Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Top 10 Posts of 2015

It's that time again! Time to reflect on the past year and make plans for the year ahead.  There is so much more I wanted to write about and share with you in the last 12 months, but there just was not enough time. I KNOW you all understand. Sometimes we have make our families, our jobs, and yes, ourselves, our highest priorities. So while you relax, re-focus, and regroup take a few moments and check out my top 10 blog posts for 2015. Happy New Year!

#1  Creating a Counselor Activity Log with Google Forms   I truly LOVE Google Forms and have found lots of ways to use them.  All were successful but one, recording my daily activities.  And it wasn't the form, it was me. Last year, try as I might to make them work, I just wasn't able to keep up with it. When I sat down and analyzed what had happened I identified 3 problems. Check out my new, improved Google form for recording my daily activities.

#2   More Google Goodness   WOW!!! Thank you to everyone for you overwhelmingly positive response to my Counselor Activity Log.  I've had a number of requests for other forms folks saw in the Google Forms PowerPoint I shared.  I never really thought anyone would be interested in those, but since you've asked, I'm glad to share them as well. Check out all my Google forms.

#3   Meet the Counselor with Jenga  Looking for a quick and easy "Welcome Back- What is a School Counselor lesson?"  Well, you've found one!  We've been playing School Counselor Jenga and the kids love it.  Actually, kids just love Jenga!    They stayed engaged the entire lesson and were very careful not to knock over the Jenga tower so everyone in their class could have a turn.  This was truly one of the easiest, simplest and most engaging lessons I have ever done. Seriously!

#4   Red Ribbon Week Lessons October is one of the busiest months of the year for School Counselors who are trying to do Red Ribbon Week and Bully Prevention all in just 31 days.  Here are two intermediate lessons I have created to teach during the month of October using a variety of information off the web and ideas from the formerly free website,

# 5  3 Simple Ideas for Managing Classroom Behavior  As a new counselor I struggled with how to successfully manage a classroom of students and teach my lesson at the same time. Mostly, I would just keep teaching in spite of whatever foolishness was happening in the room while I was talking.  My goal was to teach my lesson and get to the end of it no matter what!   Those early years were a frustrating and disheartening time. How was I going to discipline them in the classroom setting and then expect students to connect with me as their School Counselor?

#6  7 Things "To Do" to Close Out Your School Year
Here are 7 things I think are important for any School Counselor who is interested in building a data driven school counseling program to consider as she or he closes out their school year.

#7   Exploring Free Web Resources  for School Counselors  For about a year now I have been collecting web resources. Whenever I would see a website with FREE School Counselor related articles, information, lessons, videos, etc. I would save it in my Live Binder.  A few weeks ago,  I started putting these websites in a Word document for quick reference. These resource sheets have 26 topics and more than 90 links. You will find free lesson plansbook titles with lesson planslists of books by social skill, and career resources just to name a few.  

#8  15 Tips and Resources for Starting a New School Year  If you are a new School Counselor or even an experienced School Counselor starting at a new school or new level, this can be an exciting and anxious time.  The tips listed here are important things to consider to transition smoothly into a new school no matter what time of year you start.  Read on for 15 tips to get your school year off to a great start!

#9 Test  Stress to Test Success  How do you help students go from test stress to test success? Some do big pep rallies, give away treats, special pencils, or plan big post test celebrations. Others keep it low key and offer suggestions for reducing anxiety and teach some test taking strategies. I have done both and each has its place depending on your population and other School Counselor job expectations. This year I am keeping it simple. Students in grades 3-5 will be visiting me for a Test Success Lesson.

Many thanks David Finkle, creator of Mr. Fitz, for his permission to publish his cartoons in my blog.
Check out my friend, fellow educator, and cartoonist at  as he finds the nonsense and humor in the face of the testing obsession in education today His current play on Star Wars and testing are quite clever.  Students are encouraged to use the "think" to destroy the "Test Star."  You can like his Facebook page here.

#10 A Second Look at National School Counseling Week   I have long been of the opinion that School Counselors should be appreciated or celebrated during National School Counseling Week. I felt foolish doing cutesy little things for teachers and trying to bring recognition to myself.  But after reflecting on my recent, disturbing and enlightening, visit with my state legislators (more about that in another post) I have come to the conclusion I was wrong. It’s not about anyone appreciating me or celebrating me, it’s about educating others to appreciate and celebrate a profession about which I am passionate! Check out the advocating I did during NSCW,

Well there you have it, my top 10 for 2015.  Thank you for visiting my blog and for your support and encouragement.  What sort of topics would you be interested in reading about?  I would love to hear your ideas for future posts. You may leave your requests in the comments below.

Enjoy what remains of 2015 and here's to a safe, satisfying, and successful  2016!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Exploring Free Web Resources for School Counselors

You know in this day and time, you really don't have to have a lot of money for School Counseling curriculum when you have Google at your fingertips.  I know there are a lot of really great comprehensive curriculums out there, but for many of us, they are too expensive.

