Be The Change -- A Lesson on Empathy


It's important to help students understand the importance of empathy--especially with the recent natural disasters, the shootings, and the political climate.  One song I love that reminds me of this premise is Michael Jackson's "Man In The Mirror".   If you want to make changes, you have to look at yourself first.

I decided to use this song to help my kids look at empathy.  I started with a few discussion questions about what they thought needed changes in today's world, and it started a great discussion.


 I then had them listen to the song and we talked about what it meant.  Once they were done, I asked them to color a pennant to show their commitment to helping to make the world a better place.  Once they are finished, we will hang them around the school.




You can find  the lesson in my TpT Store HERE, if you would like it for yourself. 




A Lunch Bunch Lesson on Team Building, Self-Control and Listening


If I handed you a piece of paper, a pencil, and 13 small Lego pieces, would you think that you could teach team building, self-control, and listening during a lunchtime group?  Not only is it possible, but it is a fun activity your kids will love. 

I did this activity with two groups today.  One that is working on social skills and another on leadership.  Both groups were equally engaged, and I was surprised at the level of focus, and teamwork the students displayed.  It was really interesting to watch and listen to them work.

To begin I sorted through my legos to sort out similar pieces.  I wanted each group to have the same pieces.  (Actually one of my groups had 13 Lego pieces and the other group had 8 since it was a larger group and I didn't have enough of the same Legos.)  

When the students sat down, I asked them to each grab a partner.  Then handed each group their Lego pieces.  I asked them to each work together to build a creation.  I gave them no further instructions.  Even though they didn't have a lot of pieces, it took a few minutes for them to figure out what masterpiece they were going to build.


When they were finished, I handed each group a blank sheet of paper and a pencil.  I asked them to sketch what they built.  Some simply traced their creations, while others gave a detailed, professional guide.  As they finished, I asked them to take their Legos apart.  Then I split the partners.  I had one stay with the drawing and their pieces and the other had to go to a  different group.  Once in the new group, that person was given the Legos and their partner then had to give verbal directions how to build it.  The drawing was only for the instructor to serve as a visual reminder of what it looked like.  


This was challenging for several kids.  They wanted to see the drawing and not be told how to build something they didn't know what it looked like.  It was also challenging for the instructors not to build their creation for their new partners.  One student was on the verge of a melt-down, but I was proud how his instructor said "Don't worry.  We've got this.  I'm going to walk you through it."  And, he did.  Step by step.  The cool part was when this kiddo was done, he was ready to do another one!  


We processed the activity when everyone was finished.  
  1.  What did we do in this activity?
  2.  What made the activity difficult?
  3.  What made it easy?
  4.  If we were to do this over again, what would we do differently?
  5.  What did you learn?
  6.  How does this relate to school?

I love how they were able to relate it to school.  They needed to be able to listen to directions to solve a problem, they had people there to encourage them when things were tough, sometimes they need to be patient.


How else could you use this lesson?
What could you use Legos for?
Leave a comment and let me know.

Need a few more lesson ideas for teamwork or self control?  Click on the links below.






20 Ways To Increase Self Esteem


Most students I see, whether it's for a social skills group, drama problems, academic troubles, family groups, or friendship issues, all seem to have one thing in common.  Their self-confidence has taken a hit somewhere along the line.  If we can help them to feel better about themselves, then we can help them to improve their grades, relationships, communication, and reach goals.

Here is a handout I put together to give to students and parents about simple things kids (or adults too) can do to raise their self-esteem.





I also put together this infographic:



I also created these discussion cards for my groups to foster self-esteem.

I love the versatility these cards have.  They can be used as icebreakers to my friendship groups, as well as review for the mindfulness and self-care lessons we have been working on.  I made some Scoot recording sheets and art therapy worksheets, so these cards can become lessons.  






(Fidget) Spinners in Counseling

Fidget Spinners are all the rage these days.  They are in every grocery store, gas station, and school.  Kids can't seem to get enough of them-- mine included, but, do they really help?

