I recently received a message from a fellow school counselor who was part of my Master of Education School Counseling cohort. She sent a message to our entire graduating cohort to check and see how we were all feeling and faring as school counselors.
At only 7 years in, I expected people to be talking about finally feeling established, making change (albeit slow), or realizing how much this career offered them personally and professionally. What I read was the complete opposite — people are exhausted, people are frustrated, people are losing hope. Some had already stopped with school counseling and moved into private counseling practice. Some had decided to move back into the teaching classroom or go for an administrative certificate hoping it would be “easier.” Some talked about declining funding, positions being on the chopping block, or being over dealing with combative parents. From my cohort’s response it did not seem that any one individual was experiencing true joy in their counseling role.
I shut down the email chain and felt so deflated. Why? I struggled to relate to my friends comments, complaints, or concerns. Their words were not mirroring my experiences.
I love being a school counselor.
I enjoy going to work every day.
I find joy in my position, my role, and my interactions.
More importantly, I was deeply saddened by the fact that a group of powerful, caring, compassionate school counselors could be feeling so bad and so tired that they were considering giving up the trade.
I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what is different for me? What I kept coming back to was a few established beliefs, norms, or practices that have helped me stay focused, achieve work-life balance, and maintain the joy of counseling.
In the hopes of maybe sparking a new practice for fellow school counselors who might be tired and questioning their choice to counsel — here are my tips and advice to staying bright and energized and not burning out.
- I leave work at work. At the end of the day when I pack up and go home, my work is done for the night. I get to school early and am happy to stay late(ish) to finish what I need to do. I work hard all day to not waste time. Once I leave campus, though, I am done. No work emails. No work phone calls. No real planning. My phone is not hooked up to my work email so that I am not tempted to check and reply. Granted, there are the occasional extenuating circumstances but these are few and far between. Once I leave the physical space I try to …
- … Make time for me. This ties into number 1. Once I am done with work, I am focused on “me” time. I workout. I reconnect with my husband. I read for pleasure. I meditate. I connect with family. I cook and consume healthy meals. I try to not let work thoughts seep into this time which allows me to honor who I am with and what I am doing. I don’t feel selfish. I feel balanced and refreshed. More importantly, I feel renewed to counsel the next day.
- I recognize my limits. I am one individual. I have a huge caseload. I realize that I am not a magician and that I am unable to make things better for every human. I do what I can and celebrate the small victories. I am honest with people about my time and my limits. With this I don’t feel like I am letting people down or failing them. I let go of false expectations of being a super-woman and just do what I can in a meaningful way.
- I surround myself by marigolds. While it is important to vent, it is also important to stay positive. The negative weighs on me and makes me feel gross. So, I choose to not put myself in that environment. Rather, I celebrate with those who are like minded and find the joy.
- I do not search for extra. I think it is a personality trait of many counselors to want to know everything going on in a school. NOT ME. I have always said as a counselor I hear a lot of things every day. If I don’t have to hear/know more that is great with me. In other words — I do not need to know the “gossip.” If someone chooses to not share with me I am okay with that. I don’t feel like I am missing out. If a student goes to another adult and is supported and doing well, beautiful. I don’t need to insert myself in just to feel like I have the inside scoop. I carry enough and am not hurt by not knowing something that really I do not need to know in the first place.
- I take joy in my daily interactions. I love working with students. There is something good in everyday. I recognize it. I notice it. I celebrate it. When you experience joy it really is hard to feel weighed down or burnt out.
- I try to not personalize things. Like a duck, I let things roll off my back. When students, parents, or teachers are hurtful I acknowledge they are not attacking me. There is something that is hurting them and I just happen to be on the receiving end of that misdirected anger/sadness/frustration. It’s not me. It is bigger than me. I can support but I will not absorb.
- I refuse to be stagnant. I am always developing and trying new things. I think burnout occurs when we are stagnant. So I take risks, develop new learning opportunities for students and staff, grow as a professional, learn from those around me, create, innovate, and then reflect. It keeps me on my toes and keeps me focused on how things could be (and how I can get them there).
- I seek feedback. I ask parents, students, and staff to help me grow as a professional. I want to hear what I could do different to support students and develop authentic learning opportunities for students. By asking and putting myself out there, I have found that people are willing to offer areas for growth and development. In this way I am constantly aware of how I am doing and how to improve. I feel noticed and like what I do really matters. I also get the occasional recognition of something I have done well which is always a confidence booster in itself.
- I live by the South African Proverb: “How do you eat an elephant? Bite by bite.” I recognize I am a small cog in a large machine. I do what I can, when I can, with meaning and intention behind it. Bite by bite I do believe that I — as a school counselor — makes a difference.
So, here is to my friends and fellow counselors refocusing and refreshing and reigniting their joy. Here is to an amazing group of thinkers, educators, and believers who I know do amazing work for students. Here is to not giving up hope and not hanging up the towel. Here is to school counselors — around the world — with careers that are long, satisfying, healthy, and meaningful. Be well.