Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Value of Building Community with Your Counselor Colleagues

One is the Loneliest Number
We are a solo act, performing a solitary job, many times in private, involving the confidential fears, feelings, and experiences of our students, their parents, and sometimes our teachers. These jobs performed in private are often misunderstood and misrepresented, leading to inaccurate assumptions about who we are and what we do.  There is a constant need to prove our worth and the value we add to the student, parents, and teachers at our schools. We have a job that is frustrating and satisfying, depressing and joyful, infuriating and uplifting.  The need for self-care and collaboration is great, but not always available or encouraged. Building a personal and professional resource network with your Counselor Colleagues through Professional Learning Communities (PLC) is one way to do just that.

Finding Your Lifeline
Building a PLC with your Counselor Colleagues, wherever you can find it, is the theme I want to encourage here.  Whether it is by joining the online community with a terrific resource like the Facebook group Elementary School Counselor Exchange, involving yourself with Twitter, #scchats, Google Hangout discussions,  following this blog, or one of many other active school counselor blogs, or developing a Professional Learning Community with the School Counselors in your own city, county or district, these groups are our lifeline.  In a profession that is largely misunderstood, these groups give us encouragement and perspective when we need it most. They give us a safe place to vent, but most importantly, allow us to encourage and give back to our Counselor Colleagues.

For many who live in rural areas or districts where School Counselors are few in number, the online options may be your only resource.  However don't let too few, be a deterrent to establishing your own PLC. The camaraderie, emotional support, problem solving, idea and resource exchange shared by meeting with others (whether virtually or online) who know what you do and why you do it is that lifeline to the lone School Counselor.  For those in urban school districts or cities or counties with multiple School Counselors, I strongly encourage to develop you own local Professional Learning Community (PLC).

The Birth of an Idea
I live in a large school district with nearly 50 elementary School Counselors.  In the last 5 years I have watched my friends, collaborators, and mentors retire one by one. People I use to call with questions or bounce ideas off of, or call about a student that had transferred from their school were all gone.  In their place, were names and faces I did not know very well and a feeling of a lost connection from years of working and sharing together.  If I was feeling disconnected, and I had been a part of the district counseling team for many years, how were my new colleagues feeling? It was evident when we met as a district for various meetings and workshops my new colleagues longed for the chance to talk and share with other School Counselors.  Our lunch breaks and after meeting conversations were filled with questions, ideas, and the support you only experience from others who "get" what you do. We wanted, no needed, more time together but the how and when was a problem.

One day I was talking with our Art teacher who mentioned meeting with her PLC.  I was curious and she explained she met with the other Art teachers in our district once a month to share lesson plans, work on curriculum maps, and share resources and ideas.  In addition to all this, they were able to arrange to receive professional development points towards certificate renewal and provide evidence for their evaluation of collaborating with peers. That's it! I was sold!  This is what my School Counselor Colleagues and I needed!

Creating a PLC
I started with my awesome Assistant Principal and floated the idea with her.  What did she think of the Counselors on our side of the county creating our own monthly PLC and did she think we could earn PD (professional development) points?  She was on board 100% and so were my Westside colleagues.  We chose a monthly meeting date and my AP created the PLC course description and registration sign-up through our county PD computer program.  Our first year was small, just the 8 of us on the "Westside"of the our county, including one Counselor who worked on the east side but lived on the west side.  We met faithfully every month, rotating the school host. Our meetings would last from 2-3 hours with sharing, consultation, some commiseration, and problem solving.  My desire was for this to be a positive, community building and personally enriching experience, and although this was never discussed, it clearly was the unstated purpose of our meetings.  In the end we earned more than 25 PD points towards re-certification.  But that was not the best part.

The PLC Benefits
As a result of our time together we grew personally and professionally in our relationships with each other. Our familiarity and comfort with one another created a trusted support system for emailing and calling each other to consult in difficult situations whether with students, parents, faculty, or administration. The feeling of isolation was diminished and the sharing of resources and knowledge was increased.  Each meeting we focused on our lessons and school-wide programming as it pertained to our curriculum map.  We shared resources, lesson plans, books, activities, websites, ideas, and more. We discussed our evaluation system and supported one another with ideas for improving our evaluation lessons and discussed various interpretations of the evaluation rubric.  We compared how our various administrators used the evaluation tools and how to effectively write up our personal growth plans.  But best of all, these once unfamiliar faces were now not only my trusted colleagues, but my friends.

