Making Study Skills (Learning Skills) Lessons Fun

Tuesday, December 26, 2017
The only real consensus our 2nd grade team had on the needs assessment was that they thought their students needed lessons to be better students. People often call this "study skills" but I try to use the term "learning skills" or "learner skills" because I think it better captures what we mean when we're talking about elementary age kids.

Faced with a boring topic and a tricky grade level, my co-counselor and I decided we needed to make these lessons super, extra, engaging. Our students actually have very little screen time during the day (we don't have much technology in our building), so we thought animated and interactive PowerPoints would be fun for them. We wanted to provide as much continuity between the lessons as we could as well (see this post on how we do our core curriculum for more on this) so even though there is some overlap between the skills, we added in a theme as well: Super Students. I give some credit here to my fantastic co-counselor who went to Ron Clark Academy last spring and really convinced me to up our game in "setting the stage to engage."

School Counseling Needs Assessment

Thursday, December 21, 2017
This is the second in a series of posts all on how I map and plan my core curriculum; the first was on my vision for curriculum mapping.

I posted a quick pic on my instastories about my needs assessment this year and got a few requests for more info after. Questions about my needs assessment were also the number one thing I got emails for after I presented at a local conference. I cannot claim to be an expert with them but I am happy to share more about how I create mine, what's on it, what's worked, and what hasn't.
school counseling needs assessment

While I'll use google forms for my pre/post surveys regarding less effectiveness, I needed my needs assessment to be hard copy. I was creating it a little last minute this year and could only conceptualize it on paper. Some fast facts about my needs assessment:

Whose Job Is It? Responsibility Lesson Plan

Monday, December 11, 2017
Next up for 4th grade's responsibility unit (part one was choices and consequences) was helping them understand what responsibilities are theirs versus their teachers' versus their parents'. Our teachers had noticed students saying things like "My mom forgot to put my homework in my backpack!" and "You didn't remind me!" It was time to review with them what they were in charge of taking care of!

responsibility lesson plan

Curriculum Mapping for School Counselors: A New Vision

Thursday, November 30, 2017
When I first started as a school counselor, I had no experience teaching. Zero. I didn't even have internship experience because most of my internships had been in school-based therapy positions and one I did while actually employed in my first position. Delivering classroom lessons was TERRIFYING and overwhelming. I saw so much value in it - the prevention/developmental side of the job was what lead me to make the switch from therapist to school counselor - but I wasn't comfortable with it...yet. Now? It's a major passion of mine. I've had the privilege of presenting on this twice now at a local conference. This post is the first of a series based off of my presentation - Effective and Engaging Curriculum Mapping and Lesson Planning (No More Worksheets!)

curriculum mapping for school counseling

My first school counseling position was at a school that didn't have much of an existing program, which meant there was no curriculum map and no lesson plans. I was starting from scratch. Awesome opportunity and major undertaking. There was a needs assessment done right before I got there (I started a couple months into the year) but the results were all over the map. When it came time to make a core curriculum plan for the year, I essentially did a combination of "this is important" paired with "google says I should be doing this." Needless to say, my first year was a hodge podge of lessons. Not awful, not great.

Choices and Consequences Lesson

Sunday, November 26, 2017
One of the topics my 4th grade teachers wanted me to cover, per their needs assessment results, was responsibility. I've got to admit "Sorry I asked" and "Ugh, boring" were both thoughts that ran through my mind. I put that aside though, and forged ahead in trying to plan engaging lessons for their second quarter unit, starting off with Choices and Consequences.

Shout out here to Kid President who had the most perfect video to use as a hook: "Making Tough Choices."

6 Ways Becoming a Mom Changed Me As a School Counselor

Sunday, November 19, 2017
It's an interesting thing, working full time with kids but not having any of your own. Giving parenting advice but not being a parent yourself. Being somewhat of a kid 'expert' but (in theory) leaving your responsibility for the kids at the school doors. Before becoming a mom, I had moments where I hoped parenting would give me more credibility with my students' parents. There were also moments of worry that I'd be less enthusiastic as a counselor once I had my own littles and got my 'kid fix' at home. Through all my speculation about 'when I'm a parent' though, I never really thought becoming one would change anything about my work as a school counselor.

