Hi, I'm Rebecca Atkins! I'm a school counselor & central office administrator. On my blog, Counselor Up, I share tips on organizing your comprehensive school counseling program, lesson plans, group ideas, and individual counseling tips. Counselor Up! is a place to share some of the ideas, organizing tools, and planning for a comprehensive school counselor program!
The count down has begun. You know exactly how many days are left in the school year. You can almost feel the sun on your face as you check off your personal to-do list, go to every appointment you don’t have time to make in the school year, and finally catch your breath. There have been many years when I skid into the final days hanging by a thread and hope for the best. But when I’m able, and I really love myself in the fall when this happens, I end the year with intention. So what’s on my list?
You may have seen my end of the year counselor list for staying organized. All of this is important and is usually how I spend my workdays after students have ended the year. Today, I want to talk about the last month or so of school. Here’s where I focus:
Wrap Up with Students I like to check in with students that I’ve seen in second semester and provide some closure for the work that we’ve done. I can remember sitting with a student in the filing room (something was happening in my office?? testing??) and writing out the goals she had accomplished that year, the tools she had learned for emotional regulation, and her continuing goals for the next year. She and I both walked out of that meeting with a sense of accomplishment and she could leave with a written plan to refer to over the summer. I didn’t create anything fancy, we just chatted and I made visual notes.
Check in with Teachers The last month of school is a great time to do a super-quick check in on how things went for the year. Teachers are tired too and I don’t want to overwhelm them. At the same time, their memory might not be so fresh at the beginning of next year. If I’m able, I like to pop into grade level meetings for 5-10 minutes max to ask “what went well this year? What do you think this group of students will need next year? What do you think your upcoming students will need?” I jot down a few notes and that helps me to get an idea of planning that might be needed.
End of the Year Evaluation When I meet with my administrator at the end of the year, I show them my national model results and generally share successes from the year. At the same time, I want to know from my administrator what they see as the most important work for the upcoming year. What are their priorities? Are there shifts we need to make in the counseling program to support the priorities of the school?
Self Reflection I’m the worst at this one! I like to be action oriented and am often frustrated with self reflection activities. During the school year, I keep a running list of items to remember for the upcoming year. I still do this! But it's helpful to really think about what went well, what you would do differently, and what your priorities are for the next year.
One of my favorite end of the year traditions is to wave the buses off. It's a mixture of excitement (summer!) and sadness (hope my babies are OK). What do you do to end the school year with intention? I would love to hear!
Resolving conflicts with others may be life's greatest social emotional skill. Avoiding conflict, seeking conflict, mishandling conflict is tough for many an adult (raises hand). It's especially hard for kids who are also mastering a long list of other social emotional skills like self-regulation, managing strong feelings, and problem solving. Because of this, I've avoided peer mediation. Also, because I'm lazy because here's the thing - peer mediation is hard. It's not easier than handling it yourself. But it is valuable. It empowers your mediators as leaders but it also empowers the students resolving conflict to seek help from peers and to handle this tough thing.
As always, I've tried to include everything you need here to get you started. If you're interested in purchasing the materials ready made, you can find them on my TpT store all nicely organized for you.
Counseling Lessons on Conflict Resolution
Always start with core! We want our peer mediators to be wonderful conflict resolution leaders but that will work best if all students have the skills. In this series, we'll teach 2 classroom lessons on handling emotions and resolving conflict.
Intro feelings - feelings can be big or small. Give students a list of feelings and ask them to rank in order of intensity. For example: bummed, disappointed, mad, angry, furious
Domino Effect - show a cool video of dominos. Explain the concept of "domino effect" - it can seem inevitable, but remove one domino and the whole thing stops. This can happen with emotions too!
Cause and Effect - we each have actions that are related to emotions. For example, you are angry, you might shout; you are sad, you might cry, you are annoyed, you might roll your eyes. Some actions are healthy and some are unhealthy. We might need to use strategies to stop the dominos when we have unhealthy actions related to behavior.
Brainstorm Strategies - ask students to write strategies they use for managing emotions. Collect all post-its. Place posters around the room with different emotions and redistribute (appropriate) post-its to groups of students. Ask them to connect strategies to the feelings that would be the best fit. For example, deep breaths for angry or talk it out for nervous.
