Dear Teachers, Inconsistency Breeds Bad Behavior

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Open letter to teachers imageI want to start by saying that I love and admire the teachers I work with everyday. Each of them has superhuman strength in their own way. I know they have one of the hardest jobs in the world and they do it with a smile. I also know they absolutely love their students and often call them their “kids” because they truly are for the year they spend together. 

But, there’s a big difference between a loving teacher and an effective teacher.

The following is an open letter to teachers who love their students and try their best everyday, and who struggle with creating a classroom environment conducive to respect, responsibility, and order. We all know them and we probably all have a few in our schools. From a School Counselor’s point of view, these teachers are the hardest to work with because they mean well but when things inevitably fall apart, we are called upon to fix the mess. 


 

Dear Teachers,

Thank you. For your warm smiles, gentle hugs, and creativity you share everyday with your students. You are amazing.

I know teaching is hard. You have more demands placed on you than ever before, and more challenging behaviors popping up in your classrooms every year. I also know you wish that your efforts would produce more peace in your classrooms. I know you’re frustrated.

Perhaps my observations and advice might be helpful.

The kids in your classrooms haven’t changed, but the world they were created in has. More and more of your kids are coming to school from homes that often feel unsafe or unhealthy. Many of your kids have been exposed to trauma, some repeatedly. They are coming into your classrooms unprepared, anxious, and scared, although they may not outwardly show you this.

The kids in your classrooms have a desperate need to feel safe, cared for, and like they belong. They need a classroom that is organized and predictable.

The classroom rules you create together the first week of school, they need to be followed. Everyday. They need to be displayed in the room and reviewed regularly. Your kids need to know that these rules matter. If they don’t, many of your kids will begin to feel a need to control the environment because the adult is not. They might start acting up and getting others to join them. While these behaviors might seem “out of character” and bizarre to you, they are a scream for you to hear what the child needs. Please listen.

The behavior management chart that’s hanging on the wall, the one in which students move their names or flip their colors, it needs to be explained explicitly and used consistently. If you’ve taught your kids about respectful and responsible behavior, as well as what warrants a move/flip on the chart, they need to know you’re going to hold them accountable. Use your chart. If you don’t, your kids might view the chart as meaningless and their behavior isn’t likely to change. If you only use the chart when you’re really frustrated, your kids will be confused and might feel unsafe in your classroom. You might even see an increase in problem behaviors as a result.

The individualized behavior charts you’ve created (or had help creating) to assist a few of you’re “heavy hitters,” they need to be worked on with each child and used consistently (there’s that word again!). If used as a threat for not earning rewards, your kids might turn more toward their “heavy hitting” behaviors because those might be more rewarding or predictable than the chart. If used inconsistently, your kids are likely to feel even more like a failure than before the need for a chart was prompted in the first place. This will inevitably breed more problem behaviors.

The older siblings, parents, or aunts and uncles of the kids in your classrooms who you’ve had before, are not the same. The kids you have now deserve a clean slate and expectations that match their individual abilities. If you know your kids are going to be trouble because their brother/sister/mother/father was, then you can expect trouble.

If you call upon the services of your School Counselor to help with the “heavy hitters,” please know that there’s only so much I can do in a 20 minute meeting with a child exhibiting problem behaviors. When I send him/her back to the environment in which they feel unsafe or out of control, you can bet all that we talked about or practiced will have disappeared along their walk back to your classroom. This is not the child’s fault. They are simply trying to survive in the best ways they can manage. If acting disrespectfully or silly or angry is meeting their need to feel in control or heard, you can bet they will do just that if there’s no better way.

Your students’ oppositional behaviors are not about you; they’re about the environment in which you have created. Their defiance is not a personal attack on you. Their defiance is a coping mechanism to feel safe. If the environment in your classroom is unpredictable, you’re sending a clear message to your kids that you cannot be trusted.

The positive feedback in your classrooms should far outweigh the negative. Try a 5:1 ratio. When your kids feel safe in a controlled and consistent environment, positivity will radiate from your room and from your kids. Your classroom will be the peaceful, learning-focused place you’ve always wanted it to be.

