Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Snapshot of October

Whew, I cannot believe that we are already into November!  I have been so busy this year and just haven’t stopped to write about how things are going.  This post will be a snapshot of October to share some of the things that I’ve been feeling and doing while MIA from the blogging world.

Overall, this year has been more stressful for me than last year.  It seems like the need is greater and my already full plate has been overflowing.  I have also been taking more home with me (actual things to do and emotionally speaking) this year than last, and am just having a hard time leaving work at work.  I am attributing this to the fact that I now have deeper relationships and connections with my students, their families and my teachers.  I will have been at my school for 2 years this January.  I am at a Title One school, and the stressors that my students experience at home are more obvious and overwhelming to me each day.  Despite feeling overwhelmed because I can’t ever seem to quite do “enough” (I am my harshest critic), I do feel like I have finally gotten into my groove for the year.  Here are a few snapshots I wanted to share...  
We celebrated a successful Red Ribbon and Character Counts Week with the theme: Our future is looking bright!  Here are some pictures of the week.  


My favorite part was on Thursday when we celebrated our good character by being HEROes.  I had the teachers give their students a hand print to sign and decorate showing their commitment to being a HERO for the rest of the year.  It was not an orignal idea, but something I saw nad loved a while ago on Pinterest.  I don't remember where it came from, but thank you to whoever created it! :) We talked about how being a HERO means making the choice to not bully or put others down, but to lift each other up.  It turned out to be such an awesome character ed display!

 I also have to show off these writing samples that a first grade teacher did with her students during the week.  Aren’t they awesome?!  I love when teachers get into the week and show their creativity.

I’ve also finished training an amazing group of students to be peer mediators.  They worked so hard during their training and it was awesome to see it reinforce the conflict resolution skills that I have been teaching them with my 7 Habits curriculum.  Look what they came up with all by themselves!

We are a PBIS school, but were in need of displaying our PBIS expectations across the school and in a kid-friendly way.  Look what our fabulous PBIS team came up with!  These signs are posted all over the school showing what the expectations look like around the building and on the playground with the help of our mascot, Pride.  I love PBIS! 

              For Halloween, my school celebrates by dressing up as your favorite book character.  At 1:00, we invite parents to come watch their children parade around the school in their book character costumes.  Book Character Day is a fun way to allow the children to dress up appropriately and celebrate a love of reading!  Here is a pic of me as the Rainbow Fish!  Students were asking for my scales all day!  Next year I plan to make some to hand out to them along with the costume!

Finally, I wanted to share this bulletin board that an RTI teacher of ours put together.  I absolutely love it!  What a great visual for our kids to dream big J

I’ve been seeing a ton of kids individually and enjoying my time spent with them too.  Maybe my next post can focus on the strategies I like to use the most when working with students in a counseling setting…  Until next time, thanks for stopping by!  Happy November to all!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Back to School Pick-Me-Up

What started out as a hopeful and enthusiastic back to school year took a turn earlier this week.  After an engaging welcome back faculty breakfast and meeting last Wednesday, we were all feeling ready and excited about the school year.  Teachers were working hard in their classrooms and meeting to plan with their teammates.  I felt blessed to be a part of this community again and we were all ready for Meet the Teacher on Monday night.  Then, we got the news.  Because we were short of our projected number of students, we were going to lose a teacher.  I guess with budget cuts and uncertainties there was just no wiggle room, and our principal sadly had to share this news with our staff hours before students would arrive to meet their teachers.  Three teams and five teachers were directly affected by this change in assignment.  We were dealing with big changes accompanied by big stress.  Our school community in many ways is like a family, and everyone pitched in to help move our teachers around the building, situate them into their new classrooms, and share lesson plans for the first few days.  The community feel was unlike anything I had seen before.  I know that everyone, myself included, is trying hard to not let the changes and stress affect the first week for our students.  However, despite our best efforts, this has been a challenging start.  With this extra strain during our first week, I felt like as a school community, we needed a pick me up.

I did some brainstorming and decided to go with an idea for a dessert bar that I’ve seen on other counseling blogs and pinterest.  I was keeping it in my pocket to use on a rainy day (I didn’t know that it would come to us so early this year, but Que Sera, Sera).  I talked with my principal about putting together the dessert bar for our staff during lunch on Friday to lift people’s spirits and encourage and reward their resiliency and perseverance.  She loved the idea!  Setting it up was a lot of fun too and the teachers really appreciated this simple gesture of thanks.  I replenished the desserts throughout the various lunch times so that all teachers would be able to enjoy it, but other than that it was a fun and easy thing to do to celebrate our well-deserved Friday.

