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Dear New School Counselor

Dear New School Counselor,

Do you have a job yet? (The question everyone is asking you.) Don't worry if you don't. You might be going from interview to interview wondering where you'll end up. You have so much passion in your heart, but you don't have a lot on your resume. You're beginning to wonder if someone will ever hire you. Your time will come, and you'll find the right fit. Maybe your first job won't even be the right fit... but you'll gain some experience, and you'll better know what you're looking for as time goes on.

Build your support network. Keep in touch with your professors and your grad school friends. They'll be a strong reference point for you -- especially in those first few years when you don't know who else to call. Join some Facebook groups (like the High School Counselor ConnectionCaught in the Middle School Counselors, or the Elementary School Counselor Exchange) to bounce ideas off of other professionals. Reach out to others but know that the best experience will come with time in your own real world experience. Lean in to others who have some experience to offer. You will never know everything there is to know. Keep asking all the questions.

Dear New School Counselor: you are nervous you aren't going to know what to say or what to do. You've been trained for this! You've seen case studies, and you've discussed how to handle situations... but how will you react when it's you on the other side of the desk? You are ready. You'll consult when you need to, but you'll handed the crises as they come. Every day will be different, and you'll adapt... but that's what you'll love about this job! Your daily challenges will not allow you to easily categorize your responses in black and white. It will be unpredictable. You will live in the gray.

You want to save the world, but- take my advice- don't try to do it all at once. You have visions, dreams, and goals for your students and your school. Take inventory of what systems are already in place. Notice what is going well and what needs improvements. Give yourself time to build your model school counseling program. It won't happen overnight. Get the right stakeholders on board, and slowly build your credibility.

Take care of yourself. Some of us personally share our students' burdens more than others... but we all do feel for our students in different ways. You will certainly deal with the harder things like death, grief, and abuse-- it's just a matter of when. You will see students cry regularly, and you will probably cry yourself. Set up your personal boundaries, and care for yourself emotionally and physically. If you don't, you won't last long in this field. It's a long distance race... not a sprint. Do you like to exercise, paint, or read? Find what brings you joy, and pursue that outside of work. Establish these habits early, and chase after them hard.

Dear New School Counselor: pursue your career with confidence and passion. This job never quits. There's always a new problem to be solved and a growing to-do list to be conquered. Your work is so meaningful, and your energy and commitment to students is what is needed in schools. Welcome to the best profession in the world. You're going to love it!

A School Counselor Who's Still Trying to Figure It Out

A High School Counselor's Year in Review

I blinked and this year flew by! I took a minute to exhale as I was reviewing what we accomplished this year in order to present it at our end-of-the-year School Counseling Advisory Council meeting. Though it felt like we, as school counselors, did a lot of the talking at this meeting, I realize it's because we have to be such vocal advocates for our role and the good things we do. (You can find more about why I'm a big fan of advisory councils HERE.)

We were able to take a few minutes and summarize our programming and data for our stakeholders. We will also send it out in an email for those who are a part of our council who were just unable to make it to the meeting. 

I'm going to use this blog post to highlight a couple of things we did this year and link back to past posts. Many of the things we did can also be found highlighted on my Instagram throughout this school year. 

We had our quarterly "Coffee with the Counselors" this year where we hosted 4 different topical social/emotional-type sessions for parents. Sometimes we are the ones speaking, and, other times, we bring in guest speakers. Our goal for this time is to be equipping for their parenting or for their families in general. We offer it in the morning time just to hit a different crowd than our evening sessions focused on academics. We don't have huge, earth shattering attendance, but we do always find it valuable for those who choose to attend. You can read more about the different topics we've covered and "Why I Love Coffee with the Counselors" at our school on a past blog post.

Our "Mindful Generals Day" was our response to an overwhelming student need for more mental health awareness, education, and resources. In our beginning-of-the-year needs assessment, 71% of students responded asking for some sort of help with stress management or self-care. Last year's end-of-year department survey asked for more mental health services. I think it's a topic students are realizing they need more psycho-educational training with, and I think we found a creative and fun way to step into that gap this year with our first ever Mindfulness Day. Check out how we put together a Mindfuless Day at our high school this year! We even put up a new bulletin board for the occasion, and teachers and students loved it: Mindfulness Bulletin Board.

