Here is round 2 of my Questions and Answers for a High School Counselor Round-Up! Here is a compilation of questions and answers to/from a high school counselor from other school counselors. This post covers topics like advice for first-year high school counselors, general organization, and planning your day.
What tips or advice do you wish you would have known as a first-year high school counselor?
I wrote a blog post called Dear New School Counselor
which wasn’t necessarily to high school counselors… just new school counselors in general. A few bits of advice though:
- Be patient: You may want to save the world or change your complete school counseling program, but you’ll have to give that some time. Scope it out and see which way is up. It will take a while to change things for the better!
- Ask questions: Don’t stop doing this. 8 years in, and I ask questions every day. I want and need to get better. I consult with fellow counselors all the time. You think you’ve heard it all, and then something new comes up!
- Get to know the teachers in your building: Building relationships with your staff is key. It will help you get to know students and families better, it will let you get your foot in the door for classroom lessons (especially if this hasn’t been the norm before), and it will give your teachers a positive perception of your school counseling program. They will support you and what you are doing for students if they know you, if they know your program, and if they trust you!
How do you stay organized with schedules, 504s, etc?
I am the farthest from a Type-A, organized person! I am quite the opposite of an organized school counselor. My desk is always a mess, but I (mostly) always know where everything is. I work up until the last minute, and things that are happening next on my calendar take precedence from something that’s much farther out that requires planning later. When I’m collaborating with someone else on my team, I have to be aware that this is the way I work because this really bothers some Type-A planner people. I am fine doing presentations on the fly, not rehearsing things, and “winging it.” All that to say… I have to try extra hard to stay organized with all of these things.
When I’m working on creating and changing schedules, I have a big binder of printed schedules with handwritten notes on them. If I have important correspondence from parents or students via email regarding these things, I file them in an email folder, and I print it out and put it in a folder for that student if I think I’ll need to quickly reference this later when a student comes in for a schedule change. I’m not afraid of deleting emails or throwing away papers when needed. I am all about less clutter and less paper.
In terms of 504 organization, I address this in another question in Questions and Answers for a High School Counselor: Part 1. My system may not work for everyone, but I love having everything digital. I look at this spreadsheet A LOT.
The “etc.” from this question may entail some other things like to-do lists and calendars… which I keep all digital. I love Trello, and I’m just recently getting into Airtable which is like Excel or Google Sheets on steroids. (Both of these are free.) I have Google Sheets for everything in my job. Also, for classroom lessons and small groups, I keep folders or baskets of everything I need for these things already printed out and ready to go, so that I don’t even have to think when it’s time to run these things. I just grab them and run into the small group
or classroom lesson
(because, most likely, I won’t even have time to breathe before this sneaks up on me)! That gives me no excuse for being unprepared or flustered before one of these!
What type of planner do you use?
There are plenty of awesome paper and pencil planners out there, but that ain’t for me. I lose things, I can’t keep track of things, I’d have to have a big book with me all the time… I’m not about that life. I want something digital that I can access at my fingertips all the time. I use iCal in my real life to manage everything which I love (my husband and I even have a shared calendar with helps us stay on the same page), and Google Calendar to manage my work life.
In work life, as referenced above, I’m loving Trello and Google Drive, and I’m recently trying to get into Airtable and learn its intricacies. Trello is like lots of to-do lists. I love that I can have them for all areas of my life. I love that I can access it from my phone or jump on my computer and pull it up. The mobile app is very easy to use and looks very similar to the desktop version which is important to me. If I have an idea or a thought, I can quickly and easily open it up and jot it down.
How do you organize your emails? Do you delete? Move to folders?
Again, I’m not The Organization Queen. Don’t take organizational advice from me. However, I do try to keep my work emails organized. I do have folders for everything in my work email; when something is completed, I move it to a folder. The only things I keep in my main inbox are things that I still need to take action on (reply, plan something, reference something). Once it’s done, I move it out of sight! I also delete things I know I won’t need again. My work email is WAY more organized than my real life, personal email.
What advice would you give to an elementary school counselor making the switch to high school?
I’ve never done this personally… just interned in the elementary setting. I will say, it will probably feel like an entirely different job! Each level has its own challenges. HOWEVER, it is SO FUN. Hang on, and GET READY! High schoolers are hilarious. Every day is different. Be prepared to laugh at yourself and laugh with students.
Do you have a general plan/agenda for each day (even though each day is different)?
I’d say I am more productive if I do have a general plan for the day like… what MUST get done, what students I MUST see and WHEN do I need to see them. If something can be done the next day, and it doesn’t get done that first day, I don’t beat myself up about it. I let it roll over to the next day. There are too many crises and unpredictable things that happen day to day to be upset about not getting to everything. A great/hard thing about this job is that there is ALWAYS more work that can be done. Once you also realize this, you realize you don’t need to stay working late at school because the work will be there tomorrow, too!
Most days I come in, turn on my computer, catch up with my other counselors and say “good morning,” pop outside my office as students are coming in, go back to my office check/reply to important emails (see if anything is immediately pressing), respond to quick things first and respond to voicemails, then get the rest of my day started!
I hope these Q&As give some insight into life as a high school counselor. For more tips, tricks, and freebies, make sure you’re signed up for my email list! When you sign up here, you’ll get my “Responsibilities Matrix” Google Sheet Freebie
which shows how we organize and divide up our yearly tasks in my department!