The beginning of the school year is an exciting time for school counseling interns. With all of the excitement of learning new things and getting your first taste of the best job in the world, it’s all too easy to miss out on resume padding experiences.
Ultimately, you should try to gain as many experiences as possible. Even if you prefer a certain population or a certain modality (group/individual) be careful not to limit your experience.
I have created the following list of experiences to help you make the most out of your internship.
Show Up Early: Sure school may start at 7:35, but if you’re coming through the door with students there is a chance you are arriving late. Most teachers and counselors are required to show up for work at least 15 minutes before students arrive. Promptness will never be overrated by educators, but tardiness is frowned upon BIG TIME. (Tip: Promptness is VERY important when conducting class lessons and group sessions!)
Stay Late: You only have a set amount of hours before your internship will be over. Maximize your time by giving it all you got! Educators spend a lot of their own personal time preparing for lessons and learning new things.
Arriving early every day may be a bit much, but if you stay late (even 30 minutes) a few times a week it will show that you are serious.
***If you have children, communicate with your mentor about your schedule. Offer to complete work at home if you cannot stay late. I started my internship with a two-year-old and a five-month-old (and one in the oven)…Not for the faint of heart, but it can be done.
Keep a Counseling Intern Binder: You need to have one spot to put all of the wonderful information you will learn (and create). It may seem like you will remember…trust me, write it down and keep it in one place. I wish I would have…
Counseling Intern Binder Contents (Make sure you include anything you create as well!:
Inquiry/Question Notebook: Write down every question you have about school counseling. Leave enough room to write a response. This is an awesome way to reflect on your learning experience.
Summary of Resources: Try to note every resource that you or your mentor uses. Write a sentence or two about how it’s used. When you internship is done you will have a valuable resource if you make this a habit. I use Good Reads to catalog my book collection. They have an app that scans the bar code and allows you to create virtual bookshelves!
Schedule of the Year: It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day. Don’t let deadlines creep up on you. Use the school’s schedule along with your academic requirements to make sure you have fulfilled your internship obligations on time.
School Statistics: Get familiar with your student population and school performance record. How does the information relate to what you know about high-risk populations and achievement gaps?
Procedures for Reporting Possible Abuse/Neglect: The State of Michigan will only accept first hand reports of suspected abuse or neglect. Your counseling mentor cannot report for you, nor can you report for a teacher or staff member. You (along with your mentor) may also need to inform teachers and “concerned family members” that school counselors are not able to report second-hand information. Always provide those people with the information to make the report themselves.
Ask Your Mentor How to Navigate School Politics: Yikes! This one is tricky…each school has its own political structure. I have worked in 11 buildings (in some fashion or another) and each one had its own rhythm of how things get done.
Volunteer: Volunteer for at least one extra activity…PTO event, chaperoning the dance, setting up for the play…this can actually be a lot of fun!
Join Committees: Schools have oodles of committees. Joining a committee shows that you want to be part of the team and puts you in a great position to advocate for your school counseling program.
School Counseling Program Experiences
Individual Sessions: Building rapport, goal planning, intervention, process, progress monitoring, closure.
Try to have a few of “your own kids” on your caseload if possible. Take good notes and use this time to reflect during supervision with your mentor.
Group Sessions: Try to participate in as many groups as possible, better yet run as many group sessions as possible (and as many topics as possible).
Classroom Guidance Lessons: The more, the better! Classroom management is mastered through practice. Try presenting in as many different grade levels possible on as many topics as possible.
Attendance/Truancy Program: Attendance is a major predictor in school success/completion. School participation or lack thereof, impacts social, emotional, and behavioral functioning in academic performance.
Collaborate with Teachers: Keep your ear to the ground for any opportunity to work with classroom teachers. Creating and presenting a hygiene lesson to middle school boys, was certainly eye opening…but it came in handy during my interview when they asked me what experience I have had with teaching students about hygiene.
