The Nuts and Bolts of Running A Successful Girls Self Esteem Counseling Group

Helping a young person become who they want to be takes time and encouragement. It takes paying attention to what sparks a passion. . We listen, we encourage, and we provide the opportunity to uncover each young person's unique interests.

So many counselors tell me that they are a bit intimidated about running a group, or that they feel when they tried in the past, their groups were unsuccessful.  Truth be told, it really isn't difficult, but there are a few basic tips to help make it run smoothly, go well, and be fun.

1.  Be Intentional.  This is perhaps the key.  Know what skills you want your kids to have before beginning your group.  It's the Sean Covey model of "Begin with the end in mind."  So true.  You need to know where you want to go so you can map out how you're going to get there.  A good curriculum, will help you with this if you don't have that much time to do all the planning, or you're not sure the best way to map out your path.  

2.  Find a Space.  My new office is so small--like storage closet size.  I can't get 4 girls in comfortably, so I had to search around and find a space.  When looking for a room use these guidelines:
  • Room for games where kids need to get up and walk around
  • Space for smaller sub groups to work
  • Accessible to all members
  • Table space is large enough for crafts, games, and lunches
  • Close access to restrooms
  • Area is free from hazards
  • There is a spot for trash, recyclables, and clean up stuff

3.  Have Supplies Ready.  Just like any lesson plan, you can't just open a book seconds before the class shows up and expect to be 100% ready to go.  Preview what you are doing ahead of time and have things ready.  This is especially true if your groups are during lunch.  I tend to have my basic supplies always ready and within reach.  My colored pencils, markers, and pens/pencils are in tins that sit in the center of my table and I always have a stack of paper sitting underneath because you never know when you'll need it.  I also find it handy to put my curriculum in binders and then have plastic folders for each session with usable materials of that week's lesson.  If you need to go into another room, get a small bin to hold all you materials as you travel to a different room.  I find if I don't do this I'm running back to my room for glue sticks, or a stapler, or pencil sharpener at least 3 times during a meeting time.    As you collect materials for your counseling groups here's a list of some basics that should help you always be ready.
  • Pens, pencils, markers
  • Pencil sharpeners ( I just keep a few manual ones around)
  • Blank copy paper
  • Scissors (8 is a good number)
  • Scotch tape
  • Stapler (1 is good, 2 is better)
  • Dice (I like the large foam dice you can get in the dollar stores)
  • Small ball
  • Tongue Depressors (these are great for writing down icebreaker questions)
  • Glue sticks (3-4 typically are enough)
  • Double sided tape (I use this but don't let the kids use it.  Mostly to take paper dice or hand things around the room)
  • Tissues
  • Napkins or paper towels
  • String (I never expect to use string, but am surprised I find myself grabbing it a lot)
  • Lysol wipes--especially if you meet at lunch

4.  Plan Your Meeting Dates.  Knowing when you are going to meet is as important as where are you going to meet.  Plan all these dates in advance especially if you have to rotate times in the day or days of the week because of rotating schedules.  For wee little loves in the primary grades, a 30 minute time spot will be long enough, however, if you have to pick kids up or drop them off, extend the time to 45 minutes once a week.  For upper Elementary and Middle School, I would love to have a whole 45 minutes but I am typically limited to a 20 minute lunch.  I like to then have the kids 2 days per week so we can finish and talk about our lesson. Extending an 8 week group to 16 weeks can work, but you have to spend at least 1/2 of your second session reviewing what they did the prior week.  2 back to back days is really better.

5.  Select Members.  Have in place a selection criteria.  Are you sending nomination sheets to teachers?  Are you getting requests from parents?  Whatever your process, get your kids.  4-6 kiddos for Primary is good, 6-8 for older kiddos.  I wouldn't do more than 8, if you do then there is no time to talk and process.  You want to have enough time where kids get to share their insights, questions, concerns, and ideas AND have time to learn a skill during each session.  Too many kids prevents this.  

6. Screen Members.  You need to meet with the kids before you put them into a group so you can get their buy in.  They need to know why they were selected, what the purpose of the group is, what they will be doing, what the group rules are, and they also need to be willing to follow the group rules.  If they aren't willing to participate or they won't follow the rules, then they are not ready for group counseling.  You may need to see them individually and work with them to be group ready.

