*This post contains affiliate links. Purchases provide a few cents that goes towards to cost associate with operating this site. Thank you for your support!*
Landing your first school counseling position can seem like a dream come true! However, some of that joy can lead to stress when it comes to setting up your office so you’ll be ready to rock’n roll on your first day.
Elementary counselors have unique challenges given the span of grade levels and developmental abilities of their students. We need to be able to appeal to the interests of 4-12 year olds. Books that are engaging to 5th graders can be too advanced for our kinders and games our kinders and firsties are into can seem “babyish” to the preteen set.
To complicate matters, the market is flooded with resources that look awesome. Unfortunately, these resources are expensive and only target a small portion of the population you serve.
So what’s a new school counselor to do?
I’ve created a list of essential supplies every elementary school counselor should have. Not only will these supplies help you support the diverse needs of your students, but they are also easy on the wallet!
STICKERS!!! <- It’s a must for ALL elementary counselors. Scented stickers are my students favorite! Super hero, princess, Disney, and animal are also very popular.
Prize Box: I have a prize box for when new students complete their scavenger hunt or when my students complete their behavior chart. A dollar store plastic shoe box works well – jazzing the box up with sharpies and/or stickers adds a bit of wow factor for our little ones.
The items in your box don’t need to break the bank. My students LOVE old McDonald toys, mechanical pencils, and temporary tattoos. Around Christmas, you can find packs of small plastic animals for a great bargain. You can also find fancy erasers, stamps, mini notebooks in the clearance aisle from time to time.
Copy paper has a million and one uses…okay, bit of an exaggeration but there are A LOT of activities you can do with a blank sheet of white paper.
Bright color paper: Plain copy paper has a way of blending in with all of the other notes that get sent home. Make your parent correspondence stand out by using brightly colored copy paper. An added bonus: using colored paper for your counseling forms makes it easy to locate them quickly! <- It’s super helpful if you color code the different types of parent communication and counseling forms.
White card stock: Elementary students (k-5) love making things. Card stock is more durable than copy paper and should be used if the craft has moving parts.
Construction paper: Another staple for our crafty kids. My students make a lot of cards and other creations for their family members.
Gems: Gems add that wow factor for special projects. Tip: Some students will want to go crazy with how many they add to their project. Set limits by saying something like, “What 10 gems would you like to add to your memory box?”.
Googly eyes: Googly eyes are an excellent way to break the ice with even the toughest of customers. They add levity to serious issues and can make the time you spend with them more memorable.
Scissors: You will need 8-10 kid friendly scissors. Make sure they paper worthy. Old worn out scissors from the 1980s will leave you and your students frustrated.
While we’re on the subject of scissors…make sure you have a nice pair for yourself. Using safety scissors isn’t ideal, especially if you are in a rush.
Glue: There are many types of glue and each type has a purpose. While you can use any type of glue in a pinch, it will affect the overall quality of your project.
Stick glue: Best for gluing paper onto paper (no lumps!)
White glue: Best for heavier projects – googly eyes, gems, glitter, and gluing construction paper to construction paper.
Hot glue: Hot glue is the secret to getting posters to stick to brick walls. Chances are someone in your building will already have a glue gun and some hot glue you can “borrow”.
General Office Supplies: Pencils, pens, highlighter, post-its, etc.
Nerf basketball hoop My basketball hoop is a great motivator. Students may earn up to three shots for participating in group sessions. I also use it for reluctant students -> one shot for each response or coping technique they share.
Board Games (Yard sales and thrift shops have games at a fraction of the cost!):
My most used games: Connect Four, Chutes & Ladders, Trouble, Sorry, Don’t break the Ice, Apples to Apples and Battleship
Caution! Books can be extremely addicting…especially if you’re a lover of books.
I’ve spent thousands of $$$ over the years on books and a good majority collect dust of my bookcase.
Basically, you can’t go wrong with an of the books by Trudy Ludwig, Julia Cook, and Maria Dismondy. I reach for their books over and over – some I’ve even had to replace because the spin wore out!
I’ve written about some of my favorite books on specific topics. You can check them out by clicking the links below!
Well, summer is in full swing and I’ve been busy finishing some of my projects that got pushed to the back burner during this past school year.
I’m super excited to use my new games and activities next year!!!
You can check them out below. Don’t forget to download the free list of coping skills at the end of the post.