PLC Year 2
A lot has happened to improve our PLC in the past 2 years!
  • We have grown in numbers!  Another PLC in our county has teamed up with us for a group of about 20 members.  
  • We have "offspring."  Our "eastsider" from earlier in the year left us to create an east side group who now meets monthly as well.
  • We have gone to a monthly agenda (see samples here and here), with members submitting ideas, volunteering to present information, class or group lessons, and technology tips.
  • There is greater administrative support in year 2.  A member suggested when we send out our agenda for the upcoming meeting we should include all the Principals of our PLC members.  This has helped immensely with administrative support  and School Counselors being free to leave school (after dismissal) to attend monthly meetings.  
  • PLC minutes are now copied to our Principals and District Guidance Specialist.  This seems to have really done the most for legitimizing what we do and what we are trying to do for our students and our schools.  One of my Counselor Colleagues said her Principal commented after reading our minutes,"Wow, you all really packed a lot in that agenda!" 
  • We are nurturing and supporting the newest School Counselors in our district and they tell us how much this group has meant to them. Our group is a safe place to ask questions, try new ideas, and get nonjudgmental help if needed.
  • Our support base has grown professionally and personally as we add new members and spend more time together sharing, consulting, collaborating, and problem solving.  We have so many gifted School Counselors with a variety of backgrounds and experiences from private practice to all levels of counseling from preK to college. We have former classroom teachers who provide a teacher's perspective, a former behavior analyst and mental health therapist, tech geeks, and an entire group who will freely share any resource or idea they have.   
What sort of PLC, PLN, School Counselor support groups, or networking activities are you involved with?  I would love to hear your ideas for building community among School Counselors.  Any suggestions for ways we can continue to grow and improve our PLC would also be appreciated. I would be glad to feature your PLC or share your ideas here as well.

If you don't have a PLC and are interested in starting one with the School Counselors in your area, comment below or send me an email.  I would be happy to discuss how to start your own PLC.

I can't begin to express what the time with my School Counselor Colleagues has meant to me.  They offer comfort in difficult situations and challenge and inspire me to be the best I can be.  My wish for 2015 is for each of you to find a way to experience this too!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Contemplating this special season of celebration I wanted to share a poem that has meant so much to me and in many ways defines why I am a School Counselor.  This poem, which many of you may already know, is called  A Prayer for Children  and was written in the 90's by columnist Ina J. Hughes for the Knoxville News-Sentinel.
Thank you for all you do for all the children.  Never underestimate how your caring words and the time you spend may impact their young lives.  I pray this poem touches your heart as it has touched mine.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukka, and Happy Kwanzaa! Many blessings on you and yours as you celebrate with those you love.

A Prayer for  Children by Ina J. Hughes

We pray for children
who give us sticky kisses,
who hop rocks and chase butterflies,
who stomp in puddles and ruin their new pants,
who sneak Popsicles before supper,
who erase holes in math workbooks,
who can never find their shoes.
And we pray for those
who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
who’ve never squeaked across the floor in new sneakers,
who never "counted potatoes",
who are born in places we wouldn’t be caught dead,
who never go to the circus,
who live in an X-rated world.
We pray for children
who bring us fistfuls of dandelions and sing-off key,
who have goldfish funerals, build card-table forts,
who slurp their cereal on purpose,
who get gum in their hair, put sugar in their milk
who spit toothpaste all over the sink,
who hug us for no reason, who bless us each night,
And we pray for those
who never get dessert,
who watch their parents watch them die,
who have no safe blanket to drag behind,
who can’t find any bread to steal,
who don’t have any rooms to clean up,
whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser,
whose monsters are real.
We pray for children
who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
who throw tantrums in the grocery store
and pick at their food,
who like ghost stories,
who shove dirty clothes under the bed,
who never rinse out the tub,
who get quarters from the tooth fairy,
who don't like to be kissed in front of the car pool,
who squirm in church and scream in the phone,
whose tears we sometimes laugh at
and whose smiles can make us cry.
And we pray for those
whose nightmares come in the daytime,
who will eat anything,
who have never seen a dentist,
who aren't spoiled by anybody,
who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
who live and move, but have no being.
We pray for children
who want to be carried,
and for those who must.
For those we never give up on,
and for those who don't have a chance.
For those we smother,
and for those who will grab the hand of anybody
kind enough to offer.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Marshmallow Challenge

Looking for a great activity, good anytime, but especially great as we all try to survive these last few days to Christmas break?  I recently participated in The Marshmallow Challenge at a district School Counselor meeting and knew right away I had to take it back to school to share with my boys and girls.  The Marshmallow Challenge is an awesome way to actively engage your students while teaching teamwork, cooperation, thinking skills, sportsmanship, perseverance, kindness, planning ahead, problem solving, peer pressure, inclusion, consensus, fairness, time management and more.

