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!!!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

I'm Stretched by Julia Cook Book Give-away

I know we've all probably felt just like the character in Julia Cook's new book I'm Stretched!  Often during the school year there are times when we feel stretched and stressed!  There is just too much to do and not enough time to do it.  So from our already full plates, things begin to fall off.  I know when that happen I'm not as prepared, my house and life are a mess, I'm tired,  not eating right, and not taking care of my health.  And I KNOW the ways to handle stress! All I need to do is practice what I teach!  But for our students it's different, they don't have the skills and resources we do.  This book is the perfect way to introduce those skills.

In the story, the main character is a young girl who is feeling "stretched."  She has too many assignments, activities, lessons, try-outs, and concerns about family, friends, and her pet.  These things cause her to lose sleep, be unprepared, unorganized, worry,  and stressed out.  She finally turns to her mother who offers her great advice on how to view and handle stress.  The mother, who in my opinion must be a school counselor,  shares with her daugher all the great things she can do to reduce her stress and feel peaceful and calm.  From venting to belly breathing to preparing the night before, this mom has great advice for her stressed out girl.

So many of our students feel stress, whether it's because they have too much to do in their lives or because they don't know how to manage all the things they want to do.  This book is a great resource for individual, small group, or classroom counseling lessons.  School counselors  will recognize the variety of tips provided at the end of the book as things they regularly suggest to students when talking about self-care and organization.  These tips can be turned into variety of student activities to go along with the reading of the book.

Two Free Books!
Thank you to National Center for Youth Issues for donating 2 free copies of I'm Stretched for this give-away.  Leave a comment in the section below or comment on the Exploring School Counseling Facebook page, the School Counselor Store Facebook page, or the Elementary School Counselor Exchange or all of the above.  The more you comment, the more chances you have to win!  Winners will be picked Monday evening at 11:59PM.

Good luck!!!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Julia Cook Book Give-away!

Julia Cook is an elementary school counselor's best friend.  Her books make difficult topics easy to share and discuss with children at all grade levels.  While continuing to write new books, Julia is offering an updated version of an old favorite, Bully B.E.A.N.S.  In this revision of Bully B.E.A.N.S., the 10 year old book  gets a make-over with beautifully updated artwork by  illustrator Tammie Lyons

Inside is the same great story, of how students learn to speak up and handle classroom bully Mean Maxine.  At the end of the book are tips for those who are being bullied, have friends being bullied, and even for those who might think they are a bully.

Join Julia as she tells the story of Mean Maxine and how she bullies her classmates. Learn how one student with the help of her mom, some positive strategies for handling bullies, and a bag of Bully Beans for courage, teach the students in Maxine's class to stand tall and stand together.  The "magic" jelly beans remind kids everywhere they have the power to stop bullies.  "The B.E.A.N.S. in Bully Beans stand for Bullies Everywhere Are Now Stopped."  Using the courage from the "magic" beans the students stand up to Maxine and put an end to her bullying. They even share some bully B.E.A.N.S. with Maxine to try at home on her brother who bullies her.

To purchase the revision of  Bully B.E.A.N.S.  you can find it on Amazon and at the National Center for Youth Issues.

To learn more about author Julia Cook and her many great books click HERE.

Four Books to Share, Four Ways to Win!
Thanks to the National Center for Youth Issues, I have 4 copies of Bully B.E.A.N.S. to share. To enter to win your copy Bully B.E.A.N.S., leave your comments by midnight eastern daylight time Wednesday, September 25.  Winners will be announced on Thursday September 26.

1) Leave a comment below the blog post describing your favorite strategy for helping your students cope with bullies.
2) Leave a comment on the Exploring School Counseling Facebook page describing your favorite strategy for helping your students cope with bullies.
3) Leave a comment on the Elementary School Counselor Exchange Facebook page describing your favorite strategy for helping your students cope with bullies.
4) Leave a comment on the School Counselor Store Facebook page describing your favorite strategy for helping your students cope with bullies.

UPDATE!!! Our 4 winners are Liz Brittnacher, Stephanie Kirland Gibson, Ashley Ann and Shirley Topia. Please direct message me with your home address. Thank you all for your wonderful comments!

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Friday, August 23, 2019

The Awfulizer: Learning to Overcome the Shame Game

This great new book The Awfulizer, written by Kristin Maher and illustrated by Robert Dunn, is an Social Emotional Learning (SEL) must have!

The story of James and his encounter with the Awfulizer embodies the the core SEL competenices of self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness. When James begins to feel badly about mistakes he's made, the Awfulizer appears and constantly reminds him of  all the other things he has done wrong and tells him he is a bad kid.

As James begins to lose his self-confidence, the Awfulizer grows and grows. James withdraws worried he will say or do the wrong thing. The Awfulizer has convinced James he is a bad person and that he should feel shame in making mistakes. When James's parents suspect something is wrong, it is the encouragement of his Mom and Dad that helps James talk about his feelings of insecurity and shame. His parents tell about their experiences with the Awfulizer and share an important truth, "I may make a mistake, but that doesn't mean I am a mistake." James learns when you talk with others about how you're feeling, whether friends, family, teacher, or your school counselor, it gives you a superpower; you become an Awesomizer!

This is a great story for students with self-defeating behaviors, perfectionism, and low self-esteem who have convinced themselves they are bad people because of their mistakes.  I love the idea of empowering these students with the superpower to be "Awesomizers" by using positive self-talk and sharing their feelings with trusted adults.  Kristin provides tips for helping children become "Awesomizers" at end of her book.

How to win your FREE copy of The Awfulizer.

I am giving away 2 copies of The Awfulizer.  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, Saturday, August 24 at 12:00 am, and closes on Tuesday, August 26 at 12:00 AM 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, August 27. Thank you for participating and good luck!

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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,while 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 passing 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 student driving themself 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 efinitely 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!

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