Saturday, August 22, 2020

Julia Cook Book Give-away: I Have Ants in My Pants!

What could be better when heading back to school than free books by Julia Cook? Okay, definitely no pandemic, but unfortunately, I can't help you with that.  What I can do, is offer 2 free copies of Julia Cook's newest book, I Have Ants in My Pants! 

 If you know Julia Cook you know Louis from Personal Space Camp, My Mouth is a Volcano, and It's Hard to be a Verb.   Julia has teamed up again with illustrator Carrie Hartman to share the latest challenge faced by Louis. And if you know Louis, he has more than his fair share of challenges.  As elementary counselors, we all know kids like Louis.  This book will be another awesome addition to your school counselor library when looking for resources to help students like Louis.

Whether sitting in class, waiting in the lunch line, or at the movie theater, Louis can only sit still for so long! Then, it happens!  His toes start to wiggle, his knee needs to twitch and then his feet just have to kick, and inevitably another person is hurt or annoyed.  Louis's struggle to control his wiggles result in a number of adults asking him if he has ants in his pants which causes our very literal young character concern about whether he has real insects in his pants.

Luckily for Louis, he has a very understanding Mom who explains the expression, "ants in your pants"  and teaches him a special "Wiggle Dance." This dance helps Louis handle his wiggles, take control of the ants in his pants and even offer advice to other "antsy" friends.

The National Center for Youth Issues is offering a FREE digital copy of the I Have Ants in My Pants resource bundle to anyone who pre-orders a copy of the book and fills out the form on by August 26.

Two FREE Books
Thank you to the National Center for Youth Issues for donating 2 free copies for this give-away!  Leave a comment below, on the Exploring School Counseling Facebook page, or the School Counselor Store Facebook page describing something you do to help students with their wiggles. Winners will be selected at random and announced on  Sunday, August 23 at 11:00 pm ESDT. The more comments you share the more chances you have to win.  Check back here or on Facebook for winners.
Good Luck!!!

Monday, July 13, 2020

Unmasking Feelings about Counseling with Masks

This post is an account of a recent personal experience and my thoughts regarding such. Please understand this in no way supports any specific political view or personal agenda.  I simply wish to share my realizations and reflections. Take them or leave them, but first hear what I have to say and consider its implications and our need as counselors for a plan of action.

I have been a school counselor for many years.  I have worked at the elementary and middle school levels, supervised interns and taught at the university.  All this to say, I have adapted to many changes in my career and this is not my "first rodeo."  My "first rodeo" has been learning to navigate the world of distance counseling and I am meeting the challenge.  Now as we are being called to return to school, I am considering another "first," counseling with masks. Until recently, I had not given it much thought, but now that I have, I can't stop.

The Back Story
I recently applied for another job in my district.  Of course the interview was to be done virtually, and that was okay.  Like most of you, I've spent plenty of time conducting and attending virtual meetings during the last quarter of the school year.  However, when I logged into the meeting I was shocked to find everyone wearing masks.  The group of interviewers had decided to meet together so they could discuss each candidate afterwards.  There they were in the same room, each on their own computer, and wearing masks. Although it seemed odd, I didn't think much of it at first, but midway through the interview I begin to feel uncomfortable. That's when I when it hit me!  I couldn't read their faces or body language or hear their tone of voice.

When my husband asked me how the interview went I said it was strange. It's one thing to be wearing masks in person, but to be doing a virtual job interview and have all the interviewers in masks was a bit surreal. I realized I was unable to use my counseling skills to judge the intellectual and emotional responses of my interviewers as I answered their questions.  Their facial expressions and tone of voice were indiscernible with masks.  Their body language was partially obscured by camera placement and the conference table at which they were sitting. I was at a loss.  How were they responding to my answers?  Was I making a good impression?  Was I way off base with my understanding of their questions?  Were they understanding me?  Did I need to clarify?  Was I coming on too weak or too strong?  You never think about the thousands of little nuances you rely on in personal communication and the nano-second calculations and adjustments you make until you are unable to do so.  And then, I started thinking about my students.

It's about empathy.