Despite the stress and strain of this first week, I know that our teachers will continue to bounce back and work hard to love our students and  move them forward.  I hope that you’ve all had fabulous starts to your school years!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Liebster Award

I was very excited to see that Cheryl Lassey from Creative Elementary School Counseling nominated my blog for a Liebster award!  I still consider myself a newbie blogger and have such few followers as it is that I was totally surprised and excited by the nomination.  Thanks Cheryl!  It’s awesome to know that my blog has helped me network with other counselors even though it's taken me a couple of weeks to get this going (back to school- busy, busy!).  So, the Liebster award seems to be like chain letter/ email forward…which I’m usually not so into, but it is just cool to have my blog recognized by another counselor that I am eager to participate!

The rules are:
1. Link back to the blog that nominated you.
2. Nominate 5-11 blogs with fewer than 200 followers.
3. Answer the questions posted for you by your nominator.
4. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
5. Create 11 questions for your nominees.
6. Contact your nominees and let them know you nominated them.

Here are my answers to Cheryl's questions:
1. What are your favorite blogs? 
I love looking through all of the school counselor blogs out there! that help us all share, connect and become better counselors.  These blogs especially inspire me: (An all around fabulous resource for all things school-counseling!) (I love the authentic writing and real-life happenings.) (So many wonderful ideas and practical things to put in place.) (This isn’t a school counseling blog, but it’s my cousin’s who is an amazing writer and inspiring person!)
2. Why did you start blogging?
I love connecting with others and really believe that we are better educators and people when we can share ideas, struggles and celebrations with each other.  I wanted to find a place to share ideas and resources as well as challenges that we all face in this exciting, changing and often difficult role.
3. What advice do you have for others who are just starting out with their own blog?
Go for it! I think I (still) tend to let myself get caught up in “is this even worth posting?”  Of course it is!  Someone out there may need to hear exactly what you’re writing.  We all do so many different things each day and being able to sort through and find others with new ideas or fresh perspectives on the role of the counselor can be re-energizing and just plain awesome.
4. Why did you decide to work as a school counselor?
I love being in the school (my mom and sister are both teachers) but didn't necessarily want to be in only one classroom or focusing on academics.  I found my niche in school counseling and couldn't be happier!  It is awesome to be able to advocate for children and teach them critical life skills that too many are not learning at home.
5. What are your favorite things to do outside of school?
My husband and I love Clemson football, and I’m pretty pumped for the season to start!  I also enjoy reading, mindlessly watching tv shows on Netflix, and getting outside on pretty days.
6. What is the best part of your job?
Being with the kids!!  I love seeing them, helping them and teaching them.  They make it all worthwhile!
7. How many years have you been working in a school?
I was blessed that my school had an opening in January 2012 after graduating with my Masters in Dec. 2011.  I have been at my school for 1 ½ years and I feel as if I am exactly where I’m called to be!
8. If you could only have 5 books in your office which ones would you choose?
Great question…I don’t know where to begin!  In no particular order: The Invisible String (I love this with kids of all ages even though it is geared towards younger students dealing with separation or grief), Have You Filled A Bucket Today (always a good one for talking about friendship and bullying), How Do I Stand in Your Shoes (a great resource for teaching empathy!), When Someone Very Special Dies (I needed this a lot last year for my kiddos), and 7 Habits of Happy Kids (my curriculum is based off of these again this year although I use much more than just the stories in the book.)  I get most ideas and classroom/group lesson resources offline so I'd stick with some of the stories I think.
9. If you could live anywhere in the world where would you live?
I am so happy living in Greenville, SC.  I have a great job and am close to family, but if I could visit or live somewhere else for a short time, I think I’d like to go back to Africa with my hubby and then maybe somewhere in Europe just for a fun and exciting change of pace.
10. What is your favorite memory of a teacher from childhood?
Mrs. Kroko, my 3rd grade teacher, made me want to be a teacher when I grew up!  She was so kind and helpful.  I was a "hairbow" kind of student (we use this terminology on my PBIS team for those students who are the teacher's pets) and enjoyed feeling like her little assistant.
11. What is your #1 go to resource at school?
I love getting ideas from Pinterest and the amazing school counseling blogs out there, but when it comes to this question, it is not the “what” but the “who” that comes to mind.  I am very blessed to have an amazing internship supervisor turned counselor friend and mentor that I can call any time with practical questions or for supervision and consultation.  I hope everyone has that person that they can go to!  My school also has a social worker that has been here for 10 years so it is always helpful to bring issues up with him too.

My nominations for the Leibster Award are...

