Thursday, February 6, 2014

National School Counseling Week 2014

Happy National School Counseling Week to all of you awesome school counselors out there!  I didn't do anything grand this year for NSCW, but here is the newsletter that I created to keep my staff in the loop with the school counseling program.  I view NSCW as a time to continue to advocate for our unique role in the school.  A big part of that advocacy is education, so I wanted my newsletter to be informative to let my staff know what I am doing and also what is going on in the school counseling program.  Along with their newsletters, I also gave my teachers Dove chocolates for some yummy inspiration :)

To all school counselors out there, you make a difference each and every day.  I am thankful for this blog and the many school counseling blogs that I follow which help me connect to other school counselors.  Our collaboration together makes a difference as we continue the challenging and incredibly rewarding job of shaping the lives of our students.  You rock!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Snapshot of October

Whew, I cannot believe that we are already into November!  I have been so busy this year and just haven’t stopped to write about how things are going.  This post will be a snapshot of October to share some of the things that I’ve been feeling and doing while MIA from the blogging world.

Overall, this year has been more stressful for me than last year.  It seems like the need is greater and my already full plate has been overflowing.  I have also been taking more home with me (actual things to do and emotionally speaking) this year than last, and am just having a hard time leaving work at work.  I am attributing this to the fact that I now have deeper relationships and connections with my students, their families and my teachers.  I will have been at my school for 2 years this January.  I am at a Title One school, and the stressors that my students experience at home are more obvious and overwhelming to me each day.  Despite feeling overwhelmed because I can’t ever seem to quite do “enough” (I am my harshest critic), I do feel like I have finally gotten into my groove for the year.  Here are a few snapshots I wanted to share...  
We celebrated a successful Red Ribbon and Character Counts Week with the theme: Our future is looking bright!  Here are some pictures of the week.  


My favorite part was on Thursday when we celebrated our good character by being HEROes.  I had the teachers give their students a hand print to sign and decorate showing their commitment to being a HERO for the rest of the year.  It was not an orignal idea, but something I saw nad loved a while ago on Pinterest.  I don't remember where it came from, but thank you to whoever created it! :) We talked about how being a HERO means making the choice to not bully or put others down, but to lift each other up.  It turned out to be such an awesome character ed display!

 I also have to show off these writing samples that a first grade teacher did with her students during the week.  Aren’t they awesome?!  I love when teachers get into the week and show their creativity.

I’ve also finished training an amazing group of students to be peer mediators.  They worked so hard during their training and it was awesome to see it reinforce the conflict resolution skills that I have been teaching them with my 7 Habits curriculum.  Look what they came up with all by themselves!

We are a PBIS school, but were in need of displaying our PBIS expectations across the school and in a kid-friendly way.  Look what our fabulous PBIS team came up with!  These signs are posted all over the school showing what the expectations look like around the building and on the playground with the help of our mascot, Pride.  I love PBIS! 

              For Halloween, my school celebrates by dressing up as your favorite book character.  At 1:00, we invite parents to come watch their children parade around the school in their book character costumes.  Book Character Day is a fun way to allow the children to dress up appropriately and celebrate a love of reading!  Here is a pic of me as the Rainbow Fish!  Students were asking for my scales all day!  Next year I plan to make some to hand out to them along with the costume!

Finally, I wanted to share this bulletin board that an RTI teacher of ours put together.  I absolutely love it!  What a great visual for our kids to dream big J

I’ve been seeing a ton of kids individually and enjoying my time spent with them too.  Maybe my next post can focus on the strategies I like to use the most when working with students in a counseling setting…  Until next time, thanks for stopping by!  Happy November to all!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Back to School Pick-Me-Up

What started out as a hopeful and enthusiastic back to school year took a turn earlier this week.  After an engaging welcome back faculty breakfast and meeting last Wednesday, we were all feeling ready and excited about the school year.  Teachers were working hard in their classrooms and meeting to plan with their teammates.  I felt blessed to be a part of this community again and we were all ready for Meet the Teacher on Monday night.  Then, we got the news.  Because we were short of our projected number of students, we were going to lose a teacher.  I guess with budget cuts and uncertainties there was just no wiggle room, and our principal sadly had to share this news with our staff hours before students would arrive to meet their teachers.  Three teams and five teachers were directly affected by this change in assignment.  We were dealing with big changes accompanied by big stress.  Our school community in many ways is like a family, and everyone pitched in to help move our teachers around the building, situate them into their new classrooms, and share lesson plans for the first few days.  The community feel was unlike anything I had seen before.  I know that everyone, myself included, is trying hard to not let the changes and stress affect the first week for our students.  However, despite our best efforts, this has been a challenging start.  With this extra strain during our first week, I felt like as a school community, we needed a pick me up.

