About The School Counselor Life

Welcome to The School Counselor Life!

As a school counselor, I understand how difficult it can be to find new, innovative, and fun ideas to implement with your students, so I’ve decided to compile my favorite classroom lessons, session ideas, and organization tips for all of you to use with the children at your schools, as well as style ideas and self care practices to encompass every aspect of The School Counselor Life. So, sit back, relax, and explore all this page has to offer (probably with either coffee or wine in hand…or maybe both).


Laura G. Smestad, M.A., LPC, NCC, is an Elementary and Middle School counselor in New Orleans, Louisiana. She has experience in clinical and school settings, where she primarily uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Rogerian techniques. Laura designed The School Counselor Life as a resource to other school counselors looking for individual and small group counseling ideas, classroom lessons, organization tips, and all things school counseling. 

Individual Counseling Mask Activity

One of my “frequent flyer” students from last school year, who was constantly in my office for conflict resolution sessions, starting having the same issues this year as a 2nd grader. In order to make actual progress with this student — instead of letting her become a perpetual counselee — I decided to look a little deeper into the root of the problem {since this child was almost aways at the center of conflict with many of her classmates}. After one particular meeting in which we tried to resolve a conflict with another student, I asked her to stay back and talk to me alone. I said to her, “I wonder if you act like you don’t care about your classmates’ feelings because it’s easier than admitting you just want them to be your friends, and you feel left out.”

*Cue tears that signaled I hit the nail on the head*

She started opening up about how she always feels like she is wearing a mask because deep down she doesn’t think anyone will like her for who she actually is. What she didn’t realize at the time was that this “mask” was actually the reason she was struggling to maintain friendships.

We made a mask together, and on the inside of the mask, she wrote how she acts when her “mask” is on at school. On the outside, she wrote how she thinks others might see her when she is wearing the mask.

In a following session, we made another one, but this time she wrote who she actually is on the inside of the face and how she wants others to view her on the outside.

We spent multiple sessions processing these two pages and exploring her belief that she isn’t good enough. Each week, she had homework assignments to get rid of one layer of the mask and pick one thing from her true self paper to show to others.

In our final session, she decided to throw away the original mask we made, because she said she wasn’t wearing it anymore in real life. In affirming her progress, I pointed out that she hadn’t been a part of any conflict resolution sessions in two months, and her response was, “Wow, so this didn’t just make me feel better about myself. It helped me make friends, and I didn’t even realize it!” Don’t you just love those rewarding moments?!?

Guest Blog Post: A Complete Guide to Side Gigs for Educators

A Complete Guide to Side Gigs for Educators by Joyce Wilson

As a teacher or counselor, you and the children you work with likely have a daily routine. You love your job, but what if you could shake it up a little bit, learn a new skill, and make some extra spending money? But, what do you do when you’ve spent the majority of your life in a school and haven’t the slightest clue where to start when it comes to making money in the side gig economy?

Find your Strengths

 Everyone has something that someone else will pay for. You simply must figure out what you have that someone else wants. Many of the skills and talents you have might be in high demand if you find the right person. So, how do you discover those skills? According to Dave Ramsey, your ‘strength’ is something that you are skilled and enjoy doing. You might be great at grading English papers or churning out math problems, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to spend your whole summer doing that. But you might thoroughly enjoy teaching English. In that case, look into teaching English as a second language. Many of the programs are online and can be done on your schedule.

Check the Market

 Of course, just because you’re good at something and enjoy doing it doesn’t mean someone will pay you for it. Riding a unicycle is great, but we doubt that anyone will pay you to do it. Hopefully, though, you can find something that your great at that someone is willing to pay for. Great examples according to the Penny Hoarder include teaching abroad and selling your lesson plans. If you would rather use your extra time to explore options that aren’t related to school, how about driving for Uber or taking care of someone’s garden?