Role Play - if you have time, consider a role play to practice different strategies!
In this lesson, I wanted to concentrate on the steps for problem solving that we will use for peer mediation.
Intro: Describe conflict and understand that friends can have conflict and remain friends. Classmates can have conflict and still work together again.
Conflict Resolution: We used these steps for conflict resolution - 1) cool off 2) share & listen 3) brainstorm solutions 4) choose a solution 5) affirm, thank, or forgive
Walk through each step using an example conflict and practice, practice, practice!
Intro peer mediation and ask students to apply if interested
Let the fun begin! When peer mediators are selected, they participate in 3 small group lessons to practice their mediation skills and learn what it means to be a peer mediator. The entire peer mediation process will vary greatly from school to school based on logistics, so I've tried to include some ideas to help you think it through.
Peer Mediation Practice 1 The first practice lesson includes an inclusion activity and introductions. At this time, we establish norms and really work on working as a team. We spend time thinking about the importance of reputation of peer mediators:
What does reputation mean?
Why is reputation important?
What characteristics make a good mediator?
What does confidentiality mean?
Is condifentiality important for peer mediators? Why?
As a culminating activity, we make posters advertising peer mediation to hang when we're ready to start accepting "clients."
Peer Mediation Practice 2 Time to practice! Using the steps of conflict resolution from Lesson 2, we practice peer mediation in groups of three. One person is the role play peer mediator and two people play participants. Each group will have the same scenario for each of three rounds. I created "Let's Resolve our Conflict" table tents to support the process. Following each round, prompt students to give feedback on the role play with sentence starters:
It was really helpful when you __________________.
I was confused when __________________.
An idea to make our session even better is ________________.
In scenario 3, I tried to create a tough situation where the peer mediator may need to seek help from an adult. Some groups won't reach that conclusion but most of the time, at least one group will need help. This is a reason to celebrate! They will need help sometimes and that's OK.
Peer Mediation Practice 3 We're ready for nuts and bolts. For practice 3, we go over the process and expectation for peer mediation. The process for peer mediation is very unique to your setting. Here are some prompts to consider when introducing process to your students:
How will students self-refer to peer mediation?
Can staff members refer students to peer mediation? can administrators choose peer mediation as a result of a discipline referral if both students agree to it?
When will peer mediation take place?
How will you document which students participate and the outcome of their participation?
How long will each peer mediation last?
What is the schedule for peer mediators? Will multiple sessions occur at once or will mediators rotate through one at a time?
Do you plan to use conflict resolution notes (taken by mediators during the session), agreement cards (participants write their agreement as a reminder), post-resolution surveys?
Finally, we spend some more time practicing with mediators thinking up their own scenarios. If you feel like your mediators aren't ready, add more practice sessions until they are!
The Goal of Peer Mediation
I think it's important to consider the goal of peer mediation when reflecting on its success. For a long time, I thought it was supposed to be a time saver for me - that students working with other students would help me to get more conflicts resolved with less time. Yeah, that is definitely not the case. Most of the time, it's the same amount of work but, this time, students are getting more out of it because the goal is really learning to resolve conflicts independently. It's actually not about me, go figure.
As always, I've tried to include everything you need here to get you started. If you're interested in purchasing the materials ready made, you can find them on my TpT store all nicely organized for you.
Not sure if you’ve noticed, but students outnumber teachers in your building. By a lot. Yet, especially in elementary school, we don’t always allow students to take leadership roles and express their voice in the way that school works. I recently had the honor to be invited to a Student Voice team. I love this! It would also be a great club if your school has them.
What is Student Voice Team?
The team includes staff and students who will have conversations about inclusion and acceptance, especially in your building. The team encourages students to share their experiences and ideas about how to make the school a place that everyone can love and learn. Students will learn how to use their voice to work with others in identifying areas of growth, talking about solutions, setting goals, and making changes.