I did some brainstorming and decided to go with an idea for a dessert bar that I’ve seen on other counseling blogs and pinterest.  I was keeping it in my pocket to use on a rainy day (I didn’t know that it would come to us so early this year, but Que Sera, Sera).  I talked with my principal about putting together the dessert bar for our staff during lunch on Friday to lift people’s spirits and encourage and reward their resiliency and perseverance.  She loved the idea!  Setting it up was a lot of fun too and the teachers really appreciated this simple gesture of thanks.  I replenished the desserts throughout the various lunch times so that all teachers would be able to enjoy it, but other than that it was a fun and easy thing to do to celebrate our well-deserved Friday.

Despite the stress and strain of this first week, I know that our teachers will continue to bounce back and work hard to love our students and  move them forward.  I hope that you’ve all had fabulous starts to your school years!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Liebster Award

I was very excited to see that Cheryl Lassey from Creative Elementary School Counseling nominated my blog for a Liebster award!  I still consider myself a newbie blogger and have such few followers as it is that I was totally surprised and excited by the nomination.  Thanks Cheryl!  It’s awesome to know that my blog has helped me network with other counselors even though it's taken me a couple of weeks to get this going (back to school- busy, busy!).  So, the Liebster award seems to be like chain letter/ email forward…which I’m usually not so into, but it is just cool to have my blog recognized by another counselor that I am eager to participate!

The rules are:
1. Link back to the blog that nominated you.
2. Nominate 5-11 blogs with fewer than 200 followers.
3. Answer the questions posted for you by your nominator.
4. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
5. Create 11 questions for your nominees.
6. Contact your nominees and let them know you nominated them.

Here are my answers to Cheryl's questions:
1. What are your favorite blogs? 
I love looking through all of the school counselor blogs out there! that help us all share, connect and become better counselors.  These blogs especially inspire me: (An all around fabulous resource for all things school-counseling!) (I love the authentic writing and real-life happenings.) (So many wonderful ideas and practical things to put in place.) (This isn’t a school counseling blog, but it’s my cousin’s who is an amazing writer and inspiring person!)
2. Why did you start blogging?
I love connecting with others and really believe that we are better educators and people when we can share ideas, struggles and celebrations with each other.  I wanted to find a place to share ideas and resources as well as challenges that we all face in this exciting, changing and often difficult role.
3. What advice do you have for others who are just starting out with their own blog?
Go for it! I think I (still) tend to let myself get caught up in “is this even worth posting?”  Of course it is!  Someone out there may need to hear exactly what you’re writing.  We all do so many different things each day and being able to sort through and find others with new ideas or fresh perspectives on the role of the counselor can be re-energizing and just plain awesome.
4. Why did you decide to work as a school counselor?
I love being in the school (my mom and sister are both teachers) but didn't necessarily want to be in only one classroom or focusing on academics.  I found my niche in school counseling and couldn't be happier!  It is awesome to be able to advocate for children and teach them critical life skills that too many are not learning at home.
5. What are your favorite things to do outside of school?
My husband and I love Clemson football, and I’m pretty pumped for the season to start!  I also enjoy reading, mindlessly watching tv shows on Netflix, and getting outside on pretty days.
6. What is the best part of your job?
Being with the kids!!  I love seeing them, helping them and teaching them.  They make it all worthwhile!
7. How many years have you been working in a school?
I was blessed that my school had an opening in January 2012 after graduating with my Masters in Dec. 2011.  I have been at my school for 1 ½ years and I feel as if I am exactly where I’m called to be!
8. If you could only have 5 books in your office which ones would you choose?
Great question…I don’t know where to begin!  In no particular order: The Invisible String (I love this with kids of all ages even though it is geared towards younger students dealing with separation or grief), Have You Filled A Bucket Today (always a good one for talking about friendship and bullying), How Do I Stand in Your Shoes (a great resource for teaching empathy!), When Someone Very Special Dies (I needed this a lot last year for my kiddos), and 7 Habits of Happy Kids (my curriculum is based off of these again this year although I use much more than just the stories in the book.)  I get most ideas and classroom/group lesson resources offline so I'd stick with some of the stories I think.
9. If you could live anywhere in the world where would you live?
I am so happy living in Greenville, SC.  I have a great job and am close to family, but if I could visit or live somewhere else for a short time, I think I’d like to go back to Africa with my hubby and then maybe somewhere in Europe just for a fun and exciting change of pace.
10. What is your favorite memory of a teacher from childhood?
Mrs. Kroko, my 3rd grade teacher, made me want to be a teacher when I grew up!  She was so kind and helpful.  I was a "hairbow" kind of student (we use this terminology on my PBIS team for those students who are the teacher's pets) and enjoyed feeling like her little assistant.
11. What is your #1 go to resource at school?
I love getting ideas from Pinterest and the amazing school counseling blogs out there, but when it comes to this question, it is not the “what” but the “who” that comes to mind.  I am very blessed to have an amazing internship supervisor turned counselor friend and mentor that I can call any time with practical questions or for supervision and consultation.  I hope everyone has that person that they can go to!  My school also has a social worker that has been here for 10 years so it is always helpful to bring issues up with him too.

