Friday, November 22, 2013

Children's Grief Awareness Day

Thursday, November 21st was Children's Grief Awareness Day. The purpose of this day is to support all children who have lost a loved one, and remind others that children experience grief, too. This could be grief for a lost parent, grandparent, sibling, cousin, pet, etc. Children's Grief Awareness Day is purposely set during the holiday season, as this is often a more difficult time for those who have lost loved ones.

Many of the school counselors in my district wanted to acknowledge this day and remind our students that we support them! To do so, we asked all students and staff to wear BLUE on Thursday in honor of a loved one they have lost or in support of a friend who has lost someone. We also provided students and staff with the opportunity to decorate butterflies (the symbol of Children's Grief Awareness) with a memory of someone they have lost. I also spent some time visiting a few classrooms to share the book Chester the Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories, by Audrey Penn (author of The Kissing Hand). This sweet story brings the topic onto the level of younger students by encouraging them to cherish memories of loved ones lost. Students also love the Chester books, which is a plus! The "Memory Walls" from all three of my elementary schools can be seen below:

(^ For my smallest school, I took time to die-cut butterflies and acorns to accompany the Chester story).

Our efforts for Children's Grief Awareness Day even made the local newspaper! I hope that students realize that not only their school counselors, but also their teachers and peers, support them during times of grief.  I have already begun brainstorming ideas for next year! How do you support grieving students? 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Save Money, Live Better: $50 of Counseling Resources

Recently, one of my elementary schools was the recipient of gift cards from WalMart's Teacher Rewards Program. I was fortunate to receive a $50 gift card to use towards resources for my school counseling office.  A little bit goes a long way!

The Haul:

1. Small Adirondack Chair-Not only are these chairs super cute, but their slightly reclined position can be great for students who come to take a break! Dipping into theory, they could also be great for some Empty Chair or Small Chair therapy exercises. ($4.97)

2. Post-It Notes-Can't ever have enough of these things around! Whether you use them in sessions with students, or simply to remind yourself of the 1,678 things on your to-do list, post-it notes are always handy! (1.97/ 4 pack)

3. Pin-Wheel-Great for working on deep-breathing! (.50)

4. Small Tubes of Toothpaste- I use the toothpaste analogy (once words are out, it's impossible to put them back in) all. the. time!! For younger students, it can be more concrete when a visual is used! (.97) 

5. Games-Currently, I am hauling my staple games, Candy Land & Chutes and Ladders, between my three schools. Not to mention that all of my students remind me how out-dated my versions of the games are! Today's board games come in a more compact box and were fairly inexpensive ($4.88) at WalMart! Board games help to build rapport, encourage conversation, and can be played using questions on various topics (social skills, friendship, etc!)

6. Markers/Crayons/Glue Sticks-Frequently-used resources with my students! 
(.97/ 3-count gluesticks)   ($2.47/ 10-count Crayola Markers)   (1.00/ 4-pack Twistable Crayons)

7. Book- If you've read my previous posts, you know I love incorporating bibliotherapy into my school counseling program! Found this super-cute, easy-reader book for just ($3.77).

8. Play-Doh- Another must-have resource! I find the smaller-portioned containers to be more cost-effective.  This size also allows the students I see frequently to have their own container! 
(3.96/ Bag of 10)

9. Pencil Boxes-I pick these up pretty frequently when I see them for under $1.00! These were (.97) at WalMart! They can be used for hygiene kits, calm-down kits, general storage, etc! 
10. White-Boards-Can be used for doodling, writing, etc! Found a pack of three lined, lap-size boards for ($2.00) in the dollar section in the front of the store.

11. Pinpression-So excited about this find! Remember these things? I think they can be particularly therapeutic for students with sensory needs, and just generally fun! ($5.00)
12. Activity Tablet-Great to have on hand for students who pop-in unexpectedly! This is another item that I found in the dollar section in the front of the store for ($2.00)

13. Notepads, Stress Balls, Stickers-The dollar section strikes again! Picked up a handful of go-to items for just ($1.00)!!

With tax, I got a total of 26 different items for just $51.39. Cannot wait to incorporate them into my office and begin using them with students!! What other school counseling items have you picked up for little cost? 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Quality Data Collection with Qualtrics

     I mentioned Qualtrics in my first blog post as the resource I used to to create an online Needs Assessment for school faculty & staff. Since then, I have been meaning to write a post on how to incorporate Qualtrics into your School Counseling Tool Box. So here we go!
    The Qualtrics website defines itself as "a web-based tool for building surveys". I was first introduced to Qualtrics during my time as a Graduate Research Assistant. The university had a license to use the program, so all students and faculty had the opportunity to utilize the resource. Making use of the "Qualtrics University" tutorials and support, it wasn't long before I was ready to build my first survey! (Although I'm about to give you a mini-lesson, I suggest you also take some time to complete "Qualtrics University").