Your questions to answer:
  1. What are your favorite blogs?
  2. Why did you start blogging?
  3. What would you like other bloggers to know about you?
  4. Why did you decide to work as a school counselor?
  5. What are your favorite things to do outside of school?
  6. What is the best part of your job?
  7. How many years have you been working in a school?
  8. If you could only have 5 books in your office which ones would you choose?
  9. If you could live any where in the world where would you live?
  10. What is your #1 go to resource at school?
  11. What is your favorite quote?
Have fun and happy blogging! :)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lessons Learned in Africa

Jambo!  I’ve been MIA from the blogging world lately because I spent the first month of my summer living in Bujagali Falls, Uganda. Africa has always been in my heart and living, learning and teaching there has been a shared dream of mine and my sister’s.  This summer we traveled together to Uganda to volunteer with the SOUL Foundation.  We were so very blessed to spend a month living with a host family in the most welcoming and amazing community imaginable.  When I returned, I had to pretty quickly jump back into school mode to attend my district’s Summer Academy professional development.  While catching up with my principal on the phone, she remarked about what an amazing opportunity I had to live and teach in Africa and that I surely will bring so much back to share with our students this school year.  It got me thinking… What will I share?  What impact did Africa have on me that I will bring to my school?  What lessons did I learn during my time in Uganda?  So, I did some reflecting and lots of looking through my pictures to come up with the following list of my own lessons learned.  I am sure there will continue to be other lessons that pop up and different ways that I realize I have been changed from this experience, but for now, here are some things I’d like to share about my journey.

Lesson one: When you’re a fish in the water, make the first move.

It’s not comfortable or fun to be the fish out of water.  If I’m being honest with myself, I am rarely out of my comfort zone at home.  I spend my time doing what I love and am good at surround by people that know and understand me.  In Africa, I frequently felt like a fish out of water.  I didn’t look, speak or act like the people I was living among, and there were vast cultural differences that challenged me daily.  What made me feel better adjusted and more comfortable were the interactions with the community when people from the village made the first move.  That is, they made the first move (despite the language barrier) to greet us, welcome us and try to understand us.  The more difficult times came when we felt disconnected and out of place because no one was interacting with us or acknowledging our presence or trying to understand our cultural differences.  Thankfully, those times were few and far between (as I said, we were in the most welcoming community).  I think sometimes we tend get so caught up in our own comfortableness that we don’t realize how uncomfortable and out of place others around us may feel. This is certainly often the case with parents and school-- and especially so with parents that are not from the US themselves.  My school population is around 60% Hispanic and growing, and I thought a lot about that while I was in Africa.  Like those welcoming people in the village, am I making the first move to ensure that they feel comfortable, appreciated and accepted within the school building?  I am definitely a fish in the water back home and at school, and I want to be ever so conscious of doing what I can to make the first move in welcoming and accepting all.

Lesson two: Children are much more resilient than we give them credit for.

The afternoon before we were getting ready to leave, Elizabeth and I went to sit by the Nile together one last time.  We quickly found ourselves surrounded by 8 or so children all under the age of six running, screaming, crying, laughing and playing with no adult supervision.  One second they were mean to each other by hitting, hurting and teasing, and the next they were laughing and playing again without any adult intervention.  The same truth could be said about the students we were teaching at preprimary. It often went against my nature to allow children to just freely roam and interact with each other anywhere and everywhere by themselves, but it is such a cultural norm that I had to just get over and accept it.  And you know what?  It turns out that children are much more resilient than we give them credit for.  They look out for each other and very quickly get over it when they get hurt.  They don’t hold grudges or create drama with their friends.  If someone hits them, they may cry for about 30 seconds or they may just turn around and hit that person back who will then shrug and move on with life.  The next thing you know, they are back to playing and having fun.  Children as young as three are responsible for getting to and from school by themselves and sometimes have to do so by walking very long distances.  It is amazing (and through a Western lens, often terrifying) that they are able to handle and do so much by their own little selves.  It makes me think that in America we are often guilty of going overboard on coddling our children and not expecting as much out of them as they are capable of.  I want my kids at school to know how much I love them, and I am sure as a result of that, I too often give in to the drama and allow them to become dependent on my help.  I plan to very consciously take a step back this year and instead of coddling, empower students to accept their feelings and problems solve on their own.  Trust me, they are more than capable of doing so.

Lesson three: Hard work really does pay off… but it may take some time.

While we were volunteering with SOUL, we were fortunate to visit many different women’s groups that SOUL created to empower the women and provide sustainability within the community.  Some of the most amazing groups we visited and got to participate in were the fish farming groups.  Four years ago, they had the idea to create a group that would fish farm to earn money for themselves and their families.  Being from a fishing community, they were excited to take this project on; however, they did not know about the process and chemistry of fish farming nor did they have the ponds ready to go.  They had to start from the bottom up.  Together, this group and the SOUL staff found some land and began to hand dig the four ponds necessary to start fish farming.  It is incredible to imagine what they must have been feeling and thinking on those hot African days while digging for what I’m sure seemed like an endless amount of time.  How were they able to keep the end in sight and understand the purpose for all of their hard work in the beginning knowing how far away the reward was?  While we were there, the fish pond group was gearing up to sell their biggest fish and make their first profit.  That’s right, their first profit after 4 years of all of that hard work.  They had many struggles along the way and numerous learning experiences to get them where they are now, but I think that the reason they will continue to be successful is because they are now seeing how all of their hard work has paid off.  They have had ownership of the whole project from start to finish.  What a useful example I now have to share with my students to help them keep the end in mind while goal setting and planning for their futures.  It isn’t always fun, easy or quick, but in the end, hard work really does pay off.

