSCP
EI   – .42** .34**
TL .42**   – .56**
CSCP .34** .56**   –

Note. EI = school counselors’ emotional intelligence scores; TL = school counselors’ transformational
leadership; CSCP = school counselors’ comprehensive school counseling program implementation.
**p < .001

Mediation Analysis Results
     With the total effect model (Step 1), we found a positive relation between school counselors’ emotional intelligence (X) and their CSCP implementation (Y; coefficient c = 0.24; p < .001; CI [0.20, 0.29]). Namely, school counselors’ emotional intelligence scores significantly predicted their CSCP implementation. In Step 2, we found a positive association between school counselors’ emotional intelligence scores (X) and their transformational leadership practice (M; coefficient a = 0.38; p < .001; CI [0.32, 0.43]). In Step 3, school counseling transformational leadership practice (M) was found to significantly predict their CSCP implementation (Y; coefficient b = 0.40; p < .001, CI [0.35, 0.45]) while controlling for the effect of emotional intelligence (X). Lastly, after adding transformational leadership practice as a mediator, we noted a significant direct effect of emotional intelligence on school counselors’ CSCP implementation (coefficient c’ = 0.09; p = .0001; CI [0.05, 0.14]). We also detected a mediation effect (coefficient ab = 0.15 which equaled cc’; p < .001; CI [0.12, 0.18]) of emotional intelligence on CSCP implementation through transformational leadership practice. The 95% confidence intervals did not include zero (0), so the path coefficients were significant.

We performed a Sobel test to further evaluate the significance of the mediation effect by school counseling transformational leadership practice, which yielded a Sobel test statistic of 9.97 with a p value of < .001. The Sobel outcome corroborated the significance of our mediated effect. To calculate the effect size of our mediation analysis, we generated kappa-squared value (k2; Preacher & Kelley, 2011). Our kappa-squared (k2) value of .17 suggested a medium effect size (Cohen, 1988). Table 2 demonstrates regression results for the effect of school counselors’ emotional intelligence on their CSCP implementation outcomes mediated by transformational leadership practice.

Table 2
Regression Results for Mediated Effect by Leadership Practice

Note. N = 792. EI = emotional intelligence; TL = transformational leadership; CSCP = comprehensive school counseling program; CI = 95% Confidence Interval. The 95% CI for ab is obtained by the bias-corrected bootstrap with 5,000 resamples.
aR2 (Y,X) is the proportion of variance in CSCP implementation explained by EI.
bR2 (M,X) is the proportion of variance in TL explained by EI.
cR2 (Y,MX) is the proportion of variance in CSCP implementation explained by EI and TL.
**p < .001.



In this national sample of 792 practicing school counselors, we examined whether school counselors’ emotional intelligence predicts their CSCP implementation. We also investigated whether engagement in transformational leadership practice mediated the relationship between school counselors’ emotional intelligence and CSCP implementation. First, we found that school counselors who reported higher scores of emotional intelligence were also more likely to score higher in CSCP implementation. Given that designing and implementing a CSCP requires school counselors to engage in a culturally responsive and collaborative effort (ASCA, 2017), our result that suggested emotional intelligence is positively correlated with CSCP implementation is not entirely unpredicted. This result was consistent with previous evidence supporting the positive correlation between emotional intelligence and work performance (Miao et al., 2017a, 2017b; Van Rooy & Viswesvaran, 2004). The result also illustrated the predictive role of school counselors’ emotional intelligence on their CSCP implementation, beyond its significant association with counseling competencies (Constantine & Gainor, 2001; Easton et al., 2008).

Secondly, school counselors’ emotional intelligence was found to be positively associated with their engagement in transformational leadership. This result aligned with previous evidence that school counselors’ emotional intelligence is linked to leadership outcomes demonstrated through the workforce literature (Barbuto et al., 2014; Harms & Credé, 2010; Kim & Kim, 2017). Similarly, the result echoed Mullen et al.’s (2018) finding on the positive relationship between school counselors’ emotional intelligence and leadership scores measured by the Leadership Self-Efficacy Scale (LSES; Bobbio & Manganelli, 2009). Noteworthily, the LSES was normed and validated with college students. Our results advanced the school counseling literature and corroborated the relationship between emotional intelligence and school counseling transformational leadership measured by the SCTLI, a scale developed specifically for school counselors. Our results suggest that school counselors may actively attend to emotional processes in order to effectively enact transformational leadership practice.

Thirdly, we found that school counselors’ engagement in transformational leadership significantly mediated the relationship between their emotional intelligence and CSCP implementation. Because leadership is woven into the ASCA National Model and is considered an integral component of a CSCP (ASCA, 2019b), and school counselors are required to develop collaborative partnerships with a range of educational partners (ASCA, 2019a; Bryan et al., 2017), we were not surprised to find these two concepts were related to CSCP implementation. This result also aligns with empirical evidence in the broader leadership literature that transformational leadership mediated the relationship between emotional intelligence and work performance (Hur et al., 2011; Hussein & Yesiltas, 2020). This result is particularly meaningful in that it demonstrates school counseling leadership as either a significant predictor (Mason, 2010; Mullen et al., 2019) or an outcome variable itself (Hilts, Liu, et al., 2022; Mullen et al., 2018). It enables a more nuanced understanding of mechanisms involved in emotional intelligence, leadership, and program implementation in a school counseling context. To our best knowledge, the current study was the first study that found that through leadership practice, school counselors’ emotional intelligence may offer an indirect effect on their CSCP implementation.

