Saturday, December 9, 2017

Don't Stop Believin': A Story of Hope

Think of a student, past or present, who has captured your heart and energy, while at the same time wrecked havoc in your school.

Think of the student no one else seems to like, can handle, or understand?  The one you've spent hours with individually, calming their meltdowns, supporting their heartache, or soothing their real life nightmares.

Maybe their families are working diligently beside you, but maybe they are no where to be found.  Think.

Do you have that student in your mind?  What about that student breaks your heart?  What are your hopes and dreams for this student?

Whether they have been out of your life for a few years, or maybe you are still doing all you can to help them get through each day, I want to share a story of hope with you.

Recently,  I was attending a local band concert where a family member was performing.  When I arrived I found my extended family sitting in the second row from the front of the stage on the far right. Ugh!  "What terrible seats," I thought.  "This is just great.  I will sit with my neck cranked back in some contorted position for an hour.  All I can see is this weird stage protrusion in front of me."  I told myself, it was okay. I was their to be a supportive family member, it was a band concert, not a play. My poor view did not effect my ability to hear. So what if I had a better view of who had worn socks or not and how many different shades of black band pants there were?  So I settled in and began to review the program.  A name caught my eye.  Could it be? My unique seating did not allow me to see faces of the band members and I was eager to know if this name was the student I had worked with so hard, the one I believed in when others did not. Was this my student whose father left before they were born, who had experienced a significant and tragic death at a critical age, who was always in trouble with anger and hands and feet and words? Who couldn't get along with authority figures or other students? Who had few friends and no allies, just their mother, grandmother, and me. I couldn't tell.

Midway through the program, the stage needed to be reset. During the transition, soloists and small ensembles of students took turns filing onto the protrusions on either side of the stage to perform. There were students of all talent levels playing and it was amazing to see the confidence they displayed on stage to the packed auditorium.  And then, four students walked out to perform an ensemble piece of  Don't Stop Believin'. There was my student, right in front of me on the stage protrusion.  I couldn't stop smiling. I sat up a little straighter, thankful now to be in that terrible seat on the side in the front.  I willed my former student to see me.  Our eyes met. My student gave me an enormous smile of recognition and a very subtle wave.  I waved back.  The music started and the tears began to flow as the memories and emotions of all the times we had spent together flooded my mind. Don't Stop Believin'. The angry outbursts, cursing, physically hurting others, the tearful phone calls from Mom, the behavior plans, the thoughts of,  "Am I really making a difference?"  Don't Stop Believin' ...  During those years of our work together, there were moments I feared my student wouldn't make it, but we continued on. Every day. Starting new. Now, here they were, a talented and successful musician, making the honor roll, and loving life.

Don't Stop Believin'...
To all my School Counselor friends and colleagues:

I want you to believe your students whose lives are not full of holiday cheer can make it through each day and the upcoming vacation from school because of you and the emotional and physical support you provide. 
Don't Stop Believin'...

I want you to believe every kind word, loving gesture, promise kept, moment of silence shared, affirmation of feelings, support of a dream, attendance at a game or concert, gives a student hope and a chance to believe they are going to make it.   Don't Stop Believin'...

I know, there are moments you aren't so sure what you do makes a difference and you worry whether some of your students will even live to be grown. You fear they may end up in jail, on the streets, or so disillusioned with the world they have known that they will give up, never reaching the potential you know is just below the surface.   I feel it too. I share those same worries and fears.  But, keep doing what you do!  Love them, support them, provide for them, listen to them and "Don't Stop Believin" you make a difference, because you do!  You really do!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

QR Codes and Google Forms

Several years ago I learned about QR codes when I attended a technology workshop.  Their uses are limited only by your imagination, but for this post I will focus on how I have used them with Google forms. For more information on QR codes, QR readers, QR creators and ideas on how to use them in education, check out this link  Kathy Schrock on QR Codes in the classroom, from the website Kathy Schrock's Guide to Everything.

QR or "quick response" codes allow the creator to connect designated material to a unique code that when scanned, takes the user to a website, presentation, hand-outs, business card, audio recording, or in this case, a Google form. This eliminates the need for a long URL and allows individuals to simply scan your code to arrive at your desired online destination. This is especially helpful in the classroom if you have 1:1 technology.  It gets everyone on the "same page" at essentially the same time.

From Google Form to QR code using the website
Once you have created your Google form, you will copy your link by clicking "SEND" at the top right of your form. In the drop down box, click on the middle icon for link.  This will give you the link to paste into a QR code generator website like  .  I like because it is free and your codes never expire.  If you are still learning about how to create Google Forms, check my previous post on Back to Basics with Google Forms.

Once in follow these easy steps.