For about a year now I have been collecting web resources for myself.  Whenever I would see a website with FREE School Counselor related articles, information, lessons, videos, etc. I would save it in my Live Binder.  A few weeks ago,  I started putting these websites in a Word document for quick reference for my School Counselor PLC group.

The list I created is organized by topic with the web address and a very brief description of what you will find on the site. This resource sheet has 26 topics and more than 90 links. You will find free lesson plans, book titiles with lesson plans, lists of books by social skill, and career resources just to name a few.  Truthfully, there is so much on the internet it can get a little overwhelming.  My reference sheet makes the task of finding a particular resource a little less daunting.  So take your time and enjoy Exploring FREE Web Resources.  You will probably find more than one thing you can use for a class, group, parent newsletter, or club.  I love all these resources and I hope your will too.  Enjoy this list and think of it as my Christmas gift to you!

What are some of your favorite "go to" online resources?  Please share in the comments below. I would love to add them to my resource list.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Promoting Career Awareness with Vehicle Day!

Recently our school participated in Vehicle Day for grades Kindergarten-2nd. What an awesome morning for everyone involved.  However this School Counselor was totally exhausted when it was over!

For many years I was responsible for finding my own vehicles and I would try to get enough for all my students K-5 to participate.  I started by sending home a flyer to see if I had parents who used a vehicle in their work that might be interested in participating.
Some years this went better than others and on those off years, I would contact county agencies and get out the phone book and start calling businesses I frequented to fill the holes.  Most were very kind, but you always get a few people who say no.  Many times they would say, "No, but why don't you call my friend." After I had arranged two or three Vehicle Days I had a nice little list of folks I could call on year after year.

Then things changed dramatically in our county.  Several years back, School Counselors could no longer schedule and invite their own vehicles for Vehicle Day. In some ways that was a relief to have someone else doing all the calls.  However, the entire program was now arranged by our Volunteer Resource Center with only a set number of vehicles whose drivers had security clearance through our school district office. And, because we had so many elementary schools we could only get the approved vehicle drivers to visit our school every other year.  A few drawbacks, but still a fun program  and an educational morning for students.

We held our Vehicle Day on the open field behind the school.  The vehicle drivers arrived about 8:30 and parked their vehicles in a big circle. Classes traveled inside the circle in a clock-wise direction every 6 minutes when I blew the whistle.  I started rotations at 8:45 with the first half of my students, the second group came out for their turn about 10:00.  The drivers stayed until about 11:30.  These men and ladies loved their jobs and were ready and willing to explain it in a kid friendly way with lots of props!  Not only did we have a beautiful day, but the kids got a great introduction to careers and heard from all our guests on the importance of being a good listener and the importance of school.

Vehicle Day Organization
Interested in arranging Vehicle Day for your students?  Here is a  helpful checklist for creating and organizing your own Vehicle Day.

4 weeks before

2-3 weeks before
  • Call/request vehicle drivers from local businesses, requesting phone numbers, addresses, and email. Keep a detailed list for next year. (Vehicle Planning Sheet)
  • Send a letter/email thanking drivers for agreeing to come with information about the day, start time duration, where to park, sign-in, length of rotations, ages of students and estimated number of students participating, etc.
  • Organize schedule for when classes visit vehicles.  Get permission from administration and special area to make changes to lunch or special area schedule if needed.
2-3 days before
  • Email completed schedule to participating teachers, office staff, and administration.
  • Make confirmation/reminder phone calls/emails to vehicle drivers.
  • Shop for driver hospitality room (coffee, sugar, creamer, cups, spoons, napkins, plates, bottled water).
The day before your Vehicle Day
  • Lay out a map of how you will arrange vehicles.
  • Gather sign-in sheets, pens, and name tags for drivers.
  • Gather radio, camera, timer, whistle, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, ( I live in Florida) notepad and pen for keeping track of who started at each vehicle for students writing thank you notes.
  • Set up coffee pot and rolling cooler for driver "hospitality room".
  • Get a GOOD night's sleep!
The day of your Vehicle Day
  • Wear comfy clothes and sneakers!!!
  • Pick up doughnuts
  • Get to school early to turn on coffee pot and set out doughnuts
  • Fill rolling cooler with ice and bottled water
  • Greet drivers at school entrance with a smile, a thank you, sign-in sheet, name tag, instructions for where to park their vehicle, the location of the hospitality room, and restrooms.
  • Send classes to vehicles, time their rotations,  blow whistle, take pictures, REPEAT!
  • Half way through the event roll your cooler around and give drivers an icy cold water.
  • When the event is over have drivers sign-out and  invite them to enjoy any remaining goodies.
  • Email  each classroom teacher with the name of the driver of the first vehicle they saw and the due date for completing thank you notes.
  • Ask teachers and students for feedback about Vehicle Day (Google Survey for Vehicle Day)
  • Evaluate and reflect on changes/improvements for next year.
  • Mail thank you notes.
  • File it all away for next year.
Congratulations on presenting an awesome Vehicle Day!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Basket Brigade

Each year in our county something very special happens the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Numerous volunteers converge on our local state college to deliver Thanksgiving baskets to families in need in the communities in our county.  This year at my school, 3 of our service clubs collaborated to create 2 baskets each. I also sent home the event flyer inviting club students and their parents to participate by creating a basket  and/or helping to deliver baskets as a family. I am proud to say 2 of our students and their parents showed up along with my school principal and myself.  All of us together, along with dozens of other volunteers contributed to the almost 600 hundred baskets which were collected and delivered.

