How to Form Your Counseling Caseload at the Beginning of the Year

While you deliver services to all students through SEL lessons, at the beginning of the school year it is essential to figure out which students you want to see in individual and group counseling sessions. 

A referral based system is a great way to do this. That being said, you don’t want to relax on a beanbag in your calm down corner until referrals start trickling in months later as people continue to ask “What does she do again?”.

Remember, you want to create a proactive and preventative comprehensive school counseling program.

So in addition to collecting parent, teacher, and student self-referrals, try the following methods when forming your caseload to ensure no one slips through the cracks.

  • Meet with your admin 

  • Email teachers and ask directly

  • Compile a check-in list 

  • Confirm your role in IEPs 

Meet with your admin

Schedule a meeting with your principal to see which students should be on your radar. This is especially important if you are new to your school site. It is also a good way to touch base after summer for returning counselors. Your principal may be aware of family changes that happened over summer and have more background info on newly enrolled students.

Email teachers and ask directly

Once you have a list of students from your admin meeting. Reach out to individual teachers and ask them to give you a heads up if they have any concerns regarding these students. Sometimes teachers aren’t clear on what your role is and they may not know what an awesome resource you provide. They know the kids the best and will be relieved for your support!

Compile a check-in list

Next, start compiling a check-in list based on students you gathered from the previous two methods. You will use this later to form groups and individual sessions. As you see these students on campus you can briefly check-in to see how the start of their year is going or you can bring them into your office for quick minute meetings.

With middle and high school students you can ask directly if they want to start seeing you for weekly sessions. You’re not necessarily trying to recruit students, but you are letting them know the services you provide are available. For the students you aren’t going to schedule right away, keep a pulse on their progress. Remember, just because they saw the counselor last year doesn't mean they need to again. Give each student the opportunity for a fresh start to be independently successful, but keep an eye out to make sure you are ready to swoop in with support as needed.

Confirm your role in IEPs

Find out if you are responsible for any social emotional goals on student IEPs. Likely you would already know, but it doesn’t hurt to double-check. You don’t want to get in the way between these kids and their goals.

Now that you have these methods to gather student information and form your caseload, you can start the year off right with a proactive, preventative approach to meet the needs of all students.

For more information on first of the year to-dos, read this post.

How do you decide which students you will provide services too? Comment below!

How to Create a Behavior Plan in a Pinch!

Last week I had a student who was having severe behaviors in response to separation anxiety. My principal asked me to quickly come up with a behavior plan and have it ready to present to parents by the afternoon. Basically I had to create a behavior plan in a pinch! Here are the basics in case you have to also.

Create a Plan

My behavior plan consisted of 3 parts:

  • Behavior Plan 

  • Behavior Schedule 

  • Behavior Chart

counseling behavior chart.jpeg

Behavior Plan

The actual behavior plan lays out exactly what will happen when the student demonstrates the behavior. For this student, the plan started when he left class to look for his dad.

Identify Replacement Behavior

To stop a particular negative behavior from happening you need to identify a replacement behavior. In my situation, the replacement behavior was for the student to come to my office when he left class instead of running to the parking lot to look for his dad.

Make sure your behavior plan clearly describes each step that will occur. I created this flow chart to demonstrate what will happen when he comes to my office and I even included alternatives for the student to do if I am not in my office. If I am not there he is to place a velcro token on my door to show that he stopped by.

flow chart for behavior plan.jpeg

When creating the tokens or any visuals for the student, try to use colors or objects they are interested in to get more student buy-in. I used blue dinosaurs!

counseling behavior plan.jpeg

Set Clear Expectations

He has 3 tokens to use throughout the day and each one is good for a 15-minute session. I accompany this time limit with a visual timer so he can see exactly how much time he has to complete his behavior schedule.

Behavior Schedule

The behavior schedule clearly states what the student will be doing during each step of the replacement behavior. In this case, it shows what he will do when he comes to my office. I laminated this one and the student uses a dry erase marker to check off each item. He really likes doing this. Find simple ways you can give students ownership of the situation when they likely feel out of control.

school counseling behavior plan.jpeg

Consistency is key! You may be bored of following the same routine up to three times a day but students feel safe and supported when they know what is expected of them. Plus the novelty of going to your office and getting out of class will wear off resulting in your ideal behavior. The behavior schedule is the “boots on the ground” part of the overall plan. Next, you need to track data by creating a behavior chart.

Behavior Chart

Creating a behavior chart allows you to track data, communicate with parents, and motivate the student. Here is an example of the behavior chart I created for this student. It clearly states the goals and has a place for counselor/teacher feedback. It also has a place for the student to receive stickers so he can visually see his success. Finally, at the bottom is a place for parents to sign communicating that they have seen the progress. Download an editable behavior plan and chart in my free resource library here.


Present to Staff and Parents 

Present all three parts to parents and remind them that it will be most successful if supported at home. Decide if parents are going to give a reward at home, or if you are at school. You can use a motivation assessment survey to find out what rewards will be most effective. Beware of tangibles. While this can be very motivating for some students, it can be difficult to cap. I try to encourage rewards such as quality time. This could look like them eating lunch with you or coming to your office to play a board game.