Maybe it was my own defensiveness about it all; I didn't want to think that I couldn't be as wonderful in my work as someone who did have their own kids. In the back of my mind though was this blog post from six years ago that a school psych wrote on the topic that reminded me things might truly change.

Teaching Kelso's Choices - This Year's Lesson Plans

Thursday, September 21, 2017
This post contains affiliate links.

Last fall, I published a post that discussed all the different ways we've taught and reviewed Kelso's Choices over the years at our school. We stuck with some of the original plan but I mixed it up some with my 'big kids'.

school counseling lesson plan teaching conflict resolution with Kelso's Choices

3rd Grade

After whipping out the plush frog and getting them excited for the return of Kelso, we talked about why we learn about Kelso's Choices EVERY. YEAR. Some buttercup always points out "because we forget them sometimes". Then we watched both video clips again (links and stopping points/discussion questions in the link above). I swapped the order of the videos this time because I wanted us to end on the scenarios where characters used "Ignore".

BE a Leader - Lesson Plan

Saturday, September 16, 2017
Back in the spring, I did a lesson with my 4th graders about choosing what reputation they wanted to leave behind at elementary school and start middle school with. I loved it, and started thinking that maybe this same idea could be used at the start of the year too.

School counseling lesson plan Be a Leader
We ask a lot of our 4th graders. We assume that once they start the year, they are ready to become the role models and leaders that we expect them to be - yet we don't always take the time to make sure they know what this means for them as individuals. Enter: "BE a Leader" lesson.

School Counseling #Goals

Monday, September 4, 2017
A little over a year ago, I shared some slides from a presentation I gave on SMART goals for school counselors. Goal setting is important to me for three reasons: 1) I gotta practice what I preach and I tell the kiddos to set goals, 2) in a world of Pinterest, blogs, and TpT, goals keep me focused and 3) goals help us make sure our program is effective.

School Counseling goals for my counseling program.

This year, I made three kinds of goals: personal school counseling goals, program process goals, and student outcome goals. I learn best through example so for those of you that do too, here are mine!

Classroom Coping Skills - Calm Down Box - Lesson Plan

Tuesday, August 22, 2017
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School counseling classroom coping skills

School Counselor Calm down boxes created for each homeroom.
Two years ago, my co-counselor and I were given money in the school budget to create calm down boxes for each homeroom. We were JAZZED about this. We spend copious amounts of time finding approved vendors, DIYing our glitter jars, and trying to master Boardmaker. The first week of school we gave them to the teachers and gave some suggestions on how they could introduce them to their students. Cut to the end of the year: the boxes were never really used. We found them on high shelves behind teachers' desks. We found them hidden behind things on the floor. We went into rooms we couldn't find them at all. We talked to students who looked at us like we were crazy when we asked about them. It was a total fail. At first I was angry; then I realized I was to blame.

Five Year Reflection

Thursday, July 6, 2017
School Counseling 5 Year Reflection

     The closing of this past school year marks FIVE years that I have been an elementary school counselor - and all five in the same school, too! In the spirit of the self-reflection that I encourage with my students, I'm using this milestone as a reason to process my top five thoughts and feelings about the job. While I normally process best out loud, I didn't want to subject my husband to this (our talking time together is limited since the birth of #2) so here I am writing it all out.

1. I still love school counseling. 

I'm feeling incredibly grateful that, instead of becoming burned out as time has gone on, I've become even more passionate. Some things I think have lead to that:

  • When I started, there was no real counseling program at my school and faculty didn't understand the role of the counselor or value school counseling services. It took time, but through 1)advocating for the SEL development of my students and 2) teachers seeing what happens when students and classes receive services, minds and hearts began to open and change. This means I'm given the freedom to develop a comprehensive school counseling program and I (usually) feel very supported by others.