Step 1: Choose the type of QR code you need (choose website because it is coming from your Google Drive) 
Step 2:  Paste your Google form link into the long white rectangular box that says "content" above it.
You are then asked if you want static or dynamic.  Leave it on static.  
Step 3:  Choose your color. Usually I leave mine in black.  I have used color when I was using multiple codes and I wanted my items color coded to share at a workshop. The presentation, survey links, and handouts were all different colors.
Step 4: Download, print, or email your QR code.  I download mine and rename it for what it represents in my download file.  It is saved as a PNG, or picture file, then whenever I need it I can add it as an image.  Always be sure you test the code and have a friend test the code to be certain it is working properly before using. I learned this one the hard way!

Check out this short video on how to create a QR codefrom  Easy peasey.

Using your QR code.
As I mentioned above I have used QR codes to connect workshop participants to my PowerPoint presentation, workshop handouts, and a survey.  I have also included a QR code in my Welcome Back to School letter and School Counselor brochure, creating a digital business card parents could scan and save with my contact information.

But this year, I am at a middle school and wanted to do something different. The idea is for students to have access to online forms to self-refer for counseling or to make an anonymous report about bullying.  I have created an online counselor referral form and an anonymous bullying report form for students to access by scanning QR codes with their phones. These along with the QR codes for emailing my school counseling partner and myself appear on a small poster that reads "Help is only a scan away." These mini posters will be placed in the bathroom stalls, the common areas of the school, and over the light switch in the classrooms.  Due to ethical and liability concerns, and as a way of setting healthy professional boundaries, a disclaimer has been added to our poster.  It reads: "Online requests and reports will be checked and responded to by the School Counselors during regularly scheduled school days and hours.  If you are experiencing an emergency call 911."

Roll out of this procedure has been delayed by Hurricane Irma and more than a week out of school.  However, I am excited to see the sort of response we will get from the students once we are back in school.

Do you use QR codes in your school counseling program?  What are some interesting and creative ways you have used them? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

Coming soon, "How to sort your Google form data."

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Back to Basics with Google Forms

I began using Google forms about 3 years ago and have loved having them as part of my school counseling program.  I have used them for everything from student and teacher needs assessments, feedback surveys of Red Ribbon Week and Vehicle Day, teacher feedback on students and their group progress, time/task accountability, minute meetings, on-line counseling referrals, phone logs, and more. See these additional posts on Creating a Counselor Activity Log , Google Forms, Collect and Analyze Data and More Google Goodness  for samples of Google forms I have shared in this blog.

Google forms have changed a few times since I started using them 3 years ago. As you look through my blog you will see different styles of forms and some different instructions from when I first began using them in 2014.  So whether you are new to Google forms or in need of an update,  it seems a good time to review how to create and implement the use of google forms.

Step 1:  You must have a google account. It doesn't have to be a gmail account I recently learned. However, I personally like having a separate email account for all my google creations especially as it relates to school.  Setting up this google account gives you access to all of the Google tools like slides, forms, docs, sheets, and allows you to collaborate with others on these Google products.

If you do not have a gmail, go to this link to set up a  Google account.

Step 2: Finding your tools.  Go to your Google Drive. On the upper left side of the page click on the blue box that says NEW.  You will get a drop down menu with the list of Google products. At the bottom of the list it says MORE click there and you will see Google Forms.  Click on Google Forms to choose "Blank form" or "From a template."

Step 3:  Creating your form.  Plan ahead about how you want to use your form and what types of questions you want to ask.  When creating questions please remember that Google does a time stamp with the day and time the questions are answered, so that may or may not be a feature you need.  For example, I want the time and date feature on my Daily Counselor Log, because sometimes I may wait until the end of the day to put in all the classes, students, and adults I spoke with throughout the day. I want to be able to say when I saw that person and for how long.  However, this feature would not be important for a teacher survey or student on-line counseling referral as it will be time-stamped as they reply.

 Also consider how you want to be able to sort your data afterwards.  If you want to be able to sort by last name or first name, that would be two separate questions rather than just asking the question, "What is is your name?"  Some people may give their first name or first and last names. You would need a question for first name and one for last name if you want to sort by name.  Also be careful about using ambiguous questions/statements or two questions posed as one.  For example:  I feel safe. Not very specific.  Maybe they feel safe in some places and not in others. That makes me re-think how I should state this question. Also, the statement, "I feel safe at home and school" does not allow a student to specify if there is a difference. Instead ask two separate questions or make two separate statements, " I safe feel at home"  and "I feel safe at school."

Google gives you the choice of responses. Your respondents can rate statements on a linear scale, complete long or short answers, use multiple choice, check boxes, drop down menus and more.
When previewing your form, if you decide you don't like the order of your questions, no problem.  It is easy to grab the stack of 3 dots (referred to as "More") at the top of the page and move the questions around.  This task is much easier to do on a laptop.