In summary, your kids need a teacher who creates an organized, consistent, predictable classroom. One in which they not only feel loved by their teacher, but also respected, challenged, listened to, and most importantly, safe.

Respectfully,

Kayla, an Elementary School Counselor

But first, let me thank you for telling me

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Sometimes I wonder if my students truly feel listened to, if their voices truly feel heard. In the bustling hallways, noisy lunchrooms, and busy classrooms, it can be challenging to listen to each student who wants my undivided attention. Because let’s face it, as school counselors, our attention is usually divided 100 different ways!

As necessary as multitasking is to our job, listening to our students (our customers, basically) is even more necessary. It’s the thing that sets us apart from teachers who have 20+ kids grappling for their attention, or parents who are juggling multiple children and their own work demands. It’s the thing that makes our position in our school so special.

ListenEach and every child deserves to be listened to. I firmly believe it is a basic human need to feel like your voice is heard, like you matter to someone who’s giving you the gift of their time and attention. The quote on the right sums it up perfectly.

There are days when I don’t feel like the best listener, but then come the days when I’ll get my validation. I can recall a meeting with a handful of 4th graders, in which one 4th grade girl was struggling to tell me something very personal that the rest of the kids around my table already knew. Well, one of the boys looks at her and says, “Come on, you can tell Ms. Marston anything! She listens.” As if that wasn’t awesome enough, he adds, “You can talk about anything with her and she won’t tell anybody.” My insides grew warm, my lips smiled, and I thought, Wow, I must be doing something right!

I try to make a point to thank my students for telling me things, even if it’s not what I hoped to hear (and I tell parents to do this too). Even if a student is reporting something to me that I know is going to create a lot of work – talking with other students involved, talking to my principal, calling parents, documenting, etc. – or my mind is already reeling with how to help or what to do, I remind myself to stop and thank the student.

Why? Because my students could have talked to any other adult in the building, but they chose me. And that’s HUGE. They are trusting me with their story, their problem, their feelings. In return, they deserve to be validated with my time and attention to show they matter and that I value them and what they have to say. And even if I don’t have the perfect solution to their problems or perfect words to lighten their load, I can let them know that I’m very glad they told me.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I want to run away or hide under my desk because I just don’t feel like I have it in me to listen to another problem or another Lego story. When I get like this, I know I need to take a break because I don’t want to be a semi-listener. My students deserve more than that. And if I only half listen to a student, even once, they may not come to me again. I know that if I don’t make time to hear about the little stuff, my students may not come to me with the big stuff, and that’s a big problem!

Here are some things I say and do to validate my students and let them feel heard:

1 “I’m really glad you told me.”

2 “Thank you for telling me.”

3 “How do you feel after sharing that with me?”

4 “I really want to hear about that. I am busy right now, can I check in with you later?”

5 “How can I help you with this?”

6 When a student is reporting an incident that will require some investigating, I sometimes jot down notes while they tell me, not only to remember the details, but to let my students know I am taking their concerns seriously.

7 Paraphrase what they’ve said. This lets them know I am listening and it helps me make sure I got the correct information.

8 Do not interrupt. This can be tricky, especially when it takes some students foreverrrr to finish a story. But they are doing their best and they are saying all of it (every little detail) for a reason, so listen up. No one likes to be interrupted.

9 Model the kind of listener I’d like them to be. That means eye contact, open body language, undivided attention.

10 If a meeting with a student is interrupted (phone call, knock on the door), apologize: “I’m sorry about that. You were saying…”

To aid in my students feeling important and heard by me, I plan to create something like this for my office wall next year:

I found this on PinteMessage to studentsrest and I love the simplicity of it!

As much as possible, I want my students to feel safe and important when they’re in my room. While many students are fortunate enough to feel this way at home, some are not. These students need a safe place and someone to listen more than ever.

As I finish out my summer, my ears are resting up for when school is full of sunburned little faces with summer stories to tell!

I can’t wait! :)

 

 

For the love of formatting

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tn_newspaper_clipartLast summer, I shared about how I create a newsletter each month for parents and teachers. Since I am always on the lookout for topics and ideas for my own newsletters, I thought it might be helpful to share some of mine with you.

