It took me a few years to realize this very important fact: the more organized I am as a school counselor, the better I am at my job. I’m not naturally organized so this was a tough realization for me to face. Nonetheless, it was incredibly true. Why? Because there’s always more to be done than there is time for. The more organized I was, the more efficient and fast I was. I think organization can be really personal, and what works for me might not work for you. That said, I want to share my best school counselor organization strategies with you in hopes that they help you be a more organized and efficient!
Use Your Planner
The most important school counselor organization strategy I use is to plan ahead. I used the same weekly planner through undergrad, grad school, and my first few years as a counselor. It was fine, but switching to an hourly planner made a huge difference. I used Kate’s counselor planner and loved it. Here’s an example of what my weekly spread looked like and how I used each of the areas:
Some specific tips for getting the most out of your planner:
- Schedule administrative stuff into your day! So many of us have an incredibly long list of emails to send, data to analyze, lessons to prep, etc. that we tell ourselves we’ll do when we have “free” time. This free time rarely exists. Actually schedule this work into your planner. For example, I had to schedule myself time each week to handle Check In/Check Out data and paperwork. I would also add in things like “print and copy kindness mission letters” and “file support-team docs.”
- Start with the monthly calendar spreads. Holidays, days off, district meetings, etc. When scheduling groups and class lessons, put them in the monthly spread first. This helps you have a big picture and catch issues quicker. Include counseling program tasks like “hand out needs assessment” and “start getting Angel Tree referrals.”
- Friday afternoons, transfer over each week’s lessons/sessions/etc from the month to the weekly spread. Add in any individual students you know you need to meet with.
I’m a big proponent of using binders to organize group counseling stuff. I used them in two ways:
1.Binders for each complete group counseling curriculum that I have/use. These are full of sheet protectors for each session’s materials, surveys, etc.
2. One binder for documents related to the current round of groups. I keep a folder with pre/post surveys inside. I also have an “outline” sheet for each group I’m currently running with student names, day/time group usually meets, goals, and a table for documenting meeting dates, topics, and attendance. These outlines are extra helpful if I’m doing a group that I’m not using a complete pre-planned curriculum for and instead am “mixing and matching” activities to meet their specific needs. Bonus: I put a sticky note with the students’ names and teachers on each outline. The first few weeks of group, I grab this sticky note when I go to grab the students so I remember where to get them all (and so I don’t forget anyone!).
MTSS and Attendance and Behavior
The binder that I keep current group documentation in is also the binder that I keep other important documents in (like some of the stuff on the post-it notes below). I also used a binder for all of my support-team paperwork (that’s the name for my district’s child study/MTSS meetings). And when our district rolled out an intense set of attendance procedures, I put all of those things in a binder, too. It wouldn’t be too helpful for me to show you the insides because it’s all pretty specific to my district. I wanted to mention how helpful the binders are, though, especially for grabbing to take to meetings. Copies of needed papers in the sheet protectors ready to go are great! I’ve tried keeping spreadsheets in these type of things inside for tracking meeting dates, etc. but found that was only feasible for CICO. For other things, electronic was easier for me.
Filing cabinets are my nemesis. In my life, hanging files are where things go to die. I tried this system (which is what the counselor before me used) my first year or two and it was a fail. Then I started using binders; putting each lesson’s materials in a sheet protector and organizing them by topic into different binders. This worked alright for a bit, but for some reason it still felt a little clunky getting things in and out. In addition, sometimes prepped materials for a lesson took up too much space to work well in a sheet protector. Enter: plastic envelopes and bins! I wish I had been using this system from the start because it really worked great for me. Each lesson plan’s materials, fully prepped, with at least one master copy for any handouts (with a highlighter slash through it!) goes into one of these Pendeflex zip envelopes. Then these are all organized into bins by big major topic. The truth is that the bins do take up a bit of space, and the envelopes can get pricey (I had to get a lot of them, but spread out over two years). That said, this system makes it fast and easy for me to get the materials I need AND to put them away (equally as important). Having bins means there’s also room for props that I might need, too, like a trench coat or magnifying class for my study skills unit or a net for my social filter safari lesson. The majority of the things I store this way are class lesson materials, but there are some things that I also pull out for individual or group counseling sessions like these resiliency activities.
Supplies and “Stuff”
A couple years ago, I decided to go desk free (to see how this looked in my overall room check out my full office tour). The first year, I used a tiny computer table (no storage) and the second year, I used the kidney bean table I had for groups. I LOVED this because it gave me so much more space in my room. It did make it a little more challenging to store things though. I eventually started using two rolling drawer carts for all of the things that would normally go in a desk, and it rocked (affiliate link on Amazon but I think you can get them cheaper at Michaels or Sam’s Club sometimes!). I used these for office supplies, documents I was collecting for my portfolio, needs assessments and other yearly data, copies of ASCA standards and the CASEL wheel, art supplies for groups, etc. There was also one drawer for each of my grade levels where I kept materials inside for whatever lesson we were on. I could just pull the drawer out and take that with me to the lesson.
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Would you share what curriculum you are using in your groups?
Hello! I have six complete group curriculums that I made, based off of the most commonly needed groups in my schools: https://shop.theresponsivecounselor.com/product/elementary-group-counseling-curriculum-bundle/
Other groups, after I got some info/data from the teachers about the specific skill needs, I would pull from class lessons, games, etc. to put together a more specific curriculum.
Hi! Thank you for sharing all of these tips!
In the plastic folders, do you store each individual lesson for group curriculums or do you only use this system for classroom guidance? How do you organize your groups in the binders (hole punched, put in sheet protectors, etc.)?
I’m also wondering if you’d be able to share a link to the labels you used on your ten drawer cart?
Sorry for so many questions, going into my first year 😳😬
Hi! I just used the plastic envelopes for lessons. I used binders with sheet protectors for groups! One binder for each complete group, and then I usually had another binder with quarter-specific documents (teacher pre surveys, or group plans if I’m not using a complete curriculum and am instead pulling bits from here and there). I don’t have the drawer cart labels in a shareable format but I might eventually! Best, Sara
Where can I find your binder covers for Multi-Tiered System Support, Attendance, and CICO? What counselor planner are you using this school year 2020-21?
Stay Safe & Positive,
Hello! I don’t have the MTSS or attendance binder covers available anywhere – I made them for myself. I might try and upload them at some point. The CICO one I believe is part of my CICO resource on TPT. I am on sabbatical this school year, but the planner I was using was EduKate&Inspire’s planner on TPT. I loved it. I had used the same Mead one from Office Depot for many years and it was okay but the format of Kate’s suited my days better. Best, Sara