This grassroots project was started 19 years ago by a gentleman named Jay, who had attended a conference that encouraged people to give back and make a change in their community.  The Basket Brigade was his brainchild.  His idea involved collecting addresses only, no names, of families in need, create a basket (think laundry basket) with everything required for a Thanksgiving meal (no perishables, include a gift card for a turkey) and deliver it to their home. No judgments, no questions, just Happy Thanksgiving from someone who cares about you.

My District Counseling Specialist has taken a huge role in this project and Jay told me today he is in the process of  handing off the Basket Brigade to her.  Around the beginning of October each year, our Counseling Specialist sends out an email to all our School Counselors asking for the addresses of families in need.  Families are not told about the baskets, as there is no guarantee there will be enough donated for all the addresses collected. This information is compiled in a data base, sorted by region of the county, and Mapquest directions are printed for each address. Baskets are collected throughout the month of October and November and on the Saturday before Thanksgiving a huge staging area is set up in the parking lot of our state college who has partnered with Jay in this venture.

 Long before the anyone else arrives at the college, event organizers have laid out baskets in the parking lot, set up tables for doughnuts, registration of volunteer delivery drivers, notes for baskets, and the addresses of families divided by region.  People begin arriving around 8:00 a.m. dropping of baskets, visiting and eating doughnuts before the distribution of addresses, the send-off message, and instructions.

Our instructions were safety first and to go with a buddy. The police had been notified, and were aware, we would be out in the neighborhoods delivering today. Then they asked us to remember the house we deliver to make look nicer than our own, but we don't know that family's story.  Some homes may look abandoned, but there may be families that really live there.  We were told not to leave baskets as that has caused problems in certain neighborhoods.  One of our addresses turned out to be a 4 unit apartment building.  We had no idea which door to deliver to, so I called Jay.  He said, "Just choose one, or look for one with kids."  So we did.  There was a  mom putting two dirty, bedraggled kids in a car.  I asked her if she lived at 316.  She said she did, so I said, "Happy Thanksgiving from someone who cares."  She gratefully took the basket, then said, "We sent food to my daughter's school last week."  My husband told her,  "Good things come back to you."

And it's so true.  Good things do come back to you.  Not always in the physical, tangible sense, but in knowing that  nearly 600 families in our county will be having a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration because I, along with dozens of others, gave up 3 hours on a Saturday to be part of the Basket Brigade.  It was an amazing experience and I look forward to getting my school more involved next year.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Making your data POP with infographics!

Well ,it has been a little more than a quarter of the school year and have been faithfully using my Google form for tracking my Daily Counselor Activities.  In looking at my data, I realize several things.  First, how incredibly lucky and blessed I am to have an administration that values what I do and allows me to do the job of counseling. My data clearly shows that more than 90% of my time is spent in direct services to students. Secondly, as much as I like my Google form I have to do some revising to make some of my data a little easier to summarize and share.  I will share that next week.

But today, I want to focus on presenting your data.  I love the graphs created automatically in Google forms for use in my PowerPoint presentations, however I wanted something more. I was looking for something with a lot of visual appeal and an "at a glance" look at how I spend my time in my school counseling program.  I

Sharing Data with Others
Before I even began looking at my Google form "Summary of Responses" I had been thinking about how to put my quarterly data in some sort of cool "infographic" format. I had seen lots of awesome charts folks had made but didn't know how to go about making one of my own.  So I used my favorite search engine and typed in "infographic charts" and two  free web-based programs came up. I have tried them both and have displayed the features and some of the cons below.

Attempt #1 with Canva before using Piktochart
The first infographic I tried was Canva. I really struggled to find a template in which to share my data and eventually created my own.  Not being a terribly creative or artsy person I felt my first attempt was "too wordy" and not the sort of thing I was hoping for with an infographic. However, my shortcomings are not the shortcomings of Canva.  After playing with Picktochart I felt a little more inspired and went back to do some editing on my original document.  I also easily made a graph in Pictochart and wanted to try and
Attempt#2 chwith Canva after using Piktochart
do the same in Canva.  I found that was not possible.
Some features of Canva are:

  • about 20 free templates, lots more for a fee of a few dollars ( it warns you when you go to download your creation if you have pay elements)
  • more than 200 free text frames
  • more than 120 free photo frames
  • large library of clip art (over 1,000,000 pieces, however personally I found it difficult to navigate and many have a fee)
There are some funky things with adding text and changing text size and color in some clip art you can download your creation as a PNG or a PDF file and keep it private. 

The main thing I did not like about Canva was you cannot create a graph in the program.  I tried making a graph in excel, then uploading the graph to Canva and I could never get it to work.  I am sure there must be a way, but I couldn't figure it out. And to be quite honest after trying to copy my graph to Paint and make it a PNG file and that didn't work I said, "Fooey!"  and moved on.

