First Year School Counselors: Start Here!


Congratulations! You’ve landed your dream job of an elementary school counselor. I mean it is the best job in the world right? You get to help kids and change lives all day everyday. Plus you get more bathroom breaks than teachers and all of the same holidays. Am I dreaming?!

Of course there’s the downside too. Getting defaulted undesirable tasks that aren’t in your job description, having to report abuse, and hearing “What does she do again?” after you’ve presented your Role of the School Counselor presentation. #facepalm

I remember when I got the call for my first counseling job offer. I was walking back from Taco Surf (if you’re ever in San Diego, eat here!) with a delicious California breakfast burrito. It was an unknown number from Canada (so random, still not sure whose phone it was from) and I never answer unknown numbers, but I just had a feeling. Thank goodness, because I rarely check my voicemail either! I almost dropped my burrito (that would have been a shame!) and ran to my car leaping with joy! Seriously, this was the second year after I had graduated from grad school and I was working at a job I hated.

All this to say, I am so happy for you if you are a first year school counselor because it is a tough job to get and you did it!

Now aren’t you ready for the first day of school so you can implement all of the small groups, guidance lessons, and individual sessions you’ve thoroughly planned out and prepared for? Oh wait, you’ve only been on Pinterest looking how to decorate your office? Panic ensue. (Hey, there’s nothing wrong with cute office decor. I’ve got some tips here!)

Small groups, guidance lessons, and individual sessions are the core of your counseling program. Check out these blog posts on how to get started planning for a successful year. You’ve got this!

How to plan elementary school counseling small groups, character education guidance lessons, and individual sessions. A guide for first year elementary school counselors. #brightfuturescounseling #elementaryschoolcounseling #elementaryschoolcounselor #schoolcounseling #schoolcounselor #firstyearcounselor #guidancelessons #charactereducation #secondstep #smallgroups #individualsessions #counselinggroups #counselingsessions

First Year School Counselors: How to Plan Elementary School Counseling Individual Sessions


You are running several groups and teaching school-wide guidance lessons. Isn’t that everything? Not quite, new counselor. You need to create space for individual sessions. This is where you will work one-on-one with a child and help them implement strategies for success. Sound intimidating? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Here are some first steps to take when planning individual sessions.

Key Components of a School Counseling Program:

Who will I see for individual sessions?

You will likely receive referrals from teachers and possibly parents or the students themselves! Check out the referral form I use here. Oftentimes the SST team may refer students to see you as an intervention. Remember these are students who have the most intense need of your caseload. They have already received tier 1 guidance lessons and tier 2 small group counseling. An exception to this rule may be if they are coming in for a one-time occurrence (more on that below) or if they have a unique need so there are not other students to place them in a group with.


When will I meet with my individual students?

As always, it is important to get parent permission. Download this editable permission slip for free here. Once the permission slip is returned you can schedule a time that works best with their teacher. I recommend meeting with students for 20-30 minutes once a week for 6-8 weeks. You can then re-evaluate to see if the student needs continued sessions or an outside referral.

One-time Sessions

Sometimes you may be asked to meet with a student regarding a specific situation. This is more of a “check-in”, you can talk with the student and decide if further counseling sessions are needed.

Keep in Mind: Don’t Create Co-dependence

My first year counseling, I saw some students weekly for almost the entire year. Their parents and teachers wanted them to continue seeing me. This was a mistake on my end as it is our role as school counselors to deliver short-term solution focused counseling. The students were very dependent on seeing me and if I was at my other site or out sick they didn’t handle it well. This can become especially problematic if you are not going to be at that school the following year. These students need a support system in place that is comprised of more than just you.

After meeting with a student for an allotted amount of time, we need to assess what we are doing and decide if the student needs an outside referral or if they have progressed, move them to a lower tier intervention such as a group. (As listed in the ASCA School Counselor Competencies B-SS 3. Provide short-term counseling in small-group and individual settings c. Explain the difference between appropriate short-term counseling and inappropriate long-term therapy. B-SS 4. Make referrals to appropriate school and community resources b. Communicate the limits of school counseling and the continuum of mental health services c. Articulate why diagnoses and long-term therapy are outside the scope of school counseling). Your job as a school counselor is to put yourself out of a job. You want to equip the student with the skills they need to succeed in an academic and social emotional setting.

How do I stay organized?

Keep a folder with the student’s name on it. This is where you will track your sessions, keep worksheets they’ve completed, and keep papers for future activities. Check out my tips for staying organized in this video.

What will I do with my individual students?

