Sunday, December 31, 2017

Why Group Counseling

In order to “sell” stakeholders small groups should be a major part of the responsive services offered in our programs, we need to be clear on “Why Group Counseling.” Most counselors can explain how small groups are structured but to convince stakeholders why a student should participate we need to be clear on the why ourselves. At my school my part-time counselor and I run as many groups as time permits and need demands because we believe small groups are the best responsive service school counselors can offer. I was a classroom teacher so I enjoy teaching tier 1 lessons, especially now that we are using evidence-based materials like Second Step and MindUp, but I know that 15-20% of the students could use more help with social emotional development. These are the students who can benefit from tier 2 groups and there are 1-5% who need tier 3 groups (remediation and extra support).  Tier 3 groups and individual counseling typically address problems of living like illness of a family member, separation and loss, and grief.
Most of the groups we run are psycho-educational and focus on specific attitudes, skills, and abilities. They focus on typical areas of growth and prevent more transitory difficulties. Group members like the recognition that several others are experiencing the same developmental issues that they are. Yes we could work on these in individual counseling, but our ratio does not make that feasible. Besides we believe students learn from one another not just the counselors. Groups are ideal for improving communication and socialization. They also are extremely useful in fostering a sense of belonging and understanding. They promote development of positive interaction. Many of our groups focus on the need to increase self regulation and coping with difficult emotions.
Another reason why we offer groups is they provide exposure to a common set of skills but are flexible enough for each member to set an individual goal and work on it over the life of the group.
Once a teacher or parent is familiar with the small groups we offer they understand the WHY. However, for new staff and parents new to our learning community it is important to explain why a child might benefit.  We also work very hard to insure there is no stigma or record kept of group counseling participation. We want children and adults to see most groups as prevention and others there to support students who are experiencing some challenges - not that the members of groups have any identified mental health issue or specific disorder.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Multicultural Counseling

Multicultural counseling involves both the recognition of a counselor's own cultural values and biases and an understanding of the client’s worldview and the recognition of a counselor’s own cultural values and bias. School counselors need to continually strive to enhance their awareness, knowledge, and skills dealing with privilege, race, justice, and oppression. Cultural competence involves multiple factors. The RESPECT Model has been around since D’Andrea and Daniels (1997) outlines 10 factors shown above. ASCA published "Making Diversity Work" by Grothaus in 2012. ASCA revised its position statement "The School Counselor and Culture Diversity" in 2015. ASCA has 4 
webinar-on-demand on Cultural Competence presented the past two years. 

As counselors it is increasingly important that we continually revisit our cultural competence as schools become more diverse (see enrollment) For example, our school division like the US is no longer predominantly white. Racial differences is just one aspect of diversity we need to help our students deal with respectfully. My favorite resource for teaching diversity is It has a magazine, lesson plans, free film kits, webinars, and much more.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Out of Your Mind

This noncompetitive game is a good resource for individual and small groups to get to know what students are thinking and teach social skills. Out of Your Mind from
 playtherapysupply fosters empathy and teaches communication, listening, and decision-making skills.
The game consists of four card decks and a Feel Wheel—a conversation-starting spinner featuring 24 emotions. Each card deck presents activities that engage the imagination and inspire creativity:
  • Imagine That - Through guided imagery, these cards encourage players to visualize themselves dealing with novel situations.
  • Picture This - Endorsing the idea that a picture is worth a thousand words, these cards feature 4 or 5 drawings that help players express themselves.
  • Voice a Choice - Multiple-choice questions invite players to share things about themselves.
  • Remember When - These cards ask players to recall a memory.
Out of Your Mind helps reluctant children communicate effectively.  I use this game with students in fourth and fifth grade and I think it is a worthwhile resource for a school counselor's office.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Props to teach mindfulness and the brain

Mindfulness is an important but very abstract concept for children to grasp. We also try to teach our students that feelings generate from the back of the brain (amygdala and hippocampus) but that thinking occurs in the front of the brain (prefrontal cortex).  If our brain is totally full of feelings (represented by jar full of sand) then there are is no room for thoughts (represented by bag of rocks). The other jar has rocks and sand- our full mind should be a balance of thoughts and feeling. My students, especially those who are referred for self-regulation and emotion-regulation groups really like props. The like to touch the jars and then they color and label a handout that looks like the chart pictured above.Practicing mindfulness calms the amygdala and allows us to access the prefrontal cortex, so that we can make thoughtful choices for how to respond. Mindfulness helps children regain access to executive functions: the intention to pay attention, emotional regulation, body regulation, empathy, self-calm, and communications skills. This site has a great infographic and cute labels for the various parts of the brain to help children understand the different "jobs" of key parts of the brain mindfulness-and-the-brain-how-to-explain-it-to-children/

