I don’t know about you, but my counseling grad program didn’t spend a lot of time focusing on whole classroom instruction. I was ready for individual counseling. I was sooo ready for group counseling. But I was totally not ready to be standing in front of a group of 30 (a whole other issue…) students for a classroom guidance lesson! After some observation and reflection, I decided to add school counseling centers to my classroom guidance lineup. It worked well for me, and it can work well for you to transform your classroom guidance lessons and provide meaningful learning opportunities for your students!
School Counseling Centers
What Are They?
If you’re unfamiliar with centers, students are basically moving through learning stations with different activities during your counseling class period. For example, if you’re covering stress management, your students may visit centers about organizing and planning, reaching out to supports, exercising, etc. Each center is separated in the room so that students can focus on their particular station and also move logically through a sequence to the next center when it’s time to rotate.
Do What Works
When I first dove into classroom guidance, I needed something to create a comfort zone for this group-counseling-loving counselor. I paid attention to how teachers were managing their classrooms and what was working for them. Almost every teacher in my school was using centers very effectively. No need to reinvent the wheel, right? The students were already familiar with the set up, so it was easy to modify my content to fit the center format that was already in place in the classroom. Find a teacher in your setting who has great classroom management and an effective center set up, and model yours after that!
Setting Up Your School Counseling Centers
Your centers may look different depending on your class period or the frequency with which you see your students. For a 45 minute class period, try the following format: begin the lesson by doing a 5-10 minute mini lesson with a read-aloud or simple demonstration to introduce a topic or concept. Then students break out into smaller groups to explore activities related to your topic at centers. Students spend 5-10 minutes at each center depending on the number of activities. Finally, the lesson wraps up with a 5-10 minute debrief.
Here’s an example schedule for friendship centers:
- Warm up (read How to be a Friend): 5 min
- Review center details: 5 min
- Center 1 – Qualities I want in a friend: 5 min
- Center 2 – Qualities I bring to a friendship: 5 min
- Center 3 – What I like to do with friends: 5 min
- Center 4 – What friendship means to me: 5 min
- Center 5 – Friendship dilemmas: 5 min
- Debrief/wrap-up: 5-10 min
Cut the Chaos
Because students are largely on their own while using centers, there are plenty of opportunities for chaos. But with some preparation and pre-teaching, you can control the chaos and maximize engagement! Like I mentioned before, use a center format that your students are already familiar with. Then, spend time explicitly teaching the process anyway. Show your students exactly what they’ll be doing at each center and remind them what is expected during activities and during transitions. Use a clear signal to let students know when it’s time to move to a new center, and provide all of the necessary materials for each center so that students don’t have to move with supplies.
Why it Works
Centers can be an effective classroom management tool because every student is participating and moving. There are fewer opportunity for any one or small group of students to sink into the back and not participate. And students are engaged and learning because activities at centers are short, time-limited, hands-on, and highly focused. As your students rotate, you can spend time with smaller groups of students to reinforce concepts and build relationships. Your large group classroom guidance will be instantly transformed into a small group atmosphere!
Are you already using centers in your school counseling program? What works for you? Let us know in the comments! And if you’re not using them yet, check out this post for more information about setting up successful school counseling centers!