Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fixer Upper: School Counselor Style

I'm happy to report that my new office space is the best and biggest I have had in my school counseling career.  It's a huge positive of my new job as I think about how I will work with students.  I wanted to show you the progression of my BEFORE and AFTER shots for fun, and I hope it will give you some inspiration for your space.  There is still work to do, but I am excited with the start! Watch for my next post of  "must-have" resources that I have ordered for this new job if you have PTA/PTO or other school funds available for start-up materials.

Enjoy and Happy Counseling! ~ Angela

DAY 1: These photos were taken after moving the furniture to the general places I wanted and adding my IKEA polka-dot carpet.

DAY 2:

I pushed two tables together in the open space for individual and group counseling. There are 8 chairs surrounding the table.  The room used to be a conference room so I have a projector screen that can be used to pull up websites, songs, or Smartboard lessons, if needed. The bulletin board paper covering the table is a big hit with students who like to draw and all students love to write their names there.

Day 3: Now I really started making some progress ! I assembled my "Giving Tree" complete with hanging lanterns (Target), hung my "Aloha" banner purchased on my Hawaiian vacation this summer (behind my desk), and made my "What Will You BEEE?" bulletin board that goes along with our new PBIS matrix to Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible. I especially loved how I could add texture to the bees with black pom-poms so they were more 3-dimensional.  The huge black square pictured next to my desk below is actually a really great fold-out whiteboard that I can use with groups, if needed. I still have my hanging pocket charts for quick access to my "go-to resources" that I use most often. I also hung my scaling arrow, feelings poster, and picture frame art holders on the walls for use with students and to add color.

Day 4: Finally, the finishing touches.  I put up the four mirror decals I mentioned in my  previous post.  They are perfect, and I can really see my reflection....#selfie! :)  I am still going to make a cool picture frame to go around it that has positive self- statements written in it, but that will be a later project.

I hope you enjoyed the tour.  Please leave a comment or a picture of your office so I can get some inspiration for any further decorating. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

First 30 Days: Part II

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Congratulations! Many of you just finished your first week of workdays (give or take) and probably have one or more of the following feelings as the first day with students approaches:  Overwhelmed, excited, nervous, exhausted, relieved. I have experienced each of these feelings at varying times this week as I transition to a new school.  If you read my First 30 Days post, I started an outline of steps you can take to establish a strong foundation for your school counseling program this year, sharing tips on visibility within the school and general organization.  The response to that post was amazing with over 1200 people reading it in 3 days; here's part II.

Data Collection and Management
If your true goal this year is to implement a comprehensive school counseling program, you MUST commit to using data.  School counseling without data is like a teacher starting instruction on day 1 without reviewing a cum folder, giving a pre-assessment, or looking at one piece of standardized testing information for that child. I have talked about data in previous posts here and here, among others. I also will be linking a great ASCA National Model presentation in the next section that includes a lot of data examples. Resistant?! Let me help you......

Argument #1: I don't know where to find it (or I don't have time)!  Schools collect data (some argue too much) ALL THE TIME! You need to find out who is collecting it and where it is stored. Talk to your principal, assistant principal, intervention teachers, data manager, secretary, social worker, school nurse, and school psychologist.  If data intimidates you, start with the easiest source first. For me, that would be attendance data because I can easily print it off of PowerSchool without having to bug anyone else, and it is easy to understand.  Other easy sources:
- A copy of last year's EOG scores
- A copy of last year's suspensions and/or timeouts/behavior referrals (depending on the state I would imagine suspensions almost ALWAYS have to be entered into a computer database/spreadsheet)
- Spreadsheet on any homeless students (McKinney-Vento information has to be collected by schools)
-RtI/MTSS data- who is on tier 2 and tier 3? Can you be working with any of those students to support academics or behavior? Read about making the most of MTSS here.

As for the NO time argument, I agree. Being a school counselor is busy with many of us wearing too many hats. However, if our time is spent on too many activities that are disconnected from the data-driven needs of our school, are we just spinning our wheels?!! Figure out how to prune to focus on what's most important.

