Monday, September 30, 2013

The Power of Community Volunteers

This year, our school has at least 45 committed volunteers interested in working directly with our students. Yes, this is a pain to coordinate huge blessing!  Our goal is to strategically place all our volunteers in ways that will help increase student learning.

One thing we all know, is that students cannot learn if they do not have their physical and psychological needs met.  Sometimes it is hard for teachers to notice and nurture all of their students' needs when they have a classroom full of kids. Therefore, we pair students who could use extra academic interventions or positive attention from a caring mentor with our fabulous volunteers. I'd like to share the creative ways our school has found success with so many volunteers, so that you may find some ideas that could help your schools!

R.E.A.D (Reading with Therapy Dogs)
First, we have 7 volunteers from the R.E.A.D program. This is a program where teams of therapy dogs and their owners come and read with students one on one for 20 mins a week.  We pair each therapy dog team with students who are either below grade level in reading or who could benefit from the extra time with a supportive mentor and loving attentions of a dog.  This program is serving 21 of our students.

Career Cafe Speakers
I have partnered with our local Rotary Club for Career Cafe. I am very lucky to have many speakers come and share with students about their careers and life experiences.  Last year, 96% of my 4th and 5th grade students reported that they learned about a new career in Career Cafe.  90 out of 91 students who participated, reported that they enjoyed Career Cafe.

Lunch Book Clubs
Three of our volunteers are so dedicated that they want to come almost everyday to work with children. This was a challenge to find teachers, students, and school work for them to work with.  So, we decided to form book clubs for all students who were below grade level in reading or who were not completing their 20 mins of reading each night at home for homework.  Books clubs are on Mondays and Wednesdays and another group meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Each volunteer is paired with 2 book clubs on each day and they meet for 30 mins during lunch.  These groups are small groups of 2-5 students and they take turns reading and discussing their books and spending quality time with their volunteer. Book clubs are a perfect way to use volunteers, because is it directly benefiting the students and they are not losing any instructional time.  Plus, it is a great way to make reading fun!

Rotary Club Mentors
We have an extremely supportive Rotary Club, and they have volunteers who come and serve as mentors to some of our students with needs.  A couple of our students who are grieving over the death of a recent loved one, or who do not have a strong support network at home have been partnered up with a Rotary Volunteer. These volunteers come in during lunch once a week and eat with their student in a quiet location. I have set aside a shelf of games in an old office I used to use and the volunteer and student go in there, eat together, talk, and play games.  This has been an extremely positive program!!

Weekend Backpack Program
Our Rotary Club also works very diligently to provide our school with food bags for certain students to take home for the weekend. They fill 12 bags each week with a variety of snack and dinner foods for students who may not always have meals/food at home.  We have heard very positive feedback from bother the students and their families!  Most of the food is in easy to open containers that the kids can open as they choose to over the weekend.

I hope this gives you an idea of how you can use community and parent volunteers to directly benefit students. This has definitely been a work in progress for us over the years, but we feel like it is very successful.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fun Whole Body Listening Activity for the Beginning of the School Year

I love starting the school year with monster themed lessons.  There is an ActiveBoard lesson called Little Monster Goes to School and it is a perfect story for talking about good classroom behavior.  I like to extend this lesson by teaching students active listening.  I couldn't believe it when I found this monster stuffed animal a couple years ago, because all his body parts are attached to his body with Velcro and can easily be taken off and put back on. Click here to download the posters from "Growing Kinders" at TeachersPayTeachers for free!

We start with the body of the monster and I hold the poster up and ask students, "A monster can listen with his body. Can you?" Then, students tell me how they use their bodies to show active listening. Next, I hold up the eye and stick it on the monster, saying "A monster can listen with his eyes. Can you?" Then I continue going through all the parts of the body that monsters ( and kids) use to show active listening to their teacher and classmates.  The children absolutely love this lesson because the monster looks so funny! If you can't find a monster like this one, you could use a potato head toy.

Finally, I have students work together with their teams to draw the parts of the body they use for active listening on these laminated monster activity pages. One at a time they are supposed to draw one body part and explain to their team how they use that body part to show active listening. Then, they pass it on to the next person and they add a body part, and so on.  After all the teams finish, it's fun to have them share their monsters with the class. They always turn out very cute!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Liebster Award

Cheryl Lassey at the Creative Elementary School Counselor Blog nominated me for a blogging award! It is so exciting to be recognized from a fellow school counselor blogger! Please head over to her blog to find some fantastic and creative counseling ideas, as well as, to see the other award recipients.