Selecting students will depend on how your team is organized, when it will meet and how many students you can accommodate. I strongly recommend having your team during the school day so that all students have the opportunity to participate. Our team meets for 40 minutes with 4th-5th graders. Some of the students miss a small portion of their instructional time but most of the 40 minutes overlaps lunches and specials. To apply, students can use their voice to inspire others by writing a speech, making a video, or creating a presentation. Mostly, this is about wanting students who are inspired by the opportunity and are going to take it seriously.
Discussion: What were your thoughts or feelings about the article?
Brian says that he lives in a house with his family but has no electricity. How do you think this affects Brian?
What do you think some of Brian’s biggest worries or struggles would be?
If Brian was a friend of yours, what questions would you want to ask him?
What do you think would help Brian feel comfortable and relaxed at school?
If Brian was a student at our school, would he be successful here?
Ideas for action: How can we take what we've learned and make our school more inclusive for all students?
It's been such a pleasure to see the conversations that students have! Other topics to include: Disability, Race, and Bullying.
Next, I'd like to think more about how we can leave time and intention for action. We fill our entire time together with discussion and I'd like to add sessions for action or activities between meetings. Have you ever led a Student Voice Group? What topics did you discuss? I'd love to hear all about it!
Recently, I've been hearing a lot of push back on the idea of Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) as a framework for tiered behavior support. I was kind of curious, because really, if you are implementing MTSS, you aren't far from being a "PBIS school." So I asked around. The biggest complaint? Reinforcers. Lots of people think PBIS and they think tickets/dollars/dojos with school stores and big huge individual reinforcement initiatives.
Guess what? Nobody has time for that. I mean, I guess they do, but I was never up for it. At the schools where I've worked, we've implemented Class Compliments. Just like it sounds, classes can earn compliments for any whole-class behavior that happens outside of their classroom: walking in the halls, time in specials, cafeteria, playground, etc. When the class earns 100 compliments, they earn a reward like pajama day, extra recess, or lunch outside. Easy peasy.
To introduce, we had the counselors and administrators go to each room for a "kick off." We explained the system, gave each class a compliment card, and hyped up the rewards. The compliment cards changed through the years but always had 100 squares/stars/circles that could be colored in when the class returned to the classroom. Anytime the class was out and about, they could earn compliments. To help you out, I've included one at the bottom of this post (may not be visible on mobile).
We also had to hype up the program with our staff. Compliments are only fun if you earn them! We had to get in the habit of saying "Mrs. Atkins, your class is walking so nicely down the hall." We wanted the compliments to be specific to the positive behavior. In specials, classes could earn up to 4 compliments each class. All of the specialists had different procedures for how this was handled. My favorite was to have a compliment for four specific behaviors and give the compliments specifically for those behaviors. For example, cooperating with your classmates.
Over the years we got creative! We had a bulletin board that had a football field. For every 100 compliments, your team player would move to the next yard line. Classes that reached 1000 compliments would have their jersey retired. The jerseys were cut out of poster board, had the class' photo on it and all the students got to sign it. About 4-5 classes out of 41 had their jerseys retired each year so it was a big deal! I sure wish I had a picture of it for you, it was super fun.
How do you support schoolwide behavior at your school? I'd love to hear some new ideas!
Have you ever worked with a classroom of kids who can't agree on anything? Students who are constantly arguing or bickering with one another? How about received 20 social skills referral from the same classroom? If so, you may have wondered how to hit the "start over" button on the year and go back to when the students were first getting to know one another. Alas, we don't have a do-over button so it's time to implement a new core social emotional learning plan for the class. Here are some tips:
Create Community Building Opportunities
The more that students feel connected to each other and their teacher, the more likely they are to buy into classroom norms around how they treat each other. Introduce activities that are fun and engaging while increasing the connection between classmates. This could be during academic instruction but also might include some fun icebreaker activities. One of my favorites is to give students some paper and tape and ask them to build the highest tower possible. There are so many skills embedded in this activity! If relationship skills are low, consider mini-lessons on working together before you start. Continue offering the opportunity for fun, group, engagement to keep that feeling of connection going.
Treat Your Classroom Like a Community
In positive communities, citizens work together, contribute, and have a say in how things are run. Give students jobs that matter so that they know they are contributing, allow students leadership roles, and ask questions about their thoughts and opinions. Think about the best job you've ever had - I bet you felt you were contributing and you had some autonomy.