     Results of this study have implications for school counselor practice and school counselor training and supervision. Given the significant relationships between emotional intelligence, transformational leadership, and CSCP implementation, we suggest that practicing school counselors begin by assessing their emotional intelligence, transformational leadership, and CSCP implementation and then set goals to enhance their performance. This may be especially important considering that other research has suggested that school counselors’ engagement in leadership, as well as their other roles and responsibilities (e.g., multicultural competence; challenging co-workers about discriminatory practices) have changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (Hilts & Liu, 2022). For instance, Hilts and Liu’s (2022) results indicated that school counselors’ leadership practice scores were higher during the pandemic compared to prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Next, school counselors can seek resources and professional development opportunities to support their goals. For example, school counselors may benefit from professional development focused on social-emotional learning (SEL), given SEL’s competency approach to building collaborative relationships (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, n.d.). That said, school counselors should also seek supports to experientially integrate their intrapersonal, interpersonal, and systemic skills associated with emotional intelligence, transformational leadership, and CSCP implementation. Intentional application of the Model for Supervision of School Counseling Leadership (Hilts, Peters, et al., 2022) may provide one such example for both school counseling practitioners and those in training.

School counselor training programs can also identify meaningful opportunities to infuse emotional intelligence and transformational leadership into school counselor coursework and supervision. Scarborough and Luke (2008) identified the important role of exposure in training to models of successful CSCP implementation and related resources on subsequent self-efficacy. As such, not only can school counseling coursework infuse the ASCA National Model Implementation Guide: Manage & Assess (ASCA, 2019b) and the Making DATA Work: An ASCA National Model publication (ASCA, 2018) along with additional emotional intelligence and transformational leadership resources, school counseling faculty and supervisors should intentionally incorporate school counseling students’ ongoing exposure to practicing school counselors and supervisors with high scores of emotional intelligence and transformational leadership.

     As with all research, the results of this study need to be understood in consideration of the methodological strengths and limitations. Despite obtaining a large national sample, the data collection procedures used in this study prevented our ability to determine the survey response rate. As such, we are unable to make any claim about non-response bias and it is possible that school counselors who declined to participate significantly differed from those who completed the study. Relatedly, the sample included a proportionately large number of participants who started the survey but did not finish. It is possible that the attrition of these school counselors reflected an as of yet unidentified confounding construct that is also related to the variables under study (Balkin & Kleist, 2016). Our sample is nonetheless generally representative of the national school counselor demographic data reported in the recent state of the profession survey of approximately 7,000 school counselors (ASCA, 2021), strengthening the validity and subsequent generalizability of our results.

Another limitation of our study is that all data were cross-sectional and non-experimental. The correlation and mediation analyses used in the study demonstrate the strength of associations between the examined constructs, and do not reflect temporal or causal relationships. The cross-sectional design does not allow statistical control for the predictor and outcome variables; thus, it may not accurately specify the effect of the predictor on the mediator (Maxwell & Cole, 2007). Therefore, any inclination to impose intuitive logic or imbue directionality that emotional intelligence is an antecedent to either transformational leadership or CSCP implementation should be interpreted with caution. Further, all data from this study were collected at the same time and relied upon self-report. As such, common-method variance could have inflated the identified relationships between the constructs.

An important consideration is that this study was delineated to focus on illustrating individual path coefficients between emotional intelligence, leadership, and CSCP implementation and provides limited insight into understanding of complex relationships among latent variables. Likewise, we used Hayes’s PROCESS to examine our mediation model which features procedure rather than overall model fit created through more sophisticated statistical analyses such as structural equation modeling (SEM). Given that PROCESS is a modeling tool that relies on OLS regression, it may be biased in estimating effects without taking into consideration measurement error (Darlington & Hayes, 2017).

Suggestions for Future Research
     The results of this study have numerous implications for future research. Future studies may explore the relationship between emotional intelligence and other forms of leadership prevalent in the counseling literature, such as charismatic democratic or servant leadership (Hilts, Peters, et al., 2022). In addition, because self-report emotional intelligence measures have been described as better to assess intrapersonal processes and ability emotional intelligence measures have been shown to be related to emotion-focused coping and work performance (Miao et al., 2017a, 2017b), future research may consider incorporating ability and mixed emotional intelligence measurements to examine a causal model of emotional intelligence and transformational leadership (or other forms of leadership).

Future research could extend the unit of analysis in this study (e.g., individual school counselor) and adopt a similar perspective to Lee and Wong (2019) to examine emotional intelligence in teams. Studies could similarly expand the use of self-report emotional intelligence measures and include ability or mixed emotional intelligence measurement. Relatedly, as Miao et al. (2017b) described significant moderator effects of emotional labor demands of jobs on the relationship between self-report emotional intelligence and job satisfaction, future research could assess this in the school counseling context, wherein the emotional labor demands of the work may vary. Given the robust workforce literature grounding associations between emotional intelligence and job performance, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and resilience in the face of counterproductive behavior in the workplace (Hussein & Yesiltas, 2020), future school counseling research can examine emotional intelligence and other constructs, including ethical decision-making, belonging, attachment, burnout, and systemic factors.

Lastly, as most constructs involved in school counseling practice are latent variables in nature, we recommend future scholars consider SEM when it comes to investigating overall model fit between the variables of interest. SEM offers more specification to the model including goodness of fit of the model to the data (Hayes et al., 2018). It minimizes bias involved in mediation effect estimation with consideration of individual indicators for each latent variable (Kline, 2016).


