Monday, July 25, 2016

Guest Blog: Helping New Students Settle In

Monday, July 25, 2016

 I am pleased to include a guest post written by Sara Boehm of Essential Engagement Services. Her organization provides employees with resources to guide them and their families through the mental and emotional stresses of moving.  Check out her website which includes a series of Essential Moving Guides.   

Hope you enjoy this information and I welcome your feedback!!

Helping New Students Settle In

Every year, thousands of students become “the new kid” at school. I know that role intimately. Growing up, my family would move often due to my father’s job; so from the 6th through the 10th grade, I was in a new school every year. I don’t think anyone will be surprised to learn that Junior High and High School are rough times to move! While I remember the nerves, the loneliness, and the stress, I also remember the welcoming efforts of so many along the way. I remember the new student lunches where I would meet life-long friends. I remember the school counselor who helped my little sister transition to a new junior high.

While I’m not a school counselor (and do not pretend to have the vast intel that they do), I do know what it’s like to be on the other side of that table, and have also made it my professional mission to helping people transition in situations like these. Having experienced this so many times myself, I would like to pay it forward to all the new kids starting school this coming year. To do that, I have compiled some of my best tips to help you help your new students.

Maximizing your impact

Greet your new students, and let them know your hours. Explain clearly how they can come see you and remind them of your confidentiality/privacy approach. Take the time to learn what they did and liked in their old school and make suggestions accordingly. When possible, meet with their parents to let them know what the school is doing and how they can best support their teens during this transition.

Programs to consider
Orientation – Often it can be as simple as an informal tour at registration to walk the student through the school grounds, follow their class schedule, and introduce them to a few of their teachers and relevant faculty members. Taking the time to acclimate the student to the school’s layout and their class schedule, to ask any questions they may have, and to meet some important faces can go a long way in helping to alleviate some of the ‘unknowns’ that loom over the first day at a new school. This is also a great time for you to meet with the student’s parents and prepare them for what to expect.

Buddy Program – Create a Buddy or Peer Program where current students volunteer (and are vetted) to help guide and orient new students. Form a club where the Buddies get guidance and rewarded for their efforts in helping to “onboard” a variety of students. They can be matched by the age/gender/interests of the new students to ensure they have a lot in common. Buddies should show their new student around, sit together at lunch (the dreaded lunch hour—often the biggest worry for new students!), answer questions, and help their new student meet other students. A program like this will help give existing students a fun opportunity to be welcoming and to support an inclusive environment. Have Buddies sign a contract that is inline with their agreed upon responsibilities, and create a feedback loop where the Buddies check in with you if they feel like a new student might benefit from a meeting or additional interaction. Immediate friends, no lonely first lunch hours, and the opportunity for connection all around makes this program a winner.

New Student Lunches – Whether it is a welcome lunch or monthly lunches for the first few months, consider organizing a new student lunch for all these students to meet and interact with one another. There’s nothing like connecting with someone in the same life stage as you are to provide a built-in support group. Promise them free pizza or make it brown bag! It can be a social affair with ice-breakers and conversations.

New Student Kit – A new student welcome kit is a great way to help students get acclimated to your school. It can be online where potential new students can access it even before registering for classes, or a physical kit given at registration. The kit could include:
·         Maps of the school
·         The school song and mascot
·         A listing of clubs/sports and contact information
·         Tips and tricks on getting around from current students
·         A current edition of the school paper
·         Or even a bumper sticker for school pride.
Customize the kits however you like and check with new students to see what they found most useful to continue to refine future kits.

Improving Teacher Awareness

Teachers have a great opportunity to help out and welcome new students. Especially for new students coming in mid-year, teachers will likely have a good gauge for identifying the most welcoming and helpful students with whom to place a new student for group projects and in class partnering activities . As you work with instructors at your school, remind them that small things can go a long way in helping a student acclimate.

Additionally, it is often difficult to perfectly place a new student at the right class level. Students may end up in a course that is more advanced than one they had previously taken. Or perhaps the class is too slow, or there are holes in their understanding of the subject. This can take an otherwise prepared, confident, and calm student and incite doubt or stress that could spiral into more serious problems such as withdrawing from the course or acting out. Teacher mindfulness of class placement is important as they have the best vantage point. Getting a student moved up or down or helping them find tutoring help early on can ease the result of any transition hiccups in curriculum.

