The Guidance Council of the Alberta Teachers’ Association

October 3, 2011
Garnet W. Millar and John G. Paterson

Fifty Years of Accomplishments and Challenges, 1961–2011

Between us, it seems, we have 100 years of experience with the Guidance Council of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. John Paterson was involved in the formation of the Guidance Council in 1961 and will deliver the keynote address at the annual conference commemorating the 50th year in November 2011. Garnet Millar has been a member of the Guidance Council since 1975. He served as president from 1978 through 1980 and as the Alberta Education representative to the Council from 1993 to 1999.

In this article, we will discuss the origin of specialist councils, highlight professional development activities from the past 50 years, explore the initiatives taken by the Guidance Council to promote guidance and counselling in Alberta schools and conclude with a discussion of the challenges for the future. We both agree that the strength of the Guidance Council has been the many caring and committed people, too numerous to mention individually, who dedicated their time to implement the goals of the Guidance Council.

Origins of the specialist councils

The Alberta Teachers’ Association was organized in 1918. One of its main mandates was to promote the competence of its members—teachers. The notion of professional development for teachers in service was percolating in the minds of educators in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Elegant papers were written and delivered by eminent educators of the day: Herbert Coutts, dean of the Faculty of Education, University of Alberta; S.C.T. Clarke, executive secretary of the Alberta Teachers' Association; Tim C. Byrne, chief superintendent of schools with the Department of Education; and E.J. Ingram, a staff officer at the Alberta Teachers' Association.

According to these experts, ongoing inservice, or professional development, was important to maintain the competence of the teaching force and to keep teachers current with changing knowledge in various fields. Clarke (1965) stated that a professional degree from university becomes obsolete after 10 years because the world changes so rapidly. Hence, educators must keep current with new content matter and know how to efficiently deliver content to students. As a means to do this, in October 1959 the ATA passed a resolution to organize specialist councils. The objectives of specialist councils was similar in all Canadian provinces; that is, to improve teacher knowledge in subject areas and pedagogical practice. A related goal was to improve the public image of teachers. Professional development was perceived as a way to combat professional obsolescence. The Association made it clear that cooperation among educational stakeholders (universities, Department of Education and school jurisdictions) was key to making specialist councils effective in promoting teaching competence. The ATA would take the lead in organizing these specialist councils.

The first Guidance Council is formed

The Alberta Guidance Association, which represented people with a wider interest in counselling, preceded the formation of the Guidance Council of the Alberta Teachers' Association, which was organized on April 6, 1961.

The first president of the Guidance Council was Raymond Shaul, of Edmonton. A. Krahulec was the secretary. Carl Safran, of Calgary, acted as past president. District representatives to the first Guidance Council were Doug Feltham (Calgary), Clarence Rhodes (Red Deer) and Bert Hohol (Edmonton). Representing the Faculty of Education were J. Stewart (Calgary) and C. Christenson (Edmonton). The Department of Education representative was A.A. “Hap” Aldridge. Ken Grierson (Edmonton) represented special education teachers. The total budget for the year (1961) was $253, of which only $36 was spent. Five regional workshops were held. It should be noted that the Association encouraged regional guidance councils, and today there are regional councils in the areas of Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray. The first regional Guidance Council was formed in Edmonton in 1962; Medicine Hat joined the following year (1963). In those early days problems caused by long distances and inclement weather hampered regular meetings in winter months. Representation from the Department of Education and universities to the Guidance Council began in the 1962/63 school year. It should be noted that an ATA staff officer was always assigned to the Guidance Council for liaison and assistance purposes. Executive officers of the Guidance Council have always appreciated the wise guidance provided by ATA staff.

The general business of the Guidance Council is to communicate with its members through publications and to organize professional development activities, conferences and inservice/workshop sessions for its members. Over the years the council has supported various initiatives and activities taken on by Alberta Education and the universities in Alberta. Some of this business over the years will be discussed below. Each specialist council appointed an editor to organize publications and an executive member to organize the annual conference. The Association provided a budget to defray costs associated with meetings and general administrative business. Conferences began in 1969 for presidents and editors at Barnett House to acquaint these table officers with the business of specialist councils.

