Friday, July 14, 2017

Help Your Anxious Child: Tips from a Child Therapist

This child therapist specializes in helping parents whose children have excessive anxiety and/or OCD. I recommend her website to parents frequently. She makes it clear that parents should not over accommodate  anxiety behaviors and let children avoid challenges like sleeping in own room or going to school. She cautions parents that getting frustrated and asking them to something they clearly are not ready to handle like a sleepover party are the two extreme parenting styles. She has some simple practical suggestions for a balanced approach for parents to use in coaching children to "crush" anxiety. She starts by telling parents to discuss anxiety with the child and give it a name to externalize it and keep it from eroding the child's self-esteem. That is where I usually begin when doing individual counseling with students who have too much anxiety. She has some great articles and has published two books, This video addresses a question I get every week as a school counselor,"How can I help my anxious child?"

Thursday, July 13, 2017

New to Elementary Counseling or Starting at a New School: Ten Places to Start

    New beginnings are very exciting but also can feel overwhelming. I just want to offer ten things I did when I started at my current school based on what I learned at my first assignment.

1 Examine all the school data you have access to including the Report Card and what is online. If there was a previous school counselor that collected and shared any data look at that too.
2 Discuss implanting the ASCA National Model with your administrator(s). Give them a copy of the Executive Summary available for download on ASCA website. Let them know you want to implement the Model with fidelity which will require an Annual Agreement with them and an Advisory Council that meets at least twice a year.  Let the principal know you think it is best to begin with a needs assessment of staff, parents, and students to help gather data to set program goals. ANMExecSumm.pdf
3 Get to know colleagues including all classroom teachers and support staff.  Explain when and how staff can make referrals for individual or group counseling. Let classroom teachers know when you will begin teaching lesson, how many lessons you will teach and their length, and how to sign up for a mutually agreed upon time slot.
4 Set up your office in a way that works for you. I like to have a group table, an area rug for activities, and a small work station for my electronic devices. I recommend keeping minimum paper files and store important forms, articles, etc. electronically. I use Google Drive, Dropbox, and Livebinders rather than have a file cabinet. The only paper files I keep are for Risk Assessments and active student files for individual counseling.
5  Determine which electronic calendar is used primarily in your building. Since we use mostly Outlook I keep my schedule in it. The School Counseling Program schedule is open to view by all teachers and administrators. The teachers can tell which blocks I have reserved for groups and meetings and schedule their class lessons in any flexible time slot.  If I need to pull an individual student at a certain time, I will enter that as well (but not the student’s name). My teachers sign up for a monthly lesson in grades 2-5 for 30 minutes; in kindergarten and first grade I teach more but for 20-minute time slots. If they need to change a lesson after Sunday evening they must send me an email so I am aware of the switch. I print a hard copy of my weekly calendar from Outlook every Monday morning. The weekly calendar is used to document how you are spending your time.
6  Begin building the Annual School Counseling Program Calendar and how you will publish and share it for stakeholders to see. The Annual Calendar has direct services like the core curriculum (example monthly themes for lessons in classrooms) and small groups but not individual counseling. It also indicates indirect services like Parent Teacher Conference Days and special activities sponsored by counseling program (First Friday College Wear Days). I set the dates for the Advisory Council meetings and include them.
7  Begin keeping a list of things you might want to purchase but before spending your own money ask if there are funds allocated for the counseling program. I get money from a variety of sources including the same teacher supply fund available to classroom teachers, a small amount from our central office annually, sometimes money from my school’s budget for curriculum, and the school’s PTA.
8  Figure out the best way to communicate with parents in your learning community. I primarily use Twitter because almost all teachers use it and parents follow staff that work with their children. I also have a web page, blog, and calendar that is housed on the school’s website. We are discouraged from using paper newsletters, brochures, etc. in an effort to be a green school.
9 Decide how you are going to get to know all the students. It is extremely important to know the students’ names and begin to get to know them. In addition to introducing yourself and your role in classes find other ways to get facetime. I always stand in the hall outside my office at arrival and dismissal and greet and chat with students. At the beginning of the school year I try to get to all lunch periods and recesses at least once to mix and mingle. I also create a class picture by downloading student pictures from our school’s information system. I look at this before I go in to teach and quiz myself on students’ names the first quarter of the school year. The kindergarten students and new students won’t have pictures in the information system right away but our kindergarten takes a class photo the first week of school so I ask the teacher for a copy and write names on it. I take pictures of all new students in grades 1-5 at my Welcome New Students celebrations and I just put a copy of their photos with their class. 
10 Plan your Core Curriculum that you will be teaching throughout the year. Determine what your District expects first. Out District requires we use evidence-based programs and provides each school with Second Step and MindUp. We have to report and provide evaluations for at least 10 lessons using this curriculum. We also must teach a career unit based on the National Career Clusters. For many years, we did not have a District Supervisor of counseling and we all had to develop our own lessons. That took so much time and although I finally had lessons I loved and felt were effective, using evidence-based curriculum is the direction the counseling field is moving towards. If you don't have any District requirements be sure to consult with your administrator about what they expect about how many lessons all students will receive.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

College Awareness and Planning NACAC Free Curriculum

Check out this free online resource just published by National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). The elementary section has introductory lessons and activities for kindergarten through grade 2 and multiple lessons and activities for grades 4 and 5. My favorite lesson is grade 4, "Careers by Degrees". https://www.nacac2017stepbystep.pdf

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Follow Me on Twitter!