Lesson four: Synergy can turn a bite into a meal.

One of my favorite things to witness was break/lunch time at preprimary.  Firstly, the kiddos were just adorable with their little lunch pails.  But looking past the cuteness was a raw understanding of synergy that took place each day during this time.  The kids would take their own little pail and go sit down with a group of friends.  They would open their lunches, grab a handful of beans or rice or whatever was packed for them that day and put it in their friend’s pail.  Next, they would reach in and grab a bit of corn or potatoes that were in their friend’s pail and place it in their own.  They did this with no communication whatsoever.  There were no “please” and “thank you” taking place because they had such a basic understanding of synergy.  In other words, if they go eat by themselves then they will have a meal consisting of a few beans.  However, if they grab, take and give among their friends, their lunch will go from a few beans to beans, rice, corn, potatoes and whatever other goodies were packed for their friends that day.  I think what was truly remarkable to me about this is how it happened so naturally.  In America, how often am I telling kids the importance of sharing and teaching them that we can do more together than we can alone?  Kids in Africa just get it.  On another note, synergy can also help raise children, create and run a business, expedite the success of a business, foster sustainability and over all better everyone’s livelihood. 

Lesson five: It takes a village to do just about everything.

The final lesson that I want to share from my time in Africa is about the incredible sense community I felt and experienced.  The saying goes, "It takes a village to raise a child", but the truth of the matter is that it takes a village to do just about everything.  One of the most striking cultural differences that I am struggling with as I acculturate back into Western society is the lack of community I feel here.  I've been lucky that I had professional development this week to allow me to get out of my house and interact with fellow school counselors.  But even so, after the few hours we are together, we all go back home, close our doors and do our own thing.  That is too often life here in America.  In Africa, there was no going inside and closing the door… people were always outside so that you can see, greet and communicate with everyone.  They don’t have the same sense of individuality that we have here.  Instead, they truly live by the words “What’s mine is yours and embody them in all that they do.  The village is better off because everyone looks out for each other and their children (who are usually just roaming around in and out of people’s homes and getting fed and loved).  People there work together to create a community that can continue to sustain and better itself every day.  How amazing would it be if our schools had that sense of community?  What if instead of competing to have the best scores or smartest students we all worked together in a synergistic way to share and grow education as a whole that would benefit each and every student and family? 

Thanks for reading my thoughts… Living in Africa was an amazing and life changing experience that I will always hold in my heart.  Now, with my new lessons learned, on to planning for the 2013-14
school year!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Finishing Up

With the end of the year so rapidly approaching, I am in the process of tying up loose ends and wrapping up my first full school year.  I am excited and pleased with the data I'm collecting so far in regards to how the program ran this first year.  I wanted to evaluate the program this year for a couple of reasons: 1) to help me and my advisory council plan for next year 2) to include teachers in the process and encourage buy-in 3) to share with my administration what I have been doing this year and how it has been received.  I searched some school counseling blogs that I follow and ASCASceneIt for ideas of what I wanted to include in my staff survey.  Ultimately, I wanted to evaluate the program and get a fresh perspective of our students' needs.  I created a short, 10 question survey that I emailed out through SurveyMonkey last week and I have gotten tons of positive feedback from teachers.  I am excited and humbled that they feel so good about the direction that this program is headed in.  This first year I was able to really create the foundation for a program-- we have a mission, vision, philosophy and curriculum which I created and have been working with school wide.  Next year, I will do more trying to get everyone to buy into the program as more than just "what Kristi does" and help teachers see the impact that integrating it with what they already do can have on behavior, classroom management and the well-being of our students.

You can see the questions that I asked below.  Most were on a scale of strongly agree to strongly disagree with a few multiple choice and free response sprinkled in. Although SurveyMonkey has limitations for what you can use without upgrading, I found it to be very useful for what I was hoping to accomplish.  It was very easy and user friendly both for myself and my teachers!

I also really wanted to show the incredible staff that I am blessed to work with how much I appreciate them. However, being that there is only 1 of me, it can be hard to do this on a budget.  So, I created these little goodie-bags and placed them in their boxes.  I bought the stickers at Wal-Mart and downloaded the template from the packaging.  From there, I just inserted a picture of an owl, chose the cutest font and printed them.  I stuck them on squares of scrapbook paper and stapled them to baggies filled with candy and viola, a little treat for the teachers and staff!  

This has been such a wonderful year all in all.  Definitely full of ups and downs, but even in the downs I know that I absolutely feel called to be where I am right now doing what I do.  I am a school counselor at heart!  I love getting to work with the sweet kiddos that we have here at school and as much as I'm ready for summer, I know I will miss them and worry about them for the next 75 days.  Good luck to all of you as you finish up your years!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Time Flies!

