Teaching Students How To Manage Stress

Let's face it, we all have stress.  It can wear us down, leave us in tears, or push us to making unhealthy choices.   But, learning how to handle it makes all the difference.  When we teach kids these skills the most important thing to do is introduce the topic, explain and review it. 

1. Teach students to understand their stress. Stress is a normal part of everyday lives.  There can even be good stress!  We want to teach students that good stress can help get tasks done, meet our goals, keep us safe, and excited to try new things.  We also have to acknowledge the bad stress, since that is what most students are familiar with. The bad stress is, when we don’t complete tasks, get sick, headaches, prevent us from falling asleep, change in eating habits, irritability and change in relationships.  However, we are in luck because there are a lot of ways to manage stress, but we first need to be taught to recognize what stress is.

2.  Help students learn to identify the physical and emotional signs of stress and what is causing their stress.  This typically will take place during the first small group session, so students have an idea of what stress feels like to them, whether it be good or bad stress. 

3.  Teach students to identify what they can and cannot control.  There are so many things that students stress about that are beyond their control.  By helping them realize what they do have control over helps to shift what they spend their time thinking about.  

4.  Have students identify their systems of support.  Knowing who they can go to amongst their friends, their family and at school, can help students realize they don't have to face things alone.  Let's face it, when we feel that someone has our backs we are more confident than when we feel we're alone.

5.  Explain healthy versus unhealthy coping skills.  When we know what coping skills we are using, whether healthy or unhealthy, we can use this information to focus our energy on creating healthy coping habits.  

6.  Define and use positive self talk.  Our thoughts and words are powerful weapons.  They can bring us towards success or be what holds us back.  Positive self talk takes practice, and training our brain.  Practicing gratitude and focusing on strengths helps to develop positive thinking.  

How do I help teach these skills to students? I use My Anxiety Workbook for my older kiddos and The Frazzles Stress and Worry Group for my little loves.

Learning to manage stress will take time, patience and practice.  This isn't a one day lesson. It needs to be taught, practiced and put to use in real life situations.

5 Awesome Games to Help Connect with Students Virtually

There is no doubt that our students love playing games. Some of my favorite sessions are spent playing games with students and intertwining counseling skills, of course!

Playing games is a great way to make connections with students. Not only is it fun, but you are building social skills, such as taking turns, eye contact, communication, and patience. Some of this might seem lost as we go through this school year virtually learning. However, there are plenty of ways to play games and build connections and social skills. We have learned the ins and out of Zoom, using the share screen feature and much more to benefit our students. Not only have we learned all about Zoom, but we learned about Google Classroom. If students are using Google Classroom they will also be able to click through the games, which will allow the student to really feel a part of the game. If we can learn all about Zoom and Google classroom, we can easily make connections with students virtually.

Here are 5 games your kiddos will LOVE!

1) Cover and Connect - Social Emotional Learning games build connections with our students. The concept of Cover and Connect is to cover a certain skill. Some of the skills to cover are getting to know me, coping skills, conflict resolution and identifying emotions. The expectation is to plan for one of the skills mentioned above and review what it means with your students then play the game!

Once, you and your students understand the concept, you can schedule for weekly sessions with different Cover and Connect topics which you can find in the SEL Cover and Connect Bundle linked below.

You can find a bundle of Cover and Connect over on my TPT store: SEL Cover & Connect Bundle

2) Digital Dentist Games - The Digital Dentist games focus on Social Emotional Learning topics such as empathy, impulse control and gratitude. Similar to Cover and Connect, you review what the topic is, then you get into the game! 

You can find the Digital Dentist Bundle on my TPT store: Digital Dentist Bundle 

You can even try the FREE Sample Digital Dentist game to see how it's played.

3) Scavenger Hunt - You have the ability to make this very entertaining, with students at home, they are most likely to bring you some of their favorite things! You can do a mindfulness scavenger hunt and ask for items that help them calm down like a writing journal, a ball (that they use to calm down with), something soft, etc. Or you can turn it into a 5 sense scavenger hunt (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch).

4) Would You Rather- (Or, really ANY type of conversation starter) You can make a PowerPoint with different "Would You Rather" questions and your share screen with your students. Some of the expressions and answers you get from kids are hilarious! I also love just using Icebreaker Cards in general.

On the PowerPoint some questions could be, would you rather:

    • Wash dishes OR clean the toilet?
    • Use a stress ball OR get a drink of water?
    • Eat Ice cream OR Eat Cheese Fries?
    • Take a walk OR take 10 deep breathes?

