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?