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!