Presenting at MeSCA: Blog and let blog

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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! 🙂

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New year, new things

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The beginning of a new school year. A fresh start. It’s one of my favorite parts of the year! Teachers are refreshed and willing to try new things, and students are generally excited to be back at school.

I’m starting this year feeling a bit weighed down by some heavy feelings, but with some self-care and a focus on the positive impact I can have, I’ll get there. Eventually.

I made some updates to my office, as well as the program documents I use, and so I want to share them with you!

The entrance to my office. I added the colorful lanterns (which are from my daughter’s 1st birthday party 😉 ).

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The table area of my room. I added the “Color Me” poster for students to color in when they visit.

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My desk area. The only “new” thing here is updated photos of my daughter. 😉

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Shelves area showing the counseling tools and games that get used quite often.

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My favorite area showing my favorite new thing – a couch! I have always had a vision of a counseling office with a couch area for the comfort factor, and I’m lucky enough to have a space big enough for one. Also, the sequins pillow has quickly become a favorite for students (and adults) when they visit! It is so soothing. 🙂

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This was my VERY last minute set up for open house! I had a whole bunch of Starbursts so I printed a quick sign to put out with some of my update brochures, and voilà! (I always find that offering some kind of treat pulls people in.)

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Here’s a colored picture of my updated brochure, because I found they don’t print so well in black and white! I made this brochure using a free app through Google Drive called Lucidpress. (If you want to see the whole brochure, click on the photo.)

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And finally, I updated my student referral form. Previously, I had students check off if they needed to meet about a small or big problem, and that language just wasn’t working for me. Instead, I added options that students might need to meet about to help guide their thinking and self-advocacy. I print these, cut them, and keep them in an envelope in the mailbox on my door for easy access for students to take as they need. Click this link to see the form: Student Referral Form.

Here’s to another school year doing what we do! Best of luck. 🙂

 

The dark side of advocacy

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This is a hard one for me to write. When I think about why it’s hard, I immediately think about the school counseling profession and how much I love it. This career is what I have wanted and worked for. It’s challenging, fun, fast-paced, requires flexibility and humor, and is so, so rewarding. It can break your heart and make you smile all in the same hour.

This profession also requires constant learning and advocacy. In the seven years that I’ve been a School Counselor, I have learned so many things about serving my students and been humbled by the things I do not yet know. One thing I’m sure of, though, is the need for constant and repetitive advocacy for our profession.

If it’s not advocating for the name change from guidance counselor to School Counselor, it’s advocating for appropriate job responsibilities that align with our training and ethics.  If it’s not advocating for more direct service time, it’s advocating for fewer lunch duties, smaller caseloads, or to not be written into 504 plans.

The biggie for me, at least lately, is advocating for the need to have a certified/licensed School Counselor in the role of the School Counselor. Seems straightforward, right? Well, it becomes murky when districts put non-School Counselors in that role, either to meet other needs or because they truly don’t know any better.

Enter my current reality. Only in my case, I have done the needed advocacy for more school counseling services. I have collected the data, analyzed the data, made it into pretty charts, and shared it when asked and even when not asked. I have spoken up, met with my admin, educated about my role over and over again, answered questions about why the role of a social worker is different than that of a School Counselor (and shielded scorn when people play the “who’s more qualified?” game).

And yet, it seems my advocacy has not lead to more effective school counseling services.

In fact, it feels like my advocacy has lead me backwards.

Keep-Moving-Forward.jpgAnd it’s a very dark place.

I am tired.

Is this why so many School Counselors leave the profession? Or leave their school(s)?

Advocating can feel like a full-time job in itself, in a job that’s already very full. Advocating can also feel a bit like banging your head against a wall. It’s messy and it’s unfair. And still, it’s necessary.

So, onward I go.

One of the ways I use my blog is to share about hot topics in school counseling, and the dark side of advocacy is certainly one of them. Writing it down and sharing my words is cathartic and scary. I can only hope that by putting myself out there, I can connect with and inspire other School Counselors to keep on keepin’ on.

If you ever feel like you’re in the dark, let this be a tiny bit of light.

Thanks for reading and understanding. I needed this.

Book Review & Giveaway: “Bubble Gum Brain”

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Being a blogger can sometimes come with some pretty cool perks. When I am sent the latest Julia Cook book, FOR FREE?! That’s the best. And when I’m asked to do a review and giveaway for my readers?! Even better!

My school counselor library boasts quite a few Julia Cook books already. She is one of my go-to authors to creatively address many social-emotional learning topics. Her latest book, Bubble Gum Brain: Ready, Get Mindset…GROW!, discusses one of my favorite SEL topics – growth mindset.

bubble gum brainI believe that teaching growth mindset explicitly is crucial for our students. I cannot wait to add this piece of literature to my future classroom lessons! In her usual creative fashion, Julia Cook uses two characters – one with a bubble gum brain (representing growth mindset) and one with a brick brain (representing fixed mindset). Readers will quickly see that having a bubble gum brain, one that can flex, stretch, and expand his/her thoughts, leads to a lot more fun and a lot more learning!