  • Blogging. Yup. Blogging myself as well as reading other counseling blogs continues to light my fire. New ideas, new perspectives, pushing myself to be creative and to grow, etc. The same goes for selling on TpT. I thrive on 'bigger and better' and these venues provide me with that push.

Must Have Books - Shyness and Worry

Sunday, July 2, 2017
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This is Part 5 in my must have book series. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here!
Part 5: Shyness and Worry

In my first position as well as in all of my internships, anger was the biggest emotion the kiddos had trouble regulating. For the past few years however, we've seen a large number of our students experiencing a significant amount of shyness. And like the rest of the America, we are seeing increasing anxiety issues as well. While it's easy to find books about fear and phobias, books that describe worry/anxiety are a bit harder to come by.

From North to South/Del Norte al Sur Review

Tuesday, June 20, 2017
This post contains affiliate links.

In the five years I've been at my school, I've had a handful of students face the deportation of a parent or sibling and even more who had loved ones that didn't 'have papers' AKA they were undocumented and thus at risk of deportation.

From a counseling level (and a human level!), I could feel their pain and help them process the situation. Though each situation is unique, there almost always seems to be some combination of trauma/grief/loss/stigma/financial instability. Despite these understandings, I really wanted to find some specific resources to use with my students on the topic.

Beautifully illustrated cover for North to South/Del Norte al Sur depicting a boy hugging his mom.
Imagine my excitement then when I stumbled upon the book From North to South / Del Norte al Sur, about a boy whose mom is deported! I've debated whether or not to write about it however, because it is not a slam dunk by any means. On the one hand, I don't want to post about things negatively. On the other hand, I do want to prevent people wasting their money on things they are disappointed by because I know most counselors/teachers/therapists have very limited budgets.

Pros: Each page is filled with beautiful illustrations, the text is also in Spanish, and the existence of the book (as well as it's treatment of deportation) can remove the stigma from this scary situation.

Cons: The child gets to go visit his mom!!! Perhaps in TX or CA this is more common, but in my experience, the most my students can hope for is FaceTime or a phone call. For me, this makes the book less of a candidate for bibliotherapy. While the first part is relatable, the whole piece about the boy going to see his mom doesn't feel realistic and may bring false hope. It also doesn't delve into the emotional and social experience the main character faces either which was a major bummer.

A look inside "From North to South/Del Norte al Sur", a book about deportation

A look inside "From North to South/Del Norte al Sur", an elementary age book about deportation.

The Verdict: Good book, would be great to have in school libraries...but not great bibliotherapy for deportation and not a must have for counselors.

Career Day - Bonus Benefits

Saturday, June 10, 2017
Last month was my 4th annual Career Day and for some reason, I've found myself reflecting even more than usual.

School counselor career day lesson plan photosSchool counselor career day lesson plan photos
School counselor career day lesson plan photosSchool counselor career day lesson plan photosSchool counselor career day lesson plan photos

Despite working in an elementary school, my brain sometimes veers more middle. I used to be hyper focused on our career speakers talking about the career aspects of their job - the training, the pros and cons of the position, what it takes to be successful, etc. It stressed me out when speakers veered off course and talked to the students about their field more broadly. I think this may have been due in part to the fact that I always spent the morning running around and making sure things ran smoothly as opposed to listening in. The stars aligned this year though, and I found myself sitting in on some of the presentations and having my eyes opened a little more. With some newfound clarity, I'm embarrassed to admit I finally realized there are some additional bonuses to career day beyond students learning about new professions - bonuses that I think may actually be more important than career awareness:

1. Seeing people of color in exciting careers with college degrees

2. Observing how professionals present themselves

3. Learning about ideas they're not normally exposed to. For example:

School counselor career day lesson plan bonus learning for students

I'm so glad to have gotten to watch some of this year's presentations so that I could witness the incredible speakers in action and see career day from some new perspectives. Looking forward to next year's program even more now!

