How to engage your students

Student counsellor Kat Coy talks us through her methods of getting students to engage with student services and get them thinking about their university options.

As all counsellors know, students love candy! It is a great way to get students into your office and an excellent tool to utilise in developing rapport and relationship building. 

However, I learned quickly in my own career that it was not the only way to get them engaged. Now don't get me wrong, I still have a candy dish in my office; however I utilise numerous other resources to get to know my students.

Here are some ways to get connected:

  • Rely on a variety of sources to get to know students. Have conversations with parents, peers, teachers and coaches.  
  • Get to know the students in the classroom. This won't engage every student, but you can see more students in two days than you could on a normal day.
  • Get to know the students outside the classroom. Make it a priority to attend sporting events, theatre performances, band concerts, art shows, chaperone prom, etc. The next day, stand out in the hall and chat to the students who you saw. It will leave an impact!
  • Make connections during individual and classroom meetings. Don't be afraid to show them your knowledge of current TV shows, restaurants, sports, or fashion. Students enjoy getting a glimpse of adult figures as people and not just counsellors.
  • Be accessible to students. Eat lunch in the cafeteria, stand at different classroom doors in the morning and welcome students, offer to be on the substitute list from time-to-time.  

I have found that a combination of the above will ensure a solid foundation for a great working relationship with your students. My number one avenue for student interactions is classroom guidance.  

Here are the things that I have learned by going into the classroom:

  • Classroom guidance engages students who might be uncomfortable in an individual meeting.
  • Students won't remember everything you teach them, but just remember you are planting a seed of knowledge that you will continually build on.
  • Lesson planning - get creative, get wacky, get experiential! Break up your class time into segments: 20 minutes lecture, 20 minutes individual activity, 20 minutes group activity. Utilise the first five minutes to explain who you are and what services you provide. Finally, use all of the college freebies as prizes to keep their interest peaked and your office clutter-free!
  • Utilise evaluations at the end of every class session. These evaluations are useful in developing future lesson plans and advocating for class time in the future. The teachers find it hard to say 'no' when you have statistics to support your cause. It takes planning, but it is worth it. It can make for a long day, extra hours to catch up, but it is worth it.
  • Being with the students is energising! It is hard to break away from the desk, the phone calls, the letters of recommendation, and all those emails - but make yourself do it!
  • Make classroom guidance one part of what you offer to students, thus engaging all students by the end of your school year.
  • Always thank the teachers for allowing you to interrupt their course work. Share your freebies from colleges, use your budget to buy small gift cards, and never underestimate the power of a handwritten thank you note.  
  • Teaching classes will win major points with the teachers. They often think more highly of counsellors, because you know what it is like to be in the classroom.  
  • It helps you relate to the teachers, helps you to learn social dynamics of the students, and is an overall benefit to your job.   

Kat Coy, M.S. has been a School Counsellor since 2006 at Knoxville Catholic High School where she serves the Sophomore and Junior classes. She was nominated as “High School Counsellor of the Year” by Smoky Mountain Counselling Association in 2009 and was nominated as the as the “Secondary School Counselor of the State” by the Tennessee Counseling Association.