While I love bubble gum brain’s antics, I must say I have a soft spot in my heart for brick brain, who reminds me so much of many of my students, who struggle with new things and hold onto fears that block their growth. I know they will be able to relate to this character.

My favorite pages in the whole book are page 10 and 23, because both talk about THE POWER OF YET. I use this language with my students already, and this book will naturally fit into the conversations I am already having.

Another powerful message in this humorous story is that having a growth mindset is a choice! The words colorfully show that all of us can choose to stay stuck in our negative thoughts, or we can choose to try, make mistakes, and learn how to be hopeful. What an important, life-changing conversation for our children to have!

What I like most about Bubble Gum Brain is the way Julia Cook uses adventure and fun to draw young readers in, while teaching a critical social-emotional skill – growth mindset – in a very real, life-like way. I can already see so many uses for this book, including classroom lessons, individual “booster” sessions, as well as guiding parents to help their own children develop growth mindset using the convenient “Tips for Growing a Child’s Mindset” in the back of the book.

If you are interested in receiving a free copy of Bubble Gum Brain for your own library, please comment below with how you would like to use this book with your students. All entries will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. on July 10, 2017. One winner will be chosen.

Good luck and thanks for reading! 🙂

 

What an honor: Named a Top Counseling Blog of 2017

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Kayla Marston

Top Counseling Blog Author, School Counselor, Author of The School Counselor Kind

Interview with The School Counselor Kind and Author Kayla Marston

About Kayla: Kayla Marston is an Elementary School Counselor in Maine. She graduated with her Masters in Counseling Education in 2010 and has been growing as a counseling professional ever since. Kayla’s professional experience includes building safe and connected school communities by implementing Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Restorative School Practices. She was married on Halloween (her favorite holiday!) and together, she and her partner take care of their two dogs and one amazing 10 month old baby girl. She loves writing, sunshine, autumn leaves, staying organized, yoga, and animals.


[OnlineCounselingPrograms.com] When and why did you originally start a blog about school counseling?

[Kayla Marston] I began my blog, The School Counselor Kind, in July of 2013, almost four years ago, because I love to write and because I wanted to contribute to the profession. After reading several other school counseling blogs, I felt I had a strong voice to add to the mix.

[OnlineCounselingPrograms.com] What do you hope to achieve by maintaining The School Counselor Kind?

[Kayla Marston] Throughout the almost four years that my tiny blog has been going, I have been inspired by, humbled by, and connected to more school counselors and educators than I ever thought possible. I love that by sharing my voice and honest feelings about the challenging work that school counselors do, I am offering ideas, respite, and validation for others in this field.

[OnlineCounselingPrograms.com] The post we highlighted, “Responding to 13 Reasons Why,” has sparked many impassioned and varied responses on your blog. What do you think is a teaching moment for your students that resulted from this series?

[Kayla Marston] I work with elementary aged students, so most of my conversations about this series have been with colleagues and parents/guardians who needed support in how to approach the sensitive topics with their students and children. The most important teaching moment for adults and children alike has been about open communication. We need our children to know that they can come to us about anything, and that we will listen.

[OnlineCounselingPrograms.com] How do you come up with new ideas to blog about?

[Kayla Marston] When I first began my blog, I started a list of topics that I wanted to blog about. I still have that list. It includes everything from classroom lessons I have done to my unfiltered thoughts about the somewhat tricky parts of our daily tasks. I like to add my voice to existing topics already blogged about (like advocacy for our profession) and I like to write about things that others aren’t (like things you should never, ever say to a school counselor).

[OnlineCounselingPrograms.com] You mention that you’re currently working at two elementary schools. How do you guard against burnout in juggling the many different needs of these distinct student populations?

[Kayla Marston] Burnout is a serious concern for me. I currently have a student-to-counselor ratio that is much higher than the ASCA recommended amount. I also spend exactly half of each week in each of my schools, which means I miss exactly half of each week in each of my schools. Basically, I am always late to the party, and I hate being late. To guard against burnout, I try really hard to focus on the school I am in at the time, and nothing else. I stay organized, and I reserve small amounts of energy for advocating for more school counseling services, which gives me the hope I need to keep going.

[OnlineCounselingPrograms.com] Have you found any useful ways to spread awareness about the school counselor’s role through your blog?

[Kayla Marston] Yes! By sharing documents that I create for my own school(s), I hear from other school counselors who are able to tweak the documents for their own use, which means awareness of our role is spreading. I also share the newsletters I create every year, which I hear from readers they love to look at to help spark their own ideas. The more I can inspire other school counselors to advocate for the important work we do, the better! I have also heard from administrators, teachers, and parents who have visited my blog, so I know the content is being absorbed from multiple sources, which can only help our cause.

