Thursday, December 29, 2011

Raise Awareness about Relational Aggression

School counselors are responsible for creating awareness of social issues like Relational Aggression. Combating RA is a major focus of our school counseling program this year. Beginning in January we are going to do an online staff/parent book club discussing Little Girls Can Be Mean. Our new bulletin board features the concept that the cycle of relational aggression can be broken. We will also address RA in lessons later in January during No Name Calling Week. Check out the free lessons at this link

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Groups Galore

These are my fellow pupil services colleagues just before the final session of a small group with fifth grade boys. They wore sweater vests and had treats based on the book they read as the basis for this group. The members very much appreciated the humor and treats as part of the final session. We utilize small group counseling as a major component of our program because it helps students grow and develop and is time efficient.
What are your favorite groups to run?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

December - Anxiety

I have not been good about posting this month. It is very hectic at school and at home. I did want to share anxiety is the most common issue I have dealt with as far as individual students this month. I also have over 30 anxious students in small groups. I use Cognitive Behavior techniques with students who run too anxious. I really think they need a checklist of strategies they practice on days with low anxiety so they have a variety of techniques to use when their anxiety level gets too high. This is a concept that takes some work to implement but the pay off is better management of anxiety over the long-term. This is important because anxiety keeps popping up in different forms (like the Whack-a-male game) but the strategies an individual student finds helpful are usually the same.
I'd be very interested in what other school counselors do to help anxious students.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Thanksgiving weekend is a great time to count our blessings and be grateful for everything we have and appreciate. I think it is important as school counselors to help students reflect on and express gratitude. Thinking about what we have and the people we appreciate can help alleviate depression and anxiety. Take time each day to think about what you are grateful for, it will improve your overall mood and effectiveness.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Taking Time for Wellness

Hopefully the Thanksgiving break will give all school counselors a chance to "monitor emotional and physical health and practice wellness to ensure optimal effectiveness." That is part of the recently revised ASCA Ethical Guidelines. Reconnecting with family and friends during the holidays can improve mental health. Eating a meal with people we feel close to is a valued ritual for human beings. Try to find time to take a walk in these last days of fall or do some other exercise you enjoy. You can remind yourself it is your professional ethical obligation to do self-care.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Recognized ASCA Model Program (RAMP)

Are you working to move your counseling program to the next level? Are you committed to delivering a comprehensive and data-driven school counseling program? If your program successfully answers the question, "How are students different because of what school counselors do?" then you're ready to show the world that your program is "ramped up."
My school counseling program was the first one is our county to RAMP (2011). My state SCA paid my application fee because I was a member and asked for support. My school division is asking all counseling departments to seek RAMP designation within 5 years. Based on the ASCA National Model: A Framework for School Counseling Programs, the RAMP designation:
• Gives you the confidence that your program aligns with a nationally accepted and recognized model
• Helps you evaluate your program and identify areas for improvement
• Increases your skills and knowledge of school counseling
• Enhances your program’s efforts toward academic achievement and student success
• Identifies your school as an exemplary educational environment
RAMP applications are reviewed once a year by a panel of school counseling professionals and the designation is held for three years. If you want to learn more about the RAMP process go to

Saturday, November 19, 2011

School Staff Must Respond to Bullying

My school has a well developed bullying prevention and intervention program but I know that sometimes bullying still is ignored. I can't get ten year old Ashlynn, that hung herself because she was being bullied, this week off my mind. No one would help her get peers to stop calling her “fat”, “ugly,” and “a slut.” ” Her mother said, “She went to three different teachers, and they told her, ‘Ashlynn, you need to go sit down and stop tattling." We use the Steps to Respect curriculum. It points out that all staff have an obligation to receive any report of bullying and harassment and investigate it. We require teachers, counselors, and administrators to coach both the student being bullied and bullying separately and document a plan to address the bullying. Parents of both parties are informed. There is a mandated follow-up the next week because bullying is a pattern of behavior and frequently it keeps happening unless adults really get involved. I hope the tragic death of this young girl will make educators take their responsibility to keep schools safe.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Career Fair