Step One: Creating Your Qualtrics Account
As I previously mentioned, many colleges and universities have licenses with Qualtrics (see a brief list here), which allows their students and faculty to, literally, have the resource at their fingertips. If this student/faculty profile applies to you, be sure to look into this (likely found on your library's resource page) before creating a "free account". Now, if this does not apply to you, and you would just like to explore the benefits of Qualtrics, I would suggest creating a "free account", or logging in with Google. Although a free account does not give you access to all of the bells and whistles, it does allow you to have one active (ready to collect data) survey at a time, with up to 350 responses.

Step Two: Creating Your First Survey
Upon logging-in, you should be taken to a new screen, located on the tab titled My Surveys. Below the tab, select Create Survey. Next, you may explore the Survey Library to start from one of many existing templates, select Create From Copy to start from a survey you previously created, or select Quick Survey Builder to create a survey from scratch. For purposes of this post, we are going to use Quick Survey Builder. Note: If you choose to use a Qualtrics template, you must select Global Library after clicking on the Survey Library.

After selecting Quick Survey Builder, you will be prompted to name your survey. Now it's time to get begin creating your questions! On the new screen, click the green box that says Create New Item. This will create a box for Q1. On the right side of the screen, another green box will allow you to Change Item Type. Here, you can select from a variety of question types including multiple choice, text entry, rank order, and many more. Also on the right side of the screen, you can edit the amount of answer choices, and determine how many responses are allowed per question. Once you've made these changes, you can type your question and answer choices into the question box. Using the green plus signs that appear when your mouse hovers over the question, you can continue to add further questions above or below the one you just created. You may also select the red minus sign to delete the question. Be sure to explore all the question possibilities-you can even import an image into the question box!

Step Three: Launching Your Survey
Once you have added all of the questions that you would like to include in your survey, you are almost ready to make it active for public response! Remaining within the Edit Survey tab, you also have the ability to edit many other details (font, color, level of access, and even the message that people will see after they complete your survey).

When your survey is edited to your liking, you are ready to select the globe-shaped icon labeled Launch Survey. Next, you want to click Activate Your Survey to Collect Responses. You will then be given an anonymous link to your survey, which you can share via email, social media, etc. For example, here is the link to the Needs Assessment that I created this summer.

Step Four: Retrieving Data
Once you have activated your survey and your audience has begun to submit responses, you may want to begin viewing the data. For this you will need to return to the My Surveys tab and select Results next to the correct survey. Note: If you are ready to close your survey/prevent more data from coming in, un-check the green box that denotes that your survey is Active.

On the next screen, you will want to click Initial Report. This will transport you to the page which displays all of your data. Here, you can view statistical data, create subgroups and filters, and even download/export your data into another software program for further use.

Although I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the survey possibilities available through Qualtrics, I hope that I have gotten your wheels turning in regards to this valuable resource! If you have specific questions, please don't hesitate to comment below, e-mail, or tweet me! I would love to help and/or hear what you think and discover! :)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Getting Started with Bibliotherapy

      One of my most favorite tools to use as a School Counselor is bibliotherapy, or the use of books as a form of therapy! I use books with individual students, in groups, and especially for classroom lessons. I am constantly on the lookout for new titles on school counseling-related topics, and Books That Heal Kids blog is a fantastic resource that helps me stay up-to-date on the latest therapeutic titles!

How to Build Your Bibliotherapy Library
     I began collecting books for my library during graduate school. But have I spent a fortune on brand new copies of therapeutic topics? No way! Many of my books have been purchased from thrift stores and used book sales. These can be hit or miss, but I have made some great finds for 25 cents to one dollar a piece! In fact, I just visited a local used book sale this week and picked up about fifteen books for $4.45!

This isn’t to say that I haven’t purchased some specific books that I wanted for my collection. I have gotten a few at Scholastic Book Fairs, Warehouse Sales, or online, but truthfully, the majority of my collection has come from secondhand vendors.
How to Organize Your Library
            The picture below shows a portion of my library separated by topic. This keeps my resources organized and easily accessible in the moment or on the go.

Some topics that I have in my library include:
 -Behaviors, Bucket-Filling, Bullying, Careers, Character Building, Coping, Diversity (Respecting Differences), Divorce, Family Relations, Feelings, Friendship, Grief & Loss, Health Concerns, Manners, Military, Self-Esteem, and specific collections such as Dr. Seuss and Pete the Cat!

