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!

 School Counseling Data Collection Tools #BrightFuturesCounseling #SchoolCounseling #ElementarySchoolCounseling #MiddleSchoolCounsling #SchoolCounselingTools #StudentData
 School Counseling Data Collection Tools #BrightFuturesCounseling #SchoolCounseling #ElementarySchoolCounseling #MiddleSchoolCounsling #SchoolCounselingTools #StudentData

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!

 How to determine and track what motivates your students #BrightFuturesCounseling #SchoolCounselor #StudentMotivation #Motivation #Elementary #PrimarySchool #HomeSchool #behaviorspecialist

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 :) 


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.

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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:

  • Character Education School Wide Guidance Lessons

  • Small Group Counseling

  • Individual Counseling

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! 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. 

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. 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. 

*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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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.

school counseling library_.jpg

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?

Today I feel .jpg

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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How to Plan a Fun Elementary School Counseling Christmas Party

Class parties are always a fun way to end the year and celebrate the holiday season. As a school counselor it can be a little difficult since we see several kids at different times throughout the week. I find my self having 2 day long parties in order to celebrate with all of my students or doing little things with kiddos individually or in small groups. These 5 Christmas/Holiday themed activities are a fun way to reinforce key counseling concepts with a seasonal twist! 

school counseling Christmas party

1) Create Self-Esteem Ornaments- You can buy these clear plastic ornaments for super cheap at the dollar store or order them online here.

Have students write self-esteem statements and then put them inside the bulb. Students can take them home and remember how awesome they are every time they see it on their tree.


self esteem Christmas ornament school counseling

2) Create Christmas Trail Mix - I like this recipe I found on Pinterest. If you omit the white candy coating it is super easy. Have students share as they assemble their bags. 

  • Popcorn - Name something that you are good at.
  • Marshmallows - Name something that makes you smile.
  • Pretzels - Talk about a favorite holiday memory.
  • M&Ms - Talk about a good choice you made today.
  • Sprinkles - Name a goal that you want to achieve next year.


3) Self-Control Board Game - I created this game to discuss possible scenarios and self-control strategies with these fun elves!

elementary school counseling Christmas activities

4) Dress an Elf with I-Statements - This activity is fun to do on the iPad or as a cut and paste project. I created it specifically with small groups in mind!

goal setting elementary counseling

5) Snowman Goals - Students can set friendship, academic, and behavior goals for the new year with this fun snowman foldable I created.

Happy Holidays, 


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5 Ways School Counselors Can Build Parent Relationships

By Carla MacDougall

As an elementary school counselor, I’ve found that building a relationship with my parent community is vital to the success of my program. There are several things I do to ensure that a connection is forged early on which allows counseling and me to stay at the forefront of my parents minds. I work at an affluent suburban elementary school where the parent community is extremely involved. Our district funds a part time counselor for each elementary school and then my parent fundraising committee similar to a PTA actually raises money to “fund” me an additional day. This is why being very transparent and available to parents is vital to my programs success. Funding my extra day is a decision that is made each year and is contingent on parent votes, and the amount of money raised.

I’ve found that, especially with my early elementary students, my reach can go much farther if I am training and assisting parents in addition to their students. Counselors and teachers often find that skills and behaviors taught at school are notoriously “undone” once a student leaves their classroom. I would like to think that my 30 minute sessions with students can transcend all bounds, but if I work to build up their self-esteem and then they return to an home environment that robs them of this, I will surely be fighting an uphill battle. We can do a lot with a student in the time that we have them at school, but so much more can be done if we are working together with parents to develop an environment that is conducive to healthy social emotional health at home.

Gaining confidence in working with parents and also their trust has been challenging at times since I am not a parent yet. But there are several things I recommend doing in order to shape those relationships with this unique population. 

Here are several ways that I connect with my parent community.

1. Monthly Newsletters

Each month I send an email to the entire parent body. These newsletters offer parenting tips and advice as well as reminders about upcoming parenting workshop opportunities. The newsletter is specific to the time of year, and current struggles that parents may be facing. For example, at the start of the year I typically would offer up suggestions about getting kids back into the school routine, or how to help your child feel confident on the first day of school.