7.  Get your baseline data.  Why were these kiddos referred?  What's the data that show their discipline, attendance and academic achievement?  Also give a pretest so you can see if their attitudes and mindset improves over the course of the group as well.  Don't forget to collect ending data too.  That post test is equally as important.

8.  Have a curriculum.  I have several curriculum I use for self esteem.  

  • StarBound is really great for middle schoolers and upper elementary.  It's focus is empowerment and working in teams and leadership development.  It's perfect for strong girls who are seen as "bossy", "opinionated" or "difficult" and gives them opportunity to take their strengths and work with others.  

  • Wonderfully Me is also great for middle schoolers and upper elementary.  I'm using this with 4th graders right now.  It's perfect for those kids that feel like no one likes them and that they have no friends.  Most of my kids in this group are pretty quiet, although I have 2 that can really speak their minds!  The focus is on looking at their inner strengths, changing negative thoughts into positive ones, and learning strategies to reduce stress and anxiety.  It also uses mindfulness and CBT skills.  

  • Unique You-nicorns is for primary elementary girls.  It focuses on what makes them unique, healthy friendships and communication skills.  It's perfect for those wee loves that struggle with friendships and get pushed around a lot by their "friends". 

No matter, what curriculum you use, just make sure it leads back to #1--Be Intentional.  You can't help make the changes needed, if you never identify the needs or you don't teach skills that are solution focused.  

9.  Believe in the process.  You need to really believe that what you are doing is going to make a difference.  You also have to believe, you may not get to witness those changes that are being made.  It takes time to develop new habits, grow a mindset, practice coping skills and use them during the situations you practiced for, and change behavior.  I like to send follow up forms to teachers and parents after (sometimes a month after the group ended) to see if they are noticing improvements.  While I don't get every form back, I will get some and they usually are very positive and show growth!  

10.  Have fun.  You can't expect your kids to have fun, if you're not having fun.  So let yourself go, and enjoy.  

15 School Counselor Must Haves To Start The New Year

Because I work in a school, for me, the “New Year” begins September 1st. But, if you are in literally any other field of work the New Year actually begins January 1st, which I obviously know, yet I still refer to the “end of the year” as June and the “beginning of the year” as September. Because of this I purchase my “new” items in September, but as we all know a lot can happen between September 1st and January 1st and those “new” items are now a thing of the past. Some grow legs and walk off, some get icky or overused and need to be retired and replaced, and some just need a little freshening up. So if you're like me and need to replace those icky, sticky, ripped, worn used and exhausted, and want some ideas for must-haves for the New Year then this blog post is for you!

1. Manipulatives
I like variety, but I also like a good deal. Want to keep small hands (and sometimes big hands) occupied? Check this out! A variety pack of 22 sensory fidget toys. Stress balls. Things that stretch. Things that bend. Things that peek at you (I mean, honestly, look at that little peas in a pod keychain, too adorable. I can’t even). Things that reduce stress. Things that make noise (I apologize in advance). And one of those water drip timers that are irresistible and everyone picks up immediately. Sometimes these items grow legs and walk away. Sometimes they get icky. Having a small stockpile to pull from is a must!

2. Post-it Notes/Sticky Notes

We’re all friends here, right? Can we be honest for a minute and talk about how not all districts are created equal? By that I mean that not all districts provide seemingly essential office supplies such as Post-It/ Sticky Notes. Some districts don’t believe these 3”x3” gems are genuinely your best friend. Unbelievable, I know. 

Post-it/Sticky Notes typically sell themselves. I know I don’t need to list all the ways I use them, but I will because I can’t stress enough how much I use them. 
  1. In student files for quick, brief notes and reminders.
  2. To tab pages in my contact notebook, indicating necessary follow up.  
  3. For messages of inspiration that get posted in the bathrooms, on my door, on teacher mailboxes, on lockers, or in some instances on the foreheads of students. 
  4. In therapy sessions with students to help organize their stresses and thoughts by physically moving around the note.  
  5. In group counseling, as a team building lesson, I have students work together to completely cover another team member in Post-It/Sticky Notes. Yay for hilarious teamwork!
  6. In classroom lessons, Post-It/Sticky Notes become exit slips to gauge student understanding before they walk out the door. This allows me to get a quick check to see if my objectives were met.

