Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Just Ask!

This is a terrific new book that all counselors will want on their book shelves. This book is written by US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor based on her own feelings as a child. She felt different because she had juvenile diabetes. She tells of an incident as an adult having to give herself an insulin injection in a restaurant bathroom and then overhearing a woman who was in the bathroom at the time tell her companion that the Justice was a drug addict. Her response was ask do not judge others. The book teaches kids when they encounter someone who is different but we're not sure why, they should Just Ask!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Suicide Prevention/Awareness

Tragically two of my closest friends have lost a child to suicide in the past 5 months. It is hard, even as a trained mental health provider, to know how to help parents who loose a child to suicide.
As school counselors we need to be pro active in bringing awareness to this national health crisis - suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 to 35. The number of attempts in students ages 10 to 14 has increased dramatically over the last few years. School counselors must teach others how to prevent suicide and destigmatize death by suicide. For more resources check out Suicide Awareness Voices of Education www.save.org
Suicide is often a poor solution for a life problem. Teaching problem-solving skills, the capacity to manage feelings, and the ability to turn to trusted adults are critical prevention skills. Maintaining a safe school environment where students and staff feel connected is critical to preventing suicide.  Any suspicion of potential suicide places school counselors in a position to immediately assess the student and notify parents/guardians.
School counselors are the first responders to students' mental health needs. School counselors must be informed about signs of suicidal thoughts, knowledgeable about resources, prepare other staff to recognize and report warning signs, assess the risk, and refer students who are high risk to appropriate community agencies. Remember that research shows that people who are having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks after them in a caring way.
Should these preventative practices fail school counselors are key to supportive services.  Suicide can affect the entire school community, there is a ripple effect. Survivors have complex feelings after death by suicide, such as shame, fear, and anger. It takes time to reconcile to the reality of death by suicide. The book Touched by Suicide by Myers & Fine is a good resource for adults trying to cope with the loss of a love one. Many survivors find support groups helpful but grief is unique. November 23 is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Facilitating peer help at recess

Recess is an important part of the school day. Many schools have paraprofessionals and volunteers supervising these periods that are often not trained in social emotional skills; however, anyone in charge needs to be actively encouraging kindness and respect.  It is very helpful if the counselor works with classroom teachers to set playground expectations early in the school year.  Recess rules should be taught and practiced. Some specific behaviors to teach are: 1) how to line up; 2) what to do if someone gets hurt; 3) how to manage equipment, 4) sportsmanship, etc.
Once rules are established most students will be able to fill the recess period with social activities, but some children will not be able to figure out who to play with or what to do. Role playing is often useful to teach students how to respond when they notice a peer is alone and not playing.  A variety of options should be presented. For example, model saying "would you like to play ___ with us?" If the solitary child says "No" or does not respond it may help if someone that child knows goes closer and asks, "I usually play __ at recess would you like to do it with us today?" Many schools have a Buddy Bench where children who are having trouble joining in can go sit and peers come up and invite them. This works if a child has enough confidence to go sit on the bench, and the flexibility to agree to try the activity the invitee is playing.
Some students would benefit from a peer buddy during social times of the day. Students new to the school or those with disabilities might benefit from this type of support. I used to have teachers assign a peer buddy for lunch and recess the first 2 weeks a new student was at our school. Many times it worked to change the buddy until the child had sat with and played with a variety of the children in the class (some prefer to only have a buddy of the same gender so ask). 
For children with disabilities ask parents if they would like to try peer support on the playground and then the student if parents agree. Selecting students who naturally like to help may be willing to be a peer buddy. I would suggest coaching 5-6 students in a class with a student who needs a peer buddy and then assigning them just one day a week at lunch and/or recess a week with a substitute. I would observe on the playground and talk to PE teachers to determine several appropriate games or activities. Many times the child with a disability would only stay engaged for the first 10 minutes and then just want to do his or her own thing. I would explain to buddies it was fine for them to leave them alone and join their friends for the second part of recess.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

New Resource

Less than 1/2 of US children and teens live in a home with 2 married heterosexual parents in their first marriage. Over 1/3 live in single parent households. Many live with same-sex couples, foster parents, grandparents, and other caregivers. This new book deals with having an event at school that is all inclusive, not exclusive like a Father-Daughter Dance. It was written by a former school counselor. It is a great resource and a reminder as we plan our annual calendar to make ALL events at school welcoming to the increasingly diverse populations we serve.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Back-to-School Tips for School Counselors

If this is your first year in a new school the priority should be building relationships with staff, students, and families. Attend ALL Back to School functions and introduce yourself. Don't be afraid to go into teachers rooms while they are setting up and chat for 5 minutes to find common ground. I would especially focus on other new staff because you automatically have something in common with other newbies. If you are not overwhelmed, plan a coffee in your office the first Friday students are back. Teachers love to be fed and it is good to have them see you in your office.  I hope your district provides you a mentor, if not ask your state SCA if they have a mentoring program. There are even mentoring programs available online via Facebook groups.