The Marshmallow Challenge is simple.  Teams of 4 are challenged to build the tallest, free-standing structure using 20 pieces of spaghetti, one yard of masking tape, one yard of string or yarn, and a marshmallow (regular size, not mini or jumbo) in 18 minutes and the marshmallow must be on top.  I played a Christmas Party Mix CD and used a digital countdown clock I found on the internet to keep give the students a visual of their remaining time.  The excitement, frustration, and collaboration was amazing.  After 18 minutes, I walked around with my yardstick measuring any completed, free standing structures with the marshmallow on top. The height of the winning structure was recorded on my chalkboard for all the classes who followed to see.

When I started The Marshmallow Challenge this past week  I had no idea what to expect as my students participated in this activity, but as the week progressed several scenarios repeated themselves.  In this challenge I saw surprising leaders emerge. Students I had considered quiet or passive and students who struggled academically were taking the lead in successful planning and building. I observed groups who were slow, methodical, precise, and conservative with materials and some who were too scared to start. Then there were the groups who started cutting tape and string and pasta without an inkling of a plan or any conversation with their team. These were usually my students with ADHD and even though they had used all their materials and created nothing with still 10 minutes to go they were perfectly happy.  I had teams who successfully created a free-standing structure with plenty of time to spare, but had leftover materials and just couldn't leave well enough alone.  They continued to touch, manipulate and add to their structure until it fell over.  I had tables of individuals who all set out to create their own  individual structure without referring to their team. There were the usual complaints of they won't listen to my ideas or they won't let me do anything. As these complaints came up I reminded the boys and girls just because the group didn't build it your way doesn't mean they didn't listen to your ideas.  And just because you are not the one holding the spaghetti does not mean you are not doing anything.  What are you doing to participate?

My students loved this activity and we have generated some excellent discussions as we processed our experiences at the conclusion.  We rated ourselves and our team on cooperation, discussed what type of group member we were,  the problems we encountered with construction, what contributed to our success or failure as a group, the biggest surprise or most unexpected thing about the activity, and what they learned about themselves. Their insights astounded me.  Check out my lesson plan here.

As I reflected on the week there were a couple of important changes I made along the way.  At first, I randomly seated students when they entered my room, but after the first day of classes, I started carefully selecting my groups of students.  I was interested to discover what types of groups had the greatest success.  I created single gender groups and mixed gender groups, groups with all dominant personalities and all students with ADHD.   I found single gender groups of girls had more relationship issues and the guys just went all in and didn't have one person that tried to run the show. The mixed gender groups were more dependent on the individual leadership of the student rather than gender.  My SLD students were usually the best builders and idea people and my poor little guys and gals with ADHD ended up with a pile of wadded up tape and dozens of little chopped up pieces of string and pasta.  Another change I made was to stop announcing there would be a prize for the group with the tallest structure.  The idea of a prize seemed to cause too much stress and ill-will for those who were super competitive and were bent on winning. The focus was more on, "We're not going to win!" rather than on trying to build something as a team.  Instead, I said nothing about prizes, but as each class left I would offer a candy cane or Christmas pencil to the winning team.

To find out more about  The Marshmallow Challenge  check out their website and watch the TED talk video embedded there.  You will learn how this challenge began and has since been used with people from Kindergarteners to CEOs.  Have you ever used The Marshmallow Challenge or similar team building activities?  If so, please share your experiences with me.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Making Data Collection Fun with Kahoot!

I can't even remember when or where I first heard about Kahoot! but I've used it with my students  in the classroom and with my faculty with wonderful results. Kahoot! combines a game based format with leader or student created quizzes,challenging participants to be the first to answer questions correctly by awarding points and showing the top 5 participants on the leader board. Surveys and discussion questions can also be designed without the competitive atmosphere created by the timed quizzes and awarding of points.

Kahoot! (getkahoot.com) is a free website that can be accessed with a laptop, tablet, ipod, or smart phone.  My intern used Kahoot! with my students on our class set of ipods as a post test for a lesson she created for Red Ribbon Week.  I used it as a pre-test with my faculty before an important faculty meeting about behavior (they all brought their smart phones). Both resulted in lots of active engagement and the students were so excited, they even begged  to do the quiz again!

