Back-to-school season has always been an exciting time for me. Now that I am a school counselor, the beginning of the school year is even better. Sure, there is still the excitement of a new year filled with possibilities, but as a school counselor the beginning of the year is more about setting my counseling program up for success throughout the year.
I have seen a few questions on Facebook about what new school counselors should do to prepare for the year…I’ve even seen a few asking about what multi-building counselors should do. While there are similarities between the two, working in multiple buildings brings its own set of challenges.
The following is a list of activities that I use, as a multi-building counselor, to help mold my elementary counseling program throughout the school year.
1. Meet with Principals to Discuss Goals and Priorities. While this list is in no particular order, meeting with your principal(s) should be close to the top of your things to do. Ultimately, you need your principal’s support. It can make or break you (literally). If you can show that your professional goals line up with the needs of the school/administrator, you will be better able to advocate for your counseling program down the road.
2. Staff Needs Assessment: Use Google Docs to create a quick and easy staff survey. I use the results of the staff needs assessment to determine classroom guidance lesson topics and resources for my teachers. (You can read about my staff needs assessment here.)
3. Parent Needs Assessment: Use Google Docs to create a survey and include the link in the back-to-school newsletter, your website, or create a QR code and include it on your school counseling brochure.
4. Student Needs Assessment: Do students know who you are? Do they know how to get ahold of you? What percentage of your students would like to learn about stopping bullying, friendships, or study skills? Understanding the needs of your population helps save time and resources and creates greater buy-in.
5. 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 MEAP the first three weeks of October. Since I am the testing coordinator for each of my buildings, 75%-85% of my time from mid-September to the end of October is devoted to MEAP activities. Fun, huh?
6. Major 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 the Christmas play.
7. Awareness Campaigns: Check out this great post by Danielle over at The School Counselor blog for a list of where to find information about various awareness campaigns. You can also download a list from the ASCA here.
8. Review 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. Prepare for Open House: Set up a table or bulletin board with information for parents. Be sure to include information about you and your counseling program!
10. Create a School Counseling Brochure: 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. (You can check out my brochure and a free elementary counseling brochure here.)
11. Update School Counseling Website: Take advantage of your school website. Provide parents with links to helpful articles and resources as well as information about your counseling program.
12. Meet New Teachers: I recommend introducing yourself to new teachers BEFORE school starts. A quick, “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. Email is the best way to reach me.”
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…My local Chamber of Commerce donated city maps and some little trinkets that I use for my new student groups!
14. Update Your Referral List: 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. Make sure all of your referral resources are up to date.
15. Review Previous Student Roster: Identify high-needs students and schedule a time to meet with them the first few weeks of school.
16. Send a Letter to Parents: Send out welcome back letters to the parents of the students you were working with in the spring. Invite them to contact you if they have current concerns. (You can see an example of my letter here.)
17. Create a Counselor Binder: Class lists, school calendar, technology log-in info, community resource list, release of information, parent communication log, etc…whatever you find yourself reaching for again and again should go into your counselor binder.
18. Develop an Organization System for Activities: 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 of, make copies, and file them away close by.
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 it in the future. However, it’s much easier to organize and plan your counseling services when you don’t have to work around stuff you don’t even use.
20. Decorate Your Office with 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.
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