Returning counselors have a lot to do the first month of the school year. Here are 10 places to focus your time based on the newly revised ASCA National Model as you settle in to a new school year.

1)  Review school data including any data you collected on the school counseling program last year. Determine if you should conduct a needs assessment. Remember student needs are the most important in building a data driven school counseling program. Based on the data draft 3 annual student outcome goals (formerly called program goals). Plan to use one of these for your evaluation if required by your district.

2)  Meet with administrator(s) for annual administrative conference (formerly called annual agreement). Use the template provided by ASCA to guide the discussion. Come to an understanding of planned use of time and how often you will collect this data (I always did a week each semester).

3)  Set up the school counseling program Annual Calendar and Weekly Calendar. It is important to clarify with classroom teachers how you will be scheduling lessons taught by counselor. It is also important that you build a slot in your schedule to record and analyze data.  I always saved the last hour on Friday for this task (30 minutes when students were still present and the 30 minutes we were required to stay after dismissal). 

4)  Organize your office. Make it a space that is welcoming for students and meets your own needs (keep a stock of healthy protein bars and snacks for days when you really don't have time for lunch).

5)  Plan your core curriculum based on the ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors. Consider using the ASCA action plan. If possible use evidence based programs and practices. Don't forget to plan to evaluate what you teach.

6)  Plan small groups. You may just want to plan the first round, especially if you are going to conduct a needs assessment.  The sooner you can get groups started, the more you can do in a year. I have found that most groups need to run for 8 sessions unless you have the luxury to conduct groups that last more than 25-30 minutes, then 6 may be sufficient. Again plan for evaluation as you plan your groups!

7)  Talk to staff about referrals for counseling, how to handle students comments about self harm & threats to others, and bullying reports. I always did this during preservice week and sought out any staff person that was not in the session (due to conflict) individually or a small group follow-up if I missed more than a few.  This needs to be done annually!

8)  Determine who will be on your Advisory Council and set the dates for the meetings. It is best if the first meeting is within the first month of school so they can have input on your draft student outcome goals.  I personally planned quarterly meetings of the Advisory Council and found 4 shorter meetings to be more valuable and members had a sense of being part of the program, rather than the minimum 2 meetings ASCA requires (for RAMP).

9)  Plan how you will brand and market the school counseling program to all stakeholders.  We had a logo that appeared on everything generated by our program. We used it on the school website, blog, brochures, handouts for classroom lessons, etc. Our school wanted to go green so we used Twitter a lot to show what we were teaching, reminders of calendar events, and good articles for staff and parents to read. We planned quarterly workshops for parents and always offered to send the materials home to parents who could not attend.

10) This is not a job you can do alone. Make contact and build relationships with many other educators, student support staff, district counselors, community mental health providers, etc. Collaboration is key for a successful program and a must for crisis response.  Yes planning for crisis needs to occur annually and key players need to meet face-to-face.

One final tip is plan for your own self-care. Try to establish a work-home life balance. Remember the beginning of the school year is one of the most stressful times, so make yourself practice good sleep hygiene. Make time to get outside and enjoy nature. I frequently would just walk around the block at my school for a brain break before returning to my long to do list. Surround yourself with positive people and limit your exposure to whiners and other negative folks. Have a great school year!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Anxiety in Schools

As the start of school approaches all school counselors will be dealing with anxious students (parents and staff). It is always helpful to have more information and resources. This website has a great 6 part podcast series "Anxiety in Schools" as well as printed resources available to download. Check out

