This post originally appeared on Bright Futures Counseling

As we have made the switch to virtual learning, it is difficult to figure out the counselor’s role during this huge transition. Teaching class lessons, running small groups, and seeing individual students just got a lot more challenging.

Things to Consider Before You Start Counseling Sessions During Distance Learning

When things seem daunting or difficult, I like to put systems into place to help make them easier. One of my favorite systems is data collection via surveys. It is first important to know what is expected of you from admin and then what parents/students desire when it comes to virtual counseling services. Keep in mind, even a committed parent or student who thrived on weekly sessions before, may not want them now due to limited devices, accessibility to consistent wifi, overwhelm, etc. To collect this data, try sending out a Google Form to ask parents the following:

  • What is your child’s name?
  • Would you like your child to continue receiving counseling services during distance learning?
  • Would you like me to meet with your child face to face over Zoom or a similar platform? / Would you be willing to have your child meet at a scheduled weekly time with the group over Zoom or a similar platform?
  • Would you like me to send digital resources your child can do on the iPad/computer?
  • Would you like me to send a PDF packet of worksheets/activities for your child to print and do?
  • Would you like me to send ideas (not requiring printing or a device) for you to do with your child? Is there any other way I can support your child or family during this time?

Download a free editable version of the Google Form I used here so you can tweak the questions and send out to parents!

You may also want to send some general information for success such as tips for staying safe online and tips for staying focused. I like to use this Cyber Safety and this Focus and Attention guidance lesson to review these concepts. These lessons are editable in PowerPoint and Google Slides so you can adapt them to fit distance learning.

Getting this information beforehand will make your life so much easier! This way you avoid spending a lot of time planning activities only to have to redo them based on the demand or expectations.

How to Teach Guidance Lessons During Distance Learning

Reaching ALL students virtually seems a little intimidating, so we need to think outside of the box. Here are some ways to reach all of your tier 1 students using class lessons and activities.

Class Lessons

Best case scenario, you are able to live stream a digital guidance lesson to the entire class. This is a great way to share information and do fun group activities. You could even play charades or do a role play virtually!

If you can’t all meet at the same time, you could send students a digital guidance lesson to flip through by themselves. Although not as ideal as giving the instruction live, this is still a great way for students to receive information, watch videos, and do a few reflection activities independently. Plus it’s way easier to schedule!

Searching for something to send students? Check out all of my digital guidance lessons here. I recently updated them so they all have a Google Slides version in addition to the PowerPoint version!

Optional Activities

My school asked me to send optional activities to all students rather than trying to live stream guidance lessons. So I am sending a video and activity each week. I’m getting most of my videos from GoNoodle. It is a free platform with a variety of social-emotional videos. Topics and silly-ness level vary and the kids love them! To search for videos you will need to create an account, but it’s free.

Here are the videos I am sending to students:

For the activity, I have been sending them these boom cards to work on.

Looking for more ideas to plan your guidance lessons? Check out this blog post with exactly what I did for each of my class lessons every month for K-12 students!

How to Lead Counseling Small Groups and Individual Sessions During Distance Learning

Once you have your guidance lessons covered, it’s time to figure out how to reach your small group and individual students during this time.

The easiest way to do this is to meet with your students just as you were before, but on an online platform such as Zoom or Google Meets.

Benefits:

  • You get irreplaceable face-to-face interaction with students.
  • You can continue your counseling program and support students like you were before.

Barriers:

  • Scheduling can be a nightmare depending on how teachers are scheduling their live class sessions.
  • You have to modify any activities you typically do to an online version. (This is the hardest part!)

Scheduling

I am seeing about 1/3rd of my caseload during this time. I offered online counseling services to everyone I was seeing, but many parents opted out due to being overwhelmed in other areas or simply didn’t respond. I am using Zoom to conduct these sessions and sent students a reoccurring weekly session link so they know we have a consistent meeting time. (Does this mean I still get no-shows? Yep!)

Check out this blog post for 20+ distance learning freebies!

Group Activities

I primarily use Google Slides and Boom Cards to share digital activities with students. At school, I would use worksheets, board games, and dice, but now it is all digital. For groups, we start with our typical group procedures, group rules and feelings check, then I share my screen with them to play Boom Cards together. I flip through the slides and they tell me which answer to select. The kids love it!

virtual group counseling.jpeg

Individual Activities

For individual students, you can do the same thing or you can send them the activity in advance and have them share their screen with you so you can watch them play the Boom Cards and provide feedback. You could also ask them to work on it independently before your session like “homework” so you could then debrief the activity together. I also like to screen share videos to simplify a concept I’m talking about. Simply checking-in and talking with students is necessary during this challenging time, but most students tend to get distracted easily during the online calls so having an activity on standby is helpful.

Boom Cards can be a little intimidating, if you’re not used to them. Check out my blog post on how to use them in counseling which includes step-by-step instructions and FAQs. I also recorded an Instagram story to explain how to use Boom Cards. You can watch it in my Instagram highlights here.

Not using Zoom?

I understand that meeting online is not an option for everyone and I have talked to several counselors who are not doing live online sessions. Many schools are asking their counselors not to for privacy issues. This doesn’t mean you still can’t help students. You can send home activities for them to do on their own or pre-record a video of yourself reading a book or teaching a lesson.

Digital Activities

Send digital activities through your Google Classroom or email them to students directly. My Mindful Morning Boom Cards are perfect for an independent activity. I also took the doodle journal component of my executive functioning group and made it a digital Google Slides activity! Check it out here.

Choice Boards

Looking for non-digital, paperless ways to help students? Try a choice board! I created one for the first time to send to my students. You can download it for free here and read this blog post for ideas on how to make your own! This is a great option for reducing screen time.

Hopefully, these tips help you feel more prepared to counsel during this difficult time. Just because you can’t have face to face interaction with kiddos doesn’t mean you’re not making a difference!


About Rachel

With a background in psychology and a passion for all things counseling, Rachel believes in equipping school counselors with the social-emotional resources they need to educate the whole child. Rachel has 6 years of experience in a variety of public and private counseling settings including an international school in Costa Rica! She is currently focusing on her work as an SEL curriculum designer and new mom. 

Rachel is the author of the blog, Bright Futures Counseling, and she supports school counselors through her weekly newsletter and Facebook group.