Teaching Kelso's Choices - This Year's Lesson Plans

Thursday, September 21, 2017
Last fall, I published a post that discussed all the different ways we've taught and reviewed Kelso's Choices over the years at our school. We stuck with some of the original plan but I mixed it up some with my 'big kids'.

3rd Grade

After whipping out the plush frog and getting them excited for the return of Kelso, we talked about why we learn about Kelso's Choices EVERY. YEAR. Some buttercup always points out "because we forget them sometimes". Then we watched both video clips again (links and stopping points/discussion questions in the link above). I swapped the order of the videos this time because I wanted us to end on the scenarios where characters used "Ignore".

BE a Leader - Lesson Plan

Saturday, September 16, 2017
Back in the spring, I did a lesson with my 4th graders about choosing what reputation they wanted to leave behind at elementary school and start middle school with. I loved it, and started thinking that maybe this same idea could be used at the start of the year too.

We ask a lot of our 4th graders. We assume that once they start the year, they are ready to become the role models and leaders that we expect them to be - yet we don't always take the time to make sure they know what this means for them as individuals. Enter: "BE a Leader" lesson.

School Counseling #Goals

Monday, September 4, 2017
A little over a year ago, I shared some slides from a presentation I gave on SMART goals for school counselors. Goal setting is important to me for three reasons: 1) I gotta practice what I preach and I tell the kiddos to set goals, 2) in a world of Pinterest, blogs, and TpT, goals keep me focused and 3) goals help us make sure our program is effective.


This year, I made three kinds of goals: personal school counseling goals, program process goals, and student outcome goals. I learn best through example so for those of you that do too, here are mine!

Personal School Counseling Goals

These are goals I have for myself as a counseling professional. 

1. Improve my individual counseling.
Refresh myself on solution-focused strategies, incorporate more art, and bring back some client-centered play therapy. This was my strength but as they say - use it or lose it - and I think I've lost some of my non-CBT strategies and skills.

2. Incorporate academics more into whole group lessons.
I want teachers to infuse SEL into their instruction and reinforce my messages - I can model this (and help our schools' low reading scores) by doing the reverse.

3. Be a Positive Patty.
Our school is undergoing some significant changes. That paired with ever increasing pressures and a shrinking budget is a recipe for negativity. I need to be the light.

4. Apply to Present at Another Conference
Last year, I applied to (and was accepted to) present at a semi-local conference for school counselors and administrators. It was an awesome experience and I caught the 'presenting bug'. In the spring, I challenged myself to apply to present at a different conference this school year. I submitted my application a couple weeks ago and should hear in 11 days if my proposal was accepted!

Program Process Goals

These are our goals for improving our school counseling program and making it the best it can be. 

1. Rock small groups.
Conduct pre/post surveys (or collect pre/post data) on 50%+ of my small groups. A couple years ago, I tried to collect data on every group I ran - and much of it was meaningless. Last year, the pendulum was too far in the other direction and I collected next to no data. My goal this year is to be more intentional with small group data. I am also going to give myself more grace in small group session planning and remind myself that the consistency and relationships of it are more important than the activities I come up with. If I come up with super cool plans? Great! If I just build strong relationships and model high expectations? Also great.

2. Do more for the teachers.
Morale among faculty dipped too low at the end of last year. While I certainly don't think positive faculty culture and climate is the responsibility of the school counselor, I think we are in a unique position to assist with it given our training and our broader view of the school.

3. Start an advisory council.
While I don't think we are willing to devote our time to applying for RAMP yet, my co-counselor and I want our program to be 'RAMP Ready' and we realized that an advisory council is one of our only missing pieces. This is a tricky task at a school with super duper low parent involvement and a mostly ELL parent population, but we see value in this and want to give it a go. (Is it a little backwards to make all these goals before the first advisory council meets? Maybe. But I needed goals in place ASAP and we haven't been able to convene the council yet).

Student Outcome Goals

These are goals that answer the question: How are our students measurably different as a result of the school counseling program?

1. Following the MTSS model, 80% of students will show mastery (as reported by teacher) of newly taught SEL skill set at completion of each unit/theme. 
Our school (and district) values SEL and this is the core of our program. I'll write more at another time about how we assess social emotional learning.

