Someone on Instagram recently asked me for any advice I had on setting up her very first school counseling office. This has all been super fresh in my mind as I packed up my office and prepare to move into a new building. Offices can run the gamut, from old custodial closets to classrooms with wall to wall windows. I tried to keep that in mind and provide tips that can apply to any type of situation you find yourself in!
1. Meet sensory needs.
The most used item in my whole office is surprisingly my sequin mermaid pillow! Really comforting to hold and fidget with. I think having a variety of fidgets available and visible makes a big difference. My pillow is from Amazon but I’ve seen them cheaper at 5 Below and WalMart. The majority of my fidgets have come from the Target Dollar Spot. I’ve also got seat discs available to students in small groups. You have to look out for your own sensory needs, too. For example, I sit on a yoga ball instead of a desk chair. It keeps me more engaged both physically and mentally.
2. You don’t have to have a desk!
I downgraded to a small table two years. Last year, I skipped it all together next year and just used my small groups table when I’m on my laptop or doing paperwork. This keeps me organized because I don’t have places for stuff to pile up. I also think it makes me much more approachable when I’m in my office without a big crazy desk between me and whoever walks in. You actually don’t really have to have anything. Lots of counselors swear by lamps instead of overhead lights – this makes me sleepy and I love overhead lighting (though I do put filters on them). Lots of counselors love their white noise and Pandora – I personally avoid them after a trauma training I went to said they can easily dysregulate people still experiencing trauma symptoms.
3. Functional decor is the best.
My first couple years I accepted all the hand me downs and bought all the cheap Target back to school character posters. I didn’t love any of it but I felt like I had to have something up everywhere. Then and I learned that less is more. And that’s a good thing because unless you have a classroom, wall space is limited. Too much stuff on the walls is overwhelming (which is the last thing a dysregulated kiddo or teacher needs). I try to make sure the stuff on my walls is either awesome and makes me super happy or it serves a purpose. Feelings posters rock! I made my own with clipart but used to have the “hand drawn kids” ones you can find on Amazon (affiliate link). I had one of “what’s behind your anger” posters too.
4. Comfort is key. Get the good chairs.
My circle chairs and bean bag chairs were a little splurge because they were bought from my own money but totally worth it. Sometimes teachers like to come sit in the circle chairs as well, and I’ve been known to use some of the comfy seating myself to decompress before I leave. Comfort to me also means that my space shouldn’t be sensory overload, so I try not to put too much on my walls or have too many colors.
5. Focus on organization.
I am way more effective and get way more done when I’m organized. If you don’t see it and/or if it’s not easily accessible, you won’t use it. This goes for games, toys, books, and important paperwork you’re supposed to complete. Consider prioritizing your organization over your aesthetics. Create systems for all the different kinds of “papers” you’ll have: copy paper, referrals, lesson plans, RTII stuff, behavior plan copies, the list goes on. Where will you store papers for ongoing individual students (workbooks, drawings, etc.)? Will you have a place to put “outgoing” papers (meeting note reminders for parents, copies of meeting notes for teachers, etc.)? Where do materials for classroom lessons go when you’re done with them? Make a plan! Chances are the plan is going to change, but you’ll still have a more successful year if you make sure your space is set up for efficiency. I am less than a month away from setting up my third school counseling office and all of this is so good to have fresh in my mind!
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