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!

"Baditude" Lesson Plan

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Since I'm a strong believer in the power of thought, one of the lessons for 3rd grade's problem solving unit is on positive attitude/positive thinking. Enter: Julia Cook's Baditude.

The kiddos were all excited to see another book with the main character Noodle from our But It's Not My Fault! lesson. I sometimes skip a couple pages because it's wordy, but it's a really clear (and entertaining, especially if read in a whiny voice!) example of negative attitude. These are some of the questions I ask them while we're reading:

  • What do you think a “baditude” is?
  • Pg. 18: What is a “pity party”?
  • Pg. 24: What is Noodle’s mom trying to say here, about getting back what you give?
  • Pg. 30: What helpful thought can Noodle have about no video games in school? What helpful thought can he have about sitting by a girl?
  • What were some of the unhelpful thoughts Noodle had?
  • What were some of the helpful thoughts his mom suggested he think instead?
  • I also have to stop and explain "unibrow"! Even my non-ELL students were baffled at the word before we practiced making the face!


Once we finish with the story, I task them with working in small groups (3-4) to sort 20 thought cards into "baditude" and "positive attitude".  My students all try to be very fair about things, so their first instinct is to pass out the cards so they all have the same amount and then they read them independently and sort them. Not excellent - they don't hear one anothers' cards and even if they did, they'd be too distracted fiddling with their own to get anything out of it. Lesson learned? Model keeping the cards in a pile and taking turns reading and sorting them one at a time. It's the little things sometimes!

"Making Friends is an Art"

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

There's some awesome books out there about friendship, but not as many about how to attract friends (and not repel them), especially fiction ones. That makes Julia Cook's Making Friends Is an Art a rarity and one many of us own. And so it's a bit sad that...well...there's a potential race issue.

Must Have Books - Anger/Frustration

Monday, April 17, 2017
This is Part 3 in my must have book series. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here!


Part 3: Anger/Frustration

Needless to say, there are a lot of books to choose from in the area of anger. Top faves, all of which also have a regulation component, are below.

Gossip/Rumors Lesson - Part 1

Sunday, April 9, 2017

To go along with our THINK theme, I put a gossip/rumors themed lesson into 4th grade's curriculum map. As expected, spring time has gotten these soon-to-be middle schoolers chatting about others' business and stirring the drama pot. A couple classes in particular have been struggling with this so I decided to give them two lessons on the topic.

Last year I tried the cool glitter hand sanitizer thing. I couldn't quite get it to work out how I wanted to though (not fine enough glitter? sanitizer too watery?) so I scrapped that as an opener. Because I was planning on a longer activity this go around, I went with the staple "cross the line if" hook. They all crossed the line for every single one - they're an honest group!

Cross the line if...

  • You’ve ever heard someone talking about someone else.
  • Someone has ever talked about you behind your back.
  • Someone has ever said something about you that wasn’t true.
  • You’ve said something about someone else that wasn’t true.
  • Someone has gotten into your business.
  • Someone has told you to mind your own business.



Then we read What James Said. I mentioned before that I had to pick which book that would best fit our gossip and rumors lesson. I surprised myself when I decided What James Said was the best option for this lesson. It works because it's short and because it, alongside Cross the Line, sets the stage for my wisdom. I project this and have some students read it aloud.


After discussing these ideas, I introduce them to my new favorite collaborative learning activity: fan and pick! I made some "what would you do?" gossip/rumor scenario task cards to go with it. I tell the students to use my words of wisdom when they're answering and either project the mini-poster or give each group their own smaller version. The first time I did it, I just had cards with scenarios and left them open ended with "what would you do?". My students needed some more structure and scaffolding however, so in the rest of my homerooms, I used cards with multiple choice options.

Fan and Pick is essentially a structured way for small groups to answer questions. Each group has four jobs:
  • Fan: Fan the cards out and say "Pick a card, any card!"
  • Pick: Select a card and read it out loud.
  • Answer: Answer the question!
  • Respond: "I agree because...." or "I disagree because..."
After each question, the jobs rotate. I made the groups little mats to use to help them remember who is in which role each time. I posted the activity here on TpT (50% off for the first 24 hours).



I tried something new this week during our lessons...shooting little video clips of them in action. Instead of being hams, they were actually a bit camera shy and I ended up pretending I was just casually holding my cell in my hand. I loved being able to capture this live though and hope to continue this, especially if it's something I could use for my professional evaluation.


                                        video

To download the game ready-made, click the image below to link to them in my TpT store.

Snoots Toots Game of Empathy and Manners: Review


With some of the money the counseling department was so excitedly given this year, we beefed up our collection of therapeutic games. "Snoots Toots Game of Empathy and Manners" was one that had been on my wishlist for awhile, given the ever present need for social skills resources and the fact that it looked bright and engaged and modern (compared to some more outdated looking games). Here are my thoughts on it.

Gossip/Rumors - Book Options Breakdown


It is both a blessing and a curse that there are so many great books out there. Lots of options, hurray! Tricky decisions, boo! I was in this situation for my 4th grade gossip/rumors lesson and it got me to really delve into the options. I'm a lucky lady that I own all of these. Here's a quick little guide of when to pick (and not pick!) each of these that will hopefully help you when you're trying to find the right one for your kiddos.



The Lowdown: Old timey tale, all male characters. Main lessons are that things aren't always as they seem and that it's nearly impossible to 'take back' rumors once you've spread them. Boy sees coach take an apple without paying, tells everyone he's a thief. Turns out, coach pays in advance! Coach tells boy to spread feathers from pillow everywhere then pick them up as an allegory for undoing the gossip.

Personal Space Camp - 2nd Grade Lesson


It's been awhile, friends! I returned back to the wonderful world of school counseling at the end of March after a wonderful 9 weeks of baby snuggles. First up: 2nd grade and personal space.