Membership and constitution

In the 1964/65 school year only 15 per cent of Alberta teachers belonged to a specialist council, Membership in the Guidance Council has waxed and waned over the years. In its charter year (1961) there were 97 members, by 1971 there were 328 and in its peak year of 1988 there were 615 members. Today the membership sits at approximately 400 members.

Over the years the Guidance Council worked with related organizations to promote guidance and counselling services. These organizations include the Educational Liaison Association of Alberta (ELAA), postsecondary institutions, Society for the Promotion and Advancement of Career Education (SPACE) and Careers: The Next Generation.

The Association developed a model constitution for all specialist councils. This constitution has changed over the years for the Guidance Council. Three statements were documented regarding purpose in 1961. They are (a) to further the professional growth and understanding of counsellors and other educational personnel engaged in guidance work, (b) to work toward the improvement of standards for counselling and other pupil personnel services in Alberta schools and (c) to provide for exchange of information among guidance personnel and interested teachers through encouragement of inservice and other professional development training measures.

In the 1971 constitution the Guidance Council added the following statement to the object, or purpose statement: To be the vehicle by which the counsellors of Alberta are able to make their professional opinion known.

In 1999 the constitution was simplified and listed the following purpose: The purpose of this Council shall be to improve guidance programs and services in Alberta schools.

In 2011 the executive of the ATA Guidance Council will propose changing its purpose statement to:

The mission of the Guidance Council is to support guidance and counselling, educational, personal/social and career services for all Alberta students by leading relevant professional development, facilitating quality communication and providing advocacy for school counselling programs.

The mention of advocacy is the main change from other older versions of the constitution. This recommended change will be voted on at the annual meeting in November 2011.

Professional development activities

Publications

Over the years a great deal of professional development has taken place to enhance the competence of school counsellors. This section reviews the publications, conference and awards program.

The ATA Magazine is published regularly by the Alberta Teachers’ Association. Over the years the magazine has featured articles on guidance and counselling services. Four articles from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s illustrate the importance of guidance and counselling in the business of education.

In 1967 the ATA Magazine published an article entitled “Critical Issues in Our Guidance Program” (Zingle and Winship) that contended that a counselling services program that is aligned only to the administration of a school will fail. An article written by Elizabeth Motherwell (1970) in the ATA Magazine explored the value of guidance in the school curriculum and related it to the Hall-Dennis Report (Ontario) and to the Blair Report entitled “Mental Health in Alberta. The Motherwell article also celebrated the counsellor as student advocate and discussed the rationale statement initiated by the Association’s first Guidance Council. A 1972 article is particularly noteworthy. Two professors from the University of Calgary (Herman and Altman) reported the results of a survey of student personnel services in Alberta schools. They solicited information from school superintendents and received a 91 per cent return rate. Interestingly, at that time superintendents ranked counsellors number two in importance as a support service, just behind librarians. In a 1981 article, David Wasserman discussed the importance of relating subject content at school to everyday careers so that students can more clearly understand the relevance of subjects.

The first News Bulletin of the Guidance Council came out in June 1964. The president of the day, J.B. Davies, stated that the News Bulletin would promote regular communication with members in addition to the annual conference. It would, in his words, “weld a stronger Guidance force within our province.” That first newsletter contained reports from regional councils, conference impressions and policy recommendations. Interestingly, one recommendation was “that counselling services be allocated on the basis of at least one full-time counsellor to every 250–300 students.” We have not fared well with that recommendation.

