Sunday, October 30, 2016

Annual Goals

Since my school is in Virginia I have to have a SMART goal for my teacher evaluation. This year all elementary counselors in my district are using the first goal above which is a program goal. As education specialists we have some flexibility in our goal. Our district counseling supervisor worked on this goal with our head of teacher evaluation. A few principals did not like it but it got approved. Our teachers all do one directly related to academic achievement and some area and group. We are using Second Step and MindUp as the foundation for our Tier 1 lessons. Teaching 10-15 new lessons is a lot of work but I am happy that finally if a student transfers from one school in our district to another we can assume they have been exposed to lessons on empathy, emotion management, and problem solving. I will meet after the first semester to update my evaluator (principal) on this goal and my final data has to be turned in at the beginning of May.
The School Counseling Program Goals are the ones I developed with my administrator and advisory council. They are the ones in my Annual Agreement my principal and I discussed and signed earlier this month. They are based on data from last year. We had a drop in the number of students who felt our staff listened to them when they reported bullying. We had an increase in the number of students who were absent or tardy more than 10 days. Referrals for anxiety and emotion regulation continues to be the number one reason students are referred for counseling. I will use my attendance goal for my Closing-the-Gap Action Plan and my goal for students needing more help (Tier 2) with emotion regulation for my Small Group Action Plan. The Results Reports for these goals are done in June.
We had a lively discussion of our goals at our October district Elementary Counselors Meeting. I appreciate having an engaged Professional Learning Community to share ideas and strategies face-to-face.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Music Reduces Anxiety and Stress

I went to a great workshop at VSCA on using music in counseling and since then I have been experimenting more with music, movement, and rhythms in my office and lessons. I have lots of CDs but since I do not consider myself musical I have always been hesitant to use much music. After researching this topic for a few weeks I am even more convinced that many students would benefit from music being incorporated into counseling (and their daily life). I intend to recommend music more to parents of my students with high levels of anxiety. The research shows music tracks that are peaceful and serene are the most effective in reducing anxiety.  If you are working with students who are poorly self-regulated music with a steady beat is better. I like this article that suggests combining music, movement, and meditation should be combined for 10-20 minutes a day to reduce stress 12-ways-to-reduce-stress-with-music. I encourage you to experiment more with music in your practice. If you have a good suggestion, please share in Comments.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

My favorite new parenting resource and web site is "Self-reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life" by Stuart Shanker self-reg
He also teams up with Raffi to offer a free song download to help children learn to self-regulate. The web site also has a toolkit for educators. Stuart explains the difference between self-control and self-regulation. He also talks about the importance of distinguishing between misbehavior and stress behavior. If a parent or educator responds to stress behavior with some of the common tools for misbehavior it can actually make the child more overloaded and the situation worse. I am doing self-regulation groups in kindergarten through grade 3 right now and these resources are very useful.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Helping Children Understand Depression

Depression is a type of mood disorder. The main sign is when children are sad, discouraged, or irritable for weeks or even months. Another sign a child might have depression is negative thinking. This includes focusing on problems and faults, being mostly critical and self-critical, and complaining a lot. To learn more see
A great resource to explain depression and the need for counseling to children suffering from depression is "How Frederick Found His Light!" by Katherine McIntyre available at It could also be used to explain the depression of a family member to students in Kindergarten through grade 3.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Calm Down and Release the Amygdala

I think it is important to teach students about their brain. This video does a good job of summarizing 3 key strategies for self regulation: breathing, relaxation, and positive thoughts. This video uses the same language I use in groups including square breathing and green vs. red thoughts. It even uses the spaghetti analogy that I often use with a simple warm-up exercise called spaghetti toes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Unity Day

Today is wear orange to make it end, unite against bullying. We have been celebrating Unity Day at my school for the 10 years Pacer has been sponsoring this activity. It is a great way to get the message out to all students that bullying is against the school rules. Teachers review the definition in their morning meetings and the 3Rs Recognize, Report, Refuses. We also do a big social media campaign on this day, the highlight of Bullying Prevention Month. To learn more about Unity Day see

Sunday, October 16, 2016

How to UnMake A Bully

There is a whole series of these videos that were developed by fourth and fifth graders. They are a great resource for Bullying Prevention Month.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Movement and Mindfulness

This group that makes practicing mindfulness and yoga moves for for young children is certainly worth checking out. Many of  their suggested activities are perfect for teaching self-regulation and some for emotion management. A friend did the training and said it had lots of activities that counselors can use in classroom lessons or small groups. Check it out. My favorite is the Mondey Wisdom chant that goes along with doing cross crawl. I am trying to incorporate more movement, music, and rhythms in my lessons and groups that are compatible with the MindUp curriculum from the Hawn Foundation. 

