Faculty Spotlight: Dr. K. Elizabeth McDonald -->

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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. K. Elizabeth McDonald

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This week we present the first in a new blog post series that will spotlight Walden faculty who have made a difference in the writing development of their students. Look for a corresponding student spotlight series as well!

Dr. K. Elizabeth McDonald
Indiana native Dr. K. Elizabeth McDonald
now lives in Minneapolis, MN.

For this first faculty spotlight, we identified a Walden instructor who has been doing extensive work to help her students learn APA style in a logical, efficient way. Dr. K. Elizabeth McDonald, core faculty in the MS in Mental Health Counseling program, has even published on this topic, and the Writing Center is lucky to have her work featured on our website! We presented Dr. McDonald with some questions about her perspective as a Walden instructor.

What are the most common writing challenges for your students?

I work with a lot of students in their first course in our master’s program, so the APA manual itself is a big challenge! Once they make meaning out of the manual, then the difficulty with logistics seem to disappear. For example, once students realize that paraphrasing is a clinical counseling skill as well as a written skill, they cease being over-reliant on quotes in assignments. Just imagine a counselor parroting back to the client everything that the client said!

What have you done to help your students master those skills?

In addition to providing specific APA page numbers and links to the Writing Center, I help students make those connections between clinical and written skills in my feedback to them. For example, I’ll mention that when I am working with a client who constantly talks in the second person, I have the client switch the language into first person. If the client says “sometimes you just don’t know what your husband thinks of you,” I will ask the client to rephrase to “I don’t know what my husband thinks of me,” which is so much more powerful for the client. I don’t think it is a coincidence that second person is not recommended by APA!

How does your own experience as a writer inform your work with student writers?

I have received my fair share of red marks on papers (both for school and for publication) due to formatting issues. Sometimes it feels like my very soul is in my writing; this can make it difficult to receive feedback about formatting or content. I try to balance providing feedback with the recognition that sometimes my feedback may seem trite. When talking about where a period goes in reference to a citation at the end of the sentence, I let the student know I realize I am commenting on the placement of a single dot!

What advice do you have for faculty who want to help their student writers?

Most importantly, help students find meaning by relating it back to the profession. Work with others in your program and the Writing Center to develop helpful resources and make connections between writing skills and professional skills.

Guess what? You are on stage! Students see unprofessional writing everywhere they look. As instructors, we have the unique opportunity to be an example (no pressure here, huh?). I wrote a short article about this very question, which included an example document written about APA format in APA style (why the APA does not do this I will never know). The APA document about APA is sort of a Cliff’s Notes, and is available in the Writing Center. Boy, I sound like a lot of fun at a dinner party, huh?

What advice do you have for students who want to improve their writing?
  1. Review feedback from your instructor on previous assignments before starting your next assignment. Oh, and be sure to contact your instructor if you do not understand the feedback! [Editor's note: In Blackboard, click on Tools → My Grades → Score to access comments.]
  2. Begin assignments with a template. I find that downloading a template from the Writing Center and using it for the beginning of each assignment makes for a less time-consuming writing process. Your time is precious; stop spending it looking up how to make the running head for every single assignment!
  3. Before beginning to write, add headings from the assignment directions. This will help you focus your writing and enable you and your faculty member to quickly see that you have addressed all required elements.
  4. Throughout your learning process, look for connections between your professional voice and your profession. Learning because you “have to” is elementary (and boring). Take control of your education, look at things with an intrigued eye, and use your critical thinking skills to find connections between your writing style and your profession.

image of laptop and paper
Counselors need writing skills for
case notes and client advocacy.
How is a student’s ability to write related to success in your field?

Written voice is incredibly important in counseling; credibility and advocacy are at stake! Counselors write case notes at the end of every session, and in the event that those notes are subpoenaed and provided to the court, they are subject to intense scrutiny. Counselors need to provide clear and concise written rationales regarding the interventions used; otherwise, the counselor (and the profession) loses credibility.  Even if the notes never end up in the courtroom, clinical case notes are sometimes all that exist to provide evidence of the course of treatment. Counselors also advocate for clients in written form, such as to a third-party payer, a grant funder, or an organization to advocate for services. Weak writing skills will significantly limit the ways counselors can advocate for clients.

What’s something about you that would surprise your students?

I have entered a single entry into a journal once a year every year since I was in 5th grade. I also have a “reasonably adventurous” side. I have zip-lined in Costa Rica, spent a few weeks in a yurt in Tanzania, walked a questionable and long tension bridge in Brazil, eaten fried bee larvae in Taiwan, and flown in a hot air balloon at sunrise over the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.  

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