We are the keepers

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After joining in a discussion thread about feeling misunderstood by classroom teachers and other staff, some of whom can be quite unsupportive and downright rude, I became inspired to write about it. Writing is my thing, so I hope this helps others like it will me.

Since that discussion thread was born, and dozens of counselors wrote in agreeing and venting, I got to thinking about why our profession seems to be so misunderstood. Yes it’s relatively new compared to the teaching profession, but the problem goes much deeper than that. And then it hit me…..

A while ago, I saw the book-made-into-a-movie called “The Giver.” Interesting concept, but the character that intrigued me most was the Giver himself, played by Jeff Bridges. If you haven’t seen the movie, Bridges plays the one person who holds all the memories and information for his entire community.

keepersNow I know why I identified with his character so much! As School Counselors, we are essentially the “keepers” of all information for our school community. Just like Bridges’ character, we hold onto important details and histories that we cannot share with anyone! While we can share some things with our supervisors, classroom teachers, and parents, there is so much we cannot ever share.

School Counselors are basically the “dumping ground” for the information that other people know but don’t know what to do with.

Have concerns about a child’s home life? Who do you tell? The School Counselor.

Have suspicions of child abuse or neglect? Who do you tell? The School Counselor.

Worried about a child’s mental health, depression, anxiety, anger, defiance? Who do you tell? The School Counselor.

Perplexed that a child won’t stop touching himself/herself right in the middle of class? Who do you tell? The School Counselor.

Need a break from a child’s difficult behavior in class? Where do you send him/her? The School Counselor.

Don’t know how to help a child who doesn’t have a winter coat or boots? Who do you tell? The School Counselor.

Frustrated that a child is still not completing classwork or homework even after interventions? Who do you tell? The School Counselor.

Noticing that a child is often alone and has no one to play with? Who do you tell? The School Counselor.

Two students in your class causing a ruckus because they just can’t seem to get along? Who do you tell? The School Counselor.

Fed up with the group of girls wasting class time being upset because “she gave me a mean face” for the 73rd time today? Who do you tell? The School Counselor.

Concerned that one of your student’s parents is drinking too much or using drugs? Who do you tell? The School Counselor.

Confused about which parent your student is allowed to visit with this month due to DHHS/CPS involvement? Who do you ask? The School Counselor.

Trying to figure out what makes the students entering your classroom this year tick? Who do you ask? The School Counselor.

At a loss of how to help a student who calls herself “stupid” every time she makes a small mistake? Who do you tell? The School Counselor.

Feeling helpless when a student screams he’s going to kill himself in the middle of your math class? Who do you tell? The School Counselor.

Holding concerns that another staff member isn’t doing right by a needy student? Who do you tell? The School Counselor.

Issues with social skills, study skills, organizational skills, personal space, friendship, attendance, self-esteem, bullying, conflict, behavior, testing, food insecurity, homelessness, crises of any kind, or students using words like sex, fag, or gay? Who do you tell? The School Counselor.

So, teachers and staff, we are the keepers of all of this difficult and sensitive information. And teachers, we cannot tell you about it. There are a million things we do in a day that you will never hear about. We do not advertise our successes because they are the confidential and private successes of our students. We cannot share all that we may know about a certain family’s dynamics because we were asked not to and we need to be a safe person for the child/family to tell future information to.

So, teachers and staff, there may be things you think you deserve to know or have the right to know, but that doesn’t change what we can tell you. Confidentiality is the building block of our relationships with students and parents. They need someone who will not only listen, but keep what is told to themselves.

So, teachers and staff, please know that we want to be where we are scheduled to be every second, but sometimes, our jobs prevent that from happening. We are sorry that we have to cancel classroom guidance with your students, AGAIN, but we cannot plan when crises occur. Please understand, teachers, that after we’ve had to cancel on you or decline to come and talk with your upset student, that we cannot offer an explanation any further than “sorry, something came up.”

So, teachers and staff, we may not do reading and math assessments, spend hours filling out report cards, or be in a classroom of 20+ students all day everyday, but we hold knowledge and skills to serve 100% of our students that you do not. We are the positive cheerleaders while being the holders of the negativity, and we do it all with a smile on our face. If we are doing our jobs well, you may never even know it.

We are the keepers.

We are School Counselors.

Mindsets, mindsets everywhere

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Since I spent most of my summer changing my own mindset after a rather trying school year, I decided I really needed to teach mindset to my students.

