10 Tips for Better Classroom Management as a School Counselor

Saturday, August 25, 2018
A few months ago, a fellow school counselor emailed me some questions - one of which was related to classroom management. After I responded to her, I realized this was probably worth a blog post. After all, most of us elementary school counselors spend significant time in the classroom...and very few of us received training in grad school on how to actually manage the class! 

classroom management in school counseling

I'm included in this. My first year I knew nothing other than what I saw in the two minutes I observed teachers teaching before they handed their class over to me.

Be Where Your Feet Are Review and Activities

Sunday, July 29, 2018
Have you grown weary of everyone talking about mindfulness all the time? If so, you're not alone. Not because I don't think mindfulness is great - it's awesome and powerful. I think the weariness comes from people overusing the word and applying it to anything that resembles relaxation or coping. Mindfulness in its purest form is focusing your awareness on the present moment with acceptance and without judgment. Constantly bringing your attention back to the here and the now. That is mindfulness and that is the discussion in Julia Cook's newest (wonderful) book: Be Where Your Feet Are.

be where your feet are review and activities

5 Tips for Setting Up Your First School Counseling Office

Thursday, July 19, 2018
Someone on Instagram recently asked me for any advice I had on setting up her very first school counseling office. This has all been super fresh in my mind as I packed up my office and prepare to move into a new building. Offices can run the gamut, from old custodial closets to classrooms with wall to wall windows. I tried to keep that in mind and provide tips that can apply to any type of situation you find yourself in!

school counseling office

1. Meet sensory needs.
The most used item in my whole office is surprisingly my sequin mermaid pillow! Really comforting to hold and fidget with. I think having a variety of fidgets available and visible makes a big difference. My pillow is from Amazon but I've seen them cheaper at 5 Below and WalMart. The majority of my fidgets have come from the Target Dollar Spot. I've also got seat discs available to students in small groups. You have to look out for your own sensory needs to - for example, I sit on a yoga ball instead of a desk chair because it keeps me more engaged both physically and mentally.

My "No Worksheets" Rule

Wednesday, July 11, 2018
This is the fourth post in my school counseling curriculum series! If you want to catch up, the first is on curriculum mapping, the second on needs assessments, and the third on best practices.

I once offhandedly made the comment to a colleague that I don't use worksheets; her facial expression couldn't hide her skepticism and confusion. I specified that I just meant in classroom lessons (I still use worksheets with individuals and small groups); her face did not change. It was then that I realized I was in the minority with my 'no worksheets' rule. I have since had many conversations with other counselors about my reasoning. While they might not always agree (especially if their school demographic is different), they do always understand my 'why'. For the majority of the time, they just aren't awesome for my students in my lessons. Do I ever use worksheets in classroom lessons? Of course! And I wrote about those situations at the end. But it's pretty rare for me. Keep reading and I'll explain why. I'm not trying to convince you to stop using all your worksheets - just to maybe think about them a little hard to decide if they're your best option.

school counseling lessons no worksheets

With that said, here are five reasons I don't use worksheets in my classroom lessons:

The Invisible Boy Lesson Plan for Upper Elementary

Sunday, July 1, 2018
Last year, I used the gem that is The Invisible Boy with my second grade classes. This past year, I included it as part of my 4th grade unit with Trudy Ludwig books. With their more advanced brains (and trickier social networks!), I went with a new plan of attack.

The Invisible Boy lesson plan school counseling

This time around, after reading the story, we dug a little deeper into the concepts of included and excluded. The students and I co-created anchor charts representing these ideas and what they look like (what would we see if people were being included), what they sound like (what would we hear people saying if kids were being included), and what it feels like (what type of feelings words would describe being included). For each, students did a quick 'turn and talk' with a partner before sharing out as I wrote on our sticky chart paper. What I found after doing this in two classes was that my students already have a veeeerrrryyy good idea of what exclusion is all about it - it's the inclusion piece we need to understand better - so in the remaining classes we only did the anchor chart for included.

