Not Forever But for Now – Talking with young children about the pandemic

Putting aside my excitement about being able to return to some in-person school this year, I really had to think about how to start my guidance lessons.

After all, it wasn’t a typical start to the school year. We hadn’t been together in person for almost six months, we were returning to smaller cohorts of students, and those students were expected to be physically distanced and masked. It would be different to say the least.

I wanted to be intentional about how I began guidance by addressing the elephant in the room so-to-speak: COVID-19. I hoped to give even my youngest learners a chance to acknowledge their feelings about all the changes – academically, socially, and emotionally.

After reading a few children’s books about the pandemic, I chose to read this one K-2 because I appreciate how it combines kid-friendly realities about the virus, feelings associated with all the changes, and relying on the comforts of familiarity to get through the hard moments.

I will admit I was a bit nervous to introduce conversation about the pandemic, given how heated and divided some of the discussions have been among adults. However, opening this up to my students was incredible – all of them had heard about the virus, knew why we had to wear masks, and connected over shared frustrations about our new rules.

In kindergarten and 1st grade, after reading the story, I allowed students to share any worries or hopes they had about this year. In 2nd grade, I gave each student A Worry and A Hope worksheet. Check out some of their responses below. There are definitely some themes!

Opening my guidance lessons this year in this way gave me an important reminder about validation and acknowledgement – when we feel heard, we can begin healing and moving forward.

And finally, I’ll leave you with this hope that I think we can all relate to! ๐Ÿ™‚

Opinion: Stay in your lane

This might get me some scorn, but this is my platform and I don’t censor my writing.

I have noticed before, and I am noticing it again, that there are school counselors who publicly announce their opinions, feelings, choices, and voting preferences surrounding national and local issues.

Now let me be clear. Each individual person has a right to their own opinions, feelings, choices, and voting preferences. This is America. That is your right.

But as school counselors, we are also professionals. We are in a profession in which we are leaders, advocates, influencers, mediators, and agents of change.

I understand some of us may see being an advocate and an agent of change as someone who needs to push a certain agenda because they truly believe in it. Some of us may see certain issues as having a clear cut right side and wrong side, and as such become lovers of certain things/people and fighters against certain things/people.

The problem with that is when we take sides, there is always a side we are casting away. And what if there are people – students, families, staff – who are cast aside when we do? Can we be effective school counselors if we are actively (even unconsciously) disregarding groups of people?

I say no. I say it is my job to stay professional. I say it is my job to remain open, nonjudgmental, and curious about people, viewpoints, and journeys different from my own. Otherwise, how can I serve 100% of my student population?

In education, there seems to be a covert and sometimes very overt pressure to believe in certain basic principles, to swallow certain “truths” without much evidence, to believe in certain political agendas, and to conform.

But I know there are educators, and people they are supposed to educate and serve, who don’t fit into that box. What then? Do their beliefs and feelings not matter? Are they wrong? Do they not get a chance and a choice in what happens?

In education circles, it often seems like pushing one side of an issue is the right thing to do, and people jump on board very quickly. But this feels wrong.

It has happened to me. I don’t fit into that box. When I dared to ask questions, to bring up flaws in the evidence used to push forward a certain belief, I was reminded to reread multiculturalism texts; presumably as a way to mold my mind back into what school counselors are “supposed” to belief. It was a subtle reminder that independent thought, outside of the accepted norm, was not really allowed.

Take this pandemic for another example. I have seen school counselors and teachers posting and sharing infographics and articles that very clearly support one side while shaming another. Other articles are straight up fear-mongering. Like we need to be practicing anxiety over the possibility of not returning or budget cuts for next school year. NO ONE knows what next year will look like yet. We’re not even finished this one! It’s not helpful.

And the colorful images telling students that wearing face masks is an act of love? It might sound sweet, but we need to think about ALL students and families. Not everyone can wear a mask, and how exclusionary this message is for them. Whatever you choose to believe in regards to masks, it’s not our place as professionals to tell others what to believe.

Again, you as an individual have the right to believe and do what you wish, as does everyone else. We are also professional school counselors, and we must remember that our roles are to serve everyone in our schools and their families, and we can’t do that if we are not open to ALL sides and ALL people.

