8 Non-Stressful Ways to Prepare for the New School Year

By: Neeti Sarkar

Isn't it just the best feeling to not have those 'Sunday scaries', to be able to sleep in longer every day, to take more time out for yourself, to reorganize everything at home that needs reorganizing (I still have a long way to go!), and most importantly to have your coffee hot and your lunch at a decent time in the day? I hope you're enjoying all these benefits of summer break and more while reading this blog post.

And while we'd all love for summer to last forever, it seems like that's the case only with the stretch from March to June, right? I'm not sure about you but as I'm writing this post, I have a little over 4 weeks before school reopens. While I'm definitely taking it easy, a tiny part of my brain is thinking about the little (but important) things I could do during the break to be better prepared for the new academic year, just so I don't go back feeling lost and overwhelmed. And in my experience, it doesn't hurt to prepare a little for BTS (back-to-school) season. This could look like:

1. Engaging in professional development

Professionally, what I look forward to most as a counselor on summer break are the fabulous PDs I get to attend straight from my couch! While I would've loved some in-person training and collaboration and am jealous of those attending ASCA's annual conference, online professional development workshops have truly changed how we can upskill ourselves quite effortlessly.

I was holidaying in the gorgeous island country of Sri Lanka when IMPACT's Summer Summit took place. However, as an IMPACT member, now that I'm back, I have my morning coffee watching the pre-recorded presentations that have been made available for those of us who missed the live sessions.

Are you also attending the Summer Counselor Conference from August 4-6? This 35+ session conference on topics helpful to any school counselor, related to group and individual counseling, organization, working with students with ADHD and anxiety, grief, data collection, etc, is a workshop I'm super excited about.

2. Reflecting on and evaluating last year's data

I've been putting off looking at my End-of-the-Year Report (this is the template I use). However, I plan on revisiting it at least a week before I get back to school and I suggest you do too. It is truly valuable to take a look at how many classroom lessons you taught, which were your 'most-wanted/needed' topics for lessons as gathered from the Needs Assessment Form filled out by teachers at the start of last academic year, how many groups you ran, how much time did you get to plan your lessons, etc. Use this information to guide how you want to drive your counseling program in the coming year.

3. Organizing your digital resources

Do you, like me, also have a bunch of folders on your laptop to delete? Does your Google Drive look like a mess (guilty as charged!)? When was the last time you cleared out your cache? If you use digital forms for scheduling, organizing, and data collection, it would be worth your while to make copies of your existing forms and delete old data from the new sheets/forms.

My must-have digital organization sheets/forms include a Needs Assessment Form for teachers to fill out at the start of the year from which I gather the information required to plan and map my counseling curriculum. I also ensure to keep my Referral Forms ready for teachers and parents. This is a great time to organize your Counseling Caseload and Log Spreadsheets and make fresh copies of other data collection tools such as these Self Assessments and these Behavior Surveys. Having all your digital resources updated and organized on your device or on your Google Drive is a real time-saver when school reopens!

4. Enhancing technological competence

Another way I'm utilizing my summer vacation is by taking steps to improve my tech skills and exploring new tools that could streamline my counseling activities. Move over ChatGPT which we're now all quite familiar with. There are other AI tools such as Bing Image Creator, Canva Magic Design, and Slides AI that I hope to use more of in the new year.

5. Updating your resources

In between looking for inspo on Pinterest and Instagram for beach vacation outfit ideas and balcony redecorating pins, pictures, and posts, I find myself saving ideas that relate to my counseling program. From SEL book recommendations and CBT-based games on Amazon to office decor ideas, deals on stationery and supplies, and material on TpT, I find it therapeutic to scout for resources that I could add to my office/ for my program.

This is also a good time to review and update your existing resources such as your Meet the Counselor brochure.

6. Assessing and strengthening referral networks

As professional school counselors, we are part of a larger network that includes agencies, other mental health professionals, social workers, and community organizations whose support we may need from time to time, based on the outside referrals we sometimes have to make. Familiarizing ourselves with who these people are, the services they provide, and how we can liaise with them, is a great way to prepare for the new school year.

healthcare professional

7. Setting personal and professional goals 

One of the first things on my to-do list, when I get back to school, is to set my goals for the year. Previously, I would wait for school to commence and it was only when my goal-setting meeting with my principal was drawing nearer that I would sit to pen my goals down. However, over the past two years, looking at my EOTY report and collecting feedback from teachers, parents, and admin, towards the end of one academic year, I generally have an idea of what my goals should look like for the next year. It’s during summer break that I tend to give this more thought so I’m better prepared to work towards my goals from day 1 itself.

8. Practicing self-care

Last month I wrote about how to make self-care sustainable and I sure hope you’re doing things that refresh your soul and renew your mind. We know how busy things get as soon as we go back to school. Everybody and their mother is going to need you, there will be crises of all kinds, and we as school counselors will need to show up. We can do this only when we’ve been taking care of our own well-being. So go on and fill your own cup because you cannot pour from one that’s empty. 

Prepping for a new school year is never a waste of time. It does set the stage for a successful and impactful academic year. Having said that, balance is key. It’s important not to overwork ourselves during this period of rest and not prioritize “schoolwork” on vacation, over the other things that bring us more joy.

Here’s wishing you a fantastic school year 2023-24! You’ve got this!

About the author: Neeti Sarkar is a Primary School Counselor at an IB school in Bangalore, India. Over the span of almost 10 years, she’s worked with students aged 3-18, but enjoys working with the littles the most. Neeti’s also a seasoned journalist, so when she isn’t making behaviour plans, teaching guidance lessons, and supporting her school community in various other ways, she makes time for her other passion- writing.

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