Advice for the First Year School Counselor

Whether you are a first year counselor, someone who is starting a counseling job at a new school or a seasoned school counselor who has been at it for years, there is a always a lot to learn. Here are some tips that everyone can use:

  • Focus on being a guide…not a hero. You can’t save the world but you can make a difference a little bit at at time. Instead teach the kid to be heroes in their own life story. You will be doing both of you a favor. It will make your job more manageable AND it will teach kids coping skills for the future.
  • Focus on prevention more than crisis and putting out fires. You will be called on to put out fires and of course you will respond but use it as a teaching moment to teach students how to handle difficult times and to teach the other adults in the school how to do the amazing things that you do. Help others realize the resources that they have within themselves to solve problems. Otherwise, you will burnout because you can’t do it all. You can’t be everywhere at once and you can’t fulfill everyone’s needs.
  • Get good at setting boundaries in all the areas of your life. This means setting boundaries with students, teachers and parents. Set times for them to talk to you, and do not respond to texts/emails outside of that time frame. This is establishing clear boundaries between work and personal life. It’s not selfish. It’s giving the students (and adults as well) a good role model for how we all should live.
  • Practice self-care. I bet you went into counseling because you sincerely want to help others. Make sure you also take time to help yourself so that you can help others. Make sure to take time for lunch and for all your physiological needs (using the restroom, drinking water, stretching your body, taking a break yourself after a highly escalated situation). Teachers get plan times, you do not. Create your own plan times. Check in with yourself HOURLY. We always ask students if there is anything that their body needs – do the same for yourself.
  • Identify your support system: You and other counselors, psychologists, social workers are the only individuals in the building who bring a unique perspective and understanding of child development and behavior. Develop opportunities to communicate and collaborate on student concerns. Honor your ability and know-how. Schools will naturally focus most on academics but you know what is best for students emotionally and socially. Oftentimes you will need to push to have a seat at the table to advocate for mental wellness. You can do it – and the more you do it, the more you will be included. Develop workable systems and practices among your cohorts for student interaction since students thrive on consistent approaches.
  • Develop an intentional relationship with administration: Take the time to learn policies and procedures already in place regarding your job. Discover deadlines and  get a calendar of yearly events. Ask for a regular meeting to discuss concerns and advocate for your perspective. Keep in mind that while communication is your strong suit… not so for everyone else. You may need to take the initiative. Many administrators see counselors as an extension of their job and will assign administrative tasks. While you can’t always say no to everything, educate them on the value you bring through student, parent and teacher interactions and where administrative tasks prevents this.
  • Develop an intentional relationship with teachers: Some teachers will welcome you to their classrooms and lean on you for behavior management. Others will be more reluctant and either run a DIY classroom or just not understand the benefit you bring. Take the time to develop a relationship by asking how you can help and educating them on the benefits you can provide to students.
  • Get to know support staff: the front office, custodians, the school nurse. Collaborate with them often. Secretaries can have a lot of insight on family situations. Also check in with the nurse often – a lot of times emotional dysregulation can show up as physical distress for students.
  • Get involved in opportunities outside the scope of your school: If your district has an active counseling department, get to know other counselors at other schools and attend meeting/trainings. Get involved in state and national organizations. It is easy to get lost in the culture of just your school but broadening your perspective will also teach new strategies and increase your effectiveness.

What other suggestions do you have for a successful productive year?









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