I choose to stay quiet about a lot of things, especially before all the evidence or full story comes to light. And even then, in our world of social media, I resist the temptation to comment on things that are none of my business.

Not all thoughts need to be spoken out loud or posted publicly. We don’t need to broadcast every emotion. It’s okay to keep some things to ourselves.

Please don’t mistake my silence as blind acquiescence or conformity.

I choose to stay in my lane and run my own race. To move forward, quietly and confidently.

Good luck on your journey. I wish you the best.

Who’s the important person in the box?

Well, what a strange time we find ourselves in, folks. We’re home, trying to balance work and family, trying to figure out what working from home for school counselors even looks like (still figuring this one out), trying to limit our trips to the pantry for more snacks, all the while remembering that most of what’s going on around us is completely out of our control.

What is in my control is finding my moments of happy. Part of my happy is realizing that I actually have the time to update my blog! And the first update I want to do is share one of my most loved ‘feel good’ lessons.

This ‘feel good’ self-esteem lesson is one I usually do with kindergarten and 1st grade. I start with showing them the words self-esteem on a mini whiteboard and we briefly discuss that self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves, and basically, that it’s good to feel good about yourself!

In kindergarten, I read Be Who You Are by Todd Parr, which is always a delight! It’s all about loving and accepting yourself for who you are.

In 1st grade, I read I’m Gonna Like Me by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell. Also a fantastic book about liking ourselves, even when we make mistakes or come in last.

Then comes the best part. I take out a small cardboard box and I tell my students that there is a picture of a very special, very important person inside the box. I tell them they will each get a chance to peek at the very important person, but first, I want them to guess who it could be.

The guessing part is HILARIOUS. I have heard guesses like:

  • Themselves (there’s always one kid)
  • Their teacher (proving their teacher is like gold for them)
  • The principal (brown-noser….kidding!)
  • The president (depending on which news network their parents watch)
  • Their mom or dad (aww)
  • God (thoughtful answer, really)
  • Their pet (pets rule all for kids)
  • Me (good call, kid)

Next, I invite each student up, one at a time, to take a peek inside the box to see who the very special, very important person is. I tell them this part of the activity is to be SILENT. Nobody gets to talk about who they saw until everyone has had their turn. If there are any students I know will struggle with this much self-control, I call them up towards the end and prompt their silence again right before they look – this helps them be successful with this activity.

You guys, when they peek inside the box and see the important person, their smiles are everything!

After everyone has seen their own reflection, I call on each student (who wants to answer) and ask them specifically, “WHO did you see?” When they each answer “Me!” I ask them how that could be possible – was it a picture of all of them? They gleefully tell me it was a mirror.

Then I follow it up with asking them why in the world they think I would put a mirror inside a box, bring it to their classroom, and ask them all to look inside to see an important person? I get several responses usually – “For fun,” “To trick us,” and finally, someone will say, “Because you want us to know that we’re all important!” Ding, ding ding!

We end by reviewing self-esteem, and sometimes they want me, their teacher, or any helpers in the room to look inside the box too. ๐Ÿ™‚

This lesson is one I’ve repeated for several years, and it’s one that teachers and students usually remember because, well, it makes you feel good! I have found that even when I repeat this with 1st graders who remember it from kindergarten, they still enjoy it.

Have you done this lesson or one like it? I’d love to hear about it!

This is what anxiety looks like

Can you see it?

Take a minute to look over the picture above. Notice the details around the table. Do you see any patterns? Are the items grouped in a certain way? How is the space used? What feelings does this picture convey?

When one of my students chose to spend his 30 minutes with me carefully selecting animals, trees, vehicles, and scenery items, and even more carefully setting them up just so, I had an inkling that it might be difficult for him to clean up his work at the end of our time. So, I snapped this picture.

After painstakingly pawing through my bins of miniatures and standing them up in their rightful place, he told me what each part was, and he also had this to say: “This is my world. The world stinks and I wish it was like the one I made.”

Pretty incredible insight for a 1st grader if you ask me!

