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How to Welcome New Students

How to Welcome New Students

How to Welcome New Students

One important role of a school counselor is to help welcome students who are new to the school.  Whether the student is new at the beginning or the year or is transitioning mid-year, it is very important to help the student feel comfortable and welcome at the new school.  As an elementary school counselor, there are several ways I reach out to families and students to make the new student transition successful.

New Student Tour

At my school, all new families are invited to a New Student Tour about two weeks before school starts.  This year, we also invited families of kindergarteners, since they are technically new, too! When families register at our board office, they are given a flyer about our New Student Tour.  I also email out the flyer a few times during the summer as I get the email addresses of new families.  I embed a link to a Google form on the flyer to give families an easy way to RSVP.  This helps me easily keep track of the amount of RSVPs to help us plan for seating and treats after the tour. This year, we had 100 parents and children at our tour!

We begin the tour with a short orientation.  I put together a Google Slides Presentation that gives families basic info about our school.  Tip: Check out Slides Carnival for some fun templates for Google Slides.  On the RSVP Google form, I include a spot for families to type in any questions that they have and I make sure to address their questions during the orientation.  I try to involve some extra staff members in the orientation to allow the new families to meet as many individuals as possible.  This year, I presented the orientation with our dean, principal, school nurse, and parents' club president.  The orientation takes about 15-20 minutes and then we allow a few minutes for questions.

Next, we split the crowd into small groups and each staff member leads a group around the school for a tour.  This allows for a more personal tour and helps families feel comfortable asking questions in a smaller group.  After the tour, we head back to the cafeteria for a Popsicle treat! Families mingle as they eat their treats and also check out a table where we set out some "grab and go" resources about our school.  The New Student Tour is a fun way to make a great first impression and connect with the new families!

Small Groups with New Students

At the end of the first week of school, I schedule a small group session with all of the new students by grade level.  If there are a lot of new students in a grade level, I split the group in half.  We meet for about 40 minutes and it's a great get-to-know-you time!


We start with a quick introduction.  Students say their name and the name of the school they went to last school year.  I also ask each student why they moved to a new school--many students give a very specific reason, which is helpful for future counseling purposes.  For example, here are some of the reasons students have given for moving:

-My dad is in the military and we move all of the time.
-We needed a bigger house.
-I was getting bullied at my old school.
-We moved in with my grandma to help take care of her.
-My mom lost her job.
-We didn't move to a new house.  I just changed schools.  I was going to a private school and my mom said it wasn't working for me any more.
-We couldn't afford the rent for our trailer, so we had to find a cheaper one.  
-We ran out of money to pay rent, so we had to move in with friends.

Those reasons are pretty telling, right?!  I jot down any relevant comments students share that may help me in the future.    

New Student Banner

Next, each student creates a pennant that will be put together to form a new student banner display in our main hallway.  I print all of the pennants ahead of time on colored card stock... love Astrobrights Neon Card Stock (affiliate link)!  Students write their name and grade on their pennant and I trim them later with a paper cutter.  I snap a photo of each student with my iPhone to print later and add to each banner.  To display the banners, I made it easy and simply stapled them to the bulletin board in our display case, but you could also use yarn or ribbon.  Here's the finished product:

(Check out the amazing Starry Night crayon mural created by our 2nd graders in art class!)

If you would like to create your own new student banner, I have a FREE template in my TPT Store.  Click on the image below!

New Student Banner

New Student Jenga Game

My New Student Jenga game is the highlight of the small group time!  As soon as students see that I have Jenga, they are pumped for whatever comes next.  I explain to students that this is a special Jenga and each block matches a question that will help us get to know each other better.  

New Student Jenga Game

The New Student Jenga game was created with my Build Your Own Counseling Game on TPT. The pack comes with 16 cards that can be mixed and matched to create a customized counseling game.  For the new student groups, I use 4 cards: New Student, All About Me, Favorites, and Positive Feelings.  I love how students stay engaged throughout the game!  Often, when new students visit my office later in the school year, they ask if we are going to play Jenga again!  If you would like to check out my Build Your Own Counseling Game, click on the image below. 