Argument #2:  My administration doesn't share data with me.  Yes, I have been there. It's frustrating. My answer, make your own data. It might not be as comprehensive or as statistically valid as standardized data, but it is pertinent and representative of your school.  Start with a needs assessment for your staff.  Mine was sent out day 2 last week because I truly don't know the needs of my students as a new school counselor, and I needed a starting point. I sent a Google doc survey to all of the classroom teachers; it was short with only 6 questions/fields to complete.  By Friday, I had already received over half of the responses, which is great considering I am using a data source teachers are not used to and have not completed in the past.

I also tried something a little different this year and sent a needs assessment to my administrative team.  Administrators are privy to so much information and have a great "big picture" view of a school's strengths and areas of improvement. I am hoping to get a sense of their overall concerns for this school year so I can help address any areas that fall into the realm of school counseling.  We'll see how that goes.

You will also generate school counseling data in your intro lessons if you are giving a student needs assessment (I plan to do this with third and fifth grade students). As you explain your role as a school counselor, ask the following on your survey:
- Who are the new students (Immediate new student group data!)
- Who has friendship, family, or academic concerns? (Immediate individual counseling data!)
Provide your school counselor referral form to older students (I usually do 2nd-5th) so that you can continue individual referrals throughout the year.

All of these data sources will help drive your school counseling program organization (next section). You will still need to figure out how to store and maintain this data but think about the following:
- An individual counseling documentation sheet (right).  Here is an example that I use in individual sessions and another that I use for mediations. I then enter it into an online Google form so I can sort/analyze data throughout the year to see patterns with concerns.
 - Auto-populated spreadsheets from Google Forms with surveys you create.
- Excel spreadsheets with year-to-year comparisons of behavior referral/suspension numbers and EOG achievement percentiles

I could write 5 posts on data, but I hope the above information will give you a good start.

Program Organization

Last year I presented at the kick-off meeting in my previous county on the ASCA National Model. I don't think there is anything I could write here that would say things clearer than this presentation.  If you weren't trained in the ASCA National Model in grad school or still aren't sure where to start, dust off your Making Data Work or ASCA handbook and refresh your memory.  For these first 30 days I would focus on the following:

- A mission statement for your school counseling program.  My co-counselor and I worked on ours this week and it is already posted on my door, setting the tone for the year. Get ideas from last year's version here.

- An annual calendar based on district non-negotiables (e.g. bullying prevention in October), needs assessment data, other data collection sources from your school, the ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors, and NC Guidance Essential Standards.  That's a lot of data sources, but it should give you more than enough information to create an annual calendar that truly provides proactive student instruction and addresses the needs of your school!

- An annual agreement and professional development plan that outline your areas of responsibility and plans for growth this school year. You will review both of these documents with an administrator so make sure they include the student-centered, direct-service activities that will establish a strong school counseling program in the school.

- Action plans based on concerns or areas of growth you saw when collecting data.  Examples: Plans focused on improving student attendance, EOG scores, behavior referrals (lowering the number), or bullying incidents. If you aren't sure how to get started on the action plans, consider using these SMART goal worksheets for your goal development. I love them!

Identify Supports

I am lucky to have a co-counselor this year but many of you FEEL like you are on an island at your school, especially if you are new. Consider the following bridges that can help connect you to other islands or the mainland (do you like my Hawaii metaphor and the sneak peek of my office decor above?!).

- Create a student services PLC (school psychologist, social worker, school nurse, etc.) that you meet with on a regular basis to discuss students, resources, and schoolwide programs. I used to meet with my student services team every week in my first job, and it was so helpful as a newer school counselor. As a new school counselor to my current school, I can't wait to get started with this team!
- Connect with central office personnel who are in charge of school counseling in your district.  They want you to succeed...continual turn-over and hiring of staff isn't good for ANY STUDENT. Ask for help!
- Connect with your assigned county school counselor PLC.
- Utilize social media sources to get ideas for your program and ask questions.  The brilliant Carol Lawson Miller provided the best support for elementary and middle school counselors when she created the Elementary School Counselor Exchange and Caught in the Middle School Counselor groups on Facebook. It would have saved me a lot of sleepless nights had I had this resource 10 years ago! There is also a high school Facebook group, the new ASCA Scene and Twitter #scchat conversations happening on any given day.

OK, that was a lot of information!!! Feel free to email me at if you have additional questions or check out one of the awesome collaboration resources I mentioned above to ask questions.  Chances are someone else has already asked a similar question and you can tap into the expertise of the people who know your job best, other school counselors!

