Saturday, October 1, 2016

Show 'em a Sign

This past week was GLSEN's Ally Week, a week focused on how to become better allies to LGBTQ youth through active support and advocacy. 
Here's a link to GLSEN's  Ally Week Educator's Guide: Ally Week Educator Guide
So as an educator, how do you connect with LGBTQ students so that they know you are a support for them? One of the simplest ways is to show them a sign! Give your students a sign to let them know that your office is a safe space and you will be a supportive person for them. 
Put up safe space poster or sticker in your office to let them know. 

I wasn't always so sure a sign or sticker could make that much difference, but it does! LGBTQ students speak openly with me without hesitation because they know that I am their ally. I will support and advocate for and with them. 

Click  HERE for GLSEN's Safe Space Toolkit (posters, stickers, and more)!

Here's the sign on my desk that you see when you walk in my door or can see from the hallway (with a safe space sticker)  and an additional sticker on the bulletin board above where I sit from Georgia Safe School Coalition....

Showing students a sign to know where they can connect and be supported is great! It signals to students where there is an LGBTQ ally and that is important especially for LGBTQ students who do not have an ally in any other part of their lives.
Even more important is that as school counselors we continue to stay educated about LGBTQ issues and exactly how to support and advocate with our LGBTQ students.  Below is a list of links to resources (and there are many more) to help us stay educated and aware. If we "say" we are a safe space, safe zone, or ally then we must be educated and aware enough to be those things for our students. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Two by Ten

Three years ago as I joined my amazing school on their connections journey, I saw the importance our faculty and staff placed on connecting with our students. As a school counselor that has a focus on connecting,  I wanted to support the adults in school by giving ideas and strategies to them that would help create these connections. 
One of the first strategies that I shared with my school was the "Two by Ten" strategy. (I didn't come up with the strategy, but I believe in it!) 

The "Two by Ten" strategy is spending 2 minutes a day for 10 consecutive days getting to know and building a relationship with a student. 

Here are a few links explaining more about the strategy:

While each of the articles linked above discusses how the "Two by Ten" strategy can lead to better student behavior. I believe the key is not behavior changes by the student necessarily. Student behavior changes are a result of something way more meaningful and longer lasting. 

When we consciously choose to put our time, energy, and emotion into building a relationship with another human being, multiple things happen....
1. That positive energy and emotion changes OUR attitude and OUR perspective about the other person and/or our relationship with that person. It's the same lesson we learn from Tom Rath's How Full Is Your Bucket? Simply stated, when we work to support, recognize, praise, and show others that they matter, we know it fills their bucket and this also fills our bucket too. It's why we have that good feeling when volunteer and provide service to others.  So when we have a more positive outlook on a student and/or our relationship with that student, then our interactions and conversations with that student change and become more positive too. Of course, in return, our students interact and speak in a more positive manner with us as well. 
2. I've found that many of our students may be used to an adult in school attempting to build a relationship with them. Unfortunately, they may also be used to experiencing only a few attempts, before that adult quits trying. I believe as educators, the adults that guide our students through their educational journey, it is our responsibility to continue to reach out to our students and build connections with them. We cannot give up on them. 
Some of the students who need to find a connection the most, make it the most difficult to connect to them and as educators we must not give up on them!
Some of the students who need to find connection the most, will do everything in their power to get you to give up and as educators we must not give up on them!
Some of the students who need connection the most, can also frustrate us the most because it can seem like all of our efforts are not making an impact at all. And as educators we must not give up on them!
The "Two by Ten" is a great strategy that helps lead to a habit of educators spending consistent time building relationships with students. This consistent effort to connect with students builds trust and helps students learn that there are adults in school who aren't going to give up on them. They need the proof that we won't be like everyone else who they believe have thrown in the towel and written them off. 
3. By spending time getting to know and bonding with a student consistently over the 10 days ( or more days...even better!), we learn more about them as people and about their lives outside of school. Often times what we learn, helps us truly understand the behaviors we see from our students.  It gives us compassion for students which often changes OUR behaviors and reactions to the student's behavior. When the educator's behaviors and reactions change then we often see the student's behavior change as a result. 

When I can make that connection with a student then I am a better school counselor because then I am able to connect them with their education in a more impactful way. Anytime I have struggled with a student's attitude, behavior, or had a difficult interaction with them, I go to the "Two by Ten" strategy as a starting point for repairing that relationship struggle. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Reach Higher.... "It's a different world than where you come from."

First let me begin with a little WARNING: This will probably be one of many posts I publish about The First Lady's Reach Higher Initiative. 