Side note: I love this Morris The Donkey Note Holder. Do yourself a favor and watch the 1 min video Amazon has blessed us with, you’ll thank me later...and probably be left with as many questions as I now have. Like, what’s with the whole carrot situation? And why is this woman so mean to the donkey, he’s just trying to help?
3. Planner/Agenda/Calendar
You’re probably reading this and thinking “I’m not getting a new planner...I already bought one at the beginning of the year.” Well to that I say: see, I told you the year begins in September…

Anyway, obviously you don’t need a NEW planner, but perhaps a refreshed planner? Maybe some new stickers or fun paperclips? Spruce up what you already have, keep it interesting and feeling new because who doesn’t love a brand new planner?  
If you’re anything like me when it comes to an agenda/planner/calendar then you need it to survive. I put everything into my planner. Parent phone calls. Meetings. Appointments. Free lunches provided by administration (which doesn’t happen often, so this is where those new stickers come into play!). Classroom lessons. Counseling sessions. You name it, I write it down.

4. Hand Sanitizer & Disinfectant Wipes

Little known fact, hand sanitizer doesn’t last forever *gasp*. I know. Okay, so maybe industry standards claim it’s good for 2-3 years, but are we really to believe that? Are we really to believe that the pump itself is self-sanitizing, you know, the part that EVERYONE has to touch in order to get the sanitizer? Well, my friends, this is where Lysol picks up the slack. Do students eat breakfast or lunch in your office? Do they sneeze all over you toys (of course they do, that’s rhetorical)? Do you ever just walk into your office and sense the germs? Okay, I’ll stop because I know you know what I’m saying. The long and short of it is if I’m sick then I’m not at work. If I’m not at work then students aren’t being supported. 

5. Plastic Folders
Listen, I like a hardy folder that I can see through so that I don’t have to commit to a labeling it. I like that I can use them for pretty much anything, like meeting notes, lesson plans, games, etc. And I like that they come in a rainbow of colors. Mostly I use these because they have closed sides and they expand, they are perfect for lesson plans because nothing falls out. They are quick to grab and go when running from your counseling office into a classroom.

6. Snacks
I know we’re not the only school with hungry students. While we provide breakfast and lunch, that doesn’t always fill their empty bellies. I always have snacks in my office. My goal is to stock up on snacks that are healthy and filling. I stay away from empty calories or anything that can cause a carb crash! So frequently students don’t even realize they are hungry until they offered something to eat, so if a bag of animal crackers can fill a tummy and de-escalate a behavior, the money spent is well worth it!

7. Laminator
I’d like to ask you to lean in for this one. Come on in close because I don’t want everyone hearing…

Prep once, use year after year. I laminate everything I possibly can. If I'm using worksheets for a lesson, I make a class set and laminate them, they bring some whiteboard markers and a few tissues, and viola--a reusable worksheet for years to come! I even laminate game cards to give them extra durability. So, perhaps you are lucky enough to work in a building with a district provided laminator that you have access to whenever you want, but let's face it. . .we all know that every time you go to use it there are no lamination rolls or it's broken. Every. Time! 
Yes, a personal laminator is a godsend. Not only can you get one on the cheap here, but you can also get 600 of these lamination sheets for a little over $.10/sheet whereas most will cost you between $.25/sheet.

BONUS must-haves that aren’t really must-haves, but are more like nice-to-haves

8. Electric Pencil Sharpener
I was lucky enough to have inherited an electric pencil sharpener from the previous occupant of my current office and honestly it’s awesome. Again though, it’s another item that tends to bring all the teachers to the yard, so to speak. Once word gets out that you have one, everyone will be stopping by to use it...especially the students! At this current moment mine is full of colored pencil shavings from a lunch group that decided they needed to sharpen all of my colored pencils (about 50 in total).

9. Markers, Crayons and Colored Pencils
You can never have enough of these supplies.  I also like to pick up the Target Dollar Spot mini tin buckets to store them in.  

