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!

Counseling Office Storage Solutions

If you are like me, time is of essence and storing and searching for counseling materials needs to efficient, quick and easy.  Any time searching for something is lost time, so materials need to be ready to go at all times.

I'll show you some of my favorite storage ideas in just a few.  First, I'd like to show some ideas from an elementary and high school counselor because their needs are a bit different than mine.   And, many of you are extraordinarily creative in your storage solutions!

Holly, a friend who transitioned from elementary school counseling to high school, was an excellent resource for me to pick her brain. When talking about storage solutions, so many elements of storage came up.  How can you store supplies around your desk?  Where do you put stress relief toys, pens, post it notes, 3x5 cards, markers, coloring pages, etc. without your desk looking like a jumbled mess? If you are a counselor who uses books for bibliotherapy, and lessons, where do you put them so they are easy to see, and access?  If you run lunch bunches and small groups in your office, how do you separate your work space, which could have confidential information ‘out,’ delineated from your meeting space?

This is Holly’s office. 

Holly uses a wire bookshelf that allows students to easily see and access titles to books.  The shelf also serves the super purpose of shielding her desk from peeping eyes and separates her meeting and group space from her desk.  You can find a link to a similar book display here: Fixture Display

Holly also uses a short, wide bookcase for game storage, and a place for bins of coloring and writing tools. She is very lucky to have such a large space.

Moving on to High School, this is Tracy’s office.

Tracy is a high school counselor, and has less of a need for bin storage, but needs organized storage for student files and lessons. Tracy stores many lessons on her hard drive, but keeps hard copies of worksheets that accompany lessons. She had a need for storage on her desk to keep it neat. Post it, tabs, highlighters, colored flair pens are staples for course selection, colored pencils and coloring sheets come in handy with stressed teens, as are small toys to keep one’s hands busy, and help students calm themselves. Tracy’s favorite storage solutions are her 4 drawer hanging file cabinet, small desk shelf, and her basket of toys. Tracy’s office has transitioned from very large, to quite small, and she likes an ‘L’ shaped desk to remove paperwork from others’ eyes.

My office is being overrun at the moment for State Testing.  Even materials that are only used once a year, need to ready to go.  I really need to be organized to handle all those exams.  I use these storage containers to keep things organized and then label then with my Testing Pack.  (As an added bonus, I have added a special treat in my Free Resource Library for newsletter subscribers that will help with testing!  Be sure to sign up if you haven't already!)

But because I do more that State Testing, I also need storage for all the other things I do each day. . . counseling, lessons, meetings and groups.  Here are some things that help me.

I use binders to keep track of all my meeting notes.  I use one for each grade level team, my counseling notes, 504 Caseloads, and our mental health team notes, as well as our Student Support Team referrals.  I have two large bookcases in my room, and every shelf is full.  The plastic accordion folders in the photos below, show how I organize all my lesson plans.  Each plan goes in it's own folder and those lessons with pieces, like the Writing Affirmation lesson, get labeled in zip lock baggies I steal from the nurse.

Things kids use all the time get stored on key-rings, like the affirmations and coping skills, while task cards and icebreaker questions get clipped together using large binder clips.  I love the binder clips because I can stand them up and place them on a shelf in a cabinet.  

The other storage containers I use all the time are these Iris boxes.  They are 4" x 4" and are the perfect size for my I Know Card Games, which are the most popular games in my office.

I also use a lot of Target Dollar Spot metal containers and jars.  They hold pens, legos, fidgets, markers, and glass stones that I use as BINGO markers.

I hope this gives you some ideas.  I'd love to see your storage ideas.  Please share them with me!

Mindfulness in School Counseling

Mindfulness can help students increase their academic performance, develop social skills, and provide them with coping mechanisms to handle they stressors. Mindfulness can also help students become more confident because as they learn to control their emotions and learn to self-regulate, they feel better about navigating life's difficult situation.

 I began the year teaching all my lunch groups a lesson on mindfulness.  We talked about what it was, how it could be used and why.

I also had the students practice several different mindfulness strategies that they could use when they were angry, stressed or felt that they were becoming unfocused in class.  Each student made a booklet that he or she could put in their trapper keeper and pull out when they needed it.  They loved that they could use these techniques at their desks and that they could do them without drawing attention to themselves as they calmed and refocused.  