As an initial examination of the relationship between emotional intelligence and CSCP implementation, as well as the role of school counselors’ transformational leadership in mediating the relationship between emotional intelligence and CSCP implementation, this study was grounded in the empirical scholarship on leadership in both school counseling and allied fields. We found support for our hypothesized model of school counselors’ emotional intelligence and their CSCP implementation, mediated by their engagement in transformational leadership. Our examination yielded evidence in support of the significant mediating role of school counselors’ transformational leadership engagement on the relationship between emotional intelligence and CSCP implementation. In the meantime, our results supported the robust reliability of three instruments in our sample: the WEIP-S (Jordan & Lawrence, 2009), the SCTLI (Gibson et al., 2018), and the SCPIS-R (Clemens et al., 2010; Fye et al., 2020), which can be useful for future school counseling researchers and practitioners. This study serves as an important necessary step in establishing these relationships, and we anticipate that our results will ground further investigation related to school counselors’ emotional intelligence, leadership practices, and CSCP implementation, including the development of additional measurements.

Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
This study was partially funded by Chi Sigma
Iota International’s Excellence in Counseling
Research Grants Program.


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Introduction to the Special Issue School Counselors and a Multi-Tiered System of Supports: Cultivating Systemic Change and Equitable Outcomes

Christopher A. Sink and Melissa S. Ockerman

Designed to improve preK–12 student academic and behavioral outcomes, a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), such as Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) or Response to Intervention (RTI), is a broadly applied framework being implemented in countless schools across the United States. Such educational restructuring and system changes require school counselors to adjust their activities and interventions to fully realize the aims of MTSS. In this special issue of The Professional Counselor, the roles and functions of school counselors in MTSS frameworks are examined from various angles. This introductory article summarizes the key issues and the basic themes explored by the special issue contributors.

Keywords: school counselors, multi-tiered system of supports, Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports, Response to Intervention, implementation

School counselors must proactively adapt to the varied mandates of school reform and educational innovations. Similarly, with new federal and state legislation, they must align their roles and functions in accordance with their changing requirements (Baker & Gerler, 2008; Dahir, 2004; Gysbers, 2001; Herr, 2002; Leuwerke, Walker & Shi, 2009; Paisley & Borders, 1995). One such initiative, the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), requires educators to revise their assessment strategies, curriculum, pedagogy and interventions to best serve the academic, behavioral, and post-secondary education and career goals of all students (Lewis, Mitchell, Bruntmeyer, & Sugai, 2016). Specifically, MTSS is an umbrella term for a variety of school-wide approaches to improve student learning and behavior. The most familiar MTSS frameworks are Response to Intervention (RTI) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS; also referred to as Culturally Responsive or CR PBIS). The latter model has been implemented throughout the U.S., spanning all 50 states and approximately 22,000 schools (H. Choi, personal communication, December 15, 2014). Moreover, 45 states have issued guidelines for RTI implementation and 17 states require RTI to be used in the identification of students with specific learning disabilities (Hauerwas, Brown, & Scott, 2013). Research indicates that when these frameworks are implemented with fidelity over several years, they are best practice for addressing students at risk for academic or behavioral problems (Lane, Menzies, Ennis, & Bezdek, 2013; Lewis et al., 2016).

In 2014, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) revised its RTI position statement to encompass MTSS, including both RTI and CR PBIS (ASCA, 2014). Although there is little evidence to support this assumption, the writers averred that MTSS seamlessly aligns with the ASCA National Model (2012a) in the three developmental domains (academic, social-emotional, and college/career). Nevertheless, school counselors should view MTSS frameworks as an opportunity to enhance their school counseling programs through the implementation of a data-driven, multi-tiered intervention system. Doing so allows school counselors to utilize and showcase their leadership skills with key stakeholders (e.g., parents, caregivers, teachers, administrators) and to create systemic changes in their schools and thus foster equitable outcomes for all children.

The implementation of MTSS and its alignment with comprehensive school counseling programs (CSCPs) position school counselors to advance culturally responsive preventions and interventions to serve students and their families more effectively (Goodman-Scott, Betters-Bubon, & Donohue, 2016). By working collaboratively with school personnel to tap students’ strengths and create common goals, school counselors can build capacity and thereby broaden their scope of practice and accountability. Politically astute school counselors are wise to leverage their school’s MTSS framework as a way to access necessary resources, obtain additional training and further impact student outcomes.

The research is scant on school counselor involvement with—and effectiveness in—MTSS implementation. The available publications, including those presented in this special issue, suggest that the level of MTSS education and training for pre-service and in-service school counselors is insufficient (Cressey, Whitcomb, McGilvray-Rivet, Morrison, & Shandler-Reynolds, 2014; Goodman-Scott, 2013, 2015; Goodman-Scott, Doyle, & Brott, 2014; Ockerman, Mason, & Hollenbeck, 2012; Ockerman, Patrikakou, & Feiker Hollenbeck, 2015). There are legitimate reasons for counselor reluctance and apprehension. For example, not only must school counselors add new and perhaps unfamiliar duties to an already harried work day, some evidence indicates that they are not well prepared for their MTSS responsibilities. Consequently, it is essential for both in-service professional development opportunities and pre-service preparation programs to focus on best practices for aligning CSCPs with MTSS frameworks (Goodman-Scott et al., 2016).

To address the gaps in the counseling literature on successful school counselor MTSS training, implementation, and collaboration with other school personnel, this special issue of The Professional Counselor was conceived. Moreover, the articles consider various facets of MTSS and their intersection with school counseling research and practice. Overall, the contributors hope to provide much needed MTSS assistance and support to nascent and practicing school counselors.