My favorite technology tool is Twitter and its companion Tweet Deck (dashboard for the hashtags I follow most closely). I use Twitter professionally  in so many ways, but most importantly to network with people and groups that interest me. I do NOT use it to share anything personal, that I save for my Facebook friends. I do belong to the Closed Facebook Group Elementary School Counselor Exchange which is a part of my online Professional Learning Network (PLN). You simply search for the name of the group and ask to join; there are more than 14,000 members and it is a great place to ask questions of other elementary counselors or share your ideas if you feel like you have something that would help another elementary counselor. The advantage (and sometimes disadvantage) of Facebook is there is not a limit to number of characters like Twitter so posts can be longer.

My school uses Twitter to communicate with our Tech savvy parents. I have had parents say to me, "I feel like I talk to you every day and know exactly what you are doing." At first those comments gave me pause but that is exactly what I want. I send out pictures of my classroom lessons so parents can ask when the child comes home, tell me what you learned from Dr. McCormac today? Keep in mind that a Tweet may contain photos, videos, links (count as 23 characters) up to 140 characters of text. I send out links to good articles on parenting, information about upcoming activities like College Wear Fridays, and ideas for helping the whole child to name a few. I do not follow parents (or students including former students). I am very aware that administrators and school board members follow me so I use it as a way to showcase my school counseling program.  It is very important to school counseling that we market and advocate for our programs and inform stakeholders how students are different based on the services we provide.

As I mentioned I am #notatasca17 but am closely following that hashtag and #asca17.  That is how I was able to learn that my Twitter account and a few other counselors who love Twitter were shared as part of an ASCA Conference presentation (slide above) and better yet get the link to the PowerPoint for Angela Cleveland's PowerPoint presentations Angela is very tech savvy and through Twitter I have learned a lot about how to improve my counseling program from @rsabella and @CounselingGeek

A big part of my PLN are Twitter Chats. These provide an online opportunity to engage with other school counselors around the globe! My two favorites are #scchat the first Wednesday of each month at 8 PM EST and #escchat usually two Thursdays a month. These chats typically don't "meet" during summer vacations. Sometimes they have co-hosts like ASCA or a graduate school counseling program. The moderator(s) select a specific topic like Small Groups or ADHD and pose about 8 questions in an hour and give participants an opportunity to respond. Just like on Twitter you don't have to "Tweet" you can just follow the chats called lurking (especially until you feel comfortable). I follow the chats on TweetDeck but you can also use TweetChat (search on your computer and bookmark).

Another feature of Twitter that many users don't take advantage of is the Advanced Search tool. Once you do a search say "elementary school counseling" then click on the Search filters on the left, then Advanced Search. Here you can add exact phrases, hashtags, a range of dates, etc. This can help you find a post you want to read again, a subtopic of your search, etc.

Twitter allows you to have a diverse and innovative network and drive your own professional development. As school counselors we sit through many required staff development activities that are great for classroom teachers but not helpful to us. With Twitter you control who you follow. For example when I first started using Twitter I only followed other elementary counselors and counselor educators but quickly realized I can learn a lot from secondary counselors as well. I also follow organizations that explore issues I am passionate about like mental health, mindfulness, trauma-sensitive counseling to name a few. As a user you get to decide how many people and groups you follow!

Feeling Families

I find it helpful to teach students there are 4 basic groups of feelings that have different levels of energy. This is a way of organizing emotions and helping students think about what emotion they are having, to what degree, and select an appropriate coping strategy. These are the same categories used in CBT Mixed Emotions activity that I wrote about previously for upper grade students with good vocabularies playtherapygames/mixed-emotions I used the feeling faces stickers from Conscious Discipline because those or ones I teach in the classroom in kindergarten and grade 1 so my students are familiar with them. This chart can be used to brainstorm additional feelings and they can be added with sticky notes or because it is laminated written on the chart with dry erase markers.
I keep the chart of the 4 families up in my office all the time because I use it frequently in individual and groups counseling sessions. For individual counseling this chart can be used as a check in by adding a scale. I ask (and record to determine patterns and hopefully progress) on a scale of ) to ten with 0=not having that category of emotions at all since our previous session to 10=Having that as strongly as I can remember having that category of emotions. So a client might be at 6/10 for happy and clam; 5/10 for anxious unsure feelings; 7/10 for angry frustrated; 4/10 for sad or left out. I then ask the student to tell me what happened that made them give that family each number.
For groups I am showing you some things I do reinforce and use feeling families with my self-regulation groups (where we work on controlling our bodies first, then our emotions, and finally our thoughts). For my emotion regulation groups, depending on the grade level, I do the activity sheets above. I make a word bank with a variety of grade level appropriate emotions and they write them in the correct house. This can be easily extended to reinforce I messages by having a member pick a feeling from the house and use it in an I message. These activity sheets go home so parents know what students are learning in group.
Using the Feelings Families has helped my students recognize, understand, label, and express their emotions with more clarity. It helps me tailor a discussion of coping tools that are sometimes effective dealing with each of the 3 unpleasant families of emotions. For example, take a break or walk away is a go strategy for anger but not for anxiety or sadness.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Small Group Counseling An Opportunity for Students to Reach Outside Their Comfort Zone

