Thursday, August 8, 2019

Back-to-School Tips for School Counselors

If this is your first year in a new school the priority should be building relationships with staff, students, and families. Attend ALL Back to School functions and introduce yourself. Don't be afraid to go into teachers rooms while they are setting up and chat for 5 minutes to find common ground. I would especially focus on other new staff because you automatically have something in common with other newbies. If you are not overwhelmed, plan a coffee in your office the first Friday students are back. Teachers love to be fed and it is good to have them see you in your office.  I hope your district provides you a mentor, if not ask your state SCA if they have a mentoring program. There are even mentoring programs available online via Facebook groups.

Returning counselors have a lot to do the first month of the school year. Here are 10 places to focus your time based on the newly revised ASCA National Model as you settle in to a new school year.

1)  Review school data including any data you collected on the school counseling program last year. Determine if you should conduct a needs assessment. Remember student needs are the most important in building a data driven school counseling program. Based on the data draft 3 annual student outcome goals (formerly called program goals). Plan to use one of these for your evaluation if required by your district.

2)  Meet with administrator(s) for annual administrative conference (formerly called annual agreement). Use the template provided by ASCA to guide the discussion. Come to an understanding of planned use of time and how often you will collect this data (I always did a week each semester).

3)  Set up the school counseling program Annual Calendar and Weekly Calendar. It is important to clarify with classroom teachers how you will be scheduling lessons taught by counselor. It is also important that you build a slot in your schedule to record and analyze data.  I always saved the last hour on Friday for this task (30 minutes when students were still present and the 30 minutes we were required to stay after dismissal). 

4)  Organize your office. Make it a space that is welcoming for students and meets your own needs (keep a stock of healthy protein bars and snacks for days when you really don't have time for lunch).

5)  Plan your core curriculum based on the ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors. Consider using the ASCA action plan. If possible use evidence based programs and practices. Don't forget to plan to evaluate what you teach.

6)  Plan small groups. You may just want to plan the first round, especially if you are going to conduct a needs assessment.  The sooner you can get groups started, the more you can do in a year. I have found that most groups need to run for 8 sessions unless you have the luxury to conduct groups that last more than 25-30 minutes, then 6 may be sufficient. Again plan for evaluation as you plan your groups!

7)  Talk to staff about referrals for counseling, how to handle students comments about self harm & threats to others, and bullying reports. I always did this during preservice week and sought out any staff person that was not in the session (due to conflict) individually or a small group follow-up if I missed more than a few.  This needs to be done annually!

8)  Determine who will be on your Advisory Council and set the dates for the meetings. It is best if the first meeting is within the first month of school so they can have input on your draft student outcome goals.  I personally planned quarterly meetings of the Advisory Council and found 4 shorter meetings to be more valuable and members had a sense of being part of the program, rather than the minimum 2 meetings ASCA requires (for RAMP).

9)  Plan how you will brand and market the school counseling program to all stakeholders.  We had a logo that appeared on everything generated by our program. We used it on the school website, blog, brochures, handouts for classroom lessons, etc. Our school wanted to go green so we used Twitter a lot to show what we were teaching, reminders of calendar events, and good articles for staff and parents to read. We planned quarterly workshops for parents and always offered to send the materials home to parents who could not attend.

10) This is not a job you can do alone. Make contact and build relationships with many other educators, student support staff, district counselors, community mental health providers, etc. Collaboration is key for a successful program and a must for crisis response.  Yes planning for crisis needs to occur annually and key players need to meet face-to-face.

One final tip is plan for your own self-care. Try to establish a work-home life balance. Remember the beginning of the school year is one of the most stressful times, so make yourself practice good sleep hygiene. Make time to get outside and enjoy nature. I frequently would just walk around the block at my school for a brain break before returning to my long to do list. Surround yourself with positive people and limit your exposure to whiners and other negative folks. Have a great school year!

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