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.
shoe box empathy lesson

Stand in My shoes empathy bookFirst, I tried to find another book. A better book. I failed. I could find some marvelous books that had 1-2 examples of empathy in them (Those Shoes, Each Kindness, etc.) - but I needed a book that explained empathy and gave several model examples! I looked at Hey, Little Ant (again, since I did perspective taking using this book last year) - but again it only had 1 example and it wasn't very applicable to my students. I read through How Do I Stand in Your Shoes? - and I couldn't get over the awful illustrations and the wording that seemed so out of touch with how my kids think and talk. So...it was back to Stand in My Shoes. Not perfect, but also not bad and at least it has several examples. I did skip a few pages in it (a couple "examples" were not what I actually would call empathy), but I do that now and then in other books too. (Note: I love the Sesame Street empathy video and I use that in small groups all the time, but I really needed and wanted more examples to scaffold the concept whole group before having groups practice showing empathy on their own).

Because of my EL learners, and just to make sure I was making it as concrete as I could, I also had some student volunteers come and "stand" in the shoes of some of the characters to tell us how the main character showed them empathy.

Stand in My Shoes Empathy Lesson Plan

Then I introduced the activity. This was where I had previously whipped out my super cool shoe boxes. Less exciting (but also less distracting), were the file folder scenarios I brought this time. Inside each was a printed photo of someone wearing shoes and a written scenario with two questions (how was the person feeling and how could you show them that you care). I laid one on each table and explained to students that they'd be rotating around, practicing standing in the shoes of the characters in each scenario. We did one together and then they were on their own!

empathy example activityempathy example activity

Even in spring semester, with 2nd graders that have been receiving regular SEL instruction for years, and that just had a lesson on identifying the feelings in others, this was a little bit of a challenge. The could ID the feelings in a snap, and unlike my previous students they didn't all try to say what the character themselves should do. It was tricky for them to think of actual things to do or things to say in the situations though. But I think empathy is also just tricky in general - it's easy to describe but it's a complex skill that takes repetition and reinforcement and modeling and practice to take hold!

Looking for the lesson plan pieces and parts all typed out and ready to go? You can find it in my TpT store by clicking below:
stand in my shoes empathy lesson plan

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stand in my shoes empathy lesson plan

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?

"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!

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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