Molinsky studied a variety of people to find out how some people are able to take the leap and step outside their comfort zone, rise to the challenge, and build confidence. I read his book with lots of interest and also watched his TED Talk While I was reading it I kept thinking about the students in my small groups, especially those in my emotion regulation groups. People with anxiety are masters at avoidance and frequently lack confidence which Molinsky discussed at length. When I lead small groups I am trying to help students develop attitudes that allow them to be courageous and develop new skills. The author talked about how to customize interventions so a person can act on their convictions to try new behaviors. He discusses clarity which is the process of self-talk needed to step out of your comfort zone. He talks about how important practice is to practice new routines. That is exactly why we do role plays and other activities in small groups. As school counselors we are coaching students to adopt what Carol Dweck calls a "learning orientation" where they view practice and making mistakes while learning a new skill a growth opportunity - not further evidence they will never succeed at whatever is challenging them Not Yet!). This book also validated the practice I use when leading small groups of having every member set a personal learning goal related to the topic of the group. For example, I will try a new sport and attend all practices and games without complaining for a 3 month period. That is a great goal but in order for someone who gets anxious trying new things there is a lot of work and practice that must happen to meet the goal. For example, the student would need to develop physical, emotional, and cognitive strategies to be able to be successful. I can tailor the skills I teach based on the goals students are trying to accomplish. A small counseling group is often the best place to help students develop the knowledge, attitude, and skills to step outside their comfort zone and overcome challenges. I devote a large percentage of my time to small group work because I think this venue can help lots of students tackle a lot of challenges with the needed support and opportunity for practice.

Friday, July 7, 2017

#NotAt ASCA17

I don't go to the ASCA National Conference every year for several reasons: 1) it is very expensive; 2) VSCA and the Evidence-based School Counseling Conferences are my favorite PD opportunities that I try to do every year; 3) ASCA can be overwhelming and if you don't have other counselors you know to go with it can be hard to have much fun outside of the scheduled sessions and events; 4) I don't want to leave the beach in July to go to Denver; and 5) you can follow the Conference online.

I do miss some special things about actually being at ASCA: 1) the amazing keynote sessions that have to be experienced in person to really appreciate; 2) the variety of break out sessions to attend; 3) meeting up in person with my online counseling PLN; 4) seeing and talking to vendors in exhibit area; and 5) the RAMP Annual Dinner. I have achieved RAMP twice and am a RAMP reviewer so I know how much hard work goes into the school counseling programs that achieve.

I will be following the Conference in my TweetDeck App at #ASCA17 and #notatASCA17.  I hope the many school counselors who are on their way to Denver have an enjoyable and productive Conference and share their learning online!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Using Music in Large and Small Group Counseling

There are many reasons to use music in school counseling. Music lights up the brain and playing music is even more powerful. Music can evoke powerful emotions. Music can be healing

Music can improve listening and concentration skills (there is good research to show playing classical music can help build concentration skills). Music helps students remember key concepts being taught. The Committee for Children recognized this and incorporates songs for each of the main units in Second Step. Our younger students love “The Problem Solving Song.” Singing the four steps helps put them into long term memory.

There are many great artist that produce powerful songs for young children. My favorite is Red Grammar. At my former school we taught the whole school his song "teaching Peace" and sang it during our annual peace walk through the neighborhood. He has many songs that can facilitate teaching social emotional learning. If you don't know his work I strongly encourage you to check out his site

My new favorite is Emily Arrow I really like that most of her songs have a direct link to children's literature, many books that I already use with groups or in the classroom. There are also some good Disney songs you might want to use although I usually try to avoid promoting commercial characters but the kids love "You've Got a Friend in Me."

There are also some good music videos with lyrics under Character sites like Respect Song Video - Classroom Mix Version Responsibility song Respect Rap only are a few of the ones I have used.

For students in grades 2-5 there are many popular songs that can be used as a hook for a lesson are incorporated more fully. My lessons are taught around themes so most of these songs go along with one of my monthly themes like goal setting, assertiveness,bullying, emotions, empathy, compassion, diversity, kindness or friendship. You have to be very careful to read all the lyrics first to see if they are acceptable to your learning community. I frequently introduce the song by reading the lyrics as a poem. Then I often have the students chant the words in rhythm or even clap while reading them. Sometimes vocabulary or phrases need to be clarified. After they know and understand the words then I play it or them. I always put the lyrics on the Smartboard so they can sing along if they are comfortable (sometime we dance, clap, or even use rhythm sticks). I frequently ask the students to reflect on the song with questions such as, "Does the song remind you of something in your own life?"

Goals and Optimism:
The Best Day of My Life by American Authors (lyrics and singing)
The Climb by Miley Cyrus (lyrics and singing)
Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Judy Garland (lyrics and singing)
Firework by Katy Perry (lyrics and singing) Review lyrics carefully
Hurricane by The Vamps (lyrics and singing)

Assertiveness and Self-Esteem:
Roar by Katy Perry (lyrics and singing)
Hero by Mariah Carey (lyrics and singing) Review lyrics carefully
Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield (lyrics and singing)

Mean by Taylor Swift (suggest stopping after first 3 versus)
True Colors (lyrics music video)

Diversity and Self-Esteem:
Cool Kids by Echosmith (lyrics and singing)
Ebony and Ivory by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder (lyrics and singing)

Happy by Pharrell Williams (lyrics and singing)

Kind-hearted Hand by Peter Seltzer  (lyrics and singing)