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Literature to Enhance Empathy

This is my favorite book to teach perspective taking in grades 1-5. It is easy for students to identify how each of the characters feel about the same event, a short outing at a park. They can also express how they would feel if they were either of the children in the story. I use this book in my emotional regulation small groups. Other books that are very good to teach these skills are:
Grey - The Pea and the Princess
Lewis - Not Inside This House
Ludwig - The Invisible Boy
Woodson - Each Kindness
Woodson - The Other Side

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Teaching Emotional Regulation and Empathy

This is a great resource to help children learn to read facial expressions, build feeling vocabularies, and talk about feelings - all building blocks for emotional regulation and empathy. The photographs are great with 2 of each so you can play memory or concentration Feelings-Educational When the student makes a match you can have them use the emotion in an I sentence to promote expression of emotions. According to Decety and Cowell empathy involves 3 distinct processes: 1) emotional sharing; 2) empathic concern; and 3) perspective taking.  These processes can be taught individually and in groups through literature, modeling, and role-playing. Mindfulness practice has also been shown to help strengthen empathy by first noticing own responses then shifting focus to noticing the responses of others. I have used this resource in both individual counseling and in my small groups for emotional regulation.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Icebreaker with a purpose

We are starting our second round of groups this week. Our part-time counselor and I will be running 22 groups. Our part-time counselor is only here one day a week. On that day she runs 6 groups. We have worked together for a long time so we share the planning of the groups. We put together booklets ahead of time so everything is preplanned. We can change an activity if we find something better or more appropriate but out students like knowing what is in store for the 8 sessions and it keeps us organized. 
For our social skills friendship groups we First Steps for Social Success for round one of groups and now we are using Next Steps to Social Success four round two. Both these books from youthlight have 4 sections so we can select the lesson for each grade level we think best fits. We add icebreakers, books, and other tried and true activities that build friendship skills and handle social challenges. It is nice to have a well developed resource to serve as the basis of our groups.
To get our groups in grades 2-5 started we start with introductions since we pull students from 4 classes at each grade level and this helps cement names and then we do this dice game to practice initiating conversations in a nonthreatening way. The members simply roll the dice and what ever number is on top they say the members name and ask one of the two questions. We do it for 2-3 rounds and the students like it because it has clear procedures and structure so even if they are shy or hesitant in new situations they participate. It is important to do nonthreatening activities in this initial forming stage of a group. The dice can be easily cleaned so it has fewer germs for the next group!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Puzzle Pals

We get a large number of referrals for friendship groups in kindergarten. I have not found an evidence based curriculum I think meets the needs of my students so I put together a group we call "Puzzle Pals". I pulled most of the skills from Second Step which we use for Tier 1 and utilize some of the materials from the Early Learning Second Step kit as well. Over the years I have settled on the 8 skills listed in the puzzle outline above. I use the Second Step listening rules as the group rules which we sing to start the first 3 sessions. I have students rate themselves at the end of each session if they followed the rules or  oops I need to practice! We cover one skill a session.  For most of the session we read a book, practice the skill, and do a page in the activity booklet I make ahead. For example, for session 1 I read Say Hello by Jack & Michael Foreman and greet one another. At the end they draw a picture of themselves saying "Hi." The last session they get to do my Moods & Emotions puzzles I purchased from lakeshorelearning. They cannot race or say "I am done" which does not come across as polite and kind, instead I model encouraging language and compliments. When they finish a puzzle they use the feeling in an I sentence and share a time they had that feeling with the group (e.g., I felt silly when my sister told me a joke.) 
I have evaluated the group using pre-post parent and teacher surveys and the results always indicate the members have improved their social skills over the course of the group. These results also reflect that the children have been in school longer and are getting more comfortable in the learning environment. The group seems to be most effective with 6 members from 2-3 different kindergarten classes. This allows them to practice the skills with other children they do not know as well but for shy students having at least one member from their own class keeps their initial uneasiness at a manageable level.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Top School Counselor Blogs

