10 Ways to Find Motivation Throughout the School Year

Posted by Ashley Bartley, M.Ed., NCC, School Counselor and Boys Town Press Author on Jan 9th 2023

About 10 years ago, I signed up to run the Disney Marathon. I had run shorter races - 5ks, 10ks, even half marathons, but I had never fathomed the full 26.2 mile race until I experienced how amazing running my first race at Disney World was. I immediately signed up to run the full.

I knew it would take a lot of motivation to train (and then run) 26.2 miles. Disney races are high-energy, with fun character stops, entertainment, and dazzling medals. I knew the journey, the race itself, would be as rewarding as the end-goal.

Whether you are a brand new counselor or a veteran counselor, finding motivation during the year can be a struggle. We may, at times, lose focus on our why. Maybe you already have. I’ve put together a list of ideas to help you as you head back to school!

1. Set boundaries.

School counselors have so many responsibilities around the school, which means it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Only commit to things you feel passionate about, and say no to long-standing commitments that drain you. Once you take something on, it can be very difficult to shed the responsibility later! Instead, save your “yeses” for areas where you are uniquely skilled to serve, using your own talents and knowledge. Many things that strain your time can wait, even for a day. Try to stick as closely as you can to your contracted hours, and make time to eat your lunch!

2. Find your people.

Sometimes it’s hard to feel like a part of a group if you’re the only counselor or you have a small department. Gravitate toward people who are positive and supportive of you and your role. (Negativity breeds negativity!) If you have a team or friends in your building, lean on them for support, whether it’s help with your program, or just personal encouragement. Extend the same compassion to your colleagues - we are all a team! Choose to laugh when things get crazy.

3. Plan things to look forward to.

Line up events on your calendar that make you feel most like yourself, whether it’s a camping weekend, a night out with friends, a cozy evening in, or some dedicated time for a hobby you love. I love having spring break planned and a summer vacation planned, but I also love fun weekend adventures – venturing through a corn maze with my kids in the fall, decorating gingerbread houses in the winter, and picking strawberries in the late spring.

4. Remember your "why."

Take time to reflect on why you chose this field. Think about a specific success story, or a specific student or family you’ve helped. Celebrate the relationships you’ve built with families at your school. Keep a “Sunshine” folder nearby, fill it with student artwork, thank you cards, and notes from students and parents, and reach for it when things feel heavy. Look into attending professional development or networking events to gain fresh ideas and inspiration.

5. Request consistent check-ins with your administrator(s).

Keep your lines of communication open to ensure you’re on the same page about your students and your program goals.

6. Track your data and progress.

Use data to stay focused on your goals, and celebrate your wins with your stakeholders - your staff, families, and school community. Use data to reflect on how you’re spending your time and where you need to focus more attention.

7. Express gratitude.

Feeling valued and appreciated can do wonders for morale, and we can extend that gift to others. If you approach your day with a lens of gratitude, you’ll notice all the positives around you – a cool breeze during car duty, a student coloring a picture for you, a colleague helping you hang a bulletin board. If you can, give them a shoutout in a staff newsletter or note of encouragement in their mailbox.

8. Perform acts of kindness.

Along those lines, look for opportunities to extend kindness to your colleagues. Offer a bathroom break to an overwhelmed teacher. Leave a note and candy in a new teacher’s box. Write a thank you note to the custodian. It will make you feel good, too!

9. Take care of yourself.

What recharges you? Is it alone time or time with friends? Pampering? Make self-care a priority. Drink plenty of water, take a quick walk around the school, and stick to a consistent sleep schedule if you can. Look for opportunities before or after school to exercise.

10. Invest time in a hobby unrelated to work.

You could try a creative outlet, such as knitting, baking, learning guitar, or making handmade cards. You could join an adult volleyball or softball league, volunteer at an animal shelter, or take up antiquing. Reading novels is also a great way to escape. Not sure what to read? Find a book club, either in-person or online, or checkout sites like GoodReads, NetGalley, Hoopla, or Libby for inspiration.

School counselors are often so accustomed to helping others, that we may put our own needs on the backburner. Start with just a few of these ideas to help prevent burnout and to find inspiration throughout the year. Share this post with a friend who might need some encouragement. You’ve got this!

Ashley Bartley, M.Ed., NCC is a school counselor, mom of three boys, and author of the Diamond, Opal, and Friends book series.