National School Counseling Week 2015

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It’s here! Our week is here! It’s National School Counseling Week! The week in which we do a little extra to advertise and highlight all that we do in our schools.

Of course, I understand the irony that as School Counselors, we are tasked to celebrate our own week, instead of others celebrating us. But I think we’ll get there. The more we advocate and speak up about our roles. Eventually, people will celebrate us!

Until then, many of us are grasping at straws to figure out what the heck to do. Do we do morning announcements about our program? Do we make cute treats and cards for each individual staff member actually thanking them for our week? Do we hang up a sign and call it good?

Well, most years, I’ve done nothing. This year, I’ve decided to use the week to advertise and educate about School Counselors and what we do.

First, I’m going to hang this sign from ASCA:

 NSCWsign

Second, I’m going to fill out this sign from ASCA:

Ilovebeingaschoolcounselorsign

Third, and probably most important, I created this flyer to give to all staff at my school. Click on the flyer to see the pdf version.

NSCW_Flyer_2015

My flyer is a compilation of information and inspiration from ASCA and many School Counselors around the nation. One in particular I should credit is Blair Shelley, who created a beautiful flyer for her own school.

I’m keeping NSCW simple. Some advertising without a lot of extra work for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll do some celebrating too. We deserve it!

Happy National School Counseling Week, my friends! :)

A girl drama disaster

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If you say the words “girl drama” or “girl problems” right now, I will run away and hide. Forever.

You probably know exactly how I feel. Especially if you’re a School Counselor who is sent the teary-eyed little girls who can’t seem to break the mean streak.

I’m deep in the trenches of 3rd grade girls who request to see me and want to tell me everything that they’re so-called friend(s) did and said. The faces. The eyes. The talking behind the back. The taking friends away. The running away. The “spying.” The mean and the not-so-mean words.

Well, I had heard enough. I decided to host an intervention.

I invited (actually, I made them come, but whatever) all girls involved in the ongoing problems in any sort of way. I set up in a classroom and they brought their lunches.

This is what I brought with me:

My Secret BullyI read My Secret Bully while they ate and told them the behaviors happening in the book are what they are doing to each other, even to people they call “friends.”

Then, I gave them each a “Think before you speak” card to help remind them of the words they use.

I was really prepared and I was really hopeful. The thing about interventions is that they don’t always work. Sometimes the people you’re doing the intervention for don’t want to change or don’t see the problem.

Well, my intervention was a big, fat failure.

The nine little girls sitting before me during the intervention stared complacently and contributed nothing. They gave me looks that said, “I know this lady ain’t talkin’ to me!”

And, I really knew the intervention had failed when the very next day, three girls filled out separate slips to see the counselor, and when I pulled them all together to talk, they told me the problem was they thought one of the girls had called another one of the girls a “turd” at recess.

No, I’m not even kidding. I had pulled them from class so they could tell me someone might have said the word “turd.” I almost told them to get out of my room.

Instead, I created this. From now on, when they feel the need to run to me and complain about things they aren’t willing to change, they will fill out a Problem Solving Report on their own time – recess. No more class time. When they fill one out, they will turn it into me and when I have time to read them over, I will decide if it needs to be processed further or not.

The report takes pieces from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) to help them develop the skills they need to handle their own problems AND see their own part in it.

So far, no reports have been filled out. I guess the girls have decided that none of the problems are “big” enough to report anymore!

Oh, peaceful waters, please wash over me! :)

Bring on the readers: Increase readership to your blog

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When you’re a blogger, either beginner or veteran, readership matters. I would say I fall somewhere in between – I’m not exactly brand new to blogging, but I’m still learning. While bloggers often write as much for themselves as for others, we want to know that people are actually reading what we put out there.

From my own experience, it’s exhilarating to see your numbers climb with each post you publish! Still, I’m always thinking about what I can write about that will bring readers in, and I’ve been pretty successful so far. In a year and a half, I’ve reached just under 100,000 hits on my blog and just over 1,000 followers. Not too shabby.

Increase readership

Whether you’re a new or veteran blogger, or thinking about beginning your first blog, here are some tips from me to increase your readership:

1. Keep your posts simple. If you try to cover too much material or too many ideas in one post, you’re going to lose readers. You’re better off writing the post in several parts.

2. Title your posts like you mean it. The title of your post is crucial. It’s what shows up when people do a search and it’s in the URL that people click on to take them to your blog. I like to be creative when naming my posts, but I also make sure it has something to do with the topic I’m writing about.

