Saturday, April 6, 2019

Seraphina Does Everything! A Review and Give-away

I recently received this great little book called, Seraphina Does Everything! written by Dr. Melissa Gratias and beautifully illustrated  by Sue Cornelison.  The story is about a young girl who wants to do it all!  Her talents and interests are varied and she fills each day with more new things to do and try. Seraphina sees all the interesting things there are to do in the world and she doesn't want to miss a single one! She is involved in music, art, dance, sports, and foreign language. Seraphina is a voracious learner who is engaged and active. As she discovers more about the variety and options of life she is excited to expereince more. Every day of her week is filled with activities as well as her weekends.

For awhile it seems all is going well. Seraphina loves learning so many new things!  However, in a moment of quiet reflection in the car,vwhile returning from one of her many activites, Seraphina begins to feel sad.   It seems Seraphina is not doing as well as she appears and she is feeling the pressue of doing EVERYTHING.  Although Seraphina is experiencing the joys of learning, she is missing out on the joys of just being a kid and the experiences of growing up.  Time to relax, play with friends and pets, spend time with family and focus on school work are part of learning to achieve balance in life.  In trying to do everything, Seraphina realizes she is not doing everything well and is missing out on other important things in her life.  Life with friends, family and school are pasing her by.  Seraphina is blessed to have a very wise Dad who advises her there is time to try life's options, but for now to focus on what she loves and make time for the important things like family, friends and school.  The story ends with a relaxed and happy Seraphina who has found the balance of trying and learning new things with just being a kid.

As School Counselors, Serpahina is someone we might describe as overextended. We often see similar students who present as anxious, depressed, or perfectionists. Sometimes it is the students driving themselves to do it all.  Other times, we see parents who seem to think it is important to fill every moment of their child's life with "productive" activities.  Whatever the source, as School Counselors it is important to remind both children and parents that while involving our children in enriching activities from an early age is good, balance is key.  The learning of many essential social emotional  and life skills comes from giving our children the unstructured time and freedom to explore, create, problem solve, and self-soothe.

At the end of her book, Melissa Gratias offers a list of tips for students and parents to help them achieve balance, determine activities of value, communicate expectations, and understand the importance of rest.  I would recommend adding this book to your School Counselor library.

How to win your FREE copy of Seraphina Does Everything!

I am giving away 2 copies of Seraphina Does Everything! Many thanks to the National Center for Youth Issues for sponsoring this give-away.

There are 3 easy ways to enter the Rafflecopter contest below.
Each method gives you one entry in my giveaway. Do all three and receive 3 entries!  Give away begins today, Saturday, April 6, and closes on Monday, April 8 at 11:59 PM EDST.

Winners will be selected using Rafflecopter and announced at the close of the give-away on my Exploring School Counseling Facebook page on Tuesday evening. Thank you for participating and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, December 10, 2018

A Flicker of Hope by Julia Cook: Review and Give-away

I have always found the work of Julia Cook to be a valuable tool in working with children in my school counseling program. She has the ability to take difficult topics and distill them into kid-friendly images and ideas that resonate with children.  Students are able to easily relate to their own "tattle tongue" or "volcano mouth."

Julia Cook's latest book is titled,  A Flicker of Hope.  I love the personification of the candles she uses as the characters in this story. The many different shapes, sizes, colors, and styles of candles is a great analogy to the unique differences of people in our classrooms, our schools, and in our world. It gives us a bridge to talk about the idea that although we may be different, we all have times when  dark clouds dim our light and we need a little boost.

Just like little candle, the pressures in the lives of our young students can seem too great for them to handle on their own, but Julia reminds them they can always ask for help.  Whether they are struggling with feelings about grades, friends, family, loss, or just feeling they are not good enough and don't really fit in anywhere, the dark clouds can be pushed away by asking for help.  Julia not only encourages our students to ask for help when faced with their dark clouds, but also teaches them they can be "hope builders" by sharing their gifts with others and "offering a litte boost of hope" to those whose light may have grown dim.

The concept of teaching children to feel hope is empowering.  It can help them move from a place of darkness, uncertainty, and self-doubt to a place of light and a feeling of freedom. Our students begin to realize, they are not alone, there are others who can help, and there are things they can do to help others too.  This book provides school counselors educators, parents, and anyone who cares for children a sweet little story to teach about the beauty of hope and how we all can be hope builders.  What a powerful message for our young ones today!