We'd originally planned on doing a "what to do when someone says mean words to you" lesson...but then we found ourselves in the surprising but amazing position of having a cohort of kiddos that don't (usually) have this problem! After chatting with the 2nd grade team lead, we decided to replace it with a lesson on personal space, fitting in perfectly with our friendship and social skills theme. Of course, we used Personal Space Camp.

Before beginning, we explained what the book was about to students. This was key with our large EL population because without understanding Louis' confusion about personal space vs. outer space, the book is confusing and lacks humor. We also chose to read the book in chunks with our discussion questions and activities built in. Helped a lot with the springtime squirm, if you know what I mean!

The Best Reason to Be MIA

Thursday, February 16, 2017
If there's any of you that visit my blog on a regular basis and have noticed I haven't posted as often, here's my excuse:


I had my second son at the end of January and while he's really been an easy baby (KNOCK ON ALL THE WOOD), my "spare time" is being spent elsewhere. Still have some posts in the works, just being a little slower!

Counseling Anchor Charts

Sunday, January 29, 2017


Anchor charts: a staple in every elementary classroom. Excellent resources for review and reminder. So why not use them in school counseling too?!

Especially when our Life Skills lessons are skills-based, we like to use anchor charts during our lessons. Now ours aren't the awesome hand-written/drawn kind that are created collaboratively with the students; mostly due to time constraints and partly due to size constraints (teachers don't have room on their walls for their own anchor charts and then all of mine if I used chart paper!). We usually pre-create them, bring them to the classrooms to use during the teaching or application portion of the lesson, and then offer to make/laminate copies (on colored cardstock) for teachers as they want them.

Some of the charts we've created and used (available in a bundle for free here and I'll add to this post when we make more):

Personal Values Lesson Plan

Saturday, January 28, 2017
While the bulk of 4th grade's Life Skills curriculum this year is on positive communication, there's a personal identity/awareness component as well. We kicked off 2017 with a lesson about personal values (with some mention of reputation thrown in). Due to a few scheduling issues, I ended up doing this lesson before the "Staying True to Yourself" (with Ludwig's Sorry!) lesson in some of the classes and after in some others. Both ways were great for tying the lessons together; I haven't decide which way I'll do it next year.

A good friend of mine who is a middle school counselor sent me the link to this lesson that she adapts and uses: Overcoming Obstacles - Clarifying Values

I adapted it even further (to shorten it and to make it more elementary level) and began using it myself. It's fun, it's silly, it's interactive, and it gets their brains going. I'll admit that while the majority of my lessons are skills-based, this one is more "planting the seed" and helping develop some introspection as they prepare to enter the intense and challenging world of middle school.

Becoming Problem Solvers in 3rd Grade - "But it's not my fault!" or "What do you do with a problem?"




The kiddos learned about problems inside vs. outside of their control and now it's time for them to start problem solving/taking responsibility for those inside/pipe cleaner problems! Last year I used the book But it's not my fault! with my 3rd graders for this topic, but it was such a hit with the teachers that I included it in their SEL mini-libraries. Good for them...bad for me...because then I had to find a new mentor text (or a lesson plan so amazing and full that it didn't need one).

Mini SEL Classroom Libraries

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Last spring, I applied for and was awarded a grant within the district whose parameters were basically that it have to do with bullying and/or SEL. Being a bibliophile, I jumped at the chance to get more books in the classrooms. I wrote the grant for getting a mini-SEL library for each classroom with books specific to the issues I see each grade level face most commonly/pervasively.

After we got the books (and oooed and ahhed over them extensively), we ordered some of our favorite book boxes for them, and consulted with our literacy coach. Our hope was that by including some standards-based discussion questions and writing prompts, we could garner additional investment from our teachers for the books usage. Then started the task of compiling (and sometimes creating) short extension activities for each book.



The end result was this:

Each box included a handout with both standards based and counselor created discussion questions and a handout briefly explaining activities the teachers could use to reinforce the books' lessons, as well as any accompanying materials (task cards, master copy of worksheet, etc.



We introduced these to the teachers very early in the year...to mixed responses. A handful of teachers were excited, a handful were frustrated (our daily classroom's schedule is maxed out and anything that appears "extra" is stressful for the teachers), and most were apathetic. While we were hoping for lots of joy, we also recognize that everything new has a learning curve, both for us and for the teachers. When we first started doing regular classroom lessons, we had push back, and now they're usually jazzed for us to come in. Things take time to build, and a strong culture of SEL (and incorporating SEL into literacy!) is just in the growing and building stages still.

That said...about three or four months since introducing them...and we've gotten some GREAT feedback! The activities don't seem to be being used, so in the future we won't put time into them, but the books have been a huge hit. Kindergarten, 1st grade, and 3rd grade in particular have been big fans.

Curious as to what books we selected for each grade?

"Drama" Mini Lunch-Bunch Group

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


I had a 3rd grade homeroom that was struggling a little bit. They had a long term sub and a lot of kiddos who just need a lot of extra love and structure. There's a group of 5 in particular who were constantly finding themselves involved in drama with one another. Their reading teacher told me that she was spending about 15 minutes every day debriefing with them after lunch/recess before she was able to actually teach them.

My attempt to help with this problem was to have a mini lunch-bunch group to finish out the end of the year with the drama llamas. This is a group of bright, highly-verbal, and fun students - 4 girls and 1 boy - and I knew they were going to be a hoot. I love lunch bunches because the teachers never have any problem with me pulling kids during lunch, but it's hard to do a lot of activities when there are trays of food being eaten on the table, so I sometimes find them to be a challenge. Here's a breakdown of what we did together.

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