It's been entirely too long since I wrote about life as a school counselor!  There have been ups and downs since my last post.  Here's a quick catch up...I dealt with my first hostile parent whose anger was directed towards me.  I can honestly say that although I'm still a little shaky thinking about it, I'm okay with the fact that not every parent is going to like or understand my role at the school and what I have to do to protect and take care of their kids--and I'm incredibly thankful to have administration that will back me up and support me 100%.  I witnessed the most powerful moment in a counseling session shared with two 4th grade boys.  It was a solid reminder about the impact that a safe and comfortable counseling environment can have on children.  I did nothing but allow them the space to talk and it was amazing to see what happened.  These two boys were both dealt some difficult and unfair cards in their hand of life, but together were able to share, cry and support each other through two different yet somehow comparable chaotic life situations. I've wrapped up all of my 7 habits lessons.  It was so much fun for me to do my final lesson in each class.  I spent a good portion of the time reviewing the first 6 habits and am incredibly blown away by what the kids remember!  Also, I'm putting together a book that I'll be sure to post some pics of when it is finished.  I told the students that I wanted a scrapbook/yearbook of the school counseling program for this past year and I wanted them to be my authors.  Each student got a page to write and color about their favorite habit (and why it was their favorite).  It has been a joy for me to read through them and although I haven't quite figured out the best way to do so, I can't wait to bind them all together in a book.  I'm thinking a large 3 ring binder and plastic sleeves.  :)

Currently, I am getting ready for testing.  In my district, most school counselors are also the state-testing coordinators.  It is a huge job that overwhelms me and my time, but this is my second year coordinating the test and I'm certainly better at getting it together while still attempting to maximize the time that I spend each day with kids.  Our theme this year is Rock the Test, and I'll be visiting classes to do some testing skills lessons this week.  I can feel the school year wrapping up, but I still have a list (although not quite as long) of students who I need to check in with and follow up with.  My days have lately been so busy, and I know it won't be slowing down at any point from here on out!  Good luck to all of you as you begin to wrap up your school years.  I hope the stress and tension of testing doesn't overwhelm you and your school climate!

PS- Here's a picture of my Rock the Test bulletin board I made.  :)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Telephone Game

Over the summer I was able to do most of my 7 Habits curriculum planning with a few other counselors.  While washing dishes one afternoon, it came to me to use the game telephone as an illustration for Habit 5: Seek First to Understand and Then to be Understood.  

The game doesn't work unless you first understand what the person was whispering to you and then try to make yourself understood to the next person.  We played it twice: the first time with the rule that you could not ask the person to repeat themselves whether you heard correctly or not.  The second time, we used our other habits to be proactive and set a goal to see if we could make it all the way around the circle correctly.  The class figured out that the only way to make that happen was to allow the other person to repeat themselves as many times as necessary.  Still, some classes were not able to accomplish the goal and it gave us a teachable opportunity to introduce the fact that even when we try, we aren't very good listeners a lot of the time.  The discussion after the game was the best part because the game very clearly illustrated this habit and some of the roadblocks to good listening that Covey talks about in the Teens 7 Habits book.  We were also able to see if the class was Thinking Win-Win and staying quiet and encouraging each other or not.  I used this with 3rd grade and that seemed to be a great age for this game!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Habit 5 in 1st Grade: Listening With Your Heart

As a former Communication Studies major in undergrad, I've noticed that my comm. background has heavily influenced my counseling and teaching style when working with my students.  I try my best to teach them the importance and benefits of learning to communicate openly, honestly, and positively with each other.  We spend a lot of time learning Heart Talk, but I was even more excited last week to teach them about Habit 5: Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood.  I started my lessons in 1st grade with a review of the habits we'd learned so far right up to Habit 4 when we practice Heart Talk.  The kiddos know now that they are supposed to use Heart Talk with people when they are feeling sad or mad or someone hurts their feelings.  I told them that the next habit would help them listen to their friends if they ever did something that hurt someone's feelings (because we all make mistakes, but we are proactive people and we want to learn from our mistakes and make them better!)   

I told them they would be learning a new word--empathy--and that this habit would teach them how to listen with their hearts instead of just their ears.  I read them the book How Do I Stand In Your Shoes by Susan Debell.  

This book is an EXCELLENT resource if you are trying to teach young children the meaning of empathy!  The kids love it and are engaged throughout the entire book.  At the end, there are some thoughtful questions you can ask to see what they learned about empathy and how to stand in someone's shoes.  After processing the story with them, I planned to have them do a worksheet that they could fill out after interviewing a partner about something that happened to them over the weekend (good or bad).  But, I just didn't have time for it because they go to related arts right after my lesson.  Instead, I did a short version of emotion charades.  I pretended to come into the room very sad and mopey (totally opposite of how excited I always am) and asked them to stand in my shoes to guess how I was feeling.  Then, I reminded them of how having empathy was like listening with your heart, and I asked them what kinds of things they could do to help me feel better and to be kind to me if they knew I was sad.  We practiced some more feelings: angry, embarrassed, scared and I was so proud at how well they all got it!  This is one of my favorite lessons to teach and I was so happy with how well it fit in with Habit 5!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Thinking Back...