The Council’s current publications—a newsletter called the Alberta Counselletter and a journal called the Alberta Counsellor—are high quality. They keep the membership well informed about various professional development events, new initiatives and ideas in the field. The articles are generally written by practising school counsellors, university counsellor educators and Alberta Education staff members. The topics have been varied and covered many aspects of guidance and counselling. A sample of titles over the years illustrates the flavour of the times:

  • “A Program Approach to Guidance and Counselling,” Al Nichols, 1975
  • “Attitudes Toward Women: Implications for Counselling,” Rosemary Liburd, 1976
  • “Should Counsellors Report Child Neglect?” Larry Eberlein, 1978
  • “Developing an Effective Guidance Program,” Norman Gysbers, 1980
  • “Peer Support: Challenging Dimensions,” Dan Reilly, 1986
  • “New Directions in Counsellor Education,” Bill Hague, 1987
  • “The School Counsellor and the ‘New’ Health Curriculum,” Bill Gordon, 1989
  • “Life Skills,” Dick Krenz, 1995
  • “Suicide: An Attempted Solution,” Robin Everall, 2000
  • “A Healthy Skepticism about Antibullying Programs in Schools,” Tanya Beran, 2008

Conferences

Annual conferences for counsellors took place in Red Deer, Edmonton or Calgary. In later years the annual conference moved to Banff, in the Canadian Rockies. Counsellors were drawn to the beautiful mountains for not only quality professional development but for relaxation and outdoor activities.

The annual conferences reflected current ideas and initiatives of the time. For example, during the late 1980s Ottawa was working on various career-development initiatives; in the mid-1990s Alberta Education introduced the comprehensive approach. Both initiatives were presented at the annual conference. At times over the years, conference planners worked with the ELAA by holding two conferences back-to-back to enable counsellors to obtain current information on postsecondary programs.

Awards programs

The Guidance Council sponsors two awards that are presented at the annual conference:

  1. The Murray Jampolsky Award is given to an outstanding practising school counsellor in Alberta.
  2. Honorary Membership Award is presented to persons who have contributed significantly to guidance and counselling in Alberta.

Teamwork

One reason for the success of the Guidance Council has been the remarkable ability of the members from different organizations, districts and departments to work together with common goals. Some examples follow.

1. Department of Education
The Department of Education has provided strong leadership from the beginning. Some of our valued leaders representing the Department were Hap Aldridge, one of the founders of the Guidance Council. Every Guidance Council conference has a Department representative in attendance, usually someone with responsibilities on the planning committee. Early leaders were John Friesen, Terry Mott and Garnet Millar.

2. Alberta Teachers’ Association
The Association facilitated Guidance Council growth and professionalism, and provided leadership. Murray Jampolsky and Gordon Thomas are two who went above and beyond and became known to all counsellors and special education personnel throughout the province.

3. Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association
Since the mid-1960s the Guidance Council has connected with this professional association. Several conferences have been held in Alberta at which Guidance Council members played leadership roles.

4. Alberta universities
There has been a continuing positive relationship between Alberta’s universities and the Guidance Council. The council’s executive has welcomed support from representatives of counsellor training programs.

5. Alberta school districts
There have been many ups and downs in this province with respect to education funding. In spite of financial concerns, Alberta still has school counselling programs that serve as models in Canadian education. Local support from schools has kept counsellors willing and able to keep professional support systems viable and a major component of the Guidance Council.

Key initiatives and activities undertaken by the Guidance Council

The Guidance Council initiatives relate to advocacy for appropriate guidance and counselling services in Alberta schools. Selected significant initiatives and activities that moved guidance and counselling forward are presented chronologically.