First up is a reproducible booklet, 5 coloring pages and 5 posters set that teaches kids about kind & unkind behavior. The posters are 300 dpi and will keep resolution when resized. You can check out the preview here.
Next is a bingo game to teach kids about the qualities of a true friend. The game includes 35 friendship qualities and 30 unique bingo cards. You can check out the full preview here
This product is currently 50% – until this Saturday!!!!
Last, but not least is a bingo game to teach kids/teens about different ways they can cope when they are upset. The game includes 36 coping skills and 30 unique bingo cards. You can check out the full preview here.
Thanks for taking the time to visit The Helpful Counselor blog and checking out my new games and activities! Here is a free coping skills download for being awesome. Click on the image below to download the file.
One of my favorite things to do (besides spending time with my family) is getting caught up on my reading. I read all kinds of genres, but I really like to read about all things counseling. It energizes me and helps expand my creativity.
Confession: I’m a book hoarder. I have piles upon piles of books – not counting my floor-to-ceiling bookcases.
School counselors are trained to help people. Students, parents, teachers, administrators, PTO members, and community organizations require our time and efforts.
While it’s an honor to support others, we can’t do it all and in order to save our sanity (and meet the needs of our students) we must know how to say “no” to some requests without upsetting stakeholders.
Just to clarify, “saying no” comes in many different forms. It may take the traditional form of turning down a request or the “no” may come in the form of trying reform practices that go against the best interests of your students.
Several states, including mine, have gotten away with tenure and that may make you feel uneasy about saying no. However, school counselors are charged with advocating for children above everything. That is why it’s imperative that you master the art of “saying no” while strengthening professional relationships.
I feel like I’m in an unique position to speak to the “Fine Art of Saying No.” Actually, I feel that my ability to say no while strengthening professional relationships is one of my biggest strengths (next to winning over oppositional people <- more about that later).
My professional background has afforded me with many opportunities to sharpen my ability to address issues with mutually beneficial outcomes. For those of you who have worked in the protective services/foster care/residential areas know that there are oodles of stakeholders that want different things and they all expect you to deliver.
School counselors are put in the same position with providing services to students, teachers, parents, principals, the community, etc. The reality: there is only so much of one person to go around.
Truth is: I still have to say, “no” a lot.
I cover 3 buildings (tons of kids)…I’m only in each building 1-2 days a week and when I am in the building my students, teachers, parents, etc. tend to think that I’m “available” to do whatever might pop up or they think because I’m not tied down to a classroom that I can take on their various pet projects (breakfast club, lunch groups of their choosing, various charity projects, pd that they think would be a good idea, etc.).
Well, I don’t say it like that of course! I guess I technically could, but I wouldn’t really look like a team player and I would be burning bridges faster than I could build them. It takes a while to build up a good reputation as a school counselor. This is especially true when you’re only part-time in a building.
I can’t risk rubbing people the wrong way, but then I can’t possibly say yes to everything either. Hence, the need to be able to say no in a way that is beneficial for you and the other party.
Step 1: Understand Your Role as the School Counselor
School counselors are not the “catch all” for any tasks that need to be done or issues that need to be addressed. If you haven’t already experienced this phenomena, you will.
Try not to look at requests that go against best practices or (GASP!) those that would be considered unethical as an affront to you or the school counseling profession. It’s hard not to take it personally, but in my experience it’s (usually) not personal…it’s a lack of understanding….even if you believe their request isn’t due to lack of understanding, treat it like it is.
It’s vital that we keep our cool. Taking things personally only clouds our judgement.
On the flip side, approach the situation as an opportunity to educate stakeholders about the role of the school counselor. If requests go against American School Counseling Association guidelines for a comprehensive school counseling program (including ethical standards) use the opportunity to strengthen the official role of the school counselor.
Establishing the boundaries of the school counselor’s role has the added benefit of reducing future requests.
In some situations, counselors and teachers are asked to perform nonprofessional duties (bus lot, lunch room, recess monitoring, etc.). If this is the culture of your school you have a few options.
Advocate best practices as discussed above.
Show your admins what they are missing out on or in essence what you have to say no to when you aren’t able to function as a counselor. Principals may be more agreeable to release you from lunch duty in exchange for lunch bunch groups…especially if you target a population that will save them time in the long run.
Use the time to bond with your students – keep a deck of What Would You Do cards in your pocket to engage conversation, role model appropriate conversation skills (or table manners if you can eat your lunch with them too!), show them how to approach others at recess, and teach them games that don’t require a lot of athletic skill (I like PIG and Around the World).