For an hour, I was in the shoes my students will be in all day, everyday when school resumes.  If I struggled to interpret what masked adults were thinking and feeling with all my years of experience, skills, and training as a counselor, what is it going to be like for students? How many of them will miss the social cues we take for granted when we can clearly see the face of another and hear a voice undistorted?  How many will misunderstand and be misunderstood in the classroom? Many were already struggling with their communication skills pre-pandemic. 

As I reflected on my experience with the masked interviewers,  I couldn't help but think about how my own mask, and those worn by my students, will impact face to face counseling when we return to school.  As counselors we note the subtle changes in the face and a myriad of non-verbal behaviors to help direct our counseling sessions.  And although we will be able to see the eyes of our students and they will see ours, that is only one piece in the personal interaction puzzle.  Many of our students, especially those who are younger, or have been impacted by trauma, don't have enough knowledge or experience with interpreting emotions to take facial expressions piece meal and figure out what their classmates, teacher, or school counselor is communicating.  And what about the students new to our schools or our caseload?  Building trust and rapport is going to be more difficult when we cannot see the faces of others.

It's not just counseling with students that has me concerned.  It's about all of our students' masked interactions at school.  What is to become of the shy child who always has a downward glance or the soft-spoken child who is difficult to hear? Or the child struggling with peer relationships, self-regulation, anxiety, depression, bullying or the one who thinks the teacher doesn't like them?  How will this impact students' social interactions? How will teachers know who is understanding a lesson and who is struggling?  Faces provide all of us with a variety of cues about what others are thinking, feeling, and understanding.  Students are learning to use these cues to develop relationships with each other.  Counselors and teachers rely on these things to know when and how we need to intervene with our students. 

My Solutions

I don't claim to be an expert or to have an answer to the challenges we will face with masked communication.  I can only tell you what I am planning to do and request from my principal.

1) Order a clear face shield.  My district is still discussing mandating masks.  However, I will be wearing a mask because I have family members who would be compromised or could possibly die if they were to be exposed to Covid. I couldn't live with myself if I were responsible for such a thing.  I want my students to be able to see and read my face and know without a doubt how much I care for them so a clear face shield will be my choice.

2) Adjust my communication style to rely more on literal language and less on facial expressions and tone of voice. With the mandate of masks, come limitations in the reliability of our communications. It will be essential to be more intentional in checking for understanding.

3) Ask to train faculty members, students, and parents to understand the level of communication lost with masks.  Include training on paying attention to non-verbal behavior such as body language, gestures, and posture. Consider how the essence of  a joke or sarcasm used in the classroom can be lost or misinterpreted without the accompanying facial expressions and tone of voice.

Have any of you had this same concern about counseling with masks?  What worries you the most?  Please share your ideas and comments below. Let's problem solve this together!

Monday, May 25, 2020

15 minute Counseling Techniques that Work: What you didn't learn in Grad school Book Give Away

When I was in grad school we spent a lot of time learning about the foundations of school counseling, the theories of individual and group counseling, data, and college and career readiness. There were not a lot of  hands-on tips and tools for individual sessions in those academic classes.  It wasn't until I'd spent a few years in the field myself, that I became acquainted with many of the simple, yet effective techniques Allison Edwards discusses in her new book, 15-minute Counseling Techniques that Work: What you Didn't Learn in Grad School.

This book includes techniques useful for students of all ages Kindergarten through the12th grade. It provides the school counselor with strategies to teach students so they feel empowered to meet their challenges and stresses outside the safety of the counseling office.  Change the Channel, All Tangled up, Give Your Feeling a Name, and Structure the Unstructured are just a few of the techniques shared,  along with step by step instructions and materials.

Allison has taken Dollar Store items like yarn, markers, paper plates, scissors, note cards, and play-dough and used them to build a toolbox of techniques school counselors will reach for again and again.  With practical, hands-on activities that don't take a lot of time or money, Allison helps school counselors take students of all levels back to the basics and gets them in touch with what they are thinking and feeling. Often students leave with a physical reminder, whether a note card or a pinch pot, of a specific strategy to continue practicing at school or at home.

Allison Edwards shares about her new book.