I've also created this handy guide to help you stay on track these first 30 days. You can do it!
Enjoy and Happy Counseling! ~ Angela 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

First 30 days

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Where are you this year?  Are you beginning your 10th year at the same school where launching your school counseling program is as comfortable as breathing, or are you setting off on a new adventure? FOR ME, starting a new job in a new district and town this year has led me to pause and reflect about how I want to kick things off.

Presidents often talk about their "first 30 days" (or 100) when they first take office, and I wanted to compare that to a school counselor's first 30 days creating a school counseling program. I believe there are critical areas to address so that the tone, climate, and foundation are set for a successful counseling program.  I have been making mental and written notes over the past week as I live and breathe the creation of a new school counseling program, but this list is not exhaustive by any means. It is simply my vision of key elements to consider as new and veteran counselors alike begin a new school year. This will be a two-part series so stay tuned for the other half later this week!


Organization- Using the word organization is about the most general term you can throw out when talking about starting anything new, but I am going to break this category into more "general" menial work versus specific school counseling program organization, an important distinction. First up, "general" organization.  I will dive into program organization in Part II.

  • Create a comfortable office space. It is important for every school counselor to have a kid-friendly space to work in each day.  I know I cannot even begin to think about plans for the year until I feel like my room is a comfortable, safe space where I can think and work each day.  Do you like bright, energizing colors or a more tranquil space? Either way, Pinterest is your BFF as you search through thousands of ideas to make your space your own.  I took over an old conference room this year and have the best office I have ever had in 11 years of counseling. YIPPEE! Check out what I started with below (this was AFTER moving the furniture to new spots and bringing in my rug).  I will be posting a "big reveal" for my new office by next week, although much of it is being re-created from my previous office! Get ideas from last year's post right now here.

  • Implement time-saving systems....If you have not taken advantage of Google tools in the past, now is the time! REALLY! It's as easy as searching Google tutorials on YouTube if you haven't had a chance to receive training through your school or county.  Get organized with Google calendar (sample day to the left) when scheduling your professional development trainings, PLC dates, and intro lessons; create email groups for each grade level so you can quickly share Google surveys or schedule lesson times efficiently; and get a copy of your staff list by grade level so you have phone extensions handy.
  • Assess your resources.... Go through the resources at your school so you can compile a list of items you may need to purchase with start-up or PTO/PTA funds. If there are things that have been in your office since 1985, figure out where they need to go to be purged....SERIOUSLY! I was the worst about doing this at my previous school, and I am now turning over a new leaf. The extra clutter wastes the space that you could be using for new materials. I am again extremely fortunate to work for a school where the PTO
    generously gives the staff money to buy materials, and I can't wait to get my hands on some of this reflective paper from Amazon (right). I am envisioning a corner in my office where students can reframe thoughts, practice self-talk, brainstorm strengths, and empower themselves as they look in the "mirror". We'll see how clear the sheets really are, but they are cheap and easy to peel and stick so I'm going for it!  I will probably also replace some of my beloved items that I couldn't take with me from my previous school: my Kimochi doll (prefer full size), kinetic sand, and new pedaler or exercise ball.
  • Establish areas of responsibility...This may be easy if you are the only school counselor at your school. Everything is your responsibility!!! Seriously though, if you are working with a co-counselor, determine how you will divide up classroom guidance lessons, small groups, and individual referrals. What grade levels will you each focus on? I prefer to share a mix of upper and lower grade levels for classroom guidance and then split small groups depending on monthly needs.  Decide how you will work with your other student service team members (psychologists, social workers, school nurses) to meet all students' needs. This step will help in your proactive planning and give you a focus when you are working on visibility.