2. Parent Workshops

A few times a year I will host a parent workshop. If there is a topic that I am not comfortable presenting on yet, because of a lack or experience or knowledge, I reach out to community experts to see if they would be interested in presenting. Last May I held one on Video Gaming. I know very little about this, so a therapist whose son experienced video game addiction came and presented instead. 

Check out an example of my monthly newsletter here.

3. Back to School Nights

I always have a booth or table set up at Back to School Nights so parents can gather more information or ask questions. 

4. Parent-Teacher Conferences

I always offer to attend Parent-Teacher conferences if I have worked with a student so that we are all staying on the same page about the child’s education. I also frequently “pop” into parent meetings if the teacher is considering a counseling referral. 

5. Parenting Books

I am constantly reading parenting books and articles so I can stay up to date and knowledgeable about topics and challenges that our parent community might be facing. This also gives me a huge repertoire of books to recommend to struggling parents since my “parenting” experience is limited at this point. 

Recommended Reads:

For more tips, ideas, and information on how Carla runs her Comprehensive School Counseling program follow her at

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Easy to Implement Red Ribbon Week Idea

Red Ribbon Week in elementary school is always a challenge. Some admin and parents don't want their kids introduced to concepts too early. We've all had that "What are drugs?" awkward conversation with a kiddo. Also, some schools like to take an approach of promoting healthy choices rather than saying no to drugs. 

There are several wonderful resources for Red Ribbon Week like the Natural High  videos, but again these aren't perfect for an elementary audience. I wanted a quick way to introduce my students to RRW so I created a fun recess activity with the theme "I'd rather eat bugs than do drugs!" Who doesn't love snacks and photo booths?

red ribbon week activities
Red Ribbon Week

All you need is:

- "dirt" (crushed oreos, chocolate pudding, gummy worms)

-  photo booth frame (I made mine out of poster board)

Things to consider:

- Buying all of these treats can be expensive! Check with your principal or parent teacher committee to see if there are funds available. I was reimbursed for my purchases. It doesn't hurt to ask!

- Run it by your admin. Mine thought it was a great idea but a few of the teachers didn't like the idea of candy. And of course you always want to check on allergies.

Have a great Red Ribbon Week!

What activities does your school do?

School Counseling Youtube Video Resource Guide

As you know kiddos love videos and incorporating some short, fun clips into your guidance lessons can be a great visual aid when teaching a key character word or lesson. When I am planning for a lesson I have an idea in my head of a video I want to show but I end up wasting precious time on Youtube and Pinterest looking for one to fit my needs. I've compiled a list with links to some videos I've used in guidance lessons and with groups. These are short and funny and are intended to be supplemental material for your lesson or to serve as a conversation starter.

Conflict Resolution

These three videos are from The Olive Branch. Each one shows how two characters compromise when they have a conflict. These clips do not have any dialogue and are perfect for starting a discussion.

The Olive Branch: Cold

The Olive Branch: Sleep

The Olive Branch: Food

This video is a funny rap about Kelso's Choices. It is to the beat of "Ice Ice Baby." It's a great way for kiddos to memorize the choices.

Kelso's Choices Rap


Kid President is so fun! This one is a pep talk for teachers and students. Perfect for back to school or after winter break.

Kid President Pep Talk

This video is great for an upper elementary girls self-esteem group. It focuses on body image. Dove has a lot of great resources for this topic.

Dove: Body Image

Growth Mindset

These 5 videos are designed to be played in order. They tell the story of Mojo, a monster who wants to give up because he doesn't think he is smart. It is created by Class Dojo and is super cute. Class Dojo also has other video series inlcuding mindfulness and empathy.

Class Dojo Growth Mindset 1

Class Dojo Growth Mindset 2

Class Dojo Growth Mindset 3

Class Dojo Growth Mindset 4

Class Dojo Growth Mindset 5

Sesame Street also has a ton of great videos for explaining character traits. This one is a fun Bruno Mars' song about not giving up.

Sesame Street: Don't Give Up

This video is a good way to introduce fixed mindset for older elementary students. It shows a student doubting herself when she knows the answer. 