Moving is challenging, but it can also be a very fun and exciting time. It is a time for fresh starts, new opportunities, discovering what matters most to you, and taking on new adventures. Professional school counselors are at the forefront of this experience. Understanding the impact that change can have in a teenager’s life and having the experience and expertise to create an environment that helps with the emotional and mental settling in process is huge. I have been to schools that did this incredibly well and schools that did not (usually because the school did not have enough new students to have an organized system in place). I saw what a difference even small programs, gestures, and attempts at welcoming can have.

I challenge you to take this summer to imagine yourself starting in your school as a new student this fall. Think through the programs are currently in place at your school and see what else might help to enhance these programs. Lastly (and certainly not least), know that students don’t often say thank you like they should. But from a former new student to you: I say thank you for all the amazing work that you do!

About the author

Sara Boehm is author of The Essential Moving Guide For Families and other titles in its series. Boehm has lived the world of corporate relocation, moving 12 times as a child and as an adult. She empathizes with all who are going through the moving process, and works with companies and individuals to assist those whose lives are being disrupted by relocation. She received her MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and presently lives in the Los Angeles area and owns Essential Engagement Services.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

School Counselor: Tips for Gearing Up for the New School Year

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Yes, this is me this week!!
Okay, I admit heart sank when I saw the first back to school commercial the other day.  It is not because I don't like my job (I love it), but sometimes I just want to be a bum!!  

Well, there is no use in sulking about the end of is time to prepare for the new school year.

I wanted my first post for the 2016-17 school year to include gearing up for the school year as a school counselor.  Part of gearing up includes preparing your counseling office, communicating with students and parents, educating the school community about your role,  making plans for professional development and of course, sharpening your skills.  

Here are some tips to consider when getting ready for this year.

Each year, it is imperative that we educate our staff, students, and parents about our role as professional school counselors.  If you are like me and need some ideas on educating your school community, check out this wonderful resource from the American School Counseling Association.

In addition to informing your school community about your role, it is important to learn how to market your school counseling program.  Think about this question...why is it important that the school have a counselor and why should students and parents bother entering your office?   Unfortunately, we school counselors, are not always the best at promoting our profession.  Do you need help marketing your position?  I have a resource for you!!

Marketing is important as a school counselor
Check out this marketing guide from the Counseling Geek, Jeff Ream. 

Also, Jeff and Jeremy Goldman presented on branding your school counseling program at ASCA14 in Orlando.  Here is the link to their presentation. 
Another great way to promote your program is to create and distribute a counseling brochure.  Here is an example that you may find helpful as you prepare your own.

Brian McMahon High School Counseling Brochure
Another great resource is to use handouts.  My friend, Carole Miller, has some templates on her blog, The Middle School Counselor Blog.  
School Counselor Handouts by Carol Miller

Another friend, Franciene Sabens, has a blog post with a lot of fantastic ideas on how to promote your school counseling program to your school community.  

Check out her blog post called, Promoting Your School Counseling Program.  

Some additional resources that may be helpful to promote your role in the school includes:

It is important to create a yearly calendar of activities and events  for your students and parents.  I am always looking for ways to promote my program and organize myself.  Below are some calendar templates and ideas that I wanted to share with you.  

First, to be effective, make sure you take to the time to organize your time professionally and personally.  One way to do this is by using Trello.  

Second, create and share your department and individual counseling calendar.  Below are some examples from Carol Miller and Kriya Lendzion.

Counseling Theme Calendar by Kriya Lendzion

Okay, I can't say this enough...communicating with parents and students during the year is so important!!  However, what are the best methods of communicating?

I am sure there are other methods of communicating, but here are my top picks.



Nothing beats this oldie but goodie.  However, did you know you can trick out your email.  Yes, it is true!  One way to do this by creating canned responses when parents and students email you and you need to get out information right that moment. Check out Jeff Ream's (aka the Counseling Geek) video on how to set up canned responses for Google Mail.



Remind, a free messaging service, is usually thought of as a tool for teachers; however, it can be helpful for high school counselors. I believe I missed a large number of students by  ignoring this mode of communication. You can use Remind to send messages to students and parents regarding events, meetings, registration, class information, and so much more.  Need help? Check out this short tutorial!



Video Conferencing

I often believe this is the most underutilized tool when it comes to  meetings with parents.  If you are looking for an inexpensive and easy tool, I have one for you...Zoom.

Here are the basics...

If you are like me and do not have a large budget, Zoom has a free option for conferencing. The free option includes:
  • Meeting with up to 50 participants.
  • Unlimited meetings
  • 40 minutes of conferencing.
  • Video recording and sharable links.
  • Ability to download and share documents and desktop.
  • Options to mute and hide participants.
  • Ability for participants to observe without participating in video conferencing.
  • Option to call in if participant cannot access the internet or a computer.
How can you use Zoom?  Here are some ideas...