Build Your Own Counseling Game with Jenga

Letter Home

At the end the new student group, I give each student a letter to take home to their parents.  The letter explains my role as the counselor, talks about what we did in the small group, and gives parents my contact information.  The letter is simply one more way to educate parents about the role of the school counselor and it helps to reassure families that I am working on ensuring a smooth transition for their child.

New Student Mid-Year Transition

Ideally, all new students would begin the first day of school and be able to participate in everything above!  Obviously, that is often not the case!  At my school, we have a process for new students who register throughout the school year.  Here is what we do:

1) When I get an email that the new student has registered at the board office, I call the family and set up a new student tour.

2) The family comes in for a tour (usually 2-3 days before the student is scheduled to begin) and I address any of their questions throughout the tour.

3) I provide the family with a New Student Folder.  The folder contains any important paperwork that the family may have missed at the beginning of the school year, such as:

-School Handbook
-School Year Calendar
-Supply List
-Meet the Counselor Brochure
-Letter about PBIS
-Building Safety Letter
-Nurse Brochure
-Most Recent School Newsletter
-Current Lunch Menu

It makes a great first impression to have everything put together in a folder to give to the new family at the tour.  I bought some cheap two-pocket folders (affiliate link) in our school color on Amazon and created a label for the front using the online Avery label maker website.

4) If several new students enroll at the same time (usually around Christmas Break), I run a new student group similar to the one above. If not, I make sure to meet with each new student about a week after their first day of school and check in to see how everything is going.

Thank you for taking the time to read about how I welcome new students!  Pin the image below to save this post for the future!

How to Welcome New Students

Looking for more ways to welcome new students?  Check out the Blog Link-Up over at The Helpful Counselor!  Visit Heather's blog to link up your great ideas for welcoming new students or comment with your favorite ideas on this post! 

Welcoming New Students

School Counselor Office Tour

School Counselor Office Tour

School Counselor Office Tour

Alternate Title: How to Turn a Kindergarten Boys' Bathroom into a School Counseling Office

This post will show you around my elementary counseling office and show you how I organize my space!  The alternate title is no joke.  Back when I first started teaching at my school, my current office used to be the kindergarten boys' bathroom!  A few years ago, we needed extra space, so the counselor's office was turned into a classroom and a bathroom was turned into the counselor's office.  Truth be told, you would never really know my office used to be a bathroom. Yes, it is SMALL and in an awkward location in the school, but I love the privacy and it has become a quiet, cozy space to work with kids!

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links)

School Counselor Office Tour

About My Office

Last year, as a first year counselor, I was given a small supply budget and used some of it to spruce up my office.  I also wrote a grant through our local education foundation, so that helped to offset some costs and allow me to make my office an inviting space.  I work at a K-4 Title I school and am fortunate to be able to see students individually, in small groups, and in classroom lessons.  I conduct individual counseling and small groups in my office, and visit each classroom for whole group lessons.

School Counselor Office Tour

Three Main Seating Areas

1) Counseling Couch

Although my office is tiny, I have three seating areas that allow a lot of flexibility.  The most popular choice for students is my couch!  Students love to get comfy on the couch while we chat and I spin my desk chair around to talk with students.  We have strict fire safety and health code policies, so I had to buy a "school couch" that can be easily cleaned... unfortunately, that means the couch is actually not very comfy, but the kids don't seem to mind!  One thing I love about the couch is the flat arm rests and back surface, which allow me to prop up some comfort items and a bin of fidgets.