The Bad Seed: Review and Activities

Sunday, June 24, 2018
I'll admit it - I bought The Bad Seed after seeing it on a few education instagrams, just crossing my fingers that it would live up to the hype. Spoiler alert: It does! It's amazing.

the bad seed school counseling review and activities

This. Book. Rocks. In the first month I owned it, I used it with two different individual students and read it as part of a mini classroom lesson. The illustrations are fun and the story is engaging and simple without being the slightest bit preachy or like it's "teaching a lesson".

The Responsive Counselor on a Podcast

Sunday, June 10, 2018
After a few years of obsessively listening to all sorts of podcasts (true crime, home DIY, TED talks, etc.), I had the honor of being the first guest on a brand new school counseling podcast. Alaina of Cutting Edge School Counseling took on the challenge of hosting and I'm really excited to add it to my weekly listening list. Click the image below to get to the podcast's webpage, or just find it on the podcast app on your phone! Alaina's awesome (I connected with her on IG) and I had a blast chatting with her about school counseling things keeping me up at night.

School Counseling Office Tour: Round One

Saturday, June 9, 2018
I've been meaning to do a post about my office for five years. I procrastinated because my office was either "too messy" or, when it was clean, I realized it looked crazy blue due to the filters I put on my fluorescent lights (#excuses). So then when it got closer to time for me to pack up and move to a new school and new office, I decided I needed to make it happen before it was too late! I'll go ahead and apologize now for posting an office tour again in August when I'm in my new one.

My office was small, but could have been smaller. I managed to squeeze quite a bit in the 13'x18' space. Because I worked in a fairly old building, I had the luxury of painting and decorating however I saw fit. It's a challenge to create a space that's child friendly, professional enough for meetings (we have a conference room but I hold some meetings in my office if I think the main office may be intimidating/threatening), and also a safe haven for when I'm pulling my hair out during test coordination. I worked in this space for five years, improving on it bit by bit, and I absolutely loved it (minus the nasty chipping wall paint I didn't have time to paint over). The biggest challenge with the space is the complete lack of closed storage - everything is totally out in the open, meaning it looks cluttered very quickly.

The Kid Trapper Personal Safety Lesson Plan

Wednesday, June 6, 2018
This post contains affiliate links.
A couple years ago I wrote about my love for Julia Cook's The Kid Trapper. My love for it stays true! This year, I finally made a complete lesson plan to go with it, pushing beyond just the content and message of the story. The school counselors at the middle school many of my students attend are awesome, but middle school is full of sticky situations and I needed to talk through some of them with my students before I let them leave me.

kid trapper personal safety lesson

I start off with a little spiel prepping them for the book. I'm honest with them that some of the situations I read about in the book might make them feel a little uncomfortable because they are inappropriate and scary for him. This spiel has the added benefit of piquing their interest - my students are more engaged with this book than with any other. Whereas I usually stop to make comments or ask questions during my read alouds, this one I read straight through with the exception of, in some rooms, letting them know that when the author wrote about Frank and the boy hugging, she may have been really trying to talk about inappropriate touching.

Going to a New School

Thursday, May 17, 2018
This is my final year at my school - I accepted a new position for next year. To say that I am filled with feelings about it all is an understatement. A month from now I will be saying goodbye to a major chapter in my life. This change was entirely by choice, and I wanted to take the time to write a post explaining how I knew that it was time to move on. I imagine I am not the only school counselor who has or will have to grapple with this decision. And as much as a "5 Ways I Knew It Was Time for Me to Leave My School!" is the type of blog title that's all the rage right now...I'm just gonna narrate this out and hope it's just as helpful and that something resonates with some of you.

Stand in My Shoes Lesson Plan: Redux

Monday, May 14, 2018
This post contains affiliate links.
Many moons ago (4 years and 3 months to be exact), I wrote a blog post about teaching empathy with the book Stand in My Shoes and a bunch of old shoe boxes. I used it a couple more times in the classroom and then a few more times in small groups. And then...it became time for an upgrade.