There are tons of other cool ways to use Canva like creating all sorts of awesome social media posts, marketing materials, presentations, posters, blog graphics, and e-books.

The chart to the left I created with Piktochart.  I had a little easier time making this one, using the same drag and drop technology with template elements like frames, graphics and text. Your project is also organized in blocks for ease and flexibility of organizing your ideas.
Some features include:

  • more than 30 categories of icons to choose from
  • more than 40 frames in which you can drop in your photos
  • you can upload images from your computer
  • you can insert charts,  graphs, maps, and videos
  • you can CREATE graphs right there in your document!!!
  • over 75 backgrounds to choose from you can adjust for color and opacity
  • over 240 cool text frames in which you can edit for size, color, and font

Piktochart is free, but with limited templates; only about 10.  However, for just $39.99 a year, educator's account, you can get over 400 templates for free with no watermark. When you download your creation with Pictograph it is public on the web.  The only way for it to be private is if you buy a subscription.  With Canva, the download of your creation is free and it is private, but the price of some of its elements can add up over time so, it might be worth it to buy the educators version. The Picktochart  educator's version gives you access to over 400 free templates, no watermark ,and the ability to keep your creation private.

Piktochart allows you to create incredible infographics, presentations, posters and reports.  However, if you are interested in creating graphics for your social media posts you will probably want to stick with Canva.  If you are really artistic and interested in learning more about design, Canva also has a design school and newsletter for those who enjoy a creative challenge.

After playing with both Canva and Piktochart, I see their strengths and will be using each for the tasks for which they are best designed.  Take some time and play with both. It's fun and the finished products are amazing!

Happy Creating!!!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Red Ribbon Week Faculty Survey

Whew! A busy, but successful, week has come to a close.  RRW is a lot of fun and a lot of work!  Over the years, as standardized testing has overshadowed every single thing that happens on our campus, our RRW festivities have dwindled.  It is a very basic celebration which requires nothing more from teachers than passing out red ribbons on Monday, creating a class pledge poster, and dressing up each day for our theme.  It is simple, low stress and every one SEEMS to be enjoying the limited activities.  But as with any program you provide, you never really know how people feel unless you give them an opportunity to tell you, anonymously of course.  The best way to gauge the success of your RRW and your faculty response is to conduct a teacher survey.  Here are two I have used.  One is a paper survey which you can edit as needed and can put in their mailboxes. The other is a Google survey you can send as a link in an email.  Remember, with the Google form you must FIRST make a copy and rename it before sending it to your faculty or you will NOT be able to access your faculty responses.   To copy this form click on the black "edit this form" box.  When you see the gray "editable" version, click on the far left on "File."  Under the "File" drop down menu is "make a copy."  Click on "make a copy," rename your document, click OK and it will be in your Google Drive ready to access and edit and share.  Both the paper survey and Google form may be edited to fit your particular RRW activities and theme dress-up days.

It is sometimes hard to hear what others have to say about an event on which you have worked so hard, especially if there are things that did not go well or were not well received.  However, it is always a good idea to get feedback from your co-workers if you wish to earn/maintain their respect and support for future activities. This is one of the ways we learn and grow and create a program that meets the needs of our school.  So ask for their thoughts and suggestions and be prepared to make some changes for next year if necessary.  Also, make sure to publicly thank them for a great week. Maybe a staff email or morning announcement thanking everyone for their participation. Nothing goes further than an outward expression of gratitude.

I hope you find these tools helpful in assessing your Red Ribbon Week.  I'll be interested to hear what my faculty has to say.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Quick and Easy RRW lesson: Pills vs Candy

I was searching today to update some images in one of my PowerPoints for RRW, when I stumbled across a remarkable find that I just have to share with you! I had been thinking about how much some medicine looks like candy and we had talked about this idea quite a bit in several of my classes.  I was also thinking how awesome it would be if I could create a game where students had to guess which was the medicine and which was the candy.  Well, someone has done that and shared it on-line! No need to re-invent that wheel!  I have taken the link  I found while searching Google images and hyperlinked it in a simple PowerPoint that you can use with your classes.  There are 3 levels of play and it asks you to guess on each screen which item is candy or medicine or poison.  When you click on your answer choice, it tells you if you are right or not and what each item really is.  It also keeps track of your right and wrong guesses and gives you a score at the end.  There is also a Spanish version.

I am really excited to share this new RRW activity with you.  Personally, I was fascinated with the comparisons and think this could be done with any age groups K-12.  There are not many resources out there that can say that. I can't wait to try it with my 1st, 2nd and 4th grade classes tomorrow!

Click on the Pills vs Candy link to download the PowerPoint.