Stand By Me by Ben E. King (lyrics and singing)
Count on Me by Bruno Mars (lyrics and singing)

New Comers Welcome
Home by Phillip Phillips (lyrics and singing)

Feel free to leave a Comment if you have others you have used successfully in a group or classroom.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Organizing Effective Groups Part 2

When I am planning a group I decide which of the ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors I want to address. I select one or two Mindsets for each group and then usually one (but sometimes two) Behaviors per session. I do this based on the overall need/issue being addressed, some of the possible reasons, and my own experience in the area of need (like anxiety). The ASCA Behaviors selected are used to develop perception measures for each session and what I want to measure in the Pre-Post Group Survey. I also list the main materials, most of which should be evidence-based, that I am going to use in my group. As a RAMP reviewer I have seen counselors try to address 3-4 Behaviors in a single session and that is not feasible. If you need more help with the refer to the ASCA National Model Implementation Guide. The Guide is the most practical of the books in the ASCA Model series and a must study if you want to achieve RAMP!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Organizing Effective Groups

I love doing groups but in the school setting you have to be extremely organized and maximize every minute especially if you are required to do them during lunch. Research has shown that the minimum number of sessions and time to have an effective group is 8 thirty minute sessions with follow up. Because some sessions at lunch end up being in the 20-25 minute range I always plan for 10 sessions and I purposely plan the last 2 for every other week. It usually happens naturally because there is a holiday of field trip so group gets postponed. For all my groups each member has a folder. They always take their own "attendance." For grades 2-5 I always indicate the main aim (title) of each session on the sheet. People like to know why they are in a meeting and what is going to be covered, that goes for children too. It is good teaching to tell them the learning objectives upfront and remind them what was covered in summary. Clear routines and procedures maximize effectiveness. I do not develop separate group rules. Our students know how to make rules because my school uses Responsive Classroom and this year all the rules must be based on CARES: Cooperation, Assertiveness, Responsibility, Empathy, Self-Control. I just add the participation and confidentiality rule. I review these the first session and ask/tell members we can add others as needed. I always review confidentiality again the second session and the last. I remind students confidentiality extends beyond the "life" of the group. I follow a general agenda or outline in each session. This is especially important in my groups for students with anxiety. The first session we do some type of introduction icebreaker, for the others I use some type of check-in round. The members or asked to either say their energy level on a scale of 1-5, their high and low of the week, or the emotion word that best describes their current mood. This allows me to know if the members are doing okay and I can go with my "planned" agenda or if I need to further explore what is going on with a member or maybe even the whole group. Check back for more group tips later.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Mindfulness Practice in Schools

One of the first things I teach students when introducing Mindfulness is "Anchor Breath." Just like a ship's anchor keeps the boat from drifting away, teaching children to use their breath to anchor themselves in the present moment is an important building block for living mindfully. For young children you should start with a picture of a boat with an anchor attached. They should pick an anchor spot like their heart or belly to place their hand over to feel their body's response to each mindful breath. In The Way of Mindful Education Rechtschaffen  offers a two-part Anchor Breath Script to teach anchor breathing. Listening to a script or a chime helps students begin to pair listening and breath awareness. Learning to breathe deliberately trains students to think first and then plan a response, enabling mindful behavior.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mindful Movements

If you feel intimated by yoga and mindfulness this simple book, Mindful Movements – Ten Exercises for Well-Being, is a great way to get started. Written by Thich Nhat Hanh, Mindful Movements became so popular, the ten exercises are now an integral part of many retreats. The exercises are based on both yoga and tai chi movements, creating simple yet effective exercises that can reduce mental, physical, and emotional stress.

The ten routines are easily accessible to anyone and can be performed by people of all ages and abilities, whether they’re familiar with mindful practices or not. They can be done any time a bit of refreshment is needed for mind and body. The exercises are an easy way to get acquainted with mindfulness for those new to meditation, as well as a welcome break for current practitioners.

It is suggested that each movement should be carried out three times before proceeding to the next. Body movements should be flowing and graceful, done slowly and mindfully. Each movement is coordinated with the breath. Each movement allows us to practice sensitivity and awareness to the body, the breath, and the interconnectedness between our body, our breathing and our mind. Each exercise is fully illustrated by Wietske Vriezen, a Dutch artist and movement teacher. The print version of the book includes a 35-minute DVD featuring Thich Nhat Hanh and members of his Plum Village Sangha (a devotional group) demonstrating the ten mindful movements. I use them with my anxiety groups.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mindfulness and Yoga in Classrooms

If you are interested in incorporating mindfulness and yoga in classroom lessons next year I recommend watching this video There are many other great resources available through this website

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Yoga Poses for ASD

If you do small group counseling or have classes for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) here is a resource of 5 yoga poses to improve sensory information processing, communication, self-regulation, and motor control. These skills apply to other areas in life, ultimately helping those with ASD to lead more balanced, healthy, socially integrated, and independent lives yoga-poses-for-autism/

Monday, June 12, 2017

Learn More About Kids Yoga

National Kids Yoga Conference will be held in Old Town Alexandria, VA October 13-15, 2017. Learn more how to combine yoga, mindfulness, and social emotional learning.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Mindful Moments

The five principles laid out in the book Yoga Calm for Children, are a good way to incorporate mindfulness in schools. Mindful Moments Cards cover a wide range of experience, emotion and imagination. Some help students remember positive events in our lives. Others help students imagine successful futures. All help develop mindfulness, focus and relaxation skills. They can be used with yoga or alone. The cards would work well for a class morning meeting or for a warm-up at the beginning of a lesson or small group session. I use them in my emotion regulation small groups and my class lesson on self-regulation.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Yoga Books for Kids

These are two of the books I like to share with kids about yoga. I usually use them in small groups. They help children understand that yoga can change how they feel on the inside too. Other good books on yoga are: Yoga for Kids (by Lark), Twist: Yoga Poems (by Wong), and You are a Lion and Other Fun Yoga Poses (by Yoo).