Find It Here:
-Floor Lamp
-Inside Out Poster
-Hoberman Sphere 
-Worry Eater
-Kimochi Octopus

2) Sand Tray Station

Using a Sand Tray in School Counseling

Another favorite area for students to sit and chat is my sand tray station.  Students love to sit on the Hokki Stools and play with the sand while we talk.  The Hokki Stools are a bit pricey, but they are very durable and allow students get some sensory input while we chat because they gently wobble--I love sitting on them, too!  I use kinetic sand in my sand tray, which is an absolute favorite because it is very moldable!  Helpful hint: I use a 10 liter sand tray and needed about 10 pounds of kinetic sand to fill the tray.

If the student is visiting my office for a check-in or a calm down time, he or she often plays with the sand as a sensory tool while we talk.  If the student is visiting me to work on a specific counseling goal, I often will give the student a prompt for the sand tray.  Because my office is tiny, I don't have the space to display all of the miniatures as recommended for traditional sand tray therapy.  However, the organizer that I use as a sand tray table doubles as a storage unit and all of the miniatures are stored inside.  When a student is working on a sand tray prompt, I simply pull out the drawers and place them on my small group table, which is located in the center of my office.  This allows the student to easily see all of the miniatures that are available and also allows for quick clean up!

3) Small Group Table

School Counselor Office Tour

My small group table seats 5 students comfortably, but I can fit 7-8 students when I'm desperate! I pull over my desk chair to sit at the table with students, which saves space by not having an extra chair at the front end of the table.  For extra seating, we pull over the Hokki Stools from the sand tray area.  I love having a large dry erase board on the wall near the small group table because we can easily write on it during our groups.

Storage, Storage, Storage!

When I was hired as the school counselor, I spent half of the summer arranging my office and figuring out where to store everything!  Since the office was a bathroom originally, there is no built in storage.  Thankfully, the office came with the two metal cabinets you can see in the photo above.  

School Counselor Office Tour

The double wide filing cabinet actually does not have any files in it!  Instead, all of the drawers are used for storage.  The bottom two drawers hold school supplies and art supplies that I use for small groups.  The third drawer up holds storage containers for my small group folders (I run 8-10 small groups at the same time, so I needed a place to keep the materials for each group separate).  The top two drawers hold games and other materials I use with students.

School Counselor Office Tour

The metal cabinet on the right has two purposes (the above photo shows the cabinet when it is open)!  One, it has several shelves that I use for supply and book storage.  Two, it holds my coat, purse, and personal items.  I actually put a plastic storage container in the storage cabinet to give me even more places to put stuff!   

Construction Paper Storage

Another storage space with two purposes is my paper storage unit.  This is beside the two metal storage cabinets.  It functions as a small table to place a file sorter and supply container, but most importantly, holds all of my 11 X 18 construction paper!  

School Counselor Office Tour

Behind my small group table, I have a small bookshelf that holds some commonly used items. The bottom shelf contains my "grab and go" resources that I keep multiple copies of and can grab quickly when I have a student in need.  The middle shelf holds finger puppets and larger puppets that I use with my younger students.  My older students also like to use these to role play friendship issues!  Two of my favorite puppets are this set of finger puppets from IKEA and this larger happy monster puppet. The top shelf holds an amazing dollhouse that I found on Amazon.  It is the perfect size for a tiny office because the front of the house folds out to make the house bigger!  

Using a Dollhouse in School Counseling

My K-1 students love putting the dollhouse on the floor to play and talk through issues!

My Desk and Workstation

School Counselor Office Tour

My desk is directly across from the couch.  When students sit on the couch, I spin my desk chair around while we chat.  This saves a lot of space by not having a second seating area for me.  The first major decision I made in my office when I got the counseling job was getting rid of the massive, wooden teacher desk.  Sure, it had a lot of great storage drawers, but it was simply too big for the space.  Instead, I brought this narrow, wooden desk from home that I had purchased in college.  It works great for the space, still has storage, and has a much sleeker look than the teacher desk monstrosity.  (Disclaimer: I do not typically have fresh flowers on my desk!  These were an end of the year gift from a colleague!)