Our small groups are something I'm really proud of. It seems really daunting to be in a high school setting and run small groups. I remember in grad school feeling like high school counselors brushed off small groups... even when I needed it as a part of my experience. I can use the usual excuses like "it's too hard to coordinate," "students don't care about doing that," "teachers won't let me borrow their students" ... OR I can change my mindset and make the time on my calendar to fit a need that the school has and just make it happen. My favorite small group for the last two years has been my First Generation Small Group. It is extremely rewarding for the students AND me. I'm working on getting together some other curriculum for our few other groups. It's been to keep adding to our toolkit over the past few years. It's a huge part of what gives me life as a school counselor! I've seen teachers shift their mindset as they've seen students positively grow and change, and I've seen data compel our administrators to continue affirming our role as school counselors. They want MORE of what we're now doing and less of the menial tasks that I'm not supposed to do anyways!  

For our "Decision Day" this year, I shared an interactive Google Map with our stakeholders. I posted this on our school's Facebook page, sent it out in a Naviance email, broadcasted it on Twitter and Instagram. We celebrate whatever our students' post-secondary plans may be: college, military, or work. College Application Day in the fall and Decision Day in the spring are events mandated by our Commission of Higher Ed, but we have the freedom to do whatever we want programming-wise to celebrate these.

I'm also really proud of the 72 classroom lessons we facilitated this school year. Our caseloads are by alphabet which feels scattered sometimes... but in the category of core curriculum classroom lessons, it feels like you really can multiply yourself as a school counselor without getting burnt out on one thing. One of my favorite lessons is the Soft Skills Lesson we do for seniors teaching them some career etiquette and professionalism. We pen thank you notes and write professional emails. 

As the year comes to a close, I am extremely encouraged when I reflect on the work my school counseling team has done over the past year. We endured the growing pains of shifting to alphabet caseloads, but I think our families are better served because of it. I am confident our programming is student-centered, and we have students at the forefront of our mind as we continue to tweak our services and grow our programming. 

How We Hosted a Mindfulness Day at Our School

Last year, we hosted our first Career Fair ("How to Host a Career Fair Without Losing Your Mind"). As a school counseling department, we decided to try an every-other-year approach with these two events because they require a lot of man-power to organize, facilitate, and successfully pull off. 

This spring, we hosted our first ever Mindfulness Day. (Ours, specifically, was called "Mindful Generals Day" after our school mascot.) We got the idea for this event after our beginning-of-the-year needs assessment overwhelmingly showed our students needed and wanted help with mental health resources; they were stressed and anxious. The goals of this event were to promote positive mental health awareness and encourage positive stress relief strategies. We had almost 900 students come through our gym doors to check out what we had going on. Before the event, we advertised on social media channels, school announcements, and our cafeteria announcement screen. The day before and the day of, we danced in the hall with the silent disco headphones (let me tell you-- that drew in some looks. Have I mentioned I don't mind embarrassing myself in front of students?).

How to Use a Mindfulness Bulletin Board in Your School

Our needs assessment this year showed that our high school students are majorly stressed out (no surprises here). They need help with soft skills like time management, study skills, and stress management. Mindfulness seems like a buzz word in the counseling world, but it's because it's something our students are really needing help with.

I'm always looking to create new, visually appealing bulletin boards for our main hallway. THIS ONE has 8 mindfulness techniques (positive self-talk, guided imagery, journaling, affirmations, desk stretches, progressive muscle relaxation, mindful meditation, breathing techniques) that a student could learn about and immediately practice in their classroom. Each of these coping strategies have cardstock take-aways that students can take out of a pocket and bring back to a classroom with them or bring home with them.

