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Avoid School Counselor Burnout
It’s interesting that according to my blogging tools no one has used the internet to search for “school counselor burnout” this month. Basically telling me school counselor burnout is a terrible topic to discuss right now on my blog, but I think this is the perfect time to discuss counselor burnout. The reality is people aren’t searching counselor burnout because the beginning of a new school year brings hope and excitement. Hope that this year will be better, hope that this year things will get back to “normal”, and hope that we’ll find that passion in our worklife again. It’s an exciting time of the year for school counselors, but it’s also the time to set things in motion to avoid burnout. Everyone starts researching counselor burnout in March but the reality is by the time you’re searching the internet about burnout—you’re already done. The best thing you can do to avoid counselor burnout is to put these 10 tips in place now, before the burnout takes hold.
1. Make your passions a work priority
What is the best part about your job? Everyone answers this differently. I would say my grief group and my girls self-esteem group are the best parts of my job. It’s something I love and I look forward too. Something I’m passion about and that always makes me feel good.
Determine what brings the most joy to your work life and set it as a priority. You might feel like your favorite thing is “stupid” and shouldn’t necessarily be a priority. There are 500 other things that might seem more important but if it feeds your soul then it is a priority. Taking care of yourself is taking care of the kids. Feed your soul, feed that passion, and the rest will fall into place.
2. Grab a favorite
Don’t lie, you have a few favorite kiddos! Whenever you’re having a difficult day, grab a favorite. They’ll help remind you of why you love your job. So after dealing with that difficult parent, call a kid down for a quick session. Kids always find a way to reset my mood and remind me of what I’m here for. I’m not here for that rude parent, I’m here to put a smile on a kid’s face.
3. Try a new counseling strategy
Trying new counseling strategies and techniques is what makes my job as a counselor exciting. If you do the exact same activities year after year, you’re going to get bored. Find an activity that interests you and give it a shot.
There’s always a chance the activity won’t work out as you’d planned but that doesn’t mean your client/student won’t take something away from it. Sometimes I feel like an activity bombed but then the following week I realize the students understood the overall lesson and that’s all that matters. I probably won’t do that activity again but at least I tried. Growth mindset y’all, model it for them!
4. Find continued inspiration
Another great way to avoid burnout is to find continued inspiration. I love going to conferences and trainings throughout the year because they inspire me. Talking to other counselors and learning new techniques is a huge inspiration for me. Another way to find inspiration is to follow counselors on social media. Social media can be a great way to learn some exciting techniques from other counselors.
I just started a new Instagram for school counseling and I’m dying to find some other middle school counselors to follow!! All I can find our elementary counselors–who are totally awesome but I could never sit and read story books to my 8th graders y’all. Come on middle school counselors, we gotta start sharing our stuff!!
5. Move around
Movement/excercise improves mood, it’s science y’all (check out the mayoclinic if you don’t believe me). So why, why are there days that I get up for lunch and realize I haven’t left my chair in 4 hours?!?!? Y’all that’s just not healthy!! We gotta get better, I gotta get better!! Yes there are times when we’re working with a student in crisis and we’re stuck in our office for a while. But there are also times when we could get up and walk to a class instead of calling a kid down to our office. Find a way to get more movement in your day and make it a meaningful “brain break”. It doesn’t matter if you decide to walk around the cafeteria, dance to tik tok videos at recess, or do 5 push ups every time the tardy bell rings. Find something that works for you and stick with it!
6. Leave on time
Here’s my thing: work gets 110% of me. I give it my all! What that means is that while I’m on the clock, I’m focused and working hard. I’m not on the phone chatting to my friends or checking social media. I’m working and giving it my all. But when that clock ends, the rest of my life gets that 110%.
I challenge you to leave work on time for 2 weeks straight. At the end of the 2 weeks I want you to evaluate your work productivity, your overall mood, and your energy levels. I’m willing to bet you’ll get more work done during the day (since you’ll feel more energized) and your overall mood will improve! Do it!
7. Surround yourself with positivity
Emotions/moods are contagious. Some people are just full of light and positivity, which can make you feel better in return. Surround yourself with positive people who focus on the wonderful aspects of work. Find a way to brush off the small issues at work instead of spending days discussing the drama. Focus on the positive and surround yourself with people who do the same.
If you can’t find anyone at work that’s a ball of sunshine, try being that positive force yourself. Eventually you’ll be the contagious one and everyone around you will slowly become more positive. It’s a slow process but it can happen!
8. Create a work schedule
One of the hardest things about being a school counselor is the lack of structure in our day. We never know what’s going to walk into our office or if we’ll ever be able to finish that email we started at 7am. There are days that our jobs are complete chaos, that’s just the nature of working with kids and mental health. To help alleviate some of the stress that comes from the chaos, I encourage you to create a flexible work schedule.
Creating a schedule provides me with a little bit of stability, helps lessen the anxiety of completing tasks, and helps me feel accomplished/successful at work. Maybe it’s because I’m a type A personality but I love having a flexible work schedule. I say “flexible” because things will always come up but if I plan for flexibility in my schedule it’s easier to adjust in the moment.
Try following a schedule for a week, see how it feels, and then consider making adjustments to the schedule. New habits take time, so don’t give up if it doesn’t work out the first week. Adjust the schedule and try again, until you find a system that works for you.
9. Understand your role & set boundaries
Setting boundaries can be hard for school counselors because it’s in our nature to help others. We’re helpers, that’s our profession. It can be hard to tell someone “no” but there’s nothing wrong with setting boundaries in your life (personal or work). Setting boundaries is healthy! If you struggle with boundaries in your personal or work life, I highly encourage you to read the book Boundaries by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.
The best way to set boundaries at work is to focus on your role as a school counselor. When was the last time you really defined your role and duties? I recently sat down to redefine my role and duties, which I found super helpful. It helped me focus on personal goals for the year and set my priorities. Take some time today to define your role and duties within your school.
Identifying your role is the best tool to setting boundaries at work. It allows you to look at a situation and really determine your role in that situation. It’ll allow you to say “no” to certain duties without feeling guilty. You do you and that’s all you can do. You be the best school counselor you can be and give it 110%! And then you walk away because you did your part.
10. Accept that you’re not God
We might wish that we had some God given power but the reality is we’re just people. People with skills but not a whole lot of miraculous power. Accepting that you’re not God means accepting that you can’t work miracles. Miracles might happen and it’s amazing when they do but we’re not the ones creating miracles. We basically lead the horse to water. We provide tools and support but at the end of they day we’re not the ones doing the work (it’s our clients and their higher power).
Accepting that you’re not God, takes off the pressure. It allows you to focus on what you can control and stops you from feeling like a failure when a client/student is making slow progress. You can’t force someone to change and you can’t magically give them a perfect happy family. You can only control your role in their life, the rest is out of your control.
One thing you might have noticed about my 10 tips to avoid counselor burnout is that I didn’t include a tip to focus on self-care. I thought about it, I really did. But then I realized all 10 of these tips could be considered a form of self-care. Everything in this post is a form of self-care that specifically focuses on your work life. So yes I encourage you to focus on your daily self-care strategies in addition to these 10 tips. I hope these tips help you have a long and successful career as a school counselor!!