During the first session, it is a good idea to keep it light and build rapport. Play some get to know you games and try to foster a relationship with the student. In the following sessions, start with a check in or warmup, then do an activity to cover a concept they are working on. Finish the session with some sort of reflection. You can also have students complete self-assessments during the first and last session to track progress and collect data. Check out the self-assessments I use here.

Individual sessions are a vital part of your school counseling program. I typically prefer groups because I am able to reach more kids in less time but the difference you can make with a child one-on-one is invaluable. You’ve got this!

Comment below with activities you like to do in individual sessions. I’d love to know!

How to plan elementary school counseling individual sessions. A guide for first year elementary school counselors. #brightfuturescounseling #elementaryschoolcounseling #elementaryschoolcounselor #schoolcounseling #schoolcounselor #firstyearcounselor #individualsessions #counselingsessions

First Year School Counselors: How to Plan Elementary School Counseling Guidance Lessons


You have a caseload of 300, you’re already getting referrals for small groups, and then your principal asks what your plan for school wide guidance lessons is… Don’t worry you’ve got this! Classroom guidance lessons are a vital and preventative part of your counseling program. This is your opportunity to reach students proactively and equip them with the skills they need so they can manage independently without further intervention. You can look at it two ways. You HAVE to teach every kid in the school or you GET to teach every kid in the school. It’s all about perspective. The more kids you reach with effective tier 1 intervention, the less you will see in tier 2 and tier 3.

Key Components of a School Counseling Program:

How Do I Plan my Guidance Lessons?

Your school likely has a system in place. Check with your admin to see if there is a curriculum to use. Second Step is a popular option that is commonly used.

If your school has a curriculum, you can choose to follow it step by step or change it by adding supplemental materials and skipping things you don’t need. For example, when I used Second Step I basically refused to use the puppets (not my strength!) but I added more songs. (Also not my strength, but the kids loved them!)

If you are creating your own lessons, decide what works best for you. Our school was pretty tech savvy and I do not like a lot of print and prep so I created PowerPoint Guidance Lessons with interactive games and videos. They would sometimes have an accompanying worksheet but not often. Some counselors, however, prefer to do crafts or paper workbooks the kids work on each time. Escape room style interactive guidance lessons are a fun option too. Check out mine here. Find what works for you and do it well!

If you are choosing to create your own, a good framework to follow is: instruction, video, discussion, activity. You’ll likely only have 20-30 minutes so you’ll want to teach a skill and check for understanding. To make your time go further, create a bulletin board with the month’s character trait or mention it in the morning announcements so students can be reminded of it. This is a passive approach to instruction that is still effective. Feeling a little overwhelmed? Download my 13 guidance lesson bundle here.

Bonus Idea: My upper elementary school had 5th grade student ambassadors and they taught the lessons to the 3rd and 4th grade classes. I provided the teacher with a PowerPoint they would go off of and trained the ambassadors, but it was entirely student led!


How Often Do I Teach Guidance Lessons?

Your school may have a rotation spot for you to teach your lessons or it may be up to you to schedule everything. My position was the latter. Year one I would email teachers every month and ask what day they wanted to do it. It started out strong but as the year progressed half of the time I didn’t get a response and some teachers opted out because it was messing up their class routine. The end result being that only half of the students received tier 1 intervention! #counselorfail

Year two I decided to schedule everything in advance so I sent the teachers one email in the beginning of the year (better than one every month, teachers are some of the busiest people I know!) and asked their ideal time. I then scheduled them out on Google Calendar for the same day and time each month. Naturally, a few times needed to be changed for school holidays, etc but it was a pretty set schedule. The end result: they loved it! They would get notification reminders of when I was coming in and there was way less confusion and frustration on both ends.

As Needed Lessons

At my upper elementary school I had several teachers ask for custom lessons to address a problem going on in their classroom. I would create something specifically for their needs. This takes a lot of work, but stay organized and keep everything as you will likely re-use it!

Be Flexible!

My primary school (K-2) had Second Step but my principal asked me to create lessons around the Inch and Miles book. The first year I tried to teach all 15 lessons to every class. The second year we discovered that the character concepts might resonate with the kids more if they didn’t have to remember so many. We then divided them up. Kindergarten would learn 3, 1st grade would learn 5, and 2nd grade would learn 7. This way a student who started in Kindergarten at the school would know all of the character traits by the end of 2nd grade.

This was working great, but a few of the Kindergarten teachers said they missed Second Step. I went through all of the Second Step materials and found lessons that matched our 3 Inch and Miles character traits. The result was awesome! It just took some time and tweaking to figure out what worked best for our school’s needs.

