School Counsellors are trained professionals who understand child development, often with Masters degrees in Counselling or more, who partake in ongoing professional development and extensive mental health training . They know school culture and how the education system works, making them readily able to help youth in an effective manner.
Often the first place students present any concerns are in schools because that is where they spend so much time. The educators get to know students well building trusting relationships. School Counsellors have the whole child in mind with access to a comprehensive background regarding the students history in school, so are often able to make decisions collaboratively in the best interest of students.
If you are a new teacher and have never accessed your School Counsellor , please do so. They are there to help you help the student. When all work together to help our youth it is more likely to make a difference in the life of a child. Now more than ever we must do all we can together to help.
School Counsellors -> Students -> Families ->Staff
We all need a little empathy at this moment in time. School Counsellors are a key player in providing these chats with students , families and the staff in their schools. Harvard offers some great tips on how to build empathy in your schools
I had a very wise administrator who once said to me that my job was to look after the students his job was to look after me. We all need support at this time. It is a give and take. All of us need a supportive person in our corner.
Let’s be intentional in supporting one another.
We can all :
Be positive in our interactions
Help others feel understood
Make people feel heard. You can use these creative approaches.
What are some basics that could be helpful to you as a new school counsellor?
Write an introduction letter to parents letting them know who you are and what you do and post it on the school counselling and school website. (If by chance your school does not have a website design a letter introducing yourself and put it in the school newsletter ( put it in the newsletter anyway.) If you wish to do a digital introduction or video introduction you can do that too.
Send this out to students on the school instagram, twitter or other account.
Introduce yourself to as many teachers as you possibly can. In a large school, this will take time. Virtually you can introduce yourself and let teachers know what services you can provide.
Plan to meet with your administration team at THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR and least once a month. You can do this virtually through google meet or zoom, but put it in your calendar. Celebrate what you do and how you are doing. Discuss what the expectations are of a Comprehensive School Counselling Plan and how you can work together to accomplish this.
Implement a joint admin. counseling blog post at least four times throughout the school year. Counsellors and admin should be joint leaders in any school.
Show initiative. Everyone in a school will benefit. If you have some great ideas, don’t be afraid to share or try out your ideas.
Discuss limits of confidentiality with every student. You might want to put a poster of the limits on your office wall or in your intro to students.
Visually make your office a space students want to be in as best as possible during this time. Make your space at home a comfortable place to connect with students.
Develop a monthly calendar of things to do and check off when you complete them.
Have a plan when meeting new students. Virtually you will need to connect with their homeroom teacher and then have them connect with you by email. When phoning student find ways to connect that hide your cell number.
It might be helpful to keep a notebook of all the things you need to know especially if you are in a new school or counselling a new age group.
You will want to find a simple and easy way to curate information. I use livebinders wakelet and pinterest. They can be extremely helpful tools for new counsellors as well as those that have been around for awhile.
You need to be a positive PR person for the school counseling program , so find many ways to connect with students. Brainstorm with your colleagues ways to make connections with students so that they know who you are and what you do.
Connect with parents. Let them know through parent council or other means what you do.
Ask for help. You are not expected to know everything. Utilize the professionals inside and outside of your building for support. If you are an Alberta School Counsellor . Join your specialist council. Join your specialist council in your area wherever you are in the world. ASCA has many supports whether you are American or not, I would recommend joining the American School Counsellor Association.
Learn as you go about the many community resources that are available and put them in a binder or livebinder.
Don’t be afraid to share your innovative or creative ideas with your counselling team ( if you have one). They and you will benefit!
BALANCE we all benefit from taking care of ourselves. Don’t burn yourself out in the first year. Practice self-care.
You have a big learning curve. BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF.
Check out this amazing well organized livebinder by one of my past colleagues.
You can also check out some of my past resources here.
For all of you who are new to school counselling have a wonderful experience and know that what you do absolutely matters.
