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