Here’s why: Teachers can teach, support staff can support, but a student’s mindset really controls what is learned and how successful each student becomes.

I came across a wonderful mindset lesson from Barbara’s blog, The Corner on Character. Barbara was kind enough to encourage me while I planned my own lessons, as I found myself having a closed mindset along the way (I’ll explain this later).

Well, I’ve completed almost all of them in grades 1-5, and I’m happy with how each turned out!

Here’s how my lessons went….

I introduced the word mindset and allowed students to guess what it meant. I got some great answers: “when your mind is set on something” and “how your mind thinks about things.”

Then, I told them about closed vs open mindset. Students paired up and were given a minute to discuss the difference. Again, I got some great answers: “open is when you’re thinking about things, closed is when you’re not” and “open is when you want to talk about something, closed is when you aren’t willing to talk about things.” 

I gave a few examples of what someone with a closed mindset would say: “This math is too hard,” “I can’t do this,” “I’m not going to try,” “I can’t make any friends,” and “No one here helps me.” I asked them how well someone with that kind of mindset would learn; they said not very well at all!

I gave a few examples of what someone with an open mindset would say: “This math is hard, but I’m going to keep trying,” “I can do this,” and “I don’t have any friends….yet.” Students told me someone with this kind of mindset would learn much better. We also discussed the power of yet - adding yet onto the end of a sentence can make all the difference!

We practiced the sign for each mindset:

(closed on the left, open on the right with fingers wiggling)

Hand fist     Hand open

Finally, we read this book to discuss the mindset of each character and how the mindset of little Vashti changed over the course of the story:

the dot

 

I was quite impressed with my students as they were able to show me, using the hand signals, when mindsets changed and why, as well as how Vashti was able to pass on the idea of an open mindset to a younger friend.

As mentioned above, I found myself having a closed mindset as I planned my lessons. The reason for this was I felt the idea of mindset, while important, might be over the heads of my younger students in grades 1 and 2. I had a vision of young faces staring up at me blankly, completely uninterested or unable to grasp the concept. With some support from Barbara and others in the Elementary Counselor Exchange group on FB, my mindset became open and my lessons were delivered with ease. My students not only got the concept, but they remember it. AND, some of my teachers are continuing to use the concept already! Perfect-o!

I will say that I chose to use open vs closed instead of growth vs fixed mindset, to help with understanding the concept. It worked!

I’ll end with this little story from one of my 4th grade classes: In the middle of my mindset lesson, a boy was attempting to untie his knotted shoelaces and retie them. As he did this, he was talking out loud, which disrupted others, but I let it go. After a while, another boy offered to do it for him, to which the boy replied, “No! I think I can do this myself!” I started applauding him and told him he had just modeled for everyone how to have an open mindset. He was beaming with pride!

Now that I’ve taught mindset, I find opportunities to reference it all the time with students. Examples of mindset are everywhere! Mindset is a powerful thing! :)

My office, downsized plus plants

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This year, I am in the same office space as last year. It has it’s pros and cons, and this year I decided to make some changes to make the best out of the space. Basically, I downsized in any way possible. I got rid of stuff that I hadn’t used in years, instead of holding onto it all “just in case.” When you have a small office, I think de-cluttering is important.

So here starts my office tour through pictures:

This is the bulletin board right outside my room. I wanted to display a message that is simple, meaningful, and something I could leave up for a while. I used bright poster paper for the background. I love the finished product!

(P.S. I used a trash can to trace the smiley face…shhh! Gotta improvise sometimes, right??)

Smileboard1

 

Last year, I encountered a lot of interruptions because I was “right there” (very close to classrooms and lots of people walking by all day long).

I’m hoping having this sign on my door will help remind people about the need for privacy:

Counseling in progress

I created this sign to welcome students and staff as they enter my room. I often have staff pop in my doorway to talk or ask questions, and I’m hoping this sign will be appreciated:

I'll be there

My counseling table (where all the magic happens!) and the shelves above. I got rid of a lot of stuff on the wooden shelves to open them up and not be so crowded:

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Here’s my famous “chill out” area! Bean bag chair with pillow, stuffed animals, puppets, stress balls, and feelings posters:

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My desk area! I did a lot of downsizing here too and moved my monstrous filing cabinet over here so the chill out area (above) could have more space. If you can spot the two fake plants, YOU WIN! (Okay, you don’t actually win anything, but I got you to smile a little bit, right?)  I don’t have a window, so it was money well spent:

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My go-to shelves! I moved my books over here for easier access and so my students could see titles better. The close up shows the feelings flip chart, a couple stuffies, and the green basket holds my new Kimochis (I can’t wait to use these!):

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More close ups of my shelves with many of my go-to games and the Worry Box, which holds onto many worries so students don’t have to. Also featured is my sand tray and bins holding plastic miniatures for a little play therapy:

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I hope you enjoyed the tour!

