About The School Counselor Life

Welcome to The School Counselor Life!

As a school counselor, I understand how difficult it can be to find new, innovative, and fun ideas to implement with your students, so I’ve decided to compile my favorite classroom lessons, session ideas, and organization tips for all of you to use with the children at your schools, as well as style ideas and self care practices to encompass every aspect of The School Counselor Life. So, sit back, relax, and explore all this page has to offer (probably with either coffee or wine in hand…or maybe both).


Laura G. Smestad, M.A., LPC, NCC, is an Elementary and Middle School counselor in New Orleans, Louisiana. She has experience in clinical and school settings, where she primarily uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Rogerian techniques. Laura designed The School Counselor Life as a resource to other school counselors looking for individual and small group counseling ideas, classroom lessons, organization tips, and all things school counseling. 

End of the Year Check In Sessions

As the school year draws to a close, I like to check in with my “frequent flyer” students who I’ve worked with since August. Since we aren’t exactly terminating as one would in private practice, we will be taking a break from counseling services {and who knows, maybe they won’t need to see me at all next year!}. Because of this, I make sure I have a short end of year check in session with each of these students to see how things are going, address any current problems, and talk about how they are spending their time over summer vacation.

To start this process, I look at my individual counseling log, and I make a list of every student I saw 3 or more times during the school year. Let me tell you, this list was LONG.

After I’ve made my list, I start checking in with students 2 weeks before the end of school {mostly because it takes me about that long to see all of those students}. Sometimes our sessions are very short and happy — particularly with kids I worked with more so at the beginning of school — and sometimes it gives students one more opportunity to talk about something that is weighing on them presently. I also take this time to affirm students and the progress they have made during the school year.


Even though it takes a while for me to get through my list of students, I really enjoy these check in sessions. I think a major perk of counseling in a school setting is that you get to see how your clients are doing even after you’ve stopped working with them, so it’s great to take advantage of that opportunity while offering future support. I also love being able to connect with students one more time before school lets out. Next up….summer break!

{Check out how I use my time over the summer to get work done}


Training for a Sprint Triathlon As Self-Care

 

As counselors, we all know the powerful benefits of exercise — both physically and mentally. However, at the end of a physically AND mentally exhausting day of work as a school counselor, the last thing I want to do is exercise. At the beginning of the school year, I was incredibly motivated to balance my work, family, social life, and self-care, but as the months wore on and burnout set it, I found myself cutting some self-care practices, mainly working out {which is ironic, because if I had been exercising, I would have had more mental and physical energy to avoid burnout}.

As a way to revive my motivation, I decided to set a goal for myself by training for a sprint distance triathlon. I found a beginner race in my state with distances that were manageable for me {150m pool swim, 10 mile bike, 2 mile run}, so I signed up and began training.

When the excuse-mill started in my head as to why I should skip my workout on a particular day, I shut it down by reminding myself that I have a race coming up. My goal was only to finish the race in one piece {no time goal}, but even to do that, I still needed to train quite a bit. Luckily, this mindset helped me successfully complete the race!

                      

{I literally cried when I crossed the finish line because I couldn’t believe I did it.}

The point of this post is not to convince you to do a triathlon, but rather to encourage you to find something that will motivate you to incorporate exercise and other self-care practices into your life. Maybe you do want to compete in a race, or perhaps you want to participate in a walk for a good cause…either way, having an extra reason to keep your body healthy {other than the simple reason that you will be healthier} will keep your mind healthy too and may motivate you to keep going even when you don’t feel like it. This in turn, will make us all better counselors as we take care of ourselves like we take care of our clients. Even though I’m not training any more, I’m still making sure I don’t push physical activity to the bottom of my priority list. When I consistently incorporate exercise and other self-care into my life, I have more energy at work and can give more of myself to my students and faculty.

        

 


Classroom Lesson Newsletter for Parents

It’s so important to keep our stakeholders up to date on what we are doing as school counselors, especially when it comes to parents. I keep the parents at my school informed in a number of ways, including contributing to the school newsletter {Counselor’s Corner: My Presence in the Weekly School Newsletter}, providing a counseling program brochure {Marketing Your Program & Advocating for Your Profession}, and distributing a monthly newsletter about my classroom lessons.