Happy Red Ribbon Week!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

3 Simple Ideas for Managing Classroom Behavior

As a new counselor I struggled with how to successfully manage a classroom of students and teach my lesson at the same time. Mostly, I would just keep teaching in spite of whatever foolishness was happening in the room while I was talking.  My goal was to teach my lesson and get to the end of it no matter what!   Students who were calling out, talking while I was talking, off task, disturbing, and distracting others were the norm in my classroom. I didn’t know what to do. Those early years were a frustrating and disheartening time. How was I going to discipline them in the classroom setting and then expect students to connect with me as their School Counselor?

Fortunately for me, I worked with some outstanding teachers who became my mentors, which was a very good thing, because they sure didn’t teach classroom management in my graduate program! In the beginning, I was more concerned with getting through the lesson, so I would let the misbehavior slide just so I could get to the end.  But, my mentors pointed out, if the students were misbehaving, the entire time I was “teaching,” what had my students really learned from my lesson?  And what had they really learned from me?  Sadly, all they had learned from me was what they could get away with when I did a class.  By my failure to stop and reinforce my positive expectations for their behavior, I was silently reinforcing their negative behavior.

Communicating your Procedures and Positive Expectations
 To help with learning to manage classroom behaviors, my mentors recommended I visit different teachers whose classroom management I admired.  In each classroom I observed, I saw different styles of teaching and management. Strict or laid back, dramatic or quiet, creative or by the book, in those classrooms where the students were well behaved and respectful there was a common theme. What I learned was simple, it’s all about clearly and consistently communicating your procedures and positive expectations.

1)     Have a clear idea of what your procedures and positive behavioral expectations are.  Before you can communicate your procedures and positive expectations you must think about what you want to see in behavioral terms in the classroom. When you are teaching your lesson do you want students to raise their hands? Listen when others are speaking?  How do you pass out and return supplies? Is it okay if they get up and walk to the trash can, sharpen a pencil, lean back in their chair, text, chew gum, eat, drink, brush their hair, apply make-up, or talk quietly with a neighbor while you are teaching?
So think. What is important to you?  What are you willing to consistently enforce?  What do you need from your students for teaching and learning to take place?  Remember, that will look different for each of us and that is okay.

2)     Teach, model, practice, repeat.  In order for students to know what you expect, you must teach your positive expectations. NEVER assume they should "just know" how to behave with you.  Spend some time teaching what your positive expectations look and sound like. Model it for them, then have the students practice your positive expectations.  Repeat as often as necessary.  At the beginning of my “Meet the Counselor” lessons each year, I always start with the procedures for my room and my positive expectations for their behavior.  We are a PBIS school and have four positive behavioral expectations we teach all around our campus; Perform Personal Best, Act Responsibly, Work and Play Safely, and Show Respect.  These are the foundation for my first lesson and I talk about what each one will look and sound like in our time together.

In doing this, I think it is important to understand there is absolutely nothing “un-counselor like” in clearly stating your procedures and positive expectations for student behavior when you are together.  As School Counselors, we talk about creating and teaching lessons on respect, responsibility, and social skills.  Teaching our students how to attend to the speaker, monitor their own behavior, and choose and demonstrate appropriate social skills required for a situation are the most basic of skills for success in life.  What better way to conduct your classes?

3)     Consistently reinforce your procedures and positive expectations in EVERY lesson.
In EVERY lesson, you must put consistently reinforcing your procedures and positive behavioral expectations above teaching that lesson.  No matter how hard you worked on creating the lesson or how fun the activity or awesome the story may be, there is no learning if students are involved in disruptive or disrespectful behavior.  You may have to stop your lesson multiple times, you may not get to the activity or story, but it is more important to consistently reinforce your procedures and positive expectations as often as is needed in order for your classes to learn your expectations for them.

So, if you expect them to raise their hand to speak, don't accept answers from those who call out.  Politely remind them by always restating the rule.  “You show respect to your classmates by raising your hand if you want to speak."  Then call on someone who has been sitting quietly with their hand up, thanking them for raising their hand.  If someone is being silly or talking to a neighbor, stop and remind them the rule is to show respect and we do that by having one person talk at a time. If someone is not participating appropriately in a group I might ask if they are acting responsibly and what they could be doing instead.  If materials are passed out and collected in a specific way and students are grabbing and arguing, remind them what the procedure is and how we work and play safely. And if necessary, stop and re-teach and practice that procedure.

Great classroom management = Being respected as an authority figure
I know there are some School Counselors who think having a well-mannered class means you have to have the teacher in the room with you or you have to be a negative authority figure the students then won’t be able trust.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is possible to be both a figure of authority and a trusted and respected School Counselor. Think about a favorite authority figure; a teacher, coach or relative for whom you have a lot of respect.  If you stop to analyze why you have respect for them I would guess it is because of things like they were kind, fair, consistent, positive, had high expectations for you, and held you accountable for your actions.  My students know I love them, but I can go in the cafeteria of screaming students and give the quiet sign and they get quiet.  I can give a look in my classroom and restore order.  It’s not because I am a large, threatening presence or have any special power over them in terms of disciplinary actions.  It is because I have clearly communicated and consistently taught and reinforced my positive expectations.  Students need structure, they need boundaries, and they need to know what your positive behavioral expectations are too.