Bonus Idea: At the end of every month and after every class had received their lesson, I asked teachers to send me names of 3 students they thought demonstrated the month’s character trait. I then made awards and passed them out. We took pictures of all the recipients and applauded loudly. It really made the kids feel special and proud. I also had a drawing where 5 of the award winners could win a prize! It was usually a puzzle or small toy.

Guidance Lessons are at the core of your counseling program. This is where you will impact hundreds of lives. Now you’re prepared to rock it!

Comment below with some of things you do in guidance lessons. I’d love to know!

This post contains affiliate links.

How to plan elementary school counseling guidance lessons and character education in the classroom. A guide for first year elementary school counselors.#brightfuturescounseling #elementaryschoolcounseling #elementaryschoolcounselor #schoolcounseling #schoolcounselor #firstyearcounselor #guidancelessons #charactereducation #secondstep

Countdown to Winter Break with School Counseling Activities


Do you ever have students aka frequent flyers randomly pop in your office to chat? I used to have students do this all of the time! While it is easy to do a quick hello and send them back to class, there is probably a reason they keep coming by. I like to create a learning opportunity with a quick activity even if I only have a few minutes before a group or guidance lesson. The problem is I don’t always have something on hand and they have likely played all of my go-to games. (I’m looking at you conversation starter Jenga!) That’s why I created this Countdown to Winter Break Interactive Calendar!


How it Works

It works like a Christmas advent calendar but rather than anticipating Christmas, students are counting down the days to Winter Break. There are 20 different activities included! When an individual student or small group comes into your office have them open a day on the calendar to see which fun activity they get to do! Of course, schools have different schedules so you can start the countdown to fit your needs by skipping days or doubling activities on some days. Or you can simply have students come in and pick a random activity.

Looking for Christmas specific activities? Check out this post on how to throw a school counseling Christmas party.

How it Helps

You seriously don’t have to think twice about what to do when an unexpected student drops by. Have them open one of the flaps to see which fun activity they get to do. Students can learn a new social emotional skill and it serves as a great icebreaker before you check in to see why they stopped by. This way you can engage and build rapport with those students who previously made you feel frazzled and unprepared!

I also think it would be great to use at the beginning of a small group. Kids love the seasonal component and variety. In turn you get to stress less and switch things up!

Do you have go-to activities on hand for drop-ins? Leave a comment below to share!

Learn how to use an interactive countdown calendar with 20 winter themed elementary school counseling activities. This resource is perfect for those students who drop in unannounced and you need a last minute activity! #brightfuturescounseling #elementaryschoolcounseling #elementaryschoolcounselor #schoolcounseling #schoolcounselor #winteractivitiesforkids #winterbreak #wintercounselingactivities

Data Collection: 5 Useful Tools to Track Progress in School Counseling


Data collection is vital to the success of your school counseling program, and let’s be real… for job security too! The work you do is oh so important and not only do you want to showcase student progress but you need to collect data to identify student needs. Here are 5 go-to data collection tools I frequently use.

1. Needs Assessment

When: Beginning of each semester

Needs assessments are exactly what they sound like, a great way for assessing the needs of your student population. If you are a first year counselor or new to your school this is a must-do right away! I always do them at the beginning of every school year. Send a few questions out to teachers and staff to assess student needs and determine which topics to base your small groups and guidance lessons around. You can create your own and you can even go paperless using Google Forms! Check out mine here.


2. Brief Behavior Rating Progress Monitoring Scale

When: After groups, throughout the year

It is super important to track students’ progress after seeing them for several weeks in a group. Especially if you’ve been pulling them out of class! Parents and teachers want to see that the group is beneficial to the student’s wellbeing. This website has tons of free data-tracking tools and I use the Brief Behavior Rating Progress Monitoring Scales frequently. Topics include aggressive/disruptive behaviors, anxious behaviors, depressive behaviors, inattentive behaviors, and social skills. You can use Google Forms to create a progress monitoring scale for a topic the website doesn’t have. Here is a video tutorial of me showing you how to create one!

I send these to parents and teachers before and after each group. Throw them in with your permission slips so you won’t forget! When you collect the data, use a spreadsheet to stay organized and create graphs. You will be glad you had this info when you create your End of the Year Report! (See #5) These can be used individually as well.

3. Self-Assessments 

When: Before and after groups, throughout the year

Self-assessments are a great way for students to reflect on their own progress. I use them before and after each group and sometimes with students I see individually. You can have students fill them out on paper and then record the data digitally yourself or set it up in Google Forms so the data is recorded automatically. (Can you tell I love Google Forms?!) Here are 9 self-assessments I created in both print and digital versions.

