Saturday, February 20, 2016

Is it Rude, is it Mean or is it Bullying?

I don't know about you but I grow weary of the constant reports of students being "bullied."  Now I know there are children who are truly being bullied, who are afraid to come to school, find it difficult to concentrate on their work, have no friends, and are withdrawn and depressed because of the constant abuse of a school bully.  When real bullying occurs, I am the first to advocate for any student in that situation.  I investigate each claim and I do everything I can as a School Counselor to empower and support the student targeted, involve parents and administration who address the situation from a  legal and disciplinary angle, and get help for the bully.

But, that is not what I am talking about here.  The word bullied has become a real hot button.  I know, you know what I mean.  I am talking about those students and parents who call every unpleasant exchange between students bullying.  No matter how few times or infrequently a student experiences an unkind remark, teasing, or physical interaction it is called bullying.  It is a word that is increasingly used to describe any situation where a student has gotten their feelings hurt whether intentionally or unintentionally.  Parents and students utter this word and we spring into action to investigate their report of bullying.  And because of our response, I have come to realize it is a word our students will often utilize when the attention is on them for some wrongdoing. Our students have learned they can instantly control any situation and shift the focus of teachers, and especially their parents, from their troubles if they claim they are being bullied.  What I needed was a way to educate students and their parents about the difference between conflict and bullying.

Last year I came across a wonderful article written in 2012 by Signe Whitson, Licensed Social Worker, School Counselor, author, keynote speaker and Chief Operating Officer of Life Space Crisis Intervention Institute. Many of you may be familiar with her article titled, Is it Rude, Is it Mean or Is it Bullying?  In it she explains  how everything isn't bullying and how many people have difficulty discerning what is and is not bullying.  Signe  also mentions how she first heard best selling children's author Trudy Ludwig  "talk of these distinguishing terms" and  then went on to use them in her own work.  As I read her article I thought, this is what I want my students and parents to know, so I began work on creating a set of classroom lessons.

 Along the way I ran into a bit of trouble with my students failure to comprehend the differences in these terms. So I went straight to the source and contacted Signe myself.  She responded to my email and then gave me her number and invited me to call her.  What an honor to share my experiences and ideas with her.  Signe listened to my concerns regarding my students and their struggles with her vocabulary. She directed me to her website resource page and recommended I use her forced choice activity to help my students think more critically about the definitions of rude, mean, and bullying they were learning.  I did, and they loved it!  I could see them making the connections as they moved from corner to corner in response to Signe's scenarios. They were thinking and questioning and arguing convincingly about how some situations might be mean rather than rude and it would depend on how it was said to a person.  I could see their point.  They were  internalizing the concepts and questioning the dynamics of the scenarios.  It was truly exciting!

My students and have have enjoyed these lessons on "Is it Rude, Is it Mean or Is it Bullying?" Below you will find a brief outline of the 5 lessons I have created, my activity forms and PowerPoint too. I based these lessons on the work of Signe Whitson. I publish them here to share with you with her permission. Please visit Signe Whitson's website for more information about her work on bullying and aggression.

Click here for  Rude, Mean, Bully lesson plans 
Pre/post test (non-tech option)
Kahoot! link 
Rude vs. Mean vs. Bully PowerPoint
Inappropriate Behaviors Brainstorming sheet
Signe  Whitson's Forced Choice Activity
Rude, Mean, Bully Behavior Statements

Lessons 1:  The pre-test.  For those with technology resources I have created a Kahoot!
(website for game-based learning) for gathering pre/post test data.  I have also include a "non-tech" option (paper and pencil) for those who do not have access to technology.

Lesson 2: A PowerPoint introduction to the rude, mean and bullying vocabulary and a brainstorming activity on thinking of examples of things that are rude, mean, and bullying.

Lesson 3:  Forced Choice Scenarios from Signe Whitson's website resource page.

Lesson 4:  Divide students into groups, print one copy of the "Rude, Mean, Bullying Behavior" statement sheets, cut them up and divide them into stacks. Each group will sort and glue their stack to index cards according to which are rude, mean and bullying. Cards are shared with the class for approval and glued to chart paper to make a tree map poster for the students to take back to class.

Lesson 5:  Post-test using Kahoot! or non-tech option.

I have used these lessons with all my 3rd, 4th and 5th graders (15 classes total) and while their comprehension of the terminology is only at about 70%, there is a vast improvement over the previous number of reports we had regarding bullying. Even though my students aren't there yet, in fully understanding the definition of rude, mean and bullying, they are conscious of the differences. Now when complaints of bullying arise,  I am able to reference these lessons and help my students make a more accurate assessment of their own situation.

I hope you and your students find these lessons helpful. Keep in touch and let me know how your students respond to learning the difference in rude, mean, and bullying.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Starting a School Counseling Advisory Council

For years, long before there was such a thing as RAMP, I reluctantly listened to my district supervisor talk about having a School Counseling Advisory Council. God love that woman, she was decades ahead of her time. Now I have to admit, all those years ago when she was talking about it, I was not really very receptive.   I was one that said, "Humph, why would I want to do that?  I know my job better than they do. I don't want a bunch of people who know nothing about my job telling me what to do." And so I didn't do one, until a few weeks ago.

