Friday, January 30, 2015

Teach Empathy

Counselors know empathy is a critical skill for social emotional development.  I use Jamaica's Blue Marker as the basis of my friendship group session with first grade.  Children's literature is a great hook to have students learn to identify the feelings of others.  This is an older book but I have yet to find a better one for teaching empathy.  After we read and discuss the story in depth, the students label and illustrate 3 feelings that each of the characters were feeling (sometimes I do the beginning, middle, and end of the book).  If you want to learn more about the importance of empathy for boys read why-its-imperative-to-teach-empathy-to-boys/

Monday, January 26, 2015

Grief Encourage Lines of Communication

Students who have lost a loved one often try to protect the other members of their family from the painful questions they think will be too upsetting to ask.  All the children I have worked with eventually state their biggest fear is "other people dying too."  They need the reassurance of the surviving family members to say "While everyone does die, I plan to take good care of myself and be here for a very long time."  If it is a parent that has died they need to know "If something were to happen to me, there will always be someone to take care of you."  I have never worked with a child who wants to start this conversation.  I frequently have asked the parent to deliberately bring it up.  All children worry about death at sometime, but those who are grieving may be worrying about it a lot. When I say, "Have you asked mom/dad what would happen or told them you have this worry?" they always say "No, it would make them too sad."  I always recommend to parents to find time to talk about the child's feelings and worries even knowing they probably won't share everything.  Parents can say "If I was your age I'd be wondering what would happen to me if ..." or "I notice you seem much more scared at night, I am wondering what I can do to make you feel safer" For more good ideas check out

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Check In Individual Counseling K-2

I frequently use this simple feeling scale to ask young students how their week has gone at school, with friends, and at home.  I finally made a data sheet to record their ratings (6 sessions a page).  This is where I take my very brief notes so I remember the key factors discussed in the session.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Study Skills Groups at Lunch - Organization

I run 4 study skills groups at lunch (2 for grade 3 and 2 for grade 4).  To maximize time and attendance I have a few tricks.  Each member has their own folder.  On the left is their pre-assessment and an attendance sheet.  As soon as they sit down (before opening lunch) they mark their own attendance.  The columns indicate: present, did not come, absent from school.  They make a note if there is a reason they were in school but did not come to group (example: taking a make-up test).  This has made a huge impact on attendance and responsibility getting to the session every week.  We meet the same day of the week for the entire second and third quarter.  These groups are my SMART goal for the year and where I am hoping to have outcome data for the counseling program.  In the right pocket is a pencil, their goal. and any papers we do or a summary of each session.  At the end of the first quarter we cleaned out the folders and sent the work home (with a cover note from me indicating the child's attendance at group and what we are working on next).  We wrote goals at the beginning of the second quarter when the group started and wrote new ones at the start of the third quarter.   Some students revised the original goal but others had met the first goal and set a new academic goal for third quarter. So far so good for all 4 of these groups. I think it is important to model the importance of various aspects of organization.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

No Name-Calling Week

My office door is decorated with some of my favorite reminders to choose kind words and remember that words hurt (sometimes longer than physical aggression).

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

7 out of 10 teachers have a student in their classroom who is grieving

Grief needs our attention. As counselors we need resources to support staff, parents, and students.
For children, I highly recommend grief camps. These range from one day camps which are perfect for younger students pointofhope to comfortzonecamp weekend camps for 7-17 year olds. There are many organizations that run grief camps including the wendtcenter. Many of these camps are free but they fill up very quickly. If you have a family that may benefit, I encourage you to share the resources soon (for camps in summer 2015).