Not only can teachers and School Counselors write quizzes, pre/post tests and surveys for students, but students can create a Kahoot! account and make quizzes or review activities for each other.  Creating a  Kahoot! is easy and the website has lots of public Kahoots! you can copy or use as an idea for creating your own.  Your Kahoot! can have pictures or videos attached to each question and questions can be multiple choice or  true/false.  At the end of each Kahoot! is a player rating of how much they liked the Kahoot! and how much they learned. Also available to the Kahoot! creator is a download listing the names of all the participants and how they answered each question.  What a great way for School Counselors to collect some perception data!

Game pin 
Student log in with game pin

Student log in with name and ready to play.

Once you have created your Kahoot! and are ready for your students to play,  you will go to getkahoot.com, log in and select your quiz.  A screen will display giving students the game pin (the pin is not always the same).  Students must go to kahoot.it to log in and participate.  When they do, a screen will ask for the game pin and their nick name.  We had some problems with super silly  and inappropriate nicknames, so much so that it became a competition as to who could have the most ridiculous or questionable nickname. As a result we had to insist on using real names, which we needed anyway to get individual student data.  There is also a great feature with Kahoot! that allows the School Counselor the option of "kicking out" any inappropriate name. The student must then enter a more suitable name to re-join the game.  When all students have reached  the "You're in!" screen you are ready for your Kahoot! to begin.

Student screen view

Questions as they appear on the projected screen.

Students see the  class answers and the correct answer(s).

Each question will appear at the top of the projected screen with red, yellow, blue and green bars with shapes and answer choices inside.  Students will  have to read the answer choices off the screen as they only see the colored bars with shapes on their screen.The object of course is to answer as quickly and correctly as you can to earn the most Kahoots! points.  After each question the question and correct answers and the number of students selecting each answer is displayed.  The leader board  comes after each question  response summary and shows the top 5 scores so students can see how they are doing compared to their classmates.  At the end of the quiz,  the final Kahoot! scores are shown and  students give a "learning" and "fun rating."  I'm pretty sure though you will already know how much they enjoyed playing Kahoots! without the ratings screen.  And to make this fun learning experience even better, you can download results  of your Kahoot! giving you a spread sheet with student names and how they responded to each question.

The final scoreboard lets students see how their top five classmates performed.
Button to download results is at the bottom of this screen.

 My students LOVED Kahoot! and my teachers were eager to try it in their own classroom.  If you are lucky enough to have laptops, tablets, or ipods in your school then this is definitely something I recommend you try.  If your technology is limited you could have students answer questions as teams or if your school is a BYOT (bring your own technology) like ours, students can bring their own devices to use. 

My mind is spinning with ideas about how I can use Kahoot! to collect process, perception, and outcome data.  The new semester will provide a number of opportunities to follow-up on programs and lessons conducted earlier in the year.
Have you ever tried Kahoot!?   I would love to hear about your Kahoot! experiences and how you are using the data.  Please share in the comments section below.  Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Helping Families at Christmas Time

I love Christmas!  The tree, the lights, the gifts, the food, "the reason for the season,"and of course, Christmas sweaters!!!  But as we all know there are many of our families for whom this is just another day, a day without decorations or special foods or gifts.  Each year beginning in November I start collecting names of families who are in need of "holiday help."  Because I have been at the same school for many years, I am aware of who many of these families are and they know that our school always does something to assist and will call and ask if we can help them.  I am fortunate to live in a small town with very generous community organizations who offer their help during the Christmas season.

To collect names I begin by emailing all my teachers for the names of children they think could use the "holiday help."  Although I see all my students twice a month for classroom counseling, they see the children everyday.  They know who is wearing the same clothes day in and day out, who never has a coat or doesn't have a snack or can't afford the field trip.  Sometimes there are more names than sponsors and I have to improvise.  My teachers are wonderful about providing the names and even offering to buy gifts if at anytime I don't have enough community sponsors to cover all the needs.

Based on the number of names I receive, and of course it varies from year to year, I start matching them up with each organization by number of children or number of families.  I send home the Holiday Gift Info sheet ( I have it in both English and Spanish)  along with a letter of explanation
(also in both English and Spanish) which tells who sponsoring organization is and give a date for return of the gift info sheet and the pick-up date for the presents .

