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! 🙂

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! 🙂

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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?

#ReachHigher is for Elementary School Counselors too!

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I’m jumping on a bandwagon of the best kind! I’m joining in on the #ReachHigher Photo Project to advocate for our profession and to show that ALL levels of school counseling are important! This project, created by Erin Mason at SCOPE, is a fantastic way to join the recent and, might I add, AWESOME advocacy for school counselors right now! Ever since First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about #ReachHigher at ASCA14, school counselors near and far are fired up for all the right reasons!

While #ReachHigher is geared toward increasing students’ college or post-secondary training readiness, elementary counselors lay the groundwork for this. We help students learn what it means to be a student and how to overcome challenges so they may access their education. Without elementary counselors, some students might be long gone (checked out) before they even reach high school.

Participating in the project is simple! Here’s what you need:

1. A goal that is specific and is geared toward increasing student achievement in some way at your school.

2. White paper (standard 8 1/2 x 11) and ink. Either write or type your goal on white paper, large and legible enough to be read by others. Start your goal with “I will #ReachHigher to…”

3. A camera and someone to take your picture while you hold up your paper. Make sure your paper is straight and that your smiling face can be seen clearly!

4. An email account to send your picture(s) to Erin Mason: erinmasonphd@gmail.com with “Reach Higher Photo Project” in the subject line. All photos must be sent to Erin by July 20, 2014.

Photos submitted by the deadline have a shot to be included in the slideshow that is being created for the college advising meeting on July 28th. The slideshow will also be available on SCOPE.

Okay, here are my contributions:

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This goal says: I will #ReachHigher to increase the number of small groups I facilitate for 5th graders to help themselves improve their self-esteem and be ready to learn.

 

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This goal says: I will #ReachHigher to increase the number of positive interactions among 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to create classroom environments conducive to learning.

 

 

 

 

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This goal says: I will #ReachHigher to increase the number of kindergarteners who use I-messages to solve conflict peacefully and contribute to a safe learning environment.

 

 

 

 

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This goal says: I will #ReachHigher to increase the number of random acts of kindness completed for staff to create a culture of caring and empowered educators.

 

 

 

I also came up with other goals when planning for this project. Here are more examples of elementary school counseling goals, in case you need some ideas or inspiration for your own!

-I will #ReachHigher to increase the number of 4th and 5th grade student leaders who help resolve peer conflict peacefully.

-I will #ReachHigher to increase the number of staff-student connections to improve school climate and create a safe learning environment.

-I will #ReachHigher to increase the number of 3rd graders who set academic goals for themselves.

-I will #ReachHigher to increase the number of staff using restorative dialogue with students to maintain a safe and respectful learning environment in our school.

Check out School Counseling by Heart for more examples of elementary goals. I encourage you to participate too! Imagine all the wonderful goals we’ll have for ourselves when this project is complete!

🙂

Three-day weekends

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Unless it's every weekend...

Unless it’s every weekend…

How many times have I heard this: “You have 3-day weekends? Every weekend? That must be nice.”

That’s right. I have 3-day weekends, which means I only work 4 days per week. Must be nice, right? Sometimes it is. Most of the time, though, it’s just plain annoying and inconvenient. That’s because even though I am considered “part-time,” I am still expected to do everything a full-time School Counselor would do. I just have fewer days to do it all. Talk about stressful!

I did some math to figure out how much time I’m missing by being in a 0.8 FTE (full-time equivalent) position:

180 total days x 0.8 FTE = 144 days per year that I work

180-144 = 36 days = 7 school weeks and 1 day

36 days x 7 hours a day = 252 hours

So, I’m missing over 7 school weeks. That’s 36 school days, which is 252 hours every year!!! WOW!

That got me thinking…how much am I missing when I’m not there? How many students need to talk when my office is dark and empty? How many teachers need to tell me something when I’m out? How many important parent meetings am I not included in that I should be? How many parents feel frustrated when they call and I’m unavailable for an entire day? How many crises occur which need my level of expertise and I’m not there to provide what’s needed?

Every year, I experience the feeling of being “out of the loop” when I return to school after missing a day, and I hate it. I have to play catch up while still doing all that I had planned. Of course, we all miss a day now and then. But I have to miss a day EVERY WEEK! Ugh.

