8 Tips for School Counseling Internship Success

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Internship is where it all begins in our journey as school counselors. Along with the start of a new internship comes a whirlwind of emotions, anticipation, and excitement for both supervisors and interns. In a “typical” school year, this first major step to becoming a school counselor can put a lot of pressure on both parties. But how have COVID-19 and virtual learning changed the school counseling internship experience? In this post, I share my best tips, tricks, and ideas to set the internship experience and relationship up for success. I also interview current interns and supervisors who are making the most of their virtual school counseling internships in a COVID-19 world.

Tips for School Counseling Interns

tips for school counseling supervisors

1 – Go in with a positive attitude about your placement – even if it wasn’t your first choice!

So many interns have their hearts set on a specific type of site or a special supervisor that they’ve heard amazing things about. Although there is nothing wrong with wishing for a particular experience, it is so important to keep an open mind and positive attitude about whatever placement you are assigned. Although you may think that a certain type of site is your dream location, you may soon discover that meaningful learning experiences await you at a different school. No matter what your site looks like or who your supervisor is, walk in with a positive attitude and make the most of your experience!

2 – Clearly express your expectations, needs, and program requirements to your supervisor.

Although your supervisor is your partner and mentor, ultimately it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet all of your university and licensure requirements for your internship. Take some time during your first week on site to review your program requirements (i.e. total number of hours, formal supervision sessions, assignments, indirect vs. direct counseling experiences) with your supervisor so that you can develop a plan together to meet these expectations. When you and your supervisor start your internship on the same page, you can avoid any stress, pressure, or uncertainty down the road.

3 – Learn about your site’s school counseling program. Set goals for how you can contribute to it.

Spend the first week or two of internship learning as much as you can about your site. How many students attend your school, and what does their racial/ethnic/SES background look like? Did your supervisor conduct a needs assessment that you can review together? What are the different roles that your supervisor plays, and how do they manage their time? Which small groups is he/she currently running, which classroom lessons is he/she teaching, and which special events are coming up?

Once you understand where your site’s school counseling program currently stands, set goals for how you can contribute to its future. Keep in mind that, unfortunately, many counselors are assigned inappropriate duties. If your supervisor asks you to assist with these responsibilities, graciously ask for the tasks that you need to experience and offer to help with others as time allows.

4 – Remember that you are new and accept imperfection.

While setting goals and high expectations is a healthy, wonderful thing, school counseling interns must also keep in mind that they are brand new to this field. And when something is new, we are going to make mistakes, ask a lot of questions, and feel unsure. All of this is expected and okay! Make sure that the expectations that you set for yourself are realistic and give yourself grace in this learning process.

5 – Be willing to take risks and leave your comfort zone.

Experienced school counselors can seamlessly transition between 504 paperwork, supporting a student in crisis, explaining a bullying incident to parents, planning a Career Day, and teaching a classroom lesson – all within the same hour or two! This fast-paced and ever-changing environment can bring interns out of their comfort zone. But, the only way to learn is by jumping in with both feet.

School counselors never know what their day will look like and what types of issues students, teachers, and administrators will throw their way. In the same fashion, interns need to roll with the punches and go with the flow. If your supervisor asks you to meet with a student, speak with a parent, help plan a special event – whatever it may be, try it! Remember that you are not expected to be perfect and just showing up for the task will go a long way.

6 – Seek out regular feedback and be open to constructive criticism.

Take full advantage of having the experienced, trained professional there to support and guide you in your internship experience. Have a positive and open mind towards any feedback that your supervisor offers, and remember that he/she is there to mold you into the counselor that you will become. By observing your practice and offering tips, advice, suggestions, and feedback, your supervisor will help you refine your practice and hone your skills.

If your supervisor is not offering consistent or thorough enough feedback to you – let them know! Although school counselors are very busy and thrown in many different directions, they have a responsibility to help you grow and learn each day of your internship.

7 – Let your supervisor know when you feel ready to take on new responsibilities

Every intern is unique, and the experience, skills, abilities, and level of confidence that they come in with vary greatly. Some interns want to jump right in to the work and others like to shadow and observe for a while. Discuss your readiness and comfort level with each aspect of your role with your supervisor so that he/she can challenge and encourage you, but also respect your feelings and wishes.

If you have observed a few classroom lessons and feel ready to co-teach or teach on your own – let your supervisor know! If you would like to create the plan for a small group session and co-facilitate it with your supervisor – let them know! Make sure that you and your supervisor have a mutual understanding of your comfort level and readiness so that you can continue to grow into an independent and confident counselor-in-training.

8) Laugh, love, learn, and have FUN!

You’re only an intern for a short while. Make the most of it! Love the children. Cherish their stories. Laugh at the hilarious and adorable things they say. Enjoy the warm, welcoming, family-oriented school environment. Build relationships with teachers and your supervisor. Take full advantage of having a supervisor there with you to bounce ideas off of, learn from, and collaborate with. And most importantly, have FUN!