My nominations for the Leibster Award are...

Your questions to answer:
  1. What are your favorite blogs?
  2. Why did you start blogging?
  3. What would you like other bloggers to know about you?
  4. Why did you decide to work as a school counselor?
  5. What are your favorite things to do outside of school?
  6. What is the best part of your job?
  7. How many years have you been working in a school?
  8. If you could only have 5 books in your office which ones would you choose?
  9. If you could live any where in the world where would you live?
  10. What is your #1 go to resource at school?
  11. What is your favorite quote?
Have fun and happy blogging! :)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lessons Learned in Africa

Jambo!  I’ve been MIA from the blogging world lately because I spent the first month of my summer living in Bujagali Falls, Uganda. Africa has always been in my heart and living, learning and teaching there has been a shared dream of mine and my sister’s.  This summer we traveled together to Uganda to volunteer with the SOUL Foundation.  We were so very blessed to spend a month living with a host family in the most welcoming and amazing community imaginable.  When I returned, I had to pretty quickly jump back into school mode to attend my district’s Summer Academy professional development.  While catching up with my principal on the phone, she remarked about what an amazing opportunity I had to live and teach in Africa and that I surely will bring so much back to share with our students this school year.  It got me thinking… What will I share?  What impact did Africa have on me that I will bring to my school?  What lessons did I learn during my time in Uganda?  So, I did some reflecting and lots of looking through my pictures to come up with the following list of my own lessons learned.  I am sure there will continue to be other lessons that pop up and different ways that I realize I have been changed from this experience, but for now, here are some things I’d like to share about my journey.

Lesson one: When you’re a fish in the water, make the first move.

It’s not comfortable or fun to be the fish out of water.  If I’m being honest with myself, I am rarely out of my comfort zone at home.  I spend my time doing what I love and am good at surround by people that know and understand me.  In Africa, I frequently felt like a fish out of water.  I didn’t look, speak or act like the people I was living among, and there were vast cultural differences that challenged me daily.  What made me feel better adjusted and more comfortable were the interactions with the community when people from the village made the first move.  That is, they made the first move (despite the language barrier) to greet us, welcome us and try to understand us.  The more difficult times came when we felt disconnected and out of place because no one was interacting with us or acknowledging our presence or trying to understand our cultural differences.  Thankfully, those times were few and far between (as I said, we were in the most welcoming community).  I think sometimes we tend get so caught up in our own comfortableness that we don’t realize how uncomfortable and out of place others around us may feel. This is certainly often the case with parents and school-- and especially so with parents that are not from the US themselves.  My school population is around 60% Hispanic and growing, and I thought a lot about that while I was in Africa.  Like those welcoming people in the village, am I making the first move to ensure that they feel comfortable, appreciated and accepted within the school building?  I am definitely a fish in the water back home and at school, and I want to be ever so conscious of doing what I can to make the first move in welcoming and accepting all.

Lesson two: Children are much more resilient than we give them credit for.