My newsletters are only a page on purpose, to make them a quick read for busy parents and teachers. Honest-to-blog, I spend hours on each one because I am a type A, formatting, spelling, and grammar perfectionist. I also enjoy it, so there’s that…

Anyway, feel free to use and share what you find useful. Please just be respectful and give me credit if you use an entire document. Thank you. :)

These are the newsletters I created last school year, plus one I plan to publish in September when I’m back to school. Each one is listed by month and topic. Click on the links to see them.

2013-2014 School Year Newsletters:

September, 2013 Back to school information

October, 2013 Red Ribbon Week (this was the first year my school celebrated it!)

November, 2013 Gratitude

December, 2013 Kindness Matters bulletin board

January, 2014 Bullying and being an up-stander

February, 2014 Self-esteem

March, 2014 Trauma in children

April, 2014 Child Abuse Prevention Month

May, 2014 Career awareness unit

June, 2014 (No newsletter – things got a little busy! You know how that goes, right?)

I spent some time to redo my newsletter layout for next year, since I’ve used the same heading for 3 years now. Gotta keep it fresh!

2014-2015 School Year Newsletters:

September, 2014 Transition tips for parents


 

Hope you enjoyed my newsletters! If you find it helpful to see these, let me know and I’d be glad to share the ones I create for this upcoming school year! Thanks for reading. :)

 

 

The D-word

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I’m here to talk about the D-word. DOCUMENTATION. School Counselors are tasked to figure out a way to document all kinds of things everyday – student meetings, classroom lessons, contact with parents, SST/IEP meetings, data collection, etc. It’s no easy task! My style of documentation has changed significantly over the years, and I’m proud to have moved into the 21st century when it comes to things like Google docs.

I hear counselors talking a lot about the D-word. It seems all of us are trying to figure out how to keep it all together! The purpose of this post is to share (for FREE) the forms and ways I document different parts of my job. Please use/share what you find useful.

WEEKLY COUNSELOR SCHEDULE

I’ve evolved enough to put what I call my “core weekly schedule” on Google calendar so my secretary and principal know where to find me when needed. My “core weekly schedule” includes things like regularly scheduled classroom lessons, groups, duties, meetings, etc. that are the same time every week (for the most part).

For everything else, I still use a paper and pencil method to record everything I’ve done. On the form I created, I record my classroom lessons, groups, duties, meetings, AND I fill in when I’ve met with students, teachers/staff, parents, as well as when I’ve taken time to document notes or respond to emails/phone calls. I keep all my old weekly schedules in a 3-ring binder so I can refer back to them if I ever need to know where I was when or which students I met with when. I’ve found this method to be very simple but also very necessary so I am accountable each and every day. I write in pencil because we all know a school counselor’s schedule can change faster than we can snap our fingers! I also look at these schedules when I’m recording student counseling notes (see below) so I’m sure not to miss any documentation.

Here’s a link to my form: Weekly Counselor Schedule

STUDENT COUNSELING NOTES

For the first 3 1/2 years in my profession, I took handwritten notes for each individual or small group counseling session I did. I spent HOURS everyday after school writing my notes, and I’d leave with a hand cramp. Enter Google docs (I love you!). The time it takes me to complete my notes now has been cut by about 75%. I create a new Google form for each school year to keep the years separate. Each time I submit a form, it automatically gets sent to a spreadsheet, which I can pull up and sort through by student name, and print if needed. It’s pretty convenient.

Here’s a link to my form: Progress Notes SAMPLE (Please do not submit a form. That’s just not cool. It’s here for looking. Thanks!)

PARENT COMMUNICATION

In the past, I’d have sticky notes and random pieces of paper all over the place when I documented parent/guardian contacts. It got confusing and didn’t work for me. I came across a form that I loved, so I created one for myself. Now I keep these sheets in a 3-ring binder and it’s all organized. If there are ever questions about which parent I’ve contacted and when, I can easily access it! I also use these same forms for community agency/DHHS contacts.