Last night a had a truly cool experience visiting a practicum class at the program that I just finished in last December.  My former internship supervisor is the practicum professor (and still a full time school counselor--she's that awesome!) and she asked me to come talk with the group about being a first year counselor.

I remember not long ago struggling in my own practicum experience.  I was uncomfortable in my school placement and feeling (sadly) invalidated for my feelings.  Every day I went into my practicum, I felt that this school counseling stuff was less and less for me, and I became less and less confident in myself.  I didn't know what I was doing and felt like I was in a place where I could not learn the skills that I didn't even know if I had.  I was in a high school (which was where I pretty much knew I didn't want to end up, but still wanted the experience) working in a "guidance" program.  'Nough said.  When I did have the opportunity to work in a counseling environment with a student, I was terrified that I was going to mess someone up.  I didn't like that I had to actually learn by doing--it made me feel uncomfortable and unprepared.  I wanted to watch and listen and observe, but that is just not the way to truly learn in this profession.  Somehow, I developed a relationship with a senior student who was bustin' it trying to graduate and plan her life.  We were able to meet frequently and I (hope that I) was able to help her make some realizations, gain self-awareness, and plan for life after school.

Was I a great counselor?  Nope.  Did I make mistakes, have times where I didn't know what to say to students, and feel totally out of my element?  You bet.  But in reflecting on that time in my journey to get to where I am now, I realize that despite my feelings of inadequacy and my frustrations of my experience, I did learn something.  I learned that although I am far from perfect and confident, I am passionate about helping children.  I am a go-getter and completely uncomfortable sitting around and waiting or talking about doing something... I want to do it.  Right now.  As much as I can.  I want to help, connect with, support and love children who need it.  I won't let the "there's not enough time in the day" excuse keep me from seeing as many children as I can, visiting classrooms and running groups.  The records and testing and paperwork can get done when the kids leave.  We have such little time with these precious and amazing children, and I want to listen to each of their stories.

It was empowering for me to reflect on how far I've come in just 2 years.  I am settling into a wonderful school community.  I am creating, coordinating and running my very own program-- with lots of help and support from my mentors and counselors that I've been so fortunate to connect with.  I am much more confident in my skills (although still working on containing the self-doubt from time to time).  Lastly, I am truly excited to be a change agent in this amazing field of school counseling.  In my district, so many counselors are part-time and split between schools.  That is CRAZY!   I see it as my obligation to my students, and students everywhere, to show people how important this role is so that others realize the true impact that we all know school counselors can have.

Take Time To Be Kind-- RAK 2013

Last year I didn't have a clue when RAK week was, not to mention that I was so swamped with starting a new position in January, that I didn't even try to make it work.  However, I LOVE the idea of random acts of kindness week and I was determined to NOT let this week go by again uncelebrated.  :)  I introduced the week and what it meant on the news show on the last day of Nat'l School Counseling Week.  Each morning of RAK week, our anchors have been reminding our students to do random acts of kindness for each other.   I've also had so much help from our awesome news show coordinator filming random students talking about ways they've shown kindness.  I've been on a couple times as well to introduce a youtube video of a RAK and share kindness ideas with everyone at school.

I got some great ideas by following many different RAK boards on pinterest.  I created this bulletin board from an awesome example on pinterest.

At the beginning of the week, I I emailed teachers a few ideas they could use in their class and attached this RAK board that I saw on The Inspired Counselor and know that a few classes have been using it! (I modified a couple of the RAKs to make them make sense at my school)

I printed and laminated these wallet-sized printable quotes about kindness and put them in our staff "buckets" that we usually fill for each other with positive notes.

There is one class in particular that needed an extra boost of kindness, so after school on Monday, I placed "secret kindness missions" on each of their desks.  Their teacher told me that there was a lot of excitement on Tuesday morning when they came into school and found out that they were on a secret mission.


We've also been selling Valentine's Day suckers for .25 cents to go to our beautification committee and have been promoting kindness through that. (Help make our school a place we all enjoy being; Be kind this Valentine's and surprise your friend with a sucker, ect.)  I made some of the tags for the suckers that said to: You, From: Random Act of Kindness so that teachers and students could leave suckers as surprises for each other.  

It has been such a fun and exciting week!  Kids are stopping me in the hallway every day to share the kind things they've been doing for their friends, teacher and family.  Helping kids learn kindness is a part of my vision and mission here at my school and I am thankful for a week that gives me a reason to promote and encourage it!  Happy RAK week to you!

