A Traveling Counselor or A Counselor's Classroom?

This school year I'm once again getting my own classroom.  My first year as a School Counselor, I had an office AND a classroom.  The next year we hired another 4th grade teacher, so I only had my office.  For 3 years I was a "traveling counselor," traveling to classrooms to give my guidance lessons.  So now I've been a traveling counselor AND a Counselor with her own classroom.  I've heard of some lucky School Counselors get to choose or get both!  Here's my thoughts on the benefits of each one:

A Traveling Counselor:

  • No need for supplies (crayons, pencils...), the students can use their own.
  • You get to observe students in their own environment -- where they may be more comfortable and you can provide assistance to the teacher regarding observed discipline issues.
  • Extra steps.  You can log in some major steps walking across your building several times a day!
  • If your office is in the Main Office, like mine was, it's nice to be "in the know" with everything going on and to be available when needed.
  • Less clutter.  If all you have is an office, you're less likely to accumulate things you don't need.  Teachers can be some of the best types of hoarders.  
  • Meeting space.  I like having an office to meet with teachers or parents.  It just seems more comfortable to everyone.  When I was in the Main Office, it was also easier for the school secretaries to "screen" meetings for me -- rather than me being interrupted and called to the office.

A Counselor's Classroom:

  • Consistency.  Consistent classroom expectations.  Consistent technology.  Every classroom is different and when you travel, it hard to remember all of the differences.  From calling a supply box a pencil box or a school box to remembering how each SMART Board works (in my building, they all work a little differently...), it is nice to have consistency with your own classroom.
  • No need to worry if you left something behind -- you're in your room!  I can't tell you the times I've had to change a lesson up because I forgot a book or supply when I was a traveling counselor.  It's a lot easier to change things up when you are in your own room with your own supplies and resources at hand.
  • Time for set-up.  When you have your own classroom you can have some prep-time (depending on how close your lessons are spaced out...) to have materials and technology set-up before students arrive.
  • I've never been a Counselor that asks the teachers to stay in the room during lessons.  I understand the benefit of doing so, but I also understand the value in a little break.  When Counselor's have their own classroom, classroom teachers can take that break in their own room -- where they are likely to just spend time setting up for their next lesson.
  • My husband might not few it as a "pro," but I'm really excited to be able to decorate my own classroom again this year.  I even did my first Donor's Choose project and was able to purchase a new rug and a love seat.
  • I think there is still a stigma that going to the office means you are "in trouble."  I'm excited to have my own space to be able to talk to students in a less confrontal space.

I realize that my classroom can be taken from me as our school continues to grow, but I'm so excited to have my own space for Small Groups and for classroom lessons!

I personally did not like having both a classroom AND an office.  In my building, they were across the building from each other, and without fail, whatever I needed was always in the other room.  

Which type of School Counselor are you?  Which would you prefer?

8 Places for the School Counselor to Be on the First Days of School

The first days of school can be overwhelming -- for everyone.   I remember coming into counseling after being in the classroom, I didn't really know WHERE to go on the first days of school.

Here are 8 places the School Counselor can be on the first days of school:

