Set Your Year Up For Success With a Summer Team Planning Day [Episode 82]


Here's What to Expect In This Episode:

Summer is for relaxing and recharging before you head into another busy school year. I hope you’re taking full advantage of this season because we all know that once school is back in session, it will feel like you’re drinking from a firehose!
While I don’t want you to spend your summer worrying about what’s to come, there are things you can sprinkle into your break that will set you up for success for the upcoming year. One of those things is to put together a planning day for your counseling team off campus.
If you set up this planning day intentionally, it has the potential to impact your entire year! Not only will it give you and your team a chance to get to know each other, but you can also use this day to establish expectations, look at your annual calendar, work through scheduling challenges, and so much more.
Wouldn’t it be nice to get everyone on the same page before the school year even begins? I hope this episode sparks lots of ideas and excitement for you when it comes to mapping out your team planning day. Trust me, it will set the tone for a successful year ahead. I can’t wait to hear how it goes!

Topics Covered in This Episode:

  • Ideas of where you can host a planning day
  • Key things to consider when creating a digital agenda
  • Why you need to set norms for your planning day to keep everyone on track
  • Practical tools for getting to know your team members and leveraging each other’s strengths
  • Crafting SMART goals for the year
  • Taking the time to review documents, procedures, and scheduling changes for the beginning of the year
  • Divvy up responsibilities for the year and how to organize these tasks
  • Running through what the first few (chaotic) days of school will look like

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Read the transcript for this episode:

A quick shout out if you’re going to be in Atlanta next week for ASCA. I will see you there. Head back and listen to episode 79 for some quick tips if you find yourself headed to Georgia for the conference as well.

This episode will be pertinent for you whether you’re going to the conference or not. This one is for all of the high school counselors prepping for a new school year. I wanted to get this one out early enough before school starts because it’s all about putting together a planning day for your counseling crew.

Chances are as a high school counselor, you have to report back to school a few days or weeks earlier than teachers or the other staff at your school. And yes, while this is annoying to cut your summer shorter, hopefully you get paid for those extra days and have a little bit of quiet in your office to keep working through those students schedules and get prepared for the school year.

During one of those days, when your counseling team is back, I’d encourage you to get a date on the calendar for a full day of planning for your year. My team started doing this the year that we were trying to zero in on making our program truly comprehensive. We knew that if we wanted to think through all of the things we couldn’t be flying by the seat of our pants just hoping everything would fall into place. We had to have a game plan. A plan of attack for getting it all done throughout the year. Let’s talk about all of this in this week’s episode.

You got into this profession to make a difference in your students lives. But you’re spread thin by all the things that keep getting added to your to do list. I can’t create more hours in the day. But I can invite you into my counselor clique where you’ll finally catch your breath. Come with me as we unpack creative ideas and effective strategies that will help you be the counselor who leaves a lifelong impact on your students. I’m Lauren Tingle your high school counseling hype girl. Here to help you energize your school counseling program and remind you of how much you love your job.

The first three things I want you to do sort of simultaneously, get permission to do a planning day off campus, pick a date that you’re going to do it, and then find a place to do it.

Now first, you’re going to ask me, can’t I just do this on my school’s campus, that would be so much easier. That’ll save some resources and some planning in itself, right? Wrong. You will regret being on campus where people can find you. No matter how hard you try to hide or how many signs you put up that say “Do Not Disturb”, the people will disturb you.

They will think that their 30 second or one minute interruption won’t matter. But they won’t know that 24 other people have also interrupted your day with just a quick, a simple one minute request.

Next, if you’re going to need some more convincing to get your principal on board, hang tight, we’ll come back to this in a minute. Where are some ideas of places you can go off campus? It’s time to pool your resources. Do you know someone who owns a co-working space? See if they’ll lend it to you for free, or at least for an educators discount. You never know if you don’t ask?

Do you know someone who does some of their own work at a co-working space but doesn’t necessarily own it? Ask the same thing. If renting a space just isn’t in the budget, does a team member of yours have a house that has a good space for this? Like you could just do it around the kitchen table or in someone’s living room.

Another place though, that I’ve loved doing this is a public library. They usually have free spaces available for reservation as long as you have a library card. It’ll be set for a number of hours and include Wi Fi and usually a whiteboard to write on.

Bonus points, if any of these are in walking location to a fun lunch spot to break and socialize. Whether you’re the department head or not, I think you have a big hand in planning the day. It can be a whole team effort.

Open up a Google Doc and start an agenda for your day. This document will serve as the outline measuring your productivity, let me tell you, you’re going to do a lot. But you’re also going to be proud of it all at the end of the day. You will be tired. I’m just warning you.

This agenda can also serve as the advocacy piece that I mentioned before that you might need for your admin to let you go off campus to hold this planning day. Especially if you have an admin who is micromanaging or not seeing the need for you to have some time away. Keep that in mind as you’re creating this planning document for the day.

When all is said and done, and this agenda is actually accomplished, they are going to be just as proud of you and your team as you are. You just gotta give them something to visualize what your time is going to be spent doing.

