As I was thinking about the rest of the week I realized that, as I prepare to attend my second VCA (Virginia Counselor Association) conference, I have very different feelings about it. Last year I was intimidated, nervous, and honestly I was afraid I would stick out like a sore thumb as a graduate student.
Here is what I learned about VCA last year (and I imagine it is similar to other counselor conferences):
1. Its okay to be new.
You will only learn by putting yourself out there to gain knowledge. Last year I went with one other classmate. We were the only two from our cohort who attended. We were just a few months into our program and did not feel like we were counselors yet. Guess what. You will only be the new kid once. Enjoy it! After the first session we decided that we could manage on our own. We ended up splitting up during the session and coming away with double the resources.
2. Collect Resources.
Conferences are a great place to get new ideas, learn about new techniques, and just learn about what other school counselors are doing in their schools around the state. I went to one session last year that was especially impactful. It focused on working with children who were dealing with feelings of grief and loss. I walked out of that session, as well as many others full of new ideas, approaches, and resources to use with students. My first few weeks in practicum I actually emailed the presenter asking for more resources (she told us we could during her session). One of my first student’s father had just passed away. She was a huge help and gave me so much information. After I received her email back I realized just how important it is to collect resources and connect with other counselors…
3. Make Connections.
I didn’t take full advantage of VCA last year. This year I plan to make this change. The reality is that I will be looking and applying to jobs in just a few short months. As much as I may not want to believe it – knowing people does matter when applying to jobs. I plan on talking with as many school people as possible over the next few days. Why? Its a great way to meet other school counselors (no need to reinvent the wheel, just call a friend for ideas!) and also it could potentially help when looking for a job. You never know what could help, right?
One great way to make connections is by attending the receptions. Last year I opted out of the receptions and I regretted it. Why? a. Free Food! but also b. I missed an opportunity to get to know other professionals and graduate students around the state. This year I plan on going to them all and enjoying time with fellow counselors.
4. Split up from your friends.
Of course it is okay if you stick with your friends, but I encourage you to branch out. You may meet some awesome people who you wouldn’t have talked to if your buddy was sitting next to you. Splitting up also allows you to go to all the sessions that are interesting to you. Lastly, as I said above – it can possibly double (or more) your resources. I look at all training opportunities as a place to soak up as much as I can. Obviously I can’t make it to each session, but I can potentially get resources from several.
5. Give Feedback.
If a presenter or the conference asks you to fill out a feedback card, do it. I am looking at my presentation on Saturday as a learning experience. We are doing a pre- and post-test to evaluate our presentation and us as presenters. From what I have seen over the last year VCA takes to heart what their members express. If you think something could be improved, let them know. If you think something was amazingly awesome – tell them.
6. Enjoy it!
Make sure to stop and really enjoy yourself. Conferences are a great opportunity to expand resources and make new connections. It can also be a time for self-care and a time to get away from your normal day-to-day routine. Soak it in and enjoy it!
Thanks for stopping by!