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 ūüėČ ).

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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. ūüėČ

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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. ūüôā

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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.)

Back

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. 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

Summer, please stay for a while

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It was exactly one year ago today that I posted my End of Year Report for 2014. It was also one year ago today that I shared that my fourth year as a Professional School Counselor was the¬†hardest of my short career thus far. Well, I think my fifth year was in competition for that title. And, it may have won. The jury’s still out.

The added challenge for me this year was that I left a school I adored in April to join a vastly different one. I was expecting a challenge, but joining a new school mid-year is not for the faint of heart! I knew within the¬†first week at my new school that it wasn’t a good fit, but I had to finish what I started.

And¬†I did. I officially finished there today, and while I will miss certain things about it, I am so glad it’s over. Now I’m free to focus on finding my “just right” school again.

Before I walked away, though, I spent some time looking at my data from my short April-June stretch to complete a report for the year 2015. It’s a basic look at the raw numbers of what I did in the three months I was there. Click on the picture for a PDF version.

EOY_2015

 

I’ve come to really enjoy putting together an EOY Report. It keeps me accountable and allows me to feel good about what I accomplished.

Now, onto my summer. ūüėé

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.