This award appears to be a chain award to help spread your blog to new readers.  Which is amazing, because I love connecting with new readers.

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. Create 11 questions for your nominees.
5. Contact your nominees and let them know you nominated them.

Questions for me to answer:

1. What are your favorite blogs?

(The School Counselor Blog and Jyjoyner Counselor are definitely two of my favorites, but I feel like everyone already follows them religiously, so I'm going to list 5 additional ones)

emyselfandi (This blog is written by my cousin, and while its not a counseling blog, she is a teacher, and she writes amazing real life posts of what she is living on a daily basis.)

2. Why did you start blogging?

A couple years ago, I began reading school counseling blogs and they gave me such great ideas to use in my program. I learned more from other counselors through blogs, than I had anywhere else.  So, I also wanted to be able to share a few of my ideas.  Keeping my blog helps keep me energized and creative.

3. What advice do you have for others who are just starting out with their own blog?

My advice is to keep the ideas flowing! It can be very hard to keep up with posts and write often enough that readers will keep coming back.  However, on the bright side, this is what encourages me to stay creative and energized in my program.

4. Why did you decide to work as a school counselor?

I love children. I wanted to be able to help kids who are struggling at home and at school. I want to be one person in their life that shows them love and can help them problem solve and be the best they can be. We are helping our future and it is a very meaningful job. 

5. What are your favorite things to do outside of school?

Read. Some close friends of mine meet once a month for book club and its a lot of fun.  I love getting together with friends to have "crafting" Pinterest parties. I also love the water (beach, pool, or lake doesn't matter!)

6. What is the best part of your job?

The best part of the job is the relationships you develop with the kids.  Simply being a friendly and caring presence at the school, greeting children in the mornings, giving them hugs, and asking them how they are doing creates a trust bond with students where they are willing to come and share their life with you.  It is very rewarding to help kids live happier lives.

7. How many years have you been working in a school?

This will be my 5th year as an elementary school counselor.

8. If you could only have 5 books in your office which ones would you choose?

I went to graduate school in Missoula, MT and would love to head back west. I think I would really enjoy living on the northwest coast, Seattle, possibly.

10. What is your favorite memory of a teacher from your childhood?

I'm actually going to have give just a general answer to this one. I don't really have one specific teacher or one specific memory that really stood out for me. I just remember loving school. I was also excited to go to school. I had a great little group of girl friends and our school was very small town with a homey feel.  Now, I am at an elementary school in the same county I grew up in.

11. What is your #1 go to resource at school?

Pinterest..... does that count??

I use most of the Julia Cook books/workbooks each year.

I love the Explosive Child, by Ross Greene, to recommend for parents.

Blog I nominate for the Liebster Award are:

Nominees Questions to Answer:

1. What advice would you give to new bloggers?
2. How do you use technology in your counseling program?
3. What is your #1 go to resource at school?
4. If you could only have 5 books in your office which ones would you choose?
5. What are your favorite school counseling blogs?
6. What are your favorite blogs that are not work related?
7. What small group resources do you find most helpful?
8. What book are you currently reading?
9. What is the best part of your job?
10. What apps do you recommend?
11. What do you do to "sharpen your saw"? (what do you do for fun?)

Thanks for participating! I think this is a wonderful way to get more blogging traffic! 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Office Organization Part 2

I'm finally ready for my office reveal. I've had lots of fun decorating and organizing this past week.

Here is the view as you walk in the door...

I love having tables for my classes to sit at rather than desks, because it is so much easier to build teamwork and I feel like its more homey.  I'm also really excited about my birds hanging from the ceiling. :)

My desk area...

Behind my desk, I have a shelf with a file box for each grade level that holds all of my classroom lessons. Beside that, I stacked milk crates to make a free shelf for supplies.  To the left of my desk is a shelf that holds fidgets, games, and resources for individual counseling.

Here is the area I've set aside for individual counseling...

On my shelf I have lots of little toys and fidgets kids can hold and play with while we talk. I have found that if a child has something to hold on to, it makes them feel more comfortable talking.  I also a have a set of Talk Blocks that I use with students in individual counseling. You can find out more about Talk Blocks here.

My favorite bulletin board...

I hope to keep this board up for most of the year, because I want it to help make every student feel comfortable and safe in my class.  I want all children regardless of their ability, race, gender, SES, etc. to feel welcomed and accepted.  I also want to encourage all of our students to be accepting of everyone.  This is the largest board in my room, so I hope it sends a big message.

