It’s National School Counseling Week, which honors the important contribution of school counselors in our schools and the significant impact they have in supporting students. This week, we salute Iowa’s nearly 1,400 school counselors.

Each day this week, we will highlight a school counselor from across the state.

Today we focus on Sarah Kakacek, who counsels at Clarion-Goldfield-Dows Elementary School. She’s been a counselor for 20 years.

What attracted you to counseling?

My passion for being around kids, inspiring others to be all they are capable of being, giving hope, and knowing that I have a part in affecting the life of another human are reasons I was attracted to counseling. I love school counseling because I get to see all kids and help support them with compassion and empathy.

Over the years, counseling has expanded to include many different things. How do you juggle it?

No day is the same. I see this as a positive draw to the profession. I like the variety it brings. I juggle it by constant reflection and asking myself, “How is what I’m doing benefiting students?” This reflection has helped me to say yes or no to things. I ask for assistance from colleagues when it isn’t “my best yes.”

What’s the most satisfying part of your job? Can you name something specific that sticks out in your mind?

The most satisfying part of my job is building connections with students and watching them grow in their social and emotional development. Observing students using strategies and skills taught in class and then transferring them to multiple settings is fulfilling. Something specific that sticks out in my mind is when a fourth grader used her starfish breathing strategy for anxiety and then taught the prep k class the same strategy. It was a win-win for all!

What are your biggest challenges?

One of the biggest challenges is finding readily available mental health providers in our rural area to support children who need additional services. A second challenge is meeting the needs of English Language Learners in individual counseling sessions. In particular, familiarizing myself with culture, customs, and family dynamics from different ethnic backgrounds is an ongoing learning curve. Lastly, a big challenge is finding the middle ground of when a student exits counseling.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first became a counselor? What advice do you have for new counselors just entering the field?

I know now the importance of being plugged-in with other counselors for collaboration and continued professional development. You don’t have to fly solo. You were never meant to. I have met some great colleagues who inspire me and motivate me to grow and learn. Over the years, I have gained appreciation for the Iowa School Counselor Association’s conference and ISCA listserv, AEA consultant support, and counselor blogs. We are in this together!  Some advice for new counselors entering the field: 1) Use student data to drive your school counseling program. 2) Refine something in your program each year using evidenced-based strategies. 3) You are not a fixer. Guide students to help themselves. 4) Honor yourself with time for self-care. Find what works for you.

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