How to be a Tech Savvy School Counselor

Here is my presentation and links to the different tech tools that will help you to be a tech-savvy school counselor.

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For Notetaking/ Inspiration and Ideas/Lesson Planning:
•  Evernote-  
•  PollEverywhere   
•  Livebinders   
•  Pinterest
•  Dropbox  
For Presentations and Newsletter:
•  Emaze-  
•  Prezi
•  HaikuDeck -  
•  Powtoon-  
•  YouTube 
     YouTube Downloader– add SS before youtube in the link you   want to watch—
•  Smore -  
•  Animoto  
For Tutorials:
          •  SCOPE    
Ipad Apps
•  Fotovidia 
•  iMovie
•  Legend 
•  Quik
For Networking:
•  Twitter
                  Caught In The Middle School Counselors
                  Elementary School Counselor Exchange

Guest Post--Using Calma and mindfulness to help students in schools

I have really seen the benefits of using mindfulness techniques with students. I have a calm down corner in my room, and have taught all my groups coping strategies using mindfulness. I'm always on the lookout for new strategies and programs that will compliment what I already do. I am pleased to share today's guest post by Nellie Springston from Calma.

Hello school counselors, educators, parents and everyone else who follows Carol’s blog! I am very excited to be guest blogging on Carol’s page to let you know about Calma: Calm & Loving Minds Achieve. First, let me ask you a question… (and be honest!) How many of you have said to a student “You JUST need to calm down?!” or “Why can’t you just follow directions?!” Me too! We ALL have! Just being able to calm down, or simply being able to hear directions and carry out a task are actually skills that can, and should, be taught in schools. It wasn’t until I began teaching these skills that I had any luck with my most behaviorally challenged little friends while working as a behavior interventionist at an inner-city charter school. Just as we teach children to add, subtract, read and write, we must equip them with skills of self-regulation, focused attention and metacognition if we expect them to learn. 

Skills of self-regulation (being able to calm d own once emotions take over) and executive function (being able to listen to directions, absorb and comprehend the information, then carry out the task) require a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. But, unfortunately, this part of the brain isn’t fully developed until early adulthood. And, what’s worse, it doesn’t just develop in positive ways on its own but is almost completely dependent on a child being raised in a nurturing home environment. Therefore, children growing up in stressful homes due to the busyness of everyday life, overscheduling, constant stimulation and especially poverty, often see a negative development of this part of the brain, which means these students lack the ability to control their impulses, carry out tasks and, most importantly, absorb information. 

Fortunately, the same type of cognitive research shows us there's a way to build this part of the brain through mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is the focus and clarity that develops through intentional moment to moment awareness. It is an exercise for the mind. It’s like doing a bicep curl for the brain, specifically for the prefrontal cortex. Practicing mindfulness helps increase skills like self-regulation, executive function and focused attention while decreasing disruptive behaviors by equipping students with the skills of mental awareness and emotional control.

It is with this research in mind that I had our entire staff trained in mindfulness by Dr. Lindsay Bira, a local Clinical Health Psychologist here in San Antonio, TX who specializes in mindfulness with military soldiers suffering from PTSD. Although we understood the science of mindfulness after the training, and realized the importance of practicing it with our students, our staff lacked the tools we needed to practice mindfulness exercises consistently and had a hard time helping students understand the importance of mindfulness to their academic and social and emotional well-being. And, with that, Calma was born in order to provide educators the tools they need to practice mindfulness with their students in the classroom not only to foster calmer, happier schools where more effective learning will occur, but so that students also understand the importance of mindfulness to their brain development, academic success, and social and emotional well-being. 

Together with student-centered focus groups, teacher feedback and the scientific oversight of Dr. Bira, we wrote three (K-2nd, 3rd-5th, and 6-12th) five lesson research-based mindfulness curricula complete with step-by-step instructions for classroom implementation and guided mindfulness audio. The 5 modules include a body scan for present awareness, mindful breathing for emotional and behavioral regulation, mindful listening for focused attention, gratitude toward opportunity and others, and empathy: perspective-taking. We also offer a two-hour staff training, mindfulness audio for parents and supplemental resources for curricula implementation such as our Calma Mindfulness Journal. 

Lastly, the question I hear all the time from those who observe our program is, “So what’s up with the sunglasses?” I have two answers for that. First, wearing sunglasses during the mindfulness activity helps students avoid eye-contact and privately focus while being in a public setting. Secondly, it’s just fun. When I started doing mindfulness I noticed elementary aged kids thought it was silly, and middle schoolers thought it was weird, but when I walked in with a bag of sunglasses, the little kids really began to focus and the teenagers were more inclined to fully and willingly participate.

I am so grateful to Carol for allowing me to share Calma: Calm & Loving Minds Achieve with you. Please check out our Website:, read our blog that covers topics ranging from “mindfulness in schools” to “how to use Psychology language in the classroom” and “parenting tips and tricks”. Also enjoy our library page full of books and some articles covering the work of the best psychologists, doctors, economists, and educators of our time who are currently developing research-based approaches that enable kids to learn and flourish, academically, socially and emotionally. And, of course, contact us if you have any questions, comments or feedback - it’s the only way we can ensure our program is working most effectively. 

May Calm and Loving Minds Achieve in your Schools.

Thank you to Nellie, for letting us know more about this great program!

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!

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