Summary of Contributions

Sink’s lead article in this special issue situates the contributions that follow by offering a general overview of foundational MTSS theory and research, including PBIS and RTI frameworks. Subsequently, literature-based suggestions for incorporating MTSS into school counselor preparation curriculum and pedagogy are provided. MTSS roles and functions summarized in previous research are aligned to ASCA’s (2012b) School Counselor Competencies, the 2016 Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) Standards for School Counselors (2016) and the ASCA (2012a) National Model.

The next two articles report on MTSS-related studies and specifically discuss new school counselor responsibilities associated with MTSS implementation. Ziomek-Daigle, Goodman-Scott, Cavin, and Donohue reveal through a case study the various ways MTSS and CSCPs reflect comparable features (e.g., school counselor roles, advocacy, accountability). The participating case study counselors were actively engaged in MTSS implementation at their school, suggesting that they had a relatively good idea of their responsibilities in this capacity. Addressing RTI in particular, Patrikakou, Ockerman, and Hollenbeck’s investigation reported that while most school counselors expressed positive opinions about this MTSS framework, they lacked the self-assurance to adequately perform key RTI tasks (e.g., accountability and collaboration). Perceived counselor deficiencies in RTI implementation also point to a potential disconnect between the ASCA (2012a) National Model’s program components and themes and current RTI training of pre-service and practicing school counselors, thus suggesting a need for improved pre-service and in-service education.

School counselors are called upon to be culturally responsive and competent. They are advocates for social justice and equity for all students (Ratts, Singh, Nassar-McMillan, Butler, & McCullough, 2016; Singh, Urbano, Haston, & McMahan, 2010). Two articles speak to this issue within the educational context of MTSS. Belser and colleagues maintain that the ASCA (2012a) National Model and MTSS are beneficial operational frameworks to support all students, including marginalized and so-called problem learners (e.g., at-risk students). An integrated model is then proffered as a way to improve the educational outcomes of disadvantaged students. Positive and culturally sensitive alternatives to punishment-oriented school discipline methods are discussed as well. Similarly, Betters-Bubon, Brunner, and Kansteiner address school counselor roles in devising and sustaining culturally responsive PBIS programs that meet student social, behavioral and emotional needs. In particular, they report on an action research case study showing how an elementary school counselor partnered with other stakeholders (i.e., school administrator, psychologist, teachers) to achieve this goal.

The final article by Harrington, Griffith, Gray, and Greenspan overviews a recent grant project intended to establish a quality data-driven MTSS model in an elementary school. The manuscript spotlights the role of the school counselor who collaborated with other project leaders and educators to use social-emotional data to inform and improve practice. Specifics are provided so other practitioners can replicate the project in their schools. In brief, this contribution emphasizes the importance of data-based decision-making in MTSS implementation.


School counselors are faced with a myriad of responsibilities that severely tax their energy and time. Competing demands from internal and external stakeholders as well as legislative changes and educational innovations stretch these practitioners to be more efficient and effective in their services to students and families. Regrettably, MTSS implementation adds to counselors’ “accountability stress.” Some counselors anticipate that PBIS and RTI frameworks will go the way of other short-lived educational trends, relieving them of the responsibility to take action. However, anecdotal and empirical evidence reported in this special issue and elsewhere suggests these professionals are in the minority. School counselors largely perceive the potential and real value of MTSS programs. They desire to partner with other school educators to help all children and youth succeed. As contributors to this issue indicate, the ASCA (2012a) National Model and PBIS and RTI frameworks can be integrated to achieve higher student academic and social-emotional outcomes. With these articles, school counselors-in-training and practitioners have additional support to successfully address their MTSS duties and advocate for increased education in this area. Continued research is needed to guide efficacious MTSS practice designed to foster equitable educational outcomes for all students.

Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure

The authors reported no conflict of interest

or funding contributions for the development

of this manuscript.


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Christopher A. Sink, NCC, is a Professor and Batten Chair of Counseling at Old Dominion University and can be reached at Darden College of Education, Norfolk, VA 23508, Melissa S. Ockerman is an Associate Professor in the Counseling Program at DePaul University and can be reached at College of Education, Chicago, IL 60614,


Bringing Life to e-Learning: Incorporating a Synchronous Approach to Online Teaching in Counselor Education

James M. Benshoff, Melinda M. Gibbons

Recently, many counselor education programs have considered whether and how to offer courses online. Although online counselor education courses are becoming increasingly common, the use of synchronous (real-time) teaching approaches appears to be limited at best. In this article, we provide a context and rationale for incorporating online synchronous learning experiences, discuss the use of simple technologies to create meaningful educational experiences, and present one model for combining synchronous and asynchronous instructional approaches online. We also share our perspectives on the contributions of synchronous learning components, reflect on student and instructor experiences, and discuss issues to be considered in developing online counselor education courses.

Keywords: online teaching, counselor education, synchronous learning, implementation, technology

Use of technology in counselor education is commonplace today. Email, PowerPoint presentations, and online grading are accepted and utilized on a daily basis. In addition, many counselor educators use online teaching platforms such as Blackboard as a way of incorporating asynchronous communication, discussion, and resources to enhance face-to-face (F2F) courses. In this hybrid model of instruction, the asynchronous component is utilized but a significant part of the course is taught in a traditional (F2F) classroom. What is less prevalent, however, is the use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) in place of F2F classroom meetings. Online synchronous discussion (OSD) is one approach to CMC that includes a range of activities which occur online in real time, including chat and instant messaging. These technologies allow participants to have conversations much as they would if they were physically in the same space. The purpose of this article is to review the literature on the effectiveness of CMC, to provide an example of how online synchronous discussion (OSD) (combined with asynchronous use of Blackboard) has been used effectively in counselor education, and to discuss the possibilities and limitations of this approach. This article is intended for those with little or no experience in online teaching as well as for those who have primarily used asynchronous teaching approaches online.

