Helping Counselors manage the workload

So it’s a normal day – and you’ve responded to a handful or requests for information, spent an hour or two in valuable and not-so-valuable meetings, devoted a big chunk of time answering email and calls from parents and what seems like half your day assisting students who show up at your door, typically at the worst time. Scheduling is always nagging and sometimes consuming. Then there were the two crises

And there hasn’t been enough time to develop that great idea you had for a presentation on college and career planning or a moment to tell 10 kids about some financial aid opportunities you saw for them, or any time for passing along a well-deserved good report to the parent of a child who has previously struggled.

The problem is familiar, and often the biggest challenge for counselors is learning how to prioritize – and not get frustrated about managing time. How do you, for instance, help students explore career options and colleges, seek out financial aid or put together a good application package when so much else is spinning around you?

Two top counselors say you must carefully determine the specific needs in your school, develop good goal-based plans – and focus on finding time to pursue them.

Terri Tchorzynski, a school counselor at Calhoun Area Career Center (CACC) in Battle Creek, MI, was recently named national school counselor of the year, following right after Katherine Pastor, head of counseling at Flagstaff, AZ, High School, who got the recognition in 2016. Both were recognized at ceremonies featuring former First Lady Michelle Obama.

The two agree that the issue of time management is among the hardest for counselors as caseloads rise (now reaching about 500/1 on average nationwide with some states hitting over 800/1, including Pastor’s) and responsibilities seem to grow and issues get more complex. Both described that similar three-step process for counselors so they can decrease stress and frustration and meet their responsibilities: Assess needs. Develop a plan. Manage time.

“I think it is extremely important to be intentional about offering services that students identify as needs,” says Tchorzynski “We provide our students with a needs assessment at the beginning of every school year and we develop questions around each of the three roles,” she says, referring the the expectation that counselors devote time to three issues:  academic success educational and career planning and socio-emotional needs.

Pastor also says the counseling program framework built on those objectives must be followed, with a needs assessment as key. College and career planning support must be a priority, she says, though it is easy to put it off.

“Having a comprehensive school counseling program, will allow a strategy to be in place and help with the day-to-day operations of the job.” she notes.

She says counselors have to educate the administrators on the important appropriate roles school counselors have in the school building. “Many times school counselor’s days are filled with non-school counseling duties it takes them away from the job they were really hired to do.”

Then, Tchorzynski says, armed with data about students needs based on the three essential goals of counseling, she and her team at Calhoun plan and carve out time to carry out tasks related to that plan, despite the many distractions that come their way.

The two both note that it is very hard to ignore a request from a colleague asking that you “see a student right away” or an administrator’s need for assistance. And a whole day can be used responding to parent and student requests for time and attention.

“If I am only working in crisis, responsive services then I may only be working with a small population of students or maybe only seeing five students throughout the course of the day. Sometimes that happens because that’s what is needed,” Tchorzynski says.  “But it shouldn’t be the norm. I need to address the needs of all students – not just the students who end up in my office because they are seeking me out.”

A few tips to help with this chronic problem:

– Keep the focus on the three areas of counselor responsibility in your planning – and in your head: Academic success, future planning, socio-emotional needs.

– Get good information about what students need and want.

– Plan your time – the whole year and your day (some counselors restrict student meetings to a certain time of day and always close the door and don’t take calls for bigger projects during one hour each day)

– Get support. Make sure administrators know what your doing and support it. Look for others who can help – like an independent consultant or college admissions counselor who will talk objectively to kids about the process. Seek social service or counseling services who can assist. Look for volunteers.

– Assess your work. Daily, monthly, quarterly.  Check on how you’re meeting goals and adjust.


             Jim Paterson has written broadly on career exploration, academic success and other education related topics for several national and trade publications. He was a school counselor and was formerly named “Counselor of the Year” in Montgomery County, MD, a large Washington, DC-are district. He is currently a writer for many education publications and websites, based in Lewes, DE.