4. Motivation Assessment Scales and Survey

When: As needed, throughout the year

Determining what motivates students and collecting this data is a great way to modify behaviors. Check out my blog post on how to use these tools here. 


5. End of the Year Report 

When: At the end of the school or calendar year

I love creating my End of the Year Report. It is a great way to reflect on your program’s progress and feel proud of all of your hard work! Record how many students you served, how many guidance lessons you taught, and even how much time you spent with students! This is a great place to showcase the graphs and data you’ve been collecting in the previously mentioned tools. Your stakeholders can see what’s working (and sometimes what’s not!). This way you can modify your program to best fit all student needs. You can create your own or check out my editable one here.

I hope these tools can help you successfully monitor the progress of your school counseling program. Data collection doesn’t have to be scary, good luck!

Data Collection: 5 Useful Tools to Track Progress in School Counseling. Data tracking is crucial to validating your role as a school counselor. Easily track student data in your school counseling program with these 5 tools. #brightfuturescounseling #elementaryschoolcounseling #elementaryschoolcounselor #schoolcounseling #schoolcounselor #counselingdata #datacollection #counselingassessments
Data Collection: 5 Useful Tools to Track Progress in School Counseling. Data tracking is crucial to validating your role as a school counselor. Easily track student data in your school counseling program with these 5 tools. #brightfuturescounseling #elementaryschoolcounseling #elementaryschoolcounselor #schoolcounseling #schoolcounselor #counselingdata #datacollection #counselingassessments

How to Determine What Motivates Your Students


Oftentimes if your school doesn’t have a full-time behavior specialist, motivation assessment duties are assigned to the school counselor. This can be difficult and you may feel unprepared to do so.

Motivation Assessment Scale

Fortunately in my case, our Special Ed team provided me with a fabulous resource for assessing motivation: this Motivation Assessment Scale form which was adapted from V. Mark Durand, Suffolk Child Development Center, N.Y. I used it as I worked with teachers to determine students’ motivators therefore leading to determining possible reasons for behavior.

How it Works

The teacher identifies the behavior of interest and answers the questions to indicate the possible motivators. After adding up the responses, the sum will indicate 1 of 4 motivators; sensory, escape, social attention, or tangible consequences. The team can then use this information to decide next steps. This survey is extra helpful if given to several adults the student works with that way you can see if the behavior and motivators are varied in different settings.

Click here to download the Motivation Assessment Scale (adapted from V. Mark Durand, Suffolk Child Development Center, N.Y.)

New Motivational Assessment Survey

While I was waiting for these responses from the staff, I would meet with the student to sit down and discuss what they find motivating. I would typically jot it down on a piece of paper. As you can imagine, it is pretty impossible to stay organized this way so I created this Motivation Assessment Survey for students to fill out. It is available in both hardcopy and digital versions so you can even have students fill it out on an iPad in your office! Completing it digitally makes data collection super easy. See this video for more tips on how to use the digital version and collect data.

My Motivation Assessment Survey has four categories to determine possible motivators: attention, leadership, physical rewards, and creative outlet. Check it out here.

Examples of Motivators and Categories


Students who are motivated by attention feel special when they get to spend time with an adult at school.

Example: They can play a game with the counselor during lunch.


Students who are motivated by leadership feel special when they get to make big decisions that benefit others.

Example: They can choose which book the class reads.

Physical Rewards

Students who are motivated by physical rewards feel special when they get a tangible or treat.

Example: They can earn a sticker or their favorite snack. (Keep in mind: Be careful not to promote unhealthy relationships with food by using them as a reward.)

Creative Outlet

Students who are motivated by a creative outlet feel special when they get to express themselves artistically.

Example: They can work on an art project

What About Intrinsic Motivation?

Keep in mind that you want to ultimately build intrinsic motivation where students aim to succeed regardless of a reward. These motivators are a good starting point to modify behavior and are intended to help students get on the right track. Once they have built a habit of doing the desired task, then you can have a deeper discussion about their progress and discuss the “why” behind what you’re asking them to do so they can identify its value. 

While it may not be the most fun part of our jobs, assessing a child’s motivators helps to determine what causes behavior and overall promotes a positive school climate!

Determine what motivates your students by using these motivation assessment scales and surveys in your school counseling program. #brightfuturescounseling #elementaryschoolcounseling #elementaryschoolcounselor #schoolcounseling #schoolcounselor #motivation #motivationassessment

5 Ways to Use Halloween Candy Buckets in School Counseling

Fall is such a fun season and there are lots of ways you can incorporate it into your school counseling program. Bringing in some seasonal props to your school counseling office can help students get excited about coming in for a small group or individual session.