These would you rather cards are a part of my Chit Chat Conversation Starters.

5) Simon Says - Take turns as Simon! See how long you can be playing as Simon before someone messes up. Time it! Make it fun! This is also great as a brain break when you can see that your little loves are starting to lose their focus. Just a quick round, usually is all it takes to get them back on track.

With these resources your students will be able to learn important skills and have fun playing games virtually. You will be able to build rapport with your students and find that the more interactive the games are, the more engaging your students will be. Plus... students love to see their school counselor getting involved in the games!

Let me know how your students liked the games and how they put their skills to the test after playing these 5 Awesome Games!

What are some games you are playing virtually to make connections with your students? Comment below!

How To Celebrate National School Counseling Week in 2021

Looking back on this past year as a school counselor it is very important to acknowledge all of the challenges we have overcome and think about all of the accomplishments we have made in such a difficult, unprecedented time. 

Even now, we may be thinking what if my school forgets all about National School Counselor week because they are trying to plan to reopen schools that have been virtually learning? What if they are just so preoccupied with all of the paperwork that seems to be piling up, missed phone calls, and meetings? 

Here is your reminder to get the word out to your administrators that National School Counseling Week will be honored. National School Counseling Week is February 1-5th, 2021. This week is not about the school counselor itself, it is about the work we do, the program, the differences and all of the challenges we have overcome to build the program at our schools. We are here to promote our profession, celebrate our work, our vision and duties. We are honoring this with to advocate for ourselves and our students. 

This year's School Counseling Week’s theme is All In For All Students, which is highly appropriate for the times that we are currently living in. We may feel worn out, underappreciated, and defeated as we navigate counseling students virtually, or hybrid, or in person with masks on, 6ft apart, constant sanitizing and handwashing, however now is the time to take the lead and show our school community what School Counselors are made of even if it is through a computer screen or masks because after all, we are All In For All Students.

During this week promote your program, use ASCA resources to help the school community fully understand your role! Acknowledge your fellow school counselors in your district or school community. Show how much you appreciate your students and families by putting together something fun for them to see each morning in their virtual classrooms or classroom. We may have to think outside the box this year as many schools are all in a different place, but we are still All In For All Students and can make this week AWESOME!

I have put together a list of activities and ideas to use to promote your role as a School Counselor during this week.  These ideas can be adapted for in-person, hybrid or virtual learning!

National School Counseling Week 2021 - Wisconsin School Counselor  Association

First, check out the American School Counselor Association website activities and events, webinars and promotional items. 

Here are the American School Counselor Association Photo Challenge Prompts:
  • Monday, Feb. 1: I’m All In for students because…
  • Tuesday, Feb. 2: I’m All In for my professional development because...
  • Wednesday, Feb. 3: I’m All In for collaboration because...
  • Thursday, Feb. 4: I’m All In for building an equitable and inclusive school because...
  • Friday, Feb. 5: I’m All In for school counseling because…
Start thinking of how you best want to represent your role as a School Counselor to your students, staff and families! You can take a picture with the PDFs that the ASCA website provides for you and post to your schools social media, send out to teachers and families throughout the week so they can see the importance of your position as a School Counselor.

Along with the ASCA, I have put together some small ideas to get you thinking about the week, how to best promote and advocate for your position and most importantly ways to make it fun!
Here is a list of some other ideas:

Morning Announcements - If you are in person, have a motivational quote or a fun fact about your role as a school counselor or YOU! If you are virtual you can have the teachers post a video clip of your morning announcement each day in their virtual classroom, or you could post on their virtual classroom yourself.

Join Morning Meetings - Students ALWAYS love to see the counselor in their morning meetings! Bring a social skills story along with you and do a mini-lesson. Teach the students any of the skills that you teach throughout the year so they can see hands on some of the skills you teach to your students. You can do this virtually as well. Schedule a time to go into the zoom rooms in the morning, read a story and do an activity by sharing your screen.

Counselor Kahoot (or game like it) - Challenge your students' questions or a game that gives that more insight of your role as a counselor. You can do this virtually or in person!

Earn lunch with the School Counselor - Have teachers pick a student or class to earn lunch with you! You can do this by having a student join you on zoom and you will have your lunches, answer their questions, give some fun facts, play a game, do a go noodle together (through zoom can be silly and fun!), whatever it may be, incorporate the importance of your position and make it KNOWN!

