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.

13RW

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.

Mindfulness: Simplicity and complexity in one lesson

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When I returned to school after missing the first 8 weeks to take care of my nugget, I spent a lot of time trying to catch up. I’m still catching up. But one thing I couldn’t wait to get back into – visiting classrooms to do lessons! Still, I had to figure out how to start, since my beginning of the year wasn’t the beginning for everyone else (Does that even make sense? Sorry, I’ve got the mom brain).

mindfulness-tools

Anyway, I landed on mindfulness. Why? I am often incorporating mindfulness techniques in my individual sessions with students, and even in some form during classroom lessons. Basically, my students need it! And I decided it was best to teach it more explicitly to 100% of my students.

Here’s what I did:

To keep things simple, I introduced the topic in all K-6 classrooms, and stuck to doing 3 basic mindfulness activities.

  1. Mindful moment – we practiced keeping our bodies still and quiet while we listened to silence. I called it a listening game that began with a chime sound, and challenged them to listen to the chime as long as they could hear it, and then to stay quiet for a while longer to listen to any sounds in the room. They shared what they heard after the game was over, and we discussed if staying still and quiet was hard for any of them, and it was!
  2. Deep breathing – I used my mini sphere ball to help with the inhale/exhale rhythm. I knew this was going to be difficult for some of my students to do without getting silly, so I instructed them to just bring their focus back to the ball and no one else.
  3. Relaxation – in the younger grades, I played relaxing music while they each colored their own mandala however they wished. In most classes, this was the activity that really seemed to bring their energy to a nice, calm state. In the older grades, I played relaxing music while I read a guided imagery exercise about a magic carpet. The students could sit or lay around the room however they were comfortable.

There were of course some variations in what I did depending on the grade level. In K-1, I had the students do belly breathing while laying flat on the floor and watch their hands rise and fall with each deep breath. In K-3, I read the very short story called Take the Time by Maude Roegiers to help us talk about how mindfulness can help themselves feel better.  And in grades 4-6, students completed a stressed vs mindful emotions worksheet, to help us discuss how mindfulness strategies can help them reduce stress and focus on what’s important.

Also in grades 4-6, I asked each student to do an “exit ticket” by writing on a post-it about how mindfulness can help them. This was a way to summarize the lesson, see what they learned (what “stuck” with them), and to use as evidence about why mindfulness is important for our students to learn and practice. I have been blown away by many of their thoughtful responses!

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mindfulness post its3.jpg

While I was a bit worried how the lessons would go; if students or teachers would think it was silly or a waste of time, I have been very impressed so far! Many students have thanked me for the lesson and said they wish they could do these things everyday (which I tell them they can, of course!), and many teachers have enjoyed the calmness of the lesson and asked for more mindfulness resources to continue to use with their students.

If you would like a copy of the lesson plans I created with ASCA standards and the purpose/skills listed, please click on each link below:

Mindfulness grades K-1

Mindfulness grades 2-3

Mindfulness grades 4, 5, 6

If you would like access to free mandalas to print and color, go here: printmandala.com.

These lessons have been so much fun to teach, and leave me with a calm feeling too! Definitely a win-win! Hope you enjoyed reading and find these resources helpful. 🙂

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. 🙂

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

End of Year School Counseling Report 2015-2016

Newsletters 2015-2016

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WelcomTeenage Girl Working On Laptop Cliparte to another newsletter round-up! The last few years, I have shared the School Counselor Newsletters I put together for my teachers, staff, and parents/guardians. I hear from readers all the time that you appreciate the ideas to help you create your own. So, here’s some more!

Below are the newsletters from 2015-2016. Please click on the link to see each newsletter.