Have you ever noticed unexpected take-aways from your lessons or programs?

Reputation - Lesson Plan

Saturday, May 27, 2017
Elementary school counselor lesson plan on reputations

The 'end of the year' lesson is always a tricky one for me. My goals for my lessons are usually for students to learn and start using a specific SEL skill. I could do this in May, but with only a short amount of time remaining in the year, the timing isn't ideal. This leaves me with doing a reflective lesson, a warm fuzzy lesson, or a 'next year...' lesson. My 4th grade group this year wasn't the warm fuzzy type and one of their teachers recommended something about reputations - which I thought was a great idea!

School Counseling and Social Emotional Awards

Sunday, May 21, 2017
Social Emotional Learning awards

Each May I have the pleasure of attending (and sometimes facilitating) the end of the year awards for each of my grade levels. Getting to see my students celebrated for their growth and greatness is incredible, and I also love the chance to see and meet many of their parents. A few years ago, some of our related arts teachers began giving awards as well which got me thinking...could I give awards too? I worried at first that it would look like favoritism and that it could in some way damage the relationships I've built with the students and the role I play in their lives. With some more reflection though, I realized the opportunity to honor social-emotional growth was worth the risk, and that having teachers nominate (and physically hand) the awards to the students put the focus back on the kiddos and off of me.

Enter: School Counseling/SEL Student Awards!

The Invisible String - End of the Year Lesson

Saturday, May 13, 2017
Students involved with The Invisible String activity

That time has come...the time for my final lesson of the year in my classes. My 3rd grade homerooms are pretty tight knit and family like, with many students feeling sadness and anxiety about leaving their homerooms for the great unknown of 4th grade. Enter: The Invisible String and a web of warm fuzzies.

Must Have Books - All the Feelings

Tuesday, May 9, 2017
This post contains affiliate links.

This is Part 4 in my must have book series. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here!

Obviously, as a school counselor, we spend a lot of time talking about feelings. There are one million gazillion trillion books out their for kiddos that have to do with emotions, and a lot of them are pretty great. If I had to narrow it down to my absolute favorites, the ones I would buy first if I had to start my collection from scratch, these are the ones I would get. To avoid the longest blog post in the entire world, I'm breaking this down even more specifically to posts on "all of the above" feelings, anger, shyness and worry, and emotional regulation.

I don't want to talk about it book cover
This book is technically about divorce; the book goes through all the different animals she feels like as she processes the news. I've used it with kiddos to process all sorts of different life events however. Where most kids' books with metaphors are above their heads, this one is much more concrete. It's also a great opener for art or craft projects.

Counselor's Corner - Library Collaboration

Monday, May 8, 2017
A photo of our counselor corner created in collaboration with school libraian

Inspired by this article on the librarian's role in SEL, I wanted to share about a small collaboration between our counseling department and library. In the corner of our library's fiction section lives our "Counselor's Corner"; a collection of books hand selected and recommended by myself and my co-counselor.

  • I love books. I want my students to love books.
  • Our reading scores are not where we'd like them to be. If I can do a tiny, tiny thing that may help more students check out more books, which may in turn help their reading, I'm in. 
  • I believe in bibliotherapy.
  • Social emotional learning and development should be occurring in many environments outside of my classroom lessons. By encouraging students to read books that have social/emotional lessons within them, I'm also promoting SEL development at home.
  • Some of these books wouldn't see a lot of action if it wasn't for them being displayed differently and next to pictures of mine and my co-counselors' faces. 

