As a high school counselor, I sat around more IEP tables than I could count as a part of the school counseling services that are offered by high school counselors.
Sometimes we feel like merely a participant signing off on transitional services for a student, and counselors can easily go through an entire meeting without speaking if no questions are asked of them and nothing pressing comes up.
I recently sat down with Catherine Whitcher who is a master of the special education services and IEP world. She helps teachers and parents find collaboration around the IEP table. When I made sure that my mindset was to be a true collaborator and resource provider, my time at the IEP table was so valuable for families.
What if we, as high school counselors, used the time around an IEP table to offer our expertise around the 3 main realms that we serve students in: social/emotional wellness, academics, and college and career (and general post-secondary) readiness? It is our responsibility to offer our expertise and our knowledge around these topics to students and families who may not even know the right questions to ask.
We are so used to the general topics we cover with students, teachers, families, and other stakeholders, that we discount the information we have to offer! Let’s remember the wealth of knowledge that we have in order to be better participants and leaders around the IEP table. When used correctly, we get to be a pivotal connecting piece to and advocate for all parties at this IEP table!
Let’s break down those three main categories of our school counseling services and think through what types of things a high school counselor may be able to offer students and parents at the special education conference.
School Counseling Services Category #1: Social/Emotional
School counselors offer short-term, often solution-focused counseling. This is different than longer-term therapy that counselors in private practice may offer their clients. When counselors get that individual time to connect during the IEP meeting with a student, the student may realize that they can use the school counselor for their individual counseling services! In individual counseling, counselors may work with students on managing their grief, controlling their anger, exploring general coping skills, or identifying emotions and feelings.
High school counselors, contrary to popular belief, do run small group counseling sessions for students! A great small group to run with your special education students who are preparing for their post-secondary transitions is a Career Exploration Small Group. Counselors may run stress management small groups or leadership small groups. They pull from a variety of resources and connect students together who are working on the same skills to grow and learn together in a small group setting.
In the IEP meeting, counselors may also refer a student or give families resources like mental health counselor referrals or inpatient treatment centers.
School Counseling Services Category #2: Academics
Students always think that a high school counselor’s job is solely to help them pick classes and manage their academics in this way. School counseling services go FAR beyond this! Of course, we gladly do this and help students stay on track to graduate… but we also help them set and reach goals! This is a helpful topic to talk about around the IEP table since goals are a natural part of the conversation already.
High school counselors can explain the career services that overlap into academics like elective classes at a career center or that are focused on career and technical education. These classes give students the soft skills and technical skills they need to be successful in a specific career saving them time and money down the road whether they pursue that path or not.
The IEP meeting is an ideal time to talk through academic goals and dreams and map out a way to achieve these. Parents and students should feel the freedom to ask their high school counselor anything related to academics or academic planning during this meeting!
School Counseling Services Category #3: College and Career Readiness
Where do students and families start when it comes to career research and career planning? High school counselors can offer a variety of different school counseling services around careers! I love the website called O*Net with free assessments and a great search tool for potential careers. (I have a free PDF with more free career research websites and questions to process through regarding careers that you can download here!)
High school counselors make great partners with special education teachers in their classroom setting to do lessons talking about transitioning to college or setting up a field trip to visit a college! On a field trip to a local college, students can see a college classroom, meet a professor, tour a dorm room, and visit the student services building. All of these can help motivate seniors to not fall to the “summer melt” if they have plans of attending college in the fall.
Special ed teachers don’t need to have all of the answers around college and career readiness! I would encourage sped teachers to reach out to their counselors to see what unique school counseling services they could partner together and offer their students. When this relationship acts as a partnership, students are better served again and again!
Grab this free Career Research Cheat Sheet to use with your students or give to families wanting some more help with the careers realm of school counseling services! I also have resources specific to helping students and families through the college application process from mini workshops to mini digital courses to a full, flagship course College Prep 101: Clueless to Confident.