Step 2: Know Thyself
Know what you can manage. Ask yourself a few quick questions to access your ability to handle additional projects and responsibilities.
How’s your schedule forecast? Do you have the time available? Are you able to make time? Be sure to check ahead and leave some margin for error.
Example: I have my divorce groups right after conferences and they go until Christmas break. I am also organizing our Angel Tree project during this time. I cannot take on any new projects during this 7-8 week period unless one of my administrators releases me of my Angel Tree responsibilities.
Step 3: Seek to Understand the Other Person’s Point of View (Entirely)
The role of educators has changed tremendously in the past 20 years. Educational policies, practices, and attitudes have waxed and waned to the point that the pendulum is has swung from one extreme to the next and now it’s back again. This creates a bit of a “We’ve seen this all before. It didn’t last, so why bother.” attitude.
Another big change has been the ever increasing use of technology. When I started my current job 8 years ago, some of my teachers didn’t check their email for months…now they’re required to have a class webpage and upload their lessons on various platforms. Talk about a learning curve!
If you take the time to really understand the cause of their resistance, you might discover a mutually beneficial compromise.
Example: Let’s take a look at teachers who are reluctant to try interventions because it resembles something they have done in the past. Dig into their experience (it really is a gold mine!) find out what worked/what didn’t.
Try to address their skepticism by incorporating elements to address their concern(s) -> teacher reluctant to implement classroom token or chart system -> teacher states that they didn’t have time to write comments every period -> develop a chart that requires the least amount of time in a handy spot (check box charts on a clipboard by the back door or backpack area works great at the elementary level).
Teachers like easy and they are much more likely to buy-in if you can save them time and while meeting the needs of their student.
Refusal to buy into programing/interventions or the email that says, “I can’t access your online survey can I have a paper copy” are situations when it is vital for a school Counselor to say, “No.”
Step 4: Accentuate the Positive
Acknowledge what they have done well – even if it’s a, “Thanks for reaching out to me, I know it was difficult.” or maybe an, “I’m glad we have to opportunity to meet to work out a plan to meet (insert child’s name) needs.
People want to feel valued and when you make them feel that their efforts are valued they will be much more willing to meet you half way. Take it a step further and make them feel like a valuable part of the team that is working on addressing a shared task and they will have more buy-in and the chances that they will commit to the plan to address the problem will be a lot better.
WARNING: You MUST make sure that your praise is genuine. This isn’t a “fake it till ya make it” kind of a thing. People identify that as false flattery and the statement, “Flattery will get you nowhere.” is true. You will be seen as disingenuous and they will disregard much of what you have to say.
Step 5: Think (and Move Toward) Win-Win
If you have to say no to a request, try to find something that you can say yes to. The other party might not get exactly what they want, but a mutually beneficial compromise can benefit all those involved.
Step 6: Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Let stakeholders know that the process is on-going and that you aren’t going to put the lion’s share of the work on their shoulders.
Outline your role. Include how you will help them address their concerns and establish a time line to revisit the plan and determine if any adjustments need to be made.
Most people will be likely to try something new if they know that we can review what worked/what didn’t work in 4-6 weeks, rather than think that they are committing to 9 months of something that may or may not be successful.
I hope you are able to put some of the tips I have shared with you to good use. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
School counselors are pulled in multiple directions throughout the school year. As the end of the year approaches, it can be very tempting to shove all of your unfiled notes and documents into the far reaches of your desk or in exchange for fun in the sun.
Yes, summer break is a perk (of the job) that I look forward to every year. But I’ve learned the hard way that an ounce of prevention is worth (far more) than a pound of cure.
Putting things off today to do tomorrow doesn’t work in the field of school counseling. The promise of a “tomorrow” that will allow you to get caught up is a myth. I’ve been a school counselor for almost a decade and I have yet to experience a day that doesn’t present its own set of challenges.
So what happens to job duties that tend to get pushed to the back burners? If you’re anything like me you have files for “to be filed” and files for “to read”. Those files tend to get buried by larger priorities and in the end we lose some of our effectiveness when we don’t stay on top of things.
So what kinds of things can you do now to get ahead of the game next year?
1. Do a quick brainstorm of what went well and what didn’t.
It doesn’t need to be fancy. Fold a sheet of paper in half and write what went well on one side and what can use some improvement. Comparing them side-by-side can help you see possible solutions for the not so hot areas by way of the things you did well.
