Saturday, August 31, 2013

Teaching Parents Children Must Have Unpleasant Feelings to Learn Coping Skills

Our district starts on the "traditional" calendar so we just finished preservice week and our students start the day after Labor Day.  Many parents were disappointed when they got letters early this week saying which teacher's class we had assigned their child.  This resulted in frantic phone calls, a full email box, and bold parents appearing in our building unannounced demanding to meet with an administrator or counselor. At Open House I was followed while giving a tour to a new family by a parent who wanted to convince me we had made such a poor decision his child would be psychologically damaged if we did not put him with a friend.  I personally rarely support "a child placement based on needing a friend."  As counselors we are in the business of teaching children to make friends.  Also, so many times if friends start the year together and "break up" the teacher is left dealing with a lot of problems that interfere with instruction.  We have a large school with 6 classes at most grades, so unless a child has a decent size friendship circle they could easily be in a class without any of their special friends.  I think that is okay.  I think if parents would send the message it is fine not to be in class with friends because they all go to recess together and after school care and play dates and sports team, it does not mean the friendship is over.
Plus I think allowing students to feel disappointment and see they can cope if one of life's lessons that should happen when children are young.  I worry about the children whose parents fix all their problems in elementary school (get principal to change class placement, make the teacher regive a test, get coach to let them on a team even though they don't have the same ability level).  As children get older parents can't possibly fix all problems.  A middle school counselor mentioned this during our in-service that she felt one of the reasons for the rise in cutting in middle school was because parents can't fix many middle school peer problems and students have no healthy coping skills.  That empowered me to stand my ground when the parent said I was heartless and a terrible counselor because I would not support the parents desire to put their child in a class with a friend.  When told I did not care about his child I calmly said, "No I am actually sticking to the instructional placement because I do care that your son learns not just academics but social emotional learning and skills to work in a class with children who are not friends."  For another person's perspective on giving-kidsthe-right-to-be-unhappy read this article.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Create Your Own Personal Learning Network

I think having a Personal Learning Network is critical for elementary counselors who frequently work in isolation most days. According to a wikispace about creating PLNs, “Personal Learning Networks are systems that help learners take control of and manage their own learning. This includes providing support for learners to:
1) set their own learning goals
2) manage their learning; managing both content and process
3) communicate with others in the process of learning and thereby achieve learning goals
The good news is technology has made creating PLNs much easier.  I love learning new things and communicating what I have learned with others.  That is one reason I am going through the Re-RAMP process and teach graduate classes at a local University in their counseling program. The backbone of my PLN is:
1) ASCA - the website including ASCA Scene, publications, and especially their free webinars
2) Blogs/websites - I follow many counseling and education blogs. Erin Mason has made this super easy by creating sconlineprofessionalexchange.Blogroll
3) Twitter - I use my account almost exclusively to follow counselors, educators, and organizations related to our field
4) Pinterest - I get so many great ideas to use in my program by following other counselors (and some other amazing educators)
5) Other counseling organization - I have always been a member of ACA.  I belong to ACES and ASGW. These memberships are costly but it gives me access to great resources and personal contact.  I am fortunate that our state SCA host a terrific annual conference attended by over 500 counselors and one of my favorite networking places each year. 
I also try to network with other elementary counselors in my district, but this is very limited usually to a few hours a month.  Professionally and personally I feel the need to keep learning and share what I learn with others.  What defines your PLN?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

One of my favorite books to use in kindergarten or first grade to teach about diversity and prejudice is A Pig Is Moving In by C. Fries. When Henrietta Hen, Nick Hare, and Doctor Fox learn that a pig is moving into their building, they are appalled. Everyone knows that pigs are dirty and messy, and this pig seems to be no exception. While neither Henrietta, Nick, nor Dr. Fox has had a chance to meet the pig in person, careful observation has confirmed their worst fears.
I begin by asking these pre-reading questions:
Can you look at someone and know what kind of person they are?
Have you every met someone who didn’t like you before they got to know you?

Why did the neighbors pre-judge Theodore?
This book facilitates a discussion of all types of differences.  For other ideas to teach children to be kind to others check out State of NJ Caring Makes a Difference

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Stranger Safety Resources

When teaching personal safety lessons I start by asking the students if they have heard of "stranger danger."  Usually 90% say "yes." I then tell them to take their hands make a ball put stranger danger in their hands and throw it out the window.  They like this warm-up and I have their attention.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC) does not support the “stranger danger” message. The majority of cases have shown most children are not taken by a stranger, but rather are abducted by someone they know. If we tell children to “never talk to strangers,” we have effectively eliminated a key source of help for them. If they are lost they may be surrounded by many rescuers who could help them. If children perceive these people as “strangers,” they may not speak or reach out to them. There have been cases in which a child’s rescue was delayed because the lost child was afraid to call out to the “strangers” when rescuers were nearby. Check out all of their resources at