If you don't know about this initiative, check out the website here: The First Lady's Reach Higher Initiative

The announcement of this initiative along with some fantastic sessions at the University of Georgia College of Education's eight annual UGA Counseling and Diversity Conference  inspired me to begin a "Reach Higher" week at my school. It was my first year in middle school and I definitely wanted to come in helping students make a connection to post-secondary education. My focus in connecting with students is so that I can connect them to their education while in middle school but also their future education in high school and beyond. I want my students to know all the fantastic options out there for them including the wonderful technical college system we have in Georgia.

I've pondered what it was that made me want to pursue my education after high school. I can't remember a specific moment that made me want to go to college. It was just always something that was going to be a part of my life. This is probably because both of my parents are college graduates...going to college after high school was the norm in our little family. 
However, I do remember a tv show that started when I was near the end of elementary school and continue through my sophomore year of high school... "A Different World."

Gotta love this theme song! :) 

 This show sealed the deal for me! I was definitely going to college after watching this show! (I've actually been watching old episodes of this show on Netflix recently.)
Hillman College was a fictional college but it didn't matter...I wanted to go to this different world where you were challenged and learned new interesting things and made an amazing group of friends!

But not everyone has that connection to post-secondary education and I want to make sure my kiddos are exposed to all the opportunities out there for them beyond high school.

At the UGA Counseling and Diversity Conference, I was able to attend a session by Christopher Bruton on the "College Attainment Journey of Students of Economic Disadvantage." In his research, Mr. Bruton found various themes that impacted pursuing post-secondary education for students of economic disadvantage. They were: 1)Resiliency 2) Desire to Improve Socioeconomic Status 3)Education as a Means to Improvement 4)The Presence of a Positive Influence (biggest theme in the study) 5)Feelings of Marginalization and 6)Demystification of Higher Education.
As a school counselor, I felt like it was definitely in my ability to create an environment that helps build resiliency in students, be a positive influence, decrease feelings of marginalization and help to demystify higher education for my students.

Another session I attended was with Alice Ann Bailey from the Southern Regional Education Board on "Next Generation of Student Supports: What "First in the Family" Students say about their Post Secondary Needs and Knowledge." Hearing things like 'many students have only a view of college based on middle school and high school where you just show up and they need guidance on how to apply and be accepted', makes me realize how much I can do to help begin connecting students to their post-secondary options and showing students that they ARE indeed college material!

Knowing not everyone grew up in a household like mine where post-secondary education was the norm and the crew at "Hillman College" where a weekly part of tv viewing, I knew I had the opportunity to allow my students to explore post-secondary educational opportunities and introduce them to higher education and so our "Reach Higher Week" was born.
In planning for Reach Higher Week, I started by seeing what was already out there.

Shout out to all the folks who I have borrowed ideas from... you all are school counseling super stars!

Check out these blogs for amazing info about post-secondary awareness and much much more fantastic information!

I plan on sharing even more from my reach higher week and other initiatives to connect students with their post-secondary education this fall as each year we add to our Reach Higher Week and other post-secondary opportunities through out the school,  but see below for information on our past reach higher initiatives...

My super duper friend and elementary school counseling extraordinaire,  Stacey Miller and I presented at the Georgia School Counselor Association Conference last November about how to promote post-secondary education at the elementary and middle school levels.
Below is a link & QR Code to our presentation and accompanying documents:

Monday, June 20, 2016

Making Their Mark

I try to have something going on in my office that my students can be a part of and add too.  It let's them "make their mark" in my office and helps to build connections with them. 

When I was an elementary school counselor, I covered my table with white butcher paper and drew a random design in black marker. Each time a student came in to talk they would color in part of the design. Sometimes with solid colors. Sometimes with designs in a section. Once it was completed, I would hang it up outside my office and start all over a gain with a new design on the table. I originally did this on a whim but it turned out to be 1) a great thing to help my students relax while they talked with me and 2) a great way to allow students to have a connection with me and the counseling office. My kiddos wanted to be able to be a part of the art work going on in my office. 

 A little Tip:Since this was the table I also used for lunch groups, I bought some cheap place mats to use during those groups to keep the art work protected. 

Below is a smaller example of what my whole table looked like:

When I moved to middle school, I saw this fantastic post on Pinterest: 

I loved the idea and the bright colors. I now keep markers and bright post it notes in my office. Students can give a "shout out" to themselves noting a success they have had at school, home or with friends. They can even "shout out" a peer for doing something great. Below is what my shout out wall has looked like in the past. Now since I have moved offices, It was one of the first things I put up for next school year. My kiddos all want to add their successes to my wall. 
I start most of my small groups with a "self shout-out" and individuals always add to it through out the year too. Students who I may not be meeting with individually or in a small group also want to add to it because they have seen or heard about the wall and it allows me to make even more connections with students!

          1st Year in Middle School:                 
               Ready for Next Year! 