For the times that have more names than sponsors, or families who call me late, and I mean like after all the gifts are delivered and it is 2-3 days before we leave for Christmas break,  I sent out the
Wait List letter (English and Spanish) and let families know I will be looking for sponsors, but do not promise anything.  That's when my faculty rises to the occasion, offering to adopt a child or an entire family.  We are also doing a Holiday Food and Toy Drive sponsored by my fifth grade Leadership Club.  I send out the Holiday Food and Toy Drive fliers (English and Spanish) prior to Thanksgiving as many of our families will pick-up some Black Friday specials to donate to our drive. Then if needed, we use the toys donated to make sure each family who expressed a need gets some sort of gifts.  Those toys not used to supplement the needs of our own families are taken to the fire station to the local Toys for Tots collection.

I have done an Angel Tree in the past, but for our school this did not work and after only 2 years, we dropped it.  I know for other schools this has worked quite well but for us this was not the case.
I have also worked alongside the Salvation Army in regards to their Angel Tree.  They have graciously provided names of families from my school who are on their tree, so I am sure to provide resources to every family and avoid those who are already being served.

This is probably one of the busiest and most hectic times of year, and it can be easy to become jaded and scrooge like when you receive complaints or criticism for whatever gift-giving endeavor you attempt. Just remember to do the best you can, make no promises, and take care of yourself.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Important Facts for School Counselors of Students Identifying as LBGTQIA

I had an experience recently that troubled me.  Not because I couldn't or didn't handle it with caring and sensitivity, but because I had to handle it at all.  I did something thoughtless that caused one of my students to feel sad. And I knew it as soon as the words left my mouth.  

I was conducting a lesson on bullying and what it means to be an upstander versus a bystander. We were doing something I call the fist rating where students raise a fist then when I say "show me" they rate their actions or feelings about any number of things from 1-5 using their fingers 
(1 being the least to 5 being  the most).  We do this informal "assessment" often with students rating their own listening skills, those of their partner, or how they felt their group performed on a particular activity, to name a few.  During this particular lesson we were talking about how much courage it would take to be an upstander in a number of different situations. My goal was for the students to examine, for example, how much courage it would take to stand up to a bully or for a victim who is your friend, who is popular, is unpopular, is older, younger, bigger, or smaller. It was a lively discussion and the students soon saw that making a commitment to being an upstander might be easier in some situations than others.  
And then I asked THE question.  I said, "Girls only now, how much courage would it take...?" All the girls hands went up including that of one of my male students.  Several of the boys called him by name and said, "She said girls!" like they couldn't believe he misunderstood.  And then in that moment, I knew what I had done.  Fortunately, class was over a few minutes later, and this child ask to speak to me afterwards.  I was both complimented and saddened that he wanted to talk.  Complimented that he trusted me enough to share his very private personal struggles and saddened that I had caused him discomfort to have to, even for one moment, consider how he should respond to the question in our lesson.  When we were finally alone he said to me without hesitation, "Mrs. Maddox you know when you asked the girls to raise their hands, I did it because I feel like I am a girl.  I am questioning my gender."  I was not surprised by his statement as I have suspected this may be the case.  What I was surprised by was his honesty and the way he so freely shared and articulated his thoughts and feelings. Right then, I made a commitment to myself and my students to work on using using gender neutral language and  to examine other things I may be doing that are gender specific.

I have friends and family who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual. I have been to workshops and read articles about combating the prejudice of sexual stereotypes and creating an atmosphere of acceptance and support for all people. But nothing hits home and causes you to examine your everyday language and ingrained activities like one small boy responding from his heart and mind as a girl.

So it seems appropriate this week that my friend and Counselor colleague, Charlena Durrance, would be my guest blogger. She  recently prepared the following article for our county school counselor association newsletter.  Charlena is relatively new to School Counseling but brings a lifetime of unique experiences that have served her well as she counsels with students and parents.  She is a people person who has a rich background in business, direct sales, and fundraising, which is pretty handy for recruiting and gathering resources for her Title 1 school. Charlena is outgoing, outspoken, energetic, and has a wonderful sense of humor.  Her insights to her students and parents allow her to cut through the excuses and get to the heart of any issue.

 With her permission I am sharing her article on students identifying as LBGTQIA. Thank you Charlena for providing us with information to more effectively meet the needs of our students.