Top 60 School Counselor Blogs Winners

CONGRATULATIONS to every blogger that has made this Top School Counselor Blogs list! This is the most comprehensive list of best School Counselor blogs on the internet. I am very proud that my blog was ranked #8 this year! Check out all the great sites at school_counselor_blogs

Monday, November 20, 2017

Self-Regulation for Young Students

My school is loaded with young students who need help with self-regulation. We work on it in classroom lessons with Second Step which fortunately our district bought for all our schools. A less expensive alternative is the self-regulation materials from  You can buy just the Curriculum Guide but I highly recommend purchasing the kit. The materials in this kit can be used in classes by teachers and counselors and especially our teachers who work with students identified as needing special education. It is recommended that this be used over 8 weeks and taught on two different days of the week (Tues and Thurs). The only place that can happen at my school is for students with an IEP that includes social skills.
I was thrilled to obtain this kit because even though it says "Preschool" I am using it in my psycho-educational  self-regulation groups with kindergarten and first grade. The kit has 40 lessons, games, and activities. The Curriculum Guide by Brad Chapin (with Lena Kisner and Brooke Stover) follows the same structure as his other manuals for older students. It is based on cognitive-behavioral psychology and addresses three areas: 1) physical; 2) emotional; and 3) cognitive. There is a regulation poster for each of the 3 areas. There are also core lesson image cards to use with lessons. There are core lessons for each of the three areas. For my groups I select 2-3 lessons from each of the areas. My students enjoy singing the "Safe and Calm Song." They are entertained by the book "The Horsefly Sigh" that teaches a fun relaxation breathing technique and thy like to practice it and go home and teach it to a family member. They love the "Calming Skills Block Game" using the cube that is provided in the kit. Students in self-regulation groups need activities that build in movement, throwing, practicing!
There is a CD which has all the forms for printing. There are great resources for counselors like a Sample Parent Letter and Self-Regulation Teacher Rating Scale. These are very helpful if you are using a self-regulation group for your teacher evaluation SMART goal or collecting data to RAMP. If you need other resources on self-regulation click one the labels on the right of my blog to see what else I use to address this critical need for students.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Teaching Children to Apologize

Here are 2 excellent books to anchor a class lesson or small group session on this important social skill. Start With Sorry by Finch is perfect for Pre-Kindergarten to grade 1. Zach Apologizes by Mulcahy is good for grades 2 and 3. Mulcahy teaches a 4-part apology strategy.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

National Adoption Awareness Month

As school counselors we need to be very aware of adoption and how children process being adopted at various developmental levels stages We also need to educate our staff in the use of positive adoption language. This article does a good job explaining the preferred terminology my-forever-family My go to resource and referral agency is The Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE) My children are both adopted and I sent our oldest to CASE for a group in the upper elementary years. It was very helpful for her to be with other children who were adopted and share stories and learn strategies. I have run groups for adopted children at both the school. I have worked at but generally there are not enough children in a single grade level to offer an in-school group.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Spread the Word: Branding and Marketing Your School Counseling Program

A few years ago my part-time counselor and I presented on branding and marketing a school counseling program at our state SCA conference. Here is a link to our PowerPoint
Spread the Word We chose the iHelp logo because that was the year our school began the one-to-one imitative giving iPads to all students. We continue to use the iHelp logo on our materials. Pictured above is my office door. The students think the see through (window) labeled "Live cam" is very funny. Public relations for counseling programs is an ongoing responsibility. Every year we have new staff and students who need to be informed about what we do. Despite all our efforts, not a week goes by that I don't receive an email from a parent that begins with a phrase like "I don't know if it is appropriate to ask you for this kind of help..." We also do LOTS of online marketing especially via our Blog and Twitter feed. We are beginning the process to lobby our school board to reduce our counselor:student ratio, hoping to eventually get to 1:250 at all levels. Please think about how you can promote school counseling programs and join ASCA and your state SCA so they can lobby for more school counseling positions! Follow me on Twitter @mbmccormac

Monday, October 30, 2017

Is it ADHD or Trauma?