  1. The Entry Ways: my morning duty each morning is greeting everyone as they come into our building.  On the first days of school, I'm directing traffic to classrooms (we allow parents to walk their children down on the first few days of school) and answering questions to help keep the main office from getting too congested. 
  2. Kindergarten Hall: as soon as the dust has settled from arrivals, I head down to our Kindergarten classrooms (PreK is on another campus and this coming school year, Kindergarten will be there too).  I help parents move out, console any student that needs an extra hug, and start introducing myself to new students. 
  3. In and Out of Classrooms: without being distracting, I try to pop in every classroom on the first few days of school.  I'm there to give a wave, hug old friends, and even give the teacher a minute break if their bladders haven't yet adjusted to being back to school.  I save any lessons for my "Meet the Counselor Week" when I do a mini-lesson in every classroom and my first round of character education lessons start in September. 
  4. The Cafeteria: I have 2 lunch duties already, but I always give a little extra of my time in the Cafeteria to help the process.  We've all slept since May and many need a refresher on the procedures - especially if their classes didn't practice that morning. 
  5. The Playground: it can never hurt to have another adult out on the playground and it's never too early to get started checking in on friendships and social skills!  I don't spend a ton of time on the playground during the first days of school, but I try to pop in to every recess at least once during the first week. 
  6. Your Office: you'll have emails and phone calls to return, plus lessons to start to plan and organize.  I also run a few programs in my school including our 4th Grade STARS -- a leadership program for morning volunteers, so I spend time organizing this at the beginning of the year.  I also do a "new student" small group during the 1st month of school, so I get with our Registrar to ensure I've including every new student.  Before school begins, I try to have my office/classroom and any hallway bulletin boards I manage ready to go -- because if I wait to do them until school starts, they will never get done.
  7. The Main Office: throughout the school year, I check in with the main office secretaries nearly every day to see if they need anything from me.  These ladies rarely get any sort of break and are the true lifeline of our school!  On the first days of school, I check in to see if there's anything I need to know about students -- including custody changes or home life situations.  
  8. Dismissal: again, my afternoon duty is the same as my morning duty -- in the foyer of our building.  I'm also a fill-in for car duty if any teacher is unavailable.  Like the playground, the more adults the better during dismissal!  It's a great opportunity to get to know students and families.  

When I had an office in the Main Office, I had a flower on my door that told everyone where I was throughout the day.  I also try to bring my phone with me wherever I go.

Any place that you spend time on the first days that I missed?  

I hope this gives you a peek into my first days of school as the Counselor and helps you know where to go!

Counseling Littles

You might have seen my recent post on using Counseling Centers with my youngest students.  Counseling littles is one of my favorite roles as the Counselor, but even as a former Kindergarten teacher, it can be exhausting -- especially if you are not prepared.

Here are some of my tips for "counseling littles:"
  1. Set expectations at the very beginning: Tell the students what you expect of them during your time together and be clear.  For example, I have an expectation that while we are on the carpet, no one is to use the restroom to get a drink -- and I say it just that way!  My school uses a school-wide positive behavior plan, so it's easy to come in with my WOW Tickets to hand out to students making good choices.  If your school does not implement a common plan, familiarize yourself with the classroom management systems.
  2. Give attention to the positive: Point out the students doing the "right thing," and others will follow.  Young children LOVE attention -- both positive and negative.  Give attention to the positive behaviors and most students will change their behavior to match.  "I love the way Ruby is sitting.  She's got her hands in her lap, she's not touching or talking to her neighbors, her eyes are on me, so I KNOW she is READY to learn!  Thank you SO much, Ruby, for being a role model to your friends.  I'm going to put in a WOW Ticket for you!"
  3. Multiple Learning Styles: Just like older students, younger students learn in all different ways.  Make sure your lesson includes lots of variety to appeal to the different learning styles of your students.  If you're bored, chances are, the students are too.
  4. Use books and short video clips: Using picture books to tie-in to your lesson them might be a no-brainer, but my students also LOVE watching short video clips that go along with our lesson topic.  For example, I was having a hard time explaining "empathy" to Kindergarteners and found a clip by Sesame Street that was a perfect fit!  If you are using YouTube, be sure to watch with no ads or with the commercial on mute, you never know what it's going to play!
  5. Have everything ready to go: There's little-to-no "independent work" in Early Childhood and these students do not like to wait!  Have all of your books, materials, video clips, etc. cued up and on-hand ready to go!  Be sure you have all of and enough of any materials and supplies you may need for your lesson and activities. 
  6. Talk about what they know: As teachers, we talk about expanding on student's prior knowledge -- I think we should also do that as Counselors.  Popular topics in Counseling like Growth Mindset and Mindfulness can be difficult to discuss with older students.  How can you use what Early Childhood students already know to introduce them to these "new" themes?  Not that you can't, you just need to be strategic about it.  Other topics like Feelings and Careers are great topics for Early Childhood -- everyone has had a feeling before and everyone has interacted with someone with a job at one point or another.  
  7. Give them Time: I scheduled myself for 45 minutes twice a month in Kindergarten classes.  This upcoming school year, my school building is becoming a 1st through 4th grade building.  For Counselors who were not formerly Kindergarten teachers, 45 minutes might be too much.  Either way, give your students time to complete all of the activities you have planned during your time -- don't rush them.  My Kindergarten lesson structure was about 15 minutes of topic introduction, including reading a book and/or watching a short 2-3 minute video clip and some hands-on activities with the topic; about 15 minutes of an independent activity; and about 15 minutes of sharing/reflection.
  8. Allow for reflection time: I end all of my lessons with a reflection of what we learned.  This often includes sitting on the carpet and sharing in a circle.  This was critical to ensure that students fully understood my lesson, the topic, and to answer any questions they may have.  PLUS, students LOVE to share what they know and it gives the class an opportunity to practice listening skills.  
I created a set of Pre-K and Kindergarten lessons and centers to use with the littles in my school.  Within each packet, you'll find plenty of activities, book and video suggestions to coordinate, and materials to provide lessons all year long.

