Holiday tips for high school counselors

With our Collegewise seniors heading into their holidays with completed applications, our counselors are about to begin a well-earned two-week break until after the new year. Last week, I delivered an internal webinar for counselors about how to not just get the most out of their vacation, but also protect themselves from the worries of work. Some of those tips might also apply for high school counselors, so I thought I’d share a few of them here.

1. Be purposeful with your planning.
If you had to request time off for a vacation, you’d almost certainly plan something worth doing. But a break that’s just part of your work calendar, like this upcoming few weeks for counselors, can be easy to let slip by without enjoying it as much as you deserve to. So take some time to plan what you want to do over your break. It might be a real vacation that you’ve already planned, but it could also just be spending time with your family, reading the books you’ve been waiting to get to, organizing your house or just relaxing without restriction. High school counseling is demanding work. This is your time to get back to doing those things you just couldn’t do as much or at all for the last several months.

2. Celebrate your first Monday off work.
As a specific example of purposeful planning, I’m a big fan of counselors celebrating their first day off work. Like most adults, you probably can’t entirely shut off all of life’s responsibilities for two weeks. But at the very least, plan something for yourself on that first Monday. Some examples from Collegewise counselors include spending an entire day with their kids, booking a massage, buying a gift-to-self they’ve had their eye on, seeing an afternoon matinee, getting a pedicure, or just enjoying a relaxing two-hour date with coffee and the morning paper. Whatever your version of a Monday reward would be, take the time and treat yourself.

3. Communicate conservatively.
Depending on where you work and your particular responsibilities, some counselors may not have the option of disconnecting from their students and parents completely. If that’s the case with you, communicate conservatively. The moment you start replying to every incoming email or voicemail from students and parents is the moment you send them a message, albeit unintentionally, that you are officially on the clock. And that raises their expectations of how quickly and frequently they can expect you to reply to what will likely be further communication. Some issues might need to be addressed right away, but many more do not. I’m not suggesting you intentionally leave people high and dry. But there’s nothing wrong with responding to a non-urgent inquiry with, “This is a great question—let’s add it to the list of things to talk about in January.”

4. Share your struggles and successes.
High school counselors exist to serve their students. And like many roles of service, that dedication often comes without formal recognition or praise. But your family and those close to you can still appreciate what you do if you tell them about it. Take the time to talk with them about your work. Tell them about your students, the challenges you’ve helped them overcome, and the victories you’ve enjoyed together. Most people who haven’t walked in your shoes have no idea how broad and difficult the responsibilities of high school counseling can be. But those who care about you most will understand and acknowledge it if you tell them.

5. Remember how much what you do matters.
High school counseling is a difficult job. But one of the benefits should always be that no matter what happens at work, no matter how stressful or chaotic or demoralizing a particularly difficult day might be, you never have to question the impact that you make. Whatever population you serve, whatever their background or advantages or challenges, they’re kids. And when you’re a dedicated professional who works on their behalf to help them be happy and successful, you’re doing something worth doing. During your holiday break, I hope you take a few quiet moments to reflect and remind yourself just how much what you do matters.