Here’s a link to my form: Parent Communication Log

TEACHER REFERRAL FORMS

I’ve always had a form for teachers to fill out if they’re referring a student to see me. The one I used to use was really short and I found that it didn’t give me enough information, so I’d have to track down the teacher and ask questions, which created more work for me. I found a form similar to the one below, so I tweaked it and have used this one for the last couple years. It’s longer but still doesn’t take much time for teachers to fill out, and it gives me the information I need to get started. Win-win!

Here’s a link to my form: Teacher Referral Form

STUDENT REFERRAL FORMS

Last year, I created a referral form that students could fill out if they wanted to meet with me. I really liked using them! I found that some students who wouldn’t necessarily have the courage to ASK to see me, were more comfortable completing a form and slipping it in my mailbox. This way, students can request my time but don’t have to let anyone know about it besides me. However, I did find that the forms were used for things I didn’t intend. For example, some students would fill one out everyday if I let them because they liked coming to my room (and who wouldn’t?!), but that’s just not possible. Another example is the students who would fill out a form and check off “See me as soon as you can” but wouldn’t have much they needed to actually talk about, or the problem they were coming to me about had already been solved.

So for next year, I revamped the form to get the students thinking before they complete one on a whim. I also added a “I want to check-in with you” spot because I found that some students wanted to talk, but it wasn’t necessarily because they were having a problem. This helps endorse the message I say a lot - students who meet with me are NOT there because they have all kinds of problems! I print these, cut them in half, and put a stack in an envelope for each teacher to keep in their classroom. I also keep an envelope of them right outside my door. They’re used mostly by students in grades 2-5, although I did have some 1st graders use them too. Some days I’d receive none, other days I’d get 10! Just the name of the game, my friends.

Here’s a link to my form: Student Referral Form

COUNSELING PROGRAM PAMPHLET

In years past, I created a Counseling Brochure to give to parents at open house night or through out the year. I’ve revised it here and there, but I got bored with it! Soooo, I finally used a pamphlet template in Microsoft Word and I’m so glad I did! It was incredibly easy to create because all the text boxes and photo boxes were already there. I just had to plug in my own stuff and voilà! I added a quick blurb about confidentiality and a super cute section with quotes from students. I’m very happy with it and can’t wait to hand some out to parents!

Here’s a link to my pamphlet: Program Pamphlet

***I’ve been asked a lot which design I used to make my pamphlet. I used the “Edgy Smudge Design” under Brochures in Microsoft Word***


How do you document notes, meetings, contacts, etc? What works for me might not work for you, but I hope my forms have helped inspire some ideas! Thanks for reading. :)

 

 

#ReachHigher is for Elementary School Counselors too!

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I’m jumping on a bandwagon of the best kind! I’m joining in on the #ReachHigher Photo Project to advocate for our profession and to show that ALL levels of school counseling are important! This project, created by Erin Mason at SCOPE, is a fantastic way to join the recent and, might I add, AWESOME advocacy for school counselors right now! Ever since First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about #ReachHigher at ASCA14, school counselors near and far are fired up for all the right reasons!

While #ReachHigher is geared toward increasing students’ college or post-secondary training readiness, elementary counselors lay the groundwork for this. We help students learn what it means to be a student and how to overcome challenges so they may access their education. Without elementary counselors, some students might be long gone (checked out) before they even reach high school.

Participating in the project is simple! Here’s what you need:

1. A goal that is specific and is geared toward increasing student achievement in some way at your school.

2. White paper (standard 8 1/2 x 11) and ink. Either write or type your goal on white paper, large and legible enough to be read by others. Start your goal with “I will #ReachHigher to…”

3. A camera and someone to take your picture while you hold up your paper. Make sure your paper is straight and that your smiling face can be seen clearly!

4. An email account to send your picture(s) to Erin Mason: erinmasonphd@gmail.com with “Reach Higher Photo Project” in the subject line. All photos must be sent to Erin by July 20, 2014.

Photos submitted by the deadline have a shot to be included in the slideshow that is being created for the college advising meeting on July 28th. The slideshow will also be available on SCOPE.