1. The school counselor can use it for training students to fill out an application for college, completing scholarship applications, helping parents complete the FASFA, assisting students in calculating their grade point averages, and more.

2. The school counselor can set up small groups when face to face sessions are not available during the day.

3.  Pre-recorded sessions can be created when counselors need to share information with teachers, parents or students.

4.  Pre-recorded classroom guidance lessons can be created on specific topics (study skills, cyberbullying, etc.).

5.  The school counselor can organize and share advisement lessons using students from a remote location.

6.  Zoom is great for after hour conferences with parents and students.  This is a lifesaver for those parents who work late or have transportation issues.

7.  The school counselor can hold parent conferences remotely when attendees are unable to be at one location.

8.  The school counselor can collaborate and share ideas with other colleagues!

Here is a tutorial on how to sign for Zoom.  The Zoom site has lots of helpful videos!!

I know, I know you have heard it a million times.  So, here is a million and one...keep up with how you spend your time.  According to ASCA, school counselors should spend 80% of their day in counseling related activities.  How do you know if you are meeting this requirement?  Use a data tracking system.  One tool to analyze your time is EZAnalyze Time Tracker.  Here is an overview of how to use this tracker by Jeff Ream.

Want more options?  Here are are some free templates by Karl Liedtka from Lebanon, Pennsylvania.


In addition to keeping a calendar and tracking your time, it is a good idea to have a method for arranging and tracking your appointments.Yes, there are ways that you can keep up with meetings, conferences, consultations, and much more.   Some effective methods of keeping up with appointments include:

This calendar app connects with all your calendars and lets parents know when you are available. Use Calendly to assist you in scheduling your parent conferences or meetings in under a  minute!

A cloud based way to schedule appointments.

Another digital calendar you can use is called Schedule Once. Schedule Once has a free and a low cost version available for users.  The great thing about Schedule Once is that it allows you to set up the times that you are available and parents/students can pick several times they would like to see you.  Once the appointment is approved, the parent/student will receive a confirmation email.  Again, check out Jeff Ream's video blog about Schedule Once.

Need an example of scheduling appointments?  

Check out Hopewell School Counseling Department.

I would be remiss if I left out Google Forms.  Google Forms allows you to create a form for students and parents to complete for requesting information, scheduling appointments, requesting transcritps and so many other idea.  

Here is an example of a request to see the counselor by Ange Bee.

Google Forms - See this form by Ange Bee

Need more ideas.  I have it here!!

Check out this ultimate list of online calendar tools and other online calendar tools from Russ Sabella.

Every counselor wants an office that is inviting, comfortable, and interesting.  There are several ways to do this...

First, get ideas by exploring Pinterest (my favorite place to get ideas!!).  Here is a link to creative ideas for school counseling offices.  

Second,  get your office ready by putting up posters that send a message to your students. You can gets lots of posters from the School Counselor Blog Store for a minimal fee! Also, there are numerous stores on Face Book for you with great resources.  These stores include:

Third, create bulletin boards that will extend the counseling office into the school. Here is one example of an informational bulletin board!!
Bulletin board that gives information to students without them visiting the counseling office

Need ideas???  

Take a look at  bulletin boards we love  and bulletin board ideas on Pinterest.

Need swag???  Make sure you visit Jeff Ream's post on how to make it rain college swag.  Also, invest in some t-shirts!  There is no better way of promoting yourself than a t-shirt.  Both Carol Miller, The Middle School Counselor Blog, and Jeff Ream, The Counseling Geek,  have great offers on school counselor t-shirts. 

Great t-shirt!!

It is important to begin planning your professional development early.  Professional development includes training, conferences, workshops, online groups, online webinar, etc.  If you need a place to start, here are some suggestions.

My list of school counseling conferences for 2016-17.

Want to see what other counselors are doing?  Here is a link to 100 counseling websites

Also, find out who is the best of the best when it comes to school counselors (in my opinion).

Need resources?  Here are 66 resources for school counselors

Look for evidence based programs here for professional development ideas.

Also, consider joining other school counselors online for year round professional development.





Here is my post on school counseling blogs to follow for great information and resources. 

Have you given your yearly needs assessment?  Not sure how or even where to start? Check out this post from the Helpful Counselor on how to conduct an effective needs assessment.  Also, Karl Liedtka has some examples of parent, faculty, and student needs assessments.

Now its your turn...

I would love to hear some of your ideas of  how  you prepare for the new year!!  Please feel free to give us your best tips!!

Here is to a great school year!!