So what should go on this agenda? How should you use your time effectively? What should you plan? Well, that’s entirely up to you and your goals. But I’ll give you some pointers and some ideas to get you thinking about what your day could look like.

First, set some norms for your day. I know sometimes this seems silly, like we all know what we should do, how we should act, what the rules are for the day we’re adults. But it can also set the precedent for your weekly department meetings that you’ll have for the rest of the year. At this off site planning day. It can be really tempting to bring your binder of schedules with you to get those done or to answer parent and student emails all day while halfway listening and contributing to the conversation at hand.

I’d encourage you; 1- to commit to not doing this, but 2- to be bold and setting standards for your day with some things like this. Maybe you could say we won’t take any phone calls or send texts while we’re in the middle of a brainstorm session, but we will take plenty of breaks. So don’t worry.

One idea that my department had shared as her vision for this planning day was, and this is a quote that I’m going to share with you, “Listen to understand, speak from the heart, suspend certainty, hold space for difference and slow down the conversation.” I love that quote, she got it from a book called Future Focus Leaders: Relate, Innovate, and Invigorate For Real Educational Change. And that is written by Bill Ziegler and Dave Ramage. I’ll link that with an Amazon affiliate link in the show notes in case you’re curious about learning more, or reading that book.

With our planning day norms, we wanted to imitate what the rest of our department meetings would look like, like I mentioned to you before. So we decided to set clear expectations for what professionalism in our department looks like when dealing with parents, communicating with others, and using some uniform practices like our calendars and our website.

It was a great way to get everyone on the same page and establish these expectations together for our year. We could always revisit them and change them, but this was a great starting point.

Next, I think the beginning of this day is a really great time to get to know each other. Now, I know this is not everyone’s cup of tea, some people hate it, but stay with me here. What is something that you could do to be productive in a work setting and get to know each other professionally a bit better?

One of my favorite tools is StrengthsFinder 2.0. And it’s by Tom Rath or Gallup. It says Tom Rath on the cover, when you look it up on Amazon, it says Gallup, GALLUP.

It’s a great tool for leveraging each other’s strengths as a team while you’re also doing some self exploration. You buy this little book that gives you a code for a quiz. You can have each team member take the quiz ahead of time and come with their results and an understanding of their top five strengths. These are out of 34 different themes that they could possibly have. And then they could talk about how they can leverage them in the workplace.

This book gives tons of examples and applications to help you with your own self reflection. Purchasing the book costs the same as going to the Gallup website and purchasing the assessment through there. You get a detailed personalized report either way. It just depends on if you want to have the book in front of you after the fact or not. I’ll link to the online assessment in the show notes as well.

If you’re feeling really fancy and leading this part of the day, you can print out a big poster size poster of all of the strengths and then check off where everybody falls, and see if there are any that are overlapping. I’ve tried looking everywhere for a visual example of this or where we got the one that we used years ago, but I’m at a loss. I can’t find it. So maybe you will have better luck with that.

One more assessment I like is called the Six Types of Working Genius by Patrick Lencioni. I think that’s how you say his last name. Which is a quick 10 minute assessment to dive deeper into your genius zones. And on the contrary, the places that you get most frustrated in work. I find that it’s very affirming to see both of those and make it all make sense for you.

With this online assessment you get a personalized report, some tangible applications, and a team map analysis, which I think would be so beneficial to see how your whole team fits together. This assessment is $25 I’ll link it in the show notes. I heard about this on a podcast a long time ago. And I remember getting a promo code to use with it. So maybe you can poke around the internet and find a promo code to use. I’ve done this one myself as well.

I love doing these assessments before you get into the meat of planning because you’ll spend a good chunk of your day divvying up responsibilities for the year and it’ll make so much more sense why people will choose the things they will or why they will also avoid the things that they will once you know their strengths, their weaknesses, the things that get them most frustrated.

Are you looking for resources like supplies, books for PD, fidgets and more recommendations for your office, visit my Amazon storefront which is easily categorized for you to sort through ideas of what you may be looking for in terms of physical items for your space this upcoming school year. Visit to see what’s in my High School Counselor Storefront. You can also listen to Episode 32 of the podcast for back to school tips on how to use many of these items in your office. I’ll link to both of these resources in the show notes for you. Now back to today’s episode.

Okay, I feel like I filled up your resource bucket with things that are going to help you connect with your team and build your self awareness. But we’re not even to the meat of your planning day. So let’s keep going.

You need to think a little bit about this one before you get to the planning day. But it’s a great time to put your heads together and write down your SMART goals for the year. Come up with two or three as a team and write them out according to the ASCA template and model.

You can find more details on how to do this specifically in the ASCA National Model Book and I’ll link that. You’ll want to bring some of your data from last year and things that you wrapped up from the end of the year in preparation for your goals for the new year.

You can also think on your administrator’s school wide goals and see if anything you want to be working on sort of aligns to those as well. You’ll need your goals ready for your Principal Counselor Annual Agreement if you do that from the ASCA template as well. So this is just another good thing maybe to tack on to your time with your goals if you plan on filling one of those out.

