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Questions For and Answers From a High School Counselor: Part 2

Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Here is round 2 of my Questions and Answers for a High School Counselor Round Up! Here is a compilation of questions and answers to/from a high school counselor from other school counselors. This post covers topics like advice for first year high school counselors, general organization, and planning your day. 

What tips or advice do you wish you would have known as a first year high school counselor?
I wrote a blog post called Dear New School Counselor which wasn't necessarily to high school counselors... just new school counselors in general. A few bits of advice though:
  • Be patient: You may want to save the world or change your complete school counseling program, but you'll have to give that some time. Scope it out and see which way is up. It will take a while to change things for the better!
  • Ask questions: Don't stop doing this. 8 years in, and I ask questions everyday. I want and need to get better. I consult with fellow counselors all the time. You think you've heard it all, and then something new comes up!
  • Get to know the teachers in your building: Building relationships with your staff is key. It will help you get to know students and families better, it will let you get your foot in the door for classroom lessons (especially if this hasn't been the norm before), and it will give your teachers a positive perception of your school counseling program. They will support you and what you are doing for students if they know you, if they know your program, and if you they trust you!
How do you stay organized with schedules, 504s, etc?
I am the farthest from a Type A organized person! I am quite the opposite of the organized school counselor. My desk is always a mess, but I (mostly) always know where everything is. I work up until the last minute, and things that are happening next on my calendar take precedence from something that's much farther out that requires planning later. When I'm collaborating with someone else on my team, I have to be aware that this is the way I work because this really bothers some Type A planner people. I am fine doing presentations on the fly, not rehearsing things, and "winging it." All that to say... I have to try extra hard to stay organized with all of these things. 

When I'm working on creating and changing schedules, I have a big binder of printed schedules with handwritten notes on them. If I have important correspondence from parents or students via email regarding these things, I file them in an email folder, and I print it out and put it in a folder for that student if I think I'll need to quickly reference this later when a student comes in for a schedule change. I'm not afraid of deleting emails or throwing away papers when needed. I am all about less clutter and less paper. 

In terms of 504 organization, I address this in another question in Questions and Answers for a High School Counselor: Part 1. My system may not work for everyone, but I love having everything digital. I look at this spreadsheet A LOT. 

The "etc." from this question may entail some other things like to-do lists and calendars... which I keep all digital. I love Trello, and I'm just recently getting into Airtable which is like Excel or Google Sheets on steroids. (Both of these are free.) I have Google Sheets for everything in my job. Also, for classroom lessons and small groups, I keep folders or baskets of everything I need for these things already printed out and ready to go, so that I don't even have to think when it's time to run these things. I just grab them and run into the small group or classroom lesson (because, most likely, I won't even have time to breathe before this sneaks up on me)! That gives me no excuse for being unprepared or flustered before one of these!

Questions For and Answers From a High School Counselor: Part 1

I recently opened up a Q&A on my Instagram stories where followers asked questions about a "day in the life of a high school counselor." I figured I'd do a round up of those questions and answers right here! Here is a round up of questions and answers to/from a high school counselor from other school counselors. This post covers topics like college and career readiness, 504 plan organization, and the management of tough parents. 

What are some of your favorite college and career ready resources?
To be honest, I create a lot of my own college and career activities and resources as I've seen a need to fill with my own students. As our school has used Naviance, we really took advantage of those college search tools and career assessments there. I like College Board's college search called "Big Future." I also encourage a lot of our district's work-based learning and internship opportunities that they make available to students. 

How do you partner with middle school counselors (for registration, etc.)?
Since our counseling team is divided by alphabet, we assign some big roles and tasks... like middle school counseling liaison, and that actually was not me. However, these are some of the things that that counselor/our department helps with: 
  • We host all of the middle school counselors from our main feeder schools for doughnuts and coffee and go through the registration timeline and talk through electives and describe certain classes for them. This helps bring clarity to anything they have questions about and make the registration process and transition smoother for everyone involved!
  • I feel like I know our middle school counselors decently well (or at least 1 or 2 at each of our main feeder schools). I call them to ask questions about specific students they may have relationships with, families they have worked with, or just situational consulting!

A Case for Not Checking Work Email at Home

Monday, July 27, 2020
I recently stirred up some good conversation with some school counselors about checking email at home which, to me, includes checking it on a computer or phone. I, personally, took work email off of my phone about 2 years into being a school counselor, and I've never looked back. 

Let's address the elephant in the room. School counselors are natural helpers. Disconnecting is hard, and it goes against our grain to turn our backs on our students and families even when we're not AT work. However, my biggest argument for not checking email during off-time is for YOUR own sanity and mental health! We are the ones teaching our students that they need to care for themselves before they can care for others. We tell them to fill their bucket, so they can fill others' buckets. We need to practice what we preach and take care of ourselves emotionally and mentally, and this includes leaving work at work. (I don't know about you, but I am on the same contract time as teachers. I am not contracted to work in the summer. If I do not take a break for myself in the summer, I don't get emotionally recharged, and it's like the school year never ends!)

A Day in the Life of a High School Counselor

Sunday, June 21, 2020
People are always asking... what does a day in the life of a high school counselor look like? Hopefully I can shed some light for the new counselors, the interns, the people thinking about career changes, the grad school students, the counselors at elementary and middle school levels thinking about making the jump to a high school.

A high school counselor's day-to-day looks different during different seasons during the year,  depending on how your department divides up caseloads, and depending on initiatives for your district and state, of course. After years of being only in the high school setting, I've come to appreciate the familiarities of the rhythms and the challenge of improving our programming and refining our SMART goals for these each year through trial and error.

Every single day is different which is what I love most about this career. I've realized adaptability is key in this job... or at least being OKAY with things changing on the fly. At any moment, my day might look completely different than my calendar or my to-do list predicted the day may look like.


How to Hold a Productive School Counseling Department Planning Day

Sunday, June 14, 2020
*This post contains affiliate links for your convenience. View my disclosure policy here.*

During our prep week, our school counseling department gets off campus together. Our principal has always seen the value in this planning retreat for us (they do one themselves), and we have developed this into a yearly practice ever since the year we worked on our RAMP application off-campus. We have found a TON of value in doing this off-campus to prevent interruptions. Even if you're hidden in a room at your school with a DO NOT DISTURB sign on your door, be warned: YOU WILL BE DISTURBED. We have held this "retreat" in a variety of locations: the public library (reserve a study room with a giant marker board for brainstorming), a co-work space that a friend lent to us, and a team member's newly renovated kitchen table. Anything goes. We make sure we take a break and go out to lunch together to break up the day and spend some time together NOT focused on work for a few minutes.