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

VSCA Presentation Groups fro Students

I am excited to be leaving for VSCA today to spend time getting PD face-to-face. It is also such a great opportunity to network with counselors from all over my state. Our Director paid our VSCA dues this year if we go to the conference. We all need to join our state organization because that is who lobbies for better counselor:student ratios and how our jobs get defined. Your state organization needs to be able to say they have XXXXX members! I am happy to be presenting on my favorite topic Anxiety, Stress, and Worry. If you would like to see my very long (that is what happens when I get a 3 day weekend before presenting) PowerPoint it is posted on my Livebinder While you are there you can access my session plans for the groups I am discussing like Worry Wise (Grade 2) and Its OK (Grade 3). If you are going to VSCA please come to my session and let me know you read my blog. I always enjoy speaking to readers face-to-face.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Girls Group to Increase Leadership and Empowerment and Reduce Drama

If you need a group curriculum for upper grade girls check out StarBound by Carol Miller. Carol is a major member of my online PLN. Her Middle School Counseling blog is a terrific resource too. This 8 session group is linked to ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors and even has the ASCA Small Goup Action Plan. It has a CD for all reproducibles to make it super user friendly. We will be using it with fifth grade girls starting next week. Check it out at https://youthlight

Monday, October 10, 2016


Anxiety is the number one reason students and parents come to me for help. I frequently use the free resources located at The STOP Plan is one of the ones I use the most. When people are anxious they need to be taught to become aware of their unhelpful thoughts and think more realistically to lower their distress. Children need to be coached to change unhelpful automatic thoughts into those that will be helpful. This form helps guide that discussion. You can also send home a copy to parents if they want to use the same tools you are using in counseling. With upper grade students this could be used in a group for emotion regulation.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Breathe in for 4, hold for 7, out for 8

This relaxing breath technique has been around for centuries. I teach it to students in grades 3-5 who need more emotion regulation, especially those who get anxious. It should be practiced twice a day so it is a habit that is available when a trigger presents (like a test). I encourage them to practice when they get in bed at night because research shows it is a great way to fall asleep. Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in the roof of the mouth behind the teeth the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. You count silently in your mind. The App pictured above can be used as an aide if needed. I use it myself because most of us do not fully exhale which is key to promoting relaxation.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Teaching the ABCs of Attention, Balance and Compassion: Susan Kaiser Gr...

Teaching children Attention: focusing & choosing
Balance: quieting & seeing
Compassion: caring & connecting
Susan Kaiser Greenland explains her approach to teaching mindfulness to children. I love her hand motions!

Social Success

Here are 2 great resources to teach children to be more successful socially. The First Steps book and CD includes: Know Myself First; Initiate with Others; Learn Conversation Skills; and Read Social Clues. The Next Steps helps them develop social problem solving skills: Building Friendships; Managing Friendships; Handling Friendship Problems; and Social Skills in the Classroom. We use Second Step and MindUp as our Tier 1 evidence-based curriculum so I will use these in Tier 2 small groups for children who need more support to interact successfully with peers. The First Steps book has 25 lessons and Next Steps has 30 lessons. For counselors who get forced into the specials rotation these books are MUST HAVES! I especially like the CD that has an interactive summary, handouts, and graphic cue cards for each lesson. I think the graphic cue card which is a visual summary of the lesson is such a great learning aide. It can be used at the beginning and end of the lesson or session to review what was covered and sent home so parents know what happened in classroom or group. They could also be used for a quick review the next lesson or session and at the end for cumulative review. I strongly urge elementary counselors to consider this valuable resource by Diane S. Senn and published by