Honor the Positive
You get more of what you focus on. Pay attention to the good things that your students are doing and comment on how that positivity affects the rest of the class. Students will notice that you are paying attention and (most) will recreate the positive behavior that merited your positive attention. Be specific and call out the positive consequences of their behavior. This also models positive behavior for students. Basically, stop trying to tell them to not say mean things and instead build up their capacity to see the good in each other and to feel like they are a part of the classroom!
Consider Explicit Instruction
It's possible that students are in conflict because they lack the skills they need. If you (or the classroom teacher) are noticing a high number of the same types of incidents, create a plan to explicitly teach the skills they need. I call this "responsive core," core instruction given to all students because of an observation of a skill deficit.
In one classroom I worked with, the students had lost their routines and procedures and it was causing a lot of chaos and disengagement for the class. In response, the teacher and I rearranged the furniture over the weekend and had a pretend "first day of school." The class spent the day learning about processes and procedures again. Amazingly, the loved it and thought it was so fun! In another class I worked with, the students lacked conflict resolution skills. I taught a conflict resolution lesson then created an agreement with the class to follow the conflict resolution steps. It really worked and the kids were able to *more* independently problem solve on their own.
What are your go to tips for helping classrooms that have gotten off-track socially and emotionally? I want to expand my list!
Today I am so happy to welcome Katie, Julia, and Paige to share a series of career exploration lessons for elementary school. These ladies are grad students in my home state and I am thrilled for them to share their work with you. I love seeing our next generation of school counselors ready to make a difference. Amazing work!
Hi! We are Katie James, Julia Jefferson, and Paige Alven, school counselors-in-training at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. As we began our practical experiences at elementary schools this semester, we saw gender stereotypes playing out in the classroom. Many girls wanting to be nurses and ballerinas, and many boys wanting to be police officers and construction workers. Additionally, no students seemed to know about counseling as a profession. When making lesson plans, we searched for resources such as videos, coloring pages, and storybooks that provided examples of gender diversity in career fields. We noticed there was a lack of female representation in career exploration materials for traditionally male-dominated fields and vice-versa. Research has shown that the way in which a child experiences gender-role norms and stereotypes influences how they experience the world, interact with others, and view their future. With children learning about and experiencing gender stereotypes beginning in preschool, we became determined to create resources for elementary school counselors that celebrate both interest and skill no matter the gender.
By providing examples that defy traditional gender roles, the counseling lessons can help challenge gender biases and stereotyping and therefore increase academic and career readiness in all fields for all genders. The lessons align with ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors including increasing the sense of belonging in the school environment and using student’s abilities to their fullest to achieve high-quality results and outcomes. Through the use of counseling lessons in conjunction with academic worksheets, career games, and data, the goal of this campaign is to cultivate gender positivity surrounding career development for school-age children and provide resources that feature counseling as a career option. We created a career exploration toolkit with a variety of relevant resources for school staff including a lesson plan unit on career development and gender positivity that explores career interests, strengths, understanding, and goal setting. Other resources provided in the drive include an example math and literacy worksheet using gender-neutral or gender non-conforming questions involving career choices, in-class games, research and additional references, and poster graphics. Additionally, the Career Bingo game and coloring sheets include representation for counseling as a profession. By embracing this school-wide initiative, teachers, administrators, and other school staff can play a supportive role in each student’s holistic development.
Thank you Katie, Julia, and Paige for sharing your work! Y'all this is 57 pages of lessons, resources, and materials for you. They have done a great job and I know that others will want to use these great tools. I am so impressed with their work and commitment to school counseling. What do you do for career exploration in your school?
I once wanted a job badly. I daydreamed about this job. I couldn't wait to have this job. I went to the interview super confident, too confident, and didn't come prepared enough. In the end, I didn't get the job and learned that I was their 2nd pick. I learned from that experience and I took that learning into my next interview where I did land the job and eventually ended up in the job that I have today. Failure is its own tool that shapes us into who we are. I am super excited to invite Anthony DeThomas today to share the process of writing his book My Friend, Failure.