We had our bi-annual career fair today for grades 3-5. We were fortunate to have 28 presenters come to our multipurpose room that represented the 6 career paths: business, helping, health, nature, creative, and fixing building and technology. The students were given a sheet to take notes about the 2 career paths that most interest them then they were allowed to circulate and visit other occupations. They have a follow up writing assignment to write a paragraph about what they learned. The evaluations from the presenters were very positive. They felt the students learned a lot about a variety of occupations. We will get the teachers evaluations back next week. This year we asked all presenters to talk about their college or institution where they got training as well. Several even wore their college gear. My part-time counselor did a super job getting a wide variety of presenters so that all paths had at lest 3 presenters and more for helping. It was very rewarding to see the students so engaged asking meaningful questions.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

2011 National Survey of School Counselors

Even though they did not survey elementary counselors this new report definitely has implications for all school counselors. There is a lot of interesting data in the report. I was surprised that 49% of the secondary school counselors surveyed were former teachers. There were many indicators that counselors felt their talents and training were underutilized in their schools. Only 16% of the counselors rated their own professional training as high. A majority (^1%) supported accountability measures for counselors. The full report is available for download.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Veterans Day

As this weekend winds down I wonder if schools should be in session on Veterans Day so educators can help students understand the significance of this holiday. I know we make sure to include the military as career visitors to our lower grades and participants at our career fair for upper grades during National Career Development Month. Some of our teachers did a great job with special activities on Thursday since we were off Friday. I watched two very moving tributes to the service veterans and their families provide our country over the weekend. I hope some of the students in my school watched as well. Citizenship is one of the character traits we teach at our school and is obviously a trait all those who have served value. As counselors we need to be sure we model respect for the sacrifices made by our veterans and their families.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Nurture Shock by P. Bronson & A. Merryman

I admit I am 2 years late in finally reading this valuable book, but better late than never. The chapter that struck me the most was "Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race." Although my husband and I are white both our children are adopted. Our daughter is white but our son is Asian. We talked with both children about race from the time we brought our son home. His skin was obviously a different color as were his hair and eyes than his blonde, blue-eyed sister. Reading this book made me realize that most white parents purposely avoid discussing race with their children so they will be color-blind. Of course that is not true. Young children are very aware of differences and without discussion of race will select friends that look like them if available. I thought the study where children could be encouraged to play in mixed race groups in first grade but by third grade the developmental window had passed was very informative. To me this points to the need for discussion of race with young children before the window shuts. Is it any surprise then that the odds of a white high-schooler in America having a best friend of another race is only 8% (92% have a best friend of the same race). For blacks, the odds are not much better 15% (85% of black high schoolers best friends are black. The chapter goes on to suggest using multicultural children's literature and community service projects as a way to start meaningful dialogue about race. The book emphasizes that both parents and educators need to be discussing race with children and modeling cross racial relationships.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

November is National Career Development Month

Elementary students love learning about careers. Whenever I survey my students they always want more career development. At my school we bring in community helpers to speak in classrooms this month (e.g., firefighter and nurse) and first grade workers in our community and parents (naturalist, bomber pilot, and software supervisor). In second grade we use Virginia View our states computer career education system in the computer lab. Every third grader gets a homework assignment of interviewing a person about an occupation and presents in to the class. For our older students we have a bi-annual Career Fair. We try to have at least 4 occupations from each of the 6 career paths. This is a great hands on activity that ties in with the lessons taught in the classes by the counselors. Anyone willing to share how you address careers in your program?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mix It Up at Lunch Day

Today we will be mixing the students up in the cafeteria and hopefully promoting tolerance. We have tried a variety of ways to reshuffle the students quickly. Two years ago we gave them each a single lifesaver and they sat at the table with a gigantic lifesaver of the color they received. Last year we used playing cards. This year we are back to sorting by birth months. My school psychologist helps with this activity. We were smart enough to laminate the signs with the months when we sued them 3 years ago. We distribute questions for the students to discuss with their "new" table group. Luckily the sun is shining today and they can go outside after Mixing It Up at Lunch!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

