It isn’t unusual for counselors to experience several “last days” of the school year. From the last day the students come to school, to the last day the teachers are in the building, to the last day we are in the building, there are ample opportunities to reflect, review, and plan ahead.
It’s time for all of that to stop for a while, according to two experts. The first one is my school principal, who concluded the end-of-the-year luncheon with this advice: “You’ve worked hard, and we’ve worked you hard. Now it’s time to stop working.” The second expert runs an online blog I subscribe to that addresses social justice issues. About once a week, she posts something that says “It’s time for self-care. What are you doing to take care of you?”
Counselors aren’t always the best clients, so it’s likely more than a few of you are trying to sort out just how much work you need, or want, or (dare we say it) should do. If the first few days or weeks of vacation have been more unsettling than unwinding, consider these key steps to making the most of your summer:
Voicemail Most phone systems don’t allow you to turn voicemail off. Even if yours does, you may want to consider keeping it on, since many people who call over the summer are looking for help they need right away. If your voicemail is active in July and August, your outgoing message should be helpful and clear:
“I’m out of the office until late August. If you’re calling for a school issue, please call the main office at (phone number). If you’re looking for counseling resources, look on the counseling website/community mental health website at (web address). If you’d like to leave a message for me, please remember I’ll be listening to it in late August.”
Once that’s done, don’t check voicemail. Trust the system you’ve set up, or you’ll be checking every day—and that’s not restorative.
Email The same message on your voicemail goes on your email autoreply, since parents and students might be reaching out to you for help, and need direction. Since I’m on several professional committees that meet year-round, I check email over the summer, but only respond to professional commitments—if I weren’t on these committees, my summer would be both email and voicemail free. A clear autoreply gives students and families the help they need. Once again, it’s time to trust your ability to guide them to the right resources. ( I also scan email for spam and advertisements and delete as I go. It saves all kinds of time that first day back in the office.)
“Dropping By the Office.” The simple rule here is that if you don’t have to be in the office over the summer, don’t go in. The temptation may be strong to go in for “just a minute” to develop that one lesson plan or answer that one email—and then, somehow, you’re there for the day.
If you just have to spend some time developing new units or presentations, find a way to do it at home, or at the local library. Schedule the time, and once the time is up, head back to vacation, and pick up where you left off later. If your contract requires you to be in the office, save all of your preparation for the office time, and let the rest of the summer be about you.