Miles McHale, Tattletale

Monday, May 1, 2017
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I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm picky. Really, super picky. That means it's rare that I come across a new counseling book and think "YES I NEED THIS RIGHT NOW"...but I had that exact reaction to this new book on tattling, Miles McHale, Tattletale (Little Boost)

I stumbled upon this gem in a stack of brand new books our librarian received for the library. We've used A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue;for awhile now, and sometimes use Tattlin' Madeline, but I think this will be our new go-to. Unlike Tattle Tongue, it's not overly long or wordy and it doesn't contain a lengthy list of 'rules'. Unlike Tattlin' Madeline, it's visually appealing and up to date. Unlike Don't Squeal Unless It's a Big Deal: A Tale of Tattletales;it doesn't contain plays on speech that are inaccessible to my EL students. The examples also feel really true to what we see in our classes. It also handled the peer exclusion that can happen when a kiddo tattles a ton in a gentle way.

It was no surprise that when I looked up the author, I discovered she'd also penned Lacey Walker, Nonstop Talker (Little Boost);which I also recommend. 

***I'm linking the google books page for this here because it has an even longer preview than Amazon!***

Gossip and Rumors Part 2 - "Trouble Talk" Lesson Plan

Thursday, April 27, 2017
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Trouble Talk by Judy Ludwig book cover and Lesson plan examples

Book cover of Judy Ludwig's book Trouble TalkFor my classes that needed an extra dose of gossip/rumors, I got to pull out Trudy Ludwig's Trouble Talk. I'd been a little hesitant to use it before because all of the characters are female, but I think some of its themes apply to boys as well. In the future, I think this could even be a great opener to the THINK Before You Speak unit as a whole. I can't rave enough about Trudy Ludwig's books. Can't. Get. Enough of them.

While reading, I stopped and asked:
  • Infer the plot based off the cover and title.
  • What does she mean by "big mouth"? Does she mean she literally has a big mouth?
  • Was she really doing Keisha a favor?
  • Why do you think Keisha stopped hanging out with Maya whenever Bailey was around?
  • Is Hua's crush any of Bailey's business? Why is Bailey butting in then?
  • Bailey spread the rumor about Hua to get back at her. Why do you think Bailey spread the rumor about Maya? (*we discuss this more in depth later but I like to prime their brains)
  • Have any of you ever been in that situation before? Where you heard mean or hurtful things said about one of your friends?
  • ***And lots more depending on what activity I did next.

My 4th grade homerooms vary in regards to their physical arrangement, so I used two different activities to follow up, depending on the class.

For rooms with spread out desks or rows (and that do well with movement and can manage voice levels!), we played "Quiz, Quiz, Trade" with these task discussion cards. On three of the cards, I put a star and a number*. When we were done with QQT, I collected the cards but asked the students with a starred cards to hold onto them. We gathered in a circle and had a class discussion about those three questions - questions I thought the group needed to talk about more deeply.
*I write the number with permanent marker on laminated cards. To remove, I color over it with dry erase marker and erase. This let's me customize the cards for each class/cohort.

Students reading task card's for the the Trouble Talk lesson plan

Trouble Talk lesson plan task cards

For classes seated in table groups (and/or that need more structure), I tried out a new activity called "Simultaneous Round Robin" or "Simultaneous Round Table." I picked the four most important discussion questions about the story and about gossip/rumors in general and made sheets for each of them with spots for four different answers. Each student in the table group received a different question and they wrote their responses until I told them to rotate. The sheets rotated clockwise and students read their new question, read the prior students' answers, and then added their own responses. After four rounds, each student had answered each question.

Trouble Talk lesson plan: Round table task sheets for students that sit in groups.

Student example responses to Trouble Talk round robin task sheets.Student example responses to Trouble Talk round robin task sheets.

For both activities, we closed by gathering round the carpet and discussing their responses. My hope was that students would find their peers' responses more compelling than their own and would share out about them - but most students stuck closely to their own ideas! After talking through the motivations behind gossiping, how to earn back trust, and what to do when stuck between friends, we went around the circle and each student named 1 thing they could talk about with their classmates besides other people. A personal fave?

"You could talk about bacon!"

If you're interested in these materials ready made for you, click the image below to find them in my TpT store!

School counselor lesson plan for Judy Ludwig's Trouble talk, a companion lesson sold on TpT

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