Who says small offices can’t be welcoming AND functional?? Not me! :)

What’s on my counseling table

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School Counselor offices are as varied as the School Counselors who occupy them. Some are as big as classrooms, some are as small as closets, and some are even shared with colleagues! (I don’t get how that last one works, but I guess it does!)

I love looking at pictures of other counselors’ decorated offices to see how they accommodate individual students, small groups, and work areas. Personally, I occupy an old closet for an office, so my counseling table get used for everything! – from individual meetings, small groups, adult meetings, paperwork, playtime, and even storage at times (although I try really hard not to clutter it).

I still have some work to do before I can post pictures of my office. But I started with a video to show you the tools I keep on my counseling table for students to use when they come to meet with me. Hope you like it! :)

Liked this video? Subscribe to my channel, The School Counselor Kind, so you don’t miss out on other videos by me!

Hey, that is NOT our job

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I’m fired up. I have been for a while. Prepare yourself for a rant.

I am so SICK of School Counselors being used for things they shouldn’t be. I am so TIRED of our profession not being taken seriously or not being understood.

It seems that despite many of our unrelenting efforts to educate and advocate, our time continues to be used and abused, while our training is not because we often don’t have time left over to do what we’ve completed YEARS of school to do.

What a shame! What a waste!

Okay, so I know this summer has brought our profession a lot of great press, the highlight being the First Lady’s powerful speech at ASCA14. Then came the amazing response from counselors at all levels promising to #ReachHigher. All of this is great. Is it enough?

Well, after experiencing demands to complete inappropriate tasks myself, and reading dozens of posts from other counselors experiencing similar frustration, I would have to say no. Just in the last week, I’ve read many, many posts in the Elementary FB Exchange Group by counselors who are handling things I can’t even believe.

Here are just a few examples of what counselors are responsible for: data entry for new enrollments, testing coordinators, scheduling classes, special ed. IEP meeting facilitators, 504 coordinators, discipline of students, being the administrator’s “eyes” in the school or mouthpiece for new policies, staff mediators, gifted and talented coordinator/testing/teacher, RTI teacher, countless duties that take us from our counseling responsibilities (including being substitutes), not to mention being in charge of the whole school’s PBIS (or other initiatives) all alone. AND, so many counselors do all of this with outrageous counselor-student ratios and in multiple schools.

What the what?!?! Can you see why I’m frustrated?

I think what gets to me even more is the lack of advocacy that happens in schools because many of the inappropriate tasks listed above are most often handed to us by our administrators. You know, our bosses, the people in power, the people who do our evaluations and ultimately decide our employment status. I wonder why we’re sometimes scared to speak up???

It’s not easy, but speaking up is necessary. Some of us are lucky to have great working relationships with our principals, some of us are not. Either way, we simply cannot let this stop us from advocating. Our students deserve more. 

I should say that many of us accept some of this nonsense (“I don’t mind doing such and such”) because we are just so happy to be School Counselors and we love what we do, even if some of it is truly inappropriate, whether or not we are willing to admit this. 

The other part of this puzzle are the counselors who do not advocate at all and simply accept what they are handed, regardless of their professional values. I’ve even heard some of them say they are willing to accept certain inappropriate tasks/responsibilities so as not to hinder their relationship with their administrator. Of course a working relationship with our building principal is crucial to our work, but is it worth damaging our profession permanently? Principals come and go, but our profession is here to stay.

Who doesn't love a little grumpy cat?

Who doesn’t love a little grumpy cat?

As soon as any one of us accepts inappropriate tasks, we are making it that much harder for other School Counselors to advocate and speak up. “This is the way it’s always been” or “the counselors before me have always done this” are not good enough reasons to continue doing it! If YOU do not start making small changes to get the role of School Counselor on the right track, when will it ever be?

I’m sorry if I’m offending anyone. But I’m offended that so many of us sit in silence while our roles are being taken from us and replaced with duties meant for principals, secretaries, SPED directors, SPED teachers, social workers, school psychologists, classroom teachers, and other school staff. We have to stop accepting this reality.