What went well: I used Sign Up Genius to schedule classroom presentations. This saved me a ton of time! What didn’t go well: A lot of teachers requested me to attend parent teacher conferences and I wasn’t able to fulfill all of the requests. The connection: Use Sign Up Genius for teachers to request my presence at conferences. If the desired time slot isn’t available then they can either reschedule a time that I am free or I can schedule a follow-up meeting after conferences.
2. Get Feedback to Drive Your School Counseling Program
Gotta love data! No seriously, data is actually a nice four-letter word and it should be an integral piece in determining the services you provide.
Counselors can provide services for emotional, behavioral, social, and academic issues…but we can’t do all of it all of the time. In order to be effective, our decisions must be data driven.
A lot of people have a lot of good ideas. However, just because a few stakeholders thinks something is a good idea it might not be the best choice for your time and resources.
Hopefully, you are in tune with the needs your administrator(s). If not, ask to schedule a time to meet to plan for next year.
While everyone in education is experiencing the end of the year time crunch, your admin will appreciate your proactive approach to addressing the needs of the school. Even if they can’t fit a meeting into their schedule, they may be able to share a few of their ideas informally.
Tip: Request the meeting with your principal by email. Your email request can serve as documentation that you are actively involved in the development of your program and they will be less likely to spring things on you at the last-minute. 3. Create a rough draft calendar of events for next year.
What events/activities need to happen next year? <- Schedule those first.
What events/activities would you like to do next year? <- Schedule those second.
Unfortunately, MEAP takes up 7 weeks out of my schedule every year. No ifs, ands, or buts. Those 7 weeks are reserved. 4. Think about your goals for next year.
Regardless of what type of goals your district requires, identifying possible goals before the year starts can give you a few months head start.
My goal for next year is to teach my students how to resolve conflicts independently. I haven’t worked out the exact wording to form it into a SMART goal yet, but I know it’s an area for improvement (based on my needs assessment). Since I know conflict resolution will be the central idea behind one of my goals, I can work on finding resources (pursue PD) to help me achieve success. 5. Plan PD in advance
I love good professional development and by good I mean learning new skills that will help me support my students.
All PD is not good PD. If you’re already working as a school counselor you know that not all PD is created equal.
Use the summer to pursue good PD! Besides the benefit of actually participating in PD that relates to our profession, you won’t have to rush to get your PD in when your license is up for renewal.
Tip: If you hold multiple certifications, double-check to make sure your PD that will count towards all of them. I’m pretty lucky when it comes to double dipping since my additional certifications are in special education/emotional impairment. 6. Create a list of students to follow-up with in the fall.
Maybe your caseload is more manageable than mine, but for me if it’s out of sight it’s out of mind. Following up on a simple list of high priority students can help us get ahead of the game (and boost the student/counselor relationship).
Recess and lunch time are great opportunities to touch base with students within the first few weeks. A quick, “Hey how was your summer?” can mean a lot to a student who feels invisible. 7. Send an invitation to parents to contact you in the fall.
I can only juggle so many balls at once and those balls are usually on fire. Most of the time, I have to operate under “no news is good news” but this can confuse parents and students about what kind of support they can expect next year.
I’ve cut down on a lot of the “Oh, I thought the counselor was going to do that.” by sending out generic cards that thanks the parents for allowing me the opportunity to work with them and their child and invites the them to contact me in the fall if they have any concerns. 8. Purge and file.
My elementary counseling intern mentor told me to keep a copy of everything that might be helpful because you never know when you will need it. This advice is good if you want to be buried in a heap of file folders that you don’t utilize.
When I use an activity/resource I put it in the front of the hanging folder for that category. This lets me determine how useful a resource is and if its worth hanging onto. Resources in the front are keepers and those in the back are possible candidates for the recycle bin.
Typically, if I haven’t used a resource in the past 2-3 years the chances are good that I won’t need it in the future.
File notes and resources AFTER you have purged your other files. It’s much easier to put something where it goes when you don’t have to maneuver around resources that are just taking up space. 9. Prep for September’s groups and class presentations.
I start every school year with my meet the counselor lessons and my new student groups. Prepping my lessons and group material in the spring gives me one less thing to worry about in the fall. 10. Develop your online Professional Learning Network. Facebook
Have you joined one of the school counseling groups on Facebook yet? If not, what are you waiting for? Each group has over 1,000 members with school counseling focused discussions daily!
