As a school counselor, being stretched thin tends to be the normal operating mode. Somewhere someone has the recommended ASCA ratio, but I've never met them. So, more kids need support than there are slots in your schedule. While direct services, like individual and group counseling, are an essential part of your program, you can increase your impact through indirect counseling services.
We will explore 13 different indirect counseling services any school counselor can add. All of these might not be for you, but that's okay. Instead, find a few that would help. Any on this list will give others the tools to carry out the practices you know make a difference for students.
Create Calm Boxes
Calm boxes are simple tools that school counselors can pass to classroom teachers. They are filled with items to help students practice self-regulation skills and provide them with calming strategies when they become overwhelmed.
You can create these for individual students or recommend that teachers make these available for all students. For example, your calm box might include fidgets, breathing tools, drawing exercises, yoga poses, and mindful minutes. By equipping teachers with these resources in their classrooms, school counselors can help students access the strategies when needed.
Serve on Committees
I know you have a lot on your plate. Another meeting does not feel like the best use of your time. But school counselors are needed on school and district committees. By being part of the decision-making process, you can provide input and ideas that support students’ social and emotional needs.
You can advocate for and help develop strategies to increase student achievement and well-being. School counselors also have an essential role in providing data about the effectiveness of initiatives implemented at the school or district level.
The most significant impact I had in my years as a school psychologist was when I was in the room when decisions were made. I guided our MTSS/RTI implementation, determined the best SEL programs, and considered how to support our students with significant behavioral struggles. I joined academically focused committees and helped people think about the social, emotional, and behavioral components of learning. It might seem outside your lane, but being a stakeholder has ripple effects.
Run Parent Workshops
This might seem scary. I present regularly, and being in a room sharing parenting tips with parents is never a relaxing event. I have two pieces of advice. One, poll parents about what topics they would like to see. Your parent association is a great resource here.
Two, approach this with humility and kindness. Parenting is hard; children are unique. Parents need support, actionable ideas, and an understanding that there isn't a surefire solution.
You are an expert on social skills, talking with children, handling anxiety, and more. How could you share your expertise with your parent community?
Often, social-emotional learning curriculum have some resources for this. You could also bring in an outside expert. Outside therapists or organizations are frequently willing to present to access new clients.
By providing parents with the tools they need to understand and help their children navigate these challenges, school counselors will significantly impact student success more than if they were only providing direct services. In addition, this indirect service can help bridge the gap between home and school and create stronger partnerships between the school and parents.
Create Bulletin Boards
Bulletin boards do not need to be works of art. No one is giving out trophies. They are a great visual reminder for teachers and students about critical social and emotional topics. These reminders help stretch lessons, introduce ideas, and keep students thinking.
Focus on topics addressed in SEL lessons, like mindfulness or study skills, or are relevant to a monthly school theme, like kindness or bullying. If a bulletin board seems overwhelming, start with your office door. You do not need to change these every month; quarterly would be excellent. You could also have students help you and discuss the topic while you create the display.
Run Teacher Workshops
School counselors can run workshops for teachers or bring in outside experts to present. By providing teachers with the tools and resources they need to understand their students better, school counselors can help create a more supportive learning environment for all students.
You could cover behavior strategies, student motivation, practical communication with parents, or other areas of interest. Like parent workshops, poll teachers to see what topics they feel would be most beneficial and keep it actionable.
Send a Counselor Newsletter
Try sending out a monthly newsletter for teachers. Create a template and plug in your favorite resources and tips. Maybe a book that connects to current SEL themes and a behavior strategy.
It's a great opportunity to recognize teachers for implementing different parts of the SEL curriculum or adding in a new tool. By providing teachers with helpful resources and recognizing their efforts, you bring them in as collaborators for social-emotional learning.
Share Counseling Wins
Another way to increase the impact of direct services is to share information about counseling sessions with parents and teachers. Of course, you know your confidentiality boundaries, so consider that. But it is helpful to share strategies you have introduced so parents and teachers can reinforce and carry that over.
This indirect service allows school counselors to create an even greater understanding between families, teachers, and students while also providing strategies for reinforcing positive behaviors and attitudes.
Make Student Health & Safety Plans
School counselors can collaborate with local agencies, such as mental health organizations, police, and hospitals, to create safety plans for students and schools. By creating a plan for student health and safety in partnership with these agencies, school counselors can ensure that all students have access to the resources they need when a crisis or challenge hits.
Nothing is worse than having a student in crisis and struggling to figure out the best way to help. Consider putting in procedures for handling self-harm, domestic abuse, mental health crises, violent threats, and other significant issues.
Check out this guide from ASCA and NASP on Safe and Successful Schools.
Connect with Outside Referrals
School counselors can provide indirect services that benefit students by developing relationships with outside therapists and creating a referral process for families. By collaborating with local mental health professionals, school counselors can ensure that all students have access to support beyond what can be provided in school.
It can be helpful to create a guide of local therapists, the insurance they take, and their specialties. Over time, make notes based on feedback from parents and your experience. This is also an excellent opportunity to get a release of information form so you can talk with the outside provider.
School counselors can create a simple intervention guide for school referral team meetings. These guides will give go-to ideas for supporting the student in question. Everyone has sat in that meeting, not having any ideas, and suddenly finding yourself with a new student on your caseload. You are not alone in taking a kid for counseling when there was probably a less intense option.
School counselors can provide indirect services that benefit students by organizing programs. School initiatives, such as student mentors and holiday clothing donations, can provide support and predictability for families.
I have worked with my parent association to raise money before the holidays, giving small sums directly to needy families. My coworker also ran a successful buddy program with a group of high school students. We would pair up role-model high schoolers with elementary students in need. We held afterschool events once a month and connected the families. There are a gazillion programs like this you can implement that reach more students than you could alone.
Embrace Non-Counseling Duties
Are you assigned lunch duty and crafting an email to your principal telling them how ASCA doesn't recommend school counselors be assigned non-counseling duties? You are right, but there is a chance there isn't room to budge there. If you have obligations like lunch duty or recess, consider ways to make this work.
One, it's an opportunity to connect with a broader group of students. Two, you can model for other adults how to promote positive behavior. Finally, school counselors can better understand the challenges specific environments create by interacting with students casually and building relationships outside the classroom.
Indirect Counseling Services
Indirect services are a powerful part of your counseling program, but they can feel like one more thing. They will help you broaden your reach and create a more comprehensive program. Are there any ideas on this list you already do? Do you have one you want to try?