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. 
Erainna

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!


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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.