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 Natasha Nelson, who counsels at Spirit Lake High School. She has been a counselor for 12 years.

What attracted you to counseling?

The curriculum and learning experience in school is important, but it's so much more than that to me! School is the avenue for fostering meaningful relationships with teachers and peers and extracurricular activities and vast opportunities that spark personal interests and develop life-long skills. School, to me, is the life center of childhood and adolescence. I loved my K-12 experience and my teachers, counselors and coaches were invaluable to me along my journey. I’m grateful I have the opportunity to give back to my students with what was so graciously given to me.

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

Well, first off, let me say that I don’t always successfully juggle it all! But I find the most success and efficiency when I follow “work smarter not harder” opportunities. These include cross-curricular collaboration with colleagues, forming community partnerships to integrate outside resources and supports inside our building, creating various video presentations for students and parents to watch at their leisure or time of need, resources like instead of back and forth emails to schedule meetings, using Google’s “schedule send” feature so I can work ahead at earlier, more convenient times, etc. The simple answer is that I can’t juggle everything myself, so many other hands are involved and helping at all times. 
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is building relationships with the students. It’s a really cool thing: watching them walk in as freshmen and walk out as seniors, observing their personal growth in a short four years, celebrating with them in their successes and supporting them during their difficult times. I feel immensely grateful to be a part of this monumental time in their lives!

What are your biggest challenges?

No matter the school or the educational level, there are always a lot of complex problems/concerns demanding attention and response. Personally, the biggest challenge for me is not being able to solve every problem or help every person to the level or degree I would want to. Professionally, in recent years, my school became concerned with the mindsets and behaviors of our students and recent graduates. Many were struggling with 21st century skills, personal health and wellness, financial foundations, and leadership and service. While these areas encompass many challenges that youth and young adults face today, we have created intentional and consistent programming throughout the year to reserve time, attention and efforts to build their knowledge and skills in these areas.

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?

My advice to new counselors is to maintain a healthy work-life balance and to intentionally build in daily self care. In this digital age, the separation of work and home can easily and very quickly become blurred and the impact can be really detrimental. Finding some time each day to refuel your internal energy supply is so important for YOU to remain happy, healthy and successful!

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