Technology in Counselor Education

Although technology is not the primary focus of this paper, some introductory definitions of terms are necessary to approach this topic. Distance education is an overarching term used to describe teaching that includes the use of various technologies in order to serve students who are not physically present in the classroom. Often, this involves using audio- or videoconferencing tools to allow people from various locations to participate in a course. In video- or teleconferencing, students may report to various satellite classrooms in order to access the technology. Students in each classroom can then view both the instructor and other students (Woodford, Rokutani, Gressard, & Berg, 2001). Computer-mediated communication (CMC), which involves the use of computers and web-based technology as teaching tools, can be divided into two types. Online asynchronous discussion (OAD) involves learning that is not restricted to classroom time and that can be accessed at any time; often, this includes discussion boards, email, and postings of course materials on an Internet-accessible site (e.g., webpage or Blackboard course pages) (Jones & Karper, 2000). Alternatively, online synchronous discussion (OSD) involves audio, text, and/or video connections through the Internet for real-time communication (Slack, Beer, Armitt, & Green, 2003). Because the advantages of distance education often include the opportunity for students to attend class completely on their own schedule, many distance education courses depend on asynchronous approaches to instruction since these do not require that all students and the instructor be in the same space (physical or virtual) at the same time.

Two studies have examined the use of technology in counselor education programs. Wantz et al. (2003) surveyed CACREP-accredited counselor education programs on their use of distance learning and found that the majority of programs reported not using distance learning and that these programs had no current plans to implement these types of courses into their curriculum. A second group (Quinn, Hohenshil, & Fortune, 2002) examined the use of technology in general by CACREP-accredited programs. Although technology frequently was utilized within a traditional classroom setting, few respondents reported offering online courses in their programs. It appears that advancement in the use of CMC has been slow within the counselor education community.

A Conceptual Framework for Online Teaching

Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000) created a conceptual framework that includes the required components of what they considered to be a powerful online educational experience. Their model, termed a community of inquiry, included three aspects of the educational experience: Social Presence, Cognitive Presence, and Teaching Presence. Social Presence refers to the ability to bring student and instructor personalities into the learning community. Included in this social component are expression of emotion, open communication, and development of group cohesion. Cognitive Presence is the ability to construe meaning from the educational experience, with critical thinking or inquiry being the major focus. Finally, Teaching Presence refers to the design, delivery, and facilitation of the course content. This component includes three aspects: instructional management, creating understanding, and direct instruction. Garrison et al. suggested that all three components are necessary for a successful online course.

Research on OSD

Studies of online learning communities have been conducted in various realms. Shea (2006) surveyed students participating in various online courses and found that the stronger the Teaching Presence, the stronger the overall learning community. Students rated the classroom community higher when their instructors were more active facilitators, including keeping students on task, creating an open and accepting learning climate, and acknowledging student input and contributions. Results of another study (Perry & Edwards, 2004) revealed that effective online instructors both challenged and affirmed their students, and that high levels of Cognitive Presence and positive Social Presence directly added to students’ positive reactions to online learning. Clearly, research to date supports the potential for successfully creating a community of inquiry online.

Other researchers have conducted studies examining the effectiveness of synchronous learning experiences online (OSD). Wang (2005) found that the use of open-ended and comparison questions in a real-time online classroom was effective in engaging students and fostering cognitive development. Another study (Walker, 2004) helped identify those teaching strategies that could help develop critical thinking and debate in an OSD-based course. Participants in one debate course indicated that Socratic strategies such as open-ended responses, including challenges and probes, were most likely to elicit student response, and that encouragement and countering also were helpful. Slack et al. (2003) found that online discussions where group cohesion had occurred promoted cognitive development in students better than in classes that lacked cohesion. This suggests that instructors must give attention to rapport building in their OSD classes in order to increase levels of critical thinking and involvement. Finally, Levin, He, and Robbins (2006) surveyed preservice teachers before and after their participation in a series of OSDs. Prior to the online discussions, the majority of participants believed they would prefer asynchronous discussion; afterwards, however, the majority indicated that they actually preferred synchronous discussions online. Reasons given for this change in preference included the opportunity to receive immediate feedback, the real-time pace of the discussions, the convenience of having the entire chat completed in one sitting, and the challenge of having to think critically and learn from peers. In addition, participants in OSD demonstrated higher levels of critical reflection than did OAD participants. These studies demonstrate the potential effectiveness of OSD and point to the importance of appropriate facilitation in order to promote student growth.

Although Garrison et al. (2000) stated that “all three elements [Social Presence, Cognitive Presence, and Teaching Presence] are essential to a critical community of inquiry for educational purposes” (p. 92), they also noted challenges involved in developing such an online community of inquiry. These authors proposed that “… the elements of a community of inquiry can enhance or inhibit the quality of the educational experience and learning outcomes” (p. 92). In addition, they clarified that the kind of OAD they addressed, although collaborative, was quite different from F2F environments. It is this difference from traditional F2F learning that makes the obstacles in using online courses to train counselors unacceptable and virtually insurmountable. Because counseling is a person-to-person experience, it can be particularly difficult for counselor educators to envision how counseling students could be trained and evaluated effectively through a text-based, online experience where course participants cannot see and interact with each other in real time.