Pros of fidget spinners:

  1. Kids Feel Socially Accepted – If a student has a fidget spinner, they are with the "In Crowd."  I have seen it myself.  As soon as a student starts spinning their fidget spinner, a crowd of people will stop to watch.  Instant conversations start taking place, and friendships can be forged.  
  2. Can Help As A Sensory ToyLet's face it, spinners help with sensory input.  Kids can become mesmerized by watching and holding the spinners.  Fidgets in general can help students with sensory issues be successful, as students use them as a self regulation skill to monitor their own behaviors.  They can have a calming effect--but only to some.  
  3. They have more than one use – Fidget spinners are, well, toys.  And, like any toy, kids can use their imagination to use it for more than just to spin.  A friend or mine, Yanique from Kiddie Matters blog, uses them in her counseling program to get kids talking about Social Skills.
These fidget spinner social skills games are great for children to practice social skills. These counseling activities can be used by parents, teachers and counselors. They are a nice addition to any social skills lessons.:

If you look on Pinterest, you will find a lot of other ways spinners are being used in the classroom as well.  You will find them used as game board spinners, challenges for STEM projects, in creative writing and math.  Their uses are unlimited.

Cons of fidget spinners:

  1. They are a toy – When I was a kid, Cabbage Patch dolls were all the craze, so were Beanie babies, Webkinz, Rubik's Cubes and SIlly Bandz (those little jelly bracelets that came in different shapes that kids wore on their arms by the dozens) and now there are Fidget Spinners.  It's only a matter of time before the fad dies out.
  2. Schools are banning them So many students in our school were using them, that they actually became a distraction.  The best fidget spinners are those you cannot see (or hear) but students can use under their desk as a sensory distraction.  Too many of our students couldn't use 1 hand to operate their spinners and they were out constantly.  The whirl they made was sometimes loud as well, causing a distraction to those students sitting nearby.
  3. They wore out their welcome – Similar to the other latest fads, when not used properly they do not function in the same manner. When children over use the fidget or do not use it for the intended purpose it just becomes the latest and greatest toy.
I really liked the idea of Fidget Spinners.  Students need opportunities to use self regulation skills and find coping skills to use to help them they are feeling stressed, distracted, and anxious.  I wanted to work on coping skills as the school year winded down, so I came up with a calming spinner that would be a suitable alternative to the ones sold in stores--plus a lot cheaper!

I thought back to the paper spinners I made with my dad when I was a kid.  We were always making things from windup cars made out of match sticks, match stick boxes, rubber bands and empty thread spools, to spinners made from paper plates and string.  I would play with those "toys" for hours, simply winding them up and watching them go.  So I decided to give the paper spinner a little update with a counseling twist.  Take a look at this video.





I decided to mix the art of coloring a zen inspired doodle with the fidget spinners of my youth. Calming patterns coupled with a calming quote leads for great discussions with students.  

After putting together several designs, I printed them on card stock to make them a little heavier and stiffer.  I had my students each pick 2 designs to color (one for the front and one for the back). As the students colored, we talked about the quotes they picked, what had stressed them out during the week.  As they finished coloring their spinners, they then cut them out and glued the 2 sides together.  Using a pencil, we poked 2 holes a little less than a 1/2 inch apart in the center of the spinners.  Using string, we fed the string through the holes and tied the ends together.  To start them off, just twist the strings and then pull tight.  With a little practice you can keep the spinners going and rewinding and unwinding by adjusting your tension as you pull.  It became a contest who could keep their spinner going the longest.  

The great thing about these fidgets, is that are also mesmerizing like the store bought ones, but they truly have a counseling purpose and incorporate several coping skills into one.  

Try making your own, or you can use mine.  Here is the link:

If you have any great ideas for using Fidget Spinners in your counseling program, I would love to hear about it.  Make sure to leave me a comment!


