Creative Ideas for Counselors of Online Students
In honor of National School Counseling Week, we’re sharing tips for counselors to help students thrive in virtual learning environments. With the challenges posed by the pandemic, school counselors around the country have played an important role in helping students stay on track with their education.
“Students have encountered so many new challenges, academically, mentally and socially. School counselors have been critical in helping students adjust, and the best way to do that is to meet students where they are,” said Amy LaGrasta, Senior Manager, School Counseling for FLVS. “Thanks to technology, school counselors can provide the same services online as they do in person. Individual counseling or advisement can take place over Zoom, Google Meets, or other platforms.”
National School Counseling Week is sponsored by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) to focus public attention on the unique contribution of school counselors within U.S. school systems. The week highlights the tremendous impact school counselors can have in helping students achieve school success and plan for a career. The theme of this year’s National School Counseling Week is “All in for All Students.”
Connecting with Students in Online School Settings
FLVS school counselors have creative ways to shift their typical in-person activities to the remote environment. For example, the FLVS Flex School Counseling team created a YouTube channel called Mind Matters, which covers content ranging from mental health to college admissions. Students and families can view the content in their own time and many have made use of it.
FLVS school counselors also stay connected with students through large group school counseling activities, which can be done over a video conferencing platform and involve meeting with full classes, grade levels, or an entire student body to teach skills all students will benefit from learning.
“Large group counseling activities are so valuable as they can reach many students at one time and can be recorded to be sent to students and families who need the content after the live event,” said Anne Flenner, Lead School Counselor for FLVS. “At FLVS, some of the activities we’ve offered covered online safety, mental health awareness, or college placement tests during COVID-19.”
LaGrasta and Flenner acknowledge that with so many new challenges for students and school counselors alike, knowing where to start can seem overwhelming. They suggest school counselors focus on helping students build the soft skills needed for virtual learning.
Helping Students Build Soft Skills
Teachers don’t always know when a student is struggling, so school counselors can teach students how to reach out for help by writing effective emails and leaving appropriate voicemails. School counselors can also encourage educators to use technology familiar to students: texting, Zoom or even social media if appropriate.
If online learning does not need to follow a traditional school day schedule, school counselors can encourage students to utilize “chunking” format. Students focus on one subject for an extended amount of time, taking 2-3 hours to accomplish a task before moving onto the next. When students focus on the material, rather than jumping from subject to subject, they complete tasks efficiently and have better mastery of the topic.
Some students might find it difficult to complete schoolwork at home. School counselors can encourage students to create a dedicated workspace and set daily, weekly, monthly and semester goals to accomplish. School counselors can meet with students virtually to discuss future plans and goals, so they see the connection between their current work and future plans. They can hold regular check-ins for a few weeks to build rapport and establish a work pattern.
School counselors can provide organizational skills for independent learning by making sure students know expectations and deadlines and by helping them create pace charts and agendas. They can also praise the process when students go above and beyond or find creative ways to be successful.
They can use motivational interviewing techniques to encourage problem solving and encourage out-of-the-box thinking.
School counselors can teach students about the soft skill concepts of computer literacy, such as academic integrity, plagiarism and doing one’s own work, netiquette, internet safety, etc.
School counselors can help students see the big picture of their day, month, year and academic plan to help them prioritize what gets done each week as well as what needs to be done for annual promotion, completing middle school, meeting high school graduation requirements and more.
Show students the benefits of screen time awareness, physical activity and time outside in nature. School counselors can also discuss how sleep, deep breathing, art and journaling can reduce stress.