Saturday, June 10, 2017

Scootin' Off to Middle School

Once state testing was completed it was time to turn our attention to middle school.  The sixth grade School Counselor paid us a visit and registered our students for their classes next year.  There was a brief question and answer period, because of time constraints, and the session was over.  I was left with 90 +  anxious and curious fifth graders who had a lot of questions and not as many answers as they would have liked.  In response to their needs I developed 3 lessons to help them make an anxiety reduced transition to middle school.

The Lessons
Lesson 1 "Dear Middle Schooler"
I contacted the  3 sixth grade language arts teachers at the middle school and asked if they would be willing to have their students answer letters from my fifth graders.  Two out of three responded yes and were quite thankful to have an activity for their students to do while the middle school was still involved in state testing.  I had no idea letter writing was no longer taught in language arts, only expository and narrative writing, so we began our class lesson with a brief lesson in letter writing.  I created a template on a PowerPoint slide for their reference and they began to write.  And write!  It is amazing what students can write when they want information.  Some didn't care who answered their letter, but some want specifically to have a boy or a girl answer their questions.  There were the usual questions about lockers, bullying, fights, the difficulty of the teachers, dating, and "girl stuff."

With the letters completed, I put them in our county mail and we waited for our responses. Within about 2 weeks, I had numerous responses to each letter.  A few were silly, but for the most part they were the thoughtful letters of an "older and wiser" student who was sharing their wisdom and advice.  Some even created Q and A lists, and others made pamphlets and brochures about the middle school experience.  I can't tell you how excited my students were to receive these responses and how much these letters reduced their anxiety.

Lesson 2  SCOOTIN' Off to Middle School
There were so many questions my students did not get to ask at our registration session.  Afterwards, I emailed the sixth grade counselor with their questions and for some information on basic facts about the school I was sure my students would not think to ask, but would need to know.  Then, I took my questions and turned with into a game of SCOOT.  If you have never played SCOOT with your students it is awesome! Basically there are a series of cards with questions posted around the room and students rotate from card to card recording their answers within a specified period of time.
At the end of the game I asked for their answers and shared the correct answers for each question.  It was a great way to evaluate how much they knew versus what they thought they knew.  It was interesting to see how much confidence it gave them to be able to correctly answer many of the questions.  They were excited to discover they knew more than they thought they did.

Interested in playing my SCOOTIN' Off to Middle School game with your students?  This game comes with lesson plan, detailed instructions for playing SCOOT, game cards,  and student answer sheets.  The link is HERE.

Lesson 3 Responses from Middle School and Learning to Open a Combination Lock
I started this lesson by passing back the answers to the letters my students had written to the middle school.  The excitement was unbelievable.  A real person in middle school had actually taken the time to read and answer their letter!  After reading their personal letters they shared them with the students at their table and then those who wanted, shared with the class. It was amazing.  Why didn't I do this years ago?

Now they were ready to tackle the locks. In previous years I had purchased combination locks at the Dollar Tree.  With only 12, it was difficult for my students to get the practice they wanted when sharing with a partner.  Plus, I had those students who really struggled with the right, left, right thing and spent nearly the entire class period trying to open their lock.  This year my Principal sprang for 12 more locks. I found them at Wal Mart for about $1.57 each in the hardware section.  A real bargain.

I showed the following YouTube video about how to open locks, passed them out, and let the students start practicing.  If they were able to open one successfully, I suggested they trade with another person and see if they could open a different lock.  My "lock-sperts" then went around the room helping the others who were struggling to get their lock open.  Once everyone was successful we had individual time trials.  Using my phone to track the time, I had the students line up in front of me with a lock.  When I said go,  I stared timing and they started opening their locks.  When they got it open they held up the lock and said, "Done!"  It was awesome to see them perform under pressure and most could open the lock in way less than a minute and my fastest was 7 seconds.  This helped with allaying their fears about not having enough time between classes to open their locker and get to class on time.


We've had a great time learning about middle school and some of the challenges the students might face. But armed with information from our SCOOT game, encouraging words from the sixth graders who have lived it, and their new found lock skills my students are ready to "scoot on off" to middle school.

Are you interested in winning one of my SCOOTIN' Off to Middle School Games?  If so, just follow my TPT store and type in your follower number in the comments section on the School Counselor Store Facebook page below this post or on my Facebook page.  If you are already a follower, just type in "already following."  I will announce the  3 winners  Monday evening, June 12 at 10:00 pm eastern time.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Data Day is like a Mental Health Day!

Now I know, you probably read the title of this post and you thought, "Data and Mental Health? How can those two possibly go together?" Well they do.  Honestly.