I hope this post gives you encouragement as you provide counseling to your littles!

School-Wide Behavior Plan

At my Elementary School, we operate a school-wide behavior plan.  We call them "WOW Tickets."  WOW Tickets are cards, about the size of a business card, earned for good behavior.  WOW Tickets can be earned by any student in our building by any adult in our building. 

About once a month a parent volunteer prints and cuts the cards out of yellow card stock. 

Teachers write the student's full name, classroom teacher, and have the option of circling which of our school's focus word was demonstrated.  Because students can earn WOW Tickets from adults other than their classroom teacher, I have staff write their name on the back of the Tickets they give -- I try to occasionally reward teachers and staff for giving out WOW Tickets through things like Sonic drinks.

Using the same template, I also have my parent volunteer make tickets on green and blue card stock.  Green WOW Tickets are worth 5 points and are distributed to teachers to use during the days prior to school breaks.  Blue WOW Tickets are worth 25 points and two are given to each Substitute Teacher.

Each week, all WOW Tickets are collected in grade-level boxes.  Every Friday during our morning celebration, I draw a WOW Ticket from each grade-level box.  These students are "instant winners" and receive a prize note (see below).

In addition to distributing WOW Tickets to teachers each month, I also keep extras outside of my office door.

The biggest piece of the WOW Tickets is the data collection.  This is also were it gets a little more complicated and a little more work for me... 

Every.  Single. WOW Ticket is counted and added to an online spreadsheet.  I send this spreadsheet out to teachers each week -- so that as a school, we can visually see the students that might need a little more notice, a little more encouragement, or are on-track with good behavior. 

When a student earns 25 WOW Tickets he/she is given a prize note to either indicate they will "cash in" their tickets for a prize OR be saving their tickets for a 50-point prize (see now why the green and blue WOW Tickets are so coveted!?!).

The MOST popular prize to "cash in" at 25-points is BY FAR "Fluffy Friend" -- bringing a stuffed animal to school.  Among the 50 point prizes, an extra recess and "renting" the Principal's chair are frequently redeemed.

I originally got the model for WOW Tickets from Dr. Laura Riffel, the Behavior Doctor, after attending one of her presentations.  She's fabulous, if you can ever get her out to your school!

We use WOW Tickets all year long.  I do mix it up a bit in December, the week before Spring Break, and in May -- the students at my school also LOVE the ideas from Principal's Principles.

A few Februarys ago, I implemented a "Caught Ya Being Kind" board. 

To keep things fresh, I also sprinkle in some other incentives, such as WOW Tickets earned on the bus that are worth extra points and positive notes to the office that earn 3 WOW Tickets in addition to extra attention from an adult.

AGES ago, before attending Dr. Riffel's training, when I was still teaching Kindergarten, I used a similar model, I called "Kitty Cash." 

In May, I recognize the top WOW Ticket earners in each grade level with a bubble gum blowing contest at our school's Friday morning celebration.  (I won this year too). 

I know this may seem like a lot, but I do it because it's what works for my school and I have the data to prove it!

If you have any questions or if I left something out, please leave a comment below!

Relationships and the School Counselor

Relationships are key.  We hear this a lot in the school setting, but it's especially important as the School Counselor to have relationships be your main focus.

Coming into the role of School Counselor straight out of the classroom, I was worried that I would lose the types of relationships I loved having as a classroom teacher.  While the relationships are different, they are still critical to my role, and often as meaningful.