[OnlineCounselingPrograms.com] What do you mean when you say, “We are one of few” as your blog’s slogan?

[Kayla Marston] I chose the name “The School Counselor Kind” with the line “We are one of few” because I truly believe we are. As school counselors, we are irreplaceable links that connect the students, staff, and communities we serve. It takes a very special kind of person to do the job that we do!


Thank you, Kayla! Learn more about The School Counselor Kind on our Top Counseling Blogs list.

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EOY Reflections, and of course some data

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Less than a week ago, I wrapped up quite an interesting school year. I am still mid-reflection about how my school year went, but I feel ‘interesting’ is a solid word choice to describe it. For lots of reasons…

  1. I started late. 8 weeks late to be exact, due to taking maternity leave. It is the strangest feeling to be just getting started when everyone else is already knee deep in student issues, concerns, schedules, etc. Would I change the time I took? Absolutely not. At the same time, it set me up for a challenge, that’s for sure.
  2. Speaking of maternity leave, this was my first year trying to balance two full-time jobs. When I didn’t have my school counselor hat on, I had my mom hat on. Sometimes, I had both on at the same time. Insert #momguilt here. 
  3. This school year seemed to be filled with crisis experiences, either first hand or second hand. Either way, I had my state’s 24/7 crisis hotline number memorized by about January.
  4. Because of the many hours crisis work takes, I had to make a very difficult decision this year. I am split between schools, and furthermore, I was being split between my proactive, preventative services and my reactive, responsive services. I couldn’t do both effectively, and so, I had to push pause on delivering classroom lessons. This about killed me to do, but I felt I had to in order to handle each crisis with the care it deserved. 
  5. I got to work with some new professionals this year, both in district and out of district. Each added knowledge and expertise that helped me grow as a school counselor.

Along with my reflections, I want to use this post to share my school counselor newsletters I created this year, as well as my end of year report.

School Counselor Newsletters

As in previous years, I like to share my newsletters that I create for staff, parents/guardians, and community members. This year, because I was not able to do as many classroom lessons as preferable, I focused my newsletters on topics relating to common issues I found myself discussing with parents/guardians, students, or colleagues. I had planned to publish two newsletters per trimester; I fell shy of that goal due to reasons #1-3 above.

Anyway, here is what I was able to publish! I am happy to share them to help you create your own. As always, if you use most or all of one of my documents, please be respectful and give credit. Click on each link to see the newsletter.

Trimester 1 (November) – Mindfulness introduction and a blurb about my upcoming school counselor website.

Trimester 2 (January) – Helping children cope with “big” feelings through validation, education about the brain, and self-regulation skills.

Trimester 2 (February) – Importance of connection and understanding the root of behaviors from a new perspective.

Trimester 3 (May) – Media and screen time influences on children and how to set media guidelines.

End of Year Report

I have come to truly love collecting data to put in an EOY report. I love the accountability it provides for what I do each day. I love the validation I get from seeing the actual numbers for services I provide to my students. And what I love the most is when my data  is used for actual change. This year, my mid-year and EOY reports were collected and analyzed to consider INCREASING school counseling services in one of my very needy schools. HOW FREAKING AWESOME IS THAT?!?!

Because I know my reports are being looking at by administrators, among others, I decided to add a couple of things to my EOY report this year. First, I added a section to my google form I use for note taking: scheduled/planned vs unscheduled/unplanned meeting. That means that every time I inputted a new note after meeting with a student, I checked off whether it was a meeting I had planned for or not. I was then able to use this information to see the percentages of my scheduled vs unscheduled time in responsive services (you’ll see these percentages in the report below). 

The second thing I chose to add to my actual EOY report is a summary and take-away section. I realized that I knew exactly what my numbers mean because they are MY numbers; I am immersed in this data all year long. However, others are not. If someone is looking at my data for the first time, they might be impressed or they might not be, especially if they don’t know exactly what the numbers mean for our actual students. This year, I wanted it to be crystal clear what my data is showing as far as the needs in my schools and the vast differences in the services provided. 

Click on the picture to view the full report.

EOY Report 2016-17

Thanks for reading my reflections and viewing my newsletters and EOY report. I hope you have found something useful here for your own important work. 

Enjoy your time! 🙂 

Summer-School

Responding to 13 Reasons Why

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There are times and trends in pop culture that lead me to worry, or wonder, or fear how it might impact my students. 13 Reasons Why is one of them. The series is already claimed to be the most watched that Netflix has ever produced. If you have not watched or heard about this series, it follows a high schooler who has received 13 cassette tapes made by a classmate before she died by suicide; the tapes explain her 13 reasons for killing herself, essentially uncovering dark secrets that caused her suicide.