School Counselor Office Tour
I made the decision to place a metal filing cabinet directly next to my desk, which created a great work station wall.  It's magnetic, so I placed magnets on the back of my building schedules, which allows me to take them off easily to refer to often!  I also have a magnetic dry erase board that I use for quick reminders and my to do list.  Another helpful thing I did was stick a notepad and post-it notes directly to the file cabinet, so I can quickly grab a note and jot down stuff before I forget!  An added bonus of having the filing cabinet next to my desk is that it functions as a room divider and blocks my often messy desk from view when you walk into my office!  

School Counselor Planner

I love that my desk is extra wide because I can keep my School Counselor Planner open on the left side of my desk under my "work station wall" and frequently refer to it throughout the school day! 

Books, Books, and More Books!

School Counselor Book Organization

I was a classroom teacher before I was a school counselor, and developed a healthy obsession with children's books.  My office has a tiny nook right by the door and I decided that it was the perfect spot to wedge in a tall bookshelf.  All of my books are organized by counseling topic.  I use books most often during classroom lessons, but also read them during small group lessons, and sometimes with individual students.  I also frequently loan books to families when they are dealing with tough situations at home.  I love having so many books available because kids respond so well when they can read about someone else going through a similar situation.  

School Counselor Book Organization

On the top shelf of the bookshelf, I keep all of my counseling resource books.  I have a lot of great resource books, but my collection does not compare to other counselors' because most of the ideas I use come from blogs, TPT, and digital resources.  The Mrs. Potato Head that I use for my K-1 Meet the Counselor lessons is relaxing by my resource books!  

Technology in School Counseling

School Counseling Office Tour

One final area of my office that students love is my Apple TV.  It is mounted above my sand tray, so students can easily see it from my small group table.  I can stream digital resources from my computer directly onto the Apple TV.  I love showing YouTube clips during my small group lessons because visual media is very engaging to my students.  I also love using brain breaks from GoNoodle to get students moving or relaxed.  Another great thing about the Apple TV is that I can stream music from iTunes or Pandora to create a relaxing atmosphere in my office.   

I hope you enjoyed the tour around my office!  As a new counselor, I would have loved a post like this because I was completely overwhelmed with setting up a tiny office.  Now that I am in my second year, my space has become the perfect place to work with kids!  If you have any questions about my office, please feel free to ask them in the comments and I will respond to you!  Use the image below to pin my tour and refer back to it later!  Thanks for reading!

School Counselor Office Tour

Google Docs for School Counselors

Free Google Docs for School Counselor Organization

Google Docs for School Counselor Organization 

As a school counselor, I love using Google Docs to help organize my work life.  Last year, as a new school counselor, I began creating docs to organize my schedule, small groups, goals, and more!  I referred to the docs often throughout the school year and am thrilled to be able to use them again this year.  The best thing about Google Docs is that you can easily make a copy and then tweak them for the following school year.  In this post, I will share 6 Google Docs that you can tweak for your own use!

How to Use Shared Docs

All of the docs below are Shared Docs.  Customize them to meet your needs by following these steps:

1) Open the doc by clicking on the image below
2) Click on File --> Make a Copy
3) Rename your doc
4) Customize!

*Note: My favorite fonts to use in my docs are Josefin Sans and Syncopate.  If you want your docs to look like mine, you may need to add these fonts by clicking on your font menu and selecting "more fonts." 

Classroom Counseling Sign-Up Form

Do you schedule monthly lessons with your teachers?  The doc below will help you gather quick info to make scheduling a breeze.  Before sending this doc to teachers, I type their names on the left side of the doc and color code them by grade level.  Then, I share the doc with my staff and asked them to type in their two preferred days and times for me to do my classroom counseling lessons. This form helps SO much with scheduling because I can almost always choose a preferred time for each teacher.

Classroom Counseling Sign-Up Form

Classroom Counseling Schedule

Once teachers have chosen their preferred days/times, I schedule classroom lessons for the first semester.  On average, I see each classroom once a month.  Scheduling lessons for an entire semester allows me to get everything written down in my planner well in advance.  Then, I can plan individual check-ins, small groups, and meetings around the classroom lessons.  This form is organized the same way as the sign-up form.  If you want to create a page for the second semester, simply copy and paste the chart onto the next page! 