To read more about the benefits of building hope in children, check out these articles at Psychology Today, HERE.

How to win your FREE copy of Julia Cook's new book, 
A Flicker of Hope

In celebration of Julia Cook's new book,  A Flicker of Hope, I am giving away 2 copies. Many thanks to the National Center for Youth Issues for sponsoring this give-away.

There are 3 easy ways to enter the Rafflecopter contest below.
Each method gives you one entry in my giveaway. Do all three and receive 3 entries!  Give away begins today, Monday, December 10 and closes on Saturday, December 15, 2018 at 11:59 PM EST. 

Winners will be selected using Rafflecopter and announced at the close of the give-away on my Exploring School Counseling Facebook page on Sunday morning.  Thanks for participating and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Creating a Book Club for School Counselors

Several years ago I was introduced to the on-line resource  It has been a great way for counselors in our district to feel a connection with one another, meet counselors at other levels,  and discuss relevant professional literature.  We have even been able to use this as one of our 4 professional learning cycles in our district.

Our local School Counselor Association started the book club idea 3 years ago.  We choose a book, send out a survey for interested counselors to choose a day and time, had individuals register for our on-line club, and then met virtually for a pre-determined number of weeks based on the number of chapters or length of the book.   The first year we read, The Use of Data in School Counseling, by Dr. Trish Hatch.  Last year we read the ASCA National Model Handbook and this year we are reading Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World , by Dr. Michele Borba.

Setting up your Book Club 
Someone has to agree to be the lead and set up the club for your group.  Go to the website, register, and create a club.  On your club page will be a place to display the book you are reading and share a brief paragraph about your group.  You can share the website and club name with potential members or invite people to join by email.

The Book Club Lead who creates the club account will be the one to receive requests for new members. Only individuals who are approved as  members can join you in the chat.  The chats take place in a private chat room, unlike on Twitter where you may have lots of other tweets happening at the same time you are trying to chat. This is much neater and easier to follow. We have about 55 members and anywhere from 15-20 will participate on any given chat.

Choosing a book and a day and time
Our local School Counselor Association has chosen the books based on what is occuring in our district.  However, this could easily be done by using a Google form to take book ideas and for voting.  We email a Google form to all the counselors in our district asking if they are interested to vote for their preferred day and time and their 2nd and 3rd choices.  We offered Sunday-Thursday evenings with a one hour time frame in the 6:30-9:00 window.  Our group tends to like Tuesday from 7-8pm. We also found 8 weeks tends to be the limit for group interest.  So we have made it a point to keep our clubs to that time frame.

Purchasing the books
Most of our group has been able to get their administrators purchase books or have used departmental money.  Of course, there are always those who want a book for their personal library and will purchase it theirself.

OrganinzingYour Book Club
In our district we use Microsoft office where we created a shared file for our book club.  This could also be done in Google Drive.  In this shared file we keep the book club Guidelines for Participation and Facilitator Responsibilities.  There is also a sign-up sheet with dates and chapters so book club members can  sign-up to share the opportunity to be the facilitator for the evening.  This file also is the location of archived chats and the questions discussed for each chat.

In our district we can receive in-service points for doing a book study.  Creating a "course" and getting course approval before the chat begins is important so participants can earn their points.  Inviduals who miss a meeting can read the archived chat for the evening they missed and answer the questions and submit them to the shared folder for credit.

Facilitating the Chat
Each facilitator is responsible for keeping the conversation on track and posting the discussion questions during the hour the club is meeting.  Facilitators should prepare about 6 questions to pose to the group over the course of the hour.  It is easier when facilitating to already have your questions ready in a Word document. That way the facilitator only has to copy and paste questions into the chat bar.  This helps maintain the flow of the conversation throughout the chat.  Each question should begin with Q and the quesiton number.  As members respond, they should use A and the number of the question.

Wrapping up the Chat
Once the chat is over, when you sign out of the chat room the conversation for the evening disappears.  Because we tend to share a lot of good ideas and information and because we have members who sometimes have to miss chats, we always archive the evening's chat.   This is as easy as creating a Word document and copying and pasting the chat into the document and saving it to the shared file.  There you have it for reference for participants who wish to reference shared ideas and for those who were unable to attend the chat.

