This year marks my 18th anniversary since become a practicing school counselor!!  I can’t believe how quickly time has passed and it occurred to me just how really unprepared I was for this role.  Initially, I started my career as an elementary school counselor and then moved to high school the following year.  The first day on the job I just remember feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to start.  Although I had fantastic and supportive colleagues, I often felt I was unprepared for the start of each school year.  Yes, it would have been amazing to have Pinterest, blogs to read, online social media groups or even Facebook pages that support school counselors; however, none of those things existed at that time (gosh I feel old).  So being clueless, I muddled through the first half of my career not sure of what I should be doing or how to do it. Therefore, I decided that I would make it my goal to help other counselors not to feel the same way!

So, I wanted to take my July 4th to give some tips to school counselors on how to start the year off right.  This post is by no means a guidebook, but I think it may provide some clarity and a lot of useful resources (I have searched countless counseling blogs, articles, and even ASCA to craft this post). Well, let’s get to it!

Tips to Start the New Year 

#1 Request a Year Meeting With Your Administration

Okay, I cannot overemphasize the important of meeting with your principal or supervisor.  Here are where good counselors feel supported or become broken by the unrealistic expectations of administration.  Need help with talking to your administration about school counselor roles and responsibilities?  Download the Executive Summary from ASCA for a great overview of talking points.

#2 Get Your Office Student Ready

When I refer to getting your office ready for the school year, I mean looking past the decorations and concentrating on items that add value to your practice.

Here are some items that may be helpful to make your office more inviting for students.

Invest in Fidget Toys

Investing in fidget toys can be great for students and adults.  In fact, I use them all the time when I teach courses and it really helps the participants to focus.  The Inspired TreeHouse defines a fidget toy as an object which helps a student regulate his or her need for movement.  Check out the Ten Best Fidget Toys for Students from You Clever Monkey.  Also, check out the link for do-it-yourself fidget toys if you are on a limited budget.

Incorporate Calming Tools and Kits

Want to be ready for anxious, aggressive, or despondent students? Check out this free printable of what items can be useful for creating a student calm down kit.  Check out this link from

Himalayan Salt Lamp

Okay, I admit it.  This is something that I must have this year!  Whether it is hype or not, Himalayan salt lamps supposedly have many benefits.  Some of these benefits include:

Improved mood
Increased energy
Decreased stress
Increased performance
Purification of air

Interested in purchasing a salt lamp for your office? Click this link from Amazon.

Invest in Posters

One poster, in my opinion, that school counselors need in their office is regarding informed consent.  There are two reasons to have such a poster in your office: first, so you don’t forget to give this information to students and second, to use as a reminder for the students as they may share information. Again, I will not endorse any seller or items on TPT, but I thought this one was really inexpensive and cute!

Want to see an office that already includes many of these elements?  Check out this counseling office from The School Counselor Life.

Also, discover my post on Shopping Tips for the Beginning of the New Year from 2016.

#3  Prepare and Create a Needs Assessment

Now that you have your office student ready, it is important to gather data about your program to discover what went well and what didn’t go so well the previous year. If you are a new counselor, hopefully your colleagues have done this for you (of course, unless you are a lone wolf).  One quick and easy way to create a needs assessment is to use Google Forms.

Need a tutorial on how to create a needs assessment for your counseling program?  Check out this post by Ohio Elementary School Counselor Kate from Edukate and Inspire.

#4 Start Planning Your Year in Advance

Not that you have your needs assessment, it is time to start planning.  This was always the most difficult part of my job as a school counselor.  However, if you do not plan your time then someone else will!!  Here are some methods you can use to effectively plan out your school year.

Use a Counselor Planner

There is no lack of creative choices when it comes to counselor planners on Teacher’s Pay Teachers.  I do not endorse any school counselor planners (I like to promote as much free resources as possible), but here are some that I found that you might like to invest in for 2017-18 school year.

The School Counselor Life

116 page planner with the following features:

Cover Page
-Year-at-a-Glance Calendar
-Monthly Calendar Pages (August ’17-July ’18) with space to write monthly goals
-Weekly Calendar Pages (with times from 7am-4pm Monday-Friday)
-To-Do List Pages (divided into the following sections: Students to See, Parent Communication, Print/Copy/Laminate, Ongoing Projects, and Other To-Do)
-Large and Small Group Curriculum Logs/Planners
-Books/Articles to read log
-Important Contacts Log
-Professional Development Tracker
-Notes Section

Counselor  UP

Check out this comprehensive planner from Rebecca Atkins.

Features of this planner include:

• This Planner belongs to… page
• Color coded calendar at a glance
• Program Goals Page
• 6 curriculum pages
• 2 Group Plan pages
• Weekly Schedule and To Do list Pages July 2016-June 2017
• 6 Individual Counseling Log pages
• Lined Notes Pages
• Unlined Notes Pages
• Mandala Quote Pages for Coloring
• Printing Instructions

Designed to be printed on 8.5×11 but may print in other sizes through your printer settings.