I think most school counselors believe Steve Jobs' advice, "You've got to find what you love." He said these powerful words to college graduates 6 years ago in one of the most memorable graduation speeches. It is a message we should communicate to young children as well. As we help students explore the possibilities the world of work offers, we need to communicate optimism that career exploration can help them find what they will be happy doing. Hopefully school counselors love our occupation so we can teach through example.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

WHY DON'T YOUNG PEOPLE TELL ADULTS? (About being bullied?)

Many counselors work hard to support schoolwide bullying prevention and intervention programs, like Steps to Respect, but still find students reluctant to report bullying behavior. Here are some of the reasons students have shared for not reporting what they knew was bullying.

1. They are ashamed of being bullied
2. They are afraid of retaliation
3. They don't think anyone CAN help them
4. They don't think anyone WILL help them
5. They've bought into the lie that bullying is a necessary part of growing up
6. They might believe that adults are part of the lie--they bully too
7. They have learned that "ratting" on a peer is bad, not cool

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Counselor's Role in Parent Teacher Conferences

We are in the middle of our mandated fall conferences. These are suppose to be simply an opportunity for parents to share information with teachers about their child but parents don't want a one-way conference. They of course want answers to 'how is my child doing?" "does my child have friends" etc. Sometimes I attend just to have more contact with the parents and hear their perspective. At times I attend the conference to facilitate the discussion between parents and teachers, especially if the teacher is inexperienced or there has been a prior history of conferences not going well. I always remind myself that my goal is collaboration with parents and teachers to maximize my work with students. Many times my schedule is too full to attend all the conferences I'd like, so I do my best to prioritize - if I already have a relationship with a family I might skip that one in favor of the chance for face-to-face time with a new family. Parents and teachers who have conferences that do not go well often want to meet with me afterwards because of issues that surface in the meetings. I always get many referrals from these conferences which means next week my already full schedule will become even tighter. It is good that I already have 3 groups started and 7 more planned to begin next week!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month

October is National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month. Bullying is the most common form of violence in schools. Of course we must work with students who bully and are bullying but the effectiveness of a bullying prevention program really grows when education is targeted at the witnesses. Counselors need to teach "bystanders" to become "upstanders." Students need to know one person standing up for a child being bullied can make a difference. The message to children who see or know bullying is happening should include:
- stand up for the children who are bullied, they need the support of peers;
- invite children who are excluded to play and be part of a group;
- comfort children who are bullied and tell them no one deserves to be bullied;
- don't provide an audience for bullying behavior;
- tell students who are bullying to back off (if it is safe) otherwise report the behavior to an adult immediately;
- offer to go with the student being bullied to report to an adult;
- give them an opportunity to report anonymously if they don't feel comfortable reporting face-to-face (we use the Bullying Box outside my office);
- be part of the solution by speaking out, not part of the problem ( including keeping a code of silence).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Poll: Young People Say Online Meanness Pervasive

A new AP poll of youth 14 to 24 released today finds that over half have been the target of some type of taunting, harassment or bullying. Very disturbing is the fact that the new poll showed a 10 percent increase from 45 to 55 percent in just 2 years. Other recent studies have suggested 20 to 25 percent of middle and high school students have been cyber-bullied. Many of these same students are also bullied face-to-face. The Steps to Respect Bullying Prevention program by the Committee for Children we use at my school teaches children to Recognize-Refuse-Report AND Record cyber bullying. Children need to fight the urge to delete cruel messages and share them with their parents or school staff so the bullying can be investigated and hopefully stopped. In our district the librarians teach about internet safety and the school counselors teach lesson about cyber-bullying. What are you doing to help prepare students to handle this increasingly common form of meanness?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mean Girls AND Boys

