3 Important Tips for New School Counselors

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I remember the excitement and the butterflies I felt as a new school counselor eight years ago.  I had just come out of the classroom after thirteen years and was fortunate enough to get hired as the school counselor at a brand new school.  I applied for my job as a graduate student and was able to have a paid internship.  Although it was a challenge,  I learned a lot and had loads of support in the end.

Now having completed eight years as well as having had a school counseling intern, I know exactly what I would say to the new school counselor.  If you are about to embark upon your very first year of school counseling, I’m sure you are spending lots of time looking for resources, ideas, and thinking about how to plan your year.  I wanted to take this time to tell you what I believe to be three important things you should remember as you begin the new school year..

Know Your Support Staff

Get to know your school social worker, school psychologist, school nurse, and data manager. In my school district, the data manager is the only one of the four who works at the school everyday.  The others come on select days throughout the school week. The five of us form our school’s attendance committee and meet monthly to discuss any attendance issues at our school.  We work together to establish incentives for student attendance and divide tasks among the group in order to get things done.  I always collaborate with our school social worker when I’m dealing with a sensitive student issue whether she is at our school that day or not.  (I have her on speed dial!)  The school psychologist is a great resource when dealing with behavior concerns and for developing a behavior intervention plan when needed.  The school nurse is especially helpful when determining calls I may need to make to Child Protective Services as she can help assess a marking or bruise on a child.  The data manager keeps all of the attendance records and gives me the data I need throughout the school year.  Because I am the only counselor at my school, it is wonderful to know I have these support personnel to work with, bounce my thoughts off of, and to assist me when I need a second opinion.   Be sure to get to know your support staff well!

Communicate Effectively With Administration

Always make sure you are keeping your Principal and Assistant Principal(s) in the loop regarding very sensitive student issues.  If you have to make a call to Child Protective Services, let your Principal know what is going on.  If an angry parent shows up a week later, your principal will not be in the dark.  If an administrator asks you to see a child for a particular reason, always follow up either in person or by email letting the administrator know you’ve seen the student and what you’ve done or plan to do to assist him or her.  If you frequently send emails to teachers to keep them informed about a school-wide program or a school counseling program, “Cc” your administrators in the email.   This will keep them informed and aware of the wonderful programs you are implementing at your school.

Create a General Plan for the Year

As you are learning about your new position during the school year, you will become more knowledgeable about the specific needs of your school.  Communication with teachers, parents, and students will assist you with program planning.  Designing your program around the needs of your school is important.  If you are not at a new school, ask about any data that could be of use to your program such as previous office referrals or low attendance data.  Knowing the areas of concern for your school can help you take a proactive stance in your program.  Our school is a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports school, and we use a data system called SWIS (School-Wide Information System).  Before leaving for the summer, I got a copy of all the SWIS data regarding this past school year’s discipline referrals to assist me with planning for the coming year.  Make a general year-at-a-glance schedule listing what you plan to do knowing it could change as you discover the specific needs of your school.

Don’t stress!  You’ll do just fine.  You can’t go wrong with your ASCA National Model plan in place.  While you’ve got time this summer, read up on what the plan includes, and do some preparation now.  This can include developing your mission and vision statements as well as looking through some sample action plans in order to come up with some ideas for your own plan. (ETA on 7/28:  I’ve recently learned the content page which included sample actions plans has been removed.  I can only guess the reason is due to the release of the third edition which includes some changes.  You can read about the changes here.  I still advise being proactive in regards to thinking about your plan for the coming school year.  I know my school district does a wonderful job of sharing samples from our district in order to assist us.  Be sure to ask your counseling and student services department about this.)

Stick around!  You can follow Savvy School Counselor with free email updates.  As always, I’d love to hear from you.  What questions do you have as a new school counselor?

Teaching Children About Self-Expression

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I recently found an adorable book about self-expression called Unique Monique written by Maria Rousaki.  I’m sure you have an idea of why Monique is unique just by looking at the cover.  However, her large, red glasses are not her only way of expressing herself!

Monique attends a school where everyone wears a uniform.  Everyday she must wear her blue top and brown skirt. She wants to be different, so each day she looks for a way to express her uniqueness from painting her nails to carrying a big fancy bag.  Sadly, all of her ideas are prohibited by the school principal.

Interestingly enough, every idea Monique comes up with is quickly embraced by her school mates.  They always return to school the next day repeating the same actions as Monique had done the day before.

It finally ends with Monique displaying her uniqueness in a way her principal could do nothing about!  You’ll have to read the story to find out how!

This book can be used to lead into a discussion about how we are all special and have unique qualities.  Shy or withdrawn students can benefit from a discussion like this as they work to develop positive attitudes toward themselves as unique and worthy people. Monique expressed herself in a variety of ways.  Like Monique, we all have gifts inside to share with others.