Fixed Mindset

Bullying Prevention

This video clip teaches students to be upstanders instead of bystanders. It is from The NED Show which has lots of character education resources as well.

Be an Upstander

These two videos are for upper elementary or middle school. They are more extreme but have a powerful message. 

Talent Show

Have a Voice


This video is about a bird who tries to climb up a mountain. Even though he has setbacks he stays determined.

One Thousand Steps Starts with One


Here is another awesome one from Sesame Street! This one is great for Kindergarten and other little ones. Warning: It will get stuck in your head for days!

Sesame Street: That's Cooperation

I think this one is actually part of an insurance commercial, but it is so cute! There are three funny scenarios where animals have to work together. The videos do not have dialogue so they are good as a discussion starter.

It's Smarter to Travel in Groups


This video is also from The NED Show and shows real kids talking about their ingredients for friendship soup. It is perfect for a friendship group discussing qualities of a good friend. You could then make friendship soup with your group! Or my students made friendship pizza instead.

Friendship Soup


This Pixar short film doesn't have any dialogue and is perfect for starting a discussion about kindness. It can also be used to discuss friendship, bullying, and social skills.

For the Birds

Here is another great one from Kid President! These 20 things are funny yet meaningful that both adults and kids can relate to.

Kid President's 20 Things We Should Say More Often


This video features real kids sharing their thoughts on empathy. It is perfect for upper elementary students.

What is Empathy?

Anxiety / Stress

This one is from Sesame Street too. It is a music video teaching kids to belly breathe featuring Common and Colbie Cailliat.

Sesame Street: Belly Breathe


This video has a cute song for younger elementary students (Pre K and Kindergarten.) It is great for feelings recognition.

The Feelings Song

Movie clips from Disney's Inside Out are great for discussing feelings. I especially like this one for observing how Riley's emotions change throughout the day. I have also used it to discuss The Zones of Regulation with students.

You've Ruined Pizza

This clip is great to discuss grief. Riley feels sad when she thinks of an old memory. Students can then discuss memories of a lost loved one or pet.

Riley's First Day of School


This one is from Sesame Street too! Cookie Monster has to practice self-control for a game show. 

The Waiting Game

Following Directions

This one is so fun! My students love dancing around to it. They have to think fast and listen carefully to directions.

Dance Around! 

My students love the Minions! This funny video shows different clips of Minions breaking class rules. I play it during the first session of a counseling group when we are establishing group rules. There are also seasonal variations of the song!

Minions' Class Rules

Go Noodle

Go Noodle is free to sign up for and is a fabulous resource to get kids up and moving. Teachers use this resource a lot for indoor PE and stretch breaks but for school counseling I especially love the mindfulness videos.

Youtube Video Downloader

Check out this video downloader so you don't have pesky ads (which are often inappropriate for an elementary audience) at the front of your video clip. Be sure not to click the green install button or the blue arrow. These could potentially download a program to your computer. If you click the green download video you are only downloading the mp4 for the video. You can check out the tutorial I created below.

There you have it! 30 videos to get you started down the Youtube rabbit hole. Enjoy!

Please comment and share some of your favorite videos for school counseling. I'd love to see them. 

This post contains an affiliate link.

Elementary School Counseling Bulletin Board Ideas

After you've tackled your back to school to-do list it's time to get creative! Teachers are always creating awesome bulletin boards but as school counselors it is something we often underutilize and overlook. Bulletin boards are a great way to engage students and to help them feel at ease in the counseling office. At one of my school's I only have one bulletin board inside my office so it is only seen by the kiddos who come to see me. I keep it consistent throughout the year and incorporate the school's mascot. 

 Our school mascot is the bee! I found these cute bees at the Dollar Tree.

Our school mascot is the bee! I found these cute bees at the Dollar Tree.

 The year before I had a similar bee bulletin board. You can see it on the left wall. This one said "Be..." and had positive traits such as confident, brave, unique, and kind.

The year before I had a similar bee bulletin board. You can see it on the left wall. This one said "Be..." and had positive traits such as confident, brave, unique, and kind.

