As the 2020-21 school year kicks off, counselors across the country are looking for helpful tips for virtual school counseling. So many of us are working in a distance learning or hybrid school setting. As I’ve been preparing resources and trainings for my own school counselor (SC) colleagues across Texas, I’ve come across some amazing remote resources/ideas! I’ve organized these into 4 main tips to best support you in your virtual school counseling work. Let me start with a small disclaimer: it is sometimes difficult to advise generally on how to counsel virtually because a lot depends on your online platform. That being said, there is still much to share that can greatly impact your SC program.
Virtual School Counseling Tip #1: Tiered Supports
Begin by working with your admin to determine how to run your lessons/sessions using your district’s online platform. The best way to facilitate this is to combine your own professional expertise as well as SC professional guidelines, from organizations such as the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) or your state association. Use this knowledge to create a best practice plan for lessons/sessions- and then succinctly present that plan to your admin for approval. Generally, I’ve found that principals greatly appreciate the ease in being able to approve or adjust a plan that their school counselors create.
The key here is to know if you will be working in a asynchronous or synchronous manner. The vast majority of our work lies in reaching all students through Tier 1 supports like guidance lessons (ASCA, 2018). Therefore, if you can teach a synchronous (live, real time) lesson, set up your materials in a simulated class area and teach through the lesson. Alternately, videotape yourself teaching your guidance lesson and upload it to your online platform with necessary materials. Have students work through the lesson on their own or with a family member and then submit responses/screenshots/video clips, etc. to you. Encourage them to creatively find lesson materials in their home to use, as needed. Here is a link to an introductory hybrid guidance lesson that you can use for distance or face-to-face learning.
In terms of our Tier 2/3 supports, such as group/individual sessions or therapy referrals, here are some additional ideas:
- Individual sessions can be set up through an electronic form.
- Also, consider touching base with all your students or at least the ones you are most concerned about by doing Minute Meetings and/or Student Concern Check-ins by phone, or video chat; if you set aside a month or two to check in with 20 kids a day, it becomes doable. Alternately, you might ask the teacher of the distance learning classroom (where you do guidance lessons) to make a breakout room and send kids to you.
- Groups can be done in an online platform (such as Zoom meetings or Google Hangouts Meets), but confidentiality is limited in the virtual setting, so it might be best to wait until in-person schooling resumes.
- Post outside counseling referrals info on your counseling website, district or campus platform and/or virtual classroom. Direct families from your website homepage on how to find the referrals (ASCA, 2020).
Virtual School Counseling Tip #2: Equity and/or Digital Tech Issues
If you are worried about how to connect with students who might not have access to stable and/or consistent digital technology, try out some of these ideas. When in doubt, go old school and just use the phone. Here are some ways to do this as well as some other ideas for reaching those hard-to-reach students.
- It is totally fine to call students and do their individual sessions by phone.
- Consider skipping groups until everyone is back on campus and equitable access is not an issue.
- Videotape yourself on your smartphone teaching a guidance lesson and upload your video to a free YouTube or other social media account. Your students might have more access to a smartphone, rather than their school technology. Make sure to clear this with your admin first.
- Try a “Park and Learn” where students can park in their school campus lot to access wifi- there, they can connect to the WiFi and complete their school work. This idea would require that the school district provides free 24/7 secured WiFi access. In theory, students would log in with the same account they would use as if they were in a classroom (Crosby ISD, 2020). Alternately, they might try this at a fast food place or coffee shop that offers free wifi.
Virtual School Counseling Tip #3: Handling Student Crises
I won’t write too much on this here, since I have an entire post on handling crises remotely. But here are a few of the top takeaways:
- Develop an online crisis protocol with your principal or administration. You can start with ASCA’s (2020) new protocol on suicidal ideation outcries. It is excellent and can be applied to most student crises.
- Stay online with the student in crisis until you make contact with the parent (ASCA, 2020). One effective way to do this is to have the student walk their computer (and you) over to their parent/guardian in another room of the house- that way you can continue your crisis intervention conversation with both the student and the parent at the same time. If you can’t get ahold of the parent/guardian or at least an emergency contact, then it is time to call in the local authorities to do a welfare check on the student (probably after a quick consult with admin).
- Make sure that students know how to see you for both crises and non-crisis situations. Discuss this with them in your first virtual guidance lesson and post a short blurb about this on your website and on your online platform. Links to both of these resources (first lesson and virtual request) are included with Tip #1. Consider infusing crisis prevention strategies into all your guidance lessons- here is a link to Get Your Guidance On, a curriculum guide that does just that!
Virtual School Counseling Tip #4: When You Need Specifics
If you need more specific guidelines or resources to virtually counsel within your grade level, utilize ASCA’s guidance on how to best facilitate working with students in different remote settings (2020). In my own job, I visit these 3 toolkits everyday, and honestly, there has been no question that I couldn’t find the answer to in these links:
ES virtual school counseling: https://www.schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors/professional-development/learn-more/virtual-elementary-school-counseling
MS virtual school counseling: https://www.schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors/professional-development/learn-more/virtual-middle-school-counseling
HS virtual school counseling: https://www.schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors/professional-development/learn-more/virtual-high-school-counseling
Finally, here are two of the most helpful resources I’ve come across in the last month:
NEWSY & NOTEWORTHY
Just some of the latest news from my world…
- I have another new book just coming out, and it’s all about guidance lessons! Get Your Guidance On is a yearly guidance lesson curriculum, focusing on social-emotional learning skills and crisis prevention. Check it out here!
- I’m about to hit 5000 followers on my Instagram page (!!!) and I’ll be celebrating with a special giveaway, so keep an eye out here.
- I’ll be doing a review of Julia Cook’s latest book, Ants in my Pants, next month! Check out my Facebook page for info and possible giveaway details!
- If you need a school counseling handbook to set up your program for the year, here you go!
- Have you seen my interactive lesson DVD called SEL Stars? It was released by Youthlight a year ago when we had no idea that so many kids would be remotely learning in 2020! With this resource, children will learn how to reframe mental health struggles, handle life’s challenges, and build healthy coping skills. The lessons can be completed individually, in small group counseling sessions, or as whole classroom guidance lessons. They are appropriate for upper elementary and middle school students.
That brings me to the end of this September counseling post. Please leave a comment because I’d love to hear about your experiences with virtual school counseling! You can catch up with me again for my monthly counseling post that I share during the first weekend of every month. In the meantime, you can find out about my latest promotions, free stuff, or counseling adventures by following me on my School Counselor Stephanie Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest pages.
American School Counselor Association. (2019). The ASCA National Model: A framework for school counseling programs. Alexandria, VA: American School Counselor Association.
American School Counselor Association. (2016). The school counselor and multitiered system of suupports. Retrieved from https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/PositionStatements/PS_MTSS.pdf
American School Counselor Association. (2017). The school counselor and virtual school counseling. Retrieved from https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/PositionStatements/PS_Virtual.pdf
American School Counselor Association. (2020). School counseling during COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors/professional-development/learn-more/covid-update
Crosby ISD. (2020). Park and learn. Retrieved from https://www.crosbyisd.org/Page/12269
Texas Education Agency. (2020). Educator wellness. Retrieved from https://tea.texas.gov/sites/default/files/covid/sy_2020-21_educator_wellness.pdf