Classroom Counseling Schedule

Character Traits Plan

Last year, I based my monthly classroom lessons on character traits.  This next doc was a lifesaver!  On the first page of the doc, I made a chart for all of the traits I planned on teaching about in my classroom lessons.  Throughout the school year, when I thought of a great idea, I added them to the chart as a way to collect my ideas.  The second page of the doc is where the magic happened.  For each character trait, I made a chart of how I planned on teaching the topic in every grade level.  This was very helpful because I was able to see how my lessons built upon each other and got more complex in each grade level!

Character Traits Plan

Character Traits Lesson Plan Template

Small Group Schedule and Lesson Plans

Up next is a doc that I made for scheduling and planning my small groups.  The first page of the doc shows you how I organized my small groups.  I made a page like this for every grade level. Whenever I went to pick up students for a small group, I took this page with me so I would not forget anyone!  I also made a copy of this page for each classroom teacher to give them easy access to the dates, times, and students in their grade level's small groups.

I used the second page of the doc to create lesson plans for each small group.  At the top of the doc, I wrote measurable goals for the group.  On the right side, I typed in each student's name and used an "X" to keep track of their attendance at each group session.  The rest of the doc was used for lesson planning.  Since I used this as a digital doc, I could easily move items around in my lesson plan if I did not get to them each week.

Small Group Counseling Schedule

Small Group Counseling Lesson Plan Template

Yearly Counseling Tasks

Do you have trouble remember what tasks you need to complete each month? Me too.  I made the next doc to help me remember my reoccurring monthly tasks.  For example, every August, I will need to prepare my new student folders.  In September, I will need to organize my bullying awareness lessons.  In October, I will need to plan for Red Ribbon Week.  And so on :)  Last school year, I used this doc to list each monthly task and then used the strikethrough feature when the task was complete.  At the end of the school year, I turned all of the text back to normal and will re-use this form again this school year!  

Yearly Counseling Tasks

Counseling Goals

The last doc I am sharing today is my counseling goals doc.  At the beginning of the school year, I came up with several long term and short term goals.  The long term goals are my "bucket list" items (ex: getting a therapy dog)!!  The short term goals are items I planned on accomplishing during the school year.  I shared this doc with my administrator so he could see what goals I was working on.  Follow the directions on the doc to learn how to turn checkboxes into checkmarks to keep track of your goals!  

School Counseling Goals

I hope you found all of these docs helpful!  Leave a comment with your favorite docs or tell me about what kind of docs you would love me to create.  I would be happy to share more docs in the future!

Stay Organized this School Year

Looking for more ways to stay organized this school year?  I am thrilled to announce that I have finally started stocking my TpT Store with products for school counselors.  After taking last school year off of blogging to focus on my new job, it has been SO refreshing getting involved with the counseling blogging world.  

So far, I have created two products to help you organize your school year!  Click on the images below to check out each product or check out my BUNDLE to save $$$.  

School Counselor Documentation Pack

Everything you need to document your sessions and stay organized!

-Intake & Progress Notes Forms
-Check In Form
-Student Schedule Form
-Small Group Lesson Template
-Counseling Referral Forms
-Phone Call Log
-Meeting Notes & Notes Page
-Weekly To Do List
-And more!

School Counselor Planner with Free Yearly Updates

My 2016-2017 Planner is a practical, ink-saving weekly planner for documenting sessions, lessons, meetings, and more! Each two-page spread contains a weekly view for you to document your daily events. The day is divided into 15 minute intervals (7:00-4:00) with additional space to record events before and after school. My planner has free yearly updates!

Free Google Docs for School Counselor Organization

If you are new to my blog, please take a moment to follow me for more
 school counselor organization tips and creative lesson ideas!


