Annual Calendar Planning for School Counselors
Written by: Jessica Sullivan
The beginning of a new year brings a fresh start and excitement. For most people this happens every January when one calendar year ends and another begins. For educators, however, when we talk about starting a new year, we’re typically referring to the school year! As summer break ends, school counselors may be feeling a mix of emotions. Hopefully you are feeling rested and relaxed after having some time off. Maybe you are ready to be back in the swing of things and back to a routine. Feelings of excitement or anxiety start to settle in as August rolls around. You pull out your to-do list and hit the ground running with all the important tasks that come with starting a new school year. One way to help organize your thoughts, goals, and plans for the year is to set aside time for annual calendar planning. This long-range planning will allow you to focus on the big picture for your school year. It is also an important component to a comprehensive school counseling program.
The ASCA National Model emphasizes four components to building a comprehensive school counseling program. The ‘Manage’ section of the national model aims for counselors to build a mission and vision as well as annual and weekly calendars. If you’re anything like me, you end summer break with ambitious thoughts about what you want to accomplish with your students. You probably have a list of lessons, activities, and ideas swirling around in your head that may or may not end up on paper. But, as those to-do lists get longer and needs become greater, often our ambitions fall by the wayside. The purpose of annual calendar planning early in the school year is to have a foundation for the months ahead. This allows all your great ideas to land somewhere on your calendar. Once you have a strong foundation you can tackle one undertaking at a time, which helps you to feel more productive and tasks more manageable.
“There is no right or wrong way to plan out your school year. You just need to find a method that works best for you”
There is no right or wrong way to plan out your school year. You just need to find a method that works best for you. If you are someone who likes to write things out, consider using a monthly calendar or check out these templates provided by ASCA. If you prefer electronic methods, those can be equally effective, with the ability to print or share with others. To develop and deliver a successful school counseling calendar, consider breaking down the process into three sections: Planning, Implementation, and Reflection.
- Pull out your monthly calendar and start by plugging in the activities you or your school do yearly. These could include things like new student groups, College Go Week, academic review meetings with students, and other special events like spirit weeks and career fairs. **Tip** This is a good time to look at what is planned that is no longer serving your students. Sometimes we continue things because we’ve “always done it that way,” but upon reflection, you may find it is no longer beneficial. Removing or tweaking these activities can free up your time and let you focus on other endeavors.
- Write out a list of ideas you have for the year. This could include classroom lessons, initiatives you plan to implement, school wide events, etc. If you have data from the previous school year such as your school improvement plan, achievement gap data, or student voice data you may be able to identify areas where you would like to focus.Also, while our work with students is always top of mind, it is important to consider your own professional growth plans as well. You can list upcoming professional development sessions you want to attend, committees you plan to join, or goals you have for yourself as an educator. You are much more likely to take the steps needed to accomplish these goals if you have a plan in place. After your brainstorming session you may find yourself with a long list, and if so, go back through and highlight the activities that are most important to you and/or your students.
- Turn to the list you made and start plugging in activities, lessons, and initiatives. Try to keep each month balanced and remember to make considerations for times in the school year you know are busier than others.
- First, take a minute to celebrate this accomplishment! Your calendar is ready for the beginning of the school year! The key to successfully implementing this plan is communication and support. If you are fortunate to work on a team with other counselors, share your calendar with them. They may be able to provide helpful feedback and in turn you may give them some ideas as well. Next, ask to meet with your administrator to review your plans and goals for the year. You may need their support to assist with staff buy in or protecting your time for direct student services. Your professional growth plan may also require funding or professional leave they may be able to assist with.
- Put your plan into motion. Communicate with stakeholders such as teachers and families so they understand and support the great work you are doing with students. Remember to collect data along the way as well. Process data helps to see which students are participating in your activities and interventions and how frequently they occurred. Perception data gives insight into how student attitudes, knowledge, and skills have changed because of the intervention. It also allows you to assess student learning, including those who would benefit from remediation or extension. Outcome data allows you to see how impactful and far reaching your initiatives are. It also highlights how student growth goals and achievement gaps have been impacted due to school counselor involvement.
“Celebrate successes and give yourself grace when things do not always go as planned.”
- Reflection at the end of the school year is important, but reflecting along the way can be just as meaningful. As you move from month to month, record how your plans are going. Take notes on the length of time needed to complete an activity, how beneficial you found certain lessons, or things that did not go as you anticipated that you would change for next year. With this self-reflection you may even find yourself with a new goal for the start of the next school year.
- Celebrate successes and give yourself grace when things do not always go as planned. Your annual calendar planning serves as a guide, but that does not mean you have to follow it exactly as it is laid out. In this role we’ve learned to expect the unexpected and that often means pivoting.
Annual calendar planning is a great way to kick off your new school year and set your school counseling program up for success! Whether you are a first-year counselor or a seasoned veteran, taking time to intentionally plan for your school year will be valuable not only for you as a professional, but for your students as well.