These plastic Halloween candy buckets serve as the perfect prop for sorting activities. They are inexpensive and you can usually find them at the dollar store or Walmart. I found these on Amazon, or you can simply borrow your own kids’ buckets! Check out these 5 interactive activities to reinforce counseling concepts.

Identifying and Changing Negative Thoughts

Help students change their negative thoughts to positive thoughts by having them sort statements into 2 different buckets. First, have students pair an old negative thought to its new positive counterpart. Then have them drop the statements into the different buckets. For older elementary students, have them identify and write their own negative thoughts down.

Example:  Negative: “I never do anything right.” Positive: “Everybody make mistakes.”

Tattling Vs. Reporting

Write common scenarios and phrases on strips of paper and have students decide if the person is tattling or if they are reporting.  Students sort them into 2 different buckets.

Example: Tattling: “Sarah is looking at her iPad instead of reading.” Reporting: “John hit Blaine at recess.” 

Growth Mindset Vs. Fixed Mindset 

Similar to the negative thoughts activity, have students sort growth mindset and fixed mindset statements into 2 different buckets. For older elementary students, have them identify and write their own fixed mindset beliefs down. 

Example: Fixed Mindset: “If something is challenging I should give up.” Growth Mindset: “I will try again and ask for help.”

Size of the Problem

Help students identify the size of the problem by sorting scenarios into different buckets. For this one you can use 5 buckets (tiny, small, medium, big, huge) or 3 buckets (small, medium, big).

Example: Small Problem: You forgot today was dress up day at school. Medium Problem: Your best friend doesn’t want to play with you anymore. Big Problem: Your parents are getting a divorce.

My size of the problem activity pack has a pumpkin seed sort game that would be perfect for sorting into the pumpkin buckets!


Students can practice self-regulation by sorting feelings and behaviors into the buckets. For this one you need 4 buckets that are green, blue, yellow, and red.

Example: Blue: I feel sad and cry. Green: I feel calm and ready to learn. Yellow: I feel nervous and am losing some control. Red: I feel angry and am kicking.

Check out my self-regulation pumpkin seed sort game here.

Tip: Write the categories on tape which you can stick to the buckets. This way you can re-use them for all of the activities.

Want more Fall and Halloween counseling ideas? Check out this bundle.

Happy Fall Y’all,

- Rachel

Back to School: The Top 5 Things School Counselors Need To Do


Depending on where you are located, you may still be in summer mode or you may be knee deep in back to school tasks! Whether you are a first year school counselor or a seasoned veteran here are a few essential tasks that help for a smooth start to the school year. 

1. Form Your Caseload

In my experience working at the elementary level I was never assigned a caseload but rather formed my own based on admin, teacher, and parent referrals. Forming your caseload can be challenging as you need to plan for your school year, but typically no one is referring students the first week of school. There is a fine line between making sure you are reaching out to kiddos in need and treating counseling as a recruitment process! Here are a few tips for making sure no one slips through the cracks.

- Take a look at the students you met with last year. Send home a proactive letter to parents welcoming them back to the school year and attach a referral form (snag mine here!) and permission slip. This way  they can continue counseling for their child right away if they wish, or they can keep the paperwork on hand in case they decide to later in the year. For parents to already have a referral form and permission slip in advance is a huge time saver. My process was always to give the student's teacher the forms to send home in their backpack aka the black hole. It would sometimes be a week before I received permission slips which delayed the counseling process when I had a student in need of services. The student may not even need counseling this school year but you'll have a permission slip on file for a quicker turnaround time if they do. 

- Email teachers with potential concerns. Again looking at my list of students from last year, I send teachers a quick email with a list of student names for them to keep an eye on. Hopefully, continued counseling isn't necessary for every student but again it is always good to be a step ahead so no one is overlooked. 

- If you're a new counselor, reach out to your administrator or previous counselor, if available, to see which students may need group or individual counseling. Don't stress if you aren't seeing a ton of students consistently the first few weeks. This is a good thing! The referrals will come, believe me.

2. Meet the Counselor Lessons

Introduce yourself to your students. If this is your first year at the school it is a good idea to introduce yourself and your role to all classes. If you are staying at the same school, you can choose to introduce yourself to 1st year classes only (Kindergarten, 6th Grade, etc.)

- Make it fun! Using a game or activity is a fun way for students to see that you are helpful and easy to talk to, not intimidating and scary. Check out my Meet the Counselor Game Show and Mission: Meet the Counselor for highly interactive activities.

