Sunday, June 23, 2019

School Counselors Need Professional Organizations

I hope many of you will soon be headed to Boston for the ASCA National Conference. It is an experience every school counselor should take advantage of at least once. You can follow the conference on Twitter with hatch tags #revoluntionaryideas #ASCA19 #notatasca19. The conference attracts over 3,000 participants each year so it can be overwhelming. It is easier if you have another counselor from your district or state to attend with but even if you don't try to attend at least one.

I personally enjoy my state SCA Conferences even more. I have been lucky to live in Missouri, Virginia, and now Kentucky which all have great state SCA conferences. The participants range from 450 - 750 but also offer high quality break out and keynote speakers. I encourage you to make it a goal to present at your state SCA conference at least once in your career. We all have something worth sharing and if you don't want to present alone, ask another counselor to co-present with you. If you are a graduate student or a recent graduate as a counselor educator to co-present with you. We all benefit and save time by sharing.

Our professional organizations offer us so much. They provide our code of ethics, government relations, resources, sense of identity, professional development, and opportunities for leadership. I hope everyone will choose to serve their state organization actively, when it fits with the demands of your job and the rest of your life. It can be as simple as being an active committee member to serving as President. I have gained so much from participating on SCA Boards and encourage all of you to talk to those in leadership positions on your SCA about how you can become more involved. The more you put into it the more you will gain.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Friendship Issue

Pirate, Viking & Scientist by J. Chapman is a perfect book for a small friendship group in grades 2-5 or a classroom lesson. The book deals with a very common problem of a child who has 2 friends but the friends do not get along with each other. I am sure every elementary counselor has a discussion about this issue multiple times each year. The book also reviews the scientific method and has great vocabulary which makes it useful to reinforce academics as well as social emotional learning. I highly recommend purchasing a copy for your program but if you do not have a budget it is read aloud on YouTube.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

New Books

One of my favorite publishers of children books is Magination Press They are the publisher of Don't Squeal Unless It's a Big Deal which should be on every elementary counselors book shelf. They have new releases almost every month. The two shown above were just released in April and cover topics elementary counselors deal with frequently: it is OK to ask for help; and moving schools. They have books that address a variety of social emotional needs and disabilities/differences of children. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Recommended Summer Read

The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom is written from the unique perspective of Patricia (Tish) Jennings who personally experienced several significant traumas during her own childhood. The book has 3 parts: 1) describes the effects of trauma on body and mind, and how to recognize them in students' behavior; 2) introduces the trauma-sensitive practices she has implemented in her work with schools; and 3) connects the dots between mindfulness, compassion, and resilience. The book offers many practical activities to create a compassionate learning environment. The Appendices also have many additional resources.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Set an Individual Goal

In some small groups it is good practice to have students set an individual goal.  This is different than the goal for the group. Often members of a group will have different needs. In an emotion regulation group one student may have terrible anxiety about coming to school in the morning but another student may be terrified the fire alarm will go off. They can both be served by the same group because they need similar skills and strategies but to determine growth it is a good idea for them to formulate a goal specific for their unique need(s).  I generally have members set their individual goal and rate it the second session since the first session they are really just understanding the general purpose of the group, taking the pre-group survey, and learning procedures. I then like them to rate themselves half way through the group to see if they feel they are making progress and what else they might need to meet their goal. Finally, they rate their goal the final session after completing the post-group survey. If they are still not making good progress that might indicate the need for follow-up.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Five Ps to Successful Small Group Counseling