10.  Copy Paper
You can do so many things with a piece of paper.  From printing your favorite resources, to the emergency coloring for the wee little love toddler that visits with their parent who happens to just drop in and ask about their child who you have in school.  That piece of paper and a marker give you about 3 minutes of quality talking time.  You can also use the paper to write down worries and shred them in your mini paper shredder, or used to talk about replacing negative thoughts with positive ones to, well you name it, the paper is important.  Hopefully you're lucky enough to get this from your school and don't have to purchase your own.  I do, however, always buy a pack of bright colored copy paper for lessons where I need a way to differentiate various sections.  

11.  Games

I have a variety of games.  Store bought games like Candy Land, Don't Break The Ice, Chutes and Ladders, and Connect 4 are games you can easily turn into counseling games by adding task cards to.  In addition, I made card games that play somewhat like Uno but are great for talking about Coping Skills, Grit, Conflict Resolution, and Feelings to name a few.  These games get pretty intense and time passes quickly when playing.  My other favorite game is Yikerz, a magnet game I was given by my friend, Jan, a counselor I met several years ago through blogging and my Facebook groups.  Besides the "I Know" card games, this game is played a lot with individual students, and is a great way to keep student hands busy as they chat away.  

Now these next few don't need a lot of explanation. . .

12.  K  Cups, Tea Bags or Diet Coke.  
Enough said.

13.  Binders.  
I have a binder for EVERYTHING!  The keep everything organized and add a little label and they look so pretty.  Plus a binder makes things grab and go.

14.  Tissues, Tissues, and well, more tissues

15.  Being Present.
You must be present.  If you're tired, sick, miserable, pouty, anxious, or off thinking about other things, you are missing out and so are the kids.  Watch this video.  It's one of my favorites and it explains this so well.

And just because I like you guys so much, I made these cute simple posters that I'll share with you if you sign up for my newsletter.  They will be in the free resource library.

How to Celebrate National School Counseling Week

Today, I was talking to another counselor and she was worried that her school was going to forget all about honoring her during School Counselor Week. I gently reminder her that next week started National School Counseling Week not Counselor's Week. You see, there is a big difference. The week is not about the worker. It's about the work we do and the program we have built. It's about promoting our profession that is still widely misunderstood by many. It's also about celebrating our work, our vision, and the appropriate duties that we are supposed to be doing. It's about advocacy, not accolades.

I remember one of the first National School Counseling Week I decided to celebrate. I was excited and wondered how it would go down at my school. I followed the ASCA fun, posting signs on my door about why I do what I do, and wore my shirt, Xing out ‘guidance’ and emphasizing SCHOOL COUNSELOR, and posted fun pics on social media.

But as the week went on, and I had many visits from school staff, attended a luncheon put on by the PTA, was welcomed by signs from student government, and received personalized notes from students in my caseload. I became more introspective about the week set aside just for us, and our programs. I get to talk to so many counselors from all over the country who are just do not feel appreciated, or feel that they are being allowed to do the job they went to school for. They do 3 lunch duties a day or have to act as the substitute when teachers are absent. They are testing coordinators or have been told they couldn't do small group counseling. My heart is with them this week. I advocate and I promote for them. I am on a mission to have the profession understood, recognized, and appreciated.  For more, read this post.

So go ahead and challenge yourself to take on leadership opportunities and not be as much of a follower. Celebrate your professional accomplishments and share them with your stakeholders. Pick up a phone and call a counselor in a neighboring district and let them know you appreciate them. Take the lead!

Enjoy this week! Add the ASCA dialogue to increase your and your team's visibility. Remember these days and accolades on the tougher days. You matter, you are integral to your school and your students. If you are new to your school, speak up! Take on some leadership roles or introduce a new and exciting initiative.

See below, from the American School Counseling Association…there are fun and visible ways to promote your school counseling program. Take the lead!! (

National School Counseling Week 2019, "School Counselors: Providing Lessons for Life," will be celebrated from Feb. 4-8, 2019, to focus public attention on the unique contribution of school counselors within U.S. school systems. National School Counseling Week, sponsored by ASCA, highlights the tremendous impact school counselors can have in helping students achieve school success and plan for a career. National School Counseling Week is always celebrated the first full week in February.

2019 National School Counseling Week Photo Challenge (Quoted From ASCA)
Take a photo/video of the day’s theme and share on Twitter, Facebook and/or Instagram with #NSCW19.  Get students, families and school colleagues in on the fun. Encourage them to download and use the supporter signs listed below.

