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?

17 thoughts on “3 Important Tips for New School Counselors

  1. Vanessa, I am going into my seventh year as a school counselor and I am in 2 elementary schools! You hit the nail on the head with the 3 most important things for a new or any school counselor!! I am the only counselor at both schools and doing these 3 things is imperative to being successful!! Thank you for posting this for all new school counselors! I had to learn this by trial by fire!! Great advice!! Keep up the fantastic posts!!! I look forward to reading them!!

  2. Hi Vanessa, I am a new counselor. Thank you for the wonderful tips. I was wondering how would I find out about the dates of important events (ex. red ribbion week)? Thank you for all you do and please don’t stop.


    • Hi, Sonya!
      Thank you for your comment.

      Red Ribbon Week catalogs begin coming in the mail for me at school near the end of the year. The new dates are across the front. If I’m ever unsure, I just do a Google search. This year’s dates are October 23-31. It is usually the last full week of October. You’ll also want to remember National School Counseling Week. It will be February 4-8 in 2013. You can always find that information on the ASCA website at http://schoolcounselor.org. It’s always the first week in February each year. Your school district will keep you abreast of any additional dates of importance. I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any additional questions. I’m glad to help!

      ETA: Mix It Up day is on October 30 this year. You can visit http://www.tolerance.org/mix-it-up/what-is-mix to learn more.

  3. Hi Vanessa!

    Great post! We have three new school counselors in our district this year (1 high school and 2 elementary.) I will definitely pass this on – and will suggest they put your blog in their Pulse or Reader!

    Maybe you could pass on to Sonya that Mix It Up Day is October 30. I always find that it takes a bit more planning time and they’ve made the date earlier than it used to be.

    Have a great day!

    • Thank you for mentioning Mix It Up Day, Rebecca. Thanks also for passing this post on to any new school counselors. I appreciate it!

  4. I am also a new counselor at our intermediate school. I love your ideas. I am open to any ideas and suggestions! Thank you for being such a great resource!

  5. Hi Vanessa!
    Thank you so much for your posts and blog. Quick question, the page for sample action plans on the ASCA website says that it “doesn’t exist.” Do you have more ideas as to where I can find good sample action plans? Thank you much.


    • You’re right, Kristina. It looks like they’ve removed the page about content since I wrote this post. This page still comes up in Google, but once you click- it still says it doesn’t exist. I’m sure it’s because of the updated National Model having been released. If this is the case, we may all be waiting to see samples. I’ve searched and haven’t found any samples yet. I did find a link about the changes and will add it to this post. There is a new small group action plan which has been added.

      Thanks for letting me know about the link so I can adjust my post.

  6. Hello,

    I am graduating with my Masters in Urban Education – School Counseling May 2013! I appreciate these tips. I have a few questions I would like to ask as far as obtaining a position as a counselor. E-mail me if you have the time.

    Thank you

  7. Thanks for the tips! I am starting my first year as a school guidance counselor this 2013/2014 school year and I am so excited.

  8. I am so nervous to be starting my first year as a School Counselor! I have been doing a lot of research and revisiting of learned information while in my School counseling program. Thanks for your helpful tips!

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