The afternoon before we were getting ready to leave, Elizabeth and I went to sit by the Nile together one last time.  We quickly found ourselves surrounded by 8 or so children all under the age of six running, screaming, crying, laughing and playing with no adult supervision.  One second they were mean to each other by hitting, hurting and teasing, and the next they were laughing and playing again without any adult intervention.  The same truth could be said about the students we were teaching at preprimary. It often went against my nature to allow children to just freely roam and interact with each other anywhere and everywhere by themselves, but it is such a cultural norm that I had to just get over and accept it.  And you know what?  It turns out that children are much more resilient than we give them credit for.  They look out for each other and very quickly get over it when they get hurt.  They don’t hold grudges or create drama with their friends.  If someone hits them, they may cry for about 30 seconds or they may just turn around and hit that person back who will then shrug and move on with life.  The next thing you know, they are back to playing and having fun.  Children as young as three are responsible for getting to and from school by themselves and sometimes have to do so by walking very long distances.  It is amazing (and through a Western lens, often terrifying) that they are able to handle and do so much by their own little selves.  It makes me think that in America we are often guilty of going overboard on coddling our children and not expecting as much out of them as they are capable of.  I want my kids at school to know how much I love them, and I am sure as a result of that, I too often give in to the drama and allow them to become dependent on my help.  I plan to very consciously take a step back this year and instead of coddling, empower students to accept their feelings and problems solve on their own.  Trust me, they are more than capable of doing so.

Lesson three: Hard work really does pay off… but it may take some time.

While we were volunteering with SOUL, we were fortunate to visit many different women’s groups that SOUL created to empower the women and provide sustainability within the community.  Some of the most amazing groups we visited and got to participate in were the fish farming groups.  Four years ago, they had the idea to create a group that would fish farm to earn money for themselves and their families.  Being from a fishing community, they were excited to take this project on; however, they did not know about the process and chemistry of fish farming nor did they have the ponds ready to go.  They had to start from the bottom up.  Together, this group and the SOUL staff found some land and began to hand dig the four ponds necessary to start fish farming.  It is incredible to imagine what they must have been feeling and thinking on those hot African days while digging for what I’m sure seemed like an endless amount of time.  How were they able to keep the end in sight and understand the purpose for all of their hard work in the beginning knowing how far away the reward was?  While we were there, the fish pond group was gearing up to sell their biggest fish and make their first profit.  That’s right, their first profit after 4 years of all of that hard work.  They had many struggles along the way and numerous learning experiences to get them where they are now, but I think that the reason they will continue to be successful is because they are now seeing how all of their hard work has paid off.  They have had ownership of the whole project from start to finish.  What a useful example I now have to share with my students to help them keep the end in mind while goal setting and planning for their futures.  It isn’t always fun, easy or quick, but in the end, hard work really does pay off.

Lesson four: Synergy can turn a bite into a meal.

One of my favorite things to witness was break/lunch time at preprimary.  Firstly, the kiddos were just adorable with their little lunch pails.  But looking past the cuteness was a raw understanding of synergy that took place each day during this time.  The kids would take their own little pail and go sit down with a group of friends.  They would open their lunches, grab a handful of beans or rice or whatever was packed for them that day and put it in their friend’s pail.  Next, they would reach in and grab a bit of corn or potatoes that were in their friend’s pail and place it in their own.  They did this with no communication whatsoever.  There were no “please” and “thank you” taking place because they had such a basic understanding of synergy.  In other words, if they go eat by themselves then they will have a meal consisting of a few beans.  However, if they grab, take and give among their friends, their lunch will go from a few beans to beans, rice, corn, potatoes and whatever other goodies were packed for their friends that day.  I think what was truly remarkable to me about this is how it happened so naturally.  In America, how often am I telling kids the importance of sharing and teaching them that we can do more together than we can alone?  Kids in Africa just get it.  On another note, synergy can also help raise children, create and run a business, expedite the success of a business, foster sustainability and over all better everyone’s livelihood. 

Lesson five: It takes a village to do just about everything.

The final lesson that I want to share from my time in Africa is about the incredible sense community I felt and experienced.  The saying goes, "It takes a village to raise a child", but the truth of the matter is that it takes a village to do just about everything.  One of the most striking cultural differences that I am struggling with as I acculturate back into Western society is the lack of community I feel here.  I've been lucky that I had professional development this week to allow me to get out of my house and interact with fellow school counselors.  But even so, after the few hours we are together, we all go back home, close our doors and do our own thing.  That is too often life here in America.  In Africa, there was no going inside and closing the door… people were always outside so that you can see, greet and communicate with everyone.  They don’t have the same sense of individuality that we have here.  Instead, they truly live by the words “What’s mine is yours and embody them in all that they do.  The village is better off because everyone looks out for each other and their children (who are usually just roaming around in and out of people’s homes and getting fed and loved).  People there work together to create a community that can continue to sustain and better itself every day.  How amazing would it be if our schools had that sense of community?  What if instead of competing to have the best scores or smartest students we all worked together in a synergistic way to share and grow education as a whole that would benefit each and every student and family? 