So there you have it.  My three simple ideas for managing classroom behavior.  It takes practice and you will have set backs.  But keep on giving it your best.  You, your students, and your school counseling program will be better for your efforts.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Red Ribbon Week lessons

October is one of the busiest months of the year for School Counselors who are trying to do Red Ribbon Week and Bully Prevention all in just 31 days.  Here are two intermediate lessons I have created to teach during the month of October using a variety of information off the web and ideas from the formerly free website, now $149 a year)

The first lesson called "Over the Counter and Prescription Medicine" teaches students drugs are powerful chemicals that change the way our bodies work.  These can be good or bad, illegal or legal, prescription or Over-the-Counter (OTC) or street drugs.  This lesson uses thinking maps and Kagan structures to help keep students interested, engaged and focused on the similarities and differences in prescription drugs and over the counter drugs.  I have used this lesson with 3rd, but it could easily be used with 4th, 5th and possibly 6th with some adjustments. Depending on your discussion and use student thinking maps, this could be be two 30-45 minute lessons.  Included here is the PowerPoint and lesson plan.

The next lesson is "What do you know about drugs?"  This lesson is for my older students and I use it only with 5th grade. It is definitely a lesson that could be used with 6th -8th.  You can do this as a PowerPoint  quiz and presentation/discussion, Personal Response Clicker lesson, or as a Kahoot! lesson if you have the technology or allow students to bring their own.   The "What do you know about drugs?" PowerPoint has 15 questions which function as a pre/post test with answer key and information slides at the end of the slide show.  After giving the pre test, have groups teach the class the information about drugs from their slide(s) and maybe something they did not know or was surprising to them.  After sharing, have class take the post test on paper or perhaps do the Kahoot! This lesson can take two 30-45 minutes class sessions depending on the amount of discussion generated from the information slides.  Included here is the PowerPoint and lesson plan. If you have access to technology here is a very similar version (18 questions) of the Powerpoint on Kahoot!  you may want to try this with your students as the pre/post test.  My students always want to play Kahoot! again, so pre/post it is!

My RRW Overview

Prior to Red Ribbon Week I  give teachers an overview of the week and send home our theme and a list of dress up days to parents in English and Spanish. Two weeks before I create a large template that goes with our theme and give one per class for students to decorate and sign as their pledge to practice healthy choices and stay drug free.  These are due to me by Friday before the start of RRW so I can hang them up around the school. (Last year we did "I mustache you to be drug free.")
 After hanging up class pledges, I put ribbons and safety pins in mailboxes for teachers to pass out on Monday.  On the Monday of RRW my 5th grade Leadership students  and any of their parents who would like to help, show up an hour before school to tie red ribbons on all the poles in the parent and bus loop and all the poles outside our classrooms.  (We are  in Florida, we are an "outside" school.) Afterwards, we have a doughnut and juice breakfast before sending them off to class.

Each morning of RRW I have a short message I read on the morning news show about the history of RRW, healthy choices, peer pressure, etc.  These messages are sent to me periodically as a bonus for our purchase of the Project Wisdom program.  Due to the copyright, I am unable to share them here. However, here is a brief summary message I wrote using information off the internet from the Camarena Club to explain the reason Red Ribbon Week was started.

With more standardized testing and Common Core pressure on classroom teachers, I have severely cut back our RRW activities to just the dress up days, wearing ribbons, class pledge, my classroom lessons, and morning messages.  These are about all my faculty can handle and for these I get support.

To me, RRW is all about increasing awareness of using medication correctly and wisely, focusing on healthy choices and lifestyles, and learning to handle peer pressure. RRW is not something for I which we have any school generated data, but we know students who make good choices, lead a healthy life and resist peer pressure are going to do better in school.  Now if I could only figure out how to show that with data!

For more RRW lessons check out this link to  primary and intermediate lessons I have previously shared.

Enjoy your RRW!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

DATA Talks: Defining and Demystifyng DATA

Welcome to "DATA Talks!"  This  will be an ongoing series designed to answer questions about DATA!  Future posts will focus on where to find data, disaggregating data, tools for collecting data, identifying goals based on data, writing an action plan, and more. Feel free email me with questions or ideas for future "DATA Talks."

Before we begin, I am very interested in researching how well School Counselors have been prepared to use data in their school counseling programs.  If you would, please take a few minutes and answer the 9 question survey linked below.  Your participation would greatly appreciated and I will be sharing our results in a future "DATA Talks" post.
School Counselor Training, the ASCA Model, and the Use of Data survey.

First, let me say I am not an expert, not at all.  I'm just someone who finally has an understanding of  DATA and an eagerness to share what I have learned.  Dr. Trish Hatch and her book The Use of Data in School Counseling  have been the primary influence in my understanding of data and its usage. Hearing her in person and reading her book have compelled me to learn all I can about the use of data.  If you do not own this book, I strongly urge you to spend the $25 to buy it.  It is a "must have" for every School Counselor's library.