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Revised ASCA National Model

At this summer's conference ASCA released the 4th edition of the National Model and the revised Implementation Guide.  I strongly recommend ALL school counselors check these new resources out at schoolcounselor.org  The revisions have greatly streamlined and made the model easier to use.  The language is much more direct. If you are considering doing RAMP in the future look at the scheduled ASCA has published for phasing in the revisions. If you are just starting using the ASCA National Model purchase the ASCA National Model: A Framework for School Counseling Programs (fourth edition) and the 2019 ASCA National Model Implementation Guide: Manage and Assess - they will help you take you school counseling program to the new standard for excellence!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

School Counselors Need Professional Organizations

I hope many of you will soon be headed to Boston for the ASCA National Conference. It is an experience every school counselor should take advantage of at least once. You can follow the conference on Twitter with hatch tags #revoluntionaryideas #ASCA19 #notatasca19. The conference attracts over 3,000 participants each year so it can be overwhelming. It is easier if you have another counselor from your district or state to attend with but even if you don't try to attend at least one.

I personally enjoy my state SCA Conferences even more. I have been lucky to live in Missouri, Virginia, and now Kentucky which all have great state SCA conferences. The participants range from 450 - 750 but also offer high quality break out and keynote speakers. I encourage you to make it a goal to present at your state SCA conference at least once in your career. We all have something worth sharing and if you don't want to present alone, ask another counselor to co-present with you. If you are a graduate student or a recent graduate as a counselor educator to co-present with you. We all benefit and save time by sharing.

Our professional organizations offer us so much. They provide our code of ethics, government relations, resources, sense of identity, professional development, and opportunities for leadership. I hope everyone will choose to serve their state organization actively, when it fits with the demands of your job and the rest of your life. It can be as simple as being an active committee member to serving as President. I have gained so much from participating on SCA Boards and encourage all of you to talk to those in leadership positions on your SCA about how you can become more involved. The more you put into it the more you will gain.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Friendship Issue

Pirate, Viking & Scientist by J. Chapman is a perfect book for a small friendship group in grades 2-5 or a classroom lesson. The book deals with a very common problem of a child who has 2 friends but the friends do not get along with each other. I am sure every elementary counselor has a discussion about this issue multiple times each year. The book also reviews the scientific method and has great vocabulary which makes it useful to reinforce academics as well as social emotional learning. I highly recommend purchasing a copy for your program but if you do not have a budget it is read aloud on YouTube.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

New Books

One of my favorite publishers of children books is Magination Press https://www.apa.org They are the publisher of Don't Squeal Unless It's a Big Deal which should be on every elementary counselors book shelf. They have new releases almost every month. The two shown above were just released in April and cover topics elementary counselors deal with frequently: it is OK to ask for help; and moving schools. They have books that address a variety of social emotional needs and disabilities/differences of children. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Recommended Summer Read

The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom is written from the unique perspective of Patricia (Tish) Jennings who personally experienced several significant traumas during her own childhood. The book has 3 parts: 1) describes the effects of trauma on body and mind, and how to recognize them in students' behavior; 2) introduces the trauma-sensitive practices she has implemented in her work with schools; and 3) connects the dots between mindfulness, compassion, and resilience. The book offers many practical activities to create a compassionate learning environment. The Appendices also have many additional resources.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Set an Individual Goal

In some small groups it is good practice to have students set an individual goal.  This is different than the goal for the group. Often members of a group will have different needs. In an emotion regulation group one student may have terrible anxiety about coming to school in the morning but another student may be terrified the fire alarm will go off. They can both be served by the same group because they need similar skills and strategies but to determine growth it is a good idea for them to formulate a goal specific for their unique need(s).  I generally have members set their individual goal and rate it the second session since the first session they are really just understanding the general purpose of the group, taking the pre-group survey, and learning procedures. I then like them to rate themselves half way through the group to see if they feel they are making progress and what else they might need to meet their goal. Finally, they rate their goal the final session after completing the post-group survey. If they are still not making good progress that might indicate the need for follow-up.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Five Ps to Successful Small Group Counseling