 Purposeful data collection
Developing, leading, and evaluating small group counseling involves many facets. As school counselors we must first understand the "why." There are many principles that tell us why we should be running groups as part of a comprehensive school counseling program. The most obvious reasons for small groups in schools includes: 1) Universality (there are others who have same need/issue); 2) Safe way to try out new behavior; 3) Social-observational learning; 4) Corrective experiences (opportunities to redo mistakes); and 5) Peers influence behavior.
Planning begins by reviewing school data should determine what groups are offered. For example, if a group of students are consistently late for school do to anxiety then an emotion regulation group would be an appropriate intervention. Likewise, if you have several students who come into school on Monday morning because they have spent the weekend with their noncustodial parent it would be appropriate to lead a group for Children of Divorce. At the beginning of the planning stage research what evidence-based programs are available and determine if these programs would meet the needs of your population. For example "A Still Quiet Place" might be used for a group of anxious students and "Children of Divorce Intervention Program" is an excellent resource for helping students adjust after a parent break up. Another resource is Tier 1 core curriculum that counselors may own but not have time to use in the classroom. For example, MindUp could be used in a small group with anxious students. If an evidence-based program is not available, or your school can't afford to purchase one, then it is necessary to review the research to determine what type of intervention would be most effective. Once you have a clear understanding of what usually works, then a counselor should set a goal for the group and determine which of the ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors the group would address. These need to be translated to measurable competencies in order to select or create an assessment plan. The final step is selecting activities and materials. All too often I hear a counselor start with activities, books, videos and create a group around these materials without having laid the foundation.
Procedures include developing detailed session plans that are so useful when you are experiencing a very challenging day and can just barely grab your group for 30 minutes and session plans are also useful if you have an itinerant counselor or counseling intern and you are running another section of the same group. For at least one group a year you should have a detailed accountability process. You can get solid perception data if you design simple pre-post group surveys that are completed by parents, teachers, and students. The questions can be the same just worded for the audience. Perception data is what counselors need to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention. Administrators want outcome data  so select the group where you can also assess results like a reduction in tardiness, an increase in test scores, or a decrease in office referrals. Gather all the materials for the group (i.e., books) including any "worksheets" you want members to complete and keep them in one place. We actually run off a packet for each member and keep the master in a binder (see previous post).
Practice and process involves how you actually conduct the group. A successful group leader is creative, energetic, positive, patient, thick-skinned, and prepared. At the beginning of the group icebreakers are very important to make members feel comfortable sharing. Use props to make the group experience more engaging, try to incorporate as many senses as possible. If your group is predominantly boys or very active girls, build movement into each session (e.g., toss a bean bag on a feeling wheel then say what makes you have that feeling). Writing or drawing a response before sharing makes it less threatening, improves the quality of members responses, and will help them remember the skill you are trying to teach.
Purposeful data collection is critical to determining if the group is worthwhile. It is not enough to collect only process data (number of sessions, number of students, length of sessions).  Perception data collected pre-post can tell you how members attitudes, skills, and knowledge changed as a result of the group intervention. Outcome data is difficult for elementary but we can run groups that impact achievement, attendance, and behavior even if change that occurs is not totally the result of the group. It is critical that you write up results in a meaningful way (think good visuals like graphs) and SHARE, SHARE, SHARE! Counselors need to let all stakeholder groups know they are leading effective small groups. This can result in administrators removing non-counseling duties (like cafeteria duty) so you can run more small groups!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Small Group Counseling Tips

I am getting ready to present at the KSCA Conference on my favorite topic, small group counseling, so I thought I'd share a few of the slides from my presentation and explain what is included on each. My part-time counselor and I decided last Spring to really get our groups organized, clearly delineate the competencies we want to cover on each of our main topics (social skills, self regulation, emotion regulation, and flexible thinking). Once we agreed on the competencies we reviewed all the evidence based materials and practices for each. In the area of social skills we pulled from a number of good resources (many of which I have reviewed in previous posts) and then also tried to incorporate a picture book for each session in our K-3 groups. We are fortunate to own literally thousands pf children's books. We wanted to assign a book to a specific session and not reuse them in any other group. It is common to address the same competencies from year to year like how to give a compliment but we wanted to use a different book at each grade level and build on the student response required. We have also discovered that just telling students a number (this group will be 8 sessions) is not a strong enough organizer, we like an overview "session map" that the students can see where they are in the sequence so they no there are x number of sessions remaining and what is covered in each session.  For all our small groups we have an activity or response sheet for each session and on these sheets we put a small image of the book at the top. We include a brief description of what was read and taught in the session. St the end of the group these booklets go home and parents know exactly what we covered in the group. Many parents get the books from the library and reread them with their child to remind them of skills that they still need to practice. We have gotten excellent feedback on these booklets from families. Some students will save them and tell us the next year, "I still have the book I made with you." On the slides above I have provided the name of each book we use by session and one of the same pages from our booklets for that grade level. We run so many social skills for kindergarten we have two curriculum - learning how to make and be a friend is a critical life lesson for our young learners. I know some counselors send home the sheets the same day a group meets, but we found that many never made it home but when the booklets get sent home they do make it.