Welcome to one of the best professions in the world,
Consult, consult, consult. I can’t say that enough. There will be many new experiences that you will encounter as a School Counsellor. You can’t be expected to know everything, so please take advantage of all the great mentors and knowledgeable people that are out there. It is more than ok to not know what to do next. Even after forty years in education , I still consult. I must say that it will be more crucial than ever in a pandemic as the unknown will occur for all.
Caplan said that “consultation has the twofold goal of enhancing services and improving functions, both for the consultee’s current challenge and future challenge”. Sometimes you will be the one that teachers want to consult with and at other times you will need to consult with district supervisors, community agencies, and others regarding the complex needs of students. Your students and you deserve the best services possible. Consulting and collaboration helps School Counselors take action, demonstrate leadership , connect with other professionals who are leaders in their field and ultimately make a difference in the lives of students. So when unsure reach out and consult.
You have chosen one of the best professions in the world and have the ability and educational know how to help others. This is a time like no other in our profession and you will need to be ok with uncertainty. It is important that you model calm , optimism and psychological safety for students whether you are online or off. Be prepared, be calm, be present, be a good digital citizen and be hopeful. You will find ways to engage students. That’s who you are and what you do. Trust the process and focus on what you can do today given the circumstances that will be most helpful. One of the first things I would recommend you do is join twitter and engage with other School Counsellors from around the world who are willing to help you. It will be one of the best decisions you make in your first year of being a School Counsellor. Connect with School Counsellors from across the world in #scchat or find a way to connect with other School Counsellors from your district, whatever way works best for you. If you don’t have a mentor, set up a mentorship group. It’s a great way to start your career and will continue to be one of the most helpful things you can do for yourself. Filter in the good , let go of the negative on twitter and you will find some amazing people who will become your trusted Professional Learning Network.
It is my belief that we have an awesome opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students especially during this time. What we say and do matters now more than ever. Students will forever remember how their School Counsellor interacted with them. How you connect, build relationship and assist students in feeling like they belong in a time when so many are dealing with collective trauma, collective and sometimes complex grief matters. There will be many feeling similar feelings you are feeling as you enter the profession at this time. You have chosen an amazing profession. Reach out we are here to help and support you.
Communication , connection , consultation and collaboration will be vital at this time. Communicating and connecting with your staff, with students, parents, district personnel, outside community agencies, and especially with other School Counsellors is essential. Use email, ZOOM, Google Meet ( beware of Zoom and Google meet burnout) and other creative ways to stay connected. You have an awesome role to play during this time with so many things to consider. In a Comprehensive School Counselling Program it is the responsibility of all. You are not in this alone.
Surround yourself with positive people those that lift you up especially on twitter or any other social media you engage in. Let go of the negative, stay focused on the positive. Remember what you say and do matters , so take time to take care of yourself that includes taking a break from any social media that you feel you need to at anytime.
I hear it all too often, youth saying they have anxiety when what they really mean is that they are feeling anxious. If you listen to the news you would believe that our youth are in crisis . The data would suggest otherwise 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime . It’s true and needs to be addressed and has been for the past 20 or so years. The stats have not changed. What’s also true is that 4 out of every 5 Canadians don’t have a mental health disorder and it’s up to us to teach the difference between a disorder and everyday feelings that we all have. Some may need the assistance of a professional to understand the difference. Your School Counsellor is a good place to start. They are trained professionals who understand the difference and can assist in finding supports.
For the 1 in 5 youth that will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime we need to assist them in getting all the supports necessary. For the youth that are experiencing distress over a multitude of concerns we must also listen and support them , teaching them how to cope with life’s challenges and concerns. Supporting youth with their feelings helps us understand what steps to take next. Their feelings are important , so we must not dismiss them.
Words do matter and helping our youth become literate when it comes to mental health can have a positive impact. If you need resources and ideas on how to make that happen check out teenmentalhealth.org. You can also find more information on anxiety here and here.
If you are wondering whether a youth truly has an anxiety disorder, some waitful watching may be in order. Don’t be quick to jump to a diagnosis ( and a reminder that you must be qualified to do so ) even then waitful watching is a good idea.
Some questions to reflect on :
Frequency : How frequent are the anxious feelings? Once or more a day , once a week , once a year?