 Purposeful data collection
Developing, leading, and evaluating small group counseling involves many facets. As school counselors we must first understand the "why." There are many principles that tell us why we should be running groups as part of a comprehensive school counseling program. The most obvious reasons for small groups in schools includes: 1) Universality (there are others who have same need/issue); 2) Safe way to try out new behavior; 3) Social-observational learning; 4) Corrective experiences (opportunities to redo mistakes); and 5) Peers influence behavior.
Planning begins by reviewing school data should determine what groups are offered. For example, if a group of students are consistently late for school do to anxiety then an emotion regulation group would be an appropriate intervention. Likewise, if you have several students who come into school on Monday morning because they have spent the weekend with their noncustodial parent it would be appropriate to lead a group for Children of Divorce. At the beginning of the planning stage research what evidence-based programs are available and determine if these programs would meet the needs of your population. For example "A Still Quiet Place" might be used for a group of anxious students and "Children of Divorce Intervention Program" is an excellent resource for helping students adjust after a parent break up. Another resource is Tier 1 core curriculum that counselors may own but not have time to use in the classroom. For example, MindUp could be used in a small group with anxious students. If an evidence-based program is not available, or your school can't afford to purchase one, then it is necessary to review the research to determine what type of intervention would be most effective. Once you have a clear understanding of what usually works, then a counselor should set a goal for the group and determine which of the ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors the group would address. These need to be translated to measurable competencies in order to select or create an assessment plan. The final step is selecting activities and materials. All too often I hear a counselor start with activities, books, videos and create a group around these materials without having laid the foundation.
Procedures include developing detailed session plans that are so useful when you are experiencing a very challenging day and can just barely grab your group for 30 minutes and session plans are also useful if you have an itinerant counselor or counseling intern and you are running another section of the same group. For at least one group a year you should have a detailed accountability process. You can get solid perception data if you design simple pre-post group surveys that are completed by parents, teachers, and students. The questions can be the same just worded for the audience. Perception data is what counselors need to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention. Administrators want outcome data  so select the group where you can also assess results like a reduction in tardiness, an increase in test scores, or a decrease in office referrals. Gather all the materials for the group (i.e., books) including any "worksheets" you want members to complete and keep them in one place. We actually run off a packet for each member and keep the master in a binder (see previous post).
Practice and process involves how you actually conduct the group. A successful group leader is creative, energetic, positive, patient, thick-skinned, and prepared. At the beginning of the group icebreakers are very important to make members feel comfortable sharing. Use props to make the group experience more engaging, try to incorporate as many senses as possible. If your group is predominantly boys or very active girls, build movement into each session (e.g., toss a bean bag on a feeling wheel then say what makes you have that feeling). Writing or drawing a response before sharing makes it less threatening, improves the quality of members responses, and will help them remember the skill you are trying to teach.
Purposeful data collection is critical to determining if the group is worthwhile. It is not enough to collect only process data (number of sessions, number of students, length of sessions).  Perception data collected pre-post can tell you how members attitudes, skills, and knowledge changed as a result of the group intervention. Outcome data is difficult for elementary but we can run groups that impact achievement, attendance, and behavior even if change that occurs is not totally the result of the group. It is critical that you write up results in a meaningful way (think good visuals like graphs) and SHARE, SHARE, SHARE! Counselors need to let all stakeholder groups know they are leading effective small groups. This can result in administrators removing non-counseling duties (like cafeteria duty) so you can run more small groups!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Small Group Counseling Tips

I am getting ready to present at the KSCA Conference on my favorite topic, small group counseling, so I thought I'd share a few of the slides from my presentation and explain what is included on each. My part-time counselor and I decided last Spring to really get our groups organized, clearly delineate the competencies we want to cover on each of our main topics (social skills, self regulation, emotion regulation, and flexible thinking). Once we agreed on the competencies we reviewed all the evidence based materials and practices for each. In the area of social skills we pulled from a number of good resources (many of which I have reviewed in previous posts) and then also tried to incorporate a picture book for each session in our K-3 groups. We are fortunate to own literally thousands pf children's books. We wanted to assign a book to a specific session and not reuse them in any other group. It is common to address the same competencies from year to year like how to give a compliment but we wanted to use a different book at each grade level and build on the student response required. We have also discovered that just telling students a number (this group will be 8 sessions) is not a strong enough organizer, we like an overview "session map" that the students can see where they are in the sequence so they no there are x number of sessions remaining and what is covered in each session.  For all our small groups we have an activity or response sheet for each session and on these sheets we put a small image of the book at the top. We include a brief description of what was read and taught in the session. St the end of the group these booklets go home and parents know exactly what we covered in the group. Many parents get the books from the library and reread them with their child to remind them of skills that they still need to practice. We have gotten excellent feedback on these booklets from families. Some students will save them and tell us the next year, "I still have the book I made with you." On the slides above I have provided the name of each book we use by session and one of the same pages from our booklets for that grade level. We run so many social skills for kindergarten we have two curriculum - learning how to make and be a friend is a critical life lesson for our young learners. I know some counselors send home the sheets the same day a group meets, but we found that many never made it home but when the booklets get sent home they do make it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Ian a short film inspired by a true story

