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! ūüôā

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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.

I’m still on last school year

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Plans of blogging and sharing experiences from last school year have gone a bit awry. Please forgive me. I’ve been very busy the last 10 months and this is why:

mombaby

Miss Connelly Ren was born August 1, 2016.

I’ve joined the world of moms and it. seriously. takes. over.

So while you are already well into the¬†new school year, I’m still home with my little nugget. I’m all yoga pants, diaper changes, and baby snuggles. No complaints here!

Although I will say it is SO weird not to be at school. The beginning of the school year is one of my favorites, so I harbor a tiny bit of sadness to be missing it.

Anywho…

If you follow my blog, you may know that last year, I joined two new schools. Being split is something new for me, so I spent a fair amount of the year trying to figure out how to balance my role in each school. It wasn’t easy. It was busy and hectic and not ideal. But I did my best to be fully present in the school I was at while I was there and offer what I could. Many days that didn’t quite feel like enough (because it’s not).

You probably know that I’m a big fan of doing End of Year School Counseling Reports to showcase how I’ve spent my time and what the School Counseling Program provided over the course of the school year. Well, since I had two schools, both of which held very different needs, I decided to do a ¬†comparative report that would show numbers from various parts of my comprehensive program side by side.

I wanted to take the time to share this report here because the more we document and share what we do, the more likely we are to increase understanding and support for our roles. In my case of split schools, the report also serves as a means to advocate for being where I’m needed most. When you have data to back up what you’re saying, it makes those conversations a little more powerful. ūüôā

Take a look! (Click the link to see the full report.)

End of Year School Counseling Report 2015-2016

Beginning of year office photos & info

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In June I blogged about my struggle to find my ‘just right’ school. You must be wondering, did she find it?¬†Well, I’m very happy to say that I did. In fact, I found two ‘just right’ schools! I feel so good about joining both of my schools that I haven’t even really been stressed about it, which I have to say is a welcome change.

In honor of finding my ‘just right’ schools, I’d like to share some photos of one of my offices since I put in a lot of work to make it welcoming and kid-friendly. My other office is still coming together.

Entrance

Entrance

Shout Out Wall

Shout out wall for students to write messages

Welcome

Welcome to my room!

Books and Desk

My bookshelf and my desk

Desk

My desk

Shelves

Shelves with games and toys

Walls

Counseling signs

Table Area

Table area, bean bag chairs, feelings posters

Calm Down Corner

Calm down corner

Breathe Relax

Positive message for students

Worry Stones

Worry stones

Worry Eaters

I love my new Worry Eaters from Child Therapy Toys!

I’d also like to share two documents that I created to help educate staff about my role. One of the unique things about my two schools is that they haven’t had a School Counselor in a very long time. Lucky for them, they’ve hired a School Counselor who loves to advocate! ūüôā

On the left is an intro letter to staff and on the right is a document that explains what a School Counselor does. You can click on each picture to access the document.

Intro Letter to Staff pic       What Does a School Counselor do pic

I hope you enjoyed the tour and I wish you a successful school year! ūüôā

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! ūüôā

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.

Hey, that is NOT our job

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

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

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

What a shame! What a waste!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who doesn't love a little grumpy cat?

Who doesn’t love a little grumpy cat?

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

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

What can we do?

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

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

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