Thanks for reading my thoughts… Living in Africa was an amazing and life changing experience that I will always hold in my heart.  Now, with my new lessons learned, on to planning for the 2013-14
school year!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Finishing Up

With the end of the year so rapidly approaching, I am in the process of tying up loose ends and wrapping up my first full school year.  I am excited and pleased with the data I'm collecting so far in regards to how the program ran this first year.  I wanted to evaluate the program this year for a couple of reasons: 1) to help me and my advisory council plan for next year 2) to include teachers in the process and encourage buy-in 3) to share with my administration what I have been doing this year and how it has been received.  I searched some school counseling blogs that I follow and ASCASceneIt for ideas of what I wanted to include in my staff survey.  Ultimately, I wanted to evaluate the program and get a fresh perspective of our students' needs.  I created a short, 10 question survey that I emailed out through SurveyMonkey last week and I have gotten tons of positive feedback from teachers.  I am excited and humbled that they feel so good about the direction that this program is headed in.  This first year I was able to really create the foundation for a program-- we have a mission, vision, philosophy and curriculum which I created and have been working with school wide.  Next year, I will do more trying to get everyone to buy into the program as more than just "what Kristi does" and help teachers see the impact that integrating it with what they already do can have on behavior, classroom management and the well-being of our students.

You can see the questions that I asked below.  Most were on a scale of strongly agree to strongly disagree with a few multiple choice and free response sprinkled in. Although SurveyMonkey has limitations for what you can use without upgrading, I found it to be very useful for what I was hoping to accomplish.  It was very easy and user friendly both for myself and my teachers!

I also really wanted to show the incredible staff that I am blessed to work with how much I appreciate them. However, being that there is only 1 of me, it can be hard to do this on a budget.  So, I created these little goodie-bags and placed them in their boxes.  I bought the stickers at Wal-Mart and downloaded the template from the packaging.  From there, I just inserted a picture of an owl, chose the cutest font and printed them.  I stuck them on squares of scrapbook paper and stapled them to baggies filled with candy and viola, a little treat for the teachers and staff!  

This has been such a wonderful year all in all.  Definitely full of ups and downs, but even in the downs I know that I absolutely feel called to be where I am right now doing what I do.  I am a school counselor at heart!  I love getting to work with the sweet kiddos that we have here at school and as much as I'm ready for summer, I know I will miss them and worry about them for the next 75 days.  Good luck to all of you as you finish up your years!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Time Flies!

It's been entirely too long since I wrote about life as a school counselor!  There have been ups and downs since my last post.  Here's a quick catch up...I dealt with my first hostile parent whose anger was directed towards me.  I can honestly say that although I'm still a little shaky thinking about it, I'm okay with the fact that not every parent is going to like or understand my role at the school and what I have to do to protect and take care of their kids--and I'm incredibly thankful to have administration that will back me up and support me 100%.  I witnessed the most powerful moment in a counseling session shared with two 4th grade boys.  It was a solid reminder about the impact that a safe and comfortable counseling environment can have on children.  I did nothing but allow them the space to talk and it was amazing to see what happened.  These two boys were both dealt some difficult and unfair cards in their hand of life, but together were able to share, cry and support each other through two different yet somehow comparable chaotic life situations. I've wrapped up all of my 7 habits lessons.  It was so much fun for me to do my final lesson in each class.  I spent a good portion of the time reviewing the first 6 habits and am incredibly blown away by what the kids remember!  Also, I'm putting together a book that I'll be sure to post some pics of when it is finished.  I told the students that I wanted a scrapbook/yearbook of the school counseling program for this past year and I wanted them to be my authors.  Each student got a page to write and color about their favorite habit (and why it was their favorite).  It has been a joy for me to read through them and although I haven't quite figured out the best way to do so, I can't wait to bind them all together in a book.  I'm thinking a large 3 ring binder and plastic sleeves.  :)

Currently, I am getting ready for testing.  In my district, most school counselors are also the state-testing coordinators.  It is a huge job that overwhelms me and my time, but this is my second year coordinating the test and I'm certainly better at getting it together while still attempting to maximize the time that I spend each day with kids.  Our theme this year is Rock the Test, and I'll be visiting classes to do some testing skills lessons this week.  I can feel the school year wrapping up, but I still have a list (although not quite as long) of students who I need to check in with and follow up with.  My days have lately been so busy, and I know it won't be slowing down at any point from here on out!  Good luck to all of you as you begin to wrap up your school years.  I hope the stress and tension of testing doesn't overwhelm you and your school climate!

PS- Here's a picture of my Rock the Test bulletin board I made.  :)