LGBTQIA What does it mean?
By: Charlena Durrance 
Elementary School Counselor 

When speaking with our students and their families it is important we become familiar with the terminology that is used to describe how they are seeing themselves through their sexuality. These are some of the more commonly used terms being used by our students today.
Lesbian – A female- identified person who is attracted romantically, physically, or emotionally to another female-identified person. Gay – A male-identified person who is attracted romantically, physically, or emotionally to another male-identified person. Bisexual – A person who is attracted romantically, physically, or emotionally to both men and women. Transgender – A person who is a member of a gender other than that expected based on anatomical sex. Queer – An umbrella term which embraces a variety of sexual preferences, orientations, and habits of those who do not adhere to the heterosexual and cisgender majority. (Cisgender is the opposite of transgender. It refers to individuals who have a match with the gender to which they were born.)  The term queer includes, but is not exclusive to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transpeople, and intersex persons.   Traditionally, this term is derogatory and hurtful, however, many people who do not adhere to sexual and/or gender norms use it to self-identify in a positive way. The letter Q can also stands for Questioning, for those who have not yet determined their sexuality. Intersex – Someone who’s physical sex characteristics are not categorized as exclusively male or exclusively female. Asexual – A person who is not attracted to anyone, or a person who does not have a sexual orientation. Ally – A person who does not identify as LGBTQIA, but supports the rights and safety of those who do.

A new school year provides each of us with the opportunity to do things differently, make changes and grow! Why not make this the year to focus on helping your students feel safe, respected and included in your classroom? Here are some important steps you can take right now to make your classroom or even your whole school more inclusive and safer for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex (LGBTQI) students.

SET THE TONE- Set Expectations that Cultivate Respect. Work with your students to set community expectations and agreements for the year so all students feel safe and included in your classroom. Ask students to hold each other accountable to their agreements and refer back to them often. Create LGBT-Inclusive Learning Environments. GLSEN’s (Gay, Lesbian Student Education Network) National School Climate Survey tells us that a vast majority of LGBT students were not taught positive representations of LGBT people, history or events in any of their classes. Get started with GLSEN’s guide to Developing LGBT-Inclusive Classroom Resources.  Support Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) GSAs, and similar student clubs, can have a huge impact on LGBT students and the entire school. No GSA at your school?  Encourage interested students to visit GLSEN.org/students for information, resources and guidance.

CONNECT with your students. Get up-to-date info in your inbox, there are many wonderful resources for you to refer: GLSEN’s Educator Network at action.glsen.org, Welcoming Schools.com to name a couple that I use. Connect with like-minded educators on Facebook or other social media outlets. Find a GLSEN or a PFLAG (parents, families, friends, and allies of LGBTQ) chapter near you.

REFRESH your skills and learn more by being an Ally to Middle and High School LGBT students. They are looking for acceptance in a safe environment. Provide them with a safe space.

CREATE RESPECTFUL ELEMENTARY CLASSROOMS. Foundations of respect and valuing diversity are key themes in most elementary classrooms. Make sure your efforts in this area are inclusive of LGBT issues and families in age-appropriate ways and take advantage of teachable moments. Ready, Set, Respect! is a program offered through GLSEN’s Elementary School Toolkit.   It provides tip sheets, resource lists and lesson plans focused on examining name-calling, gender roles and family diversity. Welcoming Schools is another great resource that will help assist you with the elementary school aged child and their families. Ask your teachers to do non-gender specific activities. You never know if you have a student who would feel more comfortable doing an activity that is not specific to the birth gender. We currently have students in our school district that identify with the opposite gender of their birth. By doing non-gender specific activities in the classroom, P.E. field and sports arena you will allow these students the opportunity to participate in activities where they would not have felt comfortable.

January: Celebrate Kindness in Your Classroom. On January 19-13, 2015, schools across the country will celebrate kindness by participating in GLSEN’s No Name‐Calling Week (NNCW).

April: Support one of the largest student-led days of action in the country.
Silence can be deafening. That’s why on April 17, 2015, tens of thousands of students across the country will pledge to remain silent for one whole day during GLSEN’s annual Day of Silence. They will call attention to the stifling effects of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in their schools and communities.

October: Encourage Your Students to be Better Allies
During this year’s Ally Week (October 2015), students across the country will stand shoulder to shoulder with LGBT students against anti-LGBT language, bullying and harassment.

By working together we can make the changes that these and all students need in their lives. Be the change YOU want to see in the world.

