How to Prep for the School Year: Tips for School Counselors

The start of any new school year requires planning and preparation, but the 2020 school year looks a lot different for everyone depending on your school's situation! Here are some tips to help you prepare for the school year and to help you create a plan of how you will serve your students whether it's online, in person, without many resources, or if you're a new or veteran counselor!

How to Prepare for Next School Year: Create a Plan for Digital Learning

Let's be real, unless you are a superhero counselor, your distance learning plan in the spring was probably a little haphazard. I know mine was! We were all thrown into virtual counseling unexpectedly and went from not knowing what Zoom was to leading virtual small groups! As schools are navigating how to move forward next year, we need to be prepared for the possibility of full-time of partial online learning.

virtual school counseling kids

Find resources that can be used in person and online

If your school is doing a hybrid plan or if you're not sure what the plan is yet, finding resources that work in both areas is essential. Search for YouTube or Go Noodle videos, scan and upload paper copies of activities to Google Drive, and create a survey for parents to find out their preferences for online counseling. This toolkit from ASCA is super helpful with links to several online counseling resources.

For no-prep easy to implement digital resources check out my Boom Cards, Digital Activities, and Guidance Lessons. These can all be used in person or virtually!

Recently hired? Are you a new school counselor and not sure where to get started? This blog post will help point you in the right direction.

How to Prepare for Next School Year: Plan like you won't get any resources

It sounds strange, but you should plan your counseling program assuming you won't get any resources from your school. If you've been a school counselor for a few years you are probably nodding your head with a knowing chuckle. And if you are a new counselor, I hate to break it to you but you likely won't show up to your office with a box full of curriculum, activities, and materials you need for the school year. I truly hope you do, that would be amazing! But in my experience this is not the norm, so being prepared will help minimize stress when back to school rolls around.

1. Do a Brain Dump

Jump on Pinterest and Instagram and get the ideas flowing. (Check out my Pinterest page and Instagram here!) Create a brain dump list of anything and everything you want to implement in your program next year. Don't worry, you likely won't have time to do them all, but get all of the ideas out of your head and onto paper. You can then use this list as a starting point to plan your lesson and group topics. Think about lessons you didn't get a chance to do last year, cool school-wide activities you bookmarked, or organization hacks you saw other counselors do and want to try.

2. Create a Content Calendar

Decide what content you are going to share with your students and when. You can do this for both classroom guidance lessons and small groups.

 

For Monthly Class Lessons: Focus on seasons or holidays to get started. For example, in August I recommend doing a meet the counselor lesson for back to school season, and you can teach gratitude in November (Thanksgiving) and Kindness in February (Valentine's Day). Also, look at themes certain months have. For example, October is Bullying Prevention Month and Red Ribbon Week. Check out this blog post to see step by step the SEL lessons that I did with my students last year.

Even if your school supplies you with a curriculum like Second Step, you may have some freedom on when to implement which lessons. It's also important to leave some room for flexibility. Don't fill in every month. You will want to wait until you are back in school to plan some topics based on student needs. You can survey the teachers when you return and see what lessons they think are needed based on previous years. This is a super important step if you're a first-year counselor so you can come from a place of humility rather than authority.

For Small Groups: These will likely be based on referrals, but you can go ahead and plan some proactive small groups. In August I like to start with a new students group like this one. Friendship and growth mindset groups are also good for the beginning of the year, whereas conflict resolution, executive functioning, and stress management may be more helpful once academics become more demanding and relationships are established. Check out all of my group curriculum here.

Sign up for this free e-workshop on how to prepare for the school year!

How to Prepare for Next School Year: Analyze Data

Analyzing data doesn't have to be complicated. It's as simple as looking at what worked and what didn't. You can start by surveying teachers, reflecting on your end of the year report, and reviewing referrals.

1. Surveying Teachers

One of the first things I do at the beginning of the school year is send out a Google Forms survey asking teachers what they are looking for in the counseling program. You can ask what services they think the school is in need of (guidance lessons, teacher training, parent workshops, groups, character ed activities, etc) and what topics need to be covered (self-regulation, growth mindset, conflict resolution, etc). Check out my editable needs assessment here.

Ask teachers and your admin what they think went well last year and where the counseling program could improve. It can be hard not to take the criticisms personally if you are the only counselor at your site and the "program" is just you, but the feedback is invaluable and will help you reach more students effectively. Sending out a survey is a great tool to use every year, but it is essential for first-year counselors to get a pulse on the program's needs!

2. Reflect on your End of the Year Report

If you compiled an annual report of your services, this is the perfect place to look at the data and reflect on successes and challenges. Look at student self-assessments, parent/teacher surveys, and any other assessment tools you used to decide what changes you can make for this year. Not sure what an end of the year report is? Check out my editable template here.

3. Review Referrals

Look at referral data from last year to see which topics were in high demand. You don't want to spend your time preparing self-control lessons if the primary need was self-esteem!

Read this blog post for several ways you can collect data throughout the school year.

How to Prepare for Next School Year: Go Shopping!

Investing in a few things for your office and your counseling program can help your school year get off to a great start!

Cozy Office Decor

You want to create a welcoming and safe space for your students to go to. Purchasing a few nice pillows, rugs, and lamps can create an inviting vibe. Need ideas? See my blog post on how to make your counseling office hygge.

Counseling online this year? If you'll be using Zoom or Telehealth sessions, decorate the wall behind you to create an equally cozy feel via your online presence.

Bulletin Board Kits

Decorating bulletin boards... you either love it and get super creative or you are feeling intimidated at this blank piece of corkboard you're supposed to make beautiful. Whichever camp you fall into, buying some bulletin board decor can make it a little easier. You don't have to spend much money to make a nice one. I usually start by going to the dollar store. One of my favorite bulletin boards to put up is an interactive self-regulation station. This way students can check-in with you. Read this post for more bulletin board ideas.

Counseling online this year? Buy a small corkboard to decorate for your home office, or create a virtual one in your Bitmoji office.

Counseling Library

Creating a counseling library is a great office addition. Purchase books new or used, or don't spend anything at all and collaborate with your librarian on ones you can use. Read this blog post to see some of my favorite counseling children's books.

Counseling online this year? You could simply read books to your students via an online video call, or some authors do read-alouds that you can watch. You can also search YouTube for videos that go along with the book.

Counseling Curriculum

Decor aside, your counseling curriculum is the bread and butter of your program. This covers class guidance lessons, multi-week small groups, and individual activities. You can buy and create different resources to piece together a custom curriculum or you can simplify it by purchasing my school counseling super bundle.. It has everything you need for the entire school year including 14 editable digital guidance lessons, 10 small groups, and 2 different data collection tools.

Counseling online this year? In my super bundle, all 14 guidance lessons and the end of the year report are digital and available in both PowerPoint and Google Slides. The needs assessment is digital in Google Forms and the small groups can be adapted to use over an online video call!

Hopefully, these ideas help you feel prepared for another school year!

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