And there you have it!  A book club is an easy way to participate in relevant professional development (in your bathrobe) and exchange some pretty cool ideas with your school counseling colleagues.  Have you ever participated in an on-line book club?  What are some books you have read or ideas you can share about your club?  Please feel free to share your ideas below.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Teacher Consultation: Helping Teachers Manage the Classroom with a Token Econonmy

Several years ago a teacher stopped by my room on a Friday afternoon.  She was clearly at the end of her rope and literally ready to pack her things and not return to teaching. We talked a long time about the challenges, issues, expectations, and frustrations she was experiencing in her classroom.  Having watched this group of students at my school for many years I knew it was not her.  This particular group had been separated and re-grouped into a variety of class combinations all with limited success. It was clear this veteran teacher really didn’t want to quit, but she was tearful and desperate.  She had reached a defining moment and was determined to make a change in her classroom.  We talked for a couple of hours about things she had tried what had and hadn’t work, the disruptions, rudeness, and overall “I don’t care” attitude of her students.  We discussed a variety of things she could try, the sign-in system and the level system, table points, clip charts, marble jars, and a token economy.  But, like I always say when consulting with teachers and parents, it doesn’t matter what I suggest, or what you choose to use.   What is important is you must know your students, be comfortable with your strategy, and be consistent in implementation.  Teachers and parents must be comfortable enough with their chosen strategy, intervention, or discipline technique to use it consistently and correctly. Otherwise, even the most amazing classroom management program will fail.  As we discussed the token economy she brightened.  She sat up straighter and you could actually see the change in her demeanor and the light in her eyes as she began to consider how this system could work for her. We talked a short while longer and then, with renewed energy, she thanked me for staying late on a Friday and excitedly left ready to put her ideas into a plan of action.

Fast Forward
Six weeks later.  It is late on a Friday afternoon.  We are both leaving campus headed home for the weekend.  As she approaches me I see a relaxed, smiling face and I comment on this.  And her response is what makes the extra time on Fridays all worthwhile.  She thanks me and hugs me.  She thanks me for staying with her late, and talking with her when she was in despair and giving her the ideas and encouragement to come back on Monday and try something new.  She told me of the success she was having and the amazing turn around with her class and how she was sharing my idea with other teachers who were also struggling.  Of course, I was flattered, but token economies are not new and certainly not my idea.  I thanked her for her kind words and reminded her it worked because she put in the time to plan the system, introduce it to her class, and reinforce it on a daily basis. More hugs, more thank-yous.

The Plan
To successfully introduce a token economy, a well thought out plan is required. Here is the method used by the teacher I mentioned above.

1)  Create your “money,” decide how it is earned and how much and how often it is given. My teacher decide to go with a rounded up version of minimum wage at 40 hours per week paid to every student on Monday. Each student was paid weekly for their job of being a student. If a student was absent they lost a day's pay.  Students who were tardy were fined.
2)  To introduce the idea, the teacher led a class meeting to discuss the top 5 reasons students were not able to learn in the classroom.  This started as a small group brainstorming activity.  The teacher then wrote the group responses on the board.  Several items were able to be combined and the class worked with the teacher to re-word each item into a precise and positive statement.  These were set as class standards and fines were determined by the students for violating a class standard.
3)  The class met every morning for the first 2 weeks for 15- 30 minutes and then once a week thereafter. Meetings were never to assess blame or punishment but to discuss class issues and to find a solution. The loss of instructional time due to meetings was not an issue as instructional time was gained by reduced student disruptions and improved class behavior and attention.
4)  Student ledgers were created for daily transactions and parents were asked to sign weekly.
5)  Students were charged a weekly rent on their desk and chair.
6)  Students were given 2 bathroom passes daily.  Additional bathroom passes were available for purchase.
7)  Students could earn a raise for consistently positive behavior. Examples of positive behavior and possible earnings were posted.
8)  Students could earn class cash bonuses for acts of kindness, following directions, work completion etc.  The teacher carried class cash in her pocket and randomly rewarded students for their positive actions.
9)  Extra free time or recess, sitting with a special friend, sitting in the teacher's rollie chair, etc. were items that could be purchased with class cash. This menu was posted with the purchase price.
10)  Rewards were offered at the end of the week for anyone with X amount of class cash. Again, a menu was posted with purchase prices.
11)  An auction was held at the end of the quarter.  The teacher brought in sodas, candy bars, dollar store, and garage sale items. Students were able to bid against one another using their class cash.  Future auctions allowed students to bring items (with parent permission) they wish to auction to their classmates.
12)  The teacher then took it to the next level to have students experience what it is like to be a small business owner.  She had them take an index card and make a business card.  They stated what they were good at, what they were willing to do and set a price.  For example: organizing desks, notebooks, back packs, spell checker, creating artwork, rent of special markers, or colored pencils, etc.