Anthony works for an innovation consulting firm called Peer Insight, where he practices empathy-based problem solving every day. Prior to his consulting experience, Anthony honed his writing and storytelling skills as a congressional speechwriter. In his free time, Anthony loves pushing his writing and storytelling to their limits with new book concepts. He lives in Washington, D.C.
The problems counselors, teachers, and administrators face today are thorny. Solution after solution has been handed down from the top, yet the problems remain. If you can relate to this feeling, maybe it’s time to tap into the school counselor and educator superpower we all share: empathy. Empathy-based problem solving processes, also known as human-centered design or design thinking, are an effective and inclusive way to tackle any problem that has humans at its center.
This post will share examples of how empathy-based processes have been used to solve challenges in education, from redesigning the K–12 learning experience for a growing network of schools to creating a new kind of children’s book. It will also provide some tips on how you can start using this approach today.
“We spend a lot time designing the bridge, but not enough time thinking about the people who are crossing it.”
We’ll start with a story about a Peruvian school system that set out to design the K–12 learning experience for a growing network of schools. The project would leverage empathy to overhaul everything from the curriculum to the teacher training and the school buildings. Their ultimate aim was to figure out how to expand the school system without sacrificing quality and provide international-quality education at an affordable price. What a BIG challenge!
Teaming up with world renowned empathizers and designers, the Peruvian school system first learned about other school models around the world that scale well. What’s important to note here is that the team looked at other successful examples for inspiration. You should absolutely do the same as you try to tackle your problem. Another key point is to look outside to see how other smart, empathetic people have solved similar problems.
Throughout the project, the designers also collaborated with teachers and students to co-design potential solutions. This meant speaking to teachers and students to learn what wasn’t working well in the current school system and what was. By identifying the teachers’ and students’ most painful problems, the designers could focus on creating solutions for well-defined, meaningful problems, not loose assumptions about the problems. This is another important practice: include the users you want to help in the problem identification and solution creation processes. This could be as simple as having a conversation about what’s bugging them and asking them to give you feedback on your ideas of a solution.
This project helped create a school system built from the ground up, based on its users’ needs. For this school system, that looks like: project-based learning in small groups with self-directed time and digital learning tools. Teachers can monitor students’ work online and offer personalized guidance. Parents can view their children’s progress online as well. The buildings were also improved to include different learning environments, like media labs, rooftop study areas, cafes, and community spaces.
I used a much smaller scale empathy based process to write My Friend, Failure. This children's book shares the story of a boy who sets out to become the first kid to land on the moon. Stumbling at his first attempt, the boy meets failure face-to-face and becomes its friend. As the boy and his new friend work together on a second try to reach the moon, the boy learns one of the most valuable lessons a child can learn: the power of embracing failure with a growth mindset.
What’s unique about this book is the way I worked with elementary school teachers and students to understand their needs when engaging with a children's book and then to use empathy based problem solving to create a more useful book. Here’s what the step-by-step process looked like:
I made multiple trips to 3rd grade classrooms to observe read aloud sessions and interview students and teachers about the read aloud experience. I also spoke to individuals in each group about how they use children’s books and what’s usually missing for them in children’s books.
I wrote a story grounded in student and teacher feedback, with hints of some of my favorite things, like science, product design, and outer space.
I asked teachers to read this prototype story aloud to students to gauge its usefulness and ability to engage users. I asked students to draw what they envisioned when they heard the story so that we could get visual inspiration from the students themselves.
I refined the story based on student and teacher feedback, and once a rough draft was in place, I returned to the classroom for another round of feedback.
I edited the book further based on classroom feedback and then formatted it for publication. It’s now available on Amazon!
As these two examples illustrate, there are opportunities to apply this type of problem-solving all around us. The advantages counselors have is that they’re equipped with one of the most important inputs of the process - empathy - and they have access to all of the stakeholders likely to be involved (students, parents, teachers, and administrators). By using empathy-based problem-solving processes, you can create and implement solutions to your school’s most pressing problems...starting today!
Thanks Anthony! What a great way to create a book. How do y'all use empathy and inquiry to make your practices better? I am currently reading Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators and I see this as a theme there too. Isn't it funny how the universe aligns like that?
