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!

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





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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. 






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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?).


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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:




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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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40+ Games, Mixers, & Ice Breakers That Your Students Will Love

I have spent so much time working with high schoolers and middle schoolers over the years. I've been a camp counselor, a school counselor, a Young Life leader, and a church small group leader... not to mention just a fun person who likes playing games (ha!). Through all of these, I've kept an ongoing list of games I've collected, made up, and made work for me and my groups... and I'd encourage you to do the same. 

My "Games, Mixers, and Ice Breakers Pack" has more than 40 games on 17 pages. I've played ALL of them before. I've tweaked things to make them work better for me in different settings, with different amounts of students, or with limited materials. 

This resource is divided into a few categories:

1- Mixers (Games That Involve Everyone) That Require Materials
2- Mixers (Games That Involve Everyone) That DO NOT Require Materials
3- Games (A Few People Are Involved -- perhaps up in front of the group) That Require Materials

Here is one of my favorite mixers that is I made up and is SUCH a crowd favorite with students and included in this resource:
Party Hats: Each player wears a party hat and holds a rolled up sheet of computer paper. Object is to hit players’ hats off their heads. Everyone runs around like chaos to be the last one standing.


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4 Things I Pack in My Crisis Bucket

I hate that I even have to have a crisis bucket. But when I saw Simply Imperfect Counselor's post on Instagram and her blog of her "Grief Tub," I knew I needed one on my shelf a long time ago.

Since I've been at my school, I have encountered too many student deaths. (ANY is too many- let's be real.) Unfortunately and fortunately, we have a pretty solid crisis plan that works well for us at our school.

In my crisis bucket, I have:
1- 2 boxes of tissues
2- a few sweet and salty snacks
3- 2 packs of colorful Papermate Flair pens
4- the crisis plan for our school printed out, so any school counselor can take the lead on the day if needed

This is how I use these items: 
1 and 2- Self explanatory. We have these wherever we are doing grief counseling. We also grab some bottles of water or a pitcher and fill it with water and have cups in the room where we station ourselves. When we huddle with our team, we decide where we are going to be stationed for the day to welcome students to talk. When students walk in, we have them sign a sheet with their name saying they were there. This way, we can follow back up with individual counseling or know names to invite to a grief small group if necessary.

3- Our school librarian prints a giant poster for the student who has died saying the student's name at the top. Sometimes it has a yearbook picture of the student if that is available. We make this poster available in our lobby, in our conference room, or in a secluded room that we are doing more intense grief counseling. Students use the nice, Papermate flair pens to sign the poster. We also use these pens for students to write letters to the family or their friends if they want. When an administrator or counselor visit the family or attend the funeral, we bring this with us.

4- My crisis plan includes what to do if you are notified of a student death OUTSIDE of the school day and a second for what to do if you are notified of a student death DURING the school day. Your school may choose to do things differently, or you may already have a great plan in place... this is just what seems to work for us.

CLICK HERE to download my school's crisis plan along with the printable you see on the top of my bucket.






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Why I Love Coffee with the Counselors

Once a quarter, we host "Coffee with the Counselors" for our parents. Maybe we could have thought of a more creative name for this, but let's just call it what it is... We pick up coffee and doughnuts and have an interactive, conversational morning with parents of all grade levels.

We offer social/emotional topics that they're not going to find at an evening open house, parent info night, curriculum night, or a PTSA meeting. We've found that quarterly hosting doesn't wear us out too much, and we always have parents show up.

It's always a small setting. Usually 5-25 parents come to hear about the topics we or a guest speaker present on. Our main ways we advertise the event are email, text message, phone blast, and social media.

If I go back in the archives, I can share with you most all of the topics we've ever done. We are always open to suggestions from parents or staff, but we've found that most people "don't know what they don't know" and often have trouble pinpointing what specifically they'd like to hear about!