Monday, January 19, 2015

Spark Interest

We are required by our district to teach a lesson to all fifth graders to promote awareness and destigmatization of mental illness. We use the lesson plan from NAMI http://www.btslessonplans
However, I adapt the lesson quite a bit to make it fit my school's population.
To motivate the students at the start of the lesson I focus on the importance of the subject.  The statistic for adults is startling, later in the lesson I share that 1 in 5 youth in our state have a mental illness.  I use a variety of techniques to keep students engaged in this lesson which obviously deals with some difficult information.  If you want to motivate students during your lessons I suggest checking out this resource.
The lesson really focuses on the stigma aspect and as you may know Rosslyn Carter has worked on that part of the issue for 40 years. For more information on getting beyond the stigma of mental illness check out the pdf at this link

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Resource to Explain Self-Talk

Dr. Sullivan has some very useful ideas in this book to explain negative, neutral, and positive self-talk. Dr. Sullivan writes, "Just like you can feel stuck in the mud, you can feel like you are stuck in negative thoughts..." or negative muck. In the book Dr. Sullivan describes the four flavors of negative self-talk: 1) all or negative thinking; 2) jumping to conclusions; 3) should statements; and 4) magnification.  I highly recommend this resource for counselors and parents.  There is also a companion journal available for purchase (but I did not buy it so I can't say if it is worthwhile).

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Grief in School

Today several of our staff will attend the funeral of the parent of a student whose parent died last week. The student has been in school every day so it is very important that staff know how to treat this grieving child and his friends. I wanted to share some resources and comments in case you are faced with a similar situation.  With the help of the room parents we put together a caring basket for this student with a teddy bear, and small electronic toy, a book, cards and some gift cards.  The surviving parent came in yesterday morning to thank me for this gesture. Please read this excellent article from It also mentions the new Coalition to Support Grieving Students website
The article does a good job of describing the life long impact of a profound loss on children.  For example, I got a message from a parent of a fifth grader whose spouse died when the student was in grade 3.  The student got ill yesterday and we have a new clinic aide who did not know the child only had one parent.  The aide said, "You have a fever I am going to call your ____."  At that point the student lost it! Our computer system is up-to-date saying this child has only one parent but this new employee was not sensitive enough to be accurate.  I welcome any comments about how you support grieving students in your school.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Recipe for Friendship

One of my favorite lessons on friendship for second grade is based on Williamson's book "What's the Recipe for Friends?"  For the hook, I talk about a recipe they would know like bread or cookies and brainstorm the ingredients. Then I talk about what would happen if I put in something sour or burned the food - it would ruin what was being made. I usually print off a recipe card for the hook. Next we go through a list of characteristics like politeness and bossiness that I have printed on card stock and decide if each is something that should be put into the bowl to "make a friend" or something that needs to stay.  Students love when I use a prop like this bowl for a lesson.  It helps visual learners and for kinesthetic learners you could let them actually put the slips in the bowl or bring a spoon and let a student stir it up. Then I read the story (sometimes I skip over some of the detail because it is a little long).  Afterwards they write a recipe for friendship including ingredients, directions, and a picture of what it would look like if the recipe turned out well. I have been doing this lesson for over 5 years and it ALWAYS turns out great!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Great Book for No Name-Calling Week

I like this book because it is large, bold. and engaging.  In it 2 friends are being teased and subjected to name-calling.  Krosoczka uses a twist on ___ and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us.  This is where to stop and discuss the fact that words really do hurt (sometimes more than physical aggression).  At the end, the 2 friends become friends with the crab who was teasing them at the beginning (the treasure). Most students in grades 1 & 2 will understand that some of the teasing and name-calling probably happened because the crab was jealous of the friendship between peanut butter and jellyfish.  There are many ways students could respond to the book.  The could draw and write about their favorite part of the book.  They could put friendship traits onto coins on a handout with a treasure chest.  This book couls also work well in a small group on friendship.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Partner Turn and Talk in Classroom Lessons

I use partner turn and talk as well as Think-Pair-Share at least once in all my lessons.  We received a whole series of professional development on the value of student-to-student discourse increasing student engagement and learning.  It is very important to establish clear expectations for how you expect students to act when talking to their partner.  When I discuss this with students in lower grades I always mention that when they are talking they are not touching their partner if they are sitting on the floor. All our teachers use these strategies, but not all do as good a job about practicing the procedures.  Depending on the purpose of the discussion you do not always need everyone to share out to the big group. Sometimes the sharing our serves as ongoing assessment if the students are learning the key concepts of the lesson, but other times you just want them to share their thoughts with a partner.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Is it a big deal or a little deal?