Front of my room...

Storage in the back of my room...

Behavior Management System...

This board is in the front of my classroom to make it easy for all my classes to see.  I titled the board, "Are you being a leader?" to go along with our Leader in Me initiative.  I took behavior charts and cut them in half, laminated them, and wrote a homeroom teacher's name on each chart.  If my classes are using the 7 Habits and being good listeners, I will color in one of the circles on their chart at the end of that class period.  Once they have 5 successful classes, we will spend their next counseling class outside for recess.  This is a huge motivator for students to give active listening and good participation during my lessons.  It also allows me to spend some time outside with kids watching them interacting with their classmates on the playground.  Once, they have earned their reward day, I simply wipe their chart off and they begin again.

Hopefully, you were able to get some good ideas for your rooms.  Please leave a comment linking your offices and classrooms so that I can take a look as well. Thanks!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Office Organization Part 1

I survived my first day back! I am moving rooms for the 4th time in 5 years, but I can't complain because I get to have a whole classroom again this year! I love having my classes come to me for classroom guidance, and I have plenty of room for a small group area and a cozy spot for individual counseling.  I took a couple of pictures to share with you of my first day back, and I will post the finished product in a couple days!

I am so excited about my first bulletin board I put up in my room. It has the 7 habits on it, because our school is now officially trained in Leader in Me!!

I will have more boards to show you in a couple days, because my room has 8 bulletin boards!! Next, I had to find a place to store my classroom lessons. One, of my goals this year is to be organized with lesson planning.  You can read more about how I organize my lessons here. However, I have changed from using binders to using file boxes. This is easier than a file cabinet for me because the lessons are out and easy to find, and I have to move so much they are more portable this way. I have a file box for every grade level, and this shelf is directly behind my desk for easy access.

Next, I organized all my new school supplies! I have 3 long tables and 1 round table for students to sit at and they always need scissors, crayons, and glue for projects that we do, so I made 2 of these for each table.

The caddies came from Wal-Mart and were very reasonably priced.  I store them on a shelf with other supplies at the front of my room.

Next, I want to show you my shelf organization. I was blessed with lots of storage this year in the back of my room and it has been a lot of fun organizing all my books, games, supplies, and stuffed animals.

This is just a sneak peak of how I've started setting up my room. I can't wait to share the final product! Check back soon!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Awesome iPad Apps for School Counselors

I have only had my iPad for 1 year, but now I don't think I could survive without it!  I'll admit before buying one I thought, "what's the big deal? It can't be that great" I was wrong. It is that great.  I'd like to share with you some of my favorite apps that I use everyday.  This list will come in very handy for personal use as well as for your counseling program.

The first app I want to tell you about is Notability. It is only 1.99 and well worth the money.  I kept waiting and waiting for Pages, the Microsoft word app, to go down in price but since it never did I tried notability and I've been very happy with it.  Notability allows you to organize your documents in categories and sub-folders that are automatically color coded!  Also, taking notes is fun because you can change the look of the paper and font, and you can draw, highlight, and add pictures to your notes. I plan to use Notability to keep track of staff meeting notes, lesson plans, counseling ideas and for anything else I need to take notes on. Below are a couple screen shots of how I used Notability at the ASCA Conference.




The next app I use everyday is Pinterest.  I'm not going to say too much about this app because I assume all of you are already using it.  Pinterest is the number one way I stay energized, creative, and on top of the latest ideas in education, counseling, and technology.




Password Manager Free is an app that allows you to store all your usernames/login names and passwords.  At school, it seems like we have to change our passwords every three months or so and some passwords are not allowed to match which makes if VERY difficult to keep up with them all. This app is a life saver! You do have to remember one password, because it is a password protected app, but this allows all your information to stay more secure. You can create your own categories with picture icons and when you click on them it gives you your login information. Amazing!


Qrafter and I-nigma are both good apps to scan and read QR codes. They are very kid friendly and you can use QR codes in any guidance lesson to help engage your students. You can also add QR codes to parent newsletters, business cards, or your website with links to your contact information or other online resources. I use to create my QR codes.

AppsGoneFree is a great app to check daily.  This app shows which apps are free that typically cost a fee.

Scribble Press is a digital storytelling app that has many uses in school counseling.  They have some great templates for students to create stories that give students the opportunity to share information about themselves.  Students can create personalized books about their selves, friends, parents, future, and much more.  Once books are created they can be saved and shared in ibooks, email, etc... This app would be perfect during classroom guidance, small group, and individual counseling! Below is an example of a page that I created. I'm thinking about creating a book to use to introduce myself at the beginning of the year!



