Welcome to Time Management Tips for School Counselors! The first installment in my new blog series for new school counselors (and seasoned veterans looking for a fresh idea or two). It is my hope that this blog series will save you time and frustration!
Time management for school counselors is essential, but it’s also a bit of an oxymoron. Let’s face it…our jobs are never completely “finished,” yet we only have a set amount of time with our kiddos.
It’s all too easy to feel like you’re constantly behind the 8 ball and that what we do is just “never enough.”
Be careful not to let the lack of time to do everything steals the joy out of the best J-O-B in the world.
Okay, so the Moonstruck smack down might be a bit extreme. However, I will admit that this scene plays through my head many times throughout the day. But I digress…
I can’t promise that the feeling of being behind the 8 ball will ever go away, but understanding that it’s the nature of the beast and keeping the tips below in mind will help you from feeling like you are just spinning your wheels.
#1 Start Small
Your job isn’t to fill your predecessor’s boots. They had years to build up their program. Trying to hop into someone else’s program and run it full steam ahead will more than likely not work out very well.
There is a lot to learn when you’re new and you’ll need to allow yourself some “adjustment time.”
Building relationships should be your number one priority…not running the food pantry, clothing drive, charity auction, and the like.
#2 Identify the Basics
Undoubtedly, there will be successful parts of the counseling program you will want to keep.
Being new gives you a wonderful opportunity to trim some of the fat and streamline your program. The sooner you do this the better. As a newbie, you are in the unique position to get feedback from teachers and staff that doesn’t reflect on you specifically.
Think about it for a moment…when you are new, teachers will have to go off of what the last counselor did. They will be much more willing to open up and tell you how they really feel and share what type of services they would like to see.
I HIGHLY recommend conducting a survey (you can check out one of mine here or conduct a paper pencil one like the one I made based on ASCA’s Behaviors and Mindsets…teacher and parent versions are in my School Counseling Binder on TPT).
Another option is to send a friendly email. It is definitely more informal and harder to quantify, but it can convey a sense of being approachable.
Not sure what to write…perhaps something like this:
Hello and thank you for your warm welcome! I’m excited to get my counseling program up and running. As I look at meeting the needs of our students, I would like to know what you felt worked best in the past.
***Be careful not to make promises or to appear that you are promising anything.***
Speak with your principal directly about what they liked and didn’t like.
While you are the trained School Counselor, they are your boss and life is A LOT easier when you have their green light.
#3 Add Something New Each Year
This is a direct quote from my school counseling internship mentor. She was a firm believer in “do what you do well.”
You will have plenty of time in your career to bedazzle everyone with all the cool school-wide programs and activities you found on Pinterest. But let’s be real…nobody is going to be bedazzled if you’re running around like a chicken with your head cut off.
#4 Use Data to Drive Your Program
We’ve all heard how important it is to use data to drive your program. And there is good reason.
Time is finite, but yet there is always something else we can do. Data is that fun-loving 4-letter word that can really be a sanity saver…I swear!
As the only counselor for 3 buildings and 1,500+ kiddos, it’s how I decide just about every flexible minute I have. It makes every minute count and I feel better knowing that I was able to give the most comprehensive coverage possible.
When I started, one of my principals really wanted me to have counseling groups. She knew I would be able to serve larger amounts of kids in groups and she wanted me to have them ASAP. She also really liked the idea of “friendship groups.”
Eager to please, I got some friendship activities together along with the names of students from teachers and I was up and running…or so I thought.
After a few weeks it became clear that although we had great conversations during our groups, my students’ social skill set varied greatly. The differences in my friendship group fell into two subgroups: a) kids who sabotage friendships & b) kids who need a boost in confidence and social skill practice.
The kids enjoyed their time during my group, but I felt like it wasn’t the best use of time since I was focusing on “friendship” in general.
Flash Forward to Present Day
Now I choose all the activities I do with my groups based on the data I get from the social skills checklist I have teachers or parents complete before I start my groups. (Keep in mind that you should aid parents in completing the checklist when needed.)
This is a good practice for many reasons, but in sticking with time management…if someone ever questions you why you are doing “X” you can point to the data.
Unfortunately, you’ll run into teachers and administrators that feel that since you’re not tied to a classroom that somehow you ought to be able to fit whatever it is they need into your schedule and they will call into question how you use your time.
This typically happens when teachers and principals aren’t aware of “why you do what you do”…plan your time based on data and you’ll be golden!
#5 Don’t Let the Squeaky Wheel Get the Grease
I’m always open to suggestions and feedback but to be honest, I’ve lost count of how many suggestions I’ve gotten for my counseling program.
Stay open to new ideas and pursue those that are supported by data, but whatever you do don’t let someone talk you into taking on their pet project…this includes seeing individual students too!
If your school functions on an RTI framework, seeing a student individually is a Tier III intervention. This means that school and classroom interventions have already been implemented and progress monitored or the child is in immediate distress.
A teacher is commenting that they have 3 behavior kids that you need to see regularly, but none of them have a behavior plan.
If the problem isn’t big enough for the teacher to bother with a behavior plan, then how can I justify taking time away from my kids that are on a behavior plan.
In this type of situation, I will typically meet with the teacher to target specific behaviors, set up progress monitoring, and develop a few mini-lessons for a mini-group (20-30 minute lessons for 4 sessions). After which time, we meet again to check progress monitoring and find the best course of action.
Teachers need our help and may not know how to go about progress monitoring. Offer to meet with them to hear more about their specific concerns. Work with them by walking them through the RTI steps. Once they know the process the requests you get will be driven by a quantifiable need and not a gut feeling.