Symptoms of child traumatic stress could be mistaken for ADHD and that the risk of misdiagnosis is high. This is because there is an overlap between ADHD symptoms and the effects of experiencing trauma. Unless symptoms are examined closely, the profiles of child traumatic stress and ADHD can appear to be similar. For example:
 Young children who experience trauma may have symptoms of hyperactivity and disruptive
behavior that resemble ADHD.
 Trauma can make children feel agitated, troubled, nervous, and on alert. These behaviors
can be mistaken for hyperactivity.
 What might seem like inattention in children who experience trauma might actually be
symptoms of dissociation (feelings of unreality or being outside of one’s body) or the result of
avoidance of trauma reminders.
 Among children who experience trauma, intrusive thoughts or memories of trauma (e.g.,
feeling like it is happening all over again) may lead to confused or agitated behavior which
can resemble the impulsivity of ADHD.
Overlapping symptoms can make it difficult to obtain a correct diagnosis, which can complicate both
assessment and counseling.
Read more about this adhd_and_child_traumatic_stress

Sunday, October 29, 2017

ADHD Self-Regulation and Executive Function

ADHD is the most common disorder in children. The percent of children estimated to have ADHD has changed over time and can vary by how it is measured. The American Psychiatric Association states in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5, 2013) that 5% of children have ADHD. However, other studies in the US have estimated higher rates in community samples.

As school counselors it is important to know a lot about ADHD because students with this disorder are frequently referred for small groups. Learn more about ADHD from the best adhd
Here is an article from ASCA on collaborative classroom and behavioral evidence-based strategies that counselors can recommend to teachers and parents Students-With-ADHD The government suggest counselors assist these children by providing teacher training on effective practices eric.ed

School counselors also offer small groups for students who need self-regulation and behavioral support strategies-for-students Counseling is an effective intervention for ADHD because it addresses behavior modification. Children with ADHD can have a difficult time regulating their emotional and behavioral response to situations. Learning effective coping strategies is one way to gain control over symptoms. Counselors can also help with the development of a plan for organization and prioritization, key areas of difficulty for those with ADHD. Goal setting, reward and consequence, and emotional regulation are other areas that are addressed during counseling groups.

I do not like to run a group of all students with ADHD unless I have at least one role model. I also never name a group anything that makes it obvious a difference the members may have so I call them names like Remote Controllers, Super Selfies, Turtles. The group sessions need to be very active and engaging. In my groups for younger kids I focus on regulating their bodies and feelings. A good resource for activities for groups in grades 3-5 is Caselman"s Teaching Kids Impulse Control.

Friday, October 27, 2017

More Self-regulation Resources

This pack of large cards from  yoga4classroomsactivity-card-deck have great movement and breath work activities that are perfect for small groups and could be used with individuals and class lessons too. They promote self-awareness and if you go to the site you can receive 6 free downloads if you subscribe. I really like the "Peace Crawl" because in addition to using bilateral movement it has a chant that goes with the movement. I think chanting while moving further calms the brain and reinforces helpful behaviors that promote self-regulation. Conductor breath is great because it incorporates gross motor movement of large muscles in tune with the breath. I find that students self-regulate better when they learn to do helpful gross motor movement much faster than just giving them a fidget which is only going to use small muscles.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Yoga for Self-Regulation

We have an increasing number of students referred to group counseling for self-regulation. I find that before they can focus they need to get in touch with their bodies through movement.I start with a movement activity like mindful walking or cross crawl marching. Then I have them work their bodies by doing yoga in these groups. I based this ABC list on the book The ABCs of Yoga for Kids by Teresa Powers. I prefer mostly standing poses so I made this list. After the yoga centering at the beginning I do a few breathing activities. I try to make these fun so we may do pinwheel breathing or use straws to breathe a fetaher around the table. For more resources check out 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Recognize - Is it MOO?

One of the hardest part of bullying prevention is for students to be able to recognize if a situation is bullying or it is a lesser problem that kids can solve on their own. This year I have enlisted by cow puppet to teach MOO. Since this is a new strategy I am doing it K-5. In K-1 I have created some basic handouts with a cute cow outline the kids can color and the word recognize. This is my second grade handout featuring the Second Step poster (Help Stop Bullying 3 Rs) and requiring them to fill in the key words strong and respectful. An assertive response is required for most bullying (except perhaps physical). For the upper grades I add an additional O for one-sided and talk about fairness and negative power. The teachers and students have all enjoyed my first lessons of the year about bullying featuring Mean, On purpose, Over and over (and One-sided). I always send the Home Link Handout provided by Second Step that informs parents about our bullying program and gives suggestions how they can practice refusal skills at home.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Evidence-based Bullying Prevention