"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." -Aesop

Friday, February 8, 2013

School Counselor SURPRISE!!!

I have to take just a minute to brag on the awesome staff at my school.  Today was just going to be a normal day and the last day of National School Counseling Week, but everyone here went above and beyond to celebrate.  I was "tricked" into running an errand into the cafeteria this morning and noticed that a long and decorated table was set up on the stage.  I though, "hmm, wonder what's going on today?" until I noticed my name in the middle of the table.  Confusion was the first feeling that set in, then complete shock as I realized that this was for me.  The staff had planned and prepared a pot-luck feast for us all to join in and celebrate the last day of school counselor week.  The craziest part to me is that everyone kept it a secret!  I thought I knew everything going on at school-- but this was an incredible surprise and very humbling moment!  I am so blessed to be in this place, to be able to do what I love and work with people as amazing as this.  School Counseling ROCKS!!!  :)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

National School Counseling Week Link Party!


National School Counseling Week is here!...and it snuck up on me :)

To kick the week off, I wanted to prepare something to give the teachers thanking them for their support and  let them know it was National School Counseling Week.  I also wanted them to check out my brand new School Counseling Program brochures that I finalized and printed just in time for this week.

Beside the computer where everyone checks-in in the morning, I left a Sign that said, "Thank you for your support of the school counseling program.  Happy National School Counseling Week!  I think you are marvelous and magnificent   Enjoy some M&Ms" along with a bowl of M&Ms and a bunch of my brochures.

I've gotten compliments on the brochures, thank yous for the M&Ms, and a few very sincere words of appreciation for what I do here at school.  Today I also filmed a blurb for the news show to be aired on Friday with me talking about my role as the counselor and also letting the whole school know that in honor of National School Counseling Week, we will be celebrating Random Acts of Kindness Week next week.  I gave everyone "homework" to come up with ideas of how they can be kind to each other and make our school a kind place to be.

Last year, I started in January and during my "introduction" classroom lessons with 5th grade, I cut out different puzzle pieces and went into the classes to talk about myself and my role at school. I had them decorate the puzzle pieces for the theme: School Counselors Help Connect The Pieces-- which is an idea I saw on Pinterest.  I put up this bulletin board in honor of the week and gave the teachers a note of thanks for the warm welcome and a treat in their boxes.

I get so inspired by other counselors ideas and I am thankful to be a part of this link party where we can share and celebrate our week together!  I heart school counseling!!!!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Peace Promise

A few months ago, bullying became a buzz word at my school.  Our AA and I heard it all of the time.  We brought in a bully show from a local community theater group, and I had done various lessons on bullying in classrooms, so the kids had been hearing the word “bully” a lot.  A lot of the notes I received from students was thus about “bullying” situations.  One thing that stood out to me was that when I followed up with the letters students were writing me about being “bullied,” many actually turned out to be more about conflict resolution than bullying.  Some of the students just didn’t know how to get along w/ each other when there was a problem and resorted to understanding the problem from the language they had been hearing around the school: I have a problem, so I must be getting bullied.  Others it seemed really did have bullying situations going on, and my AA and I felt at a loss for how to stop it all. As a school, we all needed to understand and be on the same page about the definition of bullying, what it looks like and how we can choose to be a peaceful school.

So, I got together a plan to teach our students and teachers the definition of bullying and invite a discussion on how to bring peace to our school.  However, there is only one of me and I didn’t think it made sense for me to switch up my curriculum in the middle of the year to do a bullying lesson in each class.  Instead, I used an app on my ipad called Educreataions and created a digital storytelling video to define bullying.  (Educreations allows you to create videos that are basically like a digital white board.  I used pictures and recorded myself talking and writing.)  I emailed the video out to all teachers (with admin’s blessing) and asked that they find a time to show it and reflect the discussion following the video in their lesson plans.  After they watched my video, I directed them to a skit of the Juice Box Bully that I found on YouTube.  If you have never read this book and you are interested in promoting peace to end bullying then it is a MUST read J  I really liked that at the end of the skit, the kids all signed a Peace Promise saying that they would not stand by and watch bullying happen.  

So, of course my students needed to sign a peace promise too!  I put up a bulletin board with facts about bullying surrounding the Peace Promise and asked my teachers to have their students all sign it after lunch the day that they showed the videos.  The students loved it—and it has been a great tool to help students recognize that bullying isn’t cool or funny, but terribly hurtful and rude!  I think it is such a simple thing, but has brought a visual of peace and community to our school.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The ABCs of Problem Solving

Following up from my last post, I've been teaching Habit 4: Think Win-Win to my students this month.  I have been doing a lot of research over the past year for an easy to remember problem solving model that will help my students learn those super important conflict resolution skills.  I settled on the ABCD problem solving model and created this poster to leave in the classrooms after I taught the lesson.

