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A Day in the Life of a School Counselor

Back when I was deciding what type of grad school program I was interested in, I found it super helpful to read about what typical days looked like for different professions. A typical day for a school counselor is…anything but typical…and varies drastically depending on school and district. That said, for any aspiring school counselors out there checking out school counseling blogs, here’s a breakdown of a “typical” day for me. I tried to include the general task as well as what it more specifically was during the weeks I wrote this.

a day in the life of an elementary school counselor

Some Context:
I service 2nd-4th grade at a public elementary school, with a total caseload of about 300 (yes, I know, that’s an amazingly small caseload). I have a full-time co-counselor who works with the younger grades. Our district has “mandated” that counselors spend 80% of their time providing direct services to students (this includes consultation and collaboration with teachers and parents) so I’m lucky that I get to spend most of my time actually doing the job I was trained for. Counselors are NOT written into IEPs in my district and we have a school-based therapist (for students on Medicaid) and a school social worker (for kids needing therapy that don’t have insurance or can’t afford co-pays). I’m not in the specialist rotation. I’m not able to do many groups during core instruction time. I see each class for a counseling lesson about twice a month.

My Day:

7:40-7:45 Take off my coat and unpack my bag as fast as humanly possible before the children descend. Contract start time is 7:45 and while I wish I got there by 7:30 every day, that’s just not my current reality.

7:45-8:00 Check and respond to emails in between morning visits from students. Most are kids walking to class who just want to say “hello” and give me a hug, some are more formal morning check ins. I don’t have a “morning duty” though sometimes I’m asked to cover a classroom if a teacher or sub is running late.

8:00-8:10 Do any additional prep needed for my lessons. If it’s the first time for the lesson, I may still have some printing and cutting. If not, it may be running off more exit ticket copies, making sure markers work, checking to see if my PPT clicker and laptop adapter are in my bin, etc.

8:10-8:15 Do GoNoodle relaxation video with a couple friends that start their mornings this way with me every day so their brains and bodies are ready to learn.

8:15-9:00 Classroom Lesson (2nd grade – identifying emotions in others)

9:00-9:45 Classroom Lesson (2nd grade – identifying emotions in others)

9:45-10:00 Prep/Plan/Paperwork/Email (start matching lower grade classes with upper-grade classes for our standardized testing – the littles provide encouragement and support to the bigs each afternoon before)

10:00-10:10 Individual Student Session (conference with a kiddo something that was brought up in earlier classroom lesson – a 2nd grader is making his classmates uncomfortable by whispering inappropriate words in their ears)

10:10-10:40 Individual Counseling (working with a student that has ADHD on emotional regulation)

10:40-11:00 Eat a lunch or snack and Prep/Plan/Paperwork/Email (coordinate getting a student replacement glasses that broke their’s and has no insurance)

11:00-11:10 Walk in students needing quick pep talks on conflict resolution

11:10-11:15 Exchange texts with a parent regarding kiddos’ ADHD medication

11:15-12:00 Classroom Lesson (4th grade – staying out of drama/gossip)

12:00-12:40 Small Group (4th grade, lunch, social skills)

12:40-1:00 Individual Counseling (student’s dad recently incarcerated)

2:15-2:45 Small Group (2nd grade, growth mindset)

2:45-2:50 Enter individual and group sessions into our district’s student management system

2:50-3:00 Quick Meeting With Co-Counselor (her telling me about something one of her students said about a family situation since I have the older brother, me picking her brain about a lesson idea)

3:00-3:20 Car rider dismissal duty

3:20 Go Home

elementary school counselor waving goodbye

JUST KIDDING – Contracted end time is 3:15 but I’m not even done with my dismissal duty until at least 3:20. Before having my own kids I stayed until 4:30 or 5:30 every day but now I’m doing everything I can to walk out the door at 4:00. I usually have a committee meeting, faculty meeting, or leadership team meeting one day a week as well. My 3:20-4:00 time is really different from day to day. If there’s no meeting, here’s what I might be doing: creating and running copies for an individual behavior plan, venting with my co-counselor, prepping for the next day’s lessons, catching up on emails, calling parents, picking up the destruction in my office, doing an instastory, finding a book for a teacher that needs something for a specific topic, or scrolling on FB to decompress before I pick up my own kids.