Dress up as your School Counselor Day- Have students dress up as you! This can be very funny and entertaining! Have the teachers reach out if any of their students dressed up as you, so you can surprise them in their classrooms, in-person or virtually! Have the families or teachers send you a picture. You can even make a collage and put it on your schools social media with hashtags to promote Nation School Counselors Week.

Have Open Office Hours - The school community can come on to your zoom link at a specific time for informal office hours where they can learn more about you and your role at your school. This can help build rapport with the families, especially ones who may not have known you well. 

Small Snack Thank You to Teachers - Don’t spend a lot of money, but get some treats to give to your teachers to show your appreciation! Write silly puns on them! (Example: Build your own smores -“Build better humans by giving S’MORES options when people find their life in pieces.”) Virtually, you can send them a little treat such as an egift card to Dunkin’ (I “donut” know what I would do without you!)

Enjoy this time celebrating, promoting and being the leader that you are as a School Counselor!

Book Review: Meet Me In Outer Space by Melinda Grace

As a School Counselor, books can be an integral part of a counseling program. In elementary school, there are tons of books to choose from that help incorporate what messages we want to send, but for older middle and high school students, the choices can be limited. I work with Melinda and she wrote a pretty amazing book that I think will definitely be great to either recommend to kids or be a book club addition. It's all about navigating life with a learning disability. Melinda was kind enough to write a little review of her book for me.
From Melinda:

Smart and unflinching, this #OwnVoices debut contemporary novel stars an ambitious college student who refuses to be defined by her central auditory processing disorder.

Edie Kits has a learning disability. Well, not a learning disability exactly, but a disability that impacts her learning. It isn't visible, it isn't obvious, and it isn't something she likes to advertise.

And for three semesters of college, her hard work and perseverance have carried her through. Edie thinks she has her disability under control until she meets her match with a French 102 course and a professor unwilling to help her out.

Edie finds herself caught between getting the help she needs and convincing her professor that she isn't looking for an easy out. Luckily for Edie, she has an amazing best friend, Serena, who is willing to stitch together a plan to ensure Edie's success. And then there's Hudson, the badly dressed but undoubtedly adorable TA in her French class who finds himself pulled into her orbit...

Chosen by readers like you for Macmillan's young adult imprint Swoon Reads, Meet Me in Outer Space is a sweet, heartachingly real story of love and college life by debut author Melinda Grace.

Book Details:

Barnes & Noble

Editorial Reviews
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up—This YA debut offers an #OwnVoices look at what it is like to live with central auditory processing disorder (CAPD). Edie Kits is a college student studying fashion who hopes to spend the summer and beyond in Paris. Everything is on track except French 102. Learning a language is hard enough, but when you add Edie's CAPD into the mix, passing the class begins to feel impossible. Her professor is not particularly helpful when she asks for accommodations, but the TA for the class, Wesley Hudson, is more understanding and also more distracting. Hudson volunteers to tutor Edie in French, and soon it becomes clear that they both want more than just a tutoring relationship. Edie makes her desire to focus on passing French and going to Paris very clear, while Hudson makes his romantic intentions equally clear. Though readers may wish that Hudson respected Edie's intentions, the attraction between the two of them is well drawn. Edie and Hudson are both likable, if thinly developed, characters whom many will want to see together despite missteps from both of them. The ending feels a bit rushed and will leave teens wondering how Edie and Hudson will work out their issues. VERDICT A sweet college romance that features a disability experience not often represented in teen fiction. A good choice for most YA shelves.—Mindy Rhiger, Hennepin County Library, MN

An interview with the author, Melinda Grace:

I love how your lead character Edie has a learning disability - as growing up dyslexic was an interesting experience for myself as I grew to love reading and became a writer; not exactly the endgame for most dyslexics. I really had hoped the synopsis had explained 'what' disability' she has as I felt it would have rocked knowing it straight-off especially for those of us who look for characters who see the world and learn about the world in similar ways of alternative processing. Is there anything you can share about Edie and her unique learning lens to clue us in a bit about her journey?