Once I was done with the lesson, I also left up the important concepts on my focus board for several weeks.  This helped the students have a reminder of the lesson.

I also have a calm corner in my room where I have some yoga poses.  Many times the kids will come into my room and stand in front of the posters and try a pose or two.  I also have smaller task cards with poses and sequences that are laminated and on a key ring that they can flip through.  

Yoga is a great way to incorporate mindfulness and you don't need to be an expert.  You do need to remember to keep it slow and focus on deep breathes in and slowly letting them out.  Here are the posters, cards and sequences I use.

Mindful Yoga Bundle

5 Tips For Starting A GSA At Your Middle School

A few months ago, a couple of my students asked me if I would talk to my administration to see if we would be able to start a GSA--or Gender-Sexuality Alliance also known as Gay-Straight Alliance.  They wanted to have a place for students to come together in a safe place and help our school become a more inclusive space.  Today, Valentine's Day, was our first meeting.  It was great to see the kids come together in support of acceptance, tolerance and individuality.

Here are some things I learned along the way.

1.  It may take some time to get things up and running.  I'm lucky I live in a very tolerance driven community, but I still had to do my homework about what does a GSA do at middle school?  I needed to talk to faculty and staff members and create allies for this group.  I have several teachers who want to come to meeting and interact and support kids.  My students know this and it has been helpful to them because they have people who they can go to if they have a need.  I also did need to figure out the process for starting a new club and had to get administration approval at the district level.  This definitely isn't something that you decide to do today and start tomorrow.

2.  Identify key members.  You need students who are willing to act as leaders.  These students will be the ones making posters, recruiting new members and talking about how great a GSA is going to be for the school.  You need to capitalize on their help and strengths.

3.  Do your research.  I found a lot of great information from GLSEN's Jump Start Guide.  Ther are download guides for helping to start your group.  Another great resource is from the GSA Network.  They have information about forming your club, how to facilitate a meeting, and how to deal with hostility and opposition.  Most GSA's at the middle level have of a mission of building tolerance and inclusion within the school community and as such, complete a service project.

4.  Advertise.  We made posters and made morning announcements for 2 weeks before our first meeting.  Word of mouth was another big form of advertising and I had a lot of students come to me to ask questions about how to join.   You really need to give yourself several weeks to do this.  It took about 2 weeks for the kids to make the posters, have them approved by the administration, and to hang around the school.

5.  Prepare for your first meeting.  Like any productive meeting, you need to have a plan of what you want to accomplish and do.  In addition, for your first meeting, you need to establish ground rules and expectations with the members to keep it a safe space and to have all members have a voice that is heard.

For our first meeting, I went over group rules:

  • One person talks at a time.
  • Everyone has a voice.
  • We will treat everyone with respect.
  • What we say in here, stays in here.
After we did our group rules, I handed them 2 slips of paper.  

I asked the students to answer Why I'm Here Today and then had them break into pairs to share their responses.  It was a great way for the students to get to know one another.  When they were done discussing, I asked if anyone wanted to share with the group.

Next, I handed them this sheet:

I asked them to think about their priorities and to consider what you hope to accomplish in this group. Do you hope to educate your teachers and peers? Educate yourself? Change a school policy? Expand your social network? Get emotional support?  Afterwards, I had them each share what they had written to the group.  The common themes were to have a safe space to talk and to educate the school about acceptance.

When we were done sharing, I did one last activity with the group.  I had them all stand in a line in my room and then asked them either/or questions.  They needed to take a stand and move to one side of the room or the other based on how they felt about the choice given.

It was great to show that even though we all had our differences, we could all come together in the end.

To wrap up the meeting, we talked about what we would be doing in upcoming meetings--creating a mission for our group, and deciding on a few meeting topics, questions we need answers to and a project we could do for our school.

One last thing I want to share with you are these posters.  They will let your students know your room is a safe, inclusive place.  You can grab them for free in my TpT Store.

Over the next few days, I will post the Why I'm Here Today/Where Do My Priorities Lie and the Where Do You Stand Powerpoint in my TpT Store for you to have Free access to them.  Please look for an update soon.  

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