Two FREE Books
Thank you to the National Center for Youth Issues for donating 2 free copies of  15 minute Counseling Techniques That Work: What you didn't learn in Grad School for this give-away!  Leave a comment about one of your favorite counseling techniques in the section below this post, on the Exploring School Counseling Facebook page, or the School Counselor Store Facebook page.  The more places you make comments, the more chances you have to win.  Two winners will be selected at random and announced on Wednesday, May 27 at 11:00 pm EDT.  Check back here or the Facebook pages for winners.

Good Luck!!!

Saturday, May 9, 2020

There's No Dream Too Tall Book Give-away

There's No Dream Too Tall is a perfect book for Career week, goal-setting lessons, or graduation.  It's great for encouraging children or young people to pursue their dreams. So often as parents, educators, counselors, or mentors we are able to easily see the strengths of the young people with whom we work.  Sometimes, though, our suggestions about a career path can seem more like mandates and influence a child or teen away from following their passion.  I often think of my nephew at 6 feet 6 inches with some great basketball skills who hated a sport everyone told him he was so good at playing.  He just wanted to design video games.  Yet because of our well-intentioned and good natured encouragement to play basketball, he didn't feel comfortable telling us about his real dream.

As supporters and encouragers, we have to help our students discover their passions and their gifts and provide opportunities to see how those passions fit into different career paths.  Author Amie Dean, assisted by illustrator Sian James, doesn't just show a variety of familiar careers, but mentions some of the personal qualities and characteristics of those individuals. This important difference allows readers to perhaps think outside the box and see themself in a career they may not have previously considered.

Although the careers in the book are pretty traditional careers familiar to kids, the message is different.  Amie Dean tells her readers there is no right path, you will make mistakes, but it's all about making the world better by using your gifts and your dreams.

 As someone who didn't have a clue what I wanted to be when I grew up, and everyone else did, I wish I had been given a book like this.  I loved the last page of the story, "And if you don't have a dream yet, that's quite alright, too.  Just believe in yourself and your dream will find YOU!"

Listen as Amie Dean talks about her reasons for writing, There's No Dream Too Tall.

Two FREE Books
Thank you to the National Center for Youth Issues for donating 2 free copies of  There's No Dream Too Tall for this give-away!  Leave a comment about what you were passionate about as a kid in the section below this post, on the Exploring School Counseling Facebook page, or the School Counselor Store Facebook page.  The more places you make comments, the more chances you have to win.  Two winners will be selected at random and announced on  Monday, May 11 at 11:00 pm EDT.  Check back here or the Facebook pages for winners.

Good Luck!!!

Friday, April 3, 2020

19 Reasons Why Comparing Ourselves Virtually is Detrimental

In my last blog post I talked about defining the role of the school counselor during distance learning and all the things we could still do while schools were closed and we were expected to work virtually.  When I say all the things we COULD do, I didn't mean we CAN or SHOULD do them all!

EVERYONE, and I do mean EVERYONE, is overwhelmed with the current circumstances in our world.  It is extremely important to be gentle with ourselves when it comes to personal expectations regarding our work production.  But first, we have to STOP comparing ourselves to what other school counselors are doing on-line.  We are like apples and oranges.

As we scroll through the vast resources, ideas, and technology available on-line it becomes overwhelming to the point of being paralyzing.  This is a stressful time full of unknowns. We have to stop feeling like  "slackers" just because we haven't done all the cool things we see other school counselors doing.  We have to give ourselves a break. Each of us has to respond to the needs of our students within both our personal and professional limits.  Not every resource is something that will work for all us.  We must find the jewels that have been shared and determine what works best for our situation. We all have challenges to face and we must accept what those are or we will continue to feel defeated.  So take a moment and look over this list of 19 reasons why Comparing Ourselves Virtually  Is Detrimental and give yourself break. How many of these reasons apply to you?