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Yoga for Small Groups and Classroom Warm-ups

This year I made the effort to incorporate music into small group sessions and classroom lessons. My goal for next school year is to use more yoga to improve self-regulation, body awareness, and focus. I like this book about incorporating yoga into the classroom that applies five principles: Stillness, Listening, Grounding, Strength, and Community. It also utilizes the Hoberman sphere (which I have in my office) to establish the correct rhythm of breathing and for small groups to gather around and hold onto as they do activities like a compliment game. I also plan to use more chair yoga because the students could practice them on their own when they need to regulate themselves once they know how to do the poses. There are free chair yoga resources available at My favorite yoga pose to teach children is Eagle because it involves crossing the mid-line which helps children focus, attend, and learn better in the classroom. Learn about mid-line exercises at crossing-the-midline-activities

Monday, May 22, 2017

Mindfulness Resources

At the beginning of this school year all our pupil services staff in elementary and middle schools were trained in MindUp At the training they recommended having a mindfulness resource display in our offices. I had all my books on my easel but was very happy to get this "free" rack that was in the teacher swap pile this morning (as we are cleaning and organizing our rooms at the end and beginning of the year we share anything we don't want anymore).  My favorite books to read to students are "Peaceful Piggy Meditation" by Kerry L. MacLean and  "Puppy Mind" by Andrew J. Nance that teach slow down and breathe to become calm. I loan these to teachers and have a smaller set I loan to interested parents. Mindfulness is still pretty new in our school so there are many questions about how it is being taught. In addition to book resources I always recommend these sites: and  These sites have for practicing and teaching mindfulness, compassion, gratitude, and Social-Emotional Skills.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Penny for Your Thoughts

These 80 hand-illustrated communication cards will bring new connection to your relationships with students. These cards help kids identify and talk about their feelings/experiences and teach skills that build confidence, help solve problems, and increase emotional connection.  Kids identify how they feel, who's involved, where something happened, and skills they can use to cope with challenging situations and big feelings.  This is a very open ended "game" that I have used students with a variety of presenting concerns. This game integrates social and emotional learning (SEL) skills, helping children to articulate their feelings and learn how to manage them in healthy and adaptive ways. It can be purchased at

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


These are 4 of the Thumballs I have in my office. My newest ones are "Catch a Career" and "Mindfulness" from Youthlight offers a reduced cost the more you purchase.  Thumballs can be used in small groups using the basic directions: Throw it. Catch it. Respond to the panel under your thumb. You can vary the level of difficulty by requiring one answer or three to a prompt. Kids love "props" and tools they can touch. I have used Thumballs as an icebreaker and a wrap-up activity for groups in grades 2-5. I have some larger, easier to catch balls, that require less reading for kindergarten and grade 1. My favorite is "Mindfulness" that promotes discussion about key concepts and reinforces awareness including "The Present Is a Gift."

iPad Apps for Stress and Anxiety

I have 2 iPads which I use multiple times a day. The one at the top is a iPad Mini which I actually let kids use in my office and show Apps to parents during consulting sessions. The second is a standard iPad that I use to keep track of my program and also keep me centered. The Apps I recommend the most to families fall into 4 basic categories: a) Mindfulness; b) Breathing; c) Yoga; and d) Sleep. There are so many useful Apps to help people, including children, reduce stress and anxiety. Please comment if you have a favorite, mine is Smiling Mind!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mental Health Awareness Month

This is the bulletin board display we use each May to bring awareness to the fact that 20% of children have mental health challenges in an effort to destigmatize having a diagnosis and promoting treatment. We just change the background, arrangement and the border to keep it looking fresh. It invites kids to ask what does that mean? to me and gives me (and teachers who are asked) an opportunity to have a conversation about mental health challenges. All our staff are being trained a Mental Health First Aider to make them more knowledgeable and comfortable about dealing with students and people in the community who have mental health challenges. We were required to take the course if it is our year to renew our license which for me was this year. To learn more about the course check out mentalhealthfirstaid The goal is for all people in the community (not just educators and mental health providers) to be as comfortable with mental health first aid as CPR. I spoke at our PTA this month on Mental Health Challenges to make parents more aware and answer questions.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Need a Book to Help Children Impacted by Immigration Policy

If you need a resource to help children who are directly or indirectly impacted by deportation this is a good book. It addresses the fear children of undocumented workers have that they will be sent back to their country of origin. It could be used to teach empathy and compassion to students with a topic they hear being discussed but often do not understand.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Games for the Counseling Office

If you are still purchasing materials for your counseling office for next year and you don't have one of these bingo games. I have the entire set but if you can only afford one (they are $25) buy Empathy Counts You can play the game like regular bingo and have the students answer the question card that goes with the number on the tile they played. The Empathy Counts game offers and option to build a happy face or the letter E for empathy with the tiles which makes the game go faster and the students really like it. My students know a big part of my job is for them to understand their own feelings, understand the feelings of others, and act with compassion when another person is having unpleasant feelings. These games help facilitate this type of social emotional learning.