We hear this word thrown around a lot.  We know we need to do something with it, but are not really sure what. A number of years ago in my district, we were given a form called the MEASURE  and told to use data to show our effectiveness.  But, to be perfectly honest, until a year ago, I DID NOT HAVE A CLUE how to do that.  NOT ONE BIT!  But as many of us do, I faked it.  Not the data, I used real data, but it was the wrong data and I didn't know and neither did anyone else.  Because no one I knew had any idea about how or where to gather and use the right the data.  Nope, no clue.   I don't know what my other  30+ colleagues did because we never talked about it.  Talk about a conspiracy of silence!  We used that form for probably 4 years. It really is a pretty good tool for measuring program effectiveness, but not if you don't understand data.  So, during those years I continued to dutifully fill in all the boxes, without any real idea about what I should have been doing. And sadly, without making any real change in my school counseling program.

"DATA" Defined and Demystified
Let's start with some basic definitions.  When people throw around the word DATA it can have many different meanings, however, it is used as if there were only one.  In order to understand those meanings, you must understand the context in which the word DATA is being used.  There is school generated data and School Counselor generated data, achievement data and achievement-related data.  Then there is process, perception, outcome and competency data. Unfortunately, most people do not use a descriptor when talking about DATA, they just say DATA.  And unless you have an understanding of the various contexts it can all seem quite confusing.

School generated data: data automatically generated by the school such as reports regarding attendance and tardies, discipline, suspensions, report card grades, conduct grades, "at-risk" students, climate surveys, standardized test scores, GPA, changes in achievement levels, retention rates, drop out rates,etc. 
School generated data can be divided into 2 parts, achievement data and achievement-related data.  School Counselors need to stick with achievement-related data.

Achievement data:  Data that is used to measure the progress of students and the success of a school. It can impact school grades, funding, administrative and teacher/counselor employment. These are things like standardized test scores, graduation rates, ACT/SAT scores, drop-out rate, GPA, changes in achievement levels, retention rates, pass rates for HS exit exams, etc. 
It is impossible to show how School Counselors directly impact these types of data.

Achievement-related data:  (Listen up Counselor Friends! This is for us!)
The data elements that impact student achievement. When students attend school, behave, do HW and take rigorous classes they perform better in school which in turn will show improvement in achievement.  Achievement related data are things such as discipline referrals, attendance and tardies, report card grades, conduct grades, "at -risk" students, and climate surveys.

All of these are elements that can be directly impacted by the services of the School Counselor.
Achievement-related data is your starting point.  This is the data you want to analyze for patterns, deficits and needs to help inform your program goals. Your school may have other data they generate that you may wish to reference like ethnicity, gender, and ESE student data. This will be helpful when disaggregating  your data, but that is something we will cover in another post.

School Counselor generated data: data a School Counselor generates from pre and post tests or surveys for assessing student perceptions following lessons or groups.   Also, parent, teacher, and student needs assessments for informing school counseling program goals.

More DATA terms
Three more data terms you have probably heard are process, perception and outcome data. I used to always get these three mixed up!

Process data  think "just the facts."  This tells what the School Counselor did and for whom.  It is proof an event occurred.  Process data tells the who, what, when, where, and how.

September: 37 classroom lessons, 600 students in  K-5 for 45 minutes each to introduce the role of the School Counselor
September: 72 students, 10 small groups of 6-8 students each for one 30 minute  Meet and Greet to provide new student orientation
April: 18  8th grade homerooms lessons for 40 minutes each to 275 students to discuss registration for high school

Perception data measures how students attitudes, knowledge and skills are different as a result of your lesson or group.  Have beliefs changed, students learned a skill, or their  knowledge increased?  This is  all about what the students have learned.  Hatch tell us to shift the words around to remember to "ASK,"  that is measure what students learned as a result of an activity.  By using pre/post tests, surveys, exit tickets, role play,etc. you can assess what students have learned from your time together.

Before class 84% of students believed a single incident of name calling was bullying
after the lesson 12% believed a single incident of name calling was bullying.
Before class 20% of students believed studying with the TV and music on was ineffective, after class this belief increased to 98%.

Skill attainment ( Competency data)
90% of 5th graders could role play 2 Upstander techniques for handling a bully
100% of 7th graders completed a career interest inventory

Before class 17% of students knew the difference in bullying and conflict, after 89% knew the difference.
Before a series of group sessions 5% of 7th grade girls knew 3 ways to reduce drama with friends, after the sessions this knowledge increased to 98%.

Results data   This is the  proof a class or intervention worked or didn't work. It is the data that shows whether their is a change in student behavior.  This is the data that shows how students are different because of what School Counselors do.

Bullying incidences were reduced by 10% from Q1 to Q2
Attendance of Hispanic males improved by 24%
D's and F's by 6th grade students were reduced by 37%

Is the term DATA making more sense now?  Do you have a better understanding of the context  in which you have been heard it used?  I hope this little "DATA Talk has helped."  Feel free to share questions, comments, or suggestions for future "DATA Talks."

Saturday, September 26, 2015

More Google Goodness!!!

WOW!!! Thank you to everyone for you overwhelmingly positive response to my Counselor Activity Log.  I've had a number of requests for other forms folks saw in the Google Forms PowerPoint I shared.  I never really thought anyone would be interested in those, but since you've asked, I'm glad to share them as well.