Go through the things that you and your team will need to be on the same page about as you enter the beginning of the school year. Because after you leave this planning day, you’re going to be running around like a chicken with your head cut off, barely coming up for air if you’re trying to get everything done. It’s a full adrenaline rush from here on out until students get settled somewhat in their classes.

Take some time during this day to review documents and procedures for the beginning of the year. It’s absolutely necessary if you have new counselors on your team, but it’s honestly incredibly helpful for everyone because you’ve probably forgotten a lot of this since you haven’t done it in either a year or maybe six months if you’re on a block schedule.

You can talk about scheduling parameters like reminders that Team Sports III is only for baseball players or Digital Media II students are only placed there by the one specific teacher recommendation. If there are any new master schedule updates, you’ll want to know about those. Does yours change all the time to even down to the wire before the school year starts?

Are there any new systems that your district expects you to know how to log in and use? Why don’t we all take a few minutes then to learn it together and get acquainted with it. If we need to touch base on the schedule hange policies or troubleshoot some tough emails together, use this time to put your heads together and to get on the same page as you move forward.

Next, I think a hugely valuable use of your time during this day is divvying up your responsibilities for the year. Take some time on a Google sheet to list out everything that someone has to do or someone has to take the lead on. There are so many things. This can be from the career center field trip to the rotary awards luncheon. Leave no stone unturned. List it all.

Organize it according to when it happens during the school year. Then we would go line by line and have conversations about each of the tasks. What it entails, which is helpful for someone who’s new, who did it last year, and who will do it this year.

Just because you did it last year doesn’t mean you have to do it again, necessarily. It’s so interesting to see what people want to do or don’t want to do. Sometimes we have to barter for the ones we don’t want or we have to table it and come back to it later because no one seems to want to take it.

Once you’ve done some self assessments and the teammates know each other a little bit better, this is always just an interesting activity or exercise or thing we have to get done. It’s helpful to know each other’s strengths and it’s just so interesting to see how it all pans out.

The goal of this would be that each task has a point person when you leave, but also that it aligns with counselors strengths and personalities. We’re probably all going to have a few things that aren’t our favorites, but we do want to have some things that light us up as a counselor.

Next, we look at the big picture of our annual calendar. It’s time to put all of those important dates on the calendar for the whole year. This helps hold us accountable to the goals that we set, and it helps make us follow through with what we truly want to do.

Without putting it on paper, we will get too busy to make it all happen. And I’ve talked about this in the individual counseling calendars that you make for yourself about, hey, we got to write it down or it’s never gonna happen. It’s the exact same with the team effort for the annual calendar as well.

So we look at our calendar for the year. A lot of our dates have already been decided in the summer at a school wide meeting with like department heads from everywhere in the school. But we review our dates and make sure we’re all on the same page.

We take those dates and we add them to a school counseling department calendar and make that public on our school counseling website, like a public Google calendar that we can share with everyone.

We also go ahead and set out all of our classroom lesson dates and put them on the calendar for the whole year. We don’t get as specific as to we’re in this teacher’s classroom at this time, but we put like the week on the calendar of when we’re going to be going in and what kind of lesson we’re going to be doing, if we know that already.

We identify which small groups will run and then when they’ll be held. And sometimes this comes after our needs assessment too. So this one can kind of happen now or in a couple of weeks. And of course there is always wiggle room for all of these things.

However, we found that if we don’t at least put them on the calendar from the start of the year, they’ll always get pushed back and sometimes they won’t even get completed.

Lastly, we run through what the first few days of school are gonna look like because like I said before, it is absolute chaos. A good kind of chaos, a really fun kind of chaos if you asked me but everyone needs to know how it’s gonna go down.

A few minutes of our time is spent discussing our game plan for the first two weeks of school because this comes and goes very quickly. We go ahead and set our agenda items for our first or our next official department meeting of the year where we’ll set up some things like our common app profile. We’ll talk about letters of recommendation, best practices, plan for our upcoming senior meetings, put together a needs assessment for our students, and more.

Like that stuff is important, but it’s not important as we’re starting the school year in a couple of weeks, but it will be the first thing that we need to talk about once we get settled and get moving forward.

So we summarize our day with our action items that need to get taken care of and who’s going to do them. We set a date that those will be done by and then that gives us some direction moving forward.

I hope this episode and some of these ideas sparks some excitement in your Back-To-School planning. Whether you already lead your team or you’re bringing ideas to your teams leadership, a planning day off campus will benefit your school program for the entire school year. I cannot wait to hear how yours goes.

I have an assignment before we go for a specific group of you. I’m going to call you out. If you are a newer high school counselor and you’ve been listening to the podcast, it’s your turn to go leave a review. Open up your apple podcast player, scroll down on the show’s main page, leave your five star review, and tell me what you’ve loved about the show. New counselors it’s your time to show up and show out. I’ll see you next week for another episode.

Thanks for listening to today’s episode of High School Counseling Conversations. All the links I talked about today can be found in the show notes and also at Be sure to hit follow wherever you listen to your podcast so that you never miss a new episode. Connect with me over on Instagram. Feel free to send me a DM @counselorclique that’s C L I Q UE. I’ll see you next week.

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Cheers + Happy Listening!

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