Step 4:  Give your form a name and write a brief description of your form.

Step 5: Choose a background. Go to the top right of the page and look for the icon of the color palette. Click on that to see the drop down of color choices or go to the bottom right to the icon of a photograph to see the choices of headers Google has for your forms.  If you are really "techie" or just adventurous, you can go the the bottom of the "Select Theme" list where you will find Upload photos.  There you can make most any photo with the right dimensions (at least 800 pixels wide and  200 pixels tall) part of your background header.


Step 6:  Sharing your form with others to complete.  When you you are ready for your respondents to complete your form, go to the top right of your screen and click on the word SEND in the white box.  This will open the SEND pop up box.  You will see 3 icons for sending your form: by email, a link, or embedding it in a website. I like to use the middle icon, the link, to send the form to an email group or to create a QR code for my targeted audience to scan and complete my form.

Step 7:  Reviewing your data.  When you create a Google form, Google automatically collects your responses.  At the top of your form you will see "QUESTIONS"  and "RESPONSES."  Next to "RESPONSES" you will see a number. That is the number of responses or entries to your form. To the right of that you will see a small green box with white lines.  Click on that and it will say create a new spreadsheet or select an existing spread sheet.  Click on create a new spread sheet and the blue CREATE.  You will now have a response sheet by the same name as your form in your Google Drive. This is where all the data goes as each person completes your form and where you can go to view all your data and sort if you would like.

More to come!
In the next couple of weeks I will be talking about sorting your Google form data and sharing Google forms in a QR code.

I love Google forms and the versatility of using them in my school counseling program. I would love to hear from other Google form users about how you use forms in your program.  Please leave your comments and questions below as well as any tips or tricks you would like to share.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Practice Professional Empathy

For the first time in twenty years I am the new person at school. This summer I transferred from elementary to middle school and I am excitedly looking forward to the challenge. In this process however,  I have been reminded about what it means to be new, and I don't just mean for students.  When I arrived at my new school, all around me were people  effortlessly going about the business of preparing for students to arrive on Monday.  But not me.  I struggled to get the smallest of tasks completed, like finding a hole punch, and went home each day exhausted and frustrated at how little I had accomplished.  There was so much I wanted to do to get ready and here I was spinning my wheels for hours at a time. Then I thought about my School Counseling partner who is also new.  And I mean brand spankin' new. Just out of graduate school and new to School Counseling, our state, and district.  And then it hit me.  I needed to practice some professional empathy. Yeah, I was frustrated, but what was it like for her?!

As School Counselors, we are all about helping the new students transition and feel at home.  But what about the new faculty and new School Counselors who join our schools?  HOLY MOLEY! Being at a new school is absolutely overwhelming!  You come in all eager and excited and with big plans and ideas of the things you want to do to fix up your office or classroom.  However, you find the most simple of tasks become huge obstacles and take 10 times as long as they should because you don't have the supplies you need,  you don't know where things are,  you don't know who to ask, or what to do to get them.  What is my phone extension?  How do I get a computer or district email? How do I get office supplies? Where is the bulletin board paper?  What is the procedure for making copies?  How many can I make? Do I need to have my own paper?  You get the idea.  The hundreds of tasks and decisions you make without even a thought are now enormous obstacles for your newest faculty.

So as you plow through your pre-planning to-do list, determined to finish it by Friday,  I'm asking you to stop and take some time to offer those who are new, and in need of your kindness, a little professional empathy.  I was able to do many of these things for my new partner and some great office staff and administrators were able to help me with some of the basic policies and procedures. But for some of these other items, my partner and I will be looking for some professional empathy from some of the Middle School Counselors in our district.

Check out the list below to see some of things you can do.  Yes, they may take an hour or two of your time, but a little professional empathy goes a long way for those who are looking for a back to school life-line.

1) Start with basic human needs, show them where the bathroom, water fountain, refrigerator, coffee pot, soda machine, bulletin board paper, staff mailboxes, and copier are located and how they are used.

2) Define the acronyms.  We have different acronyms from state to state and even school to school as we design special programs to meet the needs of our students. As educators, we often speak in acronyms without thinking.  Take a moment and share what these mean.

3) Talk about basic school and district policies, administrative quirks, and unspoken rules.
For example: If there's a specific form for bullying or a student making a threat, a special sign in/sign-out thing if you leave campus, if parent conferences are only on certain days, if leggings are a no-no, if admin doesn't like for your children to help on campus during pre-planning, if pets are okay to bring while setting up your room, etc.

4) Be willing to loan your stuff.  Check to see if there is something you can loan short term like staplers, tape, markers, your children, etc. When you are new you don't always come with all your supplies in tow or have children who are used to helping their mom or dad set up their room or office each year.  Offer what you can, sometimes all your new colleague needs is just the basics to get started.

