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.

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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!

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! 🙂

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.

Things I learned from Carla (Miss Davis)

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We probably all know a Bradley Chalkers. A kid who struggles with social nuances and takes things a little too literally at times. A kid who, fed up with trying to understand others, retreats into his own world of loneliness, only opening up to miniature plastic animals in the safety of his bedroom. And a kid who attempts interactions with peers through intimidation, threats, and lies, and begins to believe that he truly is the monster everyone has written him off to be.

It’s the Bradley Chalkers of this world who really need School Counselors, and who remind us that there is good in everyone, even the supposed monsters.

theresaboyinthegirlsbathroomI recently ordered and read There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom by Louis Sachar to incorporate into a student book club next school year. The story, while written for 8-12 year olds, holds the most important messages for adults.

I immediately liked Miss Carla Davis, the new School Counselor at Red Hill School in the book. I could identify with her. She was eccentric, played by her own rules, and most importantly, she was there for her students above anything else. 

Carla taught me a few things and reminded me of the essence of my chosen profession. I’m so thankful for Carla. In keeping with the nature of the beautiful relationship between Bradley and his School Counselor, here’s a letter from me to Carla, explaining all that she taught me.

Dear Carla, 

I believe in paying it forward and sharing the great things I see. And you, Carla, are great. I am inspired by your tenacity to put your students above everything else at your school. It’s not easy to do this when administrators and parents are not understanding of your role or your reasons for doing what you do.

You have reminded me of two of the most important aspects of School Counseling. One being unconditional positive regard. You always believed in the best for your students and they felt it. You weren’t jaded by other peoples’ opinions of certain students and you refused to believe that any child was a monster. Students need someone to believe in them, no matter what. Thank you for reminding me of that.

The second most important aspect of School Counseling that you display with such ease is meeting each student where they are at. You know that you can’t start talking to a student about homework completion when they don’t even have safe place in their classroom. You  know that if a student is bringing up monsters from outer space, it’s a topic to be explored because there’s something to it for that student.

I love that you let students think for themselves, instead of being the great problem solver you’re sometimes expected to be. By letting students come to their own solutions, you are allowing them to build the self-esteem needed to try new things.

What I admire most is that you don’t squander from your professional values, even when put in the hot seat by administrators and angry parents. This is a great role model for School Counselors all over who are given inappropriate tasks that take away from their students, but who are often afraid to speak up or to say no. You light the way for all of us!

Lastly, I want to say that I sincerely hope you return to School Counseling eventually. The profession needs great people like you.

Love,

Kayla

Dear Teachers, Inconsistency Breeds Bad Behavior

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Open letter to teachers imageI want to start by saying that I love and admire the teachers I work with everyday. Each of them has superhuman strength in their own way. I know they have one of the hardest jobs in the world and they do it with a smile. I also know they absolutely love their students and often call them their “kids” because they truly are for the year they spend together. 

But, there’s a big difference between a loving teacher and an effective teacher.

The following is an open letter to teachers who love their students and try their best everyday, and who struggle with creating a classroom environment conducive to respect, responsibility, and order. We all know them and we probably all have a few in our schools. From a School Counselor’s point of view, these teachers are the hardest to work with because they mean well but when things inevitably fall apart, we are called upon to fix the mess. 


 

Dear Teachers,

Thank you. For your warm smiles, gentle hugs, and creativity you share everyday with your students. You are amazing.

I know teaching is hard. You have more demands placed on you than ever before, and more challenging behaviors popping up in your classrooms every year. I also know you wish that your efforts would produce more peace in your classrooms. I know you’re frustrated.

Perhaps my observations and advice might be helpful.

The kids in your classrooms haven’t changed, but the world they were created in has. More and more of your kids are coming to school from homes that often feel unsafe or unhealthy. Many of your kids have been exposed to trauma, some repeatedly. They are coming into your classrooms unprepared, anxious, and scared, although they may not outwardly show you this.

The kids in your classrooms have a desperate need to feel safe, cared for, and like they belong. They need a classroom that is organized and predictable.