Fast forward 25 years later. I have found most people still don't know what School Counselors do, including some School Counselors.  And recently, I discovered even other types of Counselors are confused about our job. So why would we think parents and teachers have any better idea? It was time for me to take a serious step forward to educate and advocate the stakeholders at my school about School Counseling.  Armed with my year long curriculum plan, the data that has informed my program, information about my qualifications, the ASCA model, and the the reason we are no longer called "Guidance  Counselors," I decided to hold my first meeting.  Many thanks to my new friend and colleague, Dr.Lauren Wynne for her support and encouragement to start my School Counseling Advisory Council. I could not have done it without her help.

The Beginning
I started off the school year making personal, face to face, contacts with parents at Meet the Teacher, Open House, and PTA functions, asking if they would be on my advisory council.  I told them we would meet twice a year for one hour each time and I would be looking for their feedback, suggestions and ideas about my School Counseling program. As I considered which parents to invite, I thought about parents who represented the racial make-up of my school and were not the same ones who already serve on every committee.  I actually asked 2 parents I have had uncomfortable dealings with in the past.  Both are strong personalities and very vocal, but I always know what they are thinking and I value that.  I don't want a rubber stamp, "yes m'am" type of committee, but one that will both encourage and challenge me.  It is important for each School Counselor to think about the parent personalities you invite to join your Advisory Council. Next, I sent out an email to my faculty asking for interested individuals to contact me. I had two responses.  My goal was to meet in late September, however circumstances at the start of the year conspired to keep me from doing so. Finally in mid-January we were ready to meet.  I had  recruited eleven members.

The Meeting
It was a simple meeting really. I was pleased that 7 of the 11 people I invited actually attended.   I had cold drinks, a sign- in sheet, agendas, hand-outs of my Annual Curriculum Plan, data from the first quarter, and the ASCA Model. We used the Media Center where I had access to the internet and the LCD projector for my Advisory Council PowerPoint.  I started with introductions and the icebreaker, "Two Truths and a Lie."  It is interesting the things people share and what you can learn about others in a fun non-threatening way. I shared about my role as a School Counselor and how and why the name changed from Guidance Counselor to School Counselor. We saw one of my favorite short video clips that describes the role of the School Counselor created by Dr. Richard Cleveland titled Comprehensive School Counseling.

I explained the who and what about ASCA and the 4 components of a Comprehensive School Counseling program.  Then I did a short activity where I had 2 parents come up and put on empty backpacks.  As I described student #1's day and each of the challenges and barriers she faced I placed a heavy book in her backpack.  For student #2,  I placed a small magazine in her backpack as I described each of the inconveniences in her life while surrounded by a supportive family.  My point was all students do not come to school ready to learn.  Not everyone has help with homework, a hot meal, clean or appropriate shoes and clothing, a safe living situation, and a hug and encouragement to start their day. Some students need the support of the School Counselor more than others.

Then we reviewed  the data from the end of the previous school year and our current data for the first quarter.  Last, I shared my Annual Curriculum Plan and small group goals based on the current data. We discussed how classroom lessons were progressing and parents had questions about the curriculum and how it was selected and what was required by the state.  In closing, I asked for feedback and suggestions and had parents share several ideas of things they would like to see in the future. Interestingly enough, these were ideas I had been thinking about myself.

As I think about my first School Counseling Advisory Council meeting I have to say I am feeling pleased.  I admit I was a little scared of what they would think or say, but the response was positive and I felt a certain affirmation for the program I have developed. However, there are things I will do differently next meeting.  For example, I sent a reminder email the week before. Next time I will send an additional email 2 days before and do some follow-up phone calls to those who do not respond to my email.  I also need a couple of community members.  I need to contact our business partners and see if I can recruit them to be a part of the Advisory Council.  Also, f I had waited another week to do my first meeting, I would have had second quarter data to share as well.  I should also have included some photos of my School Counseling program, like activities with my Leadership Club, Vehicle Day, RRW, Soctober, classroom lessons and my conference presentations.  These are lessons learned and improvements  I can make for our next meeting in May.

The Challenge
Are you ready to have stakeholders take a look at your School Counseling program?  Whether it is all you want it to be or not, I challenge you to get a School Counseling Advisory Council started. It is the single best way to educate and advocate for the program you have or the program you wish to have. Educating parents, teachers, administrators, and community members about your training, skills and the services you can offer is the first step towards advocating for a Comprehensive School Counseling program.  If you've you got the program you want, flaunt it, celebrate it, and share it!  If your program is not what you want it to be and you are more clerical or administrative than School Counselor, what a great way to show the contrast between what you are doing and what you could be doing.  Educate your stakeholders about the unique and valuable contributions to school climate and student learning School Counselors can make when given the freedom to do the job they were trained to do!