Today I am super excited to welcome Sara from the Responsive Counselor to share her experience opening a new school this year.
What led you to decide to open a new school? Did you go with an admin or seek it out?
After 6 years at my previous school, I was starting to feel a little antsy. I was worried about become complacent and I started wondering if a change would help challenge and push me. My goal professionally is to always be growing and improving. When my district announced a new elementary was opening and named the executive principal, I reached out to the counselors currently working with him. They knew me personally and professionally and I thought they would know whether or not it would be a good "fit" for me. They said "Yes, run!" and then put in a good word for me.
What has been the most surprising challenge?
Starting from scratch with relationships...with adults. I knew how important this was and I guess I'm not surprised that it's a challenge but I didn't realize how much of a challenge it would be. So much of our success in our jobs is related to our connections with faculty and with the mutual trust that comes with that. My teachers don't know what to expect from me yet. They don't know what to ask me for help with. They don't know that I only ever email if I really need to. Since they're also all coming from different places, they're coming in with different ideas and expectations of what a school counseling program is. It's a big responsibility to shape that for a new faculty!
What has been the most surprising fun thing/ good thing?
A brand new building means brand new technology! We aren't one to one or anything but each room (including my office) has a Promethean board. I'm still figuring out all the ways I can use it but I'm already loving it. Writing directly on PowerPoints, being one click away from GoNoodle, etc. - it's a great perk. Also, little things like...no spiders! Well placed faculty bathrooms! No peeling paint! Stuff that counselors in old buildings (like me before this year) really appreciate. As counselors it sometimes feels shallow to appreciate cosmetic things or fancy things - but the truth is that the physical environment of a school has a real impact on all of the people inside - students and faculty!
Did you decide to do many of the same things as your previous school or did you change it up?
For now, I'm doing most of the same things. My co-counselor and I are just finishing up our program management agreement to present to admin and even that I'm keeping mostly the same for now. As I learn more about the student needs (and once all my needs assessments are back in!), I'll find changes I need to make but for now, I'm going to plug in what I know and do best. The only piece significantly different right from the get go is the intentionality that I'm coordinating Tier 2 and Tier 3 behavior services. We are trying to follow a true RTI/MTSS model for behavior, including using a universal screener and doing check in/check out with fidelity.
What advice do you have for getting started in a new school?
Be patient. There are lots of things that won't be established or ready right away. You might not get into your building until a couple days before the kids arrive. You might not have a school mission or vision statement. You might not have any baseline data to work with. It might take longer than you'd hoped to establish a relationship and rapport with teachers. You will feel a little comfortable. Be patient. It just takes a little longer for all the pieces to fall into place.
Is there something you've learned that would apply to any counselor starting at a *new to them* school?
Prioritize relationships. That might mean spending time in the cafeteria (even though it's loud and chaotic and awful). It might mean using your only "sit down" time in the day to pop into teachers during their lunch. Maybe it's calling parents instead of sending a note home. There are small sacrifices that can come with doing this but it's crucial, especially at the start when norms and expectations and attitudes and beliefs are being established.
Thanks Sara! What questions do y’all have? Leave in the comments and Sara and I will check back in to answer. While you’re at it, check out Sara’s post on 5 Tips for Setting Up Your First Office.