The online group course described in the following section was designed to address all three of Garrison et al.’s (2000) elements of a community of inquiry by combining synchronous and asynchronous experiences that much more closely simulate an F2F educational experience. Moreover, our experience has been that use of readily-available technology has allowed us not only to more closely simulate face-to-face classroom experiences, but also to take advantage of features unique to the online experience.

The Online Course: Group Counseling in Schools

To meet the needs of practicing school counselors for additional post-master’s degree training in school counseling, the counselor education program at one southeastern university created an online-only Post-Master’s Certificate (PMC) in Advanced School Counseling. This program was designed to provide working school counselors with 12 hours of additional training that also would qualify them for a significant salary increase in the state system. Over a two-year period, four graduate-level courses were developed for this program. The first of these courses, Group Counseling in Schools, was created and used to pilot test an instructional model for the remaining courses. To do this, the first author worked closely with university instructional technology consultants to create an online learning environment that could be process-based and provide a student-focused learning environment in which student participation was critical to the quality and success of the course itself. The result was an online course that incorporated both OAD and OSD components.

The Asynchronous Component (OAD)

Blackboard is well known and widely used as an educational platform “for delivering learning content, engaging learners, and measuring their performance” ( in higher education. Blackboard is primarily an asynchronous learning platform which offers a format that provides for easy posting of course information and a wide variety of course resources. Features include a discussion board with forums that provide opportunities for students to respond to prompts, discuss issues, and share ideas in an OAD where postings can be made and responded to at any time. Blackboard currently is used widely to supplement F2F instruction. In our online group course, Blackboard’s discussion board is used to allow students to take more time to reflect on their learning and encourages them to think more critically about online experiences and course material. Because instructors typically do not participate in these discussions, both responsibility and control are shifted to students for the quality and content of their postings. We have been very interested to see how learning conversations develop as students learn to respond not just to instructor-generated prompts, but also to each other, sharing support, differing perspectives, and experiences. Instructors’ review of the weekly postings is then used to help guide course content and discussion in the OSD component of the course.

The Synchronous Component (OSD)

LinguaMOO (MOO) is an interactive, synchronous learning platform that is available in its basic form for free (see, with technical support provided by each individual institution. MOO was developed as a community that is designed to simulate F2F environments in many ways using technology that is affordable and easily implemented. MOO is text-based and utilizes a very basic chat environment. More capable, commercial software packages that are now becoming widely used include Elluminate (a free, virtual, collaborative web-conferencing system; and Saba Centra Classroom (which offers a complete set of features for recreating interactive classroom learning experiences online; Both of these packages add greatly enhanced capabilities for using audio, video, whiteboards, and graphics as part of online class meetings, providing a wide variety of tools to use in creating a virtual environment for learning.

In the online MOO class, when students come to class, they enter the instructor’s room, which is the virtual classroom. Each person who enters the online classroom is visible to everyone else already in the room. As with F2F classes, MOO meetings often begin and end with informal chatting among students and instructors. The visual format of MOO is simple and would be familiar to anyone who has participated in online chats. The computer screen is divided into three sections: two sections on the left display the ongoing discussion and provide a place for students and instructors to compose their comments. In addition to text, MOO also provides an emote feature that can be used to add nonverbals and emotions (similar to text-based emoticons) to the discussion, giving participants a different way to express themselves or add expression to their comments. The right half of the screen is used to present PowerPoint slides that support, guide, and facilitate online discussion, as well as provide structure and content for the class meetings. In addition, MOO allows for recording the transcription (complete with links to PowerPoint slides) for each class, permitting students to review what occurred in class if they missed a class or wanted to revisit a discussion topic. This feature also frees students from having to take notes during class.

Class meets for two hours per week during the regular semester. Like F2F courses, class is scheduled for a particular day and time. Thus, students must commit to being able to attend the online class meetings at the same designated time each week; just like F2F, everyone has to attend class at the same time. Unlike F2F classes, however, students do not have to travel, search for parking, and arrive at a physical classroom on time. Both instructors and students have the flexibility to log into class from any location with an Internet connection. Although the same faculty member has taught this course from its inception, different advanced doctoral students, typically with strong background and expertise in school counseling, have been assigned to co-teach each time the course was offered.

Implementation of the Course

A required F2F meeting is scheduled on campus prior to the beginning of the group counseling course. Although the primary purpose of this meeting is to train students in use of the technology to be used in the course, additional benefits include: making social connections with students and instructors; developing a basis for social presence; and getting a feel for the instructors’ teaching style. Starting in a familiar F2F format and using a standard classroom environment to acquaint students with new technology, a new learning format, and each other seems to work well. In addition, students frequently comment on the importance of this first F2F session for having a successful experience in the course; their F2F experiences help reduce anxiety and create a basis for group cohesion and support throughout the PMC program.

Combining Synchronous and Asynchronous Modes of Learning

In this online course, OAD and OSD approaches are combined to create the total learning environment. Blackboard tends to elicit more formal, traditionally academic, and reflective responses as students reply to instructor prompts (and each other) on the Blackboard discussion board. Prompts typically come from readings and OSD discussions. By contrast, MOO has the vitality more characteristic of a F2F class meeting, with more social and informal discussions and responses. Use of PowerPoint slides online helps structure class and provides content to supplement required reading. Like F2F, synchronous online class meetings have immediacy and are fast-paced. The chat aspect of class means that comments, responses, and interactions can move very quickly, challenging students (and instructors) to pay attention. The quick back-and-forth in the chat format requires that traditional academic expectations about such details as spelling and grammar be suspended, helping to create a more relaxed climate online. Also, active participation online requires much shorter comments and responses than in F2F classes because the faster pace requires faster posting of responses and shorter amounts of text for others to read. Thus, online class sessions are reading- and writing-intensive.