3. Keep your paragraphs short. Nobody likes to read run-on sentences or paragraphs that are a page long. Also, keep in mind that many people are reading your blog posts from their smart phones, which will make your paragraphs look even longer on their screen.

4. Edit, edit, edit. Please, for everyone’s sake, look over your post before clicking publish. Most readers will forgive a few spelling or grammar mistakes, but too many, and they’ll be on to the next blog. Simply put, if it’s not readable, it won’t be read.

5. Make your idea clear and make it yours. If I’m reading your blog post, it’s because I want to hear what you have to say about the topic. I don’t want to have to guess what you’re trying to say. I also don’t want to read what someone else has already said. If you’re writing it, make it yours.

6. State your opinion firmly. We all have opinions. It’s okay. Even as School Counselors, we are allowed to have opinions about our profession, education, curriculum, lessons, materials, etc. Don’t hold back from telling us yours. Might you ruffle some feathers or invite a few disagreeable comments? Perhaps. Do it anyway. This is your blog and we want to hear your opinions.

7. Use every ounce of social media. Consider creating a Facebook page for your blog, a Twitter account, and don’t forget to share your posts on Pinterest. The more places you are sharing your wonderful stuff, the more readers will come across your blog. And they will share it, too.

8. Read other blogs. There are so many blogs out there! Use them to inspire ideas, creativity, and future posts. Each blogger has his/her own style and it’s beautiful, so don’t think you don’t have anything to add to the blogging world. You do!

9. Write about more than lessons and strategies. Specifically for School Counselor bloggers, this rings true. We do use our blogs to share classroom lessons, small group ideas, and individual counseling strategies. And it’s great. However, writing about other things relating to our field is needed and wanted by our readers. My hottest post, topping over 22,000 views and over 90 comments, doesn’t have anything to do with lessons or strategies. When you do write about things affecting School Counselors, remember tip #5 and 6.

10. Have fun with it. Your blog is yours. You can do with it anything you want. Don’t worry if your blog doesn’t look like someone else’s. Don’t worry if you don’t have cute activity packs to give away or top notch lesson plans linked to the ASCA standards. Write about what matters to you and share it! The people who want to read what you write will find you and will keep coming back for more.

Happy blogging! :)

RAK, bingo, and secret missions

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The week before Christmas vacation, I decided my school needed some help in being a little more kind. And I decided to find a fun way to incorporate random acts of kindness into my guidance lessons that week.

The result was outstanding!

RAK board

I came across a RAK Bingo Board featured on Confessions of a School Counselor. I loved it and decided to make my own. Using a similar format, I created a 4×4 Bingo Board with very simple acts of kindness that students would be able to do over and over again in their classrooms.

Click here for the RAK Bingo Board I made. I made four versions of my bingo board to allow for some variety while playing Bingo in classrooms.

To begin the lesson with my 2nd-5th graders, we had a discussion about what random acts of kindness are, allowed for some examples, and talked about why they matter. Specifically, we talked about RAK’s being anonymous; meaning, being kind isn’t about recognition, it’s about giving to someone else.

Then, we played Bingo. This was an immediate hit because kids love Bingo! As I read each act of kindness, the students were able to hear ideas that they could try themselves. We played until everyone had Bingo at least once on their board. Because the boards are small, this didn’t take long. In some classes, we played until everyone had blackout (their whole board was filled).

brown paper bag

Next came the REALLY fun part! I presented the class with a brown paper bag and asked a student to read the words I had written on it with marker: “Secret Mission Shhh!” We discussed that a secret mission is something you do and don’t tell anybody about it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One by one, each student came to pick their secret mission from the bag. The secret missions were little folded cards that had the acts of kindness from the Bingo boards. All I did was cut up some of my Bingo boards, fold the squares, and pop them into the bag!

Once each student had their secret mission, I told them their challenge was to complete their secret mission before the week was over. To combat a few of the grumblers, I reminded them they would have a lot more fun if they kept a positive attitude! Plus, their secret missions were really easy and didn’t take a lot of time.

This lesson was not only fun, but it created a ripple effect of kindness throughout many classrooms and into the hallways of our school. My favorite part was having several students come up to me after the lesson and say, “I already did my secret mission. Can I have another one?” :)

Finally, I know the lesson made an impact because I received an anonymous card thanking me for the lesson. (One of the secret mission RAK’s was to make a card for your favorite teacher.)

The card said “To: A special someone, Merry Christmas. As you can see I hope you have a good Christmas and a happy new year. I really like you and I’m excited for today. I was happy that the class got to see you and I really liked the game and getting to pick the cards. All my love.

How kind is that? :)

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! :)