To pair with this, we snagged a few minutes at our monthly faculty meeting to educate teachers on mindfulness, ways they can use some techniques in the classroom, and some of the recent research on it. We showed them that all educators can get a free subscription to Calm.com which has meditations, sleep stories, music, and body relaxations. To get your own subscription using your school email (it's your log in for life-- even if you leave education!), go to calm.com/schools to register. A real life human will approve your request, so it takes a few days.

A couple of my favorite things I've seen come out of this: 
1- I loved seeing a boy pause to read the board, grab a piece of cardstock for "Progressive Muscle Relaxation" and stick it in the side of his backpack, and skitter off quickly.

2- I loved seeing a teacher post the "Affirmations" cardstock in her classroom by the door as students exit. Positive self-talk and affirmations can really change a mindset if practiced regularly!

ASCA had a great January/February 2019 magazine focused on mindfulness and student anxiety. There are helpful tips and tricks for all school levels and the different struggles students have. Log in to the ASCA website to read some helpful journal and magazine articles:

5 Characteristics of A Principal Who Supports School Counselors

(This is written TO school counselors but would be beneficial for both school counselors AND principals to hear/read.)

If you DO already have a good working relationship with your principal, you already know how valuable this is. If you don't, maybe it's something you wish you had. Maybe you're thinking... SURE, that sounds wonderful, but you don't know my administration. I will admit... I think I've had it good for the past 5 years. If you have the opportunity to find a principal to work for who supports school counselors, you've truly found a treasured gem!

I want to let you know 5 characteristics I've noticed of a principal who supports and understands school counselors.

1- The principal makes policy based on appropriate counseling duties.

When we really started pursuing RAMP, our principal started to understand the ASCA National Model and how our time should be best spent. He took testing off of our plate, so that we could and would fill our days with appropriate duties for school counselors. I know our principal has seen this list, and I feel so respected as a professional who is known and heard in this way.

2-  The principal holds school counselors to the high standard they should hold in the school.

This is closely woven into appropriate vs. inappropriate school counseling duties from number 1, but I think there is something more to it. As an unsupported counselor, you may feel strongly to advocate for GETTING RID of things that don't belong to you. BUT- have you thought of really pushing the things you SHOULD be doing? A good principal holds their school counselor accountable to being data driven and proactive. They should want to see your data from your programs, classroom lessons, and small groups. I know there are school counselors who are "old school," who would rather sit behind a closed door and their computer screen. Principals who step up and hold their school counselors accountable to their yearly data-driven SMART goals and uphold their annual agreement will push their school's school counseling program to new heights.

3- The principal makes an effort to call you a "SCHOOL COUNSELOR."

Maybe this is just a thing that I love... but I do. A proper title garners respect. A principal who recognizes that you're not an old school guidance counselor, but you're a 21st century, new age school counselor is one who cares about what your job is. We are called school counselors in announcements at school, on phone blasts home, and at faculty meetings. We got a new sign outside of our offices that says "School Counseling Department" instead of "Guidance Department." Direction comes from the highest school leaders down. When a principal uses the right terminology and sets the example, it can permeate the DNA of the school. Teachers will start to recognize the change and understand the importance. There were small, incremental changes over the past 5 years that got us to where we are... and that came from the direction of a principal who cared to use the correct language.

4- The principal is student-centered.

Between the principal and the student is a school counselor. It is refreshing to work for a principal who cares about students... one who knows their names, who is visible in the hallways. Knows the star athletes and the students who are on the verge of not graduating. Knows the student who just had a baby and knows the first-generation student who got a full ride scholarship to their dream college. I guess what I'm trying to say... is that I love a principal who knows their students well and wants to celebrate with the school counselor. Instead of always focusing on numbers and graduation rates, it's encouraging to work alongside the principal who truly wants the best for students... just like you do as a school counselor!

5- The principal asks "how can I support you?"

Sometimes it's finances, sometimes it's just walking by and saying hello in the mornings. The fact that a boss/higher up humbly asks how to best support you is a game changer. This principal is approachable and available for better or for worse. This person helps you think through tough situations and keeps things confidential when you need them to.

Are there other things you would add to this list? How does your principal best support you as a school counselor?

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