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.

My day usually begins checking in with other counselors in my department, and I usually try to stand outside our lobby as students are coming in in the morning to say "HEY!" and be visible to them. Then, I head into my office to check emails, return voicemails, and see if there are any surprises for the day. I check my calendar to see what I have planned, check my to-do list to see what needs to get done, and check what is coming up on the horizon that I can be planning for. To keep the joy in my job, I really aim for 80% of my day to be taken up by direct interactions with students and families and maybe only 20% indirect services (as ASCA recommends).

I try to schedule seeing students when they are in elective classes or in the hallways if it's not about something super confidential or it is something quick. I may be checking in with individual students about grades (I'll run a failure report to see where everyone stands on a given day or after a grading period), following up with students after a previous individual counseling session, or touching base with a student based on a referral from a teacher, administrator, or parent. Depending on the time of year, I may be running a specific small group (like my Stress Management Small Group or First Generation Small Group) or training my Student Ambassadors. As a high school counselor working with all grade levels, there is post-secondary planning... I love this! This is how I meet with my seniors every fall. Our school counseling program makes it a priority to be in classrooms doing lessons each semester for ALL students! We do classroom lessons on mindfulness and stress management, classroom community, communication, and soft skills.

Our department officially starts back about a week before teachers get back in the building. This gives us some quiet time to get back in the groove without being interrupted by meetings and drop-ins. During this week, we are spending a lot of our time scheduling new enrollments. During this prep week, we think about what we need to present to teachers and admin for the year about our roles, and we always return to this Back to School Presentation. I usually take down an old bulletin board, and hang up a new bulletin board or two like this Hidden Gems Bulletin Board or the On Point Bulletin Board to introduce our school counselors.

During our prep week, we get off campus as a department. Read my blog post about How We Plan a Productive School Counseling Department Planning Day. This has been VITAL for our team's chemistry and our plan for the school year.

At the end of the school year, while teachers are cleaning out their rooms and daydreaming of summer plans, we are closing out a lot of tasks and still have a few more weeks to work. (In my district, our contracts are the same as teachers', but we work a little bit longer.) We are printing report cards, retaining students, signing students up for credit recovery courses that they failed, signing students up for last minute summer virtual classes, sending seniors' final transcripts, starting to work on next year's schedules, and then planning a bit for the next school year. 

After I've finished all of my very school-focused type things to close out the school year, I shift gears and open up my big binder of printed schedules for next school year. I spend about 2 weeks challenging myself to work quickly and efficiently to make the best class schedules for my students. Our district computer systems shut down for a roll over for about two weeks where we couldn't work even if we wanted to (oh shucks!). Our offices are open in the summer on select days for enrollment, and usually a clerk and/or a counselor are there helping with that.

There can be A LOT of immediate responsiveness and chaos in the day of a high school counselor, but there should be a good mix of planning and control overall to ensure SMART program goals are being met throughout the year and our students are ALL being served through our comprehensive school counseling program.