Scheduling Small Group Counseling in 8 Steps 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min

One of your primary responsibilities as a school counselor or psychologist is small group counseling. I use these groups to respond to specific student needs that pop up, to reinforce social-emotional learning, or to provide Tier 2 interventions.

Developing activities for these groups presents its own challenges. However, organizing these groups was always my biggest struggle. Finding students, getting permission, scheduling quickly, collecting the students from classes or the lunchroom.

Our jobs are busy. I hate any task that takes my attention away from the actual important day to day work with students. I am constantly looking for ways to efficiently complete tasks that I do every year or repeatedly throughout the year.

Picking Students

Needs Assessment

Talk with your principal, counselors, psychologists, previous teachers, and parents. Conduct interviews to see what skills and behaviors were challenging in previous years. Go beyond grade levels, and consider specific classrooms and groups of students.

Nomination Process

Consider completing a nomination process for students to participate or receive support. In previous years, I have done rating scales, teacher nomination forms, parent nomination forms (for their own child), and/or office discipline referrals.

  1. The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire is a free and easy rating scale for teachers and parents to complete.
  2. In classrooms, you can even do things like sociograms that are completed by students. Dr. Robin Banerjee has a simple how-to on them. Sociograms give the student perspective through a very simple and quick survey.
  3. Student and teacher referrals.

Get Permission Early

Send out permission slips to every student for group counseling. If this is too much, consider starting with one or two grades. At the elementary level, my best permission slip returns were kindergarten and first grade.

Allowing any student to sign-up ensured I saw more students through the year. Even better, since I already had permission, I could put together a group to respond to a concern within a day.

Tracking Group Participation

When I received permission slips back, I created a spreadsheet for each grade level with the student response and then throughout the year noted when they participated. By the end of the year, I had seen every student who had returned a permission slip at least once.

Group Schedule

Set up your group schedule for the year. I planned to take each of my groups once a week for 4-6 weeks during lunch. I made sure I added state tests, field trips, and other events to the calendar so I wasn’t scrambling. Ending all my groups the same week and starting groups the next week kept me organized.

Home-School Communication

When students participated in the groups, I would send home a note to parents after the first group. Then another note home at the end of the group. The notes kept them informed and also passed along my contact information if they had any questions.

Classroom Carryover

Teachers received a note in their mailbox when students were participating. Depending on how targeted the group was, I would also give the teachers tips or strategies to carry over into the classroom.

Now What?

Develop a standard set of activities focusing on social-emotional skills or character education that reinforces concepts from your school’s Tier I curriculum. Then create curriculums for focused groups on topics such as divorce, mindfulness, anger management, or bullying.

By inviting all students to participate in groups, I had a roster of students that I could mix and match together throughout the year. I could put together groups quickly to respond to student need. By the middle of my first year, every student knew who I was, and teachers and parents were asking for the child to participate. It was great for promoting my role within the school and was easy to implement interventions for tier 2.

What systems do you use to make small group counseling easier?

Lunch group small group counseling pin

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I’m a school psychologist who left her office (closet?) and got busy turning a decade of experience into ready to use counseling and SEL resources.

I live in New York City with my adventurous husband and relaxed to the max daughter who’ve grown to appreciate my love of a good checklist.

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  1. I know this is an old post but I came across your blog on the FB TpT page! I’d love to know what some of your “go to” activities are for group sessions you do during lunch. Anything involving writing/coloring/drawing is a challenge because of their lunches and I try not to do a board game EVERY session.

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