I’ve tried to cut down on the time I’m spending at home on work stuff and I think I’ve been somewhat successful. A big piece of that is that I’m finally starting to re-use some of my lesson plans instead of creating them all from scratch every year. That said, I still probably spend about 30 minutes every weekday evening on stuff for my school (rescheduling lessons that got canceled due to a crisis or “crisis”, texting teachers about behavior intervention ideas, altering scenarios for lessons, etc.). Some weekends I feel like all I do is work – some weekends I’m just wearing my wife and mom hats.

I hope this was somewhat helpful!

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a day in the life of an elementary school counselor

15 Responses

  1. Can I ask how many students you have and what your grade levels are at your school? I read there is 2 of you there. That must be nice for an elementary school.

    1. It is wonderful being able to work as part of a team. We serve PreK-4th grade. When I started there was about 950 students and two full time counselors. A few years in, a new school was built nearby to alleviate crowding and the leadership team had to make a decision about whether or not to continue to have two full-time counselors (our district allows schools to make some budgeting decisions like this). At that point, my co-counselor and I had established a strong program that the teachers saw value in and they fought to keep us both. I ended with a caseload of about 300.

  2. Wow! It sounds like you do so much in one day. I am almost done with my degree in School Counseling with Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Your day seems a bit exhausting and it makes me nervous. Sometimes I don’t think I’ll be able to lead as well as I am needed to lead. I look up to you!

    1. Hi Lissy! Just curious, did your degree certify you in school counseling AND mental health counseling (or maybe there was a specialization in mental health counseling)? I’m thinking about going to grad school for school counseling but I am very interested in both so I thought I’d ask while I was here !! 🙂

      -Kristen

      1. Hi! My grad program had two separate tracks and I did the mental health track first. After about seven months of working for a community agency as a school-based therapist, I got a job as a school counselor and went back to take the classes I needed to be certified for school counseling. I’m glad to have both! More options. It’s especially useful if you live in a state where you can get supervision hours towards LPC/LMHC while working in a school (mine doesn’t but many do). Best, Sara

        1. Hi Sara, Can I ask about your grad program? Where did you do it? How long Does it take to complete the program?…

          1. Hello! I went to Vanderbilt University to receive an M.Ed. in Human Development Counseling. If you want to be licensed to work in mental health, you will need a 60 credit hour program which will take 3 years. If you’re only interested in school counseling, there are still some 36-48 hour programs that you can complete in 2 years. There’s a governing body called CACREP that “approves” grad programs that meet their guidelines. I would recommend looking at their list of programs.

            Best,
            Sara

  3. Hey Sara! This was super helpfull! I am in my senior year of undergrad and I have always dreamed of being a school counselor! I was wondering where you got your graduate degree? Again, thank you for this post! You are awesome!
    -Sarah

  4. Hey Sara. You are a busy counselor. Where do you get your classroom lessons from? I would love to jump back to elementary school, but I am not sure where to find the most up to date resources anymore. Please let me know when you can!

    – Jim

    1. Hi! I actually made all of my own lessons. It was time consuming BUT I felt like what I had in my office (the resource books left behind by the last counselor) just weren’t effective for my students. I have all of my lessons on TPT and also on my shop here: https://shop.theresponsivecounselor.com/

      Best,
      Sara

  5. Hello!
    I am going to start working towards becoming a school counselor and was wondering if you had any tips on what degrees to get. I am deciding whether it is best to get a bachelors of arts or science and then where to go after that. The internet isn’t much help
    Thank you in advance!

    1. Hi! Your bachelors really doesn’t matter unless you want a grad program that only accepts people with specific bachelors’ degrees (which I haven’t heard of). My grad school classmates and my school counseling colleagues have all come from a wide variety of undergrad/bachelors backgrounds. I think majoring in Psychology or Child Development or Education can give you some extra experience and background, and might make a couple graduate courses easier, but it’s not at all necessary.

      The more important piece is your graduate program after you have your bachelors. To work in public schools, a masters in school counseling is required. There are ton of programs across the country for that when you start looking!

      Best,
      Sara

  6. Hi Sara what is the pay like and are the benefits good for a school counselor? Do you recommend doing a counseling program in person or online ?

    1. Hi Brandee! Pay and benefits is specific to each school district and can vary significantly. Most public school districts have their pay scales publicly accessible so you can look up some districts near you or where you might want to work. I personally recommend an in person program if possible because I think you can get more out of it, but I know some counselors have had great online program experiences (Liberty is one that I know is well reviewed).

      Best,
      Sara

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Hello, I’m Sara!

With 10 years of experience in
elementary school counseling,
I get to serve in a different way now
– by helping fellow counselors and
educators!

I value quality over quantity,
effective practices and resources,
and meeting the unique needs of all
our diverse learners.