Using stations to teach mindfulness

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This is the first end of August in the last 10 years (aside from one summer I was on maternity leave)  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!

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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 and 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! 🙂

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Cha-cha-cha-changes!

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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. 🙂

new beginning

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!

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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! 🙂

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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