Cognitive Presence

In discussing the cognitive presence component, Garrison et al. (2000) emphasized the “potential for facilitating deep and meaningful learning in a [virtual learning] environment” (p. 93). We use MOO to provide opportunities for high levels of in-depth interaction during class. The nature of the OSD component is that it requires verbal participation online in order to be actively engaged in class. Students who are not actively posting in the discussion are invisible in class. This is unlike F2F experiences where students can contribute minimally or choose to be passive learners. In MOO, all students contribute very actively to discussions. In interactions with instructors online, students are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning, share their knowledge with others in the class, and combine what they know from practice with new or revisited concepts in class. Thus, instructors strive to address the teaching elements proposed by Newman et al. (1996), including actively encouraging and inviting new ideas and perspectives as well as helping link together theories, facts, applications, and professional experiences.

With this expectation of active verbal participation online, many students are challenged to modify their usual classroom style. For example, introverts who might be hesitant to share comments in an F2F class often shine online. Conversely, strong extraverts can feel constrained online by having to compose their comments and keep them shorter and more focused. Students quickly adapt to this change and most tend to be active in every class meeting.

Throughout the course, we utilize various techniques to promote critical thinking. Similar to F2F classes, open-ended questions are frequently posed to students. Often, probes are used to stimulate further discussion on a topic. In addition, we frequently make encouraging comments such as “interesting idea” or “well put” to let students know that their ideas are important to the discussion and highlight these contributions for other students. These encouragers reinforce student contributions to class, help promote additional conversation, and help highlight important points in the transcript. Even more than in an F2F class, it is vital that instructors plan for how to use their teaching skills to promote cognitive presence online. In the synchronous online learning environment, critical thinking results from instructors’ intentional encouragement, supportive comments, and challenging questions.

Social Presence

Garrison et al. (2000) hypothesized that “high levels of Social Presence with accompanying high degrees of commitment and participation are necessary for the development of higher order thinking skills and collaborative work” (p. 93). To create a community of inquiry, students must feel they can be “real” people in the virtual classroom. As noted earlier, we use the on-campus training to help students feel comfortable and competent with the technology. Then, in the first class online, instructors ask students to reflect on their own professional experiences, modeling use of humor, restatement, encouragement, and positive reinforcement along the way. These techniques help build a level of social presence in the online classroom.

As students have successful experiences in the online environment, they find ways to contribute their personalities, ideas, and expertise in the virtual classroom. As that happens, the technology becomes just another tool for learning and sharing information, ideas, and resources with each other. The shared experience of doing something new and the commonalities students have as school counselors also help to foster social connections and relationships online. One strong indicator of success in developing the social component online is that students frequently share both professional and personal issues with each other, at the beginning and end of class as well as (appropriately) throughout discussions. Students typically develop strong connections with the group and its members that provide a working foundation for their ongoing development as a group during the PMC program. As Garrison et al. (2000) have observed, “Social Presence marks a qualitative difference between a collaborative community of inquiry and a simple process of downloading information” (p. 96).

Teaching Presence

Clearly, there is a critical need to establish a strong teaching presence online, since this has been described as “the binding element in creating a community of inquiry for educational purposes” (Garrison et al., 2000, p. 96). One challenge for counselor educators is to provide familiar kinds of structure, leadership, and facilitation online. We have found that the synchronous learning environment lends itself very well to using group facilitation and process skills to stimulate and involve students in very active ways. We present prompts, share selected information, encourage students to think critically about material, and help students relate course material to their own experiences and work settings. For teaching that is more instructor-centered and more lecture-based, MOO is limited and somewhat lacking. As a platform for process-based learning experiences, however, MOO provides the basic elements to create an online experience that can offer a viable alternative to F2F instruction. In fact, what actually takes place in an online class is largely the same as what would happen in an F2F version of the class; the primary adaptations have to do with effectively using technology to do these things online.

Garrison et al. (2000) noted the importance of students having time to reflect on information as a critical part of the learning process. In our course, students have built-in time to reflect and discuss during online meetings. This reflection time, however, is limited, and must be intentionally included in the class structure by the instructors. Enhanced reflection can occur through Blackboard discussion board postings (OAD) and by requiring students to review and comment on transcripts from online class meetings following online class sessions. With co-instructors for this course, there typically are two instructor/facilitators online in the class. As with co-leading groups, this allows one instructor to serve as lead facilitator to guide the process and cover content while the other instructor keeps a closer eye on student responses and responds to their questions and comments, often playing a major role in supporting and reinforcing student contributions. Because the lead instructor role often shifts midway through a class, each instructor has the chance to be more upfront and facilitative in one part of the class and more of the active listener and supporter in another.

Some examples can illustrate how we create a strong teaching presence. First, class size is limited to 12 students. This small number helps the instructors keep track of the students in the class; since students cannot be seen, it is important to watch users’ screen names to ensure that everyone participates. In addition, the smaller class size allows activities to be completed without consuming the entire class time. Activities also are used to engage students and model facilitation skills. For example, in one class students are asked to design a tattoo for themselves and discuss its meaning. The instructors use this activity to demonstrate group processing skills by modeling reflections, open-ended questions, and facilitative comments. This type of activity helps lead to cognitive presence through strong teaching presence. Finally, everything done in the class is purposeful, just as in an F2F classroom. This attention to goals and purpose helps maintain students’ interest, keeps students focused and involved during the class, and helps us maintain a strong teaching presence.