Have a Back-Up Plan 

You’re not always going to be available so having a team in place is key. Use walkie talkies or figure out an efficient way to communicate with your team so the behavior plan can carry on even if you are away.

Tweak as Needed 

Each child responds differently to behavior plans. Present your first draft but be open to change and know that it may vary as the frequency of the behavior decreases. For example, my student was first given three tokens for 15 minutes each but we are gradually taking away a token resulting in him coming on an “as needed” basis only. 

Also, be okay with it not working perfectly all of the time. I was seeing so much progress and then we had a major schedule change for a school event and he majorly regressed. This is part of the process.

Don’t Lose Sight of the Goal

I know sometimes it feels like we are rewarding bad behavior when the child leaves class to get quality time with you and a reward, but you have to remember this is better than the original behavior and is only a temporary solution. It also is very time consuming at first, but once the behavior is corrected it will end up saving you time!

Good luck! You’ve got this.

 10 Minute Behavior Plans for Counseling
 Fast Behavior Plan For Counselors

School Counseling Office Tour

After taking a couple of years off, I was thrilled to jump back into my counseling office and start decorating! The problem… my new school is in Costa Rica! Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. I am thrilled to live and work in paradise but we don’t have a Target, Dollar Tree, or easy accessibility to office decor. I can barely find picture frames for my house, much less bean bags for my calm down corner! So while my office is off to a great start, I have lots of plans for what I can add throughout the school year. 

counseling office.JPG

Y’all this is my favorite office I’ve ever had. Can we just talk about dreaming big for a second? When I got this job I had no idea what my office looked like or a clue on how I was going to commute to work. (Buying a car here is a little tricky too!) All summer leading up to our move I was manifesting with the mantra “I have an office with a window that I drive to in my SUV.” After lots of prayers and planning, here we are! I have an office with two huge windows and we found an SUV! Whether you have a closet or a classroom, hang in there and dream big!

So here’s the breakdown of my space:

The Calm Down Corner

A must-have in any counseling office, a calm-down corner is a safe space where kids can come to when they need help managing strong emotions. This part of your office is supposed to feel cozy and welcoming (aka Hygge). My calm down corner has a bulletin board with calming mandalas indicating what it is. Download the calm down corner mandala banner for free here!

calm down corner sign.JPG

On the same bulletin board I have an image of a “dot dude” meditating (you can download it from Sarah Pecorino Illustration here) and folders where I keep my feelings check posters and guided meditations. Download my feeling check posters for free here and check out this resource for guided meditations. I laminate my feelings check posters since I use them daily with groups and individuals.

I then have a coping strategies toolbox where I keep calm down cards. They are included for free as part of my free resource library, sign up here! 

calm down corner rugs.JPG

For seating, I have two rugs I found at our local supermarket and a beach tapestry. I couldn’t find beanbags so instead I used my blow-up beach chair! Check it out here.

P.S. My husband gives me a hard time that my calm-down “corner” isn’t actually in a corner!

What’s on my Amazon wishlist for my next trip home:

Bulletin Boards

In addition to the bulletin board in my calm down corner, I have a Self-Regulation Station where students can move a clothespin to indicate which “zone” they are in. This is my first year having a functional bulletin board and I love it! I can’t wait to see how it works as my group members come in each week. Check it out in my store here. 

self regulation bulletin board.JPG

Read about all of my bulletin board ideas here and remember if you don’t have a bulletin board, hang up a piece of butcher paper and decorate it. That's what I did!

What’s on my Amazon wishlist for my next trip home:

I would love to have some bulletin borders like these confetti ones. So cute!


Inspirational posters are a great addition to any counseling office. I bought these tropical growth mindset ones from My Teaching Pal on TpT.

My Desk

My desk is basic but functional. I like keeping a file cabinet by my desk to have a file folder with each student’s info easily accessible. I also keep my essential oils diffuser and basic office supplies nearby. 

counseling office desk.JPG

What’s on my Amazon wishlist for my next trip home:

I would love to have some fake succulents to spruce up my desk. I really like these.


This is my first year having a dry-erase whiteboard and I love it! It’s a great place to display a feelings check prompt and confidentiality sign. My confidentiality sign is included in my free resource library too. Sign up here. I also like having a dry-erase board to write on for “on the fly” examples, plus it’s a paper saver! 

school counseling board.JPG

Small Group Space

I love to lead small groups at a round table or kidney table. All students feel equal and it is a great way to facilitate conversations. I also love that I have these built-in benches for when I have more students than chairs in a group!

What’s on my Amazon wishlist for my next trip home:

I would love a bookshelf to store my group curriculum and school counseling library. This one would be perfect. See my library recommendations here.

The Talk Space

This is my favorite spot in my new office. I am so excited to have a couch and chair! Couches create more of a comfortable therapist's office vibe rather than a sterile classroom. I also love having adult-size seating options for parent meetings.

counseling office tour.JPG

Outside Door

Outside on my door I have my Meet the Counselor Bitmoji sign (snag the free template in my resource library here!) and my self-referral forms. Students can grab a paper form or self-refer using a QR code. Use this QR code generator to create your own for free. It’s easy and it makes you look tech-savvy and cool!

Whether you are a counselor in the middle of nowhere like me or you’re on a budget, I hope you find my office tour inspiring and helpful! Good luck this year!