I looked in one of my favorite resources, Turn the Page for Play Therapy Activities, for an activity to tie into this discussion.  In order to assist shy or withdrawn students with “coming out of their shells,” it is important to help them realize the strengths that lie within them.  This great resource, by Dr. Michele Neace Page and Dr. Joy Wilson, has an activity called “What’s the Prize Inside?”   This would be a great small group activity.  Each student is given 5-6 plastic eggs, drawing paper, and a small basket.  You can make paper baskets out of paper bags or find some at the dollar tree.

The students will place “prizes” in each of their eggs.  The “prizes” are examples of their own special qualities.  They can cut pictures from magazines or draw their own pictures to illustrate their special qualities.  Each picture will go inside of an egg.  The students can then decide which “prize” they want to share with the group.

I love that this great resource is aligned with the ASCA standards.  Each activity lists the specific standards that are addressed.  It also comes with a CD which includes all of the reproducible pages from the book.

Of course if you don’t have any plastic eggs on hand, you can always have your students make foldables! (I love a foldable!)

I made this foldable with four flaps.  Since the “prizes inside” are like their special gifts to others, your students can decorate the outside of each flap to look like a gift.  Inside each flap, they can glue pictures from magazines or draw the pictures of each gift.  You can create a school counselor sample to share with students.  Behind one flap, glue a picture of an ear because one of your gifts to your students is to be a good listener.  Another flap can have a bandage because your job is to help children heal.

No matter how you choose to use Unique Monique, it will be a hit with your students.  This book also lends itself to a discussion about being who you are- even within a group.  You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing just to fit in.  Be yourself!

Stick around!  You can follow Savvy School Counselor with free email updates.  As always, I’d love to hear from you!  Tell me about books you use to teach self-expression.

National Boards: 5 “Must Do’s” for Entry 4

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This post focuses on five important things to remember for Entry 4- Documented Accomplishments: Contributions to Student Learning.  If you haven’t already read my previous National Boards posts, you can find them all linked on my page- National Boards.

Entry 4 Must Do’s:

  1. DO incorporate the four standards associated with this entry into your writing.  It’s similar to when we tell students who are answering questions about a passage they’ve read to prove their answers.  I can write a wonderful two-page summary about an accomplishment.  However, if it doesn’t address the four standards, that wonderful writing won’t garner the points I need for my final score.  For example: If my accomplishment is about a great family event I coordinate at my school, I would really need to focus on Standard VII: Collaboration with Family and Community.  As I read this standard, I learn that accomplished school counselors “work to educate parents on key issues that affect student learning.”  Therefore, I need to write about how my event did just that.  Let me be clear.  Each accomplishment does not have to address ALL four standards, but at some point each of the four standards associated with this entry should be addressed.
  2. DO choose accomplishments that are of significance to your school counseling program.  I mentioned in a previous post that you may think of several accomplishments you could use, but not every accomplishment will lend itself to helping you show how what you do truly impacts your students or improves your school counseling program.  Be sure to use the categories chart pictured here.  If you have a difficult time completing the chart regarding one of your accomplishments, that accomplishment may be one you should reconsider using.
  3. DO submit enough accomplishments to thoroughly demonstrate your work as a leader and/or collaborator, a learner, and as a partner with students’ families and their community.  I’ve been asked questions about the number of accomplishments to submit.  It is important to show your work in each of these areas.  Yes, you may have an accomplishment that covers two of these areas.  However, if you do, be sure you are supplying enough evidence in your writing and with your artifacts.  Also remember, you can only submit ten typed pages of writing for this entry whether you choose to submit three accomplishments or the eight which are allowed.  My opinion- More isn’t always better in this case.
  4. DO describe your accomplishments in detail.  Write as if you are telling someone who has no clue as to what you are talking about.  For example:  If one of your accomplishments involves PBIS, begin discussing it by saying Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports followed by (PBIS).  From that point forward, you may type PBIS.  Also, be sure to explain just what it is.  Remember: Write as though this person knows nothing about it!
  5. DO read the “Format Specifications” and “Assembling Your Entry” sections for this entry very carefully. Each entry has it’s own set of directions.  Never assume what you had to do in Entry 1 will apply to Entry 3.  Read, highlight, and follow the directions as written.
I also want to include a chart I created from a portion of a form that was given to me during an informational session.  I don’t know who created it, and I take no credit for it.  It helps NBPTS candidates think about their description and analysis.   The original is on a triangle.  I will explain why.


The top of the triangle included the key words for describing the nature of the accomplishment.  It should not be a very large portion of your writing, but should be very concise.  Remember to describe the accomplishment as if the assessor knows NOTHING, but don’t take one half to a whole page doing it.


The second tier is a little meatier.  You really want to get your point across when it comes to describing the significance of your accomplishment.  Not as much as you will tell about the impact of it, but a lot more than you told about the nature of it.


The third tier is the largest.  The most important point you want to drive home is how your accomplishment impacts student learning.  This is where you need to cite specific examples where appropriate.  Paint a picture for your assessor.  The assessor needs to truly understand how your accomplishment really made a difference.

The form also included “buzz words” for each section.  These words helped me think about what to say for each area.  If these are something you feel would benefit you, don’t hesitate to email me through my contact page and request them.