To me, this picture of his “world” is the epitome of trying to tame anxiety – of feeling like certain things are out of your control, and that when things are out of your control, it can feel pretty scary. To tame it, he created a “world” in which everything has it’s place and purpose; it’s black and white with no shades of gray.

Over my years as a school counselor, I’ve learned that anxiety can look like lots of things. It can look like the kid frozen in her seat, unmoving and non-responsive to your request. It can look like the kid bolting from the classroom. It can look like work avoidance. It can look like extreme silliness. It can look like hiding in the tiniest places imaginable. It can look like tears, or screams, or hitting. It can look like trying to be perfect. It can look like fingernails that are bitten down so low, they’re almost bloody. It can look like intense anger, an immature tantrum, or complete refusal. In some cases, it can look like pulling hair out until there are bald spots, yanking up glued down carpet, or digging at the wall so hard that it leaves holes in the drywall.

I have found that staying curious when a student is showing us behavior is our best option. It’s easy to dismiss a behavior as “just behavior,” and completely miss the anxiety underneath. But dealing with the outward behavior while not acknowledging and addressing the actual issue is a bit like pushing a car uphill instead of finding gas for the tank – you can make it (the kid or the car) do what you want for a while, but it won’t last and you will kill yourself in the process.

So, what do we do?

Here are a few strategies I have found useful when working with students exhibiting anxiety:

How do you help address anxiety with your students?

What we can learn from Sam

Five years ago (seriously can’t believe it’s been five years), I wrote about using the Weird Series by Erin Frankel. It’s one of my favorite units to do with students to teach about bullying, kindness, perspectives, problem-solving, self-esteem, self-care, etc.

This year, while reading the 3-part series, one of my second graders had a major breakthrough, and it seriously blew me away. While reading the last book from the character Sam’s perspective, one second grade boy raised his hand and said, “It’s like Sam is sad on the inside, but acting mad on the outside.”

Boom. Mind = blown. This, my friends, is why I absolutely love these books. Not only do students love them and become so engaged, the books help them understand pretty deep concepts in a kid-friendly way.

After hearing this second grader’s take on Sam’s feelings and behaviors, we discussed a little bit during that class. But I took his words with me and decided there was so much more we could do with this idea.

Enter my new wrap-up activity for the Weird Series! I sketched and colored a life-size Sam on paper and brought her with me to each second grade classroom, along with two separate colored post-its and markers.

I posed a couple of questions to each class. My first question was how Sam was acting on the outside, and I recorded several answers on the yellow post-its, and students got to stick the post-it somewhere on the outside of Sam’s body. My second question was how Sam was feeling on the inside. Again, I recorded their answers on pink post-its, and students got to stick the post-its on the inside of Sam’s body.

The yellow post-its around the outside of Sam say: dared others to be mean, told Jayla to be mean to Luisa, laughed when others were upset, bullying others, telling others what to do, acting cool, weird, mean, sabotage, mad, called names, and then nice/kind (after making some changes). The pink post-its inside Sam say: mad, guilty, happy, depressed, sad, good, jealous, embarrassed, and scared.

I was impressed with my second graders ability to dissect Sam’s character a little bit and talk about how she was feeling on the inside affected her actions on the outside. When we discussed why Sam may have been acting mean and why this may have felt safer than sharing her yucky feelings, I heard many students say that Sam might have been worried that others wouldn’t listen, or would make fun of her.

After this activity and discussion, students completed a worksheet all about self-care. They were able to circle activities or write in their own that would help them feel good if they ever felt how Sam did. Some activities on the worksheet included: reading a book, playing a game, spending time alone, talking to someone you trust, asking for a hug, going for a walk, and more.

What I’ve enjoyed most about doing this follow-up activity has been the long-lasting impact for my second graders. Later in the school year, we’ve used Sam’s character when trying to problem-solve peer conflict. When trying to understand why someone is doing what they’re doing, students have been able to exercise their empathy muscle and know that someone else’s behavior isn’t really about them; it’s about that person’s own feelings.