What can we do?

  • Share ASCA’s list of appropriate vs inappropriate activities with your administrators.
  • Create your own SMART goals that fit into what your role is supposed to be. Share your goals with your building principal so (s)he knows what you’re working towards and knows what you will need in order to achieve the goals.
  • Meet with your principal and discuss ASCA’s Counselor/Administrator Annual Agreement. Here’s a sample form.
  • Speak up. Ask questions. Explain your discomfort with inappropriate tasks. Show what you’ll have to give up in order to complete such tasks. Show what you could do if you were allowed to use your time more effectively.
  • Document how you use your time and how much is used for counseling vs non-counseling duties. Share this.
  • Find the staff who support what you do as a School Counselor and buddy up with them. They will be an invaluable support network as you try to advocate for your appropriate role.

Hopefully, you have administrators (even if it’s not your building principal) who will at least listen to your concerns. If not, don’t give up. Do the best you can with what you have, and wait until a more effective principal comes on board (because the ones who won’t let a School Counselor be a School Counselor and aren’t willing to even listen to what’s best for students, are usually making other detrimental mistakes and will soon be on their way out).

Chin up! Keep your eyes open and heart ready for change. It’s coming. I’m advocating. Are you?

Things I learned from Carla (Miss Davis)

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We probably all know a Bradley Chalkers. A kid who struggles with social nuances and takes things a little too literally at times. A kid who, fed up with trying to understand others, retreats into his own world of loneliness, only opening up to miniature plastic animals in the safety of his bedroom. And a kid who attempts interactions with peers through intimidation, threats, and lies, and begins to believe that he truly is the monster everyone has written him off to be.

It’s the Bradley Chalkers of this world who really need School Counselors, and who remind us that there is good in everyone, even the supposed monsters.

theresaboyinthegirlsbathroomI recently ordered and read There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom by Louis Sachar to incorporate into a student book club next school year. The story, while written for 8-12 year olds, holds the most important messages for adults.

I immediately liked Miss Carla Davis, the new School Counselor at Red Hill School in the book. I could identify with her. She was eccentric, played by her own rules, and most importantly, she was there for her students above anything else. 

Carla taught me a few things and reminded me of the essence of my chosen profession. I’m so thankful for Carla. In keeping with the nature of the beautiful relationship between Bradley and his School Counselor, here’s a letter from me to Carla, explaining all that she taught me.

Dear Carla, 

I believe in paying it forward and sharing the great things I see. And you, Carla, are great. I am inspired by your tenacity to put your students above everything else at your school. It’s not easy to do this when administrators and parents are not understanding of your role or your reasons for doing what you do.

You have reminded me of two of the most important aspects of School Counseling. One being unconditional positive regard. You always believed in the best for your students and they felt it. You weren’t jaded by other peoples’ opinions of certain students and you refused to believe that any child was a monster. Students need someone to believe in them, no matter what. Thank you for reminding me of that.

The second most important aspect of School Counseling that you display with such ease is meeting each student where they are at. You know that you can’t start talking to a student about homework completion when they don’t even have safe place in their classroom. You  know that if a student is bringing up monsters from outer space, it’s a topic to be explored because there’s something to it for that student.

I love that you let students think for themselves, instead of being the great problem solver you’re sometimes expected to be. By letting students come to their own solutions, you are allowing them to build the self-esteem needed to try new things.

What I admire most is that you don’t squander from your professional values, even when put in the hot seat by administrators and angry parents. This is a great role model for School Counselors all over who are given inappropriate tasks that take away from their students, but who are often afraid to speak up or to say no. You light the way for all of us!

Lastly, I want to say that I sincerely hope you return to School Counseling eventually. The profession needs great people like you.

Love,

Kayla

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 consequences you decide upon when your kids misbehave, they need to be followed through on no matter what. When your kids show tears, tantrums, and emotional outbursts upon earning a consequence, please know they are working through their behavioral choice. They have earned the consequence; you didn’t give it to them. If you attempt to appease their feelings and make it better with a bribe (stickers, toys, one-on-one time with you), you are taking away their right to self-soothe. They will work through the difficult feelings in time, after which you can process with them if needed, but not a moment before. The consequences should be determined before behaviors occur, so you are not left to dish them out in the heat of the moment, and so the link between behaviors and consequences is clear and consistent.

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