 

September, 2015 – Introduction newsletter (I began a new position at two schools, neither of which were very familiar with the role of a School Counselor)

October, 2015 – Building emotional awareness in children

November/December, 2015 – Communicating feelings (cotton/sandpaper lesson and E+R=O lesson) plus information about the school’s Civil Rights Team

January, 2016 – Self-esteem

March, 2016 – Kindness and how it can reduce bullying behaviors

April, 2016 – Mindset (difference between closed vs. open)

May, 2016 – Multiple Intelligences/Career Awareness

Information about my newsletters: I use Microsoft Word to make each newsletter. Using a lot of text boxes, I can manipulate the spacing and sizing of what I want to include. When I’m satisfied, I save it as a PDF document to share.

I am happy to share my newsletters to help you create your own. If you use most or all of one of my documents, please be respectful and give credit. Unfortunately, I can no longer provide editable versions of my newsletters, as the demand for this has become too overwhelming. Just be happy that I share for free. 😉

Thanks for your support!

School Counselor’s Role with Students At-Risk for Substance Abuse

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Here’s some information that was created and shared with me to help increase our awareness of substance use among our students. It got me thinking, as school counselors, are we doing enough? What do you think?


School Counselor’s Role with Students At-Risk for Substance Abuse — Infographic

In 2013, a study showed that 7,800 individuals tried drugs for the first time. An additional 12,500 reported drinking alcohol for the first time. One of the most troubling findings of this study was that well over half of these new users were younger than 18.

School counselors spend most of their time directly helping and communicating with their students, through issues both academic and personal. With drug usage so prevalent among youth, substance abuse is an inevitable issue school counselors will face throughout their careers.

Warning signs like academic decline, absenteeism, changing peer groups, and changes in attentiveness and grooming habits are all potential indicators that drug usage is beginning to impact a student’s life.  School counselors are invaluable when identifying and intervening substance abuse among individual students, but direct counsel is only one of many ways counselors can help in preventing substance abuse.

Students today are more likely to self-report drug usage than a decade ago, but they’re less likely to fully understand the risks associated with drug use. As illustrated in the infographic below, students are less likely to understand the risks associated with smoking marijuana, using heroin, or using cocaine than students surveyed over a decade ago.

Revealingly, these students are also less likely to report having been exposed to drug prevention messaging in their schools. Although these statistics reflect a downward trend, they illustrate that school counselors and educators alike have a great opportunity in reducing substance abuse by reinforcing their school’s drug-prevention policies and promoting drug-prevention messaging.

For instance, in one school district located in Escabana, Michigan, a community was able to reduce the rate of alcohol abuse over a span of seven years from 17% to just 7% by incorporating substance abuse prevention policies into their curriculum, conducting student messaging campaigns, and involving parents and youth agencies.

School counselors are fundamental in orchestrating the community involvement and policy changes needed to educate students and positively impact the rate of substance abuse in their schools. In the infographic below, produced for Bradley University’s Online Counseling Program, you can learn more about substance abuse statistics among K-12 students and how school counselors are capable of making a difference.

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A perfect combination: Mindsets and standardized tests

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Ahh, testing. In education, you can usually count on at least one time of the year when the energy in your school shifts. As School Counselors, I think we are in a unique position to see and feel the shift in our students, staff, administrators, parents, etc.

In my experience, this energy shift usually occurs slightly before, during, and shortly after state testing. And it comes as no surprise. Almost everything changes when testing comes along – schedules, closed doors, seating arrangements, staff assignments, access to materials like laptops, and my personal favorite: voice level expectations – it seems like everyone goes around whispering, even when no longer near a testing environment.

This year, I had a few teachers reach out to me about doing a lesson to address their students’ concerns and anxieties regarding the state tests. I thought about doing simple test taking strategies or stress reduction techniques, but then my previous work with mindset seemed to make the most logical sense. After all, how we think about things greatly impacts our stress level and ability to perform on challenging tasks.

So, I put together a lesson for my 3rd-5th graders to talk about the upcoming testing and mindset. I let the students share their thoughts and feelings about the tests – many admitted to feeling stressed, pressured, nervous, and worried. We then shifted to talking about what they thought mindset is, and the difference between open and closed.