Get Started on the Right Foot

Running your own business is a lot different than working for the school system. Even if you’ve been in the workforce for years, working for yourself is its own kind of beast. To get off on the right foot, ensure that you are keeping up with all your income and putting back enough money for taxes. When you work for someone else, your taxes will automatically be taken out of your paycheck. But, when you’re self-employed, you will have to keep up with your taxes manually.

Secondly, you will have to stay on top of yourself to get anything done. When you work at a school, you go in at a specified time and leave at a specified time. If you don’t go into work, you’re going to get a call asking why you didn’t show up. You have someone else ensuring that you’re doing what you’re supposed to. But, when you work for yourself, no one will be around to ensure that you’re working. You could sit around on the couch all day, and no one is going to call to ask why you aren’t working. There is no outside force making you do what you have to do, so you have to make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to do.

Get a Home Office

A home office does wonders for productivity if you design it correctly. You should choose a room that is distraction-free, which means that it should be as far away from the central hub of the home as possible. Don’t choose a room right next to the living room or kitchen. Clutter should also be removed as quickly as possible, and the room should be kept clean. Choose the right technology to fit your needs, but don’t overdo it.

Jobs to Consider

Now that the possibility of a side gig has caught your attention, here are some ideas for ways you can get started:

  • Open an online storefront – By now you’ve probably heard of the popular e-commerce site Etsy where users can sell their creations. You are in a unique position in that you can use your creativity to craft signs and decor for fellow counselors or teachers, or use your perspective as a teacher/counselor to create gifts they’ll love receiving from students and parents.
  • Spend time with animals – If you happen to be an animal lover, then becoming a pet sitter is right up your alley. You can use your free time on weekends to sit for furry, friendly dogs and cats. As a bonus, you can bring along any grading or lesson plans to multitask.
  • Sell what you know – As a member of the educational world, you’re all too familiar with curriculums and lesson plans. If you’ve created your own and seen success with students, why not publish your work in an e-book to share with fellow educators?
  • Teach a class – With technology constantly advancing, it should come as no surprise that classes can be taught online. Not only that, but you can record a class from the comfort of home, post it, and earn while you are at school, home, running errands, etc.

Getting a side job can be exciting for any teacher or counselor. But, it can often be difficult to find a job you enjoy and that pays. Plus, running your own business is vastly different from working for a school. Hopefully, these tips gave you a good place to start.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Joyce Wilson may have retired from teaching but that doesn’t mean she has lost her passion for education. On her site, TeacherSpark.org, she is working to build a resource of engaging lesson plans, activities, and other fun learning opportunities for her fellow educators and for parents.


Gratitude Mandala as a Coping Skill

A student I was working with individually wanted to try out different coping skills to use at school when she started to feel worried. Thinking of the things for which she is grateful was one that really worked for her, so I decided to introduce a gratitude mandala into our session, which she will be able to use and reference when she needs to cope during the school day.

I printed out a mandala from printmandala.com, which has tons of free options. I explained to the student that she would be writing anything that she was thankful for on the mandala, and she could decorate it any way she wanted {the student loved art activities, so this worked really well for her}.

I used the copy machine to shrink the mandala with her words to half of it’s original size, and I made it into a keychain using a hole punch and a rubber band after laminating it {see above}. The student has been keeping the keychain on her pencil pouch zipper and the larger mandala in her assignment pad. It has helped her to stay grounded during the school day since she has a quick reference of the good things in her life.

Lesson Materials Organization

As organized as I usually am, my classroom lesson materials have been in disarray over the last few years, especially as I’ve accumulated more and more items to use with classes. This year, I decided to create a new system for organizing my lesson materials that should save me some time and energy during the school year.

In the past, I would store all of my materials in various bins throughout my office that I would have to sift through whenever I pulled my current month’s materials. I still keep my current supplies in easy to access bins {see below}, but now it is a lot easier for me to find everything each month. Click here to see my original post on organizing my bookshelves.

I made space in my storage cabinet so that each grade level has a tray and a bin for lesson materials. Handouts and books fit perfectly in the trays, and I put all other supplies in the bins {trays and bins are all from the dollar store}.