Friday, May 12, 2017

New Book on Perseverance

Mulcahy's latest book on social skills shows the attitude needed to persevere. It is part of the 
zach-rules-set/ I use all these books and like that each one has hints for parents and teachers to apply the skill taught. This one teaches grit, the others cover problem solving (apology), emotions (frustration), and mistakes (mindset).

The Power of Mindfulness: What You Practice Grows Stronger | Shauna Shap...

This is such a good overview of mindfulness and how it can be used in counseling. I totally agree with the harmful effects of shame and how it blocks people from growth and development.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wish List: Budget

In my district the school does not have a "counseling program" line item in the budget. Each year I purchase what I need from several "pots" of money. Every counselors (like teachers) get basic supply money and a reimbursement for some of our "out of pocket expenses." We get $120 from our District supervisor to purchase counseling materials. Those schools that have a PTA can access some funds by writing mini grants which I do every year. To get assistance for paying for professional development I have found if I submit a proposal that gets accepted and am a presenter I can usually get some of my conference expenses covered (school, PTA, or District). If you are willing to pilot certain programs counselors can sometimes get grant funds through your district. I used to do this through Safe and Drug Free Schools and now I get some funds through MTSS (tiered system of support). Also I have learned from working in schools for over 30 years, sometimes near the end of the fiscal year a school or Department finds they have extra money that becomes "use or loose." I always keep a wish list ready to go in early May just in case I am asked if "I need anything." Today I was told I could spend a significant amount of money if I could get the details to our budget person by noon this Friday. I had it to her by noon today! I have worked in several schools over my career and have benefited from this end of the year "gift" in every school at least once.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Wrapping Up a School Year

In Virginia we still have more than 6 weeks of school but I finish most of my groups this week (before testing season). I am starting on the dozen activities I do the last 2 months each year. Here are some of my most important tasks to wrap up the school year:
1 Transition activities - for students moving lead good-bye lunch groups, for students moving up to middle school arrange for school resource officer to come and give talk about walking safely to and from middle school, for all students participate in Awards’ Ceremonies.
2 Student School Climate Survey - Google forms survey to assess the effectiveness of bullying prevention and social emotional components of program.
3 Staff survey – Google forms survey to assess topics covered in classroom lessons, groups offered, etc. to serve as basis for planning.
4 Data analysis – Review behavior data (discipline & bullying reports), attendance reports, and academic records of students (report cards and standardized tests).  Analyze pre-post survey data for classroom units and small groups. Write and publish the Counseling Program Annual Report on Web page.
5 Share results – Use DATA format to highlight aspects of the School Counseling Program, especially those related to program goals. Distribute results reports to key stakeholders. We need data to prove the effectiveness of our programs and inform school board members of the critical need for MORE school counselors. Take time to Reflect on findings and determining implications will give direction to program improvement. Next year I am going to try to limit most of my groups to 8 sessions because I did not find that having them meet 10 times made a significant difference.
6 Draft annual calendar – Set dates for 2017-2018 counseling advisory committee meetings, school-wide events, based on overall calendar planning for school and PTA.
7 Inventory and order books and supplies – Prepare orders that will be placed when funds are available July 1. Write grant if need additional funds. I am writing a grant with school librarian asking PTA for more funds for social skills books for teachers to read aloud next year based on grade level.
8 Declutter office – move toward a paperless environment (I only have a half draw of paper files and it is mostly crisis materials). Remove materials that have not been used in 2 years or have been updated.
9 Participate in grouping meetings – give input to class placements to facilitate classes that are balanced.
10 Pick summer project and professional development – pick one group curriculum and/or grade level curriculum to revise.  Set a goal for professional development including online webinars, professional learning communities via Twitter, books, etc. This summer I am going to focus on trauma informed counseling.
11 Notes and forms - Shred notes with student information and send risk assessment forms to central office according to policy.
12 Celebrate successes and say goodbye – Thank all those who collaborated to make the program successful, and acknowledge colleagues who will not be returning in the fall.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Books for Counseling

Stephanie Jensen (author) and Dr. Poppy Moon (illustrator) have teamed up with to make these engaging books that you will want on your bookshelf. Bully-bee encourages a friendly attitude, Beezilla teaches acceptance and belonging, and Mood Ring Rainbow shows the importance of self-awareness and self-management. I use them in small groups with first and second graders but the books are large enough that they could be used in classroom lessons.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Individual Counseling Tool

My students love to play Totika but I don't usually use the card decks that the publisher makes because their questions narrow the focus. I have made category cards with broad topics that allows the student to share what they want. I select cards based on the reason I am seeing the child. For example, if the child's parent have just separated I will select the card with the category family. When the student pulls that color log they are invited to share something true or a belief they have about their family. Using categories also takes away the problem of reading because even first graders can use initial letter clues and quickly remember 1-2 word categories. I always have question as one category so I can ask what I want to know. When the student selects the question color log it is interesting what they ask me. I have learned a lot about students I see in counseling playing this open ended version of Totika.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

National Children's Mental Health Day

We need to model talking openly and respectfully about mental health challenges to help end the stigma and encourage those with a mental health disorder to seek treatment. For many mental disorders recovery is possible. As counselors we need to send a message of hope to those who are suffering!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day - Wear Green