1) You're a single parent.  That sums it up. You can't manage it all on your own.  Period.
2) Your relationship with your significant other is strained. You don't need any more stress.
3) You have pre-school age children or children with special needs. They demand your attention.  Working from home ranges from difficult to impossible.These are uncertain times and our tension and anxiety can be felt by them.  Do what you can, but be present for your children.
4) You are a caregiver for a sick or elderly family member.  Family first. ALWAYS!
5) Personal physical and/or mental health.  We have to remember everyone has a story.  Many of us may be struggling with our own immunology, physical, or mental health challenges.  Stress can create havoc in the body and the mind. Those who have successfully managed digestive issues, migranes, anxiety, or depression or any other health conditions previously, may find these conditions exacerbated. Oxygen mask, full cup.
6) Support Systems.  Some of us have a great network of familial, personal, and professional individuals we can turn to with questions and encouragement.  Some of us are new to our districts or schools and don't know where to turn. For those with strong systems in place, is there someone who may need your support?
7)  EXPERIENCE.  Some of us have only just begun our career in school counseling and some of us have been at it for a while. Experience is a valuable commodity no one can give you.  Those who have experience are able to make the virtual adjustments to their programs  more easily because they see how the virtual stuff transitions into what they already do.  Our newest colleagues are going to need lots of support and encouragement.  New folks please remember, you can't build an entire program in a few weeks. One step at a time. Keep reaching out!
8) Personal resources.  We don't all have the money to buy postcards, stamps, and books. Some of us are losing a 2nd income.  It's okay to use what you have or whatever is free.
9) School resources.  All schools are not created equal, especially when you talk about the funds available for school counselors or students to get the materials or resources they need. Again not all have money for postcards, stamps, books, chromebooks, ipads, etc. and it's okay.
10) Technology Devices.  Do you have a school issued computer, specified communication platform, or other tools for creating a virtual school counseling program?  Do ALL your students have devices? How equitable is virtual learning/counseling in your district? Who are you unable to reach?  This varies in how we are able to provide services for our students.
11) Internet access.  Rural, urban, and suburban, wifi is not equally accessible or reliable. Many thanks to internet providers who have offered free services, but for some areas it is still not possible.
12) Your school population.  Rural, inner city, urban, suburban, lacking devices, families whose first language is not English?  Each school is varied and comes with their own challenges. You know best what yours need and the unique way in which to reach them.
13) Building Administration.  Some are trailblazers, eager to have you set a course and go for it.  Others want to take a wait and see attitude and are hesitant to make a move because they have no direction from the district or their boss is overly cautious.
14) School District.  Just like building administrators, some lead the way, some micro-manage, and  some say just wait.  In many districts you are at the mercy of their decisions, resources, and district based technology platforms.
15) Student Information Systems.  Some of us have access to our student data bases where we can easily access addresses, phone numbers, and parent and student emails, others do not.
16) Differences in States/Country Government. Each of our 50 states and their 50 different Governors and 50 different  DOE's are handling this crisis in their own way. This goes for those in other countries too. These decisions impact how our local school boards and building administrators expect us to respond. What works in one state/country may not be allowed in another.
17) Creative vs. Analytical.  We are all wonderfully different.  Some of us see a creative opportunity and can't wait to get started.  Others need to sit back examine the situation and make careful plans for  how to move forward. I am thankful for creative minds who love to share with us all.  BLESS them!
18) Introvert vs. Extrovert.  For some of us making videos is terrifying. That's not our jam.  And then, there are those of us who love sharing this way with our kids. Do you!
19)  Techological Expertise.   Some of us are digital natives and some of us are digital immigrants who are still learning to speak the language.  There is a lot of unexplored technology out there and much new content to learn. Be patient with yourself.

There are no doubt other reasons why comparing ourselves during this pandemic is detrimental and discouraging.  But for now, it seems these 19 are more than enough reasons to stop feeling guilty and comparing ourselves to each other.  School counselors, teachers, parents, and students are all feeling a loss of control, stressed, and a sense of helplessness. There is no need to overwhelm ourselves and those we serve with MORE just because we feel like we aren't doing enough.

So to my talented, empathetic, creative colleagues, do what you can within the limits of your own circumstances.  Be kind to yourself, follow the guidelines for your school or district, and do what you are reasonably able to do to maintain work/life balance during this stressful time. But most importantly, remember you are enough!


Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Role of the School Counselor in Distance Learning

As school counselors, we have struggled with educating everyone from the public to principals about our role.  Few people understood the role of the school counselor before school closures and now, in these unprecedented times, who knows?   Let’s seize the opportunity to define who we are to our stakeholders.  This is uncharted territory, a chance for us to share what our role should be to meet the needs of our students. Because if we don’t step up and define the role of the school counselor, someone else will!

What should school counselors be doing during school closures?  
School counselors should still be following the ASCA Model and providing a comprehensive school counseling program. Yes, that will look different on-line versus face to face, but 80% of your time should still be dedicated to direct and indirect services and only 20% to non-counseling duties.  Of course, your administration may not know or have acknowledged this before.  This is your time to define your program.  Use this list to start a conversation with your administration about what school counseling looks like with distance learning.

Individual counseling.  This is a tricky one. How do we provide confidentiality on-line?  Even with HIPPA and FERPA encrypted platforms how do we guarantee privacy for our students or for ourselves? Privacy in their own home or in ours?  Are we being recorded as we counsel?  Are there others listening in the room? Do we need parent permission for minors since it on-line? School counselors are going to need more direction on this one to uphold our ethical responsibilities for our students and protect ourselves from liability. But, until then, there is so much more we can do!

 Check-ins.  School Counselors can start by calling the families of the high risk students on their caseload. Maybe with a specific list of questions or with information to make parents aware of resources, helpful websites, how to contact the counselor, or the counselor services that will be available. I'll be using this google form parent survey during the call to organize and collect information on my families. Copy my check in form here.

Small groups.  Offering skill groups and support groups for students would seem to be one of our best bets as school counselors during this time. We can expect there will be a great need for students to have groups on things like self-care, loss, time- management, social emotional learning, and on-line safety. Google hangouts, Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft teams offer school counselors the ability to connect with students on line. Ask what your district has to offer. Parent permission for doing group work whether in person or on-line and informing parents and students to the limits of confidentiality is important.  This Google form could possibly be sent to parents as an e-permission for small groups.  See a copy of my Google Form e-group permission and my e-group rules here.

Classroom lessons.  What a great time to do classroom lessons!  No state testing, flexible schedules, pre-recorded or live, five-minute tips, brain breaks, daily inspiration/challenges, 30 minute presentations, student workshops, or topic series.  This may involve using Google classroom, Google Hangouts, Google sites, Skype, Zoom, or another platform approved by your district.

Parent groups and Teacher groups.  “Conversations with the Counselor.” We can expect parents and teachers are going to be stressed out and needing support.  Offering the expertise of the school counselor through support groups for parents will be important.  Topics like those offered to students, along with an opportunity for parents to have conversations with others who may be struggling with the same issues created by pandemic life will be vital.  Again, use whatever platform your district has approved. Discuss issues and expectations of confidentiality with adult participants.

Counselor PLC.  Although there are great on-line Facebook groups for school counselors to provide inspiration and support, you sometimes need the support of your same district colleagues.  Plan to meet virtually to compare notes, share ideas, and help one another however possible.

Teacher consultations.  Same as before, just on line or on the phone.

Parent/Teacher conferences. Same as before, just on line or on the phone.  Take notes and email to parents.

Crisis counseling.  Notifying parents, law enforcement, or possibly Child Services may be required the same as in previous face to face situations.   Just like if a student is in crisis after hours, on a weekend, or a holiday break parents and guardians will need to dial 911. School counselors need to  post hotline and local agency numbers for families seeking assistance for students in crisis beyond the “office hours” of the school counselor.

Virtual Fairs/Tours.  Leading HS and MS students on virtual college tours, holding virtual career fairs and vehicle days for students at every level.

Book Clubs/Talks.   What a great time to focus on books! Partner with a Language Arts teacher at your school or start a book club/talk of your own.  Invite students through their classroom teachers, a ConnectEd, email blast, or newsletter. Find on-line books for your group to read, books approved for educators to read aloud, or have students take turns sharing a favorite book with the group.