Our school has a school-wide bullying prevention and intervention program. However, we still have major concerns with relational aggression or social emotional bullying. From kindergarten on we have girls who use relationships as weapons. Boys do it too but they generally don't start until grade 2. Another difference between boys and girls is that boys who engage in relational aggression tend to be liked but girls who engage in similar behavior are disliked by peers. The research also shows that staff often do not intervene in relational aggression or give well meaning but poor advice like, "If they don't want to be your friend just play with someone else." If a student is being bullied socially and emotionally it is just as painful as physical bullying and they need support. Today with cyber-bullying, attacking peers can be done anonymously and more frequently without being discovered. If a student is the target of relational aggression they need help processing the attack, dealing with their feelings, and coming up with a plan. Students need positive role models to learn relationship skills they can use when victimized by peers.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Banned Books Week

Today is the beginning of banned books week. Two of my favorite children’s books about nontraditional family structures commonly make banned books list. And Tango Makes Three by P. Powell and J. Richardson and Heather Has Two Mommies by L. Neuman and D. Souza are great resources to use to explain families with two dads or two moms. If you have a favorite banned book that you think is appropriate to use with children, I’d love to hear your recommendations.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Anything worth doing is worth doing well…

Here are my thoughts about why school counselors should spend precious time creating visually appealing and stimulating bulletin boards -

If your school offers you the opportunity to have a bulletin board (or two) for the counseling program see this as part of the counseling program public relations inside the building. Bulletin boards can educate students, teachers, support staff, parents, and visitors about the counseling program. A colleague and I presented at VSCA and wrote an article titled “If I have to tell one more person what the school counselor does, I’m going to scream!” It still surprises me how many people do not understand our role, but I have accepted it is part of my job to inform the public about the counseling program. Bulletin Boards can:
a) highlight topics taught in classroom instructions;
b) student work completed as part of these lessons can be displayed as evidence students learned key concepts;
c) enhance instruction and serve as review opportunities and reinforcement;
d) highlight the role of the counselors and other key staff;
e) teach key concepts (e.g., career paths);
f) allow individuals to reflect on and respond to questions (can be interactive);
g) inspire;
h) highlight important events and celebrate special weeks important to the mission of the school counseling program.
I am not artistic myself but there are several staff in my school who are really creative and have mastered the art of bulletin boards. I always consult with one of them in planning my bulletin boards. Sometimes I have a great concept but I am not always successful in getting the wow factor a bulletin board needs to convince me to save it and reuse in 2-3 years. I have a few that have received rave reviews that are worth the space they take to save. My favorite bulletin boards are the ones that highlight a lesson taught in the classroom. I post a brief description of the lesson next to the display. I think this type of board reinforces that counseling is a program with objectives and standards just like any other part of the curriculum that is delivered to all students. I try to highlight one lesson from each grade level sometime during the school year. Many of my bulletin boards have been based on children’s books. I have 2 bulletin boards for the counseling program and sometimes I am lucky and my school psychologist or part-time counselor will take a month.
If you have any good ideas that have worked in your school, please leave a comment.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Back to School Night

The school psychologist and I were very busy throughout the evening at our information table. We did not find that many parents wanting the many brochures offered but a lot stopped by to catch us up on their children, introduce or reintroduce themselves, and just put a face with a name. It lasted from 6-8:30 pm and because we located our table at the very center of the school (right outside the part-time counselor and social worker's office) we were very accessible. Check another big event off the list for another year!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Family Resource Packs