5) Share information.  Are they getting emails and announcements from admin and the district?  Make sure you print copies so they don't feel left out and even more clueless than they already do.

6) Review the district website.  There are many important things School Counselors and teachers need to know about on our district's website. Give your newbies a basic overview of how to maneuver on your district website, how to access district computer programs, where special required forms can be found, and how to sign up for computer training, and  PD (professional development).

7) Be a mentor.  Offer assurance that it will get easier and be the someone newbies feel they can come to with questions or concerns throughout the year.  The entire first year of school counseling has a very steep learning curve. The counseling skills are there, but all the policies, procedures, do's and don'ts of a district can be hard to manage.  They don't teach all that in grad school.  Remember when you were new.  What would you have liked someone to have done for you?

 If you have started back to school, or will be starting soon,  I urge you to be on the lookout for the new folks. And if you are in elementary, look not only for the new faculty at your school, but the new School Counselors in your district.  There are some things with which only another School Counselor can provide help.  Check in to see who is overwhelmed and could use a little encouragement.  We tend to assume there are things everyone knows, but that just isn't the case. Have some professional empathy and take an hour or so of your time and share it with that new counselor or new teachers.  Your kindness will help them not only feel at home at your school, but more informed and confident as they welcome students to a new school year.

How do you practice professional empathy?  What other things would you add to my list?

Welcome Back!  It's going to be an exciting 2017-2018!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Summer Giveaway! FREE Books!

It is my great pleasure to introduce Erainna Winnett, author of Mrs. Joyce Gives the Best High-Fives, as my guest blogger.  However, for many School Counselors, Erainna needs no introduction.  Not only has she written this popular book used by School Counselors across our country, but she has written numerous other books including a therapeutic series of activity books and one of my personal favorites, Frenemy Jungle.

In today's post you will find out how Erainna  came to write Mrs. Joyce Gives the Best High-Fives,  a link for awesome FREE lesson activities she designed to go with her book, and instructions on how to enter our giveaway for a chance to win one of five FREE autographed copies of  Mrs. Joyce Gives the Best High-Fives!

Welcome Erainna!

First, thank you so much for having me as a guest blogger, I am honored to share my story with your readers. I’ve been in education for the past twenty-two years. After fifteen years in the classroom I felt a calling for something more—a deeper way to connect with and help children, which is how I discovered school counseling.
I moved from classroom teacher to school counselor in 2011 and absolutely fell in love. However, I soon discovered there weren’t a lot of up-to-date resources available for school counselors. After hearing me gripe about it for months, my husband finally told me to write my own resources. Isn’t it nice to have someone who knows what you need before you do?

And so, I began researching self-publishing and taught myself the basics of publishing a book. To be honest, there were some costly mistakes: the cover for Mrs. Joyce Gives the Best High-Fives was redesigned five times—YIKES—before I found one that I felt was ‘right’. Most students didn’t even know their school had a counselor, much less how one could help them.

The first week of school during my second year as a counselor I went into every classroom and read the Mrs. Joyce book. The children loved it and I received many thank-yous from teachers. Needless to say, the following week my office was constantly busy.
I continued listening to my students and knew that I needed to write other books to address individual needs. This launched me into the Helping Kids Heal therapeutic activity book set. I’m thrilled with how well all of these books have been received. Just last week, I woke up to an email from Ireland requesting copies of my books. Who would have ever thought a small-town Texas counselor-author could reach professionals across the ocean?

As educators, counselors are often the least familiar to parents, students and sometimes teachers. I hope my efforts have offered you some tools and helped you appreciate the power of your roles in our children’s lives. And I invite you to continue to add to our community. I wish you luck in the giveaway and hope you are having a relaxing, restful summer. 

All the best and Happy Counseling. 

Thank you Erainna for sharing your story and your amazing FREE resources to go along with your book Mrs. Joyce Gives the Best High- Fives!  

How To Win Your FREE copy of Mrs. Joyce Gives the Best High-Fives

There are 3 easy ways to enter!   

  • Follow my blog by email and post a comment below about why you should win a copy of Mrs. Joyce Gives the Best High-Fives. 
  • Like this post on the Exploring School Counseling Facebook page and leave a comment about why you should win,
  • Like this post on the School Counselor Store Facebook page and comment on why you should win. 
Each method gives you one entry in our giveaway. Do all three and receive 3 entries!  Give away begins Friday, June 30 at 12:01 AM EST and closes on Sunday, July 2, 2017 at 11:59 PM EST. 

Winners will be selected using Rafflecopter and announced at the close of the giveaway.
Thanks for participating! Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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 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. (Worksheets, handouts, forms Counselor were asked to bring)

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.

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.