What do your teachers, administrators, students, and parents think you do all day? I was at a meeting today where a group of counselors were talking about the eye opening experience of Advisory Council in realizing that their stakeholders really weren't aware of the range of activities and support for students, staff, and school that were involved in the role of the school counselor. Sometimes counselors are their worst enemies in neglecting to market the work that they do.
Guess what? It's not just about getting pats on the back. There is purpose in marketing what you do. If your stakeholders are more aware of the amazing work that you do, they can increase the buy in for teaching lessons or time with students. You can work to decrease extra duties so that you can spend your time being a counselor rather than a monitor. You can connect with parents and teachers so that when they are seeking extra support, they come to you as an expert in mental health and child development. Most of all, the more that our stakeholders are aware of what we do to support students, the more time we can spend in prevention rather than reaction.
Find Your Why
You can't convince anyone else that your work is important if you don't believe it yourself. Why did you go into school counseling? If you're not sure, spend some time exploring central questions to ground yourself in the "why" of this vocation. Be passionate about your work and others will take notice when you share that work.
The only way to do great work is love what you do. ~ Steve Jobs
I sometimes hate the idea that we have to love our work. I mean, it's called a job for a reason. What, you don't love breakfast duty? The syrup all over your dry-clean-only pants not doing it for you? Working in a school comes with lots of extra, perhaps less glamorous part of the job. I truly believe that once we connect to our why, we are able to find the parts of the work that we do that we love. I love classroom lessons, I love working with all kids, even the kids who might get overlooked because they seem to have it together. I also love working with upper elementary boys. I really connect with the way that boys think about the world and girl drama isn't as much my thing. So I make time for the parts of my job that I love. I sandwich classroom lessons before and after parts that I might like less. I don't mind being organized and running team meetings but I am not going to put together a complicated craftivity. I choose what serves and fills me so that I am connected to the parts of the job I love and bring more positivity to the parts I don't.
Find Your Voice
You have your why. You know what you love. Now find a voice. Would you stand at a microphone in an empty auditorium and give a presentation on your school counseling program? Of course not. So don't spend your time on information that no one is going to look at. Sit down and make a list of all the ways that your school sends home information. I bet it includes newsletters, robocalls, website, emails, twitter, etc. Ask around and find out which ways are accessed the most. Ask parents that you work with how they like to receive information.
Once you have an idea of how information is sent out and accessed, think about where you are comfortable. If your school has a news show but you dislike being on camera, that might not be a good fit. If you love to write, a blog might work well for you. Where you are most comfortable, you will shine the most!
Quantify the Work
Education revolves around data. Without data, your work does not hold up in School Improvement Plan team meetings or on your yearly evaluation. We can debate the validity of this approach but if we want to hold our jobs and our position to work with students, we have to show the data that it's working. I like to have a page to jot down talking points before I go into meetings about the work I do.
I'm a big proponent of the ASCA National Model, but if you're not there yet, I have some tips on Comprehensive Counseling Like a Boss. By quantifying our work, we can increase the understanding so that:
Your stakeholders know that you work with students on purpose and not just whoever might show up in your office.
Your stakeholders can quickly see that your work aligns with the work of the school as a whole. You are a valuable asset to learning.
Your stakeholders can see what types of topics you will cover in your lessons so that they can ask follow up questions if needed.
Your stakeholders will know that you make a plan for what your students will learn each year.
Parents can see the amazing proactive support the counselor provides so that time with the counselor is no longer stigmatized.
You know what you're going to do - no more rushing around last minute.
All good things right? We're not marketing our work or quantifying what we do so that we can prove ourselves, we're actually increasing our efficacy by engaging others in the work that we do.
Bring It Together
OK, you know what you love, you know how your people receive information, you quantified your work, now it's time to bring it together. I have 4 fun ways to share your work with others:
I like to use Canva for infographics. It's easy to put together and they have a lot of templates that you can use for free. To create an infographic, decide on 4-5 items that you want to highlight and get started. Just type "infographic" into the search bar at the top and get started.