Step by Step on how to copy a form!
When you see a form you would like to use you must first do the following before making any changes or adding data.
1) Click on the form link below.
2) Click on "Make a copy"
3) It is now in your Google Drive.  Go ahead check  your Google Drive just to be sure.  Is it there? Good!
4) Now,  open it and edit away!!! Go wild! Make it your very own!  Change the header! Customize it to your school and your needs!

Adding a link to your Desktop
I have found from personal experience I will use my forms more often if they are handy and I am not searching through my Google drive for them.
1) Copy the URL of your color live form with the little icon of the pencil in a colored box at the top of the page
2) Go to your Desktop and right click your mouse on the Desktop
3) Choose new, then shortcut
4)  You will get a box asking what you would like to create a short cut for, paste the URL of the color copy of your form there
5) You will be asked to create a name for your shortcut ( ex: Activity Log, Minute Meeting, etc.)
6) Then click finish and there it is on your Desktop.  Just add Data!!!

Sharing my forms
Below you will find 8 of the forms I have created for use in my school counseling program.  Please remember to COPY to your Drive before EDITING!  Enjoy!

Counselor Phone log
Teacher Survey of Counseling Program
Group Counseling Record Log
On-line Counseling Referral Form for teachers
Minute Meetings with the Counselor, general
Minute Meetings, behavior
Minute Meetings, attendance
Minute Meetings, grades

Send your on-line counseling form link  to your teachers and include instructions for adding it to their desk top so they can easily make referrals to you.  Be sure to go under "Tools" on the Responses page and set "Notification Rules" so you are notified when a referral is submitted to your gmail.

I hope these forms are helpful to you for collecting data and documenting how you spend your time as a  School Counselor.  Are there other forms you would like to see?  Do you have forms you have created?  Please share your ideas!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Creating a Counselor Activity Log with Google Forms

Another new school year and I am renewing my vow to myself to use technology and give my best effort to going paperless. Again.  I truly LOVE Google Forms and have found lots of ways to use them.  All were successful but one, recording my daily activities.  And it wasn't the form, it was me. Last year, try as I might to make them work, I just wasn't able to keep up with it. When I sat down and analyzed what had happened I identified 3 problems.  One, my form was not on my desk top so it was not readily accessible and  I would spend too much time searching for it in my Google Drive. Second, I think I tried to collect too much information.   Rather just trying to click that I had performed a specific task for a specific amount of time I was trying to keep notes too. A bad idea for time and confidentiality sake.  Third once I got behind, psychologically, it just seemed like to much to do to catch up.

Google forms, round 2!
But now I am ready to try again.  I have redesigned my form a bit, adding a drop down menu of teachers, grade level, reasons students may want to see me, and who referred them.  Anything to make it click and go.  I still have my notes section in case there is something I did not think of or that needs to be part of my record. Another great thing about Google forms is you can continue to edit them even after you have started collecting data. Click the black "edit this form" button at the top of the page of the "color" form and you will get the gray "editable version."  Make your additions, deletions or corrections, close it up and continue collecting  data.  Need to edit a response?  Click on the "edit form" button on the color form, go to the gray form and click on the "View Responses" tab.  When it opens, scroll down to the entry you want to edit and make your needed changes.  I will still keep a file on each student I see with more specific notes and memory aides. This form will allow me to track my daily time  and whether it is spent on direct/indirect services and non-counselor related duties.

How's my progress?
Four weeks in and I am up-to-date on my daily entries!  Looking at my data, already I see I am spending more time with classes than individuals,  However, that is okay, as classroom lessons are a Tier 1 intervention where I lay the foundation of my program and skills training with ALL students. It is where I feel I get the biggest and best value for my time.  With all my classes plus the individuals I am seeing, it comes out to more than 80% of my daily time is being spent in direct services to students and what could be better than that!

Truly, creating a shortcut on my desk top to my form has made a huge difference.  It only takes a minute, literally, to click down the list of items on my form to record each activity.  If you are interested in using Google forms, here is a link to my form to help get you started. You are welcome to make a copy and make edits that fit for you and your counseling program. I love Google forms and find them easy to create and edit.  It is also easy to share data about your program and how your time is being spent (or encumbered!).  Google forms also creates beautiful graphs.  All you have to do is click on summary of responses to see its colorful creations.This is essential as we advocate for the best use of the School Counselor's time and also provides us with a valuable accountability piece.

Google forms step by step.
If you are new to Google forms, I am linking a PowerPoint presentation about some of their many uses and how to create your own forms.  You will find slides 30, 31 and 32 especially helpful for taking a copy of my form and making it your own.  Remember you must make a copy of my form before it will show up on your Google Drive.  Otherwise, your data will be stored on my form, in my drive and you will not be able  to access it.  Also, anyone else who decides to edit my form will also be editing your form. And, I wouldn't want your hard work to go to waste!

Please feel free to contact me with questions or more ideas for forms. Good Luck with your forms!  I think you're going to love them!