Professor Garfield has a series of apps that are very engaging for students and would be a great addition to your lessons.  Specifically for guidance related topics, I would suggest Professor Garfield Online Safety and  Professor Garfield Cyberbullying.  Both of these apps are free and they begin with a creative comic strip students can read related to the topic and then there are questions that follow to check for understanding. This app will take your lesson from sub-par to out of this world! Below are just a few examples from the comic and activity.






I have found many cute apps that I plan on using with younger grades to teach emotions/feelings.  All of these would be perfect to use to reinforce concepts in a whole class setting or in small group and individual counseling.

Moody Monster Manor lets kids design their own monster. They can pick a body shape, colorful pattern, eyes, nose, and mouth for their monster. This would be so much fun to have students design different monsters to portray different feelings.  This app also has interactive scenarios showing a variety of emotions and asks the kids to complete a task to help the monster feel better.



Touch and Learn Emotions is an app that has children pick the picture that matches the given feeling.  The kids will listen for a feeling word and then choose the correct picture from 4 pictures.  I really like that the pictures show real kids faces rather than cartoons.  This helps students learn real facial clues that will help them identify how people in their lives are feeling.


iTouchiLearn Feelings for Preschool has a lite version that is free, but I would suggest paying for the full version, because it opens up more games and feelings.  This app gives students interactive situations and asks them to identify the correct emotion. They are also able to make different feeling faces with fun food and household items and they have other games such as matching, puzzles, spelling, and more. This app would be perfect for preschool, kindergarten, and 1st grade!




Focus On the Go! is a great app to use in the classroom and would be good to suggest for parents.  They offer a parent resource library that includes printable activities and resources as well as videos that provide skills from the FOCUS Family Resilience Training Program.  I also plan on using this one during individual counseling sessions.  There are games aimed at helping students learn about ways to calm down when they are angry. There is also a comic creator where students can create different scenarios and solutions.




Finally, there are a couple classroom apps that I plan on using with my ActiveBoard to help enhance my everyday lessons.  Classroom Timer is a free app that is a GREAT visual that can be projected onto your board showing students how long they have left before moving on to a new activity. This would be great for all students, but especially for students who struggle with transitions.

Random Name Selector will randomly display a student name when you ask the class a question.  The app will go through your entire class list before repeating a name ensuring that students are called on a fair number of times.  This will help keep students on their toes because they will never know when they will be called on!

Too Noisy is a cute app that helps control the noise level in your classroom.  When you have this app projected on your board, students can see when they are getting too loud without you having to keep saying, "Be Quiet!" These apps are so simple, yet so helpful!





I really hope this gives you some useful and creative ways to use iPads in your counseling program.  I can't wait to see my students' reactions when I incorporate these apps this year!! Please leave comments with other apps you use!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Girls Vs Boys 5th Grade Lessons

This year our school only has 2 homerooms of 5th grade students.  This made it very easy for me to split the boys and girls and teach my guidance classes separately, allowing me to teach gender specific lessons.  This proved to be an interesting adventure!

I thought teaching the boys and girls separately would be very effective, because in 5th grade the students seem to need different lessons. For example, bullying looks very different with the girls than it does with the boys.  They are also managing peer pressure differently and dealing with much different problems.  Below are some lessons that I chose to teach with my boys and girls.


I used The Weird Series including the books Tough!, Weird!, and Dare! by Erin Frankel.  While I think this series would be helpful for both boys and girls, it was fantastic to read and discuss in an all girls class.  They are very interesting stories that the girls can really relate to.  The hip, cool illustrations really capture their attention.
My  favorite lesson was using the book, Dare, where the students learn about how to handle peer pressure when someone is trying to get them to bully someone and the importance of being a helpful bystander to help the victim when they are getting bullied.  We read and discussed the book using the notes and discussion questions in the back of the book.  Then, I showed the PERFECT video clip showing an example of a group of girls who have to decide whether or not they are going to go along with the crowd to bully someone or stand up to the bully by accepting the person being picked on for who they are.  It is a clip from the Dateline episode: My Kids Wouldn’t Do That: Bullying.  This clip shows how easy it is to join in verbal bullying when others around you are doing it.  I KNOW this is a reality for many 5th graders, and it was an eye opener for many of them.  We were able to discuss how important it is to step in a “squash” the bullying by being nice to the victim and taking up for them.  You definitely need to watch this video clip and share it in your classes!

