You're on vacation and the last thing you want to think about is going back to school. Perfectly understandable! But save this blog post for when school is back in session, you're going to need it!

The beginning of the school year is typically pretty slow, and if you know how much of an organization nerd I am, you would know that in my years of experience as a school counselor, I have found value in setting aside time during the first two weeks to prep, prep, prep!

While our SEL/counseling curriculum roadmaps in August might not be completely accurate, it is still not a bad idea to reflect on stats from the previous year/s to have some amount of prep work done, especially so you're not overwhelmed or find yourself 'falling behind'. Plus your referrals won't likely start coming in until a month or two after school starts, so now is the perfect time to plan!

Once your office is set up for the new year, you might want to get on with the printing, laminating, stapling, filing, and basically, the whole shebang! In order to get these important yet highly time-consuming tasks out of the way, I suggest you start planning, especially for your must-have small groups for BTS season. Groups are my favorite way to see students because I can reach more kids at once and they tend to open up more in a group setting rather than in a one-on-one session. From experience, you are likely to know the groups you will run each year, especially the ones you need to host early on. These would include and are not limited to:

1. A New Students' Group

This is one small group you will start before any others are formed, simply because you already know who your participants are. If you are looking for a curriculum to use, check out this 5 week Growing Friends Group Every week, students will learn skills they can use at home and at school to help them better navigate social situations. The goal of this group is to help new students feel more comfortable and optimistic about their new school. Students get to self-reflect and share their challenges and successes through the lens of a growth mindset. At a minimum, being in this counseling group allows students to identify and share their feelings, develop self-esteem through participation, and practice empathy while hearing others' experiences.

2. A Friendship Group

Before you know it, you will be hearing of and witnessing tiffs and arguments, especially if you're an elementary counselor! If you've been around for a while, you perhaps already know which students will need this group. I recommend using this Blooming Friendships Group which is a six-week elementary school counseling friendship small group. It is extremely low-prep and is designed to enforce the social skills necessary to create and maintain positive friendships. As with all my other resources, this group too is aligned with ASCA standards and covers key friendship social skills such as the qualities of a good friend, making and keeping friends, conflict resolution, and more!

3. A Self-Control Group

Okay, so the kids are back from vacation. You will notice a good number of them are still restless and fidgety, especially in K-3, for which I would suggest starting a Wiggle Worms Group where each week students will learn self-control skills they can use at home and at school to help them establish and maintain healthy impulse control. In addition, they will improve communication skills and learn how to practice thinking before speaking.

For your older kiddos, grades 3-7, you could consider this 8 week, low prep Calming the Storm Group which is designed to help students identify triggers, coping skills, and systems to put in place to feel empowered to make good choices and maintain self-control at home and school. This group goes beyond impulse control. Students will develop habits and thought patterns to take accountability for their choices.

4. A Goal Setting Group

While it's a great group to start in the second semester, one cannot discount the benefits of starting a group like this earlier in the year too. Sometimes, issues that seemingly relate to study skills, executive functioning, responsibility, or even resilience, are in fact related to the lack of goal setting and motivation. This 8 week Goal Climbers Group helps students set goals, identify what motivates them, and implement supports to achieve their goals.

Now that you have an idea of your must-have BTS small groups, make sure to organize materials in a box/organizer/tub for each group separately. I'm all for creating a binder for each small group, with lesson plans in page protectors, multiple copies of student handouts, data collection forms (if you prefer to have hard copies), permission slips, etc. This binder along with other supplies needed for the group could go into the labeled tub/organizer. When you are knee deep in work, you will be relieved to at least have this checked off your to-do list.

What small groups do you typically run at the start of the year? How do you prepare for BTS season? I'd love to know in the comments.


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