- Creating a group or lesson for new students is a great way to explain your role and allow them an opportunity to meet new friends!

- Don't forget to introduce yourself to staff too. Ask you admin if you can have a few minutes at the first staff meeting to explain your role and plans for upcoming groups and guidance lessons.

- Parent introductions are super important as well. Create a brochure for Back to School Night to pass out and explain your role. Oftentimes parents are unsure what the school counselor does, or they may think that counseling is only for "problem kids." Be sure to explain the proactive, preventative tier 1 resources that are available to all students. 

3. Plan Guidance Lessons for the Year

Find out what curriculum your school uses or create your own! Even if you are already familiar with your school's curriculum go ahead and schedule these lessons in advance. My first year I made the mistake of emailing teachers every month asking for their ideal time for me to come in. They were already getting a ton of emails and keep a fairly consistent schedule so the following year I decided to email them once at the beginning of the year and then send reoccurring calendar invites for the entire school year. They liked this method a lot better! It was predictable and on both of our Google Calendars. 

- If your school doesn't have a set curriculum send out a Google Form Needs Assessment to get teacher input on hot topics for future lessons. I do a combination of structured curriculum based lessons along with as-needed lessons by teacher request. 

4. Print and Prep for Individual and Group Activities

The beginning of the school year is typically pretty slow, so take advantage of that time to prep, prep, prep! Print, laminate, staple, and file! Now is the time for you to have everything organized and easily accessible so when you have a line at the door in a month or so you will be prepared.

5. Decorate your Office

While decor is not a top priority, it is necessary. And c'mon you know you've been dying to do it since you saw those Pinterest ideas in June! Investing in a few items to make your office a welcoming, safe space goes a long way. Kids are coming from all kinds of home environments, many which are ever changing and uncomfortable. Creating a cozy office helps students feel comfortable which aids in the rapport building process. Having a few sensory items and a calm-down corner can remind students that all emotions are okay and that you are here to help. Check out this post on how to make your school counseling office hygge.

My experience is in a public elementary school and I know every school is different. Hopefully some of these takeaways can help you get settled and feel calm and ready to take on anything and everything the new school year brings you! Good Luck :) 


The top 5 things school counselors need to do to have a productive and smooth start to the school year. #brightfuturescounseling #elementaryschoolcounseling #elementaryschoolcounselor #schoolcounseling #schoolcounselor #backtoschool

How to Make Your School Counseling Office Hygge


Hygge (/ˈhjuːɡə/ HEW-gə or /ˈhuːɡə/ HOO-gə) is a Norwegian and Danish word for a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment. (Wikipedia)

I first heard of the word "hygge" a year or so ago on a podcast and after reading The Year of Living Danishly I really started to understand this foreign concept and its real life applications.

Your school counseling office is a safe space and a refuge for students to come to when they are experiencing strong emotions, family conflicts, or uncertainties. It also serves as the place for your counseling small groups to meet. Children crave familiarity and consistency, especially if they are lacking it in other aspects of their lives.

I think by applying a few ideas from our Scandinavian friends you can create a cozy wellness space even in the blandest of assigned offices! 


While scented candles would truly be hygge, battery operated ones are a much safer option for school! I also love these white string lights. You can even turn it into a group craft by having students place them in colored bottles.


Several of my students crave sensory input so having some fluffy pillows or beanbags is a nice alternative to a desk or stiff chair. To really channel a Scandinavian vibe, go with fur!


I can't tell you how many times I have wanted to turn on some calming background music in my office to help facilitate the mood of a group activity or ease an anxious student. But I am always scrambling to find an appropriate song. I've composed some Spotify playlists for you to use in your office and relaxing background music is definitely hygge. Check out the mindfulness playlist here and small group playlist here.

The work you do as a school counselor is so valuable and while creating a hygge vibe in your school counseling office is definitely not a top priority, it is a fun simple concept to consider when decorating your office this year.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. The price is the same for you but any money earned helps with the cost of the blog.

Here are some great Hygge office supplies!

Elementary school counseling office decor and set up. How to make your school counseling office hygge. Creating a welcoming space is vital for students' success in counseling. How to Make Your School Counseling Office Hygge — Bright Futures Counseling #brightfuturescounseling #elementaryschoolcounseling #elementaryschoolcounselor #schoolcounseling #schoolcounselor #hyggeoffice #counselingofficeideas #schoolcounselingofficeideas

First Year School Counselors: How to Plan Elementary School Counseling Groups

You're receiving dozens of similar referrals from teachers and your principal wants to know your plan for small groups. Meanwhile everything you learned in grad school is not coming in handy. Sound familiar? Welcome to back to school season, new counselor!