Tip: Use the element "icons" to find the simple picture graphics I used here. To see the graphic more closely, check it out here.
Website If you don't have a school counseling website, create one now! Most people use the internet to find information they are looking for. Find more on creating a school counseling website including a tip sheet to help you out.
Social Media I love social media for sharing fun information with parents. Use the same tool that your school uses so that you can connect to their accounts and get a wider following. Here are a few tips:
Share pictures of your work with students
Connect to your school’s account & tag them
Maintain confidentiality - cover faces with emoticons if you need to :)
Videos While you're at it, make an awesome video to share on social media. I've got all the details including screenshots here. Here's a fun video that I created in about 20 minutes using the Legend app and iMovie.
Counseling By the Numbers - YouTube
You got this! Think about one thing that you'd like to do to market your school counseling program. I am at the NC School Counselor's Conference tomorrow presenting on this topic, if you're here - please stop and say hi. You can find the presentation here. Leave a comment with what your plan is for marketing!
I’ve always dreamed of opening a new school. Maybe it’s the fresh paint but I also think it’s excitement of planning and setting up everything from scratch. You know I love to organize…
Today I am super excited to welcome Sara from the Responsive Counselor to share her experience opening a new school this year.
What led you to decide to open a new school? Did you go with an admin or seek it out? After 6 years at my previous school, I was starting to feel a little antsy. I was worried about become complacent and I started wondering if a change would help challenge and push me. My goal professionally is to always be growing and improving. When my district announced a new elementary was opening and named the executive principal, I reached out to the counselors currently working with him. They knew me personally and professionally and I thought they would know whether or not it would be a good "fit" for me. They said "Yes, run!" and then put in a good word for me.
What has been the most surprising challenge? Starting from scratch with relationships...with adults. I knew how important this was and I guess I'm not surprised that it's a challenge but I didn't realize how much of a challenge it would be. So much of our success in our jobs is related to our connections with faculty and with the mutual trust that comes with that. My teachers don't know what to expect from me yet. They don't know what to ask me for help with. They don't know that I only ever email if I really need to. Since they're also all coming from different places, they're coming in with different ideas and expectations of what a school counseling program is. It's a big responsibility to shape that for a new faculty!
What has been the most surprising fun thing/ good thing? A brand new building means brand new technology! We aren't one to one or anything but each room (including my office) has a Promethean board. I'm still figuring out all the ways I can use it but I'm already loving it. Writing directly on PowerPoints, being one click away from GoNoodle, etc. - it's a great perk. Also, little things like...no spiders! Well placed faculty bathrooms! No peeling paint! Stuff that counselors in old buildings (like me before this year) really appreciate. As counselors it sometimes feels shallow to appreciate cosmetic things or fancy things - but the truth is that the physical environment of a school has a real impact on all of the people inside - students and faculty!
Did you decide to do many of the same things as your previous school or did you change it up? For now, I'm doing most of the same things. My co-counselor and I are just finishing up our program management agreement to present to admin and even that I'm keeping mostly the same for now. As I learn more about the student needs (and once all my needs assessments are back in!), I'll find changes I need to make but for now, I'm going to plug in what I know and do best. The only piece significantly different right from the get go is the intentionality that I'm coordinating Tier 2 and Tier 3 behavior services. We are trying to follow a true RTI/MTSS model for behavior, including using a universal screener and doing check in/check out with fidelity.
What advice do you have for getting started in a new school? Be patient. There are lots of things that won't be established or ready right away. You might not get into your building until a couple days before the kids arrive. You might not have a school mission or vision statement. You might not have any baseline data to work with. It might take longer than you'd hoped to establish a relationship and rapport with teachers. You will feel a little comfortable. Be patient. It just takes a little longer for all the pieces to fall into place.
Is there something you've learned that would apply to any counselor starting at a *new to them* school? Prioritize relationships. That might mean spending time in the cafeteria (even though it's loud and chaotic and awful). It might mean using your only "sit down" time in the day to pop into teachers during their lunch. Maybe it's calling parents instead of sending a note home. There are small sacrifices that can come with doing this but it's crucial, especially at the start when norms and expectations and attitudes and beliefs are being established.