A token economy, done well, can be a wonderful classroom management system. It creates a microcosm of society and many real life learning opportunities.  This teacher consistently implemented all phases of her token economy plan and continued to hold regular class meetings to reinforce the structure and expectations she had for student success.  Anyone will tell you there is some work to be done on the start up, but the end result is students who feel empowered and are making better choices about their classroom performance and behavior.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Posting Positive Messages

Looking for an easy way to promote positivity around your campus?  Try posting positive messages with one of my favorite Dollar Store purchases, neon colored starbust shapes in various sizes.

My idea was to hand write positive messages on each one and post them all over campus for the first day of school. But, when I considered how many shapes that would be, I went looking for another option.  In my local Wal-Mart were these cool, round neon colored labels and white name badge size labels. The circles were just the right size for the smaller starbursts and the name badges were perfect for the larger ones.

By searching the internet for positive quotes on courage, decision-making, planning, and kindness, plus coming up with some of my own,  I had about 100 different messages. It was super easy to type the messages in the templates, print, then peel and stick to the starbursts.
My partner and I used packing tape to stick them up around campus on classroom doors and windows, in hallways, student and teacher bathroom mirrors, the teacher break room and teacher computers. With the help of our student assistants, we were able to sprinkle them all around the school.

What ways do you promote positivity around your campus?  Share your ideas below!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Dollar $tore Treasure$

I love my local Dollar Tree!  It has amazing items that are perfect for School Counselors at all levels and they are cheap!  Just look at some of the terrific things I found when doing my "Back to School" shopping this year.

Let's start in the bottom left corner.  I have a basket on my desk with all kinds of squishy items.  Kids and adults both LOVE them.  I found this blue centipede, the pink bristly thing and orange "submarine" with soft bristles. These  can be squeezed into lots of distorted shapes. It gives students something to do with their hands and eyes when they are feeling uncomfortable.  I actually have 2 of the blue centipedes and one of my students with sensory issues likes to sit with one in each hand and swing them across his body and they thump on his upper arms.  It's a calming thing to him.

Above the squishies are 2 multi-sided shapes that can be used for a class lesson, small group, or something to work on with an individual over a series of sessions. Each person writes something about the lesson, group or themselves and then all the pieces are put together to create a hanging shape.

Next, still heading to the right you will see a cube with white circles on it. This and an erasable marker can allow a student or you to create multiple conversation starters on a variety of topics.

Just above the cube are two plastic stand up picture frames. They come in 4x6 and 8x10 sizes both vertical and horizontal.  You can use these for class or group rules or special motivational sayings you want to share with students. They also make great stands for holding instructions for centers or at a sign-in table for a presentation or parent workshop.

Beneath the frames are maps of the USA.  I was thinking of using one of these for new students to mark where they are from and one for faculty to mark where they went to college.

On top of the maps are cardstock neon colored "star burst" shapes of varying sizes.  I have been collecting ideas for positive sayings to print on labels and hang up around the school.

Next to the star bursts is a beach ball.  Use for writing questions, words, or actions on it and having groups or individuals toss it around.  The "catcher" has to perform whatever their thumb lands on. This can be an icebreaker or a reward for good behavior. Fun, fun, fun!

Below that are a variety of colored speech bubbles with a slick surface.  Great for dry erase markers to allow kids to write down what they are thinking in a group, especially for those who have difficulty with remembering to wait their turn to talk or if you are asking a quesion everyone wants to answer.  Also good with older students if you are talking about postive or negative self-talk, self-censoring, or partner sharing.  I'm sure there are lots of other ways to use with classes, groups, and individuals.

Lastly,  in the middle is are small, individual white boards. I love these for students of all ages to draw how they are feeling, to tell what happened, or when drawing out a plan of action. You can also both use the boards to ask and answer questions together.