My favorite lesson I did with the boys is my Peer Pressure with Super Bowl Commercial Lesson found here.  They were totally engaged since we were watching funny commercials, and they learned a valuable lesson on how peers will try to get them to do things they know are not right and ways they can refuse the peer pressure.  
Another lesson I did with the boys group that was very successful was on character traits and how students want to present themselves going to the middle school next year to both their peers and teachers to make a good first impression. First, I read the guys an excerpt (pgs. 42-46) from the book A Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.  This chapter is all about Dwight, and we learn a lot about his different character traits, both good and bad.  Then, I used parts of the lesson plan found here by Lyne Farrell Stover to talk to the boys about what character traits they should be looking for in new friends as they go to the middle school and what traits they should be displaying to others so that they can make positive friendships. Click here for the PDF Lesson Plan. It is a wonderful resource!

Positives of dividing the girls and boys
  • Lessons are more specific and relevant to the problems they are facing
  • Students are more comfortable sharing and participating
  • Students are more honest and open in their discussions

Negatives of dividing the girls and boys
  • Behavior is harder to manage with the all boys class
  • Scheduling it could be difficult
  • Takes more time planning different lessons

Thursday, March 14, 2013

New Approach to Combat Bullying: Love is Louder Always!

This week Randy Cazell,  the author of "Love is Louder Always" came to speak to my 3rd and 4th grade guidance classes.  Randy is a retired Elementary School Counselor and she wrote this book as a tool for teaching about bullying for her guidance classes, and later decieded to publish it.  I fully buy in to her approach for combating bullying.

 She suggests teaching students to treat others with love always.  If you are a bystander to bullying, it is your duty to DO SOMETHING.  You can stand up to the bully or report the behavior to a teacher.  But, most importantly you need to show love to the victim.  We need to teach students to "pull the victim away from the bully," or include the victim in order to get them away from the bully and show them they are cared for.  Kids need to learn to side with the victim vs laughing or supporting the bully EVERY time!  This is the perfect book to read to your students to start spreading the love at your school!

Monday, February 25, 2013

“Scribble Press” Friendship Books

Last year, I posted my Animal Friendship unit, and it was so successful that I used it again this year with my second graders.  For my last lesson in my friendship unit, I decided to integrate technology using our IPads.  I am always looking for ways to enhance my lessons with technology because it helps to capture my students’ interest.  For this lesson, we reviewed characteristics of a good friend, positive qualities to look for when meeting new friends, and our friendship rules of how to treat each other.  

Then, using the “Scribble Press” app on the IPad, each student created and illustrated a friendship book!  Scribble Press is an app that contains numerous templates of books covering a variety of topics.  To get to the one we used, you simply click on “New Book,” “Family,” and then select the book titled “My Best Friend.”  Once you select the book, the app’s pre-scripted text appears with spaces for the student to fill in words to personalize it.  They fill in their best friend’s name, why they are best friends, their favorite things to do together, and their favorite memory together.  I encouraged my students to take this seriously and think about what good qualities make their best friend a good fit for them.  

Once they have filled in the blanks, the app “creates” their book and they are now able to illustrate their entire book with hundreds of different makers, highlighters, text, pictures, stamps, etc.  When the student has finished their story, I have them save it within the app, and I am going to let students share their books during my next guidance class using the same IPadthey created it on.  So far, this is the quickest way I found for saving. However, I may see if I can email them to myself and print them so they can take their story home.  If you have any suggestions for this please comment and let me know!!

Helpful Hints for this lesson:
1. It takes the students 2 (30-40 minute) classes to finish their books, and a third to share them.  However, I believe the time is worth it, considering they are working hands on and creating the entire time!

2. The books are about a “best friend.”  It is every important to reiterate to the students how important it is for everyone to have more than one best friend and they are supposed to just pick one of their friends to write about.  I explain to students that the purpose of the activity is to review what we have learned about friendship, and we want to be careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings by leaving others out.

3. Our students don’t have a lot of experience using IPads in second grade. It helped a lot for me to have the app pulled up to the screen they needed, before they came to class. 

4. It is important to model to the students how to draw and create the book before they begin because there are many art options to use.  Also, review IPad rules before they begin.

5. OuIpads are numbered, so it was very important for me to write down the number each student was using so I knew which Ipad to give back to them in order to finish their book.