The first weeks and months in any new professional role can be overwhelming. This is especially true in schools as brand new counselors and teachers are expected to be ready to work with students and families as well as support colleagues from day one. Oftentimes, counselors are the only person in a particular position or one of a few in a building, leaving them without an obvious network of peers to help them navigate their specific school context and support their work. Despite all of this, students and families assume those new to a role or district have the same set of knowledge and skills as seasoned professionals.
With this in mind, we sought the advice of experienced counselors who shared their best practices and lessons learned. Use this guidance to help cultivate a network of support, nurture meaningful relationships, and catalyze success this school year.
Find a mentor.
Having the ongoing counsel and support of an experienced member of a school support team can be a powerful resource for someone new to a school counseling position. In your first days, connect with another professional in a similar role in your building or ask an administrator to connect you with a mentor in another building within the same district. Look for someone that leads with positivity and shares similar values about students and families.
Identifying a mentor and establishing a channel of support and communication can be mutually supportive and beneficial. The mentee has a nurturing environment to ask questions, lean on through challenging moments, or get feedback on ideas. This relationship can also foster professional growth for the mentor. Many professionals enjoy sharing their wisdom, feel valued when their thoughts and professional opinions are sought, and learn about their own practice when collaborating with others.
Do not hesitate to ask questions.
Asking questions is the best way to learn new things. It also reflects a commitment to students and a deep engagement with and investment in the school community. Within the school building, meet with your administrators regularly to ask questions aimed at establishing shared expectations, understanding the needs of the community, setting goals, and planning initiatives and events.
When at district meetings, extend this same open inquiry approach. All counselors have been new to the role and appreciate someone who is willing to voice thoughts, questions, and new ideas. These meetings and networks of counselors provide an ideal place to get questions answered, hear thoughtful, experience-based guidance, and learn about valuable resources.
Connect with school support staff, families, and students.
School counselors do not have to go it alone. In fact, counselors will be more effective and have a deeper impact if they partner with school support staff, paraprofessionals, coaches, and anyone else in the school community who knows students. These individuals may be able to offer insights into current struggles, strengths, interests, and history. Respect and value the input these other team members may offer. Listen to them and use their perspectives to broaden your approach or understanding of particular students or the needs of the community as a whole. And, share successes–big and small–with them throughout the year, as they, too, are invested in student wellbeing, growth, and achievement.
Take time to pause, reflect, learn, and celebrate.
A school counselor may never feel they have a moment to spare throughout the day. With ever-growing caseloads, taking time away from directly working with students and families may feel impossible. However, it is vital–especially in the first year–to intentionally take time to pause and reflect on how things are going, check in with colleagues, engage in professional learning, and simply breathe and recharge before jumping back into the work.
Building in moments for contemplation and time to assess the most productive paths forward for individual students as well as the overall school community will help to guide thoughtful, big-picture planning throughout the year. Think of yourself as a continuous learner rather than someone who is supposed to have all the answers.
Do not fall into the trap of focusing on what has not gone perfectly or according to plan; rather, learn from the challenges and use that information to inform your approach with students, families, colleagues, and the school community. And, make sure to celebrate what has gone well throughout the year. This is critical for overall counselor wellbeing, positive engagement with students, and ongoing success as a school leader.