Stand in My Shoes Empathy Lesson Plan

The lesson was originally designed for 4th grade, and with a specific cohort of students in mind. The needs of my students have changed since then (holy guacamole - they are so much kinder to one another now!), this year I needed to do an empathy lesson with 2nd grade, and I was a bit tired of carrying the boxes around to each classroom (#shrug). I also saw a decent chunk of students get too distracted by the shoe brands on the boxes. This lesson needed a reboot.

A Day in the Life of a School Counselor

Saturday, May 5, 2018
Back when I was deciding what type of grad school program I was interested in, I found it super helpful to read about what typical days looked like for different professions. A typical day for a school counselor is...anything but typical...and varies drastically depending on school and district. That said, for any aspiring school counselors out there checking out school counseling blogs, here's a breakdown of a "typical" day for me. I tried to include the general task as well as what it more specifically was during the weeks I wrote this.

a day in the life of an elementary school counselor

Snowball Fights for Sorting in School Counseling

Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Snowball fight is a super engaging activity to use with students of all ages. Who doesn't enjoy crumpling up paper and throwing it?!

using snowball fights for sorting

School Counseling Escape Room: Social Skills

Thursday, April 5, 2018
Everybody is doing escape rooms these days...and I've jumped onto the bandwagon with enthusiasm! Even though the kids had tons of fun with the safari conversation skills lesson and safari social filter lesson, I knew they would need additional reinforcement of those skills. Because escape rooms are best for review, this was the perfect opportunity to give one a try.

Scatter: A Self-Paced Alternative to Scoot

Monday, March 26, 2018
Scoot is awesome - I remember using it in my high school world history class and thinking it was a way better review activity than completing a study guide packet. There's a lot of school counseling topics you can cover with scoot as well. Unfortunately, it's not a great fit with my students. That is...until I discovered a quick modification I could make.

scatter activity as a self-paced alternative to scoot

Giving Teachers Easy Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness Into the Classroom

Tuesday, March 20, 2018
As I'm sure you're incredibly aware, mindfulness is very hip right now. It feels a bit like we're all being hit over the head with it; everywhere I turn there's another article about it, another book for it, etc. That said, mindfulness is pretty amazing and is particularly important to me because of its research backing. Bonus: Now that it's trendy, some of my teachers are into it!

easy ways incorporating mindfulness into the classroom

I had a classroom with quite a few anxious or otherwise dysregulated students and when the teacher reached out to me, I thought mindfulness would be a great help. After I compiled what I thought were the most appropriate resources, I offered them up to any of my teachers who wanted to start incorporating more mindfulness into their classrooms. Everything was compiled into a long document that I emailed and gave them a hard copy of. Here's some of what I provided them: 

Making "I Have, Who Has" A Little Easier For Your Students

Sunday, March 18, 2018
I love "I Have, Who Has" - it feels like a game and is a fun way to review or apply material. The problem is that I don't like to do ones that are simple repetition ("I have disappointed. Who has disappointed?"). I like the ones that require students to use some brain power to figure out when it's their turn. The ones where they're listening for a scenario or example instead of a specific word or phrase. That can be really hard for some of my students though, especially my EL learners, my lower readers, my students with anxiety, and the kiddos that struggle with auditory processing. So I did some thinking and figured out a way to make the activity a bit more accessible to my classes.

I Have, Who Has activity trick
After I give every student a card, I explain to them how the activity works. (Skip the next blurb if you already know!)

Every student has a card with an "I have" section and a "Who has" section. The person's whose card  says "I have the first card!" goes first. Then everyone takes turns reading their cards, following along a specific order. There's an "I have" that matches every "Who has". It's like dominoes all lined up that fall in a line. You keep going until someone's card has "This is the last card!"