Instead of students immediately jumping to anger and retaliation when a peer does something mean, I see more students taking pause to ask themselves, “Why are they doing this? What’s going on for them?”

Isn’t that amazing? This is the kind of perspective and empathy that serves everyone! I’ll take it. ๐Ÿ™‚

What kind of follow-up activities have you done with the Weird Series? Let me know in the comments!

Another year in the books

Something kind of weird happened this year. For a while, I had chosen to stay home with my daughter, and I did so, for about 10 months. There was a lot I absolutely loved about just focusing on being a mom/wife. But guys, I missed being a school counselor. So much.

I’ll never forget when the school year was starting last fall, I experienced what can only be described as a mild situational depression. At first I attributed my sour mood to a bad case of FOMO after seeing lots of back-to-school pictures on social media. But it was more than that. I realized I was ready to return to a school setting.

Fortunately, I still had school connections and serendipitously, there was still a school counseling position open two months after the year had already started. I guess you could say it was meant to be.

The weird thing was even though I started late (and I hate being late), I felt almost no stress. And another weird thing – the staff just welcomed me, trusted me, and let me ease into it.

I feel content with what I was able to provide my students and staff in less than a full year, and I feel ready to expand my goals for next year.

About this report:

This year, I decided to add a small section about the top reasons for accessing the school counselor. Not only is this important for others to see, it’s important for my own reflection about my students’ needs.

To see this report a little bigger, click here: EOY Report 2018-19

If you’re a regular to my blog, you know that I make End of Year School Counseling Reports – you can check out my past reports by clicking on my Data category.

If you’d like to be super impressed (I am), check out this EOY Report by Laurie Mendoza. She loves data more than I do! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Basically, I’m back! And here’s a flyer…

Just like that. Six months have flown by without a new blog post. Oh dear. I’ve been meaning to get back to the blog. So here I am.

Almost a year ago, I shared that I had left the school counseling profession to restore balance to my life. And I did, sorta. For the 10+ months that I was not in a school counseling role, I focused a lot on transitioning my family into our new home, being a mom to my daughter, and figuring out my own self-care. But, I missed the work.

About three and a half months ago, when I was good and ready, I rejoined the school counseling world.

And what better way to celebrate than with a post about National School Counseling Week?! I almost overlooked it this year, but highlighting the work that I do is important, especially as a new person in my school.

Combining information from a flyer I created in previous years, I decided to make a new one with just a tiny snapshot of the data I collect to showcase some of the services I provide our students. Being transparent about my data lets my staff know how I spend my time.

Here’s what I plan to share with staff next week:

I hope you all can find some small way to celebrate National School Counseling Week in your schools! Check out ASCA for daily ideas.

The work we do is important. Don’t be afraid to say so! ๐Ÿ™‚

Using stations to teach mindfulness

This is the first end of August in the last 10 years (aside from one summer I was on maternity leave) ย that I am not preparing to return to school. I’m not creating my forms, planning out my scope and sequence for classroom lessons, or setting up my office. If you’re a regular to my blog, you know that about 7 months ago, I shared that I had resigned to stay home with my daughter.

Instead, I’m planning activities for my daughter and finding ways for myself to work and learn from home.

But, I did want to share a mindfulness lesson I taught last year to grades 4-6. I specifically want to share this lesson because I have taught mindfulness before, but this time I focused on hands-on experiences for the students. I didn’t just want to teach mindfulness and give them an opportunity to try one skill; I wanted them to be able to actually do it.

When planning this out for my older students, I had done some reading about school counselors using centers during their classroom lessons. I didn’t know if I could pull it off in the short time I had, but I decided to give it a try!

circles

I brought a bag full of items that I placed in different areas of the classroom. As I walked to each area, I put down a piece of paper with instructions for that center and briefly described what it was. I put students in 7 groups (very small on purpose), and then directed them to their first station. As time allowed, each group rotated through each station after approximately 3 minutes (sometimes shorter depending on lots of things). We finished by coming back to our seats and I had each student fill out an “exit slip” to rate which station was their favorite and why (great data for me and their teachers!).

Now, here come my positives andย negatives about this set up.