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Okay, I have to say that I did watch this series, even before I heard the rumblings on social media. The rumblings include everything from praise for the show for not shying away from difficult topics like bullying, sexual assault, and suicide, to criticism for romanticizing the act of suicide. The thing about this show is, it puts you on an emotional roller coaster from the very first episode, and leaves you shaken. It is graphic, often times uncomfortable, and still, keeps you wanting to watch until the very end. This is not a series that you can move on from immediately after finishing; the story line and images stick in your mind.

After seeing many conversations about the series on social media, I saw some parents writing in about allowing their children to watch the show to “prepare” them for middle and/or high school. AND THIS IS WHEN I KNEW I NEEDED TO PREPARE MYSELF TO RESPOND AS A SCHOOL COUNSELOR.

Over this past week, I have read articles, blogs, and editorials about responses to this series to get a pulse on the impact. Still, I didn’t feel prepared enough to address any concerns stemming from this series in my own school. Yes, I work at the elementary level, but I fear that there are upper elementary students binge watching this series and perhaps not even talking to their parents about it, because their parents might not even be aware they have watched it at all. This, THIS, is scary and unacceptable.

Yesterday, I participated in a webinar facilitated by several experts in the field of suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. Each of them brought their expertise to the topic of how educators in particular could and should respond to this series. Needless to say, there are a lot of concerns about how the sensitive topics are handled in the show.

Here are a few of the concerns:

  • This show is FICTION, though many people (children and adults alike) are taking the show as the reality for many high school students today.
  • The graphic depictions of bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, and suicide can be very triggering, especially for anyone who is or has struggled with any of these things.
  • Young people may over identify with the characters in this show, particularly the main protagonist, Hannah, who dies by suicide.
  • The show very much over-simplifies suicide. The majority of people who have suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or die by suicide, have an underlying mental illness that they need professional treatment for. This show does not mention mental illness, or specifically, depression, at all. Not even once.
  • The 13 tapes created by Hannah before her death romanticize the ability to speak to people “from the beyond.” This is completely unrealistic. The tapes would have taken a rational mind to create; Hannah was not thinking rationally near the end of her life. In fact, most people who die by suicide end up acting impulsively at the very end. Suicide notes are not common.
  • One theme through out the show is the blame and shame placed on Hannah’s classmates (and the School Counselor) for her suicide. At one point, a character in the show says, “We ALL killed Hannah Baker.” Suicide survivors already tend to feel guilt when someone they care about dies by suicide; this is a dangerous and hurtful message to send.
  • The other theme through out the show seems to be about how kindness can save lives. Sounds great, right? After all, we want our children to be kind. However, Hannah references in almost all of her tapes that if that person had just done one thing differently, she might not feel as badly as she does. In the last episode, Hannah says, “Some of you cared. None of you cared enough.” Kindness is not enough; suicidal ideation requires PROFESSIONAL help! Again, this is not mentioned AT ALL in this series. Let’s not let the message to our children be that if they had just been more kind to so-and-so, maybe they wouldn’t have killed themselves. Talk about guilt!
  • The adults in this series, yikes. None of them appear to know how to help when they see their children/students struggling, or they don’t have the time. This is also a very dangerous message. The School Counselor in the series, Mr. Porter, is cringe-worthy when it comes to his responses to Hannah in the last episode. He is dismissive, distracted, and unhelpful. We need our children to know that there ARE adults who will listen and who know how to help them.
  • There are little to no help-seeking behaviors shown in this series. Hannah appears to be helpless and hopeless. The series offers no alternatives to suicide as a means to deal with serious problems. (I have to add that there is a follow up to this series, Beyond the Reasons, showing the producers, cast, and mental health professionals discussing how to get help for these kinds of issues, though there is NOTHING about it in the actual show.)
  • Contagion. Experts in this field know that research shows that young people are more likely to attempt or die by suicide themselves after experiencing a suicide death of someone close to them (about 4 to 5 times more likely). You might say, “But this is just a show. They don’t really know Hannah.” And you would be right, except that there has already been an increase in young people who are attempting suicide in the same way depicted in the show. Contagion is real.
  • Finally, producers of this show claim to have consulted suicide experts and media portrayal experts. The truth is that they did not consult said experts until after the show was already completed.

Here are a few resources to prepare yourself for potentially hard conversations:

I am not saying we should not watch this show. What I am saying is if you live with or work with young people, you need to be prepared to process this material with them. If it leaves adults shaken and heartbroken, imagine how it leaves our children. Do NOT let them watch this without an adult to process with.

Hopefully this post will be found helpful for someone! And School Counselors, let’s continue to be the best listeners and problem solvers for our students that we can be! We are needed now more than ever.