Monday, April 30, 2018

May Is Mental Health Awareness Month

As counselors we care about mental health. There is so much stigma still attached to mental illness that needs to be addressed. Please take advantage of Mental Health Awareness Month to speak up about mental illness and be proactive in reducing the stigma. Get free resources at mentalhealthamerica Last year I took advantage of the awareness campaign to speak to my PTA about children's mental health. Our school district requires all secondary schools to plan activities about mental health during May. They do some fun wellness carnivals with activities like yoga, bubbles, Fitbit contests, etc. I always display a large bulletin board outside my office about children being affected by mental illness. May 10 is the day of the month that focuses on children

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Emotion Management Group Grade 1

A high need in my school is support for students with anxiety, unfortunately even as young as first grade. Research has shown the sooner children with anxiety begin to learn tools to self regulate the better. Research continues to indicate that Cognitive Behavioral approaches and Mindfulness are effective in reducing anxiety. Using children's literature to teach strategies and normalize the fact that many children have anxiety in the primary grades is also effective. I have developed an Emotion Management group curriculum for grades 1-5. Many of the same skills are taught at each level but with increased complexity.  I think it is critical that the focus be on skill development and that parents and teachers know what skills are taught in group. Before each group I put together a packet for the 8 sessions. Each handout has the image of the book we shared and a simple explanation of the skill and activity. It really helps students see that the group is structured and how far along they are each session. If group gets cancelled one week for a special activity or schedule change, they know we will keep meeting until we complete the 8 sessions. I communicate with parents at least 3 times during a group (beginning, middle, and end). Parents give very positive feedback about the packet of work coming home at the end and being able to reinforce the skills taught in group.
My goal is to serve as many students as possible and avoid a large number of students being referred for individual counseling. Most children like the group and support one another; however, there are some children with social anxiety that can't yet speak in a group so I may see them individually one year with the hope of them doing a group at the next grade level. I always collect perception data for these groups with a simple pre-post survey. I do NOT send these home rather I use them to evaluate the effectiveness of the groups and what needs to be revised.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Evidence-Based School Counseling Conference

Over a month ago I attended and presented at my favorite professional development opportunity each year, the Evidence-Based School Counseling National Conference.  One of my favorite things about this conference is that the keynote speakers are very practical and members of our field (not someone on the national speaking circuit). This conference attracts counseling professionals that are on the cutting edge of our field. It is held at a University with a strong Counselor Education program so the graduate students help manage the event.
The ASCA National Model requires counselors to examine their beliefs and this conference the past few years has caused me to revise mine. I now believe that all school counseling programs should meet students' needs as identified through needs assessments, delivered using evidence-based programs, and evolved through data analysis of outcomes. 
Our district began the move to evidence-based core curriculum three years ago. Our presentation showcased our elementary and middle school programs which now deliver 50 - 80% the same lessons across all our schools. The elementary programs represent the high end because we have always been teaching tier 1 lessons. What is different now is all our elementary and middle schools now base our social-emotional lessons on Second Step which is an evidence-based program. This years conference is will be published in a special feature issue of the ASCA Journal. I strongly encourage all counselors to try to attend the Evidence-Based School Counseling Conference next year!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Adapting Superflex Social Thinking Curriculum to Small Group

After using the Superflex Social Thinking Curriculum for several years to help students who have difficulty with flexible thinking, I finally transformed it into an effective small counseling group for my students in grade 2-4. Flexible thinking lets children shift gears and think about things in different ways. This executive skill is a key part of problem solving. Many kids with learning and attention issues have trouble with flexible thinking. To learn more about flexible thinking check out flexible-thinking-what-you-need-to-know Many students with ADHD benefit from this curriculum.
First, it is important to start with Social Smarts and reviewing expected and unexpected behavior before starting in and teaching the characters. I divided the Superflex positive powers, Unthinkables, and strategies by grade level so that students could return to the group for up to 3 years if they still need help with this important executive functioning skill. Second graders need the back ground in social thinking and a gradual introduction to flexible thinking. I only introduce a few of the characters and focus on the skills. In fact what is most valuable about this curriculum is the skills. I also added a few additional strategies and skills because the Curriculum repeats the same strategies a lot. For example, for Worry Wall in grade 3 I added the Feeling Thermometer and emphasize coping thoughts. In grade 4 I added I statements and the Win-Win model to teach specific strategies to solve conflicts to "defeat" Destroyer of Fun.
Due to the large demand for groups at my school and not enough counseling time, I always keep my groups to 8 sessions. I send home information to parents about what is taught and communicate the strategies the students are learning to both the general and special education teachers. I also modify many of the handouts so they are more a way to practice the strategy instead of learn about the character.
We use Second Step as our tier 1 social emotional curriculum and I feel for students who need more this is an effective tier 2 intervention. For some of my tier 3 or students identified as needing SPED I have worked thorough the program individually, then added them to a group when they could be successful.  For example, I did the grade 2 curriculum with a student with Autism and then he was able to join the group in grade 3. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Healing the Long-term Effects of Childhood Adversity