Websites.  School Counselors need a website to post information, community resources, and crisis information.  It is also a great way to keep parents and students involved, informed, and inspired.  School counselors can sift through the volumes of information on the internet to provide what’s relevant to parents and students in their community and at their level.  Websites can provide daily or weekly updates, activities, inspirational messages, videos, ideas, web links, etc.  Google sites and Weebly for education are free and easy.

Newsletters. Another great way to keep families engaged.  Perhaps feature something from your website or offer reminders and tips around specific themes. Smore is a great tool.

Discuss boundaries. 
Boundaries are critical.  We can’t be available 24/7.  It is important to take care of ourselves and our families.  We put ourselves in a position of liability if we get into the habit of answering phone calls, text messages, and emails beyond our virtual office hours by setting a precedent that we are available anytime.  School counselors need to have set office hours as agreed upon with administration. These should be posted to your website, email signature, school webpage, newsletters, and followed. Students and parents need to know when they can reach the school counselor, what an expected response time is, and what to do if a student is in crisis.  We can’t preach self-care if we aren’t taking care of ourselves.  Remember, oxygen mask, full cup.

Phone. School counselors working from home need to have a Google voice account, use star *67, have school numbers forwarded to home phones, whatever is available in your district.  Maintaining appropriate boundaries is critical to adhering to our ethical standards.  We must avoid blurring the lines of our professional duties and responsibilities by using personal phones.

Email. Use your school assigned email only during office hours. Just because you are home all the time does not mean you are available all the time. Use an away message to inform students and parents of your availability.  Boundaries.

Computer.  Use your school assigned device only. Shut it off and put it away after office hours.

These are just a few ways school counselors can define their role with school based and district administration.  It is important to teach others the value school counselors will provide in our school’s distance learning plans and avoid having our role re-defined by those who have no idea what school counselors do.

Things will look different from district to district and state to state. Check with your state school counselor association, school superintendent, or school counseling specialist in your district for specifics as they apply to you.  For those in smaller or more rural areas, reach out to your state school counselor association or ASCA for more guidance on defining your role as a school counselor during school closures.

What are some of your ideas to define the role of the school counselor during school closures?  Please share your thoughts and ideas below.

Stay Healthy!


Monday, February 17, 2020

Be Your Own Hero: Book Give-away!!!

Kids love super heroes!  As school counselors and teachers we have incorporated these characters into our curriculum materials and created classroom themes featuring them.  It is fun for our students to pretend they are those incredible beings with super powers who fly through the air and save the day.  Or the world.  However, as much as we may all enjoy the super hero theme, our students often  fail to see how they can be heroes as ordinary people in every day life.  They begin to believe unless you are mega-rich, a demi-god, altered by science, or from another galaxy you can't be a hero.  They fail to see how small acts of kindness, standing up for others, and believing in yourself are the "super powers" of real-life heroes.

Practicing school counselor and author Lisa King has created a great little book called, Be Your Own Hero.  With beautiful illustrations by Colleen Madden showing diverse student populations, this story helps students think beyond the "super" and find the hero inside themselves.

In her book, Be Your Own Hero, Lisa tells the story of a girl named Quinn and her very cool teacher Mr. Finley.  Quinn is excited about the upcoming "Hero Week," but uncertain about who she will dress up as on Friday.  During "Hero Week," the students see Mr. Finley, or an adult at school, dressed as a hero and sharing important truths about what it means to be a hero.  They meet famous characters and ordinary people who learned the importance of believing in themselves, doing the right thing, and persevering in the face of failure.  The week culminates with Quinn discovering what it means to really be a hero and finding that hero in herself.  Reflection questions at the end of the story help focus the discussion on what it means to be a hero.

Two FREE Books
Thank you to the National Center for Youth Issues for donating 2 copies of Be Your Own Hero for this give-away!  Leave a comment in the section below this post, on the Exploring School Counseling Facebook page, or the School Counselor Store Facebook page.  The more places you make comments, the more chances you have to win.  Two winners will be selected at random and announced on Thursday, February 20 at 11:00 pm EST.  Check back here or the Facebook pages for winners.

Good Luck!!!