Monday, July 31, 2017

Feelings Ladders

In order for children to regulate emotions they need to understand that all feelings are okay and there are many nuances to emotions especially the level of intensity. Children need to have a rich emotional vocabulary to label and express feelings. They need to be very aware of  how they are reacting to choose an appropriate strategy to manage the feeling. For anger counselors often use a thermometer but for other feelings like levels of "Afraid" I find a ladder is a better visual for most kids. After we brainstorm and discuss a particular "feeling family" like afraid or unsure they can select and write on a blank ladder handout low, medium, and high feelings in that category they experience. For example:
Anxious, Nervous, Uneasy, Frightened, Panicky, and Terrified. For some students it may be helpful to color the steps that are low green, medium yellow, and high red. Using Feelings Ladders helps students better understand emotions and then you can discuss appropriate coping tools for each level. For example if a student is anxious they may need to use take a movement break, if they are uneasy slow deep breathing, and if they are panicky seek help from an adult or self-talk.  They can write their go to strategy for each level on this handout to help them remember what might work for them. I have used Feelings Ladders both individually and in small groups from grades 2-5. You could also make a blank Feelings Ladder poster and laminate it to reuse.

Friday, July 28, 2017


One of my favorite benefits of being an ASCA member is the fact that you can view all their webinars on demand for free. During the school year I never have time to watch them but each summer I take the time to watch the ones that will hep me improve my program and practice. I encourage all elementary (and middle school) counselors to watch Confident Me, A Free Body Confidence Program (2017) delivered by Jessica Lawrance. This same program was presented at the ASCA National Conference earlier this month. The purpose of the webinar and session was to make counselors aware of this evidence-based free curriculum and encourage them to try it out in their schools. They are even offering a great incentive to those educators who try it out this fall and complete a brief survey. You can apply then to be entered in a drawing to earn an all expense paid trip to your state conference or ASCA 18! Watch the webinar for more details.
The program addresses how "Low body confidence and low self-esteem have a strong influence on a child's learning and school life. Anxiety about drawing attention to appearance has been linked to reduced capacity to focus and less active participation or engagement in class, resulting in poorer academic performance. Six out of 10 girls admit to avoiding at least one “normal” everyday activity because of feeling concerned about their looks, with one in 10 admitting to skipping school for this reason." 
You can teach either the 5 session or 1 session curriculum and be eligible. The curriculum primarily targets middle school but it is definitely appropriate for upper elementary. It is designed to be delivered to girls and boys together but can also be done separately. Each lesson has an educators guide, a short PowerPoint, and student worksheet download from Learn more from other schools using the program by following #DoveSelfEsteemProject on Twitter.
I like that this program addresses all the negative body talk our students engage in and explains the reality behind media appearance.  There is a lesson that explains the metaphor sinking in a "whirlpool of comparisons." Kids today are bombarded with pressure to fit an perfect body type that does not really exist. It is great that Dove offers this resource for free with no effort to sell their products. They are currently revising it to be more applicable to diverse American schools so check back later in the year or follow along on Twitter to see when it gets updated. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Literature-Based Bullying Program

Our school has used a literature based bullying prevention and intervention program from K-grade 5 for the past ten years. For a bullying program to be effective it cannot be totally on the shoulders of the counselors. The program also must evolve according to changing needs and feedback from evaluations. Last year all the counselors in our County were required to do the skill based lessons based on the Committee for Children's Bullying Unit which is evidence-based. These lessons are engaging and do a very good job addressing electronic bullying in grades 3-5. Because the counselors had to deliver the evidence-based lessons they no longer had time to do the read alouds as they had done in prior years, Therefore we tried either the principal or assistant principle reading those books to K-3; it was so well received this year I selected books for them to read to the upper grades as well.

The administrators read these books at the end of October which is National Bullying Prevention Month. We are pushing the skill based lessons and books the librarian reads into November because this topic requires prior knowledge before it can be taught and we try to use the first six weeks of the school year teaching children what we want them to do. Our librarian is a former counselor so she happily reads and does an activity at each grade level as long as I assign her good books! The teachers had been reading the same books for several years so this list reflects what they will read this year.  There are new books published on this topic every year so we wanted to make sure we were sharing the best of what is now available. These are the books I selected to address the theme of bullying behavior.  We encourage the teachers to read these books in January as a means of revisiting this important topic as the school year progresses.

The entire school uses the Committee for Children definition of bullying and uses the Responsive Classroom Code of Conduct CARES: Cooperation, Assertiveness, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-Control. All students are taught an assertive response is usually the best way to handle challenging behavior and to be positive, helpful bystanders or "upstanders" - not provide an audience or join in. All staff receives annual training on how to respond to disrespectful behavior and what to do if the reported behavior is bullying. Our state requires schools to use a research-based program to address bullying. We evaluate this program annually to make continual improvement. Data from the evaluation and incidents of bullying reports and coaching session are shared each year with teachers during pre-service week.

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.