Key Components of a School Counseling Program:

How do I find students for my group?

Planning small groups (even last minute) can be simple with a little organization and preparation. First sort your referrals by topic (self-control, self-esteem, conflict resolution, anger management, etc.) You are likely receiving referrals from teachers and possibly parents or the students themselves! Check out the referral form I use here. While you don't want to "recruit" students for counseling, everyone agrees that a preventative approach is better than a reactive one. Setting up a table at Back to School Night or Open House is a good way to inform parents of your available services. You can also send an email to teachers mentioning students who received counseling the previous year and ask them to let you know if they have similar concerns this school year. 

counseling small group.jpg

How big should my group be?

Small groups work best when they are actually small. Who knew!? I have had groups as large as 10 but prefer to keep around 5 or 6 and when they are little ones maybe even groups of 3. Keep in mind your behavior management skills when selecting group sizes. 

How do I schedule my groups?

Once you have your groups organized, send out permission slips to parents and coordinate available times with teachers. Download this editable permission slip for free! You also want to clarify if you will be picking the student up or calling them to your office. Check out this video for a call log and some other organization tips! 

How long should my group be?

Small group counseling sessions should be around 30 minutes. Depending on your school's schedule you may even have less time. These are often scheduled during lunchtime and the students can bring their lunch and have a "lunch bunch." Keep this in mind as you plan activities. You don't want to plan crafts or a big art project if the kids will be eating. Also, I have found that 6-8 week long groups seem to be the most effective. This gives the students plenty of time to learn and practice a new skill without becoming dependent on the weekly sessions.

How do I plan my group?

Now the fun planning part begins! You may have a curriculum that your district provided you with and you have somewhere to start. In my experience these things were rarely provided so I either bought books and resources with my own money or created some free activities and lessons. You probably have lots of ideas you found from Pinterest over the summer!

These 5 components are a helpful structure to get you started when planning groups.

  1. Feelings Check

  2. Icebreaker Activity

  3. Lesson / Video

  4. Main Activity

  5. Journal

Feelings Check (4 min)

Start the session with a feelings check where everyone goes around the table and shares how they are feeling and why. You can pass around an item to help facilitate it or use a visual aid for younger students. These emoji cards are a fun way for little ones to identify their feelings. You may have to model this a few times at first. Grab this feelings check freebie here.

Icebreaker Activity (5 min)

The icebreaker is intended to make students feel comfortable. It is best executed when it is paired with the upcoming lesson topic. For example during a self-control group having the students play Simon Says or Freeze Dance is a fun way to introduce the topic while they think they are simply playing a game. You can later explain the connection.

Lesson / Video (6 min)

Introduce a new concept or review an existing one if this is a later session. A great way to keep kids engaged when learning a new topic is with videos. Check out my school counseling video resource guide here.

Main Activity (10 min)

The main activity is where the students play a game, use discussion cards, role play, complete worksheets, etc. to practice using the skill they are learning. This is the core of the session and should take up the majority of the time.

Journal (5 min)

Have students close the session by writing a few thoughts and reflections about what they have learned that day or how they plan on applying it to their everyday lives. This part can be challenging so include writing prompts. For younger students, a verbal check out may be a better option.

Optional: Pre and Post Group Self-Assessments

Have students complete self-assessments during the first and last session to track progress and collect data. Check out the self-assessments I use here.

*Don’t forget: You need to come up with a way to keep track of everyone. I have students sign in upon arrival to keep track of attendance.

Helpful Resources to Get Started 

Feeling overwhelmed? These books are great resources to start planning for groups or you can check out my pre-made school counseling group curriculum here.

Girls in Real Life Situations: Group Counseling for Enhancing Social and Emotional Development: Grades K-5

Grab Bag Guidance: And Other Small-Group Counseling Topics for Middle School Students

The Zones of Regulation

Operation: Breaking the Boy Code

Good luck, you've got this!

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How to plan elementary school counseling groups : a guide for first year school counselors. #brightfuturescounseling #elementaryschoolcounseling #elementaryschoolcounselor #schoolcounseling #schoolcounselor #counselinggroups #schoolcounselinggroups

Must Have Books in Your Elementary School Counseling Library


As educators we know how impactful a good story can be when teaching a child. And as an elementary school counselor I love to share stories and books with my students to help them process strong emotions and learn valuable character education and social skills.

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Books in your school counseling library can help students in the following ways:

Relatable Characters

Students often have a hard time identifying problem behaviors or intense emotions within themselves so relatable fiction characters are a great way to do this! Students can recognize things they want to improve without feeling defined by their struggles.