Edie has a Central Auditory Processing Disorder, a disability that has several factors that can impact learning as well as daily life functioning. The basics (and I say this with the disclaimer that not all CAPD looks the same) are: difficulty processing speech sounds in noisy environments, difficulty distinguishing between sounds, and difficulty filtering background noise. What this looks like in real life, for me, is that I struggle to maintain conversation in a noisy setting, such as a restaurant or at a concert. I often mishear words, though my brain does try to put the sounds together to make something that makes sense within the context of the conversation (often times it’s comical, other times it can be embarrassing). At times, tone of voice and sarcasm are lost on me which can be very frustrating. I can be inconsistent with my responses in conversation. I tend to “zone-out” during presentations or lectures if there is distracting background noise. I watch people’s faces when they speak as a coping strategy, not only does it help me focus on the conversation, but also to distinguish tone and emotion through facial expression.

For MEET ME IN OUTER SPACE, I gave Edie all of the behavioral characteristics that I have. She asks people to repeat themselves. She struggles to take notes during class lecture. She mishears conversation and attempts to piece the conversation together in a way that makes sense (though it doesn’t always work). She watches people’s faces when they speak. She also “zones-out”, gets distracted, and yells at herself when she doesn’t understand something.

The crux of this story lies in a person’s agency. Edie was diagnosed with CAPD at a young age, so the assistance she received in elementary school through high school was what she needed, based on her disability, to even the playing field. Unfortunately, not everything a student with a disability receives K-12th grade (i.e. program modifications, testing accommodations, assistive technology) transfers to higher education. In Edie’s case, one of the program modifications she received in high school is what’s called Language Exemption (in NYS it is termed as such), which means that a student with this disability (along with several others) are deemed “significantly disadvantaged” in learning a second language in what is typically a requirement for graduation in New York State. Their Individualized Educational Plan or IEP legally dictates that a student with a Language Exemption can graduate without fulfilling this requirement. Unfortunately, an IEP does not transfer laterally to the college-level. In Edie’s case, a 101 and 102 Language Other Than English course is a required general education course (as it is in many colleges). Her story begins with her seeking help from the course professor and being dismissed. She has to disclose her disability in order to get him to acknowledge her need for assistance and is then given a canned response and shooed away. This is how Edie’s journey begins.

Your book title charmed me, I must admit - there was just something about it that spoke to me and said, "You need to interview this author!" Was this a first choice of yours or was it part of the Swoon Reads team who selected it? I was curious about how it came about and how it re-directs back to Edie and the story?

MEET ME IN OUTER SPACE was always the title of this book. In fact, it was the title before the book was written and charmed the editors at Swoon Reads as well. The book's title came from the song Stellar by Incubus. I’d been listening to the song while in the car, thinking about writing, as I often do, and had the thought: “In what context might someone tell another person to meet them in outer space?” Which then led me to think “this is something I would hear someone say…” because it totally is something I would mishear someone says. That day I went home and wrote the scene in which Hudson asks Edie to meet him in outer space, a conversation she mishears that follows her in a charming way throughout the remainder of the book.

How important was it for you to inter-lace humor into the novel and to show a lighter side where levity can take you a long way in life to offset adversities, strife and the struggles of growing up? What was your favorite one liner or phrase that really highlighted the heart of the novel?

I use humor all time in both my day job and my personal life. I feel that humor can help pull a person out of the moment just long enough to reset a conversation, or change the trajectory of your day or mood. In Meet Me In Outer Space, I used situationally-humorous or situationally-awkward situations to give the scenes as realistic of a feeling as possible. I wanted the reader to feel the same awkward and funny embarrassment Edie felt, or the same silly giddiness Serena felt. For Edie and her disability, she doesn’t always find the humor in her life or in what happens to her which is why I made sure that the people in her life were able to make jokes and poke fun at the things that she could laugh about while taking seriously the things Edie couldn’t joke about.

I don’t have a favorite one-liner or phrase, but my favorite scene by far is when Hudson discovers the sketches in Edie’s French notebook of him. The situation. The conversation. The whole thing is awkward and silly and swoon worthy. I still cover my face when I read it.

Hudson is a character whose working through himself - meaning, he hasn't yet fully accepted who he is or how he is living his life. His journey is about self-worth and self-acceptance - inspired by a song (which I felt was especially clever) - what can you share about Hudson as being your favourite part of his outlook and personality?

When Hudson wipes his mouth self-consciously and proclaims to Edie that he ate “about ten tacos” early that day, that is him in a nutshell. He says what he’s thinking and he is unapologetically himself. So, yes, he is still figuring himself out and yes, his journey is about self-worth and self-acceptance, but more so his journey is about embracing the parts of him that are weird and quirky and funny. When I originally wrote Hudson, he was inspired by the song Not Myself by John Mayer. The Hudson in the original version of Meet Me In Outer Space is a slightly different person than the one you know in the finished book. Although, despite that, he is still an imperfect person wondering if there is someone out there for him.