What terrific Dollar $tore items have you found?  Please share how you have used your Dollar $tore purchases!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Track Your Time with Google Forms: The Counselor Activity Log

Part of getting ready for back to school means updating my Google forms. If you don't know Google forms, they are an amazing tool!  I have used Google forms for years for a variety of purposes like minute meetings, documenting group attendance and session content, surveys, needs assessments, and pre/post tests. However, my favorite is for tracking my time each day.  I liked the Counselor Activity form I used for several years, but felt now that I was at a new school, it was in need of a little makeover. 

NEW this year, sections!
Even though my original form contained everything I  thought I wanted to document, it was long and cumbersome and a little confusing even to me at times. So this summer I learned how to add sections to my forms.  By using the Google form feature "sections" and including branch or skip logic, I was able to create a neater, more concise form. Skip logic changes what question a respondent sees next based on how they have answered the previous question.  Basically, it allows you to create a customized path through your form based on how a question is answered.

When you first open the Counselor Activity Log form, you will see a place for the date and four categories: Direct Services, Indirect Services, Non-Counseling Related Duties and a new, much needed category After Hours Services.  Because honestly, what school counselor is NOT volunteering mega hours after school and from home?  This should be part of your data collection as well.  There is too much to do in the course of a school day and it is important for stakeholders to see how much the school counselor is doing long after the school day is over.

Depending on what you want to record, choose your category and follow the questions until you get to the submit button. The items in each category can easily be deleted/revised or new tasks added to fit your school situation.

Each of the 4 major categories contains a drop-down menu of tasks or services specific to that section. If you choose Direct Services, you will get a screen with a drop-down menu that allows you to choose from 8 different direct services. From there, depending on the service you choose, the form allows you to log specific details for that service such as grade, gender, referred by, and referral type. For example if you choose individual or crisis counseling, the form takes you to a screen where you can choose the reason for the counseling and document essential information about the student seen.

If Indirect Services is chosen an alphabetized drop down menu of more than 30 indirect services provided by school counselors appears. If a phone call is chosen, the form takes you to a screen to document your phone call, including the name and number of the caller.  When Non-Counseling Related Duties is chosenyou will see a drop-down menu of more than 50 activities or duties considered non-counseling related. It also has a place for you to  notate what services were lost as a result of the non-counseling duty. Great for making your case about loss of time with students.  For After Hours Services,  a drop down menu of 8 items including work beyond the contract day and work from home is shown. This allows you to log the number of hours outside the school day you spend preparing for  your job.

The beauty of Google forms is your ability to customize them to fit your needs.  I have included as many different direct, indirect, non-counseling duties, and after hours services as I could think of in the drop down menus. However, I am sure there are other duties and services of which I am not aware or are unique to other schools.  No worries, you can add or delete duties relevant to your school, add teacher names or grade levels, whatever makes this form work for your data collection needs.

You will notice I made the questions on this form required (except for notes and follow-up) so I never forget or skip over any questions which are important for data collection. Although Google forms time stamps when you record your entry, it will not reflect the day and amount of time you actually provided the services unless you are recording responses in real time.  I seldom have time to do that and often do my logging at the end of the day.  Collecting data to reflect the day services are provided is important when giving others a preview of the fullness of your day or of specific times of day or days of the week.  If all your entries are only time stamped when you recorded the activity, you may be missing valuable data to show your busiest days or times.

Why Track Your Time?
There are always questions about what school counselors do with their time. Because much of what we do is confidential, it is safe to say, the majority of people in our schools and communities have no idea what a school counselor does all day.  This Counselor Activity Log provides a record of your responses to school needs, gives administrators an overview how your time is spent without violating confidentiality, and allows you to track your time for personal reflection. All this plus providing colorful graphs provide a clear visual representation to share with administration, faculty, parents, and the community. Data can be shared monthly, quarterly, by semester, or as an overview of the year.  You decide what best meets your needs.

Documenting your activities is a powerful advocacy tool for telling the story of how your position as a school counselor is being utilized. By using the data and graphs from this form, you will be able to tell your story of success or of the changes needing to be made in order for you to provide services to ALL students.

Available on TPT
If you are interested in downloading my new and improved, editable Google form  "Counselor Activity Log" with sections, designed specifically for elementary school counselors, middle school counselors and high school counselors, click on the photo of your level.
School Counselor Activity Log Elementary
School Counselor Activity Log Middle School

High School Counselor Activity Log