I am in a school of over 600 students and I am proud to say I know EVERY student's name (and I try to also learn one fact about each student, but I'm not sure I can claim this for every student just yet).  It wasn't easy, but I've made it a priority of mine.  A few things that have helped me:
  • I have morning and afternoon duty in our school's main entrance.  I greet everyone as they come into the building and as they leave for the day.  
  • I make it a point at the beginning of the year to notice names on backpacks if I'm unsure of a name as a student walks past me.
  • In the early days of school, I spend a lot of time in and out of classrooms getting to know students.  During what I call "Meet the Counselor Week," my 20-minute mini-lessons also include "getting to know you" activities.

  • I am the coordinator of our school-wide behavior system.
  • I host a Small Group of new students at the beginning of the year.
  • I make it my goal to greet everyone by NAME as they walk into the building.  There's much to be said (and researched) about hearing your own name.  
  • I've tried to be better about my greetings -- instead of "Hi, Will!" I try to say things like "Will!  I'm so glad to see your smiling face today!"
  • I have had Kindergarten AND 1st Grade lunch duties for the past 4 years, so I've been able to get to know each student early in their school career.  
Some of these are not the typical or expected duty of a School Counselor, and while some may object, I take every opportunity of a duty as an interaction with students -- another opportunity to develop a relationship.

Some other ways I develop relationships with my students include:

  • Being a "reward" for good behavior:  Students can "cash in" good behavior tickets to eat lunch in the office with me.  
  • Extra enrichment activities: to fundraise, the Reading Specialist and I have collaborated to create a painted rock garden and to chalk the school.  
  • Lunch Bunches: I was unable to host traditional Small Groups last year for a variety of reasons (space, being the number one reason, which is why I am SO excited to be getting my own classroom space).  One of my solutions to this problem was hosting Lunch Bunches over a variety of topics -- starting with 3rd and 4th Grade Girls and "Friendship."  You can find the pack I use HERE.

I make it a priority to develop relationships with not only my students, but also their families.  For example, the W family at my school currently has twins in 2nd grade.   I've also gotten to know about their little sister, her name and interests as, in just a few years, she too will be a student at my school -- with, hopefully, a relationship already formed with one adult in the building (me!).

I have created several resources to assist with Parent Communication and Engagement, as I have heard from other School Counselors, that is a struggle.

I am SO passionate about Parent Involvement and Engagement, in fact, that it was the topic of my dissertation.  So I can literally say I have a "doctorate in it."

Additionally, my PreK lessons all include a take-home coloring sheet or 1/4 sheet of our learning objective for the day.  I made this to help with the daily "What did you do today?" question and hopefully give parents a kick-starter to the conversation: "It looks like you talked about 'showing teamwork' today.  What did you do to..."  These have been so popular, I even sell them separately.

How do you build relationships with your students and their families?  Comment below!


Occasionally, I will conduct what I call "Mini-Lessons" in my Elementary School Counseling program.  These lessons typically last only about 20 minutes (all of my regular lessons are 45 minutes in length) and surround a special-interest topic.  Some mini-lessons I've conducted include:

  • Meet the Counselor: I do a "Meet the Counselor Week" at the beginning of each year and go into each classroom to introduce/re-introduce myself and do an activity that goes over my role.  I highlighted this in my Instagram Stories during last year's week, if you'd like more details on what exactly I do.
  • Hygenine and Hand Washing: During one particular high flu season I was doing a lesson in a classroom where I witnessed two different students pick their nose and eat the boogers AND a third student lick the bottom of his shoe.  I decided I needed to do an entire lesson on proper hand washing.

  • Kindergarten Social Skills: I've used this packet for mini-lessons as well as Small Groups and to review with the whole group prior to a classroom lesson. 

  • Seasonal Mini-Lessons: These follow a specific topic during a particular time of the school year.  For example, I feel like a self-esteem lesson is usually something that my students benefit from around Valentine's Day and friendship skills could always use some help right around St. Patrick's Day.

  • Grab and Go Lessons: I also have lessons on a variety of topics that are ready to go at any given moment -- on topics such as "tattling," "expressing your feelings," and "conflict resolution."  I call these "Grab and Go Lessons."  You can find them all in a discounted bundle HERE

Do you do mini-lessons in your Counseling program?  What topics have you covered before?