Collaborate with Administrators: Principals are usually big on ideas but short on staff. Principals want to hire problem solvers…solving one of their problems puts you on their radar (they are usually really busy) and it will give them something to write about in their letter of recommendation.
Collect Pre/Post Data: Accountability is key. Advocating for the need and effectiveness of school counseling services.
Use Data to Identify a Need: Needs assessments, attendance, behavior referrals, suspensions, work habits (as graded on report cards), and standardized test results can be used to drive counseling programs.
Create Programming to Meet the Need: After reviewing your school’s data, work with your mentor to identify a need and then create some type of program to meet the need. This can be a lesson, group curriculum, or parent presentation.
Develop and Present a Class Lesson: Chances are you will create countless presentations as a school counselor. There is a big difference between delivering a previously tested lesson plan and an untested lesson plan.
Develop and Deliver Group Curriculum: Meeting the needs of a small group is a vital skill…no two groups are alike and chances are you will continuously tweak your group curriculum to meet the specific needs of your group.
Create a Behavior Plan: The top 5% of my student population are on some type of behavior plan. Behavior plans can vary greatly. Work with the student, parents, and teacher if possible when creating and implementing the behavior plan.
Progress Monitor the Behavior Plan: Review behavior plans periodically to see if what you are doing is working or if you need to try an additional intervention. Progress monitoring can take place weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly depending on the needs of the student.
Create a Handout or Informational Resource for Parents: Parents will come to us for information about every topic under the sun. Show that you can meet their needs with a tip sheet or attractive brochure.
Create a Handout or Informational Resource for Teachers/Staff: Specific topics pop up from time to time. Teachers will need information to deal with hot topics: grief, divorce, incarceration, deployment, etc.
Participate in Student Achievement Activities: Show how a school counselor can help boost academic achievement. Study skills, test taking skills, goal setting, etc.
Test Preparation: YUCK is the four letter word I have given to test prep. Last year was my first “building coordinator” assignment for MEAP. I was the coordinator for three buildings. I wasn’t able to see kids for 90% of six weeks. There are so many productive activities a counselor could be performing instead of counting out testing packets and the other clerical duties that come along with standardized testing. Even though test prep is my least favorite activity, most counselors have some involvement in standardized testing and the chances are likely that it will come up during an interview.
Educational Planning Activities (K-12): Education Development Planning (EDP’s as they are known in Michigan) will come up during your interview. Learn how EDP’s work at the elementary and secondary level. Special Education Individual Education Plans (IEP’s) provide wonderful experience as well. The responsibilities a counselor has regarding IEP’s varies greatly from school to school; the more experience you are able to get, the better!
Documentation: How does your mentor document sessions, groups, meetings, consultations, and follow-up? Stay on top of paperwork. If you think you will get to it later, later never comes…something else does. Trust me! Save at least 10 minutes a day to take care of paperwork.
Office Organization: How does your mentor store supplies, lesson plans, and resources? While an office may seem straightforward, there is usually a rationale behind why things are arranged things the way they are.
Before You Go
Closure for Students: Don’t just leave. Some students have abandonment and/or self-esteem issues that may be complicated if they have formed a relationship with you.
Letter of Recommendation: Try to get a letter of recommendation from your mentor, an administrator, and at least two teachers. Having a variety of letters of recommendation will show your ability to work with and meet the needs of a variety of stakeholders.
Mock Interview: Have your mentor (or possibly administrator) ask you interview questions. Practice makes perfect and it helps reduce jitters!
Exit Interviews: Meet with your mentor and admin after you have received your final evaluation. Ask questions that you may have but may have been too intimidated to ask during your interview. Be candid about asking what types of qualities that they look for in a counselor and what they look for in an interview.
Recommendations for Improvement: This is a biggie and it shows that you are a life-long learner. Everyone has something they can work on…no counseling program is perfect. Times change and we must be adaptable. Just think of suggestions as ways you can become even more awesome!
I hope this list of activities for school counseling interns helps you maximize your intern experience. If you aren’t able to get to all of them, don’t freak out…school counselors learn as we go!
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