Another resource is the Yello Dyno Method™ a scientifically based research program of Dr. Roger Sperry and the internationally recognized research on children in crisis of Dr. Bruce Perry. It works in real life because the information is stored in the part of the brain that activates in the "fight or flight" response.  Find out more about this method at

One of my favorite books to share in first grade classrooms on this important topic is Scoop by Julia Cook.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Highlight National School Counseling Week On Annual Calendar

It's time to be developing our Annual School Counseling Program Calendar.  Don't forget to include National School Counseling Week.  The 2014 theme is "School Counseling: Building Magical Futures." NSCW will be celebrated from Feb. 3-7, 2014, to focus public attention on the unique contribution of professional school counselors within U.S. school systems. National School Counseling Week, sponsored by ASCA, highlights the tremendous impact school counselors can have in helping students achieve school success and plan for a career. National School Counseling Week is always celebrated the first full week in February. If you need ideas go to the ASCA website for free materials to download or order materials.

We always schedule one of our Advisory Council meetings either right before or during NSCW.  It gives us an opportunity to celebrate with the supporters of our program.  We always give each member a small gift at this meeting to thank them for the work they do on behalf of school counseling.

What ideas have worked at your school?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reach More Students Through Differentiation

When a counselor tries to teach something to the entire class at the same time, “chances are, one-third of the kids already know it; one-third will get it; and the remaining third won‟t. So two-thirds of the children are wasting their time (Lillian Katz).”

Differentiation is making sure the right students get the right learning tasks. This is not easy but the best place to start is with a pre-assessment of some kind. That way the counselor knows what students know or don't know about a subject before teaching begins. Another way is to survey students to determine their interests, learning styles, and preferences. This information helps counselors plan more engaging lessons. Many differentiated lessons involve some kind of student choice. This encourages student engagement and allows students to own their own learning.

Differentiation of instruction can take many different forms. Counselors can differentiate their lessons through the content or curriculum. They can differentiate the process used to access content and the depth of the content. Counselors can differentiate the product or method of showing understanding of the content. Today counselors differentiate their lessons through the use of technology. Regardless of the method, the learning outcomes and content standards are the same for all students.

It is very challenging to meet the needs of diverse learners with the case loads typical in elementary counselors. It is important to communicate with classroom teachers about the needs of students in each class.  The teachers know who needs what type of support or more of a challenge.  

A modification I try to make in most of my lesson plans is to use a variety of types of grouping.  I generally introduce the lesson to the whole class, I try to build in one quick partner activity and if time allows a small group activity. When you are in front of the whole class you can differentiate by asking different students different types of questions.  You can purposely pair up students to meet diverse needs. The possibilities include pairing a strong and weak student, or group high students together and pair up the students who need more and attend to them during the activity while the rest work independently.  I group students in small groups in a variety of ways depending on the content and task.  Finally individual student work products can be modified based on what individual learners may need.

I don't believe any counselor wants to waste the time of 2/3 of the children they are teaching.  Try to differentiate some aspect of all classroom lessons but be realistic.  If you have the luxury of a lighter case load and the flexibility to teach lots of classroom lessons it will be easier.  If you have a high case load, build plans for differentiation right into your lesson plans and don't forget to ask teachers about the learning needs of the students.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Differentiate Classroom Lessons

I am sure all counselors reading this have been required to sit through professional development in their schools that did not lead to improving the counseling program. AMEN! I do think professional development on how to differentiate classroom lessons is worthwhile.  Our district is training staffs using the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP®) Training for Teachers developed by Dr. Jana Echevarría, Dr. MaryEllen Vogt, and Dr. Deborah Short.  SIOP® is the only scientifically validated model of sheltered instruction and a proven framework for teaching both academic content and language skills in ways that are more effective for English learners. As a framework for organizing instruction, the SIOP® Model includes many features that are characteristic of high-quality instruction for all students, such as cooperative learning, reading comprehension strategy instruction, and differentiated instruction.  The valuable part of the training for counselors was how to develop lesson plans that include simple (child friendly) language and content objectives, and better ways to introduce and emphasize key vocabulary in a lesson.  The training also offers practical  suggestions on how to apply scaffolding techniques consistently and support student understanding (e.g., think-alouds).  Of course much of the training would feel irrelevant to counselors but learning how to better engage students and maximize retention of expected outcomes makes the time valuable.  In addition, many districts are moving to evaluate counselors lesson plans as part of the teacher evaluation process.  To be a highly successful rated employee counselors must plan and deliver high quality classroom instruction. And the bonus is if you decide to go for RAMP it will make your lessons that much better.

