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.