While this combo does not conjure thoughts of the spa, beach, golf course, or a day at home in your PJ's binge watching Netflix, preparing for the coming school year can give you peace of mind that leaves you feeling rejuvenated. There's nothing like the feeling of closing out the school year with your data disaggregated and an intentional and comprehensive school counseling plan in place to greet you at the start of a the new school year.  Taking a day away from school at the end of the year to review your data and plan ahead can do just that.

The Spark of an Idea
As president of our local School Counselor organization, I hosted an on-line book club in the fall semester using Dr. Trish Hatch's book, The Use of Data in School Counseling.   In the course of  our study, our group excitedly came to the conclusion that uninterrupted time to review and disaggregate data was essential for planning a successful comprehensive school counseling program.  However, we were discouraged because the time did not exist during our school day to give data a proper look.  As you have no doubt experienced, once you walk on campus the needs of the students and the demands of the day take priority and time for data review and program planning is non-existent. The further we got into Hatch's book talking about intentional school counseling versus "random acts of guidance," the more often this conversation about wanting time to work with our data occurred. We knew we needed a day away from campus to analyze our data and make plans for its use in order to create an intentional and comprehensive school counseling program.

The Idea 
With state testing behind us, three weeks of the school year remained. My entire school district was in countdown mode, asking for summer school teachers, recruiting presenters and attendees for summer institutes, looking at student achievement data, and planning the school calendar for the coming year. It seemed everyone was looking ahead and planning for the new school year. Except School Counselors. Just like every other day, we were dealing with the multitude of issues that came through our doors.

But why not School Counselors?  While everyone else was in preparation for the upcoming school year why not School Counselors?  Now was the opportunity for School Counselors to get the time needed to work with their data.  What we needed was a "work"shop.  No one had ever requested such a thing, so no such workshop existed on the professional development calendar for our district. So what's a School Counselor to do?  Create your own!

After consulting with my VERY supportive principal and a savvy district "insider" about the who and how of putting together a workshop, getting in-service points for the attendees, and how to reserve district spaces for workshops, I was set.  I took my workshop description and goals to my academic coach who assisted me with posting our "Data Day" on the school district professional development website.  An email was sent along with workshop description and agenda to School Counselors and their administrators and School Counselors started signing up.

The Preparation
As a workshop organizer, my preparation involved writing the proposal, getting the workshop on the district PD website, securing the space, and sending email notifications to Prinicipals and School Counselors.  As the workshop facilitator, my preparation involved creating the schedule and PowerPoint for the day, leading the SMART goal activity, answering questions, keeping time, and leading the debriefing and feedback at the end of the day.  Attendees brought coffee, doughnuts, and chocolate to share.

The Mental Health Data Day
After being a testing prisoner for 5 weeks, working away from campus with other School Counselors to think and plan was such a relief.  Yes, I was going to be facilitating and working on disaggregating my school data, but it felt like a mental health day. And my other test weary colleagues agreed. Hanging out with other School Counselors always feels so good.  Add to that a large quiet space to spread out and work, access to our data, reliable wifi, coffee and doughnuts, table chocolate, easy bathroom access, and the chance to go out for lunch.  Yeah it was like a mental health day, only better, because when we left that day, we had a plan.  We had reviewed our data and had the outline of a comprehensive school counseling plan for the coming school year.

The workshop was called the "ABC's of Implementing a Comprehensive School Counseling Plan." There was a PowerPoint with a schedule, but mostly this was a "working" workshop for giving School Counselors uninterrupted time for analyzing, brainstorming, and creating.  ABC. The schedule was to help us manage the day and keep us on track with our tasks. The PowerPoint included an agenda, schedule, and a review on how to write SMART goals. This was really the only presenter piece. I think a lot of School Counselors struggle with writing SMART goals and it was something we struggled with as a group too.

So from 8 am-3 pm we worked.  I mean really worked.  We did the brief SMART goals activity and a short calendar brainstorming activity, but for the most part it was an uninterrupted time to analyze and focus on the needs of our individual schools.  We even got so involved no one wanted to leave for lunch.  We ordered in pizza, took a short break and went back to work. Throughout the day there were intermittent bursts of conversation and spontaneous questions, but for the most part it was parallel work, silently analyzing and creating side by side.