2. Contribute to the schoolwide goal of each student making 18 months of academic growth.
Talk about a big, hairy, audacious goal! But our new admin is adamant that it can be done and by all means, my co-counselor and I are going to do our part to work towards this.

3. Reduce the number of general education students with 2+ behavior incidents by 33%.
This goal allows us to provided targeted intervention to students identify from last school year as at-risk for behavior difficulties, and to continue to provide quality consultation to teachers at a prevention and early intervention level.

4. Decrease the number of students with 20+ tardies by 20%.
This is our first year making an attendance goal; our school's attendance is actually one of the best for our quadrant (our district is huge and divided into quadrants and clusters). That said, we hear from teachers all the time about the negative impact these tardies have on students who would otherwise be on grade level academically.

Would I bet money on achieving all of these goals? Nope. I am going to give myself grace. Am I gonna bust it and do my best to remind myself of these goals every day? Yup! For me, this means printing them in a pretty format and having them as the very first page in my planner/binder.



Want your own printable to put your AMAZING counseling goals on? It's in my TpT store for free! I also included a 'tip sheet' to help guide you along. Click the image below to get there. And please comment with some of YOU goals for the year!



Classroom Coping Skills - Calm Down Box - Lesson Plan

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Two years ago, my co-counselor and I were given money in the school budget to create calm down boxes for each homeroom. We were JAZZED about this. We spend copious amounts of time finding approved vendors, DIYing our glitter jars, and trying to master Boardmaker. The first week of school we gave them to the teachers and gave some suggestions on how they could introduce them to their students. Cut to the end of the year: the boxes were never really used. We found them on high shelves behind teachers' desks. We found them hidden behind things on the floor. We went into rooms we couldn't find them at all. We talked to students who looked at us like we were crazy when we asked about them. It was a total fail. At first I was angry; then I realized I was to blame.

Where did we go wrong?
1) We gave them to teachers the first week of school and expected them to hear and remember the words coming out of our mouths. In our excitement for students to have these tools (and, admittedly, excitement to have the boxes out of our already cramped and tiny offices), we forgot to think strategically about the timing of their release.
2) We asked our teachers to teach the students how to use the calm down box because we didn't want to use up one of our lessons for it. This was silly because a) this is really in the counseling wheelhouse and b) it's not good practice to add to teachers' plates unless absolutely necessary.

This year we remedied our mistake by planning for our first lesson in 2nd-4th grade to be about classroom coping skills where we would teach and practice use of the calm down box.

I had originally planned a few read alouds to kick off the lesson: Mouse Was Mad for 2nd grade, Moody Cow Meditates for 3rd, and Even Superheroes Have Bad Days for 4th. I didn't end up having enough time to do this for my 45 minute lessons, but if I had a whole 60, I would have gone for it.


Once I got a better sense of how long the rotations part of the lesson was going to go, I instead starting with a short discussion with the class about feeling super upset (mad, worried, sad) and how sometimes those feelings make it hard for our brain to learn. Then I introduce the calm down box - a set of tools or strategies you can use to help yourself feel better so your brain can go back to learning

After explaining that we'd be practicing the strategies in rotations, I explicitly teach and model how to use each of them. For example, I show and explain that the stress ball will always stay in our hands (not the floor, our desks, or the air) and that we squeeze the ball super tight for 5 seconds, relax our hand and arm muscles for 5 seconds, and then repeat. As I teach each tool, I have a volunteer place the rotation directions and practice tools on top of a table or desk grouping. 

For 3rd and 4th grade, we practiced 6 tools and had 6 rotations: mandala, 'My Happy Place', deep breathing, glitter jar (or visual timer), stress ball, and 'Hug an Animal'. With 2nd grade I narrowed it down to just 'My Happy Place', mandala, visual timer, and deep breathing. Last year we didn't have stuffed animals in the boxes, but both my co-counselor and I witnessed the power of the stuffed animal in our offices and decided to include them. 