What You Need To Know About Attending A Professional Conference




If you are reading this, congratulations!  You'll soon be off to an amazing adventure learning and growing as a school counselor!  Attending a conference is a lot like going to the beach.  It's exciting and relaxing all at the same time.  There are plenty of signs to take in and like the sun's rays, you'll be basking in an incredible amount of knowledge that will leave you with a sunkissed glow.

To get the most of your time, remember these tips:

1)  You are there to learn.  The best way to do that is to talk to colleagues.  Sit next to someone, attend lunches and social gatherings.  Meet new people.  Some of my best friends I met at former ASCA conferences, and now many of them I now talk to every day despite the fact we live in different parts of the country.   I can't wait to attend this year's so I can reconnect with them.  I have learned so much from them, and they are always there to share a lesson or a tip, or lend a helping hand.  If you are planning to attend ASCA, make sure you join our meet up.  We're even planning a gift exchange this year as part of the mixer and a way of getting to know one another.



2)  Wear comfy footwear.  You will walk around a lot.  You will also sit a lot.  Dress at the conference is casual professional.  I'll typically wear something I would wear to work.  I have dress yoga pants that look great paired with a nice shirt so I will be bringing every pair I own!  You want to be comfy.  There is nothing worse than sitting for hours in something that makes you uncomfortable.  You'll also want to bring some clothes for down times as well.  It'll be hot so bring some t-shirts and shorts with you as well.  I always have something that I can wear to a nice restaurant too in case I go out with a group.  If you are going to the RAMP awards dinner, they are formal--so dress your best.

3)  Save room in your suitcase.  I always bring way too much stuff home with me.  I tend to buy books and games, and I always bring goodies home for my boys.  The conference exhibit hall is an exciting place to be.  Lots of vendors, you can actually look through all those counseling books you've been eyeing in the order magazines that are shipped to schools (Stop by YouthLight for your copy of StarBound and Research Press if you're interested in Building Champions--I'll be signing copies!)  The exhibit hall is also where you will pick up your conference t-shirt, loads of pens, stress balls, post it notes, and info.  Plus lunches and snacks will be served there as well.

4)  Get the conference app.  Knowing what sessions you want to see and having a schedule will be important.  The conference app keeps it all together for you.  It also has all the handouts so you have everything all in one place.  I have the last four years' on my iPad and they are always great reference materials.

iPhone Screenshot 2


I also like to keep a copy of where I will be going and where I am scheduled to be.  The last two years I also was a volunteer so I had to be in certain places on time and early!  Each year you get a nametag.  I like to print my schedule out and put it on the back of my nametag as I wear it constantly.
Just click on the picture to get a PDF copy.    


Another thing to note is that I am presenting on Sunday, July 9th from 11-12 with Malti Tuttle and Christy Land.  Our session is called Packing Punch into Lunch Bunch--and we'll share how to pack a powerful delivery program into your Lunch Bunch Program.

5)  Other Stuff.  Other things that I bring along with me include a portable phone charger.  I find myself taking a lot of photos, sending lots of tweets, and taking notes with my phone.  I used to bring my iPad, by I was finding it heavy to lug around, so I'm sticking with just my iPhone.   You do get a conference bag, but it is also handy to have a bag you can tote around with you.  I also find bringing a raincoat (last year in New Orleans I forgot one, got stuck in the rain and ended up buying an umbrella for a ridiculous amount of money) and a sweatshirt or sweater is important.  The conference rooms can get pretty chilly.

The last thing you want to remember is that this is an experience.  Soak it all in.  You will be re-energized, revitalized, and recharged.  Enjoy every minute of it and be sure to look for me!






Keeping Your Counselor To Do List Organized


If you have ever walked into my office, you would have most likely seen a mountain of post it notes.  I mean they were everywhere, with little reminders of what I need to accomplish, call, or see that day.

Those days are over.  O.V.E.R.

Here's my desk today.  

Notice the brown?  It's a desk. . .  But, in that picture is the key to being organized.