This video would be an excellent resource for a classroom lesson to show the effects of leaving someone out because they are different, empathy, or the power of one positive bystander.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Bullying In the News

Today Mrs. Trump was in the News for her invitation to the State of the Union tonight extended to a boy in Delaware who has been bullied for his last name since President Trump was elected. In fact it seems every week there is a news story about some type of bullying. Bullying has been linked to school violence and suicide. Yet many states still do not require anti bullying programs be taught in schools. Check this web site to see the requirements for your state stopbullying.gov

As school counselors we can take the lead to implement a school-wide bullying prevention and intervention program. Single events like one classroom lesson, a school assembly, or discussions during Bullying Prevention Month have been shown to be ineffective. What is effective is having all staff trained in a common definition and procedure for handling bullying reports, educating families, and using an evidence based curriculum to teach students to recognize and respond to bullying behavior. Fellow students being positive bystanders is the most effective deterrent to bullying in schools.

I have used the Committee for Children Bullying Units as a school counselor and find them to be clear and easy for students to understand. They also are accompanied with online training units for staff that make training consistent. I especially like the training portion they offer for administrators.

There are several high quality programs that have been researched and shown to be effective when implemented with fidelity. Schools are not always honest in their reporting of bullying. Bullying happens whenever there are groups of children (and adults) together. It frequently begins in preschools. I hope as a school counselor you advocate for a comprehensive bullying program in your school and evaluate its effectiveness. See the Bullying page on this website for more ideas.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

National School Counseling Week

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) has updated their promotional materials to make it easy for school counselors to promote their school counseling programs. Get resources at national-school-counseling-week If you are a member you should be aware that last week ASCA got great press for their annual School Counselor of the Year tribute in DC. This year Dr. Jill Biden addressed the group in person and Mrs. Michelle Obama addressed them via video.  They are both very supportive of the need for school counselors, especially in their work to encourage youth to enroll in postsecondary education. Unfortunately both of them share a personal school counselor story where their high school counselors told them not to go to college or apply to an Ivy League school. It serves as a powerful reminder that all words matter and we want to encourage young people to purse their dreams!

The Reach Higher initiative Mrs. Obama launched while First Lady helps raise awareness about the critical role of school counselors. Studies show that students who met with a school counselor to discuss financial aid or college were 3x more likely to attend college and nearly 7x more likely to apply for financial aid. Unfortunately 1 in 5 students national still do not have access to a school counselor. In Kentucky where I now live over 340 schools do not have a school counselor. The Kentucky School Counselor Association is working very hard to get a mandate for all schools to employ a certified school counselor who provides direct service to students according to the ASCA National Model.

Last week during the DC events ASCA released its research briefs that show that having a lower student to counselor ration (the goal is 1:250) really does make a difference. ASCA has also funded research which shows when schools implement a comprehensive school counseling program there are better outcomes for students.

I know there is frequently a misunderstanding that this is a recognition and appreciation week for school counselors. it is NOT! Rather it is the perfect time for school counselors to advocate for school counseling programs.  One of the best advocacy tools is this  SCInfographic.pdf that helps explain to stakeholders "Who Are School Counselors?" If you have not already done so, please provide your administrators and school board members with a copy of this great one page sheet.

All school counselors need to advocate at the local level if they are going to be given the opportunity to help students using the skills we all possess. Obviously with increasing rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and suicide students need us to be doing prevention and intervention. Beyond the local level all school counselors should join and participate in their states level school counseling association. I also encourage all school counselors to join ASCA - they have very active research and government relations roles to play in building better school counseling programs now and in the future. Professional membership in ASCA is $129 a year, all of us waste much more money each year than that. The more members the state SCAs and ASCA have the louder their voice to get the ratio of students to counselors to the goal of 1:250 with school counselors providing 80% of their time in indirect and direct services to students.

School Counselors: Providing Lessons for Life is a terrific theme. Please take time this week to inform your stakeholders about the role of the school counselor - don't assume they know. If you are allowed to take pictures and post on social meeting pictures of you teaching core curriculum in the classroom. Policy makers like to know that counselors really do teach social emotional lessons and address bullying. We all need to show people what we do!