Monday: Happy National School Counseling Week
Take a picture/video with the new National School Counseling Week sign

Tuesday: Lessons Learned
School counselors: Take a photo with the sign – "As a school counselor, I have learned…”

Wednesday: Lessons Shared
School Counselors: Download the “As a school counselor, I want my students to know…” sign

Thursday: Life #Goals
School Counselors: Download the “This School Counselor’s #Goal” sign and share your school counseling goals

Friday: Building Better Humans
School Counselors: Download the “I’m Building Better Humans by…” sign

For other celebration ideas, please check out The School Counselor Store FB group this weekend. I, along with my many counselor colleagues will have lots of FREE posters, ideas, and downloads to help you promote your work in your school.

Shout Out Binder--Building a Positive Staff Culture

One thing that has been really important to me since starting my new job, is to help create a culture of caring with staff members.  Don't get me wrong, the faculty and staff at my new job are really amazing and they love the kids.  What I've found, though is that our building is so big, that people have a hard time interacting with staff working with different grade levels.  I'm trying different things this year, to change that, and I really wanted to focus in on the amazing things I'm seeing people do each day.

I'm hoping this Staff Shout Out Binder helps.  The goal is for it to get passed around from teacher to teacher so that the words of colleagues can share the good news for everyone reading that follows.

I started our binder with a teacher who has really made me feel welcomed.  She admitted the day after receiving it that when she got it she was having a really rough day and reading my comments really turned her day around.  If you would like a copy of the cover page and inside directions, please sign up for my email list below, and you will get access to our Free Resource Library.  To be honest, there are only a few things in there right now, but I hope to build it up in 2019.

If you have other ways of rallying staff, please let me know.  I'd love to hear your ideas.


Going to ASCA? What you need to know!

Going to conferences are invigorating, inspiring, and hectic.  Believe it or not, I'm pretty shy.  I know a lot of people, but I'd much prefer to stay home than go to large parties, and I get anxious in new environments.  BUT. . .I love going to the ASCA annual conference with over 3,000 like-minded school counselors!

I feel like I'm visiting family.  Each counselor I meet leaves a mark on my heart.  I look forward to talking shop with them, listening to them talk about their families, their careers, and their passions.  They are a welcoming group, and it doesn't matter who you're with, or who you're without, you'll find yourself welcomed and feel like you're home.

With that being said, there are a few things to understand about going to a huge professional conference.

1.  Go to learn something.  Take notes, be open minded, and be OK with acknowledging if the workshop you are in isn't your thing, then allow yourself to leave and try another one.

2.  Dress Comfortably.  It's going to be hot outside, but most likely, freezing inside.  Bring a sweater and dress in layers.  A tote is another thing you might want to carry.  Opt for a good sturdy pair of walking shoes, and if you are wearing those new tennis shoes you just had to buy for the trip, bring some band aides just in case.  You are going for a casual look, but you are still with professionals so look for a good balance.  I will probably be wearing my dress yoga pants and a Polo t-shirt.

3.  Things to pack.  I always pack aspirin/advil, rolaids, a battery pack, a small notebook, business cards ( I use these in the exhibit hall for vendors), an extra iphone cord. charging plug, band aides, and a book and a few movies downloaded onto my devices.  (The last are for the plane ride, and also the layovers).

4.  Wear a smile.  Even if you are lost, confused, or having the time of your life, the best way to meet others is to look approachable.  You'll be amazed at how helpful everyone is and how willing to connect people are.

5.  Have a plan.  Download the ASCA app (itunes) or (google play) and check out the different sessions.  Having a plan with where you are going will be helpful.  I like to write down my sessions and attach them to the back of my name tag.

Screenshot Image  Screenshot Image

6.  Sign up for the meetup.  It's a great way to meet people and have a conference buddy!

Summer Reading For School Counselors (Part 1)

I have several lists for you about summer reading for school counselors.  This is part 1 of a 3 part series.

Summer is a great time to catch up on your reading.  If you are like me, you're not just reading books for professional growth, but you are also reading what students are reading.  I like to run book clubs with my students, so I want to find books my students will love and that also has a social emotional component.  