If there are any additional Entry 4 questions you would like for me to address, please leave a comment below.  I will use any questions from you to create my next NBPTS post.  However, if  there aren’t many questions and I can simply reply with an answer under this post, I will do that. If there are few or no questions, I will be moving on to other areas of the NBPTS process.

Stick around!  You can follow Savvy School Counselor with free email updates.  Also, be sure to enter the “Simon’s Hook Giveaway” before tomorrow, July 8th, at 11:59 P.M. E.S.T.

Guest Blogger for The Corner on Character

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I am so excited to be a guest blogger today for The Corner on Character!

Please click the button below to check out my blog post

“Making a Difference.”

A BIG thank you to Barbara Gruener for inviting me to The Corner.

I am honored to have been asked!



Thanks for stopping by today!  Be sure to enter the Simon’s Hook Giveaway before

11:59 P.M. EST on Sunday, July 8th.

How School Counselors Can Build Student Vocabulary

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Did you know building academic vocabulary increases student achievement?  Of course you did!  School counselors play a key role in vocabulary development.  We discuss vocabulary all the time in our classroom guidance lessons, but how can we take it a step further?

Several years ago, I received this great deck of cards already prepared for my use. The deck of cards contains a variety of character descriptions in addition to words that describe feelings.  The words on my cards are geared more toward upper elementary grades.  They are definitely appropriate for middle school students as well.  Of course the activities in this post can be adapted for lower grades also by using words suitable for younger students.  Using these cards is a great way to build vocabulary which can be very helpful for students when end-of-grade testing time rolls around.

To make them, you’ll need a pack of one hundred 3 x 5 index cards in multiple colors. On each card, you will write words that describe a person’s character or how a person might feel.

Click here to view and print a list of words to use.

How You Can Use Your Deck of Cards

  • Categorizing– This activity can help you check for prior knowledge of the vocabulary at the beginning of the school year.  Number twenty of the cards on the back anywhere from 1-20. (These words are in bold on the PDF document.)  First, place those twenty cards on different desks and/or tables throughout the room.  Next, divide the remaining cards in the deck among small groups of 2-4 students  until they are all given away. Then, each group will decide which desk or table each of their words best fit.  For example-  Your group goes to the first table or desk and you see the word “unfriendly.”  Your group has the following words: lazy, thankful, clever, harsh, scared, silly, impolite, and active.  Your groups decides that an unfriendly person can be “harsh” or “impolite.”  Your group leaves those two cards on that desk and move on the the next desk and vocabulary word.  After the students have categorized their cards, you can use a couple of the vocabulary sets for discussion.  During this time, you will get an idea of which vocabulary words the students really need to learn more about.  This will help you with the next activity.
  • Vocabulary Building–  Use the cards to help build student vocabulary during your guidance lessons.  Each time you visit a class for guidance, bring 2-3 word cards to share and discuss with your students.  Even as school counselors, we can assist teachers with increasing the vocabulary knowledge of students   As a former classroom teacher and as a parent, I’ve learned that many times not understanding the vocabulary causes a student to choose an incorrect answer.  These words often describe the main character’s feelings or traits they have displayed throughout the passage.  Therefore, adding a few vocabulary words to your guidance lessons can’t hurt, right?  In order to build vocabulary, we have to infuse it in all subject areas.  That includes guidance!
  • Role Playing–  This would be great to do near the end of the school year after you’ve infused these vocabulary words into your guidance lessons.  Divide students into groups of three or four.  Give each student a card.  Have the group create a short skit where each student acts out the trait or feeling on the card during the performance.  The remaining students will try to guess which trait or feeling words the group used.  In this case, it would be great to have a word bank for students to refer to.  

Use activities such as these to really play an active part in the vocabulary enrichment of the students at your school.

Stick around!  You can follow Savvy School Counselor with free email updates. I would really love to hear some other ideas on how to use this deck of character cards as well as additional words you would include.  Tell me what you think!  Leave a comment below.

Simon’s Hook Giveaway!

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If you’ve read my post Don’t Bite the Hook, you already know that Simon’s Hook by Karen Gedig Burnett is one of my favorites to share with students when it comes to teaching them how to handle being teased.  If you’re not familiar with this great book, check out my previous post to learn more.  It is a great book to add to your school counseling library!

There will be one winner selected to win this prize.  I will contact the winner by email to request the mailing address where he or she would like their new book sent.  I will order it and have it delivered directly to the winner.  You may enter this contest by using the Rafflecopter widget below this post.  There are several ways to enter.  You will receive three entries for subscribing for email updates.   Two entries are given for liking Savvy School Counselor on Facebook or pinning this giveaway on Pinterest.  One entry is given for following Savvy School Counselor on Twitter and one for liking this post on Facebook.  

Enter to win before 11:59 P.M. EST on Sunday, July 8th.  If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.  Thanks for participating!

Congratulations to my Savvy Giveaway winner:  Deirdre N.!
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