Summer Reading for School Counselors

Summer Reading for School Counselors

Summer is the best time for me to do some professional development reading!  While I have the best intentions of keeping up with PD books during the school year, it just doesn't seem to happen as often as I would like it to.  In the summer, I love being able to leisurely make my way through some PD books with my coffee in hand... and a notebook, Flair pens, and post-it notes at my side...and likely a cat on my lap!

Summer Reading for School Counselors
((This is why I get nothing done))

Throughout the school year, I gather books that sound interesting and add them to my Amazon wish list.  I discover the books from school counselor blogs, the Elementary School Counselor Exchange on Facebook, and ASCA magazines.  This summer, my goal is to make it through five PD books.  I've heard great comments about each of these books and am excited to gather some new ideas for the school year.

Summer Reading for School Counselors

I am most excited about reading The Use of Data in School Counseling because it will help to shape the framework of my school counseling program.  I am hoping this book will give me more ideas about using data to support the needs of my school, which will help me to be more intentional about planning lessons.  Here in Ohio, the Board of Education has decided that every school must adopt a standards-based school counselor evaluation system by September of this year.  Something tells me that I am going to need to start collecting data, data, data.

       Summer Reading for School Counselors

Lost At School was recommended to me by the parent of one of the students I worked with last school year.  The little guy was a 2nd grader with very low motivation and desire to come to school.  His mom started reading the book in the spring and brought it to my office to share it with me (with tears in her eyes).  She was only two chapters into the book and had already compiled a list of traits that described her child perfectly.  I was sold and purchased the book that evening.

Summer Reading for School Counselors       

Parenting Tough Kids is a workbook filled with practical strategies for parents to use at home.  I often have parents stop me to ask for advice in dealing with their child's challenging behavior. One of my future goals is to lead "coffee with the counselor" chats and I would love to be able to do a book study with parents.  I am hoping that this may be a book I can recommend to parents for an easy, strategy-filled read.  Chapter 7 is titled, "How to Build Your Child's Emotional Resilience" (I might be starting with that chapter)!  If we can start to build more residence in kids, we can begin solving many problems.

Summer Reading for School Counselors       

How to Reach and Teach Children with Challenging Behavior is a great resource for teachers and counselors.  I purchased this book mid-year because we have several new students with challenging behavior and our teachers are in need of resources and strategies!  I am almost finished with this book and have found some practical strategies to share with teachers.  I really like how the book examines common functions of students'  behaviors (pg. 19).  Here is their list:

-To get attention or reaction from peers or adults
-To get something tangible
-To get power or control
-To meet a sensory need
-To communicate feelings, wants, and needs
-As a result of a lack of understanding
-To escape or avoid something

So good!  Another part of the book that I love is a section with strategies teachers can use with students during writing lessons (pg. 102...if you've been a classroom teacher, you know that writing assignments are often when you get some extreme behaviors)!  I also really like the list of reinforces (pg. 124) and strategies for using reinforcers to motivate students.  I am excited to finish this book!   

Summer Reading for School Counselors

My last summer read is Brief Counseling that Works.  When I was working on my clinical counseling degree, solution-focused brief counseling (SFBC) was my "go to" theory.  When I saw that there was a SFBC book designed for school counselors, I had to get it.  SFBC is a great technique to use with elementary students because they are forward thinking.  They want to talk about their problem and then solve it!  This book offers good background knowledge about the effectiveness of SFBC and also goes much further in presenting practical techniques for school counselors.  

There you have it, five books I am excited to read this summer!  I have two more books that are on my summer bucket list, just in case I get all five of those read (slim chances...)!  I haven't bought them yet, but I checked them out from the library to get a sneak peek.  I've heard great comments about both.  Here they are:


Happy reading, counselor friends!  
If you have any books on your summer reading bucket list, please share them in the comments!

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link for Amazon.  By purchasing an item on Amazon using this link, I will receive a small commission.  All recommendations are my own.

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