For this category I recommend Hunter and his Amazing Remote Control by Lori Ann Copeland. This book is written for students with ADHD but has several applicable self-control tips and tricks for any kid! The best part is that the story is super relatable and Hunter experiences daily frustrations that several of my students related to.

I also recommend My Mouth Is A Volcano by Julia Cook. This is another great one to discuss self-control and interrupting. The main character and scenarios are really relatable plus my students really liked the illustrations. Julia Cook is an all around great resource for school counseling books.

Identifying Feelings

Similarly to finding relatable characters, books are a great way for children to externalize their emotions. They can witness different emotions in a story and try to analyze how the character is feeling and why. They can also observe the reaction the character experiences as they feel certain strong emotions.

For this category I recommend When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really, Angry... by Molly Bang. This one is great for students who struggle with anger management. As you read you can have students try to identify Sophie's triggers and to suggest possible coping skills.

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst is another one I really recommend for discussing feelings and emotions of grief. This one is not only helpful for students working through the death of a loved one but also for divorce and incarceration.

 A book that covers a wide variety of emotions is My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss. I like this one because it helps students understand that emotions change frequently and that is okay! This one is especially good for younger students who can match the different colors to feelings to better understand them.

Expressing Empathy 

Books are a great way for students to express empathy and understand how others feel. By reading a story they can embody the character's thoughts and emotions. This is great for children who have a hard time reading social cues.

For this category I recommend another Dr. Seuss classic, The Sneetches. This book can be used to cover several topics including friendship, diversity, and bullying. It can evoke lots of meaningful discussions including how students think the Sneetches who are treated unfairly feel during the story. They can then apply the empathy takeaways to their own social situations.

Moral or Character Education Lesson

Several children's books have a moral to the story or a valuable lesson. These type of books can be great for introducing concepts related to behavior management or for teaching a gen ed classroom guidance lesson.

Want a free guidance lesson? Click here! 

For this category I recommend Inch and Miles: The Journey to Success, a character building book by John Wooden. In this book two animal friends go on a journey to build the Pyramid of Success. Along the way they define character traits such as loyalty, determination, and self-control. My school used this as part of our character education program and it really resonated with the kids!

I hope you find some of these books helpful as you build your elementary school counseling library. What are some of your favorite books to use with students?

For more recommendations check out my School Counseling Video Resource Library here.

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Using a Lite Brite in Elementary School Counseling and Play Therapy

By: Stephanie Heitkemper, MA-MFT-C, Owner: Resilient Minds Counseling

As a child of the 80’s, I was thrilled to see Lite Brite make a come back! As a Play Therapist, it just seemed fitting that I added a Lite Brite to my office (are you catching on?!).

I check in with clients using the “Today I Feel” check in sheet. This allows clients the opportunity to explore their day in a non-directive manner. I always explain that there is no right or wrong answer on this chart.  Following check in I transitioned to a conversation about chameleons. What do you? Have you ever seen one? What color can they change too? What color would you change to if you were a chameleon?

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I found this YouTube video.

After the short clip I facilitated a conversation around the changing of the chameleon with my client. I transitioned the conversation to having my clients think about being a chameleon, but they change color on the inside. Together we read the “What Color Is Your Chameleon” book.

Using the Lite Brite, clients placed a feeling to a color. On a dry erase board, we wrote them the peg color and feeling.  For younger clients we wrote in the appropriate color marker to match the color, this made it easier as we transitioned through the activity. Then I facilitated a conversation around designing their very own chameleon. I explained that just like the chameleon can change colors, our feelings change color. Clients were asked to design their chameleon in the peg color that represented what they were feeling when I talked about a specific situation.  Example: If you feel sad when you leave Mom’s house to go to Dad’s house. Feeling sad = blue peg. The client would begin designing their chameleon in blue. Since I have built rapport with my clients, I tended to speak about situations that were current. Every time the situation changed, the feeling often changed. This was often challenging for clients, sometimes we needed to take a break and do some deep breathing, or butterfly hugs.

If the feeling changed then the client would transition to a different color. At the end of the session the chameleon was multi-colored.  Often clients ask to turn off the lights, and use the many features on the Lite Brite. You can make the lights blink and change.

The client processed the activity about how the chameleon appeared even though they had so many emotions. It was during this time that I provided positive reflection about their strengths in exploring their emotions.

Parents have reported that clients are able to identify their emotions faster when triggered as they think of themselves as being chameleon like. In addition parents have been able to support clients by asking what the client needs to transition from one color to another.

It has been a hit in my office, and a great reason to own a Lite Brite!

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