Resources: GLSEN.org, Welcoming Schools.com. and Volusia Transgender Society.com

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Awesome iPad Apps for School Counselors

My time spent in professional development at the Florida School Counseling Association Convention include this great pre-conference session with School Counselor Daniel Turk, a 7th grade Counselor, at Osceola Middle School in Pinellas County, Florida.  His session, iHelp Too provided a great list of  FREE apps for use by School Counselors, students, and parents.  I have now downloaded them all and am slowly working my way through the list trying out each one.
He divided the apps into categories such as:  solo apps for academic skills, group/classroom counseling apps, individual counseling apps, special education apps and apps for parents.
Many of you may already be familiar with a lot of these apps.  There were quite a few I had heard of but a number I had not. This is just a sample of some of the great apps he shared with us.

Solo Apps
Duolingo Languages helps with the learning of  languages (covers most Romance languages) and placement tests.  Described as learning a new language on the go. Mini games test your skills in reading, writing, and speaking.  Earn badges, compete with friends, track your progress while learning up to 9 languages.

Flashcards+  is a great way to create and  review your own  flashcards or choose from millions of existing flashcard decks. App includes pronunciation help, shuffle feature, marking cards as learned, toggle between showing the term and definition.

iTooch Elementary School Math/Language Arts and Science is based on the US National Common Core and  has more than 18,000 exercises.  It is a fun way for students in grades 1-5 to practice and learn math, language arts, and science.

Group or Classroom Counseling Apps
Professor Garfield Fact or Opinion  Using an interactive story, Professor Garfield and friends help Nermal learn about good information and misinformation on the internet. The Fact-Bot  also helps Nermal learn the difference in fact and opinion.

Professor Garfield Cyberbullying  Professor Garfield helps Nermal get to the bottom of a cyber attack.  Students are asked to apply their knowledge to prevent becoming a victim of cyberbullying.  Students will understand the meaning of cyberbullying, reconize its different forms, learn strategies for handing cyberbullying, and the importance in getting the help of a trusted adult.

Professor Garfield Online Safety  Nermal connects with other comic book fans online and one in particular wants to meet in person.  Professor Garfield helps Nermal learn about keeping his personal information safe online. Students learn how to use the internet safely, that people are not always who they say they are, never give out personal information without adult permission, and that predators are always present on the internet.

 My Profession  Designed for 4-5 year olds, this matching game teaches children about the world of professions. Two matching type games (boards) are provided for free.  The additional ten boards are available for $2.99.
Puppet Pals HD Ages 4+  Pick actors and back drops, drag to the stage and tap to record.  Students can create and act out with puppets their original story with audio and video for playback later.  This could be a really great app for individual counseling too.  Sort of like a virtual play therapy using puppet characters for telling their story in a non-threatening way.

Individual Counseling Apps

Feel Electric builds emotional awareness and encourages self expression.  It introduces 50 emotion words and definitions, features three fast-paced vocabulary based games, includes a digital diary to record daily moods and a "zany" story maker.

Moody Monsters  ages 3-8.  Explore emotions and create your own moody monster.  Children can explore Monster Manor, play games, win Monster Merit Badges, take care of their monster friends and help them solve their problems. This app teaches about emotions and problem solving.

Unstuck offers personalized digital tools to help you move from stuck to unstuck.  This app helps you figure out why you are stuck, how you can get unstuck and action tips for getting unstuck.  This app definitely needs the guidance of the School Counselor.
 Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame Street   Ages 2-5
This bilingual app teaches children the breathe, think, do strategy for problem solving. Tap the monster to help him take deep breaths, think of plans, and try them out.

Fluid Monkey  Responsive pools of liquid such as ink in water, thick paint, gelatin, oil paint, wet mud and bowls of paint are good for one on one de-escalation and relaxation.

Zen Space   This virtual Zen garden sand tray allows you to relax while creating paths through the sand with different types of rakes.  Rocks and leaves may be added to create your own environment while listening to the sounds of  birds, sea, forest or rain.

Emotionary  An emotional diary tool designed for therapist or teachers who work with children and adolescents with ASD or similar mental disorders.  Helps develop understanding of emotions  necessary in the development of social skills and empathy.  Users take their own photo of a particular feeling and record  their voice and/or make a written entry.  Students can go back and reflect on previous feelings and situations.