Okay, here are my contributions:

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This goal says: I will #ReachHigher to increase the number of small groups I facilitate for 5th graders to help themselves improve their self-esteem and be ready to learn.

 

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This goal says: I will #ReachHigher to increase the number of positive interactions among 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to create classroom environments conducive to learning.

 

 

 

 

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This goal says: I will #ReachHigher to increase the number of kindergarteners who use I-messages to solve conflict peacefully and contribute to a safe learning environment.

 

 

 

 

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This goal says: I will #ReachHigher to increase the number of random acts of kindness completed for staff to create a culture of caring and empowered educators.

 

 

 

I also came up with other goals when planning for this project. Here are more examples of elementary school counseling goals, in case you need some ideas or inspiration for your own!

-I will #ReachHigher to increase the number of 4th and 5th grade student leaders who help resolve peer conflict peacefully.

-I will #ReachHigher to increase the number of staff-student connections to improve school climate and create a safe learning environment.

-I will #ReachHigher to increase the number of 3rd graders who set academic goals for themselves.

-I will #ReachHigher to increase the number of staff using restorative dialogue with students to maintain a safe and respectful learning environment in our school.

Check out School Counseling by Heart for more examples of elementary goals. I encourage you to participate too! Imagine all the wonderful goals we’ll have for ourselves when this project is complete!

:)

Happy 1st Birthday, Blog!

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happybirthdayblogToday marks ONE YEAR of blogging!!! I feel proud and accomplished and a little like whoa, it’s already been a year?!?! Well it has, and this post will be full of random awesomeness in celebration of my blogging adventure.

First random thing: My blog and my dog, Mocha, almost share a birthday! My rescue puppy had her 3rd birthday yesterday and here she is, happily chewing away on her new bone:

MochaBirthdayBone

The second random thing I want to do is answer some questions about myself for my readers. I realize that so many of us school counselor bloggers share a lot about our work (duh, this is why we started our blogs in the first place), but very little about ourselves. So here are some things about me, the blogger behind the blog. I took these questions from Andrea’s blog.

Share 10 things about yourself that most of your readers wouldn’t know:

1 I’m a very quiet person but I’m not shy. I like to observe before I jump in, and I will definitely speak up if I feel the need.

2 I have a tattoo on my wrist. While some may view having a visible tattoo as inappropriate or unprofessional, the message has actually started some good discussions with my students. Here’s a picture:

Tattoo

3 It’s been a longtime dream of mine to publish a book. I don’t know what I want to write about yet, but I know that I want to write.

4 In college, I was an editor and columnist for my college’s newspaper. I published ‘The Sex Column’ biweekly, articles about relationships and sex, that got me equal parts admiration and scorn from students and professors.

5 I do not and will not wear makeup. I can’t stand the feel of the stuff on my skin. The time I wore the most makeup was for the after party of my Halloween wedding (I was a corpse bride). Here’s a picture:

Halloween Corpse Bride and Groom

6 I’m a vegetarian and have been for 5 years. I could never go back to eating meat.

7 Sometimes I think I have OCD-light, and my husband would definitely agree.

8 I’m jealous of people who wear dresses a lot. I wish I could wear them, but it just doesn’t feel comfortable for me.

9 I recently got into yoga and I’m in love with how it makes my body feel.

10 Chips are my comfort food. I can eat a bag at a time!

What’s your favorite thing about your job? There’s a lot that I love, but my favorite part is connecting with my students. Earning the trust, respect, and love from a child is an incredible thing!

What would you be if you weren’t in the School Counseling field? Well, I used to want to be a crossing guard, then a veterinarian, then a teacher, then a school counselor. My guess is I would probably do something with animals, either a vet tech or run a rescue.

What do you do for self-care? Yoga, pet my dogs, laugh with my husband, write, watch mindless shows on Netflix, read blogs (for hours, no joke!), go to the movies, and go out to eat.

What books are you currently reading? Currently, nothing! Gasp, how dare I not be reading anything?! Well, I’m waiting for books to come in from Amazon, and then I’ll be reading about a dozen children’s books to plan for next school year.