The classroom rules you create together the first week of school, they need to be followed. Everyday. They need to be displayed in the room and reviewed regularly. Your kids need to know that these rules matter. If they don’t, many of your kids will begin to feel a need to control the environment because the adult is not. They might start acting up and getting others to join them. While these behaviors might seem “out of character” and bizarre to you, they are a scream for you to hear what the child needs. Please listen.

The behavior management chart that’s hanging on the wall, the one in which students move their names or flip their colors, it needs to be explained explicitly and used consistently. If you’ve taught your kids about respectful and responsible behavior, as well as what warrants a move/flip on the chart, they need to know you’re going to hold them accountable. Use your chart. If you don’t, your kids might view the chart as meaningless and their behavior isn’t likely to change. If you only use the chart when you’re really frustrated, your kids will be confused and might feel unsafe in your classroom. You might even see an increase in problem behaviors as a result.

The individualized behavior charts you’ve created (or had help creating) to assist a few of you’re “heavy hitters,” they need to be worked on with each child and used consistently (there’s that word again!). If used as a threat for not earning rewards, your kids might turn more toward their “heavy hitting” behaviors because those might be more rewarding or predictable than the chart. If used inconsistently, your kids are likely to feel even more like a failure than before the need for a chart was prompted in the first place. This will inevitably breed more problem behaviors.

The consequences you decide upon when your kids misbehave, they need to be followed through on no matter what. When your kids show tears, tantrums, and emotional outbursts upon earning a consequence, please know they are working through their behavioral choice. They have earned the consequence; you didn’t give it to them. If you attempt to appease their feelings and make it better with a bribe (stickers, toys, one-on-one time with you), you are taking away their right to self-soothe. They will work through the difficult feelings in time, after which you can process with them if needed, but not a moment before. The consequences should be determined before behaviors occur, so you are not left to dish them out in the heat of the moment, and so the link between behaviors and consequences is clear and consistent.

The older siblings, parents, or aunts and uncles of the kids in your classrooms who you’ve had before, are not the same. The kids you have now deserve a clean slate and expectations that match their individual abilities. If you know your kids are going to be trouble because their brother/sister/mother/father was, then you can expect trouble.

If you call upon the services of your School Counselor to help with the “heavy hitters,” please know that there’s only so much I can do in a 20 minute meeting with a child exhibiting problem behaviors. When I send him/her back to the environment in which they feel unsafe or out of control, you can bet all that we talked about or practiced will have disappeared along their walk back to your classroom. This is not the child’s fault. They are simply trying to survive in the best ways they can manage. If acting disrespectfully or silly or angry is meeting their need to feel in control or heard, you can bet they will do just that if there’s no better way.

Your students’ oppositional behaviors are not about you; they’re about the environment in which you have created. Their defiance is not a personal attack on you. Their defiance is a coping mechanism to feel safe. If the environment in your classroom is unpredictable, you’re sending a clear message to your kids that you cannot be trusted.

The positive feedback in your classrooms should far outweigh the negative. Try a 5:1 ratio. When your kids feel safe in a controlled and consistent environment, positivity will radiate from your room and from your kids. Your classroom will be the peaceful, learning-focused place you’ve always wanted it to be.

In summary, your kids need a teacher who creates an organized, consistent, predictable classroom. One in which they not only feel loved by their teacher, but also respected, challenged, listened to, and most importantly, safe.

Respectfully,

Kayla, an Elementary School Counselor

Happy 1st Birthday, Blog!

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happybirthdayblogToday marks ONE YEAR of blogging!!! I feel proud and accomplished and a little like whoa, it’s already been a year?!?! Well it has, and this post will be full of random awesomeness in celebration of my blogging adventure.

First random thing: My blog and my dog, Mocha, almost share a birthday! My rescue puppy had her 3rd birthday yesterday and here she is, happily chewing away on her new bone:

MochaBirthdayBone

The second random thing I want to do is answer some questions about myself for my readers. I realize that so many of us school counselor bloggers share a lot about our work (duh, this is why we started our blogs in the first place), but very little about ourselves. So here are some things about me, the blogger behind the blog. I took these questions from Andrea’s blog.