  • 1962 - In the minutes of the first general meeting of the Guidance Council of the Alberta Teachers' Association, held in Red Deer on April 27, 1962, the following motion was presented by Bert Hohol and seconded by Harvey Zingle: “That the executive council structure an approach to develop a rationale for counselling in Alberta schools.” The motion was carried.The rationale statement developed by the first executive members of the Guidance Council distinguished between the terms guidance and counselling, noted the objectives of a guidance program, and presented the case for counselling in a school milieu and the development of guidance and counselling services. The statement became the basis upon which subsequent guidelines and resources were developed. Hap Aldridge, the first director of guidance with the Department of Education, used the rationale to build guidance and counselling as an essential educational service in Alberta. “A Rationale for Guidance and Counselling in Alberta Schools” was published as a reprint in the first yearbook of the Guidance Council in 1963.
  • 1965 - Evaluation became a focus of guidance and counselling in 1965. The yearbooks from 1963–1966 contained self-evaluation instruments.
  • 1971 - The Guidance Council submitted a position paper to the Worth Commission on Student Personnel Services in Alberta Schools that made 15 recommendations. The Guidance Council stated that “student personnel services should be regarded as an integral part of a school staff. No school in Alberta should be without student personnel services.” Other recommendations dealt with the use of a developmental approach and said that services should begin in elementary school.
  • 1984 - The Guidance Council wrote a response to Alberta Education's “Draft Paper on Guidance and Counselling Services in Alberta Schools” supporting the document, pointing out the positive aspects and making suggestions for revision. The resource became available in 1985.
  • 1985 - The Guidance Council adopted the Guidelines for Ethical Behaviour—ATA Code of Professional Conduct, published by the Canadian Guidance and Counselling Association. This statement is intended to be used for the conduct of school counsellors engaged in providing comprehensive guidance and counselling services.
  • 1989 - The Guidance Council was instrumental in supporting a professional development initiative called Campus Alberta. Athabasca University proposed to join with the University of Alberta and the University of Lethbridge to create a distance learning alternative program for graduate studies in counselling consisting of 36 credits. The first cohort of students started the program in January 2002.
  • 1991 - The Guidance Council endorsed the School Counsellor Education program (School–University–Partnership in Education or SUPIE) at the University of Alberta. It was designed to train school counsellors while they continued to work in schools. The master of education program began in July 1991 and took a cohort of 20 students through a series of course requirements and a project over a two-year period. This program continues to be popular today.
  • 1993–1999 - The Guidance Council supported the Alberta Education initiative called Promising Practices in School Counselling that highlighted good practices in school counselling. The series was distributed to counsellors, administrators, central office personnel and school board chairs. The series was published in its entirety in the Alberta Counsellor volume 25, number 1, and was the theme for the annual conference in 1995.
  • 1994 - The Guidance Council served on a committee to assist Alberta Education in the development of the resource on Comprehensive Guidance and Counselling Services in Alberta.
  • 1996 - The Calgary Regional Guidance Council developed a 12-minute video entitled Guidance Matters, which discussed the roles of school counsellors and their value to school staff. The regional made 100 copies of the video and distributed them to other regional councils in Alberta.
    The Guidance Council assisted Alberta Education with the development of the document Standards for Comprehensive Guidance and Counselling Programs.
  • 1997 - The council wrote a brief to the Commissioner of Services for Children and Families offering assistance with mental health and social work professionals to help students with mental health problems. The brief suggested that the school be the hub of services for youth.
  • 1999 - The Guidance Council reviewed the ethical guidelines for members and the use of family–school liaison workers in lieu of counsellors in some Alberta schools.
    Efforts were made to reconstitute two regional guidance councils: Northeast and Northwest.
    In cooperation with Alberta Education the council published all the Promising Practices in School Counselling developed by Alberta Education from 1993 to 1999. The purpose was to highlight and share good counselling ideas, strategies or techniques with all Guidance Council members. It was published in the Alberta Counsellor, volume 25, number 1 (1999).
    The Guidance Council produced two brochures for counsellors outlining the benefits of the comprehensive approach to guidance and counselling services and the importance of using needs assessments to develop a counselling program plan (CPP).
    Resources developed by Alberta Education for comprehensive guidance and counselling were promoted in Guidance Council brochures called Working Together for Student Success.
  • 2000 - The Guidance Council expedited the availability of a needs assessment tool developed by Bryan Hiebert. In the fall of 2003 Psychometrics of Canada prepared the instruments, which became available online.
  • 2001 - The Guidance Council developed a survey to determine the state of counselling in Alberta schools and established a website to communicate electronically with members.
  • 2003 - Alberta Education asked the Guidance Council to review a new policy on comprehensive career development. The council said that career counselling should be part of the policy on comprehensive guidance and counselling services in Alberta.
  • 2009 - The council sent a brief to Alberta Education and the minister of education called “A Proposal for Change: Establishing a Comprehensive Guidance and Counselling Program in Every School in Alberta.” The brief called for the implementation of comprehensive guidance and counselling program through policy and leadership at the government level, and it drew attention to the lack of funding to hire counsellors in schools.
  • 2011 - The Guidance Council proposes to change its purpose statement in the constitution to include the role of advocacy in school counselling programs. The proposal will be presented at the annual general meeting at the November conference, in Banff.