Last year, I had a student that needed some type of distraction when having some issues with anxiety. At one point, what worked was putting together a puzzle. The moments we spent calming down and getting distracted with the puzzle still didn't get that puzzle put together very quick. Of course, that wasn't the purpose, but as other students walked by my office and saw the incomplete puzzle on the table they wanted to be a apart of its completion. 
During individual meetings, quick check ins, or during dismissal time various students wanted to add to the puzzle. They were so excited when they found a piece that fit and it gave me time to talk and connect again with so many students. Once the puzzle was completed, they were all so excited to have been a part of the group success! 
I will say, I did have to improvise on space to do other things since the puzzle took up my table space for a few weeks. 

Any way for students to leave their mark in your space, makes your students feel a part of your world and makes them feel important. So whether it is coloring, post its, puzzles, or anything else, let them add to your space and make their mark in your world while you build connections into theirs.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

"Name Matters"

If you know me, you know I am a fan of Oprah Winfrey. I used to watch The Oprah Winfrey Show daily-ish. What I love is her personal story of resilience, her passion for education and that most of the time she discussed topics that made me think, whether I agreed with her opinion or not.
 My all time favorite discussion was one she had with book club members and the author Toni Morrison. Below is a clip of the discussion that was, as Oprah calls it, an "A-ha" moment for me and something that I've always tried to keep in mind as a school counselor. 

"Does your face light up when a child enters the room?" 
Our students want and need to know that they matter. They want to feel appreciated and validated. When we get into our super busy hectic days at school it can be so easy to respond with short answers not even looking up at who is speaking to us or call out to a student that you'll talk later as you rush away from them down the hall. I often remind myself that it is okay to tell a student we will have to talk later but it's important to stop, look them in the eye and give them those moments where you are focused on them..... 
And to call them by their name!

At my school our faculty reads and discusses the book, Top 20 Teachers written by Paul Bernabei, Tom Cody, Willow Sweeney, Mary Cole and Michael Cole. (Our students also learn and discuss lessons from Top 20 Teens in our advisement program).  One of the biggest and most simple lessons from Top 20 Teachers is "Name Matters." Knowing and using students' names is a simple yet powerful way to make that initial connection with them. It let's them know that they matter. Teachers often do this by using "Four at the door."

Below are a few links about Top 20:
Top 20 Training Page - Top 20 Training
Top 20 Blog: "Showing Students they Matter, matters" - Top 20 Training Blog

I have to confess, as a school counselor, knowing all my students' names is one of those things that I wish was a strength of mine. I know faces but I can struggle with names sometimes.
My first year in middle school, however, knowing one student's name turned out to be a magical moment. That school counseling magic wand of mine is usually out of  power but a name charged it right up that day! 
I had heard this student's name from teachers, administrators and others. In fact, I had heard his name a lot!! And of course, if a student is the topic of conversation that much, it usually is not a positive conversation. I had yet to meet this student as he was not necessarily on my "caseload," but I operate under the notion that they're all my students! 
So... one day in the chaos of afternoon dismissal, I noticed the student in the hallway and he noticed me. With a stern look on his face he gave me a head nod and a "sup?" I simply smiled and said "Hi, C." That simple sentence was like magical fairy dust.  His eyes widened and a beautiful bright smile crossed his face. He put his hand over his heart and so sincerely questioned, "You know my name?" "Of course, I do," I said. 
That moment of knowing his name, making him feel like he matters, and showing him that his presence made someone light up and notice him was that necessary initial connection needed to build a strong relationship with this student. (The fact that his hand covered his heart as he responded to me is not accident. Many times a simple smile and hello is all it takes to touch our students' hearts when they are so in need of love and attention).  Because I noticed him, he we were able to build a relationship where he trusted me and I could help him re-frame negative situations, calm down when angry and explore future opportunities. He often referred to me as his "school auntie," which still makes me smile today.

Because of this I work hard to know my students' names. In those moments where another educator brings up a student's name and I don't know who they are talking about or I see a student in the hall and get stumped on their name, it becomes my 'homework' and I practice using that student's name until I get it!

When I was an elementary school counselor, I used another name strategy when I first met with a student. (I've used it a couple of times in middle school too, when it felt right to use). As school counselors, sometimes the first conversation we have with a student has to be a serious and/or sensitive conversation and we need to build rapport quickly! 
Most students feel more comfortable talking when they are doing something else which is why I have various fidgets and drawing supplies in my office. Most of my elementary schoolers loved to draw when we would meet. So if they drew, I drew. During those first difficult one on one conversations, I would always draw.... their name!  The students would notice their name begin to appear in bubble letters across a blank piece of paper filled with various designs and colors. I often could see their sweet little smiles out of the corner of my eye when they realized it was their name on that paper. As our conversation progressed they would become more comfortable and more open to talk. It made them feel like they mattered; that they were important and a quick initial connection was made all around a name. And for those kiddos with unique names, the fact that you know how to spell their name is a huge bonus!
I always gave them their name pictures as they returned to class and our follow up conversations were more open and in depth as we built on that name connection. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

The "how many things could I do wrong" Interview that was Oh-So Right!