The biggest change I implemented this year {that I think will save me a lot of time} is that I made copies of ALL handouts I need for lessons throughout the year, and I purchased ALL lesson materials for the whole year as well. Now, I don’t have to constantly think about whether or not I need to make a stop at the dollar store after school for a lesson the next day, and I don’t have to worry about copies for lessons!

I hope these organization tips are helpful! Cheers to the start of a new school year!



2018-2019 Complete School Counselor Planner

Back by popular demand, my 2018-2019 complete school counselor planner is up on my TpT store! The planner is available in two different themes: black, white, and marble & mint and gold.

Buy the 2018-2019 Complete School Counselor Planner {Black, White, and Marble Theme}

Buy the 2018-2019 Complete School Counselor Planner {Mint and Gold Theme}

As in the past, I am more than happy to make a custom cover page with name and credentials for anyone who ‘likes’ The School Counselor Life on Facebook. Just e-mail theschoolcounselorlife@gmail.com after you’ve purchased your planner, and send the information you’d like included :))

Here are some pictures of what you’ll find inside the planner:

Small Group Termination Activity – Reflection Book

This year, I created a new termination activity for my 5th grade girls small groups. The girls really seemed to enjoy this, and I thought it was a great way to reflect on the group and to assess what impact it had on my students.

{Follow the links below to read more about these groups}

Odd Girl Speaks Out Small Group Series Part I: Sessions 1 & 2

Odd Girl Speaks Out Small Group Series Part II: Sessions 3

Odd Girl Speaks Out Small Group Series Part III: Sessions 4 & 5

My inspiration for this activity originated in the dollar section of Target {where most wonderful things in life happen}. I found these blank books, which were only $3 for a set of 8, and I immediately began to brainstorm how I could use them with my students.

After processing the end of group, I gave each student a blank square of cardstock. The girls then decorated their names in the center of the cards, and wrote one thing they remembered from group and one thing they liked about group. The girls were told that their creations would be glued into a book to commemorate our time together. I made the card pictured below as a guide.

After the girls finished making their cards, they shared what they wrote with the group. We then decorated the cover of the book, and each girl signed her name. I later glued all of the cards into the book.


It was extremely rewarding to hear that our time as a group made a difference for so many of the girls, and I really liked giving the students this opportunity to reflect on group and how far they have come this school year.

Art & Grief – The Broken Bowl Project

In searching for an art-based grief activity for one of my students who recently lost a parent, I stumbled across The Broken Bowl Project. This activity is extremely powerful, especially for a child who is passionate about art.

The session prior to when we started the activity, I explained the idea to my student — that we would be breaking a bowl, painting it, and putting it back together. I asked her how she thought this might relate to her life, and she was able to recognize that the bowl will represent how her life has been shattered and that she has to put it back together.

This student wanted me to help her paint the bowl, so I related that back to the meaning of the project by saying she doesn’t have to put herself back together all by herself, and we talked about her support systems.

She wanted to paint the inside with bright colors so that she can feel bright and vibrant on the inside again, and she decided to paint the outside silver and gold because she thought she had to be bright and shiny on the outside for everyone to see {even though she didn’t always feel bright and shiny}. All of these artistic decisions led to great conversations while we painted.

We took 2 sessions to paint the bowl, and during the third session, we put it back together. The student figured out how the pieces fit together, and I hot glued them. There were moments of frustration when a piece didn’t seem to fit or it didn’t fit quite the way it was supposed to, which of course is symbolic that her life will never fully be the same again, even if it is bright and wonderful. We processed the meaning behind the bowl each step of the way, and the student took the bowl home with her as a reminder of her journey.

I really liked this activity because it provided an interesting symbol for the student to relate to and it naturally brought up a lot of grief related topics while giving the student an external activity to focus on during talk therapy.

Lesson on Positivity Using the Energy Bus for Kids

Today I will be introducing a lesson I used with my 3rd graders on the impact of positive energy. The kiddos responded SO well to this lesson, and I’m excited to share it with you all!