All fifty states in the United States have passed school anti-bullying legislation, the first being Georgia in 1999 and Montana the last in 2015. A watchdog organization called Bully Police USA bullypolice  advocates for and reports on anti-bullying legislation. States have clear policies about bullying and you must follow what your own state requires. For example, this year Virginia passed additional bullying legislation which requires principles to notify parents of any alleged bullying within 5 days. Virginia has several valuable resources for schools prevention/bullying/ Here is a list from 2016 listing evidence-based programs to address bullying bullying-prevention-curriculum. I know it is not totally up-to-date because it still lists Steps to Respect but the Committee for Children has transitioned to Second Step Bullying Unit (pictured above) which is very similar but more up-to-date. Bullying programs make a difference, in schools that have an anti-bullying program, bullying is reduced by 50%. Many school counselors facilitate the bullying prevention program in their schools. ASCA offers bullying-prevention-specialist-training if you feel you need more training on this critical topic.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Who Gets Bullied at School

People can be mean and those who bully often target someone who is perceived as "different" than their peers. It could be a student who is gifted or has a special talent. Students with food allergies are targeted and blamed for school's tightening policies about food being served at class parties. If a student has a physical feature that is noticeable like large ears or being short, that can make him/her a target. Students who have a limited number of friends, are introverted, or socially anxious are often harassed. They get called "retarded" because they rarely speak in groups. Adults need to be very vigilant and responsive to bullying. It frequently is done when peers can see it and hear it but the one doing the bullying thinks the adult won't notice or is not around. If a student is bullied and reports it to an adult, the adult must receive the report in a way that is helpful. Never tell a child to ignore bullying. Bullying is a repeated pattern of behavior that will likely occur again. When adults in a school are not responsive to bullying reports kids stop reporting bullying but bullying is still happening!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

UNITY DAY: Together against bullying.

United for kindness, acceptance and inclusion. Wednesday, October 25, 2017

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. Learn more at They have great resources for kids, parents, and educators.

My school participates every year in Unity Day. For the past few years I have involved the SCA by giving them a mini lesson about Unity Day and then having them make the posters that are displayed during October for Bullying Prevention Month. The one pictured above is simple and cute. We hung it on the front door of our main office.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

October is Bullying Prevention Month - Stop Bullying On the Spot

We use this bulletin board every other October because all our students know the story of Spookley the square pumpkin who was bullied by the round pumpkins. Lessons are available here
It helps reinforce the Second Step Bullying Unit lessons I teach and the literatur based lessons led by our classroom teachers, administrators, and librarian. This year we waited until the latter half of the month to start talking to the kids about bullying. Our district uses a common scope and sequence and the elementary counselors agreed we needed to talk about accidents and empathy before bullying. We use all the Committee for Children products and these are early lessons in Second Step. If you do not have the money for Second Step check out the resources on the government website

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Books to Help Children with Anxiety

I recently found these 3 great resources to help my students who struggle with high levels of anxiety. A Small Thing ... but Big explains systematic desensitization in a kid friendly way - the girl overcomes her fear of dogs. Upper elementary students can learn about the same process by reading School of Fear. I always tell parents and children that trying to manage anxiety if like the Wack-a-Mole game at the arcade because you might get separation anxiety under control and then it pops up as social anxiety or a specific fear.  Therefore I think this new release has the perfect cover. I have it on pre-order from Amazon but I am hoping they will have a copy at our state SCA conference this week. Reading about the struggle of others with anxiety helps normalize the experience and teach strategies. I read A Small Thing... but Big to my emotion management group.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

You Cue Feelings

I am always looking for good resources to teach children about emotions. We want to them to have good feeling vocabulary so they can understand and label the various levels of basic feelings. We also want children to make the connection between feelings and thoughts.  Dr. Ann Vagin has a good book called "You Cue Feelings", a website, and a You Tube channel. Dr. Vagin likes to use online videos as the stimulus to teach children about feelings. I prefer to use children's literature. The book pictured above "Ready for Anything!" is a great one to use in emotion regulation groups to stimulate discussion of emotions and how different thoughts cause different feelings. For example, one character is nervous about going on a picnic because what if there are bees. The other character wanted to go on a picnic because what if there are butterflies. After reading and discussing pleasant and unpleasant feelings and thoughts and the book, the students identify a comfortable and uncomfortable and the associated thoughts. Dr. Vagin has lists of her favorite videos to teach feelings on her website and in her book.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Social Skills Groups