  • Get to know staff members.....Simply put, people need to know who you are AND you need to know who they are.  Are you listening when you introduce yourself to new colleagues on the workdays or are you too worried about what you are going to say?  Practice. Slow down and think about what the person says his/her name and job title are during introductions.  Do you have a mnemonic device you can use? I often think of the person's name as I visualize their face or connect them to someone else I know with the same name. My husband writes down names of people he meets. That's fine! We are counselors building relationships and knowing a person's name is a great first step. They will be impressed when you call them by name later, and you will build rapport faster.  Challenge yourself to learn a few more each day. It can be overwhelming when you are one person learning 70 staff members' names, but you will get there (that's what I keep telling myself!).
  • Walk the halls....Figure out where different grade levels and key places are located in your school, especially if you are assigned to specific grade levels or have key responsibilities involving a grade level (i.e. specialist rotations or grade level events).
  • Get to know students....Learning names will be even tougher with hundreds of
    students but "Introduction to the School Counselor" lessons will help.  What is your plan? What key details do students need to know about how you will help them this year? Mention the referral process and the role of confidentiality in every lesson. Will you make your own version of FLAT GROOVY POOVEY , start a CAMP COUNSELOR. or come up with another creative idea?! Start brainstorming with my previous post on intro lessons here. Help students learn who YOU ARE faster by promoting yourself on a centrally located bulletin board. Remember the four boards I was responsible for last year?!! I only have ONE this year, but it is right outside the technology room where every child goes each week (YAY!). Pinterest is a great resource so you don't need to reinvent the wheel!  Check back soon to see my completed example.

So, that's PART I of my FIRST 30 DAYS.  At the end of this series, I will have a handy checklist of specific steps for your FIRST 30 DAYS in each of the four categories I am going to outline. I hope it will be a resource you can look to at the start of each year, especially if you are transitioning to a new adventure like me!
Enjoy and Happy Counseling! ~ Angela

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Summer Inspiration

I love summertime as does every other 10-month educator on the planet!  It gives me a chance to relax, recharge, and reflect about many things, including my job.  I will admit that this summer has been a bit of a whirlwind with lots of traveling, and most significantly, moving to a new town, house, and school.  There has definitely been a lot of action. Now, however, summer is winding down so instead of being depressed, I want to do TWO THINGS. First, I want to share about one of my favorite places I traveled to this summer,  Denver, Colorado, where I found lots of inspiring ideas to bring back to school. Second, I want to help anybody who is starting to feel the end of summer blues cheer up with a TPT sale.  The entire TPT site will be having an "end of summer" sale August 3rd and August 4th, and I am adding an additional 10% off of EVERYTHING in the Life on the Fly Store to help you get inspired for this coming year!  Think about Intro lessons, organizational items, or FUN lesson plans that would help you enjoy this year even more!!!
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Moving on to trip was part of a birthday celebration, and I particularly enjoyed the Denver Art Museum.  Kuddos to this great institution for giving free admission to kids EVERY DAY, as well as adults the first Saturday of the month. There was a lot of great art to view as well as interactive "creation stations" in every corner of the museum.  Here's a peek at some of the school inspiration I found there:

Hands Wall: I loved this huge hand mural found in the lobby area of the art museum. Their hands represented different donors, but it immediately made me think of a schoolwide project that could be done with the help of the art teacher or media specialist.  Think of a "Together We Can" or "Kindness Across our School" theme. What a great statement that would make at the entrance of your school!
Word Mobiles: This word art from Rupprecht Matthies' exhibit got me thinking as soon as I saw the plexiglass word PERSEVERANCE (top left of the photo to the right) hanging in a mobile from the ceiling. Then I saw the word RESILIENT made out of fabric (below). How cool would it be to use your Silhouette machine to cut out different character trait or resiliency words to add colorful flair around your office area? Scissors could definitely work, too, if you are ultra talented.

Buddha Board/Art Items: I'm a big fan of art and science museum gift shops for creative and interesting items you wouldn't normally see in other stores.  This Buddha Board immediately caught my attention for using with students in individual or group counseling.  It is available in two sizes, but I bought the mini one since it was less expensive and I was spending my own personal cash. You basically use a paintbrush and water to create designs, write words, etc, that will then disappear after a few minutes.  I am anticipating using this in several way; initial thoughts are to use it as an art activity for kids when we are establishing rapport, as a place to write down "trashy" thoughts that need to be replaced with recycled thoughts, and as a worry wall for thoughts that kids want to release.  I'm sure other ideas will come up, too! It's such a cool item!
I am committed to using art more in my school counseling program after that motivating session at the ASCA conference (remember?!) so I also loved these finger tip paintbrushes. How easy to store and cute to use! They come in several sizes to fit different sized fingers. I actually bought these two for my kids but may "borrow" them for school at times. Read more about them here.

I hope the start to the school year finds you refreshed and inspired!
Enjoy the TPT sale and Happy Counseling!
                                         ~  Angela

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