School Counseling Self-Referral System

school counseling self-referral system

One of the questions I see pop up pretty regularly on IG and FB is “How do I set up a school counseling self-referral system?” While having students use google forms on computers in their class is an awesome idea, it’s not a great fit for schools with limited technology or with students who don’t have the needed computer/typing skills yet. Me? I love an old school paper and “mailbox” version. This post will walk you through how I introduce the system and how I problem solve issues with it.

Early each year, I make sure to cover the self-referral process in a class lesson with all of my grade levels. For some of my classes, especially the younger ones, I do an entire lesson around size of the problem – it’s easy for them to think a conflict with a friend is an “emergency” without being explicit taught that it’s not! For older grades, I usually just do a quick review of problem size and ask them to give me an example of each. With everyone, I tell them that their teachers and parents are great problem solvers but that if they want me to help them with a rainy, or thunderstorm, or tornado problem, that they can write me a note. Then I show them all the self-referral form and talk them through each of the spots. I also like to ask them why I need all of the information.

school counseling self-referral form

Then I show them an example of the self-referral form completed incorrectly – wrong problem size, missing last name, etc. I try to project it and then ask them to find the mistakes and I explain why those mistakes make it harder for me to help everyone.

school counseling self-referral form

On the outside of my office door is my “self-referral station“. I have a mini-poster reminding them of the size of problems, blank self-referral forms, my “mailbox”, and a note reminding them of what to do. My mailbox is just an accordion folder. It’s not closed or secure at all, but in my seven years of using it with 2nd-4th graders, I’ve never had an issue.

counseling self-referral

And now – some FAQ and problem solving!

What do I do when I get self-referrals?

Triage. There’s a spot on the right side of my planner that is titled “follow-up” but that I use for “students I need to see this week”. Anyone with a rainy or thunderstorm problem gets their name written there. If it’s a tornado problem, I add their name in that column and I find the earliest open spot in my planner that I can see them and add their name. Whenever I have open time in my schedule, I look to the list of students on the right and start pulling them. If I’m feeling really proactive, I’ll add their names into spots in my planner as well, but the truth is that I don’t always get to that step.

What role do teachers play in student self-referral?

Some years I also give some copies of the self-referral form to classroom teachers and related arts teachers. This past year, my teachers were a bit stricter about letting students go to get forms (and my office was a bit of a hike sometimes), so this cut down on hallway time and also helped to remind teachers of one of my roles.

What about students you suspect are self-referring to get out of work?

If I feel pretty confident that a student is self-referring to try and get out of classtime, then I’ll say “Hey, the only time I’m able to talk to you this week is lunch or recess. Is that ok? Or do you think you want to try and solve the problem on your own?” If they really do need my help, they will be ok with my pulling them whenever. If it becomes an ongoing issue, then I have a pretty frank conversation with the student about my suspicion…and turn it into a counseling conversation about their reasons for class avoidance and how I can help them with that.

What about students who self-refer for every little conflict?

We all have those kiddos that have a little bit trickier of a time effectively managing their conflict. Or who really like the validation they get from telling a safe person about someone being rude to them. When this starts to happen, I 1) review conflict resolution strategies, 2) post a visual of conflict resolution strategies on my door, and 3) ask the student write on the back of the self-referral form to tell me what things they’ve already tried.

What if I get too many to handle?

  1. Go outside to recess a few times. Bring a list of the students that self-referred. Pop a squat on the floor and meet with each of them one at a time. There’s a good chance that some of them are only going to take just a few minutes, and that some will turn into mediations where it’s great to have the other party(ies) right there to pull in. Ones that you want to use a specific intervention (toy, game, worksheet, etc.) with or that you think is pretty meaty, write their name down on a list to go back to lately.
  2. There’s an ebb and a flow to self-referrals. It’s normal! You’re likely to get a zillion right after you first introduce the system. And then right before/after breaks (family stuff), and then again when spring fever hits.
  3. This is great informal data! If you’re getting lots of self-referrals for the same thing within a specific grade, that’s a clue that there’s a need for some small groups or class lessons on that topic.
  4. Is there anything you can add to classrooms to help students handle their own problems better? Conflict resolution strategy posters? I-Message sentence stems? A peace corner? It’s awesome to feel needed; it’s an even better feeling when we’ve taught students how to be successful without us.
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Counseling Door Decor and Self-Referral System
How big is the problem? Size of the problem lesson

6 Responses

  1. Love your blog-I am returning to elementary after over a decade in High School. Appreciate your suggestions!!

  2. I started my career as a school-based therapist and I now work as an elementary school counselor, focusing on the upper grades.

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Hello, I’m Sara!

With 10 years of experience in
elementary school counseling,
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