We have many very bright students at my school that can race through most of the activities and assessments in my lessons.  These are the kids that finish in one minute get out a book and read, put their head down, or stare at the students with "average" work speed like they are so slow.  Now when I assign the culminating activity for my lesson I automatically give instructions for early finishers.  This can be as simple as posing a question for them to answer on the back of the paper everyone is doing, asking them to go back and review their answer and check for ___.  It could be another task that gets at higher level skills. 

I am interested in how other counselors differentiate when teaching classroom lessons.  Please share your suggestions in the Comments section.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Attendance Works

I imagine many elementary counselors use attendance as one of the school counseling program goals.  I hope you are aware of the wonderful web site Attendance Works.  I participated in one of their webinars earlier this week called "Absences Add Up!"  It really helped clarify for me a new way to look at chronic absences and tardiness.  The webinar is available in their archives for free. They are teaming up with several community partners to promote attendance through a nationwide campaign starting right after Labor Day.  I have already contacted my building and district administrators about participating.  I suggest you check out the Attendance Works site and see if this would be a good activity for your school. They have a free toolkit available.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Another great book to teach about emotions

Today I Am by Mies van Hout is a beautifully illustrated book with each open page containing the label of a single emotion and a fish illustrating that feeling.  It covers 20 basic feelings in all.  The simple text allows it to be used for a variety of activities in counseling.  The illustrations are very engaging for a young reader.  This book also comes as an interactive iPad app.  The app version not only allows it to be read on the iPad but a child can record the feeling they are experiencing today.  This could also be used in counseling or recommended to parents as a way to help their child learn about and express feelings. Check it out at

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Teach Emotion Management

Like most elementary counselors I use a lot of children's books to teach about feelings in the classrooms, small groups, and with individuals.  I also often share books with parents to read at home and provide a jumping off forum for parents to talk about strong feelings.  One of my favorites is Shy Spaghetti and Excited Eggs. I like it because it talks about both pleasant (comfortable) emotions and unpleasant (uncomfortable) ones.  It also talks about how both types can be hard to handle when they have lots of energy.  Watch one of the authors discuss the book.

Interview with APA author Jane Annunziata

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


RAMP designations are good for three years which goes by fast! At the end of that time, to remain a RAMP school, you must reapply. Re-RAMP applications are also due Oct. 15.
To reapply, complete the regular online RAMP application AND include your response to this final question:
“What impact has a high-quality, comprehensive school counseling program had on your school and students? Select one area for which you have collected data for the previous three school years and include a results report demonstrating the impact your program has had during that time. Relevant information and documentation must be included.”
ASCA really wants to know how RAMP school are doing. This component will not factor into the final score but is required for the application to be reviewed. I plan to use my school's bullying program for the one area we have collected data on for the past 3 years. I will be honest, I thought long and hard before I decided to Re-RAMP this year because of the change to the third edition.  It has taken almost as much work to work on Re-RAMP as it did initially.  I also have a different part-time counselor so there was a steep learning curve for her too.  Last year we made the decision to collect all the data.  We worked hard to get the first 7 components written up before school got out in June.  I am glad we did because in July my part-time counselor took a job for next year in a high school.  I have paced myself this summer working on writing up the other 5 components.  I have not started to work on the Re-RAMP narrative but I have the data. If anyone is doing Re-RAMP this year at the elementary level, please leave a comment.  I am curious if others are finding doing it under the new edition as challenging as our school...

Friday, August 2, 2013

Component 12 - Program Evaluation Reflection

This component is all about the four themes of leadership, advocacy, collaboration and systemic change. The question is: "How does your school's comprehensive school counseling program use leadership, advocacy and collaboration to create systemic change for the benefit of students?" The response can be a three-five minute video or audio file or a written 500-1,500 word essay.  Think of the 5 paragraph essay model we use in elementary schools for students to respond to prompts.  You should include a variety of examples with specific examples (data).  The focus should be on systemic change related to achievement, attendance, and behavioral change.  Be sure to connect your response back to school data and the counseling program goals.
It is important to really read carefully and digest the new information in the third edition about the 4 theme's.  I suggest viewing The ASCA National Model: Theme's and Foundation webinar Tammi Makeben does an excellent job of walking the viewer through the new research that has been added to the Model book to clarify the 4 themes.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Component 11 - Closing-the-Gap Results Report

Closing-the-gap activities address academic or behavioral discrepancies that exist between student groups.  The closing-the-gap results report is clearly tied to school counseling program goals.  The counselor should have a lead role in the initiative although others can be involved as well.  It should be an appropriate activity for a counselor (sunshine group for students who are chronically tardy, not a remedial reading group).  The report must include process, perception, and outcome data.  Frequently Closing-the-Gap Results Reports only address perception or outcome data, not both. If you are confused by this watch the excellent webinar on the ASCA site by Dr. Hartline on Accountability. It is okay if differences were not achieved but in next steps you must say how these results will lead to improvements in the counseling program.  Remember to use data (numbers not just summary statements.