However, I’ve come up with a plan. I keep track of everything I do already; that part will be easy. The next step is to create a report of all I do and how much time I’ve contributed to each part of my program. Because a lot of what I do is ‘behind the scenes’ so-to-speak, I want to make it really clear and obvious.

Part of my plan will also be to document all that I miss when I’m not there. Every time there’s a meeting, phone call, student, teacher, parent, crisis, etc. that needs my attention and I’m not able to provide it, I’m going to write it down. Then I’m going to create a report of everything I could have done if I were full-time.

It may not propel me into full-time status right away, but it’s got to open a few more eyes to the needs at my school.

I realize it could be worse. I could be 0.6 FTE (3 days a week) or have to cover more than one school, or have a crazy caseload of 700 students. I don’t have to contend with any of those things, for which I’m very lucky. I also realize there are many other counselors who are up against too many students or schools and not enough time. If you’re reading this and are in a similar situation, know that you’re not alone!

School Counselors are advocates, not only for our students, but for our profession. Creating a report of what I do and what I could have done is my small way of advocating. Wish me luck! 🙂

Is there room for me?

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School%20Counselors(2)
There I sat, unmoving in my seat, at a weekly staff meeting. The principal had just handed out papers outlining our school’s goals and objectives for the next school year. Listed over and over were academic goals about improving literacy and math. There was a small section on improving behavior through our school-wide PBIS program. Phew, something that has to do with what I do every day!

Ever feel like there is such a huge focus on academics in your school that you’re not sure if there’s room for you? I do. Most professional developments, staff meetings, and conversations are academically-based. And really, why shouldn’t they be? It is school after all.

Here’s why: because teaching behaviors is just as important as teaching academics. There, I said it.

Teaching behaviors includes everything from the behavior expectations in the areas around your school to teaching students how to treat one another (and this category is HUGE!). Think about it…if students are misbehaving, not following directions, being disrespectful to each other or their teacher, how much academic learning is getting done? Not much at all!

In my first couple years as a school counselor, I struggled with this concept even though I knew that teaching behaviors was important. I always felt like I was impeding on precious academic time if I asked to use some for classroom lessons or to have discussions with students. However, after a while, I gained confidence in this respect because I was providing a much needed service for the students and the staff. Eventually, most staff came to see this too and became more flexible with classroom time.

I had to make room for myself by becoming my own advocate. Here are some strategies I used to do this:
Be patient – especially if you’re starting in a new school. Get to know the schedule and ask teachers for the best times to pull students to talk and to schedule classroom lessons. You may have to work your way up to the classroom lesson schedule you’d like to have.
Be flexible – schedules change, especially in schools. Be willing to reschedule student meetings and classroom lessons as things come up for teachers. Doing this will make it a lot easier for yourself when you have to cancel in a classroom (and you will at some point!).
Get a set classroom schedule – in the very beginning of the year, go to teachers and schedule your classroom lessons weekly, biweekly, monthly, or however often you plan to do them. After you get your schedule set, send it out to ALL staff, including specialists, special ed, secretary, principal, etc. You want everyone to know what your schedule is as soon as possible to prevent interference.
Talk to your principal – it’s crucial that your principal knows what direction your counseling program is going. Let him/her know how often you’re in classrooms, how many groups you’re facilitating, how many students you usually see individually on a weekly basis, etc. Make your hard work known!
Speak up at staff meetings – let your staff know how you contribute to the school’s behavioral AND academic goals, since both impact each other. Are there specific lessons or initiatives you’re doing that are having an impact on student behavior? Talk about it!
Share the ASCA standards – let your staff know that you have a curriculum to teach, just as they do. They may not want to read all about the 3 domains school counselors teach, but you can give them some information about each.
Publish a newsletter or blog – on a regular basis, get your name out into the community and share all the wonderful things you’re doing. This is a great way to communicate with parents and administration about the importance of your job.
Collaborate – find someone in your school who believes in teaching positive behaviors as much as you do. There’s usually at least one person and he/she can be a great resource.
Contribute to your school – join at least one team. Whether it is PBIS, Sunshine Committee, guidance steering committee, safety team, etc., show that you have ideas and enthusiasm to share, and that you’re a team player.
Believe in yourself – know that as a school counselor, you are a professional in possession of unique skills and education that truly make an impact on the students you serve. No one else in the school can do what a school counselor can!

Finally, always keep this thought in mind:
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” –William James