I also rely on the Book Crawler App for on-the-go access to the topics and titles that I have in my library.  When I’m at a store or book sale and can’t remember if I have a certain book, I can grab my phone and find out. School Counselor Blog has a great blog post with step by step directions on using this App to stay organized.
Don’t Hog Them All For Yourself!
          As a school counselor who moves between three schools, there are a few staple books that I always carry with me. But for the most part, my library sits available at my home base school. Therefore, I make sure teachers know that they are welcome to come sign-out a book anytime they feel that their class or a specific student would benefit. The sign-out sheet lets me know where my resources are at all times. I even have some chapter books that I lend out to students for longer periods.
Join Us!
        Want to learn how other school counselors utilize bibliotherapy? Join us on Twitter this Thursday, October 3rd for #escchat! I will be moderating this chat, and am looking forward to expanding my own knowledge of bibliotherapy!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

October 3rd #escchat

Excited/nervous to be moderating my first Twitter Chat with my fellow Elementary School Counselors, and everyone within our Professional Learning Network! Not only that, but the chat is on one of my favorite school counseling tools-bibliotherapy! Consider joining us next Thursday at 8pm EST using #escchat. I will be posting soon on the topic :) Hope to "see" you next week!

PR Opps at Back to School Night

    This week included the first of my three Back to School Nights. I have been so thankful for the variety of posts lately on utilizing this event for marketing our School Counseling Programs! Entirely Elementary...School Counseling and Savvy School Counselor have both published great interpretations of this event.
     As not only a new school employee, but also as an unfamiliar position to the elementary level, I was excited to meet parents and discuss my role and services with them! At this specific school, my counseling space is way at the end of the building. Therefore, in order to increase the likelihood of getting traffic-I set up my table right at the school entrance!
     At the recommendation of the aforementioned blog posts, I created an eye-catching poster with information on my role, as well as some helpful handouts on the school counseling program, student success, and how to talk with students about their school day. I also had my business cards available for parents who wanted to continue our conversations at a later date. Naturally, I also had to include some incentive to come visit me--so lollipops were available for students who brought their parents up. :)

   I was so excited to meet parents with whom I had previously only had phone or e-mail contact.  Being present at the Back to School Night also reminded parents that School Counseling services are now available, and encouraged some great conversations!

   I look forward to the Back to School Nights at my other two buildings, and even more conversations with parents. Thanks again to those who posted previously on this event--your ideas were so helpful and provided me with the confidence to place myself right at the entrance! :)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Don't Squeal Unless It's A BIG Deal!

  It's that time of year: "He's touching me!" "She's not being quiet!" At the request of a few teachers in my buildings, this week included some classroom lessons on tattling. There are a multitude of resources out there that address this topic. However, in order to keep it as simple as possible, I decided to go with the book and phrase, "Don't Squeal Unless It's A Big Deal!" by Jeanie Franz Ransom.

      Not only is this book hilarious to the adult reader, but the situation experienced by this class of young pigs is incredibly similar to today's classrooms! The story reminds students that their most important job is to be in charge of themselves and not other students. Furthermore, it clarifies what types of things warrant "squealing", such as when someone is hurt, in danger, or hurting someone else's property.
     I began by having students make inferences about the content of the story based on what they could see on the cover. Afterwards, we read through the story together. NOTE: On pg. 12, one pig calls another a "fat sow"-appropriate for swine, but not necessarily for young students--I changed this. :)
    Prior to the lesson, I had written up a few short scenarios that were similar to those occurring in our classrooms (ex. Another student is not following the teacher's directions). I also labeled two small containers with "Squeal" and "No Squeal". I read the scenario to students, and they gave me a thumbs up or thumbs down to indicate whether a Squeal or No Squeal was needed.  At times, the teachers would also chime-in with additional examples.  We wrapped up the lesson by doing some Kid Writing with the prompt "Don't Squeal Unless...".

     I think this book was a fun way to increase students' awareness of how often we really are squealing! It's also a great common language to use within school environments where tattling is an issue.
     Be sure to check Pinterest for even more ideas for utilizing this book & lesson! Do you use another book or lesson idea to address tattling?

Friday, September 13, 2013

International Dot Day

Some of my favorite pieces in my counseling library are written and/or illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. One of his books in particular, The Dot, encourages creative expression not only in the children featured in the story, but also in readers of all ages!

International Dot Day, now in it's fifth year, will be celebrated this Sunday, September 15th. The Dot Day Website provides more information on how to celebrate this event while encouraging others to embrace their individuality and "make their mark!" The video below includes a reading of the book while highlighting a school district's interpretation of a "Dot Gallery".