Positives:

  • Fast-paced for students with short attention spans. They tried something new every few minutes. Great way to combat boredom!
  • Students were able to actually do each mindfulness skill. They got to bend their body into happy baby pose and find a mantra that helped them feel good inside.
  • In most classrooms, the stations created such a positive buzz! Students were excited to be up and moving around!
  • This was an excellent way to model for classroom teachers how to have students try mindfulness (and see how natural it can be).
  • Having the tools used in the classroom back in my office was a great tie-in to the lesson. Students would see the breathing ball or glitter bottle and remember the lesson! I also had students request more mandalas to color in their classroom.
  • There was enough variety that most students were able to find a mindfulness skill that worked best for them.

Negatives:

  • Be prepared to run non-stop from station to station! This is not an “oh, I have them set up and they can do it independently” kind of thing. It is hands on, constant redirection, modeling, explaining over and over again, and then modeling again. Keep in mind that students’ knowledge base and comfort level with mindfulness will be all over the map, so they will need your encouragement! (Tip: If you’re being observed by an administrator, don’t pick this lesson to showcase your superb teaching abilities. It might look like a total cluster to an outside person, even if there’s a method to your madness!)
  • Time. Each of these stations could have been at least a 10 minute exercise, so sometimes students felt rushed through when they only had 2 or 3 minutes.
  • I felt like I needed 5 of me to be at each station to help model and talk students through the instructions. My constant close proximity around the classroom had to suffice.
  • Some students just won’t participate in a positive way. They might think it’s “babyish” or “stupid.” You’ve got to be okay with this kind of feedback. And don’t let it deter you.

Here is my Google presentation that I printed to use as instructions in each station.

*Note: I decided not to use the bubble wrap or pinwheel as stations just for planning purposes.

If you have ever tried stations/centers in your classroom lessons, let me know in the comments! ๐Ÿ™‚

Cha-cha-cha-changes!

I’ve been avoiding this. Over the last 6 months, I’ve had this conversation many times, with many different people. But to put the words into writing and publish them on my blog is a whole other thing.

You can’t ever really know where your life will take you, or how one decision might impact another. But when a change is needed, things just don’t quite feel right until you land on a decision. You can have a good think, a good sleep, a good talk, and then take a step forward.

My step forward was to leave the school counseling profession.

For now.

I am still a school counselor. And I really, truly hope to return to the profession when I’m good and ready. But right now, I am putting family first, which means sacrifices that I never thought I would make.

If you told me when I landed my first school counseling job that in 8 years, I would consider leaving the profession to be a better mom and wife, I would have laughed in your face. Seriously.

My reasons for leaving are quite varied, but it boils down to balance. My life felt very out of balance and I needed to do something. So I did.

I know not everyone understands my decision and that’s okay. What I understand is that this profession is really freaking hard and demanding, and I also understand that our current climate in education makes what we do even harder.

I’m choosing to maximize my self-care (something I have always struggled with), and I can’t wait to see what things I will find along the way!

As for this blog, it’ll still be here. I have lots of lessons I want to share and topics I want to write about, so stay tuned.

Thanks for reading and understanding. Take care of yourselves. ๐Ÿ™‚

new beginning

Presenting at MeSCA: Blog and let blog

Yesterday, I had the privilege of presenting a breakout session for the Maine School Counselor Association Conference. When I was first asked to present, I had initial self-doubt that told me to say NO! Then, my more rational brain told me that this is one of those experiences that can help you grow as a professional, and so, I said yes!

I have never felt so fancy, standing in front of about 30 people, with a little mic hooked onto my blazer that had shoulder pads (SHOULDER PADS!). I had a gigantic screen behind me showing my slides, and I was ready with SO many words to say about blogging. I can only hope that my presentation inspired a few other school counselors to join the blogging world!

MESCA

Anyway, I wanted to share my presentation with you all so you can see what I covered!

And here’s a link to the resource sheet I shared with information about how to start a blog, tips on starting a blog, and links to school counseling blogs to check out:

Blogging Resource Sheet

If you ever get the opportunity to present at a state or national conference, say YES! ๐Ÿ™‚