*Side note - my mind jar recipe as as follows: 1 part glycerin to 3-4 parts water, 4 drops dish soap, 3 drops food coloring, and glitter

They really only needed 2 to 3 minutes per rotation which was a surprise. I used my phone timer in the upper grades because we needed to stay on track to get through all six stations, and used my chime in 2nd grade where I could just gauge their readiness before rotating them. Big kids also scored each rotation as they went to show how helpful each strategy was for them.



In rooms where we had extra time (i.e. rooms that managed the logistics of the lesson without us needing to stop and review expectations), students completed exit tickets. I really loved this piece because I find that students do excellent when learning coping skills but they struggle with using them in the moment - this exit ticket helps them anticipate when they'll need to use the calm down box.


In high need rooms, I also introduced the visual communication board. Each year, I have a number of students whose emotional dysregulation results in a total shut down. I used a similar board the last couple of years and found that many of these students respond really well to being able to identify their emotion and need non-verbally like this.



I love how this lesson turned out (I experimented with coping skills rotations a few years ago) but, as always, I have a "next time I do this..." for it. This could be even more powerful if I broke it up into two lessons. The first would be a focus on identifying strong emotions in themselves, including the physical clues of the feelings. The second would just be the rotations and exit ticket.

If you want the materials for this lesson, you can find them in my TpT store - just click the image below!


Back to School Greatness on TpT

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Hey y'all! I am part of a collaborative of counselors on TpT. We just released this ebook, hosted on Counselor Keri's store, that includes the best resources from several counselors (and a freebie from each!). It's a great way to learn about what counselor-authors are out there that might help you build up your program. Click the image below to get to the page.

Five Year Reflection

Thursday, July 6, 2017
School Counseling 5 Year Reflection

     The closing of this past school year marks FIVE years that I have been an elementary school counselor - and all five in the same school, too! In the spirit of the self-reflection that I encourage with my students, I'm using this milestone as a reason to process my top five thoughts and feelings about the job. While I normally process best out loud, I didn't want to subject my husband to this (our talking time together is limited since the birth of #2) so here I am writing it all out.

1. I still love school counseling. 

I'm feeling incredibly grateful that, instead of becoming burned out as time has gone on, I've become even more passionate. Some things I think have lead to that:

  • When I started, there was no real counseling program at my school and faculty didn't understand the role of the counselor or value school counseling services. It took time, but through 1)advocating for the SEL development of my students and 2) teachers seeing what happens when students and classes receive services, minds and hearts began to open and change. This means I'm given the freedom to develop a comprehensive school counseling program and I (usually) feel very supported by others.

  • Blogging. Yup. Blogging myself as well as reading other counseling blogs continues to light my fire. New ideas, new perspectives, pushing myself to be creative and to grow, etc. The same goes for selling on TpT. I thrive on 'bigger and better' and these venues provide me with that push.

Must Have Books - Shyness and Worry

Sunday, July 2, 2017
This is Part 5 in my must have book series. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here!
Part 5: Shyness and Worry

In my first position as well as in all of my internships, anger was the biggest emotion the kiddos had trouble regulating. For the past few years however, we've seen a large number of our students experiencing a significant amount of shyness. And like the rest of the America, we are seeing increasing anxiety issues as well. While it's easy to find books about fear and phobias, books that describe worry/anxiety are a bit harder to come by.


From North to South/Del Norte al Sur Review

Tuesday, June 20, 2017
In the five years I've been at my school, I've had a handful of students face the deportation of a parent or sibling and even more who had loved ones that didn't 'have papers' AKA they were undocumented and thus at risk of deportation.

From a counseling level (and a human level!), I could feel their pain and help them process the situation. Though each situation is unique, there almost always seems to be some combination of trauma/grief/loss/stigma/financial instability. Despite these understandings, I really wanted to find some specific resources to use with my students on the topic.

Imagine my excitement then when I stumbled upon the book From North to South/Del Norte al Sur, about a boy whose mom is deported! I've debated whether or not to write about it however, because it is not a slam dunk by any means. On the one hand, I don't want to post about things negatively. On the other hand, I do want to prevent people wasting their money on things they are disappointed by because I know most counselors/teachers/therapists have very limited budgets.