The pupil services staff at my school has developed 40 Family Resource Packs for families on common topics funded by our PTA. Inside each eco-friendly bag is a binder or folder with an overview of the resources available on the topic, including books for parents and children, as well as web sites and articles. We also post the information in the binder on our Blackboard site in case parents just need a book recommendation and want to purchase their own copy of a book. We also include activities parents can do with their child and the materials needed for these activities. Most packs have at least one book for parents and two or three for them to read with their child. Where it seemed useful we developed separate packs for primary and upper grades. The packs are checked out (the staff write the family's name in a confidential log) for 2 weeks. We have been using them for 2 years and eventually all packs get returned although occasionally a book is missing. There is a list of the contents of each pack in the pocket along with all the pupil services staff contact information. The packs hang on the wall near the door of my office since I am the only pupil services staff member who is full-time. Inside the binder is a very brief evaluation form for parents and one for the children. The reaction to these packs has been very positive. Several families have checked out more than one. This year we plan to add 5 more based on needs identified by staff and suggested by families. The following are our current titles:

Anxiety (primary)
Anxiety (upper elementary)
Bed wetting
Changing Families (primary)
Changing Families (upper elementary)
Children and Sleep
Family member with Cancer
Feeling different
Girls’ Empowerment
Homework Hassles
Internet Safety
Honesty vs. Lying and Stealing
Maintaining friendships
Mom with cancer
New baby
New to Nottingham
Personal safety
Preparation for middle school – girl
Preparation for middle school – general
Puberty – boy
Puberty – girl
Ready for kindergarten?
Separation anxiety
Sibling rivalry
Serious illness (child)
Sleep issues (nightmares, etc.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Who Are Your School Counselors and What Do They Do

Like most school counselors at the beginning of the year I want to remind all students on my case load who I am, where my office is located, what I do, how students get to see the school counselor, etcetera. In Kindergarten I use a shopping bag with items that are clues about what the counselor does: fake ears – listens to children; career puppet – teaches lessons about community workers and arranges visits; feelings cube – teaches children to recognize and handle emotions, etc. I always include a book about friendship that I can say is in my bag because I love to use books to teach children. If there is time I read the book. Before I leave I give them a test. What is my name and where is my office? I just call on a few volunteers and have them all say goodbye to me to reinforce knowing my name. For first grade I show the students a sand dollar and share my love of the beach and read Who's Ms. Sand Dollar? A Visit with the School Counselor by Barbara M. King & Laurie Wilcox-Meyer . In second grade I usually begin with a clock as a prop and point out what time school starts and the importance of being on time, and then I read A Helping Hand: A Story to Help Children Learn About School Counselors by Tammy S. Berg. In grade 2 I have a PowerPoint that is a more advanced version of what is in my bag but utilizes technology. With the young students I prefer having them in a circle on the floor with me and sharing a book. I think it builds a better connection than when they are focused on the image on a screen. I’d love for other counselors to share how they reconnect with students at the beginning of each year.

Boo Hoo Breakfast

On the first morning of school the pupil services staff and the PTA hosted a continental breakfast for parents of kindergarten students and students new to our school immediately following drop off. The school psychologist and school counselor did very brief PowerPoint presentations on the schools counseling program and separation anxiety. The PTA hosted the event and provided muffins and coffee along with boxes of tissues and Hersey kisses for each table. The PTA President welcomed the new families and answered a few questions. We had 45 parents attend!

Welcome New Students

We have developed a plan to make students in grades 1-5 feel welcome to our school.  These include: a) making sure the teachers know who is new and assign a buddy for lunch and recess the first week; b) give students a button to wear so others will know they are new and introduce themselves; c) have a welcome reception the first week of school (because of numbers we have 3 gatherings - grade 1, grades 2&3, grades 4&5; d) at reception they meet the counselors, the principal stops by, we play a school trivia game, and do an activity or listen to a story depending on age; e) all students receive a new student survival kit - bag with items symbolizing things like eraser because it is ok to make mistakes...; f) Passport - with pictures of all staff that work with all the students in building - find the staff member and ask them 2 questions - students get 2 weeks to complete this activity and return completed Passport to counselors for prizes; g) follow-up - either an individual check in or group lunch - example all first grade girls/boys each lunch with a counselor the second/third week of school.  If students are still having difficulty adjusting, we invite them to be in a counseling group.  We also take pictures of  all new staff and students and highlight them on the large bulletin board in the main hall of our school for the month of September.