4 Systems for Implementing an Intentional Counseling Program

 

Definition of intentional: done by intention or design (Merriam-Webster)

Is your counseling program intentional? Do you have a clear vision and mission? Is each day designed to impact as many students as possible, or are you flying by the seat of you pants?

I'm sure many of you are the latter, and I totally get it. I've been there'

That's why I am going to give you 4 simple systems for implementing an intentional counseling program through scheduling, organization, data collection and self-advocacy. By effectively using these systems you can reclaim control of your day and switch from a reactive to a proactive mindset.

Being Intentional by Scheduling

Do you ever feel like you are constantly putting out fires? You're expected to lead small groups, class lessons, and individual sessions but you are also required to attend endless meetings and be the designated crisis response team... all while drowning in a caseload that is 3x the recommended size. Sound familiar? You are not alone.

While you are required to do some things (hello, lunch duty) you are also in control of many parts of your day that may be slipping by. Try implementing one of these tips to regain control of your daily schedule.

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1. Batch Communication:

You likely are spending a lot of time on email, phone calls, and perhaps in person communications. This reduces the amount of time you can spend delivering direct services to students. You cannot control how much email you receive, but you can control when you answer it. Don't leave the email tab open on your browser all day. Do not and take your work email off of your phone so you aren't cutting into your family or "me" time at home in the evenings. These boundaries are important to establish so you can replenish your own energy to best serve your students the following day. Regarding phone calls, try setting up a message system and return calls during a time block instead of as they come in. And for in person communication try to establish set office hours.

You can even use templates to make your response time faster. Keep a Google Doc of FAQs that you get from parents and teachers so you can quickly copy/paste the response or similarly refer to a script for phone calls. Take it one step further by having a FAQs page on your counseling website that you can direct them to.

2. Develop a Crisis Response Team:

If you are the sole person who is responsible for responding to crisis you need to re-assess this system with your admin. It may be working now and you may not be able to imagine anyone else handling it as well as you are, but this is not sustainable. What if you are absent or off campus during one of these "fires"? Form a team and a build a protocol so it is clear when you are available and what you are responsible for.

3. Schedule in Buffers:

You many have tried creating the perfect daily schedule in the past only to have one thing throw it off track. This can be very frustrating and make you want to abandon the system all together. By building in buffer windows this is setting you up for success. Schedule out a time to remake sessions for no show kids. (Zoom users you feel me?) And you know those planning periods and lunches that teachers have? Schedule yourself one while you're at it!

Being Intentional by Organizing

These simple tips for organizing your counseling program will help it run more smoothly.

Keep a Weekly Counseling Log:

Logging what you did with a student accomplishes 3 things; you can track how many hours you are spending with them, you can remember what activities you did, and you can track parent communication. It seems daunting to write all of this information down after every session, but once you have a template you can simply plug it in. It will take less than 5 minutes and your future self will thank you! Need a template to start with? Download this one for free.

I recommend using Google Sheets to keep your log. Here is are some suggested categories to include:

  • Date

  • Student Name

  • Area of Need: anger management, grief, etc

  • Counseling Type: individual or group

  • Duration: the amount of time your session lasted (This provides more detail than your Google Calendar appointment. You may have 30 minutes blocked off on the calendar, but the student is late. Or you may have to factor in travel time to pick them up from class so you end up talking to them for only 20 minutes. This ends up being more accurate than the calendar in the end.)

  • Strategies Used: Write a brief summary of what you did so you can remember for next time!

  • Notes: I don’t always write something in this column, but it is a space to share student temperament, important updates, etc.

  • Parent Communication: I only write in this column if I spoke to the parent that week. Then I write the date and a brief note about what was discussed. (Ex: 5/11/20: Mrs. Bremer called to share the results for Dana’s psych eval and ask for an update on her behavior chart.)

* Keep in mind your sessions are confidential and you only want to provide enough information to be helpful in reminding yourself what was covered. You don’t want to share too many personal details of what is shared in the session. This is especially important if you plan on sharing this log with anyone else. I share mine with my principal.

Organize your Caseload Digitally:

I also like to use Google Sheets to keep track of every student I am seeing. With a mix of seeing students in groups and individually it can be easy to forget who turned in a permission slip or who still needs to be scheduled. Organize your sheet in the following columns. You could even combine this with the counseling log to have one master document!

  • Student Name

  • Teacher

  • Grade

  • Area of Need: anger management, grief, etc

  • Counseling Type: group, individual

  • Referred By: parent, teacher, self

  • Contacted Parent

  • Sent Permission Slip

  • Received Permission Slip

  • Asked Teacher Ideal Time

  • Scheduled Sessions

Being Intentional through Data Collection

I believe data collection is vital for improving and advocating for your school counseling program.

How to Collect Data by Quantifying your Sessions:

It is essential that you track data on the services you've provided. You can do this for students you see in individual and group sessions by referencing your counseling log that I mentioned here. However, this doesn't show the full picture of class lessons and other counseling events you've facilitated. A simple way to gather this information is by using your Google Calendar.

Not only is a Google Calendar a great way to keep your schedule organized, but it can help log your visits with students... as long as you keep it updated! If a session is canceled because of an absence, holiday, etc be sure to delete the appointment from the calendar. At the end of the year when you are adding up how many times you met with a student simply search their name in the calendar and count the sessions! Super simple.

Not a techy person? You could use a paper calendar as well, but I find making edits to appointments easier on a digital platform. If you insist on using paper at least use a pencil so you can erase!

How to Collect Data by Assessing Student Progress:

This is the most important data we should be collecting! It's great if you see a kid 12 times, but even better if you are able to quantify the impact your program is having.

Try collecting this data in the following ways:

Once you've collected this data you can use it to modify your program and share your findings in an End of the Year Report.?



Being Intentional by Advocating for Yourself

The final strategy I want to mention is how to be intentional when it comes to advocating for your role as the school counselor. I did a podcast episode on this in October and it is a topic I am passionate about! Gaining clarity around your position helps with two things.

  1. It helps you earn respect from your colleagues and admin

  2. It allows you to impact more kids

1. Set Boundaries:

Your time is limited, but you are still in control of your day. Eliminate teacher/parent drop-ins and set boundaries by establishing clear office hours. This shows them that your time is valuable and the students are your priority. This will leave you feeling less overwhelmed and more respected.

2. Use Data to Back You Up:

Words can only take you so far. Showcasing your impact through data shares the undeniable results that your program is bringing. Use the data collection tips I mentioned earlier and read this blog post for tips on getting started.

3. Make the Most Out of Your Non-Counselor Duties: 

I mentioned that gaining clarity around your position increases your impact on kids. That's because you are free to do the job you are made for rather than getting non-counselor duties dumped on you! That being said, even the best self-advocator is likely still stuck with a task they can't get out of. So instead of dreading it, make the most of it! Use these opportunities at lunch duty, car-rider line, and temperature checks to touch base with students on your caseload and to make an effort to connect with those who are not.

By streamlining your schedule, improving your organization skills, mastering data collection, and advocating for your position you can feel more in control and intentional about your counseling program.

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