Two thirds of people have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience, from the likes of bereavement and divorce to abuse and neglect. In The Deepest Well Dr Burke Harris reveals the science behind childhood adversity and offers a new way of understanding the adverse events that affect us throughout our lifetime. Based on her own groundbreaking clinical work and public leadership, Dr Burke Harris shows us how we can disrupt this cycle through interventions that help retrain the brain and body, foster resilience, and help children, families, and adults live healthier, happier lives. Listen to the NPR broadcast about this research and how schools are changing as a result 
I learned so much from this book especially "Living with the Bear" which causes a dysregulated stress response that can be a daily pattern for some students. Dr. Burke also talks about all the physical health risks for students with early trauma. I hope all school counselors will read this book.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Emotion regulation tool

The experience of emotions includes: physical reaction, feelings, thoughts and judgements; and action signals. When working with children on emotion management a good place to begin is helping become aware and recognize how their bodies react to various types of emotions. For example, a nervous stomach or tightness in shoulders may occur when they are unsure or stressed out. Talking about physical reactions and how thoughts, feelings, and behavior are connected gives children a sense of more control. Ideally when they begin to notice these sensations they will become mindful and use some of the regulation strategies we teach in counseling (like deep breathing with counting or tighten and release muscles). To read more about the concept of body reactions as part of emotional learning go to social-and-emotional-learning/emotional-development

Monday, April 9, 2018

Resources for Self-Control, Self-Regulation, and Mindfulness

I think the work of Lauren Brukner, occupational therapist, is extremely useful to elementary counselors and parents of children who struggle to self-regulate. The 3 books pictured above are the ones I use to pull ideas from for my small groups on self-regulation. The 6 exercises shown above are the ones I have pulled from the 3 books to use as the warm-ups in my third grade group. I also posted my overview of my third grade group. Small tier 2 groups are growth-promoting environments that provide children with “scaffolding” and opportunities to practice necessary skills before they must perform them alone. As counselors, we know that different tools work for different kids so I teach different ones in each group because some of these same students would have been in self-regulation groups in Kindergarten and grades 1 and 2.  Actually many of the tools presented in these books would be great for classroom lessons, particularly in grade 3 where the level of toxic stress seems to peak because of letter grades and standardized testing in our state.
She has another book Awesome and In Control that I recommend to parents. We have a copy in the Self-Regulation Family Resource Pack we loan to parents. I agree with Brukner that we want our children to gain "control, direction and ownership of their own states of self-regulation. Children are not born knowing how to self-regulate and for some children it takes special instruction to master these critical life skills.

Books that promote self-understanding and compassion

Listening to My Body by Gabi Garcia is a picture book that introduces children to the practice of paying attention to their bodies. Through a combination of story and simple experiential activities, it guides them through the process of noticing and naming their feelings and the physical sensations that accompany them, while helping them build on their capacity to engage mindfully, self-regulate, and develop a better sense of well-being. We have used this in our grade 1 and 2 self-regulation groups.
Garcia's new book Listening with My Heart introduces the universal themes of kindness, empathy and self-compassion. It includes kid-friendly self-compassion / mindfulness exercises.  So far I have just shared this book with individual students but it would work well in a group or lesson too. Go to the author's web site for free activity guides to use with these books