New beginnings are very exciting but also can feel overwhelming. I just want to offer ten things I did when I started at my current school based on what I learned at my first assignment.
1 Examine all the school data you have access to including the Report Card and what is online. If there was a previous school counselor that collected and shared any data look at that too.
2 Discuss implanting the ASCA National Model with your administrator(s). Give them a copy of the Executive Summary available for download on ASCA website. Let them know you want to implement the Model with fidelity which will require an Annual Agreement with them and an Advisory Council that meets at least twice a year. Let the principal know you think it is best to begin with a needs assessment of staff, parents, and students to help gather data to set program goals. ANMExecSumm.pdf
3 Get to know colleagues including all classroom teachers and support staff. Explain when and how staff can make referrals for individual or group counseling. Let classroom teachers know when you will begin teaching lesson, how many lessons you will teach and their length, and how to sign up for a mutually agreed upon time slot.
4 Set up your office in a way that works for you. I like to have a group table, an area rug for activities, and a small work station for my electronic devices. I recommend keeping minimum paper files and store important forms, articles, etc. electronically. I use Google Drive, Dropbox, and Livebinders rather than have a file cabinet. The only paper files I keep are for Risk Assessments and active student files for individual counseling.
5 Determine which electronic calendar is used primarily in your building. Since we use mostly Outlook I keep my schedule in it. The School Counseling Program schedule is open to view by all teachers and administrators. The teachers can tell which blocks I have reserved for groups and meetings and schedule their class lessons in any flexible time slot. If I need to pull an individual student at a certain time, I will enter that as well (but not the student’s name). My teachers sign up for a monthly lesson in grades 2-5 for 30 minutes; in kindergarten and first grade I teach more but for 20-minute time slots. If they need to change a lesson after Sunday evening they must send me an email so I am aware of the switch. I print a hard copy of my weekly calendar from Outlook every Monday morning. The weekly calendar is used to document how you are spending your time.
6 Begin building the Annual School Counseling Program Calendar and how you will publish and share it for stakeholders to see. The Annual Calendar has direct services like the core curriculum (example monthly themes for lessons in classrooms) and small groups but not individual counseling. It also indicates indirect services like Parent Teacher Conference Days and special activities sponsored by counseling program (First Friday College Wear Days). I set the dates for the Advisory Council meetings and include them.
7 Begin keeping a list of things you might want to purchase but before spending your own money ask if there are funds allocated for the counseling program. I get money from a variety of sources including the same teacher supply fund available to classroom teachers, a small amount from our central office annually, sometimes money from my school’s budget for curriculum, and the school’s PTA.
8 Figure out the best way to communicate with parents in your learning community. I primarily use Twitter because almost all teachers use it and parents follow staff that work with their children. I also have a web page, blog, and calendar that is housed on the school’s website. We are discouraged from using paper newsletters, brochures, etc. in an effort to be a green school.
9 Decide how you are going to get to know all the students. It is extremely important to know the students’ names and begin to get to know them. In addition to introducing yourself and your role in classes find other ways to get facetime. I always stand in the hall outside my office at arrival and dismissal and greet and chat with students. At the beginning of the school year I try to get to all lunch periods and recesses at least once to mix and mingle. I also create a class picture by downloading student pictures from our school’s information system. I look at this before I go in to teach and quiz myself on students’ names the first quarter of the school year. The kindergarten students and new students won’t have pictures in the information system right away but our kindergarten takes a class photo the first week of school so I ask the teacher for a copy and write names on it. I take pictures of all new students in grades 1-5 at my Welcome New Students celebrations and I just put a copy of their photos with their class.
10 Plan your Core Curriculum that you will be teaching throughout the year. Determine what your District expects first. Out District requires we use evidence-based programs and provides each school with Second Step and MindUp. We have to report and provide evaluations for at least 10 lessons using this curriculum. We also must teach a career unit based on the National Career Clusters. For many years, we did not have a District Supervisor of counseling and we all had to develop our own lessons. That took so much time and although I finally had lessons I loved and felt were effective, using evidence-based curriculum is the direction the counseling field is moving towards. If you don't have any District requirements be sure to consult with your administrator about what they expect about how many lessons all students will receive.