Duration: How long do the feelings last? A few minutes, hours , weeks , months?
Intensity: Does the youth avoid situations because they are too anxious to cope? Is the anxiety taking control of them instead of them controlling it? Are they having trouble coping with everyday life because of their anxiety?
Have they seen a medical doctor to rule out any other medical concerns?
As a counsellor the way you begin your day can impact you and others around you. So beginning your day by being good to yourself is a great way to start your day. Ease into your day if you can by getting to work a little early. Take time to listen to positive podcasts, nice music or just turn the radio off and be quiet on your drive to work. Whatever works for you.
Make sure you take time for lunch. Get out of your office and eat with colleagues or go for a walk, I can’t stress how important this is. This is essential for your self care, so just do it! After your crazy busy day and I know you had one, take time to just breathe and wrap up your day by listening to music while you write your notes and prepare for your next work day. I’m interested to know how do you start each day?
As School Counsellors and educators one of the biggest responsibilities we have is to keep our students safe .
How do we do that? Very carefully and with much thought and effort as well as an understanding of the research around what works best. Bruce Perry founder of child trauma academy states that active shooter training is not always done properly , the training that occurs in schools should focus on adults. He says, “if the educators and people who are responsible for children remain calm then the students will reflect that emotional state”. Read more about what he says here.
What can be done? The answers are complex and require teams of people to assist. That is where a Comprehensive School Counselling Plan comes in. School Counsellors are always looking at ways to make school better for students, putting the psychological health and safety of students as a priority. We need to get students the help they need long before a serious threat occurs. The answers are not easy , but those who have learned before us can teach us some things we may need to know. Take a look at these recommendations from the Sandy Hook advisory committee.
As stated in that report , “There is at least one place, other than a home, in which every person, whether a child or adult, should feel absolutely safe and secure from the threat of physical harm: school. ” I could not agree more. School Counsellors can take the lead along with staffs to make schools a safe place to be. Mental health literacy is essential for all students and staff members. Building relationships is one small step towards creating a community that focuses on what is important.
Working to ensure that we have a safe and caring school community is always on the mind of a professional school counsellor. Best practices should be reviewed and reflected upon each year based on individual school needs. School Counsellors are in a unique position to assist in preventative measures helping students to deal with stressors and social isolation. We also know it takes a team and we don’t have all the answers, but there are many things we can do and are doing already. We are but one of a community of people that make a difference. We as School Counsellors can help make our schools a safe place to be.
As a School Counsellor you have many roles to play and from personal experience I know sometimes we get caught up in all the daily things that need to get done . So just for today why not aim for improving the lives of your students and better yet why not look for ways to improve your own life. Amy Fast @fastcrayon says , “we don’t do what we do in schools to get good results/ data. We do what we do to improve the lives of humans. Good academic results are the byproduct. If we only aim for data, we may not succeed in improving lives. But , if we aim for improving lives the data will always follow“
First let me start with a few questions.
What are ways you feel hopeful that you can improve the lives of your students and instil hope?
How do you help those that are struggling academically, socially or emotionally?
How do you educate the mind and the heart?
How do help students love learning and life ?
How do you help students live positively as a good citizen in their community and in the world?
How do you build healthy meaningful relationships with students and help them to do the same?
How do you help students feel a sense of belonging?
How do you assist students in finding their purpose and passion?
How do you help students make better choices?
How do you create a spark in a child’s eye so that they can become the people they are meant to be?
How can you make a difference in the lives of the students you serve, academically, socially, emotionally , physically and spiritually?
How can you collaborate with others to improve the lives of students so that they know how much they matter and can be successful in school and in life?
Reflection makes us all better and in the end it not only helps us improve our own lives, but also the lives of those we work with. Let’s start with you and your worth and then let’s move on to students. How can you improve your own life? :
If you take good care of yourself you will be better able to assist students in improving their lives. Every day you as a School Counsellor reach out to help make students lives better. Keep doing the amazing work you do every day and keep on reflecting. As a Professional School Counsellor you can and do make an impact and a difference every day in oh so many ways.