Similar to in The Dot, I enjoy using art with students during individual and group sessions. For students who are unable to verbalize their feelings and/or experiences, art can serve as a fantastic outlet! It can also give us a look into their world! For schools who have access to technology, iPads might also be a great tool for creative expression. Otherwise, general crayons, paper, play-doh, and other craft resources work just as well!

How do you embrace creativity as a school counselor? Do you encourage students to make their mark?!

Happy Dot Day!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Seeking Help from Scaredy Squirrel

With a recent student case, I found few school counseling resources out there that had to to with students who are exhibiting a fear of germs (pathologically referred to as Mysophobia). There are lots of available educational materials and lessons for working with children who have little concept of germ prevention (try Pinterest), but few for germaphobe intervention. Now we know that the aforementioned fear can often be a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. However, in this specific case, the fear of germs was the sole presenting symptom that was severely affecting the student's ability to learn and function in the classroom. A true-blue sign for intervention by the School Counselor!

While searching for resources, I came across a number of theory-based techniques, such as Immersion Therapy and Cognitive Restructuring. However, for a young student with whom I have not yet established solid rapport, I was looking to start with a more comfortable, indirect approach. Turning to my love of bibliotherapy, I soon encountered Scaredy Squirrel. Not only are the books visually pleasing and fun to read with students, but the website also provides an abundance of additional resources including e-books in case you aren't able to secure hard copies!

In a nut-shell (no pun intended), Scaredy Squirrel is a germaphobic squirrel who goes on various adventures, but takes every precaution to ensure that he does not have to face his fear of germs, crowds, etc. In each story, Scaredy realizes that he is missing out on the true experience of things by hiding behind his "emergency kit" that is uniquely prepared for each adventure.  I found that reading one of the Scaredy Squirrel books together was a great lead-in to discuss if the student ever felt a similar way. There are a variety of great Scaredy Squirrel books available, including: Scaredy Squirrel At the Beach, Goes Camping, Makes A Friend, At Night, and Has A Birthday Party. There are even titles that include Scaredy Squirrel preparing for Halloween and Christmas!

For those of you who haven't checked out Scaredy Squirrel yet, I encourage you to do so! I am also continuously looking for more ideas/insight for working with students who are very germ-conscious!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Introduction to the School Counselor

Not only am I a new school counselor, but I am a new school counselor within a district that has not had elementary school counselors for 8+ years! In order to get both students and staff acquainted with my role, I implemented a variety of things.

Needs Assessment for School Staff
Using some ideas from The Helpful Counselor Blog, I created an online Needs Assessment using Qualtrics. (I used Qualtrics in grad school, and honestly feel that it is the best research/survey tool out there! Hoping to write a future post on the tool.) I emailed the Needs Assessment link to teachers at all three of my buildings, along with a short introduction. The teachers and staff who responded provided me with some great insight and feedback to better direct my goals for the year! Also, it was a great way to get into a "data-driven" mindset from the get-go!
Below is an example of one of the questions I asked of teachers & staff:

Grades K-2 Introduction Lesson
To introduce my role to the younger students, I used the ever-popular Mrs. Potato Head role comparison lesson from Pinterest. As a group we moved through the jobs of my eyes, hands, ears (here I discussed confidentiality), etc. I think every class also pointed out that Mrs. Potato Head has blonde hair, not "orange" like mine. :)

I wrapped up the lesson by reading The Way I Feel by Janan Cain. Throughout the book we discussed how I work with students who are experiencing a multitude of feelings--even more than one feeling at the same time! Young students really seem to love this book and the vibrant colors used for each feeling.

Grades 3-5 Introduction Lesson
I wanted to do something more interactive for the upper grades. After I introduced myself and discussed my role, I really emphasized that as a new school counselor to each school, I needed to know what third, fourth, and fifth graders need! Using large posterboard, I created three posters that read: 1. What do you hope to learn this year? 2. What do  you need to be successful? 3. What can I do to help you? We moved through each question together and students responded using post-it notes. To keep students moving and engaged, I chose different people for each question to collect the post-its and place them on the corresponding poster. Below are a few examples of the posters, as well as individual student responses:

What did I do with all these post-its afterwards, you might ask? Might I say again, DATA! Although time-consuming, I read through all responses, and tallied them within specific categories. Afterwards, I combined the responses into grade level, and plan to use these responses to steer my services for the year! Furthermore, some post-it note responses raised some flags for me, and I was able to return to the specific teacher and talk about potential individual work with that student.

In all, I completed almost 60 Intro Lessons between my three buildings! Exhausting, but well worth it to have students not only put a name with a new face in the building, but to also understand my role! 

What introductory lessons have you used that worked well?