Online School Counseling: The Good, “Bad”, and Chance to be Creative
I retired in December and went to work in January as a high school counselor for a full-time online school. I was excited about the prospect of working from home (my “commute”is a total of about 50 steps) and really looked forward to working more closely with students again. I knew things would be different, but I was prepared to give it a go. Well, I thought I was prepared. Needless to say, there was an adjustment period.
Now, fast forward three months. Online/virtual education, which seemed somewhat of a novelty just weeks ago, has been thrust upon educators, including counselors all across the country. Unlike me, you didn’t sign up for this and I know many of you are feeling overwhelmed as you try to make the adjustment and figure out how to make virtual school counseling thing work.
I cannot claim to be an expert in this area. I’ve only been at this for three and a half months, but I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned. I hope you are able to find something helpful.
The “good”. You really can provide a comprehensive guidance program virtually.
Nearly everything you do in a brick and mortar school can be done in a virtual setting including individual counseling, small groups, and guidance lessons. Will it be exactly the same? Absolutely not.The delivery will definitely be different.
Counselors at my school spend a great deal of time conducting individual counseling on the phone with students. There are computer based phone systems such as GoogleVoice and Jive so there is no worry about students having your personal phone number. Not all phone calls are initiated by counselors. Students may book appointments using online tools such as You Can Book Me. Phone sessions cover abroad array of issues including academic, college/career, and social/emotional concerns.
In addition to phone calls and texts, we use email to send students a great deal of information. As an example, we are in the midst of course selection for next year. For students who do not make an appointment to talk to their counselor, we create and email individualized video presentations that review the student’s4 year plan along with information about the state graduation plan, financial aid, and college admission.
Guidance lessons are delivered virtually in live sessions throughout the year using our educational platform. In live sessions, students are able to ask questions using a chat feature and if desired, counselors may allow students access to the microphone and/or video camera to help facilitate discussions. The elementary counselor at my school does an amazing job engaging students in live virtual guidance sessions. It’s incredible to see how much younger students participate.
The “bad”. There will be a number of things to adjust to.
In my experience there have been two things that I have had to adjust to the most; not seeing students face-to-face and working from home.
As you step into the virtual realm, you’ll need to be really intentional in maintaining and/or creating trusting relationships with the students you work with. However, now that I’m counseling online, there are days when I feel like I’m able to work more directly with students than I was able to do at my brick and mortar school. Much of this comes from not having to do things like lunch and hall duty.
Working from home is definitely an adjustment and will be especially challenging as so many across the country will be balancing work, homeschooling their own children, and sharing workspace with spouses and other family members. Setting guidelines and boundaries and creating schedules for everyone will be very important.
The chance to be creative!
Let’s face it, delivering a comprehensive guidance program in a virtual way will have its challenges. Counselors all across the country are asking themselves “How am I supposed to do this?” Be willing to think outside of the box and give yourself some grace in the process. Create videos or other types of presentations, check-in with students by phone, send post cards. Give yourself and your students credit for showing up. Things are likely to be a little bit messy and imperfect, but that’s ok. One thing to keep in mind; what most students need right now is to know they are cared for and supported and loved.
You’ve got this. You are a school counselor and are equipped with a unique set of skills that will help carry you through the chaos of the moment. Embrace this as an opportunity to grow and to help your students do the same.