But when you run a book group, you really have to read the book first.  You need to know the high points and long drawn out sections.  You need to know if there is any controversial content that might offend some of your families.  You need to know if the language is appropriate for your group.  You also need to make a determination if your group could handle the reading level and comprehension.

Another reason to read young adult books, is to experience through the pen, situations your students may be experiencing,  Many counselors have caseloads that include homeless students, students whose parents are undocumented, trans, gay, bi, and questioning students, students who live lives of discrimination and racism, students with learning disabilities, and students who are so filled with anxiety, they feel they cannot function at school. My personal experience is much different than this.  I appreciate any opportunity to learn more about what my students are experiencing. I have empathy, but to truly understand…that is different. 

So, now is my chance to delve into some young adult reading that helps me look into a window of what my students experience daily. Thank you to my wonderful, collaborative, insightful middle school librarian friend. 

Below are her suggested reads and a link to each book on Amazon. They are affiliate links, and I may receive a kickback if you choose to purchase a book through the link.  (Just putting that out there!)

Enjoy and happy reading!

The Distance Between Us  (grades 8 and up)

This book is about a young girl's memories of her childhood in Mexico and her parent's immigration to America.  As her parent's immigrated, Reyna and her siblings are left behind and are forced to stay with her grandmother.  It's a story about growing up, hopes and dreams and being left behind.  

Every Falling Star  (grades 8 and up)

Every Falling Star is the intense memoir of a North Korean boy, Sungju, who was forced at age twelve to live on the streets and fend for himself. To survive, Sungju creates a gang and lives by thieving, fighting, begging, and stealing rides on cargo trains.

The 57 Bus  (grades 8 and up)

Two high school students from two different communities are brought together by bus 57.  It's a  bus ride that changes their lives forever.  

The Hate You Give (grades 8 and up)
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. When the case becomes National headlines, Starr has the potential to unveil the truth to what she saw.  This is the story of what she does next.

Easing Test Anxiety and Stress as a School Counselor

Help!  Our kids are stressing about the test!

Have you heard this plea from the teachers in your building?  I know I have!  Because I don't have my own classroom, it's also hard to sometimes address this on a full-scale need.  There are some kids that always seem to be calm and cool as a cucumber, but there are others, as you may know, that will over in the corner hyperventilating because of the stress.

There are several things you can do to help with stress, even without being in the classroom.

1.  Provide your teachers with a list of resources to help with test stress.  Include links to videos, websites, and lesson plans.  I added this to our Free Resource Library!

2.  Offer to teach a classroom lesson.  Even just hitting one grade level, will help, and if you do this each year, you will eventually teach skills to each grade level.

3.  Send home a special edition testing newsletter.  Include reminders to parents about not scheduling appointments during testing times, getting a good night sleep, dressing comfortably and having a healthy breakfast. (For an online newsletter try Smore)

4.  Put together classroom test prep stress-free kits.  Include bookmarks, lists of coping strategies, cootie catchers, or color by code test strategies coloring sheets.   These allow students to color (an excellent coping skill) and learn the strategies that will best prepare them for test day. I also added a color your own cootie catcher to our Free Resource Library.

5.  Play A Game.  Play Test Taking BINGO, I Know Test Taking Skills Card Game, I Have, Who Has Study Skills or Pin The Strategy On The Test!  Learning should be fun, and these games will help let off steam and learn skills.

6.  Offer small group counseling for those students who get really stressed and could use the extra practice using coping skills.  Knowing coping strategies is very different than practicing them and putting them into action, and a small group will allow students that time to experiment with what will work best for them.

7.  Post affirmations as reminders that they are awesome, prepared, and smart.  Believing in yourself is a key ingredient to success.

8. Chalk it up!  I like to decorate the sidewalks the first day of testing to try to reframe nervousness with excitement.

9.  Celebrate their success!  Don't forget that even after the test is over and handed in, many students continue to feel stressed.  Remember to acknowledge their hard work.  Leave some paper and markers on cafeteria tables or create a bulletin board that students can write on to share their successes.  I'm lucky that I have a popcorn machine and I'll be making popcorn for lunch after our math testing is over! Check out this post to see some ideas.

I'd really love to hear your ideas about how you help to ease testing anxiety.  Leave a comment below and let me know!

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