The Bucket Squad

Bucket Filling it is based off of Carol McCloud's Have You Filled A Bucket Today? book. McCloud has authored 5 books in total about Bucket Filling and Tom Rath has also written a book entitled How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids that I share with students in groups as well. It has been around about 20 years but Lisa Hansen, an elementary counselor, published a curriculum of 10 lessons with reproducible activities through in 2015. I have used activities from The Bucket Squad in small groups but they also support the themes of self-esteem, kindness, empathy, and compassion that could be used for a grade level or school-wide if teachers buy in. A nice feature of the curriculum is a weekly parent/teacher update and tips for each session.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Mixed Emotions

The colorful Mixed Emotions board is one of the tool's in my office I use the most with students in the upper grades to help them recognize emotions, more accurately name them, and recognize different intensity or energy behind feelings. The board comes with 3 levels of cards: kids, teens, and adults. There are situations on the cards that you and client(s) can discuss; how they think the person in the situation would feel. They board comes with several activities but it can be easily adapted to just have students "check in" at the beginning of a session. The board helps develop empathy and can stimulate some insightful discussion and connections to the situations. You can also make your own cards specific to your students.  If you use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approach I highly recommend this tool. Play Therapy Works also offers an online book that goes the board There is also a Mixed Emotions "Junior" version but I have not used it.

Monday, May 1, 2017

May Is Mental Health Month

As school counselors we need to lead discussions about mental health and work to destigmatize mental illness. There are free kits available mentalhealthamerica I will be speaking to our school's PTA this month on this important topic. Mental health conditions are common among teens and young adults. 1 in 5 people live with a mental health condition—half develop the condition by age 14 and three quarters by age 24. We teach the Breaking the Silence lesson from NAMI in grade 5 btslessonplans

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Still Quiet Place

As the school year winds down many of us are already ordering and planning for next year. We have run some mindfulness groups this year which are very helpful for some over stressed students. Since our district bought us MindUp from the Hawn Foundation that was our main resource but it is really designed to be used in a classroom. Next year I plan to use "A Still Quiet Place" which encompasses many dimensions of mindfulness. It is an 8 session curriculum guide by Amy Saltzman. Learn more about the author, her work, and training she offers at The curriculum was designed to teach the most basic elements of mindfulness-based stress reduction created by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It includes the mindfulness concepts of: here and now, kindness, curiosity, striving and letting go, and universal. The book outlines home practice that is essential for this group to make an impact. I am thinking how I will implement that part of the program.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Planning Groups

When I am planning a new group I begin thinking of the students needs and draft goals. I then decide which of the ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors I think the group will address. Next I draft "I can" statements which are the competencies you want members to develop. Then I look for evidence-based resources and practices I have access to that fit the concern. If appropriate I will incorporate some of the Second Step or MindUp skills that students referred still have not mastered since those are our tier 1 adopted program. Then I think about a song or book that I can use to help teach the competency and a response that will let me know if the students can do the competency. After deciding the sequence of sessions, I develop individual session plans. I find this simple 4 column table is a good place to plan a framework for groups. I keep this framework at the front of the binder for that particular group with the session plans and all the materials I need behind it. When leading a group the first time I just write my notes on what should be revised right on this framework. Sometimes I do multiple sections with the same goals for 2 separate groups of students. As I get to know them I might observe one group needs more focus on specific behaviors and others need better communication. If this is the case I will note two options for a specific lesson.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Last Session for Groups

My favorite way to end groups is to do the post-group survey, a round or two sharing what they learned, and then play a review bingo. I do LOTS of groups for students with stress and anxiety and I have made my own bingo games but I really like the one I bought from mar*co for less than $20 This one, Stress-less, was written by an elementary counselor, Lisa Miller, who has published a few resources through mar*co. Included with the bingo game are several handouts that could be used during the group. I always laminate the student cards because my groups in grades 3-5 are always at lunch and then they can be wiped down.  I never give prizes for "winning" but I frequently tell the members is they play fairly and don't make a big deal out of winning or loosing they will all get something. I usually give them something to remind them of the group like bubbles to practice slow breathing or a stress ball to squeeze when studying for a test.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Resources for Executive Functioning

These books provide educators including counselors was to help children, especially those with Autism Spectrum Disorders, to improve executive functioning (EF) and flexibility. The Unstuck and On Target! program teaches three EF skills: 10 flexibility; 2) goal setting; and 3) making and checking plans.The program uses four teaching methods: 1) teach and use key scripts and words; 2) teach by doing; 3) use visual supports; and 4) make it fun! Solving Executive Function Challenges can help counselors understand the challenges of teaching EF and flexibility and how to put it in action. The Unstuck & On Target! is a curriculum guide with 28 lessons on 10 topics. If a counselor needs to lead a group for children who need to improve EF and flexibility the lessons are very scripted. I have co-lead groups using this curriculum in grades 2 and 3 with the school psychologist. We have used the lessons over 2 years because we don't run groups that last more than 12-14 sessions. The students like most of the group activities. The CD includes Home Extensions that can be sent home after each session. There is no special training required to use the materials, they are very straightforward.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Amy Krouse Rosenthal, author of 28 children's books, died last month at the age of 51. To learn more about Amy go to whoisamy. I just wanted to pay tribute to Amy by mentioning some of her books that I use regularly in counseling. Duck! Rabbit! is a terrific book to teach different perspectives. My favorite is The OK Book  which I use with groups of students who are anxious. Other books by Amy I use are Spoon, Chopsticks, and I Wish You More. She did a number of TED Talks that are very inspiring including 7 Notes on Life.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Katie Kangaroo & Her Awesome Career Adventure

