The first few weeks of school is critical for school counselors for setting up their school counseling program.
Luckily, there are several things we can do to ensure a smooth transition into the school year. In addition, you will be able to reap the benefits of the tips below throughout the school year.
So, without further delay here are my tips for setting yourself up for a productive and effective school year:
Check In On Caseload Kids & Their Parents
Don’t wait for an issue to pop up before seeing your students. Getting a little “face time” and building on positive interactions is a great way to kick off the year!
I aim to meet with each of my “frequent fliers” ASAP. This means I start reaching out on the 1st day.
The RTI model helps me determine how I check in with each of my students. For most of my kids, I try and meet up with them in natural social situations, like before school, lunch, and of course recess!
I engage all students around me so kids don’t feel singled out…(Think of this as Tier 1 all students). All students are greeted and welcomed back to school. I ask students what they’ve been up to and all that good stuff (read hugs, high fives, fist pumps, and well wishes for the best school year ever!)
I make sure to engage the students from my caseload. (Tier 2 – Selected students – more supportive – brief)
I ask them directly how their summer was and what they have been up to. I end our quick chat by reminding them that I’m here if they need me and then I ask them to explain how they can get ahold of me. This gives us a little bit more time to catch up and reconnect.
I’m very careful to direct my kiddos to save personal stuff for when we are alone and then I make a note to check on them. Literally, in Evernote. If I don’t write something down, it won’t get done.
Side Note: After my classroom introductions I will only see self-referral students if they fill out a form to see me. It sounds a bit meanie pants as I write it, but trust me there is a lot of rationale behind it…namely self-advocacy and documentation.
I save private counseling check-ins for my Tier 3 students. These are kids who I see on a regular basis or have a behavior plan. Kids that I saw on a regular basis.
I save a ton of time by sending out welcome back letters to parents all parents and save my phone calls for my Tier 3 and behavior plan kids.
Gather & Distribute School Supplies
Get with your teachers to determine the needs of their students. It’s a good idea to let them know what type of supplies are available or that you will do your best to meet their requests. You don’t want teachers to view it as a wishlist, so it’s good to be clear.
Ask your teachers what they need in total. You don’t need to know that Johnny has everything except for crayons, Bryce only has two folders, and Janelle needs folders and crayons. You only need to know how many boxes of crayons, folders, and backpacks are needed.
Classroom teachers can help you distribute the items discreetly. Pulling kids out of class and sending them back with stuff (no matter what) causes undue attention. Delegating distribution to the teachers will save you time, but can also strengthen the relationship between the student-teacher relationship. Now that’s WIN-WIN!
Schedule your school counselor introductions within the first few weeks of school. Students should have a good understanding of what you do, how you can help, and how they can get ahold of you.
Your intro should vary by grade level. Kinders and 1st graders just need a simple intro, while older kids will need to learn more about when and how they should seek your help.
Confidentiality should be covered at ALL levels in simple terms -> What you say to me stays private. I don’t tell anyone what you say to me unless you or someone else could get hurt. This includes if someone is hurting you, if you are going to hurt someone else, or if you are going to hurt yourself.
Schedule time to meet with new teachers. This can be done in a group format if you have more than one newbie. Always follow up with an offer to meet with them individually after the first meeting. Questions or concerns might pop up and you want to establish open communication and make sure they understand what you provide in your counseling program.
Don’t take for granted that teachers know what a school counselor does! School counseling gigs can vary greatly between school districts…heck, sometimes there are huge differences in services and expectations between buildings in the SAME district.
Monthly parent meetings, like Doughnuts with Dads, Muffins with Moms, and Coffee with the Counselor are great.
Helpful Tip: If funds are low, ask local businesses if they would like to sponsor a month. Many businesses would be happy to donate $50. Be sure to check with your principal. Schools usually have some type of policy or procedure regarding handling monetary donations.
Conduct New Student Groups
Typically, new students don’t know other kids when they start a new school and it’s all too easy for them to mistakenly think that they are all alone in their experience. A dedicated group of new students helps break the ice with other kids in the same situation while allowing you to orient them to student life and how to reach you.
Click on the image below for easy ways to welcome your new students!
School Counseling Needs Assessment Surveys
I conduct my parent needs assessment surveys during parent-teacher conferences.
First, I send a link home in the classroom and school newsletters before conferences. This tends to get a good response, but it’s important to remember that everyone doesn’t have internet access and some parents will overlook the newsletters, not get to it, etc.
After I send the link out I set hard copies outside of classrooms with a manilla envelope for completed surveys. I then
bribe teachers with chocolate to ask teachers to remind parents to fill one out before they leave.
You can increase parent participation by creating a QR code and putting it on 1/2 sheets for teachers to pass out. Teachers give parents the (brightly colored) 1/2 sheet and encourage them to fill it out online or the paper version available outside of the classroom.
I give my teacher needs assessment before school starts via Google Forms survey. Give teachers a few days, but be sure to set a deadline so you get all of your information in a timely fashion (without having to chase them down).
Since I cover a ton of kids, I set up the student survey for 3rd-5th-grade students on Google for them to complete while they are in the computer lab with their teacher.
Now, it would be fabulous if I could be there and all that…but with 1,500 students it’s just not practical.
The results of your surveys should drive your program. PERIOD.
You have a limited amount of time and resources, which is why you need to be mindful of making the biggest impact. Pet projects and services that aren’t supported by the data need to be trimmed from your program.
If your principal or administrator isn’t keen on letting go of programming, start small and redevelop your program over time. Once they start to see your success they will be more likely to move forward with future changes.
I have a ton of forms in my school counseling binder and forms bundle to get you organized and keep you on track!
Set Up a School Counseling Advisory Council
Setting up a school counseling advisory council is a fantastic way to build relationships with stakeholders and increase buy-in for your program (it’s also part of the American School Counseling Association’s RAMP rubric).
My blogging buddy Jeannie, over at Exploring School Counseling, does a fabulous job breaking down how to set up your own school counseling advisory council in no time.
Advertise Your Program: Establish What Your Program Provides and How to Access Your Services
People need to know about your program before they can ask you for help. Don’t assume that people, whether it’s students, teachers, or parents, know who you are and how you can help.
I have found that there is a lot of confusion about what a school counselor does/should do. You can save yourself a lot of time and frustration by clearly identifying the services you provide.
You should really pump up your school counseling program promotional efforts if you get a lot of requests for individual therapy or other tasks that aren’t school counselor related.
Refresh Available Resources (Coat & Boot Drive)
In addition to community organizations like the Old News Boys, a charitable organization that provides coats and shoes, I like to run a coat & boot drive in October/November.
I have the best results when I enlist my PTO to help me with this project. If your PTO is game, delegate as much as you can to help free up your time. Typically, parents love these types of projects and will be more than happy to help.