Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Rehabilitation and Counselor Education

First Advisor

Wood, Susannah M.

Second Advisor

Bardhoshi, Gerta

First Committee Member

Klose Smith, Carol

Second Committee Member

Duys, David K.

Third Committee Member

Hollingworth, Liz


Research suggests the collaborative role school counselors can have with administrators to bolster school reform and facilitate a safe and positive learning environment for all K-12 students (College Board, 2009a, 2009b) is vital. Unfortunately, research that explores the roles and efforts of school counselors and administrators in their collaborative work for and with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students is scare. Yet, according to Goodrich, Harper, Luke, and Singh (2013), LGBT students “have long struggled in schools with little support” (p. 319). To address this gap, the purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore the experiences of school counselors and administrators in their work to support a safe and supportive school climate for LGBT students. The following research questions informed and guided this study: a) What are the lived experiences of school counselors and administrators who make concerted efforts to improve the educational environment for LGBT students? b) How do school counselors and administrators make meaning with their relationships in their work with LGBT students?

The methods used to recruit participants for this study were modeled after College Board’s (2009b) study with seven exemplary school counselor-principal teams. In College Board’s (2009b) study, researchers identified school counselors and principals who received recognition for demonstrating exemplary contribution in their respective professional organizations. These exemplary professionals were than paired with their school counselor/administrator counterpart for joint interviews (College Board, 2009b).

By paralleling the best practice protocol established by the College Board (2009b), this study consisted of three rounds of interviews with four school counselor-administrator teams. Participants were selected from national and/or state level LGBT educational organizations, where a school counselor and/or administrator were awarded/recognized for creating a safe and inclusive school environment for LGBT youth. Additional participants included school counselors and administrators identified as the school counselor or administrator counterpart to the awarded. The researcher completed an inductive approach to data analysis, utilizing both open coding and horizontalization to reduce the data. Thematic categories emerged from the data and are presented and discussed as they relate to the overarching research questions. The between-case themes include: Learning firsthand, leading by example, intentional partnering, moving beyond turf wars, and pushing the system. Recommendations for school counselors, administrators, and school counselor-administrator teams are provided. Directions for future research are also discussed.

Keywords: School counselors, administrators, interdisciplinary collaboration, LGBT youth

Public Abstract

LGBT youth represent a student population that is at-risk for bullying in the form of violence, harassment, and other negative mental health challenges. The literature calls upon both school counselors and administrators to develop equitable school climates that are safe and supportive for all students, including LGBT youth. However, studies have not explored the relationship experiences between school counselors and administrators in schools that support the unique needs of LGBT students. In particular, investigating the experiences of school counselor-administrator teams in their work for and with LGBT students may offer insights and best practices for school counselors, administrators, and training programs regarding how to improve the educational experiences for LGBT youth.

This phenomenological study captured the unique perspectives of four school counselor-administrator teams regarding current practices and training on LGBT student issues. Each team participated in three rounds of semi-structured interviews conducted in a span of 2-3 months. The themes of this study revealed several stories and personal examples regarding how each team developed a meaningful and intentional alliance for their efforts on behalf of LGBT students. In particular, the results indicated that learning firsthand from personal experience and true stories of LGBT individuals, whether within the relationship or from an outside network, was an important experience for team members. In addition, teams in this study were also able to align their vision, expertise, and roles towards effective LGBT youth advocacy and integrate purpose in their collaborative actions for change. The five overarching themes included: Learning firsthand, leading by example, intentional partnering, moving beyond turf wars, and pushing the system.


administrators, interdisciplinary collaboration, LGBT youth, school counselors


x, 192 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 173-192).


Copyright © 2017 Matthew Jon Beck