This book and CD from YouthLight is one of the favorite new resources I purchased at the VSCA Conference in the fall of 2014.  I taught a lesson to each of our 6 second grade classes using the interactive book, song, and posters in December.  We used to teach the DeBug Problem Solving steps to all kindergarten student and review them in grade 1.  That helped because most of the students had learned that they have to solve small problems themselves.  I like this because it does not emphasize tattling, but rather teaches specific strategies for various types of "little deals." The interactive book worked well on the class Smartboards and it is colorful and has motion which holds the students attention. At the end of the lesson I had them draw and label a "little deal" and a "big deal." For the "little deal" they had to use an appropriate strategy from the lesson.  The teachers love the strategy "I'm in charge of me!"  The CD also comes with a printable poster set.  I gave each classroom teacher a poster after the lesson to refer back to when students forget that they are in charge of l\"little deals." This is definitely worth the purchase price.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Grief Resources

Healing the Adult Child's Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas After Your Parent Dies
There really are not that many good resources to help families dealing with the death a of a parent.  Most of the books that are out are old.  This is one that I would recommend even though it was published in 2001.

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Year - Unfortunately Another Crisis

Before school this morning I was asked to speak with a parent who shared that their spouse had passed suddenly last night.  We have experienced an unusual amount of death at our school in recent years including parents and siblings.  It always goes through my mind that the child experiencing this type of loss will "never be the same." I have a mental checklist that I run through the first day we as a school respond to this loss.  First we need a point of contact with the family and be sure we are only sharing what they want shared.  Generally our experience is the children who have experienced a tragic loss come to school every day until the services and return the next day.  I work with the teacher(s) on how to manage the child who is grieving and the class being told.  We generally tell the class that we want them to be caring, quiet, friends and to treat the child just like they were treated before the death.  Obviously this message is modified depending on the age level.  Many of our teachers are very young and have no prior experience with a death of someone who is not old.  I also remind myself that I have to practice self-care when managing this type of crisis on top of an already full schedule. I am going to go do some yoga and meditate now so I can be fully present tomorrow.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Friendship Theme for Classroom Lessons

Otoshi's Two, Hemingway's Bad Apple, and Fox's The Girls Q & A are all newer books on friendship that I am incorporating into lessons this month at various grade levels.  I am using these in addition to some of my favorites like Brown's How to be a Friend and Cook's Making Friends Is an Art. At kindergarten I use My Friend by Gomi.  After I read the book they all complete the sentence I learned ___ from my friend ____ and draw an illustration.   They all meet the new ASCA Mindset and Behavior Standard "Create positive and supportive relationships with other students."

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Using Twitter Chat for online book discussion

I mentioned before that this year our staff/parent book selection is "Growing up social: Raising relationsl kids in a screen-driven world" by Chapman and Pellicane.  To promote discussion as we are reading the book we assigned a hashtag and we are planning a Twitter Chat 2 weeks before our evening Book Discussion. In the past we have tried both Blackboard and our web page to discuss books.  I will let you know if using this social media tool works. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

New ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success: What about the Competencies?

ASCA has archived a second webinar on the ASCA Mindsets, focusing mainly on the competencies.  I encourage everyone to watch it.  The competencies are in a "bank" and ASCA or any member can add to the existing bank.  We need measurable competencies to evaluate the effectiveness of components of our programs. The initial competencies that have been released align with Common Core. We are not a Common Core state so I find myself rewriting them for my lesson and session plans.  I'd love to hear what your experience with the new Mindsets has been...

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Years Reflections

I hope all school counselors are doing lots of self-care over the winter vacation.  I know I have loved having time for long walks.  My life lesson of 2014 was the take away from the tragic accident at our school, which resulted in the sudden loss of a parent.  Since that day last February I have reminded myself every single day, live this day well because you don't know if you will have a tomorrow.  It really is a new mindset for someone like me who spent way too much time worrying and being anxious about tomorrow.  I did write a to do list for 2015.  It will serve to remind me of my priorities like doing more yoga, going on a trip, taking time to enjoy nature.  The job of a school counselor can become consuming.  Find ways to nourish your own spirit.  I am looking forward to getting some additional ideas from a new book I just heard about, "A search for Health, Happiness and a Full Night's Sleep."  Enjoy the rest of your well deserved break!