Ah, time management. This is a struggle in any workplace, but as a school counselor it can be especially stressful. This is a challenge I faced my first year as a counselor and it is something I get asked about often. Here are systems I set into place to effectively manage my time and best meet student needs.
Create a Consistent Schedule
Your schedule should have 3 main components: individual counseling sessions, small group sessions, and classroom guidance lessons. For more specific information on how to plan these, head to my first year counselor series.
The individual and group sessions should be scheduled at a specific, reoccurring time, and the guidance lessons should be scheduled in advance with the teacher. These are non-negotiable confirmed time slots. Consistency is so vital to student’s growth in counseling sessions and when you have a group of kids coming from different teachers it is already tricky to find an ideal time that works for everyone, so you want to avoid cancelling and rescheduling.
I like to leave some "free time" in my schedule in between sessions and lessons. This is when I can check in with students, meet with teachers, observe students in class, or be available for drop-ins. You can also create buffers in your schedule. For example, I allow 30 minutes on my calendar to meet with an individual student, but we usually only meet for 20 minutes. This allows an extra 10 minutes if we need to add it to our session, or 10 minutes to squeeze in another kiddo who needs a quick check-in. Keep in mind travel time when scheduling events. If you have a big campus this adds up and sometimes you may escort younger students to and from class rather than having them meet you in your office.
Share your Schedule
Sharing this schedule with others is very helpful. Rather than your staff wondering what you are doing, show them! I had a Google Calendar that I shared with my principal so she could see where I was and when. (Bonus: It is also a way to advocate for yourself by showing all of the valuable work you are doing!)
You can also use a simple door sign pointing to where you are at. Remember, to have a follow up plan. You can have a mailbox outside where students and staff can leave a note if they stopped by.
Quality over Quantity
It takes time to build rapport and connect with students. Instead of seeing a bunch of students for 5 minutes each, it is better to have a 20-30 minute session with one student. Remember, these individual sessions are only for tier 3 students so you shouldn’t have too many. This is why small groups are great! You can help multiple students with lesser needs at once.
So this plan is great on paper, but what about when I have a crisis?
Great point! You can’t be everywhere at once so it is important to utilize your team and have a plan in place in the event of a crisis. Meet with your team (principal, school psych, behavior specialist, etc.) and decide the chain of command for responding to a crisis. This way you have a plan in place beforehand and aren’t scrambling when a crisis occurs.
Use walkie-talkies to communicate with the team when there is a crisis.
Have a place students can go if your office is unavailable. (Our resource teacher would let students stay in her room until myself or the principal could get there.)
Outsource yourself! If you have an intern, let them take over facilitating the group while you respond to the crisis.
If you value your own time, others will too. It can be tempting to cancel a group or guidance lesson to help another student, but it is best practice to uphold your scheduled appointments and have a plan in place for emergency situations. This keeps you reliable and prevents you from being stretched too thin.
What systems do you use to effectively manage your time? Share in the comments!