Tips for School Counseling Supervisors

tips for school counseling supervisors

1 – Understand the university expectations and requirements for internship.

Although successfully completing the internship is ultimately the intern’s responsibility, it is critical for the intern and supervisor to be on the same page when it comes to the university and state licensure requirements. Interns and supervisors should take time to review the university internship requirements and create a plan together to meet them. Knowing the amount of hours required, how formal supervision works, the role expectations, evaluation systems, etc. on the front end can help avoid stress and uncertainty in the future. If you have any questions about the internship experience, be sure to check in with your university level supervisor.

2 – Provide your intern with a comfortable work space.

Space can be very limited in schools, but it is important for your intern to feel welcome, comfortable, and organized while at your site. Simply providing an extra table or desk in your office can make your intern feel as though they’re part of your team, but also allow you to supervise and observe their work.

In addition to a physical space, if you feel comfortable doing so and your district allows, provide your intern with some level of access to student information systems. Even if it means sitting with you and going through Schoology or Infinite Campus together, familiarize your intern with school-level systems to ensure their practice is data-driven.

3 – Assess your intern’s comfort level, strengths, interests, and skill set.

On your intern’s first day at your site, set aside an hour or two to discuss and assess his/her comfort level, interests, strengths, and skill set. Try to get a feel for your intern’s personality, abilities, and experience so that you can meet them where they are, but also gently push and challenge them to try new things. Does your intern love event planning, but not feel as comfortable leading groups? Does he/she enjoy delivering classroom lessons, but not feel as ready to plan them? Learning as much as you can about your intern from the start can help you assign them meaningful roles and maximize the benefit to both your site and your intern’s growth.

4 – Teach your intern about your school and program. Then set goals together.

After getting to know your intern, teach him/her as much as possible about your program. Familiarize them with the population of students that you serve and review the results of your needs assessment. Share your calendar and information about upcoming special events, classroom lesson topics, small group needs, and “frequent flyer” students. Explain your role in 504 Coordination and formal intervention team meetings. Think about services that your students have needed and that you can now provide with this extra set of hands.

Although it can be tempting to assign paperwork or “easier” tasks to interns (i.e. lunch duty, recess duty), be sure to only give them appropriate counseling duties to focus on. Once your intern has a solid grasp of your program and your role, create mutually beneficial goals that can both benefit your program and prepare your counselor-in-training for their first job.

5 – Based on their comfort level, ease your intern into his/her new role.

As I mentioned before, interns vary greatly on their comfort level, confidence, and experience. Try to strike a balance between helping your intern feel safe and ready, but also making sure that he/she is challenged and having new learning experiences each day. A general guideline may be to spend week 1 – week 2 shadowing/observing as many aspects of your role as possible. Then in week 3, begin to offer independent counseling opportunities with supervision. Once your intern feels ready to take the lead on counseling sessions and classroom lessons, allow them to do so, but remain present to observe and supervise.

6 – Offer as many varied learning opportunities as possible.

Try to give your intern a taste of all of the different (appropriate) roles that school counselors play in a comprehensive school counseling program. Internship should be a hands on, immersive experience that offers interns an active role in individual counseling, small group counseling, classroom lesson planning and delivery, event planning, collaborative meetings with parents and teachers, 504 coordination, etc. By having a wide variety of different learning experiences, interns can develop their skills and get a feel for their preferences, strengths, and abilities as a counselor.

7 – Provide consistent feedback – both formal and informal.

Offering meaningful, consistent, and practical feedback in both formal and informal supervision sessions is one of the most important roles of the supervisor. Familiarize yourself with the university supervision expectations and schedule your formal supervision sessions in advance. Use them to discuss progress towards goals, upcoming events, student needs, the intern’s comfort level, and willingness to take on new or different responsibilities. Encourage an open dialogue so that both the intern and supervisor can support each other. After every service that your intern delivers and at the end of each day, offer informal feedback. Take a minute or two to process the experience, answer questions, discuss what went well/didn’t go well, and brainstorm ideas for future sessions. Giving your intern these brief moments of your time shows that you are invested in his/her growth.

8 – Laugh, love, learn, and have FUN!

Take full advantage of this extra set of hands and fresh mind to brainstorm with. Celebrate this opportunity to teach and mentor someone about the field that you love. Share your passion for the work that you do. Be the supervisor that you wish you had as an intern years ago. Enjoy your time together, for it won’t last forever.

Still wanting to learn more about school counseling internships?

What is your best advice for a successful internship, as a counselor or an intern? What has your experience been like as a virtual or in-person supervisor or intern? We’d love to hear from you!

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School Counseling Internship Tips for Success