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 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, Welcoming 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:, Welcoming and Volusia Transgender

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!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Step by Step Instructions for Creating Google Forms

Last weekend was our state convention  and the 50th Anniversary of the Florida  School Counseling Association.  It was a  great weekend filled with wonderful break  out sessions, inspiring key note speakers,  fantastic relevant professional  development, and sharing with my  Counselor Colleagues from around the  state.

Teresa, Treva, Jeannie and Brian ready to present.

At the FSCA Convention, I had the  opportunity to present with 3 of my  Counselor Colleagues from the Volusia  School Counselor Association.  Each of us  shared a best practice from our School  Counseling program.

Since I have spent alot of time reading about, designing,  sharing, and using Google forms, I  presented a PowerPoint with step by step  instructions to help School Counselors  begin creating their own. Many School  Counselors are already successfully using  Google forms everyday, others would like  to but are not sure where to start.  I hope  my  PowerPoint with its screen shots and  step by step instructions will encourage  anyone who has been hesitant to start using  this wonderful tool.

 We are part of a data driven profession  and too often School Counselors do not  have the specific data we would like to  show how our services are being utilized,  or what faculty, students, or parents are  indicating are their needs.  Regular users  of Google Forms can tell you these are just a few of the ways you can use forms to collect data to enhance your School Counseling program. Creating and using Google forms not only provides process, perception and outcome data, but visual representations in graphs and charts that can be shared with all the stakeholders whose decision making may impact your School Counseling program.

Happy 50th Anniversary FSCA!
Dr. Trish Hatch, prolific author and renown Counselor Educator, said at a FSCA session, "Principals don't know what we do or what they can count on (from us), so they assign the tasks that need to be done that may have nothing to do with School Counseling."  What better way to begin to show our administrators what we do than by using Google Forms?

Go ahead, get started, you have everything to gain!

Do you use Google Forms in your School Counseling program?  What types of forms have you designed to collect data for your program? I'd love to hear your ideas and comments!