Twitter is another great way to get answers to your school counseling challenges. Just tweet your question with the hashtag #sccrowd or even #scchat or #ecchat (for elementary counseling related questions).
Hopefully my list gives you a few ideas to help create a smooth transition when you return next year! Do you have any tips or tricks you use when finishing out the school year? I would love to hear them in the comments below!
I typically work with students that need to develop their self-management and social skills. This game is an effective (& fun) way to learn how to identify feelings in ourselves and others, as well as positive ways they can avoid making poor choices when they experience “big feelings”.
The death of a teacher is one of those things that school counselors train for but hypothetical situations often fall short of the real thing. I learned this lesson the hard way.
Two weeks ago, one of my teachers (and a dear friend) died suddenly. In the prime of his life, his death shocked (and shook) students, parents, and staff alike. When word spread about his death, many people came forward wanting to “do something”. While their hearts were certainly in the right place, the knee jerk reaction to take action impacted our crisis team’s ability to support ALL of our students.
Reflecting on what went well and what can be improved upon is a vital process for all school counselors and district crisis teams. Hopefully, this post provides you will considerations to keep in mind should you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.
A district-wide crisis team should meet (at least twice a year) to work through possible scenarios and report back to administrators. We recently had several administrative changes and it was unclear as to who on our team should be consulting the superintendent and building principal.
Crisis team members, outside of the immediate school experiencing the loss, should take the lead in planning. While I felt capable of supporting everyone during this difficult time, I can see now that I was too close to the situation.
Create roles for the staff. Explain the role of the district crisis team and the need for the counselors and social workers to provide counseling services related to the event. Staff members can help by supporting the counselors with helping them organize materials and providing additional help in the office. <- Expect a flood of phone calls and parents wanting to pop in to help out.
While there are many great teachers that can comfort kids during a crisis, they are not trained as first responders.
Crisis team members should be responsible for planning all activities and services provided by the district. We had too many things going on that students weren’t given much down time to process the loss and the multitude of activities made it impossible for students to get back to their normal routine.
Many students use school as a way to get away from the tough stuff. Prolonging memorial activities makes it difficult to “escape” through their school work.
Provide support for both current and past students. Make sure grief support is available (for students and staff) at all of the buildings in the district.
I get a flash from my own elementary school memories. I can remember gazing up at the impressively dressed firefighter who towered above me and my floor-sitting cronies. I consumed all sorts of descriptive details about his death-defying feats and physically demanding routines. He was my hero, and it was awesome.
That career day presentation was working, right? Well, somewhat. Something about that day was working. This hero-type figure helped me understand that being a firefighter was the ultimate realization of my far off adulthood. But there was one problem: I was about 3 feet and 10 years short of being a strong applicant for any firefighting school.
I wonder what would happen if we shifted the career day focus away from job descriptions?
What if, instead, the presenters who visit elementary schools talk about the character traits that got them into their chosen careers?
With this new curiosity, I set out on the web to find career day lessons that focused on early life skills and connected those skills to later careers. I was sad to discover very few. Now, full disclosure. I work for a character education program called The NED Show, whose mission is to promote academic achievement through character development. Over the last three years, our resource team has created tons of free resources that teachers and school counselors download and use from the web.
We’ve especially concentrated on the traits that live within our “N.E.D.” acronym: Never give up, Encourage others, and Do your best. With the support of my organization behind me, I set out to create career resources that infused character lessons. The result: 3 free career day video lessons.
Focusing on concepts like the importance of practice and the rewards of hard work, I identified professionals who achieved their dream jobs because of their character traits. The three videos are now complete, include Common Core aligned lesson plans, and are freely available for anyone to use:
Career focus: Artist, Game animator, Mathematician, Game ‘analyst’
Skills & Character Traits: Positive attitude. Striving for excellence. Patience. Practice. Never giving up. Perseverance. Rewards of hard work.
I encourage you to play a video and use its lesson plan! Perhaps select one that will uniquely appeal to your students.
If you do show a video, I’d love to hear how your students reacted to the ‘character skills’ approach to a career day lesson. Simply comment below, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet @thenedshow.
The day will come for students to learn all sorts of details about particular jobs. Yet as long as they sit at miniature desks, I personally think we should explain big picture concepts like life skills. That way, in the future, students will be ready and motivated to chase their dream careers.