Boundaries are very important in time management. You can read more about The Art of Saying No here.
#6 Help Others to Help Themselves
Think of yourself as a coach or consultant with the goal of helping teachers be as successful as possible.
Set up resource centers for parents and teachers so they can help themselves instead of going through you.
You don’t have to personally be the one to hand out a list of tutors…nor many other things that can just as easily be shared on your school website in the family resources section in the school’s library.
Empower teachers to find interventions on their own by sharing great resources, like Intervention Central. Just keep in mind that not everyone is tech savvy and might need a bit more help.
Helping a teacher create a behavior plan, but giving them the original to make copies. (Yes, teachers may assume that you will be supplying them with copies.)
Check in periodically to check the student’s progress and make a correction to the behavior plan together and give the teacher strategies to use in the classroom.
#7 Honor Your Time
You’re walking down the hallway and a teacher wants to give you a quick update.
You’re working on your 504 documentation and a parent pops in your office for a quick chat.
An aide stops by the teacher’s lounge to give you a heads up about an issue at recess.
5 minutes here, 5 minutes there might not seem like that big of a deal. After all, we want to be available right?
I don’t know about you, but I’m not able to keep up with random information being thrown at me at the spur of the moment.
I know myself and eventually something will fall through the cracks. It may not seem like it at the moment…but it will happen. Something will be missed, forgotten, misplaced, etc. It’s a gut-wrenching feeling when it happens.
Ultimately, we are responsible once someone tells us information or asks us to help them in some way. I liken it to playing a game of tag. Someone comes by, tells you something…tag…you’re it. Now you have to take time from what you were already doing at least to decide what you’ll do with this new information.
This “start/stop/think about it/start again” way of operation is extremely inefficient.
Here are a few things I do to manage the inflow of information:
Keep referral forms in my mailbox for students and adults.
Whenever someone stops me to “give me a kid” to help…I hear them out (if it’s in a private area) and then ask them to follow-up with either a referral in my mailbox or if they could email me their concern. (We only use student initials in email due to FERPA and the Freedom of Information Act.)
At first, one of my admins thought this was a bit off-putting. But after I showed her the amount of random updates and requests I received it made sense to have some type of standard procedure. (Another example of how data can save your sanity!)
Monthly email inviting teachers to meet with me in person.
This simple step is helpful in several different ways:
- Reduces the need to “grab you” when they see you
- Keeps you in frequent contact with your teachers…pretty hard to for someone to say that you haven’t been available to help them if you’re emailing them every month to ask if they need help!
- Helps to find issues before they get too big.
- Holds teachers accountable for identifying concerns before they get too big.
- You’re able to find “hot spots” or priority situations and plan ahead of time and not react to the situation after the fact.
- It shows that you are actively trying to support teachers
Weekly check-ins with my principals
My principals are at the top of the priority list and for good reason! Make sure that your admins are aware of how you are spending your time and that you are taking care of any issues they have identified.
Principals can literally make or break your career. Keep them in the loop and if anyone calls how you manage your time into question they will go to bat for you…keep them out of the loop and you’ll find yourself in the hot seat.
Keep a notebook handy when possible.
I’m fairly techy, but I still rely on good ol’ paper and pen to create a to-do list.
It never fails…a few teachers ask me about a kiddo or a project right before/after the staff meeting. My handy notebook lets me jot it down for when I’m able to make time to follow-up!
#8 Keep Perspective -> You’re Only 1 Person!
Repeat after me, “I am only one person.”
You can’t possibly do it all. Don’t beat yourself up when you can’t.
Many moons ago I interned with Protective Services in Genesee County. The county serves Flint, Michigan, a city that has been at the top of violent crime and murder per capita for decades.
As I sat at my desk with my first case file, yet to be opened, I thought, “Can I handle this?” and “How can I fix this?” But when I opened that first file, something came over me. It was a calm, yet empowering feeling that reassured me that even though I can’t fix what I’m working on, I can make it a little bit better.
Flash Forward to Present Day
It’s almost 20 years later and I still define my success in that I can make anything a little bit better…even if it’s just sharing a laugh or giving a kiddo who hasn’t had anything to eat a granola bar so they can focus on school work instead of their growling tummy.
#9 Perfection is a Myth
If you worry about getting it all right, you’ll become too paralyzed to get anything done.
Most of what I use daily, I learned on the job and a good majority of that was through trial and error. A little more error than I would care to admit at times but that’s how we learn and grow. Embrace it.
Perfection is a myth. Do your best with a glad heart. Allow yourself to take risks and make mistakes. Like my mom used to always say:
“It’s not a mistake unless you don’t learn from it.”
Besides, how can we expect our kiddos to accept themselves for who they are if we aren’t willing to love ourselves (warts and all)?
#10 Admin Support
I can’t stress the importance of getting your administration and principal support. The more people know about what you do, they more valuable your time will be to everyone.
Meet with your principal(s) often. Even if you don’t face-to-face meeting, make sure they know what you are up to and how you are supporting the kids, parents, and staff. A few minutes a week can pay off big time.
Speaking from experience, principals are the ones that will fight to keep your counseling position if your district should ever find themselves in financial trouble. They are the ones that advocate for your counseling budget and resources at the district level. As I mentioned above, if they know everything you are doing they won’t want to go without you and they will become your biggest advocate when push comes to shove.
So what do you think? Do you use the same time management strategies? I would love to hear your questions or what works for you in the comments below.
Looking for tips about a specific topic related to school counseling? Share what topics you would like for me to cover in this series in the comments bellow!
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