I think that it will be easy for them to remember!  We practiced problem solving together as a class in 2nd and 3rd grade this week using this model.  I wanted to start very simply when explaining it because I didn't want to overwhelm them.  I took a soccer ball with me and used two volunteers to "practice" using the model together.  The problem was very simple-- there was one ball, but 2 people wanted to play with it.  The kids were eager to jump to the conclusion of sharing, but I wanted them to understand the 3 outcomes of conflict first-- win/lose, lose/lose and win/win.  The students acted out the different scenarios: win/lose-one person got what they wanted but the other person had to "lose"; lose/lose- getting in a fight over the ball (I was sure to use the words being reactive instead of proactive) and having it taken away by a teacher; win/win- agreeing to share the ball or take turns using it.  I also had the students use Heart Talk during the win/win example and explained that it is a way they can be proactive and in control of their feelings rather than reactive like in the lose/lose example.  Once the model was demonstrated in an easy way for them, we talked about more complex examples of conflict and did more practice using this model.

I made one for my office wall too and think that I'm going to give one to our AA.  She sees a lot of the student's problems after they have made the more reactive choice.  What a great reflection and learning tool to review what could have been done differently to avoid getting in trouble.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Heart Talk

Conflict resolution is a HUGE piece of my counseling program at my school.  I noticed that it was an issue from the first needs assessment that I gave my teachers when I started last January.  Since then, I have spent a lot of my time mediating conflicts between my students.  I learned Heart Talk in my internship and was so excited to bring it with me to my school!  If you've never heard of it, you might want to check out Diane Senn's classroom guidance lesson book Puzzle Pieces because it's awesome and very helpful when planning lessons.  Heart Talk was created by Diane and it basically just teaches children to use "I-Messages" during conflict.  I love it because it is easy for kids of all ages to remember and use.

Last year, I spent an entire lesson teaching, role-playing and practicing Heart Talk in every grade level (K4-5th).  This year, because we are doing the 7 Habits, I incorporated Heart Talk in Habit 4: Win-Win.  For Kindergarten and 1st grade, I introduced the idea of win-win and then very specifically taught them the 3 parts of Heart Talk.  It isn't just using nice words (which my friends initially assume because of its name :)  In the upper grades, I taught an ABCD problem solving model and we practiced what Heart Talk would sound like as we work together to brainstorm solutions.  The kids are already familiar with Heart Talk (they hear me and their teachers say it all of the time AND I gave each class a heart w/ the words on it at the beginning of the year) but they could always use more practice!  It also totally fits in with Habit 1: Be Proactive because I explain that using our words when we feel strong uncomfortable feelings instead of reacting to our feelings on impulse can help us be better in charge of ourselves.

Heart Talk has become the common language of our school and I have gotten such positive feedback from our teachers and administration (and of course, students!).

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My Lifesaver!

As any school counselor could tell you, things are busy, busy, busy!  During internship, I had little difficulty remembering the students I saw and the cases I worked on because that was really about all I was responsible for.  Now, I wear so many different hats on any given day at school that it gets truly difficult to remember who I saw when about what.

There were two things that I quickly realized I was struggling with.  First: I had difficulty managing my cases, remembering when to see students and make follow up appointments, and keeping track of who had what going on.  Second:  I wanted to know how much time in my day was I spending in the classroom, counseling individual students or groups, working in the records room, organizing standardized testing, ect.  I know how valuable this information can be in advocating for my role, and I've been determined to keep track of things... but I just hadn't found a system that worked for me.  

So, with my desk littered with post-it notes and my many different to-do lists cluttering things up, I knew I needed a new way to hold myself accountable and keep track of the cases that I'm working on all in one place.

It turns out the answer was waiting for me in an ASCA tweet chat (don't know what that is? Check it out here!) about counselor/ principal relationships.  One counselor posted on the chat that she keeps track of what she is doing every 15 minutes and writes it down in a notebook.  I figured it was worth a try, so I drafted this sheet.  

I absolutely LOVE it!  I keep it in a notebook in the top drawer of my desk and every so often (not usually every 15 minutes because I'm not going to stop a counseling session or go back to my office if I'm in a classroom) block out what I am/was doing at that time.  The second part of my notebook is something that I am so thankful for!  I think I just made this up, but probably got the idea somewhere in the wonderful world of blogs or pinterest (obsessed).  I keep these sheets in a separate section behind the time-tracker sheets and use them to keep brief notes on the students that I see each day.  I do keep more detailed notes for most of my ongoing cases, but this allows me to quickly jot down the student's name, when I saw them, why (type of referral) and what we talked about so that I have documentation.

The notebook has never left the top drawer of my desk, but I still have this in the front in case something crazy were to happen.

This system probably won't work for everyone, but for right now it seems to be working for me!  I still have post-it notes covering my desk, but hey, I guess I just like a good sticky note every now and then :)