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!