The above initiatives are not exhaustive but they do illustrate how proactive the Guidance Council has been to move guidance and counselling forward in Alberta.

Living and working in challenging times

The Guidance Council encountered many of the same problems over the years that other specialist councils encountered: the difficulty of reorganizing each year when new executives were elected at both the provincial and regional levels, lack of help to perform time-consuming administrative tasks and difficulties in communicating with regional councils. However, the council’s biggest problem was the decision by the Alberta government, in the 1990s, to cut funding to many educational and social programs to reduce the deficit. Many Guidance Council newsletters contained articles about provincial funding freezes and how they would affect guidance and counselling services. The site-based decision-making process adopted by many schools in the 1980s and 1990s affected the number of counsellors hired by schools. Also, reduced funding for professional development has affected attendance at the annual conference in more recent years.

In 2003 the president of the Guidance Council expressed concern in the Alberta Counsellor over reduced funding to schools and the implications for counselling positions in Alberta. Membership in the Guidance Council dropped in 2002 to 206 members, the lowest number since 1968. In June 2008 the president stated in her message in the Alberta Counsellor that, unfortunately, many schools and school districts lack copies of the guidelines for comprehensive guidance and counselling services and its corresponding resource guide. She added that part-time teachers with no training in the requirements or knowledge of resources are often assigned counselling duties.

Finally, the authors were taken aback when the current president of the Guidance Council, Jodie Mattia, wrote in her message in the Alberta Counselletter (October 2010) that “currently, there is no policy from Alberta Education on school counsellors.”

Conclusion

The Guidance Council has provided 50 years of service to its members and, today, in 2011, is one of 21 specialist councils dedicated to the professional development of the teaching force.

Our assessment of the Guidance Council at its 50-year mark: A class organization that has provided for the professional development of practising counsellors in Alberta and that exhibits the resiliency to flourish despite uncertain political and economic times. Congratulations to the past and present executive officers and members who have been and are such strong student advocates. Let's celebrate—we've come a long way!

The authors would like to thank Margaret Shane, archivist at Barnett House (Alberta Teachers' Association), for her assistance in providing relevant documents and files on the Guidance Council. She was extremely helpful.

References

Byrne, T. C. 1963. “The Role of Specialist Councils.” ATA Magazine 44, no. 2.

Clarke, S. 1965. Organizations of specialist education: Secretaries Conference. Toronto, Ont: February 22–24. (paper in archives).

Herman, A., and H. Altman. 1972. “The Status of Counselling in Alberta.” ATA Magazine 52, no. 3: 17–21.

Mattia, J. 2010. “President’s Message.” Alberta Counselletter. (October): 3.

Motherwell, E. 1970. “Guidance for Self-Enlightenment.” ATA Magazine 50, no. 4: 8–11.

Wasserman, D. 1981. “Career Education Can Be an Integrating Force.” ATA Magazine 62 no: 32–34.

Zingle, H.W. and W. J. Winship. 1967. “Critical Issues in Our Guidance Program.” ATA Magazine 47 no. 6: 22–29.

______________________________

John G. Paterson is currently professor emeritus at the University of Alberta. He has made numerous presentations to the annual conference of the Guidance Council of the ATA over the years. Paterson started his career as a guidance counsellor in 1953.

Garnet Millar is a former provincial coordinator for guidance and counselling with Alberta Education. He is currently a consultant in private practice.

Both authors have been awarded honorary lifetime memberships in the Guidance Council.