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I’m a school counselor but I don’t…

One of my biggest strengths (and weaknesses) is that I’m outspoken. There’s not much in the realm of school counseling that I don’t have a strong opinion about. That means there’s some things that are commonplace among other counselors that I don’t do – because they just aren’t in the best interest of my students.

It can be very easy to spend time on Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest (or the internet in general!) and come up with a ginormous list of what you “should” be doing in your school counseling program. Excellent and effective comprehensive school counseling programs aren’t a list of specific lessons or activities or celebrations, though. Great counseling programs meet the needs of their students. This means they look different. You can ROCK as a counselor and not do #allthethings. Your students can develop socially and emotionally and academically and behaviorally as a result of your work even if you don’t check off all of the boxes created by others.

I’m a school counselor – I’ll even say I’m a GOOD school counselor – and I don’t:

Celebrate Red Ribbon Week

I try to limit the number of “weeks” I do. It keeps what we do do more special. It gives room for other specialists at the school (like the librarian) to do celebratory weeks. And it prevents me from driving my teachers crazy. Red Ribbon Week doesn’t make the cut for lots of reasons. 1) Drug prevention at the elementary level is more about developing assertiveness and self-competence and coping skills, 2) bullying prevention is not a week, it’s a culture, and 3) the original movement seems to have gotten a little convoluted over time.

Do Career Classroom Lessons

Career awareness development is awesome. I sort of would have liked to do more of these lessons. However, I’ve never worked in the rotation. That means getting way less than 20 lessons per classroom each year. My students have significant social-emotional needs that need to be met via my classroom lessons; those are the priority. If I was in the rotation, I think I would have definitely done a career unit, at least with my 3rd and 4th graders. I didn’t beat myself up about not being able to include this, though.

Deliver Meet the Counselor Lessons

I don’t think we need to do “meet the counselor” lessons with every class, every year. There is so much more important work we can be doing with them! I think it’s important to review my self-referral process at the start of the year, but that doesn’t need to be a full lesson. I save the full shebang for if I’m new at a school or if the students may be confused about my role (I did that once when the students had a counselor before me that serviced the students very differently than me).

Conduct Minute Meetings

I’m not a minute meetings hater or lover. I’ve never done them. I’ve never felt like 1) it was the best way for me to connect with my students or 2) that it would provide me with incredibly helpful information. I do like to start the year doing 1 lunch bunch with every single student (it usually takes me a whole quarter) which is somewhat similar. If I did minute meetings, I would have to do 1 or 2 fewer lessons at the start of the year. It just wasn’t the right priority for my program.

Use Social Thinking Stuff

Social Thinking stuff is cool and loads of people love it. It is not for me or my students. The biggest reason is probably that it was not created to be used in 10-15 one off lessons, which is what most counselors (including myself) would use it for. Generalization of the ideas and skills requires a much more comprehensive implementation (at least my students), like a classroom teacher using it, or an SLP using it twice weekly with a group. And the language of “expected vs. unexpected” behaviors just doesn’t sit right with me. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only counselor not using any of these materials.

Hold Lots of Parent Events

I really, really wanted to have parental involvement in the school counseling program and keep them in the loop. My co-counselor and I scheduled monthly parent events, sent home monthly newsletters, etc. And then eventually we stopped. Why? Because those things took a ton of time and the truth was our parents were not attending/reading. We held a free movie night to watch Inside Out in the gym at school. Our school had 980 students. We had fewer than 20 students attend. We sent home a parent note with a super short link for parents to complete a needs assessment. Three completed it. The same four parents came to our workshop presentations every time. It was all incredibly disheartening. Now that I’m a mom myself, I recognize a bit more all of the things at play here. I don’t think my parents were disengaged. Like us as counselors, parents have to prioritize their time. At my schools, participating in or reading about school counseling stuff was not one of their priorities, so us counselors stopped prioritizing this element of our program.

All of that stuff above? It’s not bad! It might even be AMAZING for your students. It just wasn’t for mine. At the end of the day (or the school year!), the most important thing is that we have served OUR students in the ways that best meet THEIR NEEDS. Sometimes this means doing all of the things above. Sometimes it means doing none of them. We’re all doing what’s best for our kiddos. Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to do it all and for prioritizing.

18 Responses

  1. Thanks so much for posting this. It’s easy to beat myself up for all the things I “should be” doing and it helps to hear that it’s ok!

  2. YES, YES, YES! We are singing off the same page. Delivering services based upon need and within the structures of our schools may not look “text book” and likely won’t check every “plan” box—-but then it’s not about a program-it is about meeting the needs of our students and delivering the most effective counseling services we can.
    So YAY and thank you for sharing your truth and giving COUNSELORS the green light to be “okay” with doing the best we can for our students, our parents, and our schools everyday.

    1. You are very welcome. The BEST program is the one that meets the needs of your school community!

  3. Why does it seem like the social/emotional aspect of.school counseling gets thrown by the wayside at the high school level?

    1. I think it often does, because of 1) the hours counselors have to spend with scheduling and 2) the heavy emphasis on post-secondary decision making.

  4. I feel so much better. Here I thought I wasnt doing much. But i am and now i dont have to beat myself up.

    1. I think there are SO many ways to be an amazing counselor and all we need reminders now and then that we don’t have to do EVERYTHING to be great!

  5. This helps so much, I’m always focused on all the thing I don’t do and I don’t feel like I’m a “good” Counselor because of that.

    1. We ALL have to prioritize if we want to focus on quality over quantity with our services! I believe that making smart choices about how to spend our time is part of what makes us good counselors 🙂

      Best,
      Sara

  6. Thank you for this! Can you tell me more about how you schedule and conduct your lunch bunches with every student?

    1. Hi! I printed class lists and used a pen or highlighter to group them into groups of 4-6. I usually tackled one class per week, and I tried to give them/their teacher a heads up. I would go to the cafeteria at the start of their time and grab a crew – then repeat each day until I’ve finished with that class! They were pretty informal, but I usually used my feelings or weather check-in. For some, I used task cards from lessons in their previous year as sort of a review.

      Best,
      Sara

  7. I agree with all of this! I use a lot of resources from what I think you are referring to as social thinking programs but I don’t commit to completing the entire program. I also don’t freak out when my plan for the year gets things scratched out and replaced with other things. We have to be more responsive than sticking to what we thought in August was going to be great for the school year. Flexibility is the name of the game.

  8. THANK YOU FOR THIS POST! I just found it and it made me feel better, I often feel bad because I do not get to run the counselor program I would like to for Pre-K because the social/emotional needs are great!

    1. You are very welcome! There is more than one way to be an amazing counselor 🙂

      Best,
      Sara

  9. This is awesome 🙌….I’m a student focused counselor, so am only interested in the programs that meet the needs of my students.

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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.

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Sara

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