What school counselors should do before school starts

What School Counselors Should Do Before School Starts

Heather Thomas Back-to-School 32 Comments

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Heather Thomas

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*Updated Post* This post contains affiliate links.

Back-to-school season has always been an exciting time for me. My new school supplies and new schedule seemed like an invitation to endless possibilities.

I’m still a sucker for new office supplies, but as a school counselor we can’t wait for opportunities. We need to make every minute count. As with almost anything else, preparation is key to success.

planning can make or break your year

Make It Manageable

I’m not gonna lie. We do a lot and by a lot…I mean EVERYTHING. Everything that has to do with social, emotional, behavioral development. This is in addition to anything & everything that can get in their way of academic success.

I don’t say that to scare you off, but to set your mind at ease. You see, there is NO WAY we can know everything. So if your stressing about trying to figure it all out, you can stop. I give you permission.

Google & Pinterest are only a few keystrokes away if an issue or topic comes up that leaves you stumped. There is nothing wrong with telling a teacher that you would like a minute to gather some ideas for them. I’ve found that most teachers preferred this more “thoughtful” approach.

Doing the right things now will give you the peace of mind you have been looking for.

Don’t Get Too Fancy

It’s easy to get caught up the comparison game if you follow other school counselors on social media. Their offices and lessons look amazing!

Be wary! The fear of missing out on what “looks” awesome can take you away from the things that you need to do.

Cool bulletin boards you find on Pinterest can eat up some serious man hours. Save the fancy smancy billboards for a parent volunteer. You might even be able to talk a friend or family member to help. Make a day of it…grab some lunch! It’ll be fun AND you’ll have more time to do the superhero level stuff.

Choose Your Tasks Wisely

Speaking of putting first things first, ALWAYS use data for lesson and group planning. I enjoy planning. I get it…there’s tons of cool stuff out there. But unless you have data driving the need for that lesson or group activity, you don’t need it.

So rather than plan for lessons or groups you might not use, do things that WILL impact your year.

#1 Meet with your Principal(s)

While this list is in no particular order, meeting with your principal(s) should be close to the top of your to-do list.

Ultimately, you need your principal’s support. It can make or break you (literally).

Lining up your professional goals with the needs of the school/principal is a smart move. Principals have to fight for their staffing budget and they’ll be much more likely to fight for you when they see you as a key player in their game plan.

Principals LOVE problem solvers. A handout of ASCA standards isn’t going to solve their problem. Your chances of dropping recess duty is greater if you show how that time is better spent providing Tier II group interventions.

Check out Trish Hatch’s book, Data in School Counseling, if data isn’t your favorite four-letter word. She’s the gold standard when it comes to using data to advocate for your position.

  • Teacher Needs Assessment

    Prioritize classroom guidance lessons based on grade-level needs

  • Student Needs Assessment

    Gather data on student experiences & gauge perception of the school climate

  • Family Needs Assessment

    Use data to determine outreach programming and community resource needs

I made 2 videos to help. The first one shows how you can set up your own survey with a few clicks. The second one breaks down each step.

If DIY isn’t your thing, you can hop over to this post and copy my needs assessment straight to your Google Drive.

#5-8 Block Off Important Dates

  • Testing Dates

    Find out if you have test coordinator responsibilities. Standardized testing has a way of taking over a building.  

    In Michigan, we eat, sleep, and breathe M-STEP the 4-5 weeks in early spring. Switching from paper tests to a digital version saved me weeks of work. I still mark the testing blocks in my calendar since I won’t be able to see groups or visit classrooms if they are testing.

  • Special Events

    Some districts (or buildings) have special events that take up time and/or resources. Trust me, it gets pretty chaotic if you conduct your groups on the school stage around the same time as he Christmas play.

  • Awareness Campaign

    You can also download a list from the ASCA here. (They don’t update the list until the fall…so hold tight if it’s not up yet!)

  • Committee Commitments

    Participating on committees is a great way to advocate for your counseling program and participate in your professional community. However, don’t over do it!!! It’s easy to over commit early on. Evaluate your committee commitments to determine which ones you should keep/accept.

#9 Open House Display

Set up a table or bulletin board with information for parents. Be sure to include information about you and your counseling program!

Elementary Counselor Back to School Open House

Head on over to my post here to grab the free printables to make your own!

Elementary School Meet Your School Counselor Poster Free Printable

#10 Create a Brochure

Share the ins & outs of the services you provide:

  • What’s your role as a school counselor?
  • What types of services do you provide?
  • How are students referred for services?
  • What is your schedule and how can parents reach you?

A school counseling brochure is a great way to deliver a lot of important information in one shot.

Editable Counseling Brochure2

Don’t start from scratch…You can download my brochure here and pop in your info.

#11 Create/Update Your Website Page

Take advantage of your school website. Provide parents with links to helpful articles and resources as well as information about your counseling program.

#12 Introduce Yourself to New Teachers

I recommend introducing yourself to new teachers BEFORE school starts.

Keep it brief: “Hello, welcome to our building. I’m the school counselor. I help kids who are struggling with social, emotional, behavioral skills. Here’s my brochure. I would love to talk to you a bit more about what I do when you have more time. Please let me know if you have any questions.”

#13 Community Outreach

Are you familiar with the resources available in your community? Contact your local resource center, United Way, or area organizations and request information. You may be surprised at what you find.

Here’s a few things I found in my area:

Chamber of Commerce donated city maps and some little trinkets that I use for my new student groups!

LIONS  has a wonderful vision and glasses program.

Old Newsboys: Shoes, winter coats, and Christmas support

MI Child: Health insurance for children and expecting mothers

#14 Update Your Referral List

Make sure all of your referral resources are up to-date.

It’s difficult to ask for help; it’s even worse when the place you call or go to is no longer there or providing the service you need.

#15 Review Last Year’s Caseload

Identify high-needs students and schedule a time to meet with them the first few weeks of school.

#16 Send a Welcome Letter

Send out welcome back letters to the families of the students you saw frequently last year.

Invite them to contact you if they have current concerns. Click the image below to read more about my letter.

Welcome Back Letter for school counselors

#17 Create a Counselor Binder

  • Class lists
  • school calendar
  • technology login info
  • community resource list
  • release of information
  • parent communication log

Whatever you find yourself reaching for again and again should go into your counselor binder.

You can pick up my ultimate binder is only $5 throughout the month of August as part of my 5 year blog anniversary!

#18 Develop an Organizational System

How will you organize your guidance lessons, group session plans, and individual counseling activities?

I love Google Drive, but it’s a pain to print as you go all the time. Figure out what you will use the most. Make copies and file them away close by. The less time you spend waiting in line to make copies the better.

#19 Purge As You Go

A lot of us counselors have a habit of collecting things in case we might need them later. If you haven’t used something in the last 2-3 years, there is a really good chance you won’t use it in the future.

It’s much easier to organize and plan your counseling services when you don’t have to work around stuff you don’t use.

#20 Decorate with a Purpose

Try to position similar items close by.

For example: I have my anger management and decision-making posters/resources in one area of my office. This allows me to reduce transition time and reinforce concepts smoothly.

So, how many of these have you already done to get your counseling program ready for the beginning of the school year? Did I leave anything out? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!