The lesson is based on the book, The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon {such an amazing read if you’re looking for a new book!}, which has a version for children too. I begin by reading The Energy Bus for Kids to the class. This book follows the character George as he navigates school using the 5 rules of the energy bus, given to him by his bus driver, Joy.

5 Rules of the Energy Bus:

  1. Create a positive vision
  2. Fuel your ride with positive energy
  3. No bullies allowed
  4. Love your passengers
  5. Enjoy the ride

Even though this book is on the longer side {I probably wouldn’t use it with students below 3rd grade}, the kids were engaged the entire time and were able to tell me all 5 energy bus rules at the end. I also used this time to discuss the differences between bullying an meanness, as it connected to the ‘no bullies allowed’ rule.

I found a lot of wonderful supplementary activities and resources on http://www.energybusforkids.com, including a blank energy bus license plate the students could fill with positive energy. My students completed this activity, and they were so excited to share their positive license plates with the class.

I think that the idea of positive energy and the way it’s presented in this book ties in nicely to CBT concepts, in that changing your mindset can change your mood, so I explained that to my class on a 3rd grade level. Most of them seemed to get it, and one student even said, “So, it’s like we have superpowers to change our feelings by changing our thoughts?? Cool!” <- why I have serious job love 

I hope you enjoyed this lesson! Comment below with any lesson topics you’d like to see on The School Counselor Life Blog!

Weekly Data Report Log

I received so many requests for my monthly data spreadsheet that I decided to share my weekly data collection with you as well! I found that collecting data on a weekly basis makes it much easier to manage, and the system I use ensures I maintain my case notes in a timely manner.

{School Counselor Monthly Data Reports}

As described in my post on scheduling sessions with individual students, I log every session, parent communication, and meeting in my planner. When I write my case notes {which I typically do first thing on Monday morning for the previous week}, I go back to my planner, and write my notes for sessions, phone calls, and meetings. Once I’ve written all of my case notes, I use that information to add to my weekly data spreadsheet.

As you can see in the pictures above, I track the following information each week:

  • Classroom lessons
  • Individual sessions, along with the breakdown of topics
  • Small group sessions
  • Speech/accommodations meetings
  • Parent meetings
  • Parent e-mails
  • Parent phone calls

This year, I’ve created a section to track my intern’s individual sessions as well.

I’m able to utilize this spreadsheet when I create my monthly report, but it is exceptionally helpful when I pull together my annual data report for each school year. If you’d like a blank version of my weekly data spreadsheet, ‘like’ The School Counselor Life on Facebook, and e-mail theschoolcounselorlife@gmail.com !

My Favorite FREE Printable Rapport-Building Board Games

I like to have simple board games on hand for individual sessions, especially when I am pulling students who didn’t ask to see me themselves {but rather were referred by their parents or teachers}. The games I’ll share with you today are great ways to build rapport with students while gathering more information.

  1. Tell Me About… Board Game by Games for Learning

This is one of my favorite games to get to know students better and help them feel comfortable in my office. Each space includes a favorite thing that the player who lands on it shares with the other players. To make the game last longer, I play by flipping a coin instead of using a die. If the coin lands on heads, the player moves one space forward, and if it lands on tails, the player moves two spaces. You can download the game here.

2. Emotions Board Game by Life Over C’s

This game not only helps build rapport but also teaches students to identify and express their emotions. Students get to match facial expressions with different feelings, and they have the opportunity to share times they have felt angry, sad, happy, and scared. To read more about this game and download it for free, click here.

3. School Days Ups & Downs by Play Therapy Works

This game is a CBT take on Chutes and Ladders, and it gives students an opportunity to talk about struggles they face at school and to think through hypothetical situations others may experience. Students are asked to identify feelings and reframe thoughts throughout the game. You can download the game for free here!

These are the top 3 games I use to build rapport with my students that help me gather information without the child feeling intimidated by traditional talk therapy. Enjoy!