I made these weekly planner To Do lists to keep on my desk.  They have a highlight section that I can jot my notes down in and keep all my reminders handy.  I found a tutorial for making my own notepad. (I haven't tried it yet, but I am excited to do so.  It looks pretty easy)  Instead of lugging my planner/binder to every team meeting or classroom I visit, I'm going to take a planner sheet.  It will be helpful to jot down the periods end if I'm going in a class for a lesson, and it also gives me space to take a note if a student asks me.  Plus it's bigger than a post it note, so it will be a little harder to lose!


Here is a better view:


I think the biggest key to organizing your To Do list is to visit it frequently.  Cross off those things that are done.  You feel a real sense of accomplishment when you can mark something complete and you will be more likely to continue on with the next task.


The next key is to prioritize.  What is the single most important thing you have to do that day?  I know you are probably thinking all of it, but there is always something bigger than the rest.  Number your list.  Rewrite it in order if you have to, but get it prioritized.

Another way to organize your To Do List is to enlist help if needed.  What can you delegate?  What can you get someone to help you do?  For example, the other day, I had cards that I wanted printed and laminated and then cut apart.  By myself it would have taken me the whole day to get it done, between copying the pages, waiting for the laminator to heat up, and then actually cutting them apart in between appointments, tours with our incoming 4th graders, phone calls to parents, and meetings. Instead, I asked a student to help me make the copies, laminated everything myself, and then brought the sheet of laminated goodies to the office where it was cut into more manageable pieces, then found a sub who was looking for a project to help me cut them out.  My time on the project was minimal, and it was a huge job, but in the end, it didn't seem like it.

Lastly, use a planner.  Planners will help turn your To Do list into a plan.  Once you begin keeping track of your year, you can also use it to really develop your school counseling program.  You'll be able to see the trends of when things are super busy or sort of slow.  You can use these trends to find time to go into classes or move things around, so you feel more consistent throughout the year.
This is what the inside of my planner for next year looks like.  This year's is packed full and I can't show a picture for privacy reasons.


If you would like a copy of my weekly planner, click here.  It's a freebie!

If you would like to see my matching perfect counselor planner, click here.

What does your To Do list look like?  How do you keep it organized?  Leave a comment below and let me know!



Playing Card Games To Learn Coping Skills


Kids love playing games.  Cards games are always a hit, and playing cards with students when in a counseling session can be really helpful.  First it gives kids a focus other than you looking at them.  They are concentrating instead on the cards and the game, and not where your eyes are.  Eye contact can be uncomfortable for kids, so any game can help break the ice.  Second, a deck of cards can really start the conversation going.  



I started using cards as a coping skills when kids came to my office in tears or a panic attack.  I used them as a distraction for what they were experiencing, and as we played, I would ask them questions about the events that led them to come down to my office.  The more I played, the more I tried to use the cards as a therapy tool.  Then I began adding questions to each card, asking students to answer the question on the cards as we played.  Then, I began making my own cards.  



Cards can be used with individuals and with groups.  When you add cards to groups, you also help students build social skills and practice patience and self-regulation.  I use these cards in my social skills groups and my resilience groups.  They are a perfect review after students talk about their stress triggers and learn various coping mechanisms.  Talking together and answering the questions really reinforces the learning concept and students are quick to offer suggestions to one another if someone doesn't have an answer.  Cards also help to build alliances between students in group.  As students discuss themselves, they become empathetic towards each other, but also realize that they are not alone with their fears and feelings.  

Answering questions like, "Name one coping skill you have used successfully," or "why is yelling at someone an unhealthy way of handling stress?" reinforce skills.  Be sure to add a variety of questions into your card games.  Techniques, what would you do if, true/false, and how would you feel if questions add a good variety.  

To see or purchase my Coping Skill Card Game, click here.  




Do you have a favorite technique for helping students learn coping skills, or do you have a great way to use playing cards in counseling?  Let me know.  Leave a comment below!
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