Reflections on Course Format and Learning Experiences
Benefits to Students and Instructors

Surprisingly, one of the benefits for students is a much higher level of consistent, ongoing participation than would be possible in an F2F classroom. One reason is that in a chat (MOO) format, everyone can essentially be talking at the same time, something that can be managed in an online environment, but would create total chaos F2F. In addition, the chat format allows students to address instructors and each other directly to ask questions, share observations, or make suggestions. In many ways, students can have much more contact and interaction with instructors and their peers in the virtual classroom, and we see this as a major benefit of this online learning environment.

Because of the ongoing dialogue in class, students can more readily affect the pacing and depth of material covered in class by having ongoing input into the educational process. We also encourage students to bring their real-life experiences to bear on the material (and vice-versa). This is particularly appropriate for working adult students who consistently have been found to value opportunities to blend experience with new information in the classroom. Many other benefits to students have been mentioned previously, including the opportunity for everyone to participate, availability of class transcriptions, easy access to the class on the Internet, and the ability to use PowerPoint slides to both guide discussion and inject instructors’ personalities into the class (e.g., through selective use of photos, images, or quotes).

Instructors share many of the benefits noted above for students. The most obvious instructor benefit may be the flexibility of being able to teach from any location with reliable Internet connections (e.g., the lead author has taught this class from New Zealand and Italy). Also, guest presenters can easily participate in the class no matter where they are located geographically. One class featured a guest presenter from India who shared information about her culture and responded to students’ lively questions. Additionally, the simple format of MOO allows instructors the opportunity to exercise their creativity by adding color, graphics, photos, and design elements to visually enhance and enliven the online experience. These creative elements also can help to stimulate and harness the live energy and the excitement of collaborative learning experiences. Graduate student co-instructors have found that teaching online has given them additional teaching skills they can market as new counselor educators, in addition to influencing how they view both online and F2F teaching. Even for the experienced faculty member, the online teaching experiences have positively affected how he plans for and conducts F2F classes.

Student Feedback on Online Experiences

As we reviewed student evaluations from several semesters of this online course, the most striking thing was how similar ratings and feedback were to student evaluations of F2F classes taught by the counselor educators. In addition, very little mention was made about the technology used for class; the few comments that were made were positive. The vast majority of student comments focused on instructor effectiveness, skills, and knowledge. Related to teaching presence, students commented positively on organization of the course, group leadership/facilitation, clear communication, and instructors’ knowledge. In the area of cognitive presence, key themes were instructors’ ability to stimulate interest in course content and stimulation of critical inquiry. Finally, students addressed social presence in the course with comments about instructors’ approachability and helpfulness, respectfulness, and ability to foster group cohesion.

Precautions and Practical Considerations

We believe there are three keys to success with online learning: (1) incorporate an energetic and well-planned interactive component; (2) keep things as technically uncomplicated as possible; and, (3) provide necessary training and tech support (e.g., backup) upfront. Students regularly cite the importance of the initial F2F technology training and the comfort of knowing they can contact university tech support if they experience difficulties. As noted above, the MOO platform provides basic tools for creating live classes online without many of the frills that can make things unnecessarily complicated and intimidating to students. Classes really come alive with the interactive component that MOO offers, due in no small part to instructors’ establishing a norm for active and enthusiastic participation in online sessions. Instructors also act as if these classes are F2F, using familiar language (e.g., “see you next week,” “see you in class”) and familiar structures (agendas for class, balance of information-giving and discussion, even having a break midway through class) that subtly replicate familiar F2F instruction experiences.

To be able to accomplish all three areas of presence (teaching, cognitive, and social) identified by Garrison et al. (2000), instructors must be very intentional in designing and conducting the OSD component. For example, to teach effectively in this environment, instructors need to closely monitor student participation so that they can see those who are sitting quietly in the online classroom and encourage or call on them to bring their voices to class discussions. We have found it very helpful to have co-instructors to help keep up with the flow of discussion, maintain energy in the online classroom, and reach out to quieter or less involved students. To create and maintain cognitive presence, instructors need to be very intentional in cultivating an environment of critical inquiry, including asking good, critical questions and encouraging constructive dialogue among students and instructors. Social presence primarily involves encouraging students to connect with their peers and with instructors in class, and can include appropriate use of humor, liberal use of names, and attention to time for socializing at different points in class (beginning, end, break).


Numerous approaches exist for offering and teaching online graduate courses. If the primary goal is communication of large amounts of information, the approach described in this article likely will not be the most effective or efficient option. Counselors and counseling students, however, like to be able to interact with each other—whether F2F or online—and the MOO/Blackboard (OSD/OAD) approach to teaching and learning online allows for much discussion and processing of course material. Over the past several years, we have found that student responses to this online format have been overwhelmingly positive. Even students fearful or skeptical at the beginning, readily become active and engaged class members. This approach has worked particularly well with more advanced students where their F2F coursework prepared them with fundamental counseling knowledge and skills. It is our belief that a community of inquiry can be established effectively in an OSD format and that the elements of teaching that counselor educators hold dear—social contact and interaction—can be created successfully in an online environment. The increasing availability of more sophisticated platforms for synchronous online class meetings (e.g., Elluminate and Saba Centra Classroom) should make it even easier for counselor educators to use OSD for online only or hybrid courses in their programs. For us, the ability to interact with students online in real time has been a key to making online instruction come alive in ways that rival what we do in our F2F classes.


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James M. Benshoff, NCC, and Melinda M. Gibbons, NCC, are professors at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, respectively. Correspondence should be addressed to James M. Benshoff, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Department of Counseling and Educational Development, P.O. Box 26170, Greensboro, NC 27402-6170,