Pros: Each page is filled with beautiful illustrations, the text is also in Spanish, and the existence of the book (as well as it's treatment of deportation) can remove the stigma from this scary situation.

Cons: The child gets to go visit his mom!!! Perhaps in TX or CA this is more common, but in my experience, the most my students can hope for is FaceTime or a phone call. For me, this makes the book less of a candidate for bibliotherapy. While the first part is relatable, the whole piece about the boy going to see his mom doesn't feel realistic and may bring false hope. It also doesn't delve into the emotional and social experience the main character faces either which was a major bummer.



The Verdict: Good book, would be great to have in school libraries...but not great bibliotherapy for deportation and not a must have for counselors.

Career Day - Bonus Benefits

Saturday, June 10, 2017
Last month was my 4th annual Career Day and for some reason, I've found myself reflecting even more than usual.


Despite working in an elementary school, my brain sometimes veers more middle. I used to be hyper focused on our career speakers talking about the career aspects of their job - the training, the pros and cons of the position, what it takes to be successful, etc. It stressed me out when speakers veered off course and talked to the students about their field more broadly. I think this may have been due in part to the fact that I always spent the morning running around and making sure things ran smoothly as opposed to listening in. The stars aligned this year though, and I found myself sitting in on some of the presentations and having my eyes opened a little more. With some newfound clarity, I'm embarrassed to admit I finally realized there are some additional bonuses to career day beyond students learning about new professions - bonuses that I think may actually be more important than career awareness:

1. Seeing people of color in exciting careers with college degrees

2. Observing how professionals present themselves

3. Learning about ideas they're not normally exposed to. For example:


I'm so glad to have gotten to watch some of this year's presentations so that I could witness the incredibly speakers in action and see career day from some new perspectives. Looking forward to next year's program even more now!

Have you ever noticed unexpected take-aways from your lessons or programs?

Reputation - Lesson Plan

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The 'end of the year' lesson is always a tricky one for me. My goals for my lessons are usually for students to learn and start using a specific SEL skill. I could do this in May, but with only a short amount of time remaining in the year, the timing isn't ideal. This leaves me with doing a reflective lesson, a warm fuzzy lesson, or a 'next year...' lesson. My 4th grade group this year wasn't the warm fuzzy type and one of their teachers recommended something about reputations - which I thought was a great idea!

School Counseling/SEL Awards

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Each May I have the pleasure of attending (and sometimes facilitating) the end of the year awards for each of my grade levels. Getting to see my students celebrated for their growth and greatness is incredible, and I also love the chance to see and meet many of their parents. A few years ago, some of our related arts teachers began giving awards as well which got me thinking...could I give awards too? I worried at first that it would look like favoritism and that it could in some way damage the relationships I've built with the students and the role I play in their lives. With some more reflection though, I realized the opportunity to honor social-emotional growth was worth the risk, and that having teachers nominate (and physically hand) the awards to the students put the focus back on the kiddos and off of me.

Enter: School Counseling/SEL Student Awards!

The Invisible String - End of the Year Lesson

Saturday, May 13, 2017

That time has come...the time for my final lesson of the year in my classes. My 3rd grade homerooms are pretty tight knit and family like, with many students feeling sadness and anxiety about leaving their homerooms for the great unknown of 4th grade. Enter: The Invisible String and a web of warm fuzzies.

Must Have Books - All the Feelings

Tuesday, May 9, 2017
This is Part 4 in my must have book series. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here!

Obviously, as a school counselor, we spend a lot of time talking about feelings. There are one million gazillion trillion books out their for kiddos that have to do with emotions, and a lot of them are pretty great. If I had to narrow it down to my absolute favorites, the ones I would buy first if I had to start my collection from scratch, these are the ones I would get. To avoid the longest blog post in the entire world, I'm breaking this down even more specifically to posts on "all of the above" feelings, anger, shyness and worry, and emotional regulation.

This book is technically about divorce; the book goes through all the different animals she feels like as she processes the news. I've used it with kiddos to process all sorts of different life events however. Where most kids' books with metaphors are above their heads, this one is much more concrete. It's also a great opener for art or craft projects.