Two years ago I was ready for a change and decided to participate in the transfer process in my school district. I was nervous.... 1) because I would be leaving my comfort zone of 6 years and 2) because this meant interviews! Interviews make me extremely nervous!! (I even get nervous if I am helping to interview someone else!)
I decided the best way to deal with this nerve-racking experience would be to just get all interviews over with as quick as possible. So I scheduled 4 interviews in 1 day (3 elementary schools and 1 middle school)..... Well.... I actually thought I had scheduled 3 interviews on one day and 1 the day before. 
I thought my first interview was on a Monday afternoon at a middle school. (By the way, I was talked into this interview because I wasn't sure if I was ready to move from elementary to middle school just yet. My former co-counselor and I used to joke about how we weren't "cool enough" to work in middle school.... of course...I've learned over the past 2 years that NO ONE is cool enough to work in middle school...according to middle schoolers). I showed up early in my cute blazer with resume in hand, but apparently I was a day early! Yep! I showed up on the wrong day for my interview! Amazing first impression, right? (Of course, my first thought was...."great! now I have to find another blazer to wear, now that they've seen this one!" --- so silly.)
So.... NOW I had 4 interviews in 1 day on Tuesday. 
I drove back and forth across my county all day, taking breaks at home to let dogs out, have lunch, freshen makeup, etc. My interviews varied....... one with 1 person, one with 6 people, one lasting an hour, one lasting 15 minutes, one with a tour and introduction to the staff! 
By the time 4:15 pm rolled around for my final interview, I was a little tired and perhaps a little more relaxed and more myself. 
The hour long interview included me swearing I was "not that flaky" and could actually show up on the correct day and time for most things as well as me answering "I don't know" to not one but TWO questions during my interview! (Not sure what I was thinking except that I really did not have an answers to those questions). I may have also mentioned my blazer dilemma. And... I was very upfront about counseling duties, the ASCA national model and RAMP. Like I said.... I think I was a little tired and more relaxed, so I was myself!
But the interview also included me sharing my purpose and passion to connect with students and to connect students with their education after my experience in the department of corrections. The principal then shared with me the focus of the school: C.L.R. = Connections, Literacy, and Rigor. 
Connections! This school blatantly focused on making connections with their students! 
I knew as I walked out the door from my interview that this was the right place for me. Even though I may have botched the interview and I had never worked middle school before, and possibly was not  even close to being "cool enough"to work in with middle schoolers, I knew this was the right fit for me.
One minute later I had a voicemail from the principal offering me the job and the next fall began our journey of "tending the farm" as we connected with our kiddos. 

(My current principal and I are working on a presentation about "tending the farm" and I will post more about this school connectedness initiative on this blog a little later.)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

My Why

 Do you know your why?
Just a few months ago a friend posted Michael Jr's Know Your Why video on Facebook. (see below)

This video ignites my passion about school counseling each time I see it. 
I know my why and it makes me excited to do what I do every day. 

My journey to becoming a school counselor began when I graduated with my Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Georgia. I accepted a position where I had interned during my final year as a Social Work major, an adult male detention center for the Georgia Department of Corrections. As a counselor in this correctional facility, my biggest lessons came while working with many gang and hate group members as the security threat group coordinator. My caseload of detainees was mainly made up of men who were a part of various gangs. These men, ranging from 18-50+ years old, were some of the most talented, charismatic, and intelligent people I had met. Yet... 90% of them had not graduated from high school. When I would inquire about their education it became very apparent that for most of them had no connection to school. They did not know anyone in their family or community who graduated high school and they did not feel connected to anyone at their school. School wasn't a place where as young men they felt they belonged or where they saw a path to success and opportunity. I knew after two years at the detention center that I could must get into a school setting to make an impact at an early age. 
After two more degrees (Master of Social Work and Educational Specialist in School Counseling) and a couple of other jobs, I finally found my place and purpose as a school counselor. 
Connecting with kids and connecting them to their education is my why! 
I look for ways to connect with my students and to connect them to their education constantly. Along the way I am trying out new things (like this blog!) to help me keep my focus on connecting and to share information about connecting with others. 

My good school counseling friend, Stacey Miller, constantly tells me to share what I am doing so that others can make an impact with kids too, so...... here we go... 

I plan to share lessons I have learned from others about making connections, initiatives and interventions for connecting and simple every day strategies I use to connect with kids.  I hope what I share is useful and/or idea creating for others!