I wrote a couple of statements on the board to help them understand the difference. Under closed mindset, I wrote: “I can’t do this” and “This is too hard.” They told me someone who said those things to themselves wouldn’t learn or do very well on the tests. Under open mindset, I wrote: “This is hard, but I’m going to keep trying” and “I can’t do this…yet.” Comparing the two, students commented on how much better someone who said the last two statements would learn and perform on test.

Closed Mindset Statements

Next came the fun part. We formed a circle and I put a recycling bin in the middle. I gave one student at at time a slip of paper that had a closed mindset statement on it. After reading it out loud, I asked the class how we could change the words to make it open mindset. Once I was satisfied that we really changed the words to change the mindset, I instructed the student holding the slip of paper to crumple it up as tightly as they could and chuck it into the recycling bin. My students had a blast with this activity!

Crumpled Mindset Statements

To wrap up, we watched Rock This Test! The video is adorable and the tune (set to “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz) is super catchy! I asked students to be thinking about what kind of mindset the students in the video have, and I let them share their opinions and reasons why afterward.

I received great feedback from students and teachers alike about this lesson and how they could easily incorporate mindset for not only the state tests, but any challenge they ask of their students!

If you would like to access the mindset statements I used in this lesson, please click here.

I hope this gives you another tool to address testing anxieties in your own schools! And if your school has already completed state testing, I’m sending an online high-five your way! 🙂

 

I hate that I have to write this

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The blog title is so true. I hate what I’m about to say. I hate even more that I have to say this after not blogging in over 7 months. Life has been busy, both professionally and personally, and unfortunately my blog has had to take a back seat to everything else.

Well, I’m back tonight because I need to address an issue that has been festering for a while.

The issue is plagiarism. The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.

First off, I need to say that I blog because I love what I do. I love to write about it and to share my ideas and thoughts from my own experiences. But that’s the thing – what I share are my ideas from my experiences. What works for me may not work for you. And that’s okay.

I also need to say that I choose to share for free on my blog. I do not have a TPT store and I do not intend to start one. I’ve been told I should sell some of my lessons or documents on there because people would actually pay to use them, but I do not. I choose to share for free.

With things like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, it should be no surprise to me that people are accessing my stuff and are using it in their own work. In fact, that’s the reason I share. I hope to help other School Counselors find what works for them. And I have, very successfully, for the almost 3 years my blog has been going.

The issue I need to address openly with you is when someone comes across something that originated on my blog – let’s say a document of some kind – and this person then “recreates” it and shares it as their own document. I’m not talking about people who like something I’ve done and find a way to use the idea in their own way in their own school (that’s why I share). I’m talking about the people who take my documents, change a few words or the overall outline so it looks a bit different, and then share it in groups such as the Elementary School Counselor Exchange (a place that currently has over 10,000 members) as their own brilliant work.

This has happened to me more than once. Imagine my surprise when I’m scrolling through the news feed and find a document that looks awfully familiar, only it’s been changed slightly and has been posted by someone saying they want to share it with others. Sometimes these posts have a disclaimer like, “This is a compilation of ideas that I’ve found online along with my own.” (By the way, this does NOT count as giving credit to the original creator.)

I get searching for ideas to use in your own school. I do that too. All the time. Thus the basis of starting my blog. But sharing someone else’s hard work as your own? And posting “your” idea in a group of 10,000 fellow School Counselors/Social Workers? And liking the comments as they roll in about how thankful they are that you shared your masterpiece? THAT I do not get.

And I’m not okay with it. It is hurtful and manipulative and unethical.

I’m not sure how I will change what I share so this stops. My work isn’t copyrighted and it’s not for sale. But it is my work.

So far, I’ll just start by writing about this issue publicly and openly, and hope that it starts a much needed conversation among bloggers and followers alike.

Please keep in mind how fortunate all of us are to have so many people willing to share their ideas for others to access and gain inspiration from. And please, please, don’t ruin it for the rest of us.