Emotions Collections  Ages 2.5-8  Serious emotional story situations,  the first story about death is free, 5 remaining stories are $2.99 each or $3. 99 for the rest of the collection.  The stories are available in 7 languages and the narrator voice can be turned off or on.  You are are also able to record your own voice reading the story.  Thinking, talking, drawing activities are provided at the end of the story for deeper understanding.  Anna and Pete are the main characters who learn to recognize and put into practice different feelings such as death, anger, happiness, sadness, fear, and worry.

Counselor Tools
120+Mental Disorders This app describes disorders and  allows you to search specific disorders.  It's like a mini DSM for your pocket.  Provides alphabetical listing of understanding for over 120 disorders.  Short articles provide a brief introduction, discuss symptoms, diagnosing,  and common and alternative treatments. The user is able to search by disorder, email information to others regarding certain disorders, post to Facebook, or mark articles as favorites. The disclaimer states this app is for information and educational purposes only.

World Lens  gives translations on the go.  This app uses your built in video camera in real time to translate any sign in one of six languages into your own language.  No network is required, it gives results immediately anytime, anywhere.  Translations are not perfect but you get the general meaning.  Does not recognize handwriting or stylized fonts.

Special Education
SeeTouchLearn   A picture card system for learning new words and concepts and fostering self expression.  This app combines the effectiveness of picture cards with the interactivity of the iPad. Custom lessons may be created using this starter library .  Fifty additional libraries with over 4,400 pictures and 2,200 exercises are available for purchase from $ .99 for individual libraries up to $34.99 for the entire library.
Model Me Kids  Great tool for helping a child learn to navigate challenging locations in the community. Each location contains a photo slideshow of children modeling appropriate behavior.

Autism Emotion Music and a photo story slideshow are narrated to help teach about different emotions (happy, sad, proud, calm).  May advance manually or set for automatic.

Moody Jigsaws for Kids Lite  Students learn about  four different emotions by putting puzzles together of various feelings.  A memory game is also included.  Children earn stickers every time they complete a puzzle.  The full version including i additional emotions is $.99.

Verbal Me Free  (also available in Spanish) This might be a good one for some of the selective mutes we work with. Nonverbal students can tap a button and the iPad will speak the text aloud in the voice of a girl or a boy. This free version includes 14 screen choices including: yes-no, A-B-C, 1-2-3-4-5, happy-mad-sad, day-night, bullying, weather, colors, fruits, letter sounds and an on screen keyboard that allows students to type their thoughts and the iPad reads their words aloud.

My Emotions Free  A storybook about a variety of emotions using a cute cartoon face with self flipping pages or manual setting.  At the end of the story is a memory matching game.

Vola Friends  Shows a variety of culturally diverse real faces expressing a variety of emotions. This app helps children to develop emotional facial recognition. You could ask a child to to touch the one that is...                                                                                                                                                                                      

Emopedia  This app reads like an encyclopedia, covering 62 different emotions.  Each emotion is depicted with faces with a slider underneath to change the face from the minimum to the maximum feeling of a particular emotion.  This app includes images, facts, professional actor,s and an original soundtrack to help you find everything you need to understand and experience even the most subtle shades of mood and feeling.  Includes the purpose of a particular emotion, why people experience it, recognizing it, and learning to control feelings.

For Parents
Sesame Street Divorce Provides parents and caregivers with tools to help children 2-8 cope with the many transitions related to separation and divorce.  This is really more of a primer or "how to for parents." It includes videos from Sesame Street, articles with tips and strategies, conversation starters, and interactive tools such as face maker and coloring pages.  Sesame Street recommends the caregiver use the tools and view the videos first to choose what is most helpful and relevant for the family.

Sesame Street Military Families  All of Sesame Street's resources in both English and Spanish can be found right here.  Because of the sensitive nature of this topic it is recommended that a parent or guardian previews materials before co-viewing with the child.
This  app is not appropriate to give a child to sit down and do alone, parental support and supervision are needed. Topics covered include deployment, homecoming, injuries, grief, and self-expression.

Sesame Street Incarceration This app is designed for parents and caregivers of children 3-8 to cope with the transitions related to a parent's incarceration. Pre-viewing and co-viewing are recommended to choose what is most relevant to the family.  A tip book provides parents and caregivers with age-appropriate language to talk honestly with children, videos of real families and Muppets, and an interactive story book and photo activity for caregivers to use with children.

I know this is a long post, but there were so many great apps to share and I know there are hundreds more out there and more being developed every day!  Do you have apps not mentioned here that you use on a regular basis?  I would love to hear about them and add them to my growing app library.  Please feel free to share your favorites!