The Feedback
At 2:45 pm we stopped to process the day and complete workshop evaluations.  The feedback was amazing!  Everyone felt rejuvenated.   One person said, "This feels like a mental health day!" Other comments included:
"This is just what I needed!"
"There's no way I would ever be able to do this at school."
" It was good to be away from school and plan for next year."
" I would have never gotten this done during the school day (or at home).  I can't wait to show my principal our data and the things I have planned."
" I'm excited to share this with my department."
" I'm so glad we did this now rather than during pre-planning.  I actually have time to discuss this with my principal and get some things on the calendar."
"I liked that we did this at the end of the year rather than the beginning. It gives me time to talk to my administrators and start the year with a plan in place."
"Two days to do this would be even better. I felt like I needed more time for planning."
"We need to do this every quarter to look at our new data."

The Take Away: Advocate for the profession
When you think about it, teacher teams meet regularly to look at student achievement data and plan their lessons and programs to meet their students' needs.  Why not School Counselors?  When do School Counselors get to do this, especially elementary School Counselors? Why don't we have special planning times designated for School Counselors to collaborate with their same level peers to create a comprehensive school counseling program?   Is it because we never thought about it or because we never thought to ask?  For those who are not quite sure what a comprehensive School Counseling program looks like,  reading a book like Hatch's, The Use of Data in School Counseling will answer your questions and get you started.

Advocating for the profession is not easy.  I won't lie to you, I ran into a series of roadblocks and some resistance that could have prevented me from bringing this workshop experience to life, but we cannot be deterred.  When you see a need,  speak out, address it.  When you have questions, ask.  Do whatever you can to make it happen. That's advocacy.

Reflection
All the feedback I received both written and verbal indicated the workshop was a positive experience and a much needed opportunity.  Discussion and suggestions included advertising workshop opportunities earlier so more School Counselors could plan to attend, offering a series of days both quarterly and during the last 2 weeks of school to make it easier for School Counselors at the middle and high school levels to attend by staggering their attendance. Also, offering a series of days would enable School Counselors who needed additional time for disaggregating and planning a chance to return and complete their work.

Does your district give School Counselors time away to disaggregate data or plan for the upcoming school year?  If so, I would love to hear about it! Please share below the planning process School Counselors in your district have for creating a comprehensive school counseling plan.



Sunday, February 5, 2017

National School Counseling Week: Appreciation or Advocacy?

It makes me very sad to hear some of the comments from School Counselors around our country regarding National School Counseling Week.  There is much being said and written about not being appreciated and asking why are we doing things for others in our school and  "Isn’t it about us?"  Well, yes it is about us, but not in the way some School Counselors may think.

First it is National School Counseling week not National School Counselor Week or National School Counselor Appreciation Week.  Maybe a change of title would clear things up a bit for many of our colleagues around the country who misunderstand its purpose.  What if it were called School Counseling Advocacy Week?  Would that make more sense?

This week is not about having the faculty, administration, or families of the students we work with appreciate us.  It is about educating those same folks who still call us Guidance Counselors and speaking out for those who  are still Testing Coordinators, RtI Facilitators, and 504 Case Managers.  It is for those who are acting as the Registrar, Lunchroom Hostess, Substitute Teacher, and Disciplinarian. It is for those School Counselors with more students than can be reasonably served, those who are split between multiple schools, and for those students who have NO School Counselor.
 You see, I am afraid if we DON'T talk about how students are different because of what School Counselors do, we will see these situations full of non-counselor duties continue for many of our colleagues and our students.

Personally, I have a fabulous school situation with an administrator who gets me and my job and allows me the freedom to do what I was trained to do.  But, that is not the case for every one of you reading this and even for some of my colleagues in my district.  For this reason I will advocate, for you, for me, and for the profession.  What I do for National School Counseling Week at my school doesn’t just impact me and my situation, but everyone with whom I have contact.  All of the stakeholders currently at my school will not always be there. At some point teachers, administrators, and families move or transfer to other schools, maybe in other cities or states.  I want to know that what I said and did during this week of advocacy helped shaped their thoughts, opinions and attitudes about the value of the School Counselors they will encounter in the future.

So if you don’t want to do cute, cheesy little “stuff” for your school staff, I get that, it’s fine. But don’t ignore an opportunity to advocate for our profession, because that is what this week is all about.   Instead take the time to write your legislators about the state of School Counseling in your district or state.  Or do a Coffee with the Counselor to talk to parents about their experience with their “guidance” or school counselor when they were in school. Take the time to talk about how School Counseling is different today. Share your programming highlights in a newsletter with School Board members or the School Superintendent.  Plan a presentation for your faculty, PTA, or School Board to show data validating the benefit you and your School Counselor colleagues bring to students every single day. 

These are just a few of the things each of us can do to advocate for our profession, but it takes all of us.   And not just during National School Counseling Week but every single day.
United. Together.