TpT Sale - 28% Off

Hello friends! Teachers Pay Teachers is having their annual teacher appreciation sale. Most stores, including mine, are 20% off and the promo code THANKYOU17 gets you an additional 10% discount. If you've been eyeballing anything on TpT, now is the time to go for it!


Counselor's Corner - Library Collaboration

Monday, May 8, 2017

Inspired by this article on the librarian's role in SEL, I wanted to share about a small collaboration between our counseling department and library. In the corner of our library's fiction section lives our "Counselor's Corner"; a collection of books hand selected and recommended by myself and my co-counselor.

Why?
  • I love books. I want my students to love books.
  • Our reading scores are not where we'd like them to be. If I can do a tiny, tiny thing that may help more students check out more books, which may in turn help their reading, I'm in. 
  • I believe in bibliotherapy.
  • Social emotional learning and development should be occurring in many environments outside of my classroom lessons. By encouraging students to read books that have social/emotional lessons within them, I'm also promoting SEL development at home.
  • Some of these books wouldn't see a lot of action if it wasn't for them being displayed differently and next to pictures of mine and my co-counselors' faces. 

Miles McHale, Tattletale

Monday, May 1, 2017


I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm picky. Really, super picky. That means it's rare that I come across a new counseling book and think "YES I NEED THIS RIGHT NOW"...but I had that exact reaction to this new book on tattling, Miles McHale, Tattletale.

Gossip and Rumors Part 2 - "Trouble Talk" Lesson Plan

Thursday, April 27, 2017

For my classes that needed an extra dose of gossip/rumors, I got to pull out Trudy Ludwig's Trouble Talk. I'd been a little hesitant to use it before because all of the characters are female, but I think some of its themes apply to boys as well. In the future, I think this could even be a great opener to the THINK Before You Speak unit as a whole. I can't rave enough about Trudy Ludwig's books. Can't. Get. Enough of them.



While reading, I stopped and asked:
  • Infer the plot based off the cover and title.
  • What does she mean by "big mouth"? Does she mean she literally has a big mouth?
  • Was she really doing Keisha a favor?
  • Why do you think Keisha stopped hanging out with Maya whenever Bailey was around?
  • Is Hua's crush any of Bailey's business? Why is Bailey butting in then?
  • Bailey spread the rumor about Hua to get back at her. Why do you think Bailey spread the rumor about Maya? (*we discuss this more in depth later but I like to prime their brains)
  • Have any of you ever been in that situation before? Where you heard mean or hurtful things said about one of your friends?
  • ***And lots more depending on what activity I did next.

My 4th grade homerooms vary in regards to their physical arrangement, so I used two different activities to follow up, depending on the class.

For rooms with spread out desks or rows (and that do well with movement and can manage voice levels!), we played "Quiz, Quiz, Trade" with these task discussion cards. On three of the cards, I put a star and a number*. When we were done with QQT, I collected the cards but asked the students with a starred cards to hold onto them. We gathered in a circle and had a class discussion about those three questions - questions I thought the group needed to talk about more deeply.
*I write the number with permanent marker on laminated cards. To remove, I color over it with dry erase marker and erase. This let's me customize the cards for each class/cohort.



For classes seated in table groups (and/or that need more structure), I tried out a new activity called "Simultaneous Round Robin" or "Simultaneous Round Table." I picked the four most important discussion questions about the story and about gossip/rumors in general and made sheets for each of them with spots for four different answers. Each student in the table group received a different question and they wrote their responses until I told them to rotate. The sheets rotated clockwise and students read their new question, read the prior students' answers, and then added their own responses. After four rounds, each student had answered each question.




For both activities, we closed by gathering round the carpet and discussing their responses. My hope was that students would find their peers' responses more compelling than their own and would share out about them - but most students stuck closely to their own ideas! After talking through the motivations behind gossiping, how to earn back trust, and what to do when stuck between friends, we went around the circle and each student named 1 thing they could talk about with their classmates besides other people. A personal fave?

"You could talk about bacon!"

If you're interested in these materials ready made for you, click the image below to find them in my TpT store!


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