  • Teen Mental Health (a pretty general presentation by our school counselors)
  • Growing Independent Young Adults (presented by our school counselors)
  • Parents as Allies: Recognizing Early Onset Mental Health Illness in Children and Adolescents (presented by our local NAMI chapter)
  • Commerce 101: Navigating the College and Career Landscape (presented by a regional workforce advisor)
  • How to Communicate with Your Teen (presented by a local LPC, our school's former school mental health counselor)
  • Trends in School Safety and Q&A with the School Resource Officer

I love that parents feel supported here. I think every time we finish it up, parents feel like "hey, I'm not the only one" dealing with this issue or need help relating to my teenager in this way. Parents share anecdotes and experiences, connect with one another, chat informally with school counselors, and actually learn something they can take away. 

Do you host something like this at your school? What topics have been helpful or most popular for your parents?


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3 Reasons You Need to Start a School Counseling Advisory Council

Each year, our 3 advisory councils prove to be one of my most favorite parts of our comprehensive school counseling program. It's definitely easier to make excuses than like "Doesn't my School Improvement Council or PTSA count as our advisory council, too?" NO! You want real input from real stakeholders who can help you actually make real improvements for your program. If I haven't convinced you yet, here are 3 reasons I think you should start a school counseling advisory council. 

1- People want to be a part of something that inspires change for the better.
I don't know how others do it, but, in my department, we are very strategic about who we invite to be a part of our advisory council. We try to double dip people's roles. For example: if there is a mom of a student, AND they work as a school counselor at our feeder middle school... BONUS POINTS! We want as many perspectives and voices in the room as possible while still keeping the crowd manageable. Some ideas for people you could probably think of off the top of your head-- someone who... you think already contributes to your program, you want more representation from in your program, does not understand the role of a school counselor, has great ideas worth sharing out... the list goes on. We believe all of these people have unique contributions because they view our program from different perspectives. It is worth being vulnerable and putting yourself and your program out there to hear feedback for better or for worse. I know they have felt their suggestions heard as we have directly implemented some of them. Every person we invited accepted our invitation. Before each meeting, we send an email invite.

Specifically, these are some examples of people we have had on our high school advisory council committee over the past few years:

  • a student from each grade level (uniquely picked for their background, school involvement, career center or Fine Arts Center interests... we want a diverse representation of our student body)
  • a few teachers from some different departments (ones who weren't over committed to committees already- we chose a Special Ed teacher, a teacher of seniors, and a brand new teacher)
  • our local two year college admissions representative
  • an administrator (who voiced being new to truly working with school counselors)
  • a parent from each grade level (one was a teacher at a feeder elementary school, one was a school counselor at a feeder middle school, one was a volunteer at the school, and one was simply a parent)
  • our school counselor from our connecting career center (she's also a school counselor there)
  • our district Director of School Counseling
  • a community member or business partner (we had a graduate who was out of college and now working for a non-profit in the community that works with teenagers) 
  • plus, of course, all of the school counselors in our department (that's 7 of us!) 

2- Stakeholders' perspectives of your program will change. 
Do you feel like a lot of your job is information management? How do we make sure people are hearing the information we're putting out? If you have the right stakeholders around your table, they are going to take your mission and spread it farther than even you can. I love the idea that people walk away more informed about your program than when they started. If you have an administrator who barely knows what you do all day, INVITE THEM. If you have a parent who thinks you don't offer something unique that their child needs, INVITE THEM. At an Advisory Council Meeting, you get to share all of the innovative things you are doing in your school setting. Data can be extremely compelling among this crowd. This is your chance to summarize what you plan to do or what you've been doing... and then show it off! 

3- Constructive criticism will challenge you to be empathetic. 
Feedback can be tough... but EMBRACE IT. Do the thing we're trying to teach our students- put yourself in someone else's shoes. Does the stakeholder not feel informed about what your program is doing? Well then... why is that? You will not improve without removing your blinders to see your own weak spots. Let others speak honestly without getting defensive for your actions. Be open to hear suggestions even if you've "always done it that way." 



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