I definitely understand how difficult it is learning in traditional education with a learning disability that isn't widely acceptable as I grew up in the 80s to mid-90s - having over-compensated for my dyslexia didn't win me any favours when it hindered my progress to where teachers were a bit less than open about helping a student who still had a learning difficulty they didn't fully understand. How did you show Edie's truth and counter that with what she encountered in college?

Edie’s story isn’t my story, despite the fact that this is a #OwnVoices novel. Edie and I share a disability. We share a common struggle. We share a dread for learning a language other than English, but where we differ is that Edie was diagnosed with CAPD at a young age, I was diagnosed as an adult, long after I had completed my master’s degree and started my career. Edie knew her truth from the start, what she had to learn was that there are times when you need to ask for help and that sometimes your pride gets in the way of forward motion. There are several times when Edie questions why she has to tell anyone about her disability, but once she is honest with herself she knows why she has to disclose her disability...she doesn’t like it and certainly complains about it, but she does it because she knows it’s what she needs.

I also love how you championed that whatever makes us individually unique and different doesn't define what we can accomplish or limit us in any particular way. In many regards, I always considered being dyslexic was a gift as it gave me a unique way of seeing the world. How important was it to show this growth and acceptance in Edie?

It was especially important for me to ensure that Edie succeeds in a realistic way because so much of Edie and her journey is based on real people and experiences; my own and three people who are very close to me. I didn’t want Edie to finish the class with an A, or even a B...I wanted to show her struggle. I truly wanted her to barely pass and be okay with that. When I took Italian in college I earned a D+ in both 101 and 102, and you know what, I was proud and relieved to receive those two (just barely) passing grades. In Edie’s case, she never saw (and probably never will) see her disability as a gift, though she doesn’t view it as a burden either. She refers to it as a “struggle” several times throughout the book and I think that sums it up best. Edie views her disability as an inconvenience and while certainly not everyone views their own disability this way, she does based on her own life experiences and interactions with the people who should have supported her most (i.e. her teachers, friends, etc). I looked at the three people I used as reference and found a happy medium with their perspectives on their own disabilities. They ranged from “my disability isn’t any big deal” to “my disability changed my life in these not-so-great ways...”.

In the end, I don’t think Edie accepts her disability as much as she accepts the fact that asking for help doesn’t make her less-than. For Edie, it was having to disclose her disability and ask for help that she truly needed to learn to accept and embrace. That process is different for everyone. It was different for me and it was different for my friends and family that helped contribute to Edie’s journey.

Often, acceptance comes in baby steps and stages. It comes slowly. There is no right or wrong way for people to make the journey to acceptance. This book isn’t meant to represent every person with CAPD or a disability, this book is meant to represent Edie’s journey (as winding as it is) and her personal growth.

As you've written an inclusive novel about a character most haven't met before what are your plans for writing another character whose life experience might differ from the majority as it feels this is your niche? What is the takeaway your hoping readers will realise as they meet your characters?

I have written two other manuscripts with main characters who fit into underrepresented communities, unfortunately neither have yet to be acquired, but I’m definitely not giving up hope. I seem to have a passion for writing stories about people who have never had their story told. This does seem to be my calling without meaning it to be.

In this case I want my readers to take away a sense of belonging and understanding. Growing up I never read a book with a Jewish main character (unless it was directly about the Holocaust). One of the small things I do is make all my main characters Jewish because it’s what I know and it gives another layer to inclusion that isn’t typically there. If readers can’t relate to Edie’s learning disability, perhaps they can relate to the stress of learning to read the torah for their bar/bat mitzvah. Perhaps they can relate to the “Jewish Mother Guilt” that Edie’s mom lays on thick...like my mother would (and still does). Or perhaps they can relate to her lack of athleticism. Or her tunnel-vision when it comes to her passion projects. Or her stubbornness. Or maybe they can simply relate to loving someone, but pushing that person away for self-preservation.

When you’re not researching and writing stories what uplifts your spirit the most?

I love my day job. I am a school counselor in an elementary school and I love it. It has its ups and downs, like all jobs, but I can honestly say that I wake up every morning happy to have my job. I love the students. The weird things they say. The funny jokes they tell. And even their hardships. I love watching them succeed through adversity. I don’t always leave at the end of the day sure that I’ve done all I could do, but overall I know that I make a difference. I truly love watching people succeed.

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.

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