Friday, October 7, 2016

Counseling Advisory Council

I was originally trained as a school counselor in Missouri the home of comprehensive school counseling programs, including advisory committees, back in the day. Fast forward to my career as a school counselor in Virginia where our supervisor told every school they must have an advisory “committee” yet most of our schools did not. In the past 5 years our district has been pushing for ALL schools to implement the ASCA National Model and encouraging schools to RAMP but the advisory council remains a hurdle for many both experienced and new to the profession. Each time I have started an ASCA Model program at a school I had my Advisory Council meet 6 times the first year and 4 times every year after we got the program up and running. I am the full-time counselor at a Re-RAMPed school and I enjoy and get something out of every meeting with my Council.
The purpose of the Advisory Committee is to:
provide advisement concerning program development and annual goals;
review progress toward program goals through examination of data and the program audit;
support the program via advocacy (i.e., PTA funding for projects);
provide a two-way communication link between the school counseling program and school and community stakeholders.
The membership of my committee is half staff and half parents/community members. I solicit a range of staff to represent primary and upper grades, special education, and a specialist. I invite parents that have children who are young and older, members of our biggest minority group, and those who have a special interest in education or mental health. I also include the PTA leaders who organize parent workshops which we co-sponsor.
I send out the agenda before our meetings. This week we had our first meeting of the school year (picture above) with the focus on reviewing last years data, draft program goals, and plans for parent events sponsored by the counseling program. I send out minutes about a week after the meeting and invite any additional ideas.
Members typically serve for 3 years so about 1/3 of the committee is new each year. One of the administrators comes so they both attend 2 meetings a year. I always get good suggestions for things to add or refine based on the input of this dynamic group. I encourage all counselor to establish and take advantage of an active counseling program advisory council.

Study Habits

This is a great resource for small tier 2 groups for learning, study skills, and organization. It has 8 sessions which is the length of most of my groups. The activities are engaging and helpful. It is written by a former ASCA school counselor of the year. Check it out at

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Bullying Prevention

The Committee for Children continues to provide excellent evidence-based resources to schools to make schools safer. The online training schools receive when they purchase the Second Step Bullying Unit is terrific. I wish every administer would watch Module 1 to really understand this problem and their responsibility in making sure ALL staff are properly trained to handle bullying. The second Module is for ALL staff. This year all our new staff had to go through Module 2 and watch videos and take quizzes. It takes about an hour but it really teaches them how to take a report and if they are a teacher (or counselor) how to develop a plan with a child. Module 2 is for staff who are going to teach the student lessons which in our district is the counselors. National Bullying Prevention Month is a perfect opportunity to engage families in awareness of bullying behavior and how to help children respond if they are bullied or if they are aware bullying is happening (bystander). Check it out

Saturday, October 1, 2016

National Bullying Awareness Month - October

Every October, schools across the country join in observing National Bullying Prevention Month. The goal: encourage communities to work together to stop bullying and cyberbullying by increasing awareness of the prevalence and impact of bullying on all children of all ages. Throughout the month our learning community will be raising awareness about bullying behavior and how important bystanders are to reduce bullying behavior.
During October the counseling lessons will all be about bullying based on the Second Step Bullying Unit. Administrators will be visiting all kindergarten through third grade classes to read a book about bullying.
Wednesday, October 19, 2016 we will celebrate UNITY DAY: Together against bullying — united for kindness, acceptance and inclusion. Make it ORANGE and make it end! What are your true colors when it comes to bullying? If you care about safe and supportive schools and communities make your color ORANGE on Unity Day. That’s the day everyone can come together – in schools, communities, and online – and send one large ORANGE message of support, hope, and unity to show that we are together against bullying and united for kindness, acceptance and inclusion. To learn more about this day see All staff and students are encouraged to wear orange that day.
In place of a morning message in morning meetings on Unity Day we ask classes to work together on a simple Unity Tree. The Unity Tree is a powerful symbol reminding everyone that bullying can be prevented when we all come together – united for kindness, acceptance and inclusion. Creating a Unity Tree is an interactive and hands-on activity, a shared experience in which all students can participate and everyone can watch the tree grow. Each person contributes their own unique experiences, creative ideas, and strategies by writing positive messages on leaves that are attached to the tree. As the number of leaves increases, it creates a visual reminder, demonstrating that when we are united we can create social change. On the class easel or bulletin board, create the trunk of a tree and branches. Pre-cut leaf shaped pieces of orange paper large enough for students to write a message will be provided to teachers. Here are three options for types of messages, or create your own: If you planted a seed, what would you tell your seed about bullying? What can you do change/impact your school’s culture about bullying? How can you support a friend/peer who is being bullied? Each student writes down their response on a leaf. Attach each of the leaves to the tree. Display the tree in your classroom for the remainder of October.

SCA representatives will be making a poster for each classroom about Bullying Prevention Month. The display case in the front of our school will feature anti-bullying this month.