The Middle School Counselor

 Editable school counselor planner that contains:

Editable Cover (enter your name, school, title, etc)
Planner Notes (to help you put it all together)
Section Dividers
Monthly Calendar Pages (for you to customize to fit your yearly goals and district needs, come in both a 1 page calendar with planner page or a 2 page calendar)
Weekly Calendar Pages (in both 7am-4pm fifteen minute increments and period by period– you can also choose from a one page or two page weekly calendar.)
Weekly Worksheets (to keep track of your priorities and to do lists. These worksheets work perfectly with the one page calendar pages.)
Phone Log
Contact Information
Documentation Log
Student Visits Log

Password Keeper
Notes Page

This planner includes:
Weekly Schedule
Year and Month at a glance
Post It Note To Do Pages
Goal Setting Pages
Phone Call Logs
Notes and Reflection Pages

#5 Counselor Brochures for Stakeholders

It is important to educate your students, staff, and parents about your role and responsibilities as a school counselor.  One great way to do this is by creating and circulating a counseling brochure.  Here are some examples from different school counseling departments that may give you some ideas on creating your own.
Role of the School Counselor Description from ASCA
Brochure from Edward A. Reynolds West Side High

In addition to creating a counseling brochure, Jeannie Maddox from Exploring School Counseling blog suggests creating a parent introduction letter and your own business cards (you can order your business cards from Vista Print).  Check out number five on her list of tips for beginning the year for new counselors.

#6 Schedule Classroom Guidance Dates With Teachers

Early in the year, begin to ask your teachers to sign up for classroom guidance times before they get too busy or stressed out.  One way to accomplish this feat is to do it during preplanning.
Here is a form created by a school counselor for her teachers.
Counseling Classroom Sign Up form from Edukate and Inspire

#7 Create Appropriate Communication With Your Students

Make sure that your students know how they can communicate with you during the year. Some ways to effectively communicate include:
  • Have students complete a counseling appointment form for students to complete.  Here is a Google form that I created for my students. 
  • Consider setting up a Remind account to send out important dates, information, and communications.  
  • Consider creating a counseling blog to communicate information to students.  One blog that I think is super is Lassiter High School’s Counseling Blog.

    #8 Put Out a Yearly Calendar

    It is important to put out a yearly calendar to inform students and parents of important dates and events. Here are some examples of yearly school calendars that might be useful as you create your own.

    #9 Create Helpful Forms

    Here are some examples of forms that may be helpful to you in your department.

    Conference Notes

    Counseling Appointment Form – Here is one I created to use with my students.

    Counseling Notes   (Google Doc)

    Counseling Notes  (Word Doc)

    GPA Calculator for Students

    Student Audit Sheet- Here is one I created for my school.

    Senior Recommendation Packet-Here is an example from Etowah High School.

    Senior Meeting Form -Here is a form I created for my students before meeting with them for their initial senior meeting.

    #10 Make a Plan to Log Your Activities and Time

    It is important to log your activities and time for your end of the year data.  One way to efficiently keep up with this information is to use this Time Task Analysis form.  Jeannie Maddox also suggests creating a data notebook for your program which can include a Cumulative Review.

    #11 Establish Your Office Protocols

    Establishing office protocols can be as simple as informing parents about when you will return phone calls, creating can responses for returning emails, setting up office hours and posting them on your door, or posting your weekly calendar.  It is important to establish these protocols early and educate your parents and students regularly.  This will save you a lot of headaches and other aches that we will not mention here.
    See Jeff Ream’s video on how to set up can responses for your email.
    One Stop Counseling Shop has some great signs that can be posted outside of your door.

    #12 Consultation

    Consultation is imperative if you are a school counselor!  You never know when you may face an ethical and/or legal issue that you need to run past a colleague, professor, or fellow counselor. Want to connect to other counselor (especially if you are a party of one)? If you have time during the week, consider joining one of these communities for some great conversations.

    #hscchat – High School Counselor Chat hosted by Amber Shepherd  – chat will be the second Monday of every month.

    #scNOTaluxury – New School Counselor Chat hosted by Shujuan Hill Shannon.

    #scchat  – School Counseling Chat

    #etmooc – Chat about educational technology

    #sccrowd School Counselor Crowd – Q & A Day for school counselors-This is an awesome live chat moderated by Ross Wolfson and Susan Spellman Cann every third Tuesday from 8:30-9:30 EST.  Find resources to help in your school practice; get answers to complex situations; or find out if others are facing the same situations you may face in your school.

    Other Resources

    Want more tips for starting the beginning of the year?  Check out this post from The Helpful Counselor. 

    Also here are some of my past posts that you might find helpful as you get ready for the new year.

    66 Resources For School Counselors

    Do you have any tips for getting ready for the start of the new year for new or novice school counselors?  Please share your tips!!


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