After everyone understands how the game goes, I give them each a post-it note to put on the "Who has" portion of their card. One reason for this is that it keeps them focused on the top "I have" part that they need to pay attention to - otherwise they get distracted by the whole card. The other reason for the post-it note is that it gives them a space for brainstorming key words they might be listening for that gives them the cue that it's their turn. They read their "I have" and begin thinking about what they would hear, what they should be listening for that would tell them it's their turn to go. For example, if it's an activity on choices and consequences and their card says "I have...you will do better on the test." then they might be listening for words like "test", "study", "questions", or "help". If the game is on positive thinking and their card says "I have...I don't love homework but it helps me learn more" then they might brainstorm "homework", "reading", or "boring" as words they could listen for. If the topic is kindness and their "I have" is "ask them to play with you", then they might write "recess", "lonely", and "new student" on their post-it. When it's someone's turn, they read their "I have" then peel off the sticky note and read the "Who has" section.

Spending a couple minutes up front doing this means the game goes smoother. And if the game goes smoother and there is less fumbling and long pauses, then the students get more out of the activity. Our students' attention spans are short and I've found that long pauses can quickly lead to disengagement. They're also more engaged to the responses around them with this prep because they're less nervous about knowing when it's their turn to go.

Last tiny tip for playing "I Have, Who Has": Ask students to flip their cards over after they've had their turn. That way, if the game does get "stuck", you can quickly see who hasn't gone yet to check if they're next.

What other little tricks or tips or hacks do you have for classroom lessons and making them accessible to all?

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i have, who has activity trick

"Teach, Breathe, Learn" - Review and Book Study Ideas

Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Last year's admin suggested my co-counselor and I run a book study related to SEL as a way of increasing effective SEL practices among our faculty. New admin is less into this idea (read: not going to give us money to buy the books and encourage faculty to do it) but before they came on board, I spent the summer previewing books and jotting down ideas to facilitate talks with our teachers. One of the books I made it all the way through, and thought was great, was Teach, Breathe, Learn: Mindfulness In and Out of the Classroom by Meena Srinivasan.

teach breathe learn book review

Social Filter Lesson Plan: Social Safari

Friday, March 9, 2018
The second lesson in our "social safari" mini-unit was on a topic near and dear to my heart: using your social filter. Thinking before speaking is tough, even for adults. Our second graders seem to be struggling with this a little extra this year; some of it is their age, some is not-yet-developed empathy skills, and I think some of it is cultural. Our school is incredibly and wonderfully diverse and some of our families come from cultures where conversation can be very direct and blunt - which sometimes results in kiddos saying hurtful things.

social filter lesson plan

Conversation Skills Lesson Plan: Social Safari

Saturday, February 17, 2018
After we did the study skills/learning skills unit "The Case of the Super Students" (someday I'll finish blogging about that...) for 2nd grade, my co-counselor and I felt like we had to deliver awesomeness for the rest of our lessons in that grade this year. I also got in my mind that we needed to do an escape room. This all lead to us creating a safari themed mini-unit focusing on conversation skills. This was an especially important topic for us due to our large EL population. The first specific skill we wanted to tackle was staying on topic and turn taking in conversations. The problem? There's no mentor texts out there for this, and no age appropriate videos.
conversation skills school counseling lesson plan

Better Than You Lesson Plan

Tuesday, February 13, 2018
The second lesson in 4th grade's Trudy Ludwig unit was around her book Better Than You (I wrote about our lesson with Just Kidding here). My interim counselor from my maternity leave used this for the first time last spring and I was excited to build on the lesson some more and deliver it myself this year. It was particularly timely as my 4th grade teachers shared that some of their kiddos had been feeling down on themselves lately.

better than you by trudy ludwig book companion lesson plan

The Biggest to the Littlest: Switching from High School Counseling to Elementary School Counseling

Monday, February 5, 2018
On the Elementary Exchange FB group, there are often posts asking about transitioning between tier levels as school counselors. For folk out there that may be googling "high school counselor to elementary counselor," or trying to decide which tier to get their feet wet in: this is for you! While I've stayed right in my lane as an elementary counselor, a colleague at a neighboring school rocked at being a high school counselor before moving down to the land of the littles.  Rebecca was kind enough to let me "interview" her to get the scoop.

high school counselor to elementary school counselor interview

Why did you decide to make the change?