At my other school I didn't have a bulletin board but my principal suggested I hang one up in the hallway outside my office. Don't be afraid to ask your custodian if there are any extras lying around. You'd be surprised at what you may find! This bulletin board is my favorite and I change it often since it is a daily focal point of all 600+ students. I use it to spread awareness on seasonal topics (Bullying Prevention Month, Red Ribbon Week, etc.) and to showcase what we are doing in counseling. This way students are reminded of my role and feel welcome to stop by my office. I try to change this bulletin board every few months. 

 I created this emoji bulletin board for the first day of school. My kiddos are always using emojis so they really liked this one! I think I found the saying on Pinterest. I bought the balloons in the party section at Walmart and the emoji cards I cut off of a notebook cover I found in the school supply section at Walmart.

I created this emoji bulletin board for the first day of school. My kiddos are always using emojis so they really liked this one! I think I found the saying on Pinterest. I bought the balloons in the party section at Walmart and the emoji cards I cut off of a notebook cover I found in the school supply section at Walmart.

 After my girl's self-esteem group ended I created this bulletin board. The girls created the flowers out of tissue paper as a closure activity for the last session. 

After my girl's self-esteem group ended I created this bulletin board. The girls created the flowers out of tissue paper as a closure activity for the last session. 

 I created this bulletin board for October's Bullying Prevention Month. Students submitted drawings of them being up-standers! The Salma Hayek quote is from a video they watched during the guidance lesson.

I created this bulletin board for October's Bullying Prevention Month. Students submitted drawings of them being up-standers! The Salma Hayek quote is from a video they watched during the guidance lesson.

 After winter break I created this simple bulletin board with some leftover tassels I found in my office. The students I was seeing for individual sessions wrote down their academic, personal, and, social goals for the new year. Download a free goal setting worksheet  here.

After winter break I created this simple bulletin board with some leftover tassels I found in my office. The students I was seeing for individual sessions wrote down their academic, personal, and, social goals for the new year. Download a free goal setting worksheet here.

Don't have a bulletin board? Make your own! I used butcher paper and a bulletin board border (you can find these at most school/office supply stores) to create one. Pros: It can be any shape and size. Cons: It doesn't have a cork backing so you can't pin or staple, but you can use tape!

What are some of your favorite bulletin board ideas? 

Happy Counseling, 

How to use Digital Resources to Enhance your School Counseling Program

Does your school have 1:1 technology for students? In my district every student 3rd grade and up has a school issued iPad. While I think this potentially opens the door to countless other problems and I have my own personal beliefs about children and screen time, I can't help but recognize the opportunities and efficiency they provide in a school setting. Teachers are able to assign and review work through google classroom and the students are learning how to use apps which will continue to benefit them in their education and career. 

So how does this apply to school counseling? As a school counselor, I use limited technology. I do classroom guidance lessons with PowerPoint that often include videos, but that's about it! I understand the value of technology and am always looking to incorporate it into my school counseling program so this summer I have been using google slides to create some digital resources. Most of them are drag and drop sorting activities where students can identify coping strategies. 

How I plan to use them this year: 

  • In class wide guidance lessons where students can interactively play on smart boards
  • In individual counseling sessions to review coping strategies
  • For unannounced drop in students to play  
  • To give to students who are early for group and waiting on the others to show up

My students are always iPad in hand, and they use it in all other areas or school and home life, so why not use it in counseling? It makes learning about coping strategies visual and kinesthetic and it feels like a fun game. Also, we're not only saving paper but time! It is right there good to go whenever I have a kiddo pop in unexpectedly (aka everyday!)

There is a little bit of a learning curve, but if you are familiar with PowerPoint or Google Slides give it a shot! I found this YouTube tutorial helpful. 

Other ways you can use Google for your comprehensive school counseling program include:

  • Send out Google forms to collect feedback on your program in general or after each group /guidance lesson
  • Use Google sheets to organize your caseload
  • Use Google docs to keep worksheets and activities in the cloud and accessible from multiple devices

What are your thoughts on digital products? Are there any you would like to use this year?

Click here to see the ones I have created.