What’s your guilty pleasure TV show? I don’t have cable, so I use Netflix. I’ve recently watched Scandal, The Killing, Parks and Rec, Pretty Little Liars, and Orange is the New Black. My life is so chill most of the time (no drama) that I get it from the shows I watch instead, which is fine with me!

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Is there a place that has autumn-like weather year round? If so, that’s where I’d want to live. I love autumn leaves, crisp air, and the smell of apples, foliage, and pumpkins.

What are your top 5 tech tools? Honestly, I don’t use a lot of tech tools or apps because I don’t have an iPad (I know I know, I’m like a baby dinosaur when it comes to technology). I use blogs, Facebook groups, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube.

The third and final random thing I want to do is share the top 5 blog posts that I’m most proud of!

1 Who’s giving whom the apples these days? This post was written early on in my first blogging year about the importance of building connections with your students, which is something I believe in wholeheartedly!

2 Circle Up! This post is about community circles and why I feel that facilitating them has made all the difference in my counseling program and school climate.

3 End of year four is a post I’m proud of mostly because of my School Counselor Report that I shared. I’m so glad I took the time (and it took time, holy cannoli!) to gather the data and put it together. I highly recommend reporting out in this way, as it’s great advocacy and accountability for us school counselors.

4 12 Things You Should Never, Ever Say to a School Counselor is a post that, let’s face it, put me on the map as far as blogs go. Shortly after I wrote this sarcastic and relevant post, my followers and blog hits blew up!

5 That Counselor Couple is a page on my blog about the YouTube channel that my husband and I created together to share important information about mental health topics. It takes us hours to film, edit, and post each video, but we’re very happy to do it. The more people talking about mental health/illness, the better.

After one year of blogging, I’ve reached a couple of milestones that I’m proud of: 500+ followers and 50,000+ blog hits! Here’s to another year of writing about and sharing my voice with you! Thanks for reading, commenting, sharing, reblogging, liking, and/or favoriting my blog posts. All of it means the world to me!!!

 

End of year four & back for more

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Celebrate good times, come on!!!

Without a doubt, my fourth year as a school counselor has been my most challenging. Stress doesn’t even begin to cover what I felt this year as I battled never ending changes – I had my confidence rocked so many times that a part of me considered this to be my last year in this profession. But I’m happy to say that I’m not throwing in the towel; I’m using it to wipe off the parts of me that have been wounded and I’m carrying on…

It’s easy to reflect on a school year and go, “huh, look at everything I didn’t get done.” I went into the year with so many ideas and so much enthusiasm, but sadly both dwindled away with each “no” I received and each additional responsibility I was handed. Sigh.

What’s a counselor to do? Well, this counselor is going to hold her head high because this counselor deserves to feel good about the work she did get done! She’s also going to smile because she knows she tried her best and she knows her students love her anyway. And she’s going to carry on as a professional school counselor because she refuses to let one year of seemingly insurmountable obstacles stop her from doing what she loves!

This counselor is also going to CELEBRATE making it to the end of the school year by sharing a few things with her readers.

First, I was so touched by these thank you letters I received by some of my amazing first graders, that I knew I had to share. The detail in their drawings is pretty remarkable as well!

ThankYou1

“Thank you for helping me when I needed help.”

 

"Thank you for giving us erasers."

“Thank you for giving us erasers.”

 

"Thank you for letting my friend and I eat in your room."

“Thank you for letting my friend and I eat in your room.”

Second, I want to share something new I did this year to show accountability and advocacy for my role within my district. I created a School Counseling Report, modeled after the lovely annual report at Elementary School Counseling (thank you, Marissa!).

The purpose of my report is to show how I used my time and how I served students this year. My goal was a concise, one page report that others could read quickly while perhaps opening their eyes to what I do. I used data from the documentation that I complete all year – numbers are powerful, so I let them speak for themselves! I uploaded the document to my district’s email system so anyone in my district could take a look. I’ve already gotten some great feedback about it!

Here’s a snapshot of my report. Click on the image to see the actual document in color and more clear.

Counseling Report2

 

Now for some much needed rest and relaxation! Have a lovely and quiet summer, my fellow counselor friends and readers! :)