I started small groups this week. For my first and second grade social skills group I am using First Steps to Social Success by Diane Senn. There are 25 lessons so I pick 8 lessons for each grade level two from each of the 4 topics covered:

  • Knowing Myself First
  • Initiating with Others
  • Learning Conversation Skills
  • Reading Social Cues: Seeing, Thinking, Doing
For my third and fourth grade I use Senn's Next Steps to Social Success. These resources have good pre-post tests and handout too. I select lessons from the featured topics in Next Steps:
  • Building Friendships
  • Managing Friendships
  • Handling Friendship Problems
  • Social Skills in the Classroom
You could use lessons from both books but I am using them at different grade levels and tracking which lesson I have used. I may need to do a second group later in the year for some of the students and there are still plenty of lesson left. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month—a time to share resources and stories in an effort to shed light on this highly taboo and stigmatized topic. We use this month to reach out to those affected by suicide, raise awareness and connect individuals with suicidal ideation to treatment services. It is also important to ensure that individuals, friends and families have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention. nami/Suicide-Prevention-Awareness-Month

While the number of deaths by suicide in younger children is statistically small, the number of attempts in students ages 10 to 14 has increased dramatically over the last few years, especially for girls. And even if they haven’t made an attempt, there are children in every school who are thinking about suicide  We need to think about suicide as an attempt to solve a problem of intense emotional pain with impaired skills. As counselors we need to have productive way to have a conversation about suicide with any aged student. Never assume just because a person is young that they will not attempt suicide. If a student is talking about wanting to die to a risk assessment and consult with another mental health provider. ALWAYS notify parents and document the notification even if you don't believe there is an imminent threat. Continue to take threats seriously: Follow through is important even after the child calms down or informs you or the parent "they didn't mean it." Avoid assuming behavior is simply attention seeking (but at the same time avoid reinforcing suicide threats; e.g., by allowing the student who has threatened suicide to avoid or get something to make them feel better).

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death overall so many children and families are impacted by suicide. Using "suicide death" or" death by suicide" is more helpful than saying "successful suicide" or "committed suicide." Often times family members will not tell the child that it was a suicide death. I don't think this is helpful and further adds to the stigma and shame. People bereaved by suicide often experience complicated bereavement. There can be many other feelings in addition to grief including shock, social isolation, anger and guilt. The often sudden and sometimes unexpected nature of the death can also be extremely traumatic for those who lived with or knew the person. 

There are more resources at but these are geared toward older students. Suicide prevention programs are becoming more common in secondary schools because of the increasing number of suicide attempts. I am not aware of any aimed at elementary learners. However, it is important to get information in the hands of staff and parents about the warning signs of suicide and always #BeThe1ToAsk. That is basic mental health first aide.  

Saturday, September 2, 2017

September is Attendance Awareness Month

We use a version of this board every September to tell our learning community what time children are let into classroom so they can be ready and in their seats at 9:00 when the bell rings and we start with the Pledge of Allegiance. We really focus on pushing out the message that we want learners in school #EVERYDayALLDay unless they meet one of the criteria in our policy for excused absence (like sick with a fever about 101 or attending services for death of family member). We use messaging from this site attendanceworks We are a big Twitter use school so we use that to keep letting parents know the importance of establishing a positive pattern at the beginning of the school year. One year we piloted a program to focus our efforts on one kindergarten class. At the end of each month we sent home a thank you note to the parents who had their child in school every school day all day that month. When we evaluated this intervention the parents told us not to bother with the cards because they were "just doing their job as parents." We also did not have a significant difference between that class and our other 4 kindergarten classes. Even though it did not work we published our findings and it did send the message we are taking this very seriously.
We have students who are chronically tardy which we address through our attendance team. Once a month the attendance secretary, social worker, counselor, and administrator meet to review the data. That is when we decide who will get a letter, phone call, chat with counselor, small group, and eventually a meeting to develop an attendance plan. One of the school counseling program goals is always aimed at attendance.  Overall our school has a high attendance rate (above 96%) but each year we address the students who the prior year have been chronically absent or tardy (2 days a month), are chronically tardy, or both. 
We also look at the learners who are at risk to develop a chronic pattern of not being in school consistently. Here is a draft of our goal this year:
 By June 2018, 75% of the students who had 10 or more tardy arrivals or absences in the 2016-2017 school year, will decrease the targeted behavior.
If anyone has a success story please leave it in Comments.