Since graduate school, I had always felt that I could work in either Elementary or High School. My first job was in a high school and I really enjoyed it, so I continued on that path, knowing that at some point I would still like to work at the Elementary level. High School counseling is really challenging, and even though our district is making strides to free up our time from testing and administrative tasks, I felt that there was never enough time to truly be a counselor. After 9 years at the High School level (and one in Middle School), I thought it was time to try something different. 

What do you miss about being in the high school? 

I miss the students—helping them with huge decisions about their futures and the conversations we had.

What surprised you about elementary? What do you wish you'd known? 

I was surprised about how much I would love it! It is a joy every day to get to teach, counsel, and get to know my students.

What feels like the biggest change? 

The biggest change is my stress level. High school is such high stakes—ACT, college admissions, scholarships—elementary has an element of fun and creativity that I was missing at the High School level.

What's the hardest/most challenging aspect of being in elementary vs. high school? 

I find it challenging to handle the amount of S-Teams we have at this level. The interventions in place for elementary students are so numerous—very different from high school. It is challenging as a counselor to know which interventions to recommend. Also, we have a very high EL population at my school. I love working with this population, but communicating with parents is challenging.

What skills do you think transferred? What skills did you develop in the HS that you still use? 

Initially, I was nervous about individual counseling. Speaking with ‘almost-adults’ is a very different approach than with smaller children. However, once I got the hang of it, I remembered that the process of counseling is exactly the same, I just have to use more elementary terms. That gave me more confidence. My organizational skills are still used every day to juggle meetings, classroom guidance lessons, and responding to the needs of my students.

What's the best part of being an elementary counselor? 

The students are always the best part of any counseling job. I am fortunate to work with such a sweet and caring community. The students are eager to learn and it is so fun to watch them grow and learn new things.

Big thanks to Rebecca for answering these questions!

As I write this, NSCW is about to begin. Thinking about advocacy for our work and reading Rebecca's experiences, I'm interested in knowing if rates of burnout and caregiver fatigue are higher at the high school level. Talking with Rebecca about her transition also reminds me that the differences between the tiers are sometimes less about the age of the population and more about the difference in day to day tasks.

What about you? Have any of you ever switched tier levels? I'd love to hear from you!

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switching from high school counselor to elementary school counselor

Just Kidding! Lesson Plan

Sunday, January 28, 2018
This post contains affiliate links.

I've sang the praises of Trudy Ludwig's before before and I'll do it again: they are phenomenal. So good in fact, that I'm using five of them for this quarter's lessons with my 4th graders. Each tackles a different issue that my students need help with at this time each year but they share many of the same themes (choosing friends wisely, getting attention in positive instead of negative ways, and treating others respectfully). Spring semester is notorious for my 4th graders to begin testing the waters as they explore their identities, try to make a name for themselves, and start engaging in some typical (but harmful) tween behaviors. I've written before about how I've used Sorry! and The Invisible Boy and Trouble Talk. I'd previously made morning meeting plans for my teachers using Just Kidding! but this was the first year I'd gotten a chance to do a lesson with it myself. It was the perfect start to our unit.

just kidding book companion lesson plan

5 Best Practices in School Counseling Lesson Planning

Saturday, January 13, 2018
This post is part 3 in a series on school counseling core curriculum planning. You can read part 1 on the overall vision here and part 2 on needs assessments here.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'm particular about my lesson plans. Downright picky. In part, this is because I think the lesson you believe in is the one you'll deliver the best. It's also because I want lessons to be catered to my students. Because I'm picky about my lesson plans, I write almost all of them entirely myself. It's been a bit of trial and error but I'm finally in the sweet spot of feeling like I know what I'm doing when I sit down to plan out a lesson. I've discovered some best practices that make this planning faster but also, more importantly, that lead to engaging and effective lessons. I want my lessons to flow well and be fun, but that's not enough. They need to actually WORK!

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