We have begun teaching the 16 national career clusters in all our elementary schools. Katie Kangaroo is an interactive career adventure that can be displayed on the Smart Board to introduce students to a job in each of the 16 career clusters in a fun an engaging way. I plan to use it with my first graders when we return from spring break. A word of caution, initially only 10 clusters appear and you have to go to all 10 before the last 6 open. I found that out by contacting the publisher Katie's adventure is structured by her asking each worker 4 basic questions. The program includes 14 follow-up activities to further enhance learning about careers. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Using Music in Counseling

When I went to the VSCA Conference last fall I attended a session on using music in counseling. I have been to a few similar presentations before but generally they involve using popular songs that have to be carefully screened and sometimes certain words deleted. I agree with the theory behind using music (and movement) in counseling with all populations. In the presentation they showed a clip of using music and rhythms with groups of children with special needs. I was in awe of all they did but I am not musical and I don't have the time or patience to screen popular songs. Despite my lack of confidence I did promise myself I would find opportunities to use more music and movement in my program this year. I bought two sets of rhythm sticks and have used them in activities in my self-regulation groups this year. Our school division adopted Second Step and it has songs that go along with each unit so I have used these. I also use some of the CD's produced by Conscious Discipline in kindergarten and first grade groups. I felt like I needed more for the upper grades so I was happy to find Sing-Along Guidance for Grades 3-8 by Young and Schwintek and published by I am using "Not Gettin' Paid for Watching TV" in grade 3 for a career lesson, "Don't Tell Me I Can't" in grade 4 for a goal setting lesson, and "It's All Up to Me" in a career lesson. These are songs that are written and performed by professional recording artists written with lesson plans for guidance lessons. I think some of the other songs and lessons, there are 12 in all, belong in the middle school.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Rock or Clay Problem

Many students come see the school counselor because a problem has them stuck and they are overwhelmed by an uncomfortable situation that is causing them unpleasant emotions and stress. When talking to my upper grade students about problems I like to use the metaphor (and props) is it a Rock or Clay problem? Generally I start by giving them a rock and asking if they can change its shape. Then I give them Play-Doh and ask if they can change it. Then we talk about Rock problems like parents separating or one parent living in another country. There is nothing a child can do to change this type of situation so they just have to cope. Mindfulness is a great technique for rock problems. We generally generate a list of positive coping strategies: talk to someone you trust, exercise, journal writing, drawing, listening to music, etc. For clay problems they need to use self-regulation (control) and find a solution that will get them past being stuck. Sometimes I have them make a shape from the Play-Doh that represents the solution they plan to try. I have done this with individuals and in small groups. I did it the other day with my group of ELL students who all have experienced living separately from a parent and coming to US with no English. I gave them each a rock and a can of Play-Doh to take home so they could explain our session.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kindness Book

Maria Dismondy has many great books to use in counseling and for parents to read to reinforce social emotional development. As a counselor I am asked a lot about how to help siblings resolve conflicts and treat one another respectfully. Some of the students who are very kind to peers at school fight and fuss with siblings. This book is published available and will be available at Amazon soon. I can't wait for my copy to arrive! If you can't wait on her website the author reads the book aloud. She also has a Reader's Guide and coloring sheet. While you are on her site check out her other fabulous books like The Juice Box Bully, The Potato Chip Champ, Pink Tiara Cookies for Three, Chocolate Milk Por Favor!, and Spaghetti on a Hot Dog Bun.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Book To Teach Optimism

We use the MindUp Curriculum from the Hawn Foundation. It has a lesson titled "Choosing Optimism" which I think is one of the most important lessons. Optimism is a learned trait and if practiced, can become a way of thinking. The Curriculum suggests about 4 books as Literature Links and the ones for this lesson are okay but my favorite book on optimism Is Rain Brings Frogs by Maryann Cocca-Leffler. She is a great author and the message of hope in this book is powerful and the illustrations capture the audience. I use this with grade 2.

Group: First Grade Boys Social Skills and Self Regulation

I am starting my final round of groups for the school year, it may seem late but we go to school through the third week in June. Generally this round is more intense tier 2 intervention for students who need more support. They may have been in a group earlier in the year but they are still struggling with social emotional, behavioral, or self-regulation issues. Most of these referrals come from teachers in progress monitoring meetings but a few are from parents. This year I am doing 2 small groups with first grade boys using my Howard B. Wigglebottom group curriculum based on the books, songs, and online resources from I modify each year. I keep these groups really small 3-4 students in each group and they are 30 minutes long (they are pulled out of content class which means sometimes they miss social studies and sometimes science). I have shown you one boy's pre-group survey. The surveys do NOT go home, they are perception data for me. The pre-group survey helps me tailor the group to their needs. If they all report often "I am a good sport when I lose a game" I will skip that book and lesson. I make packets in advance and include the focus of the lesson and an activity each time. I have to vary the activities depending on their ability to write. I do 8 sessions and each time I have them color a star if they were following the group rules (these boys need this type of feedback). In the last session I will use the same basic survey (modified if we skipped a book). They take their group booklet home the last session so their parents can see what was worked on in group.