Share 10 things about yourself that most of your readers wouldn’t know:

1 I’m a very quiet person but I’m not shy. I like to observe before I jump in, and I will definitely speak up if I feel the need.

2 I have a tattoo on my wrist. While some may view having a visible tattoo as inappropriate or unprofessional, the message has actually started some good discussions with my students. Here’s a picture:

Tattoo

3 It’s been a longtime dream of mine to publish a book. I don’t know what I want to write about yet, but I know that I want to write.

4 In college, I was an editor and columnist for my college’s newspaper. I published ‘The Sex Column’ biweekly, articles about relationships and sex, that got me equal parts admiration and scorn from students and professors.

5 I do not and will not wear makeup. I can’t stand the feel of the stuff on my skin. The time I wore the most makeup was for the after party of my Halloween wedding (I was a corpse bride). Here’s a picture:

Halloween Corpse Bride and Groom

6 I’m a vegetarian and have been for 5 years. I could never go back to eating meat.

7 Sometimes I think I have OCD-light, and my husband would definitely agree.

8 I’m jealous of people who wear dresses a lot. I wish I could wear them, but it just doesn’t feel comfortable for me.

9 I recently got into yoga and I’m in love with how it makes my body feel.

10 Chips are my comfort food. I can eat a bag at a time!

What’s your favorite thing about your job? There’s a lot that I love, but my favorite part is connecting with my students. Earning the trust, respect, and love from a child is an incredible thing!

What would you be if you weren’t in the School Counseling field? Well, I used to want to be a crossing guard, then a veterinarian, then a teacher, then a school counselor. My guess is I would probably do something with animals, either a vet tech or run a rescue.

What do you do for self-care? Yoga, pet my dogs, laugh with my husband, write, watch mindless shows on Netflix, read blogs (for hours, no joke!), go to the movies, and go out to eat.

What books are you currently reading? Currently, nothing! Gasp, how dare I not be reading anything?! Well, I’m waiting for books to come in from Amazon, and then I’ll be reading about a dozen children’s books to plan for next school year.

What’s your guilty pleasure TV show? I don’t have cable, so I use Netflix. I’ve recently watched Scandal, The Killing, Parks and Rec, Pretty Little Liars, and Orange is the New Black. My life is so chill most of the time (no drama) that I get it from the shows I watch instead, which is fine with me!

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Is there a place that has autumn-like weather year round? If so, that’s where I’d want to live. I love autumn leaves, crisp air, and the smell of apples, foliage, and pumpkins.

What are your top 5 tech tools? Honestly, I don’t use a lot of tech tools or apps because I don’t have an iPad (I know I know, I’m like a baby dinosaur when it comes to technology). I use blogs, Facebook groups, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube.

The third and final random thing I want to do is share the top 5 blog posts that I’m most proud of!

1 Who’s giving whom the apples these days? This post was written early on in my first blogging year about the importance of building connections with your students, which is something I believe in wholeheartedly!

2 Circle Up! This post is about community circles and why I feel that facilitating them has made all the difference in my counseling program and school climate.

3 End of year four is a post I’m proud of mostly because of my School Counselor Report that I shared. I’m so glad I took the time (and it took time, holy cannoli!) to gather the data and put it together. I highly recommend reporting out in this way, as it’s great advocacy and accountability for us school counselors.

4 12 Things You Should Never, Ever Say to a School Counselor is a post that, let’s face it, put me on the map as far as blogs go. Shortly after I wrote this sarcastic and relevant post, my followers and blog hits blew up!

5 That Counselor Couple is a page on my blog about the YouTube channel that my husband and I created together to share important information about mental health topics. It takes us hours to film, edit, and post each video, but we’re very happy to do it. The more people talking about mental health/illness, the better.

After one year of blogging, I’ve reached a couple of milestones that I’m proud of: 500+ followers and 50,000+ blog hits! Here’s to another year of writing about and sharing my voice with you! Thanks for reading, commenting, sharing, reblogging, liking, and/or favoriting my blog posts. All of it means the world to me!!!