At the end of every month, I send home a newsletter to parents that describes every lesson I presented in the classroom that month. I divide the lessons by grade level, but parents receive the same newsletter regardless of the grade level of their child. This way, parents can see the developmental nature of the counseling program, in that lessons build on each other from year to year {i.e. I present coping skills lessons in almost every grade, but the actual lessons vary based on developmental factors}.

I use the “Newsletter Capsules Design” template in Word as my base, which is really user friendly. Here is what a typical newsletter looks like for me:

The teachers at my school also see these newsletters because they send them home with the students, which shows the faculty a little more of what I do. I’ve had many teachers approach me saying things like, “I had no idea how many different topics you present on each month!” and “Wow- all of your lessons build on the previous year’s…I didn’t know that!” *cue major feelings of validation*

My administrators receive these newsletters as well, which led to them including one in our prospective student admissions packet.


If you would like a copy of my newsletter template, either leave a comment on this post or e-mail theschoolcounselorlife@gmail.com. Make sure you ‘like’ The School Counselor Life on Facebook so you never miss out on new content!


 

Kindergarten Lesson on Good Manners and Bingo Organization

 

Happy Thursday, everybody! Today I will be sharing a lesson I use with my Kindergarten classes on good manners. Since the lesson includes a bingo game, I thought it would also be helpful to tell you about my storage and organization ideas for bingo.


Classroom Lesson

I begin the class by asking students to tell me examples of good manners. Then, I read the book Manners at School by Carrie Finn.

Then, to reinforce the good manners that were shown in the book, we play a game of good manners bingo {you can find the game cards in my TPT store here}.

 

Since there aren’t many spaces on these bingo cards, I tell the class my “special” way of playing the game. If a student gets a bingo FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME, he or she can stand up and do a 5 second happy dance before sitting back down and raising his or her hand. Then, I will call on each student with a first time bingo, and he or she gets to tell the class a favorite good manner. Students do not clear cards when someone wins bingo, and we keep playing until everybody gets blackout together {stopping to talk about each good manner as they are called out}. If students get more than one bingo, they don’t do anything except smile 🙂 This way of playing minimizes students yelling out and talking over one another. When we all get blackout, the entire class does a “bingo blackout dance,” in which the students can dance however they like as long as they are still close by their chairs. The kindergarten students have SO much fun with this!


Bingo Organization

Now onto the bingo organization! As you may know if you read my bookshelf organization post, I keep my different sets of bingo cards in plastic zippered folders I found at the dollar store, and I top them off with a label I printed out {pictured above}.


My favorite organization tip for bingo games actually came from a 1st grade teacher at my school. She recommended that I put bingo markers in individual sandwich bags so that each student has his or her own to use during the game. This makes handing out the supplies and cleaning up at the end a lot easier. I made enough bags for each student in the largest class in the school to have one, so I know I have enough no matter what class I’m working with.


I hope you enjoyed this lesson! Make sure you ‘like’ The School Counselor Life on Facebook so you never miss an update!


 

Stress & Anxiety Activity for Middle School Students


I created this activity for a 12 year old client I was seeing in private practice, and I recently began using it with a few students at my school. This is a great way to keep students active, to continue to build rapport, and to introduce some CBT concepts.


My inspiration came from a 3D shape I found at the dollar store {Fun fact of the day- if you’ve ever wondered what a 20-sided object is called, it’s an icosahedron}.

On the 15 sides of the object, I wrote rapport building questions that also gave me better insight into her stress and anxiety. On 5 of the spaces, I wrote, “Write a specific time you felt worried or anxious.” Here are some of the questions I included:

  • Does it bother you if something doesn’t go perfectly? Why or why not?
  • What is something you are proud of?
  • What is something that makes you feel overwhelmed?
  • Do you usually start a project and leave it unfinished, or do you usually finish what you start? Why?
  • Describe a time you were disappointed in yourself.
  • What is something you’re afraid of?
  • How does your body feel when you experience stress?

Note on Materials: You can use a beach ball if you can’t find something like this, and you will also need pre-cut slips of paper and markers.


So how does this activity work?

To use this activity in session, you and the student will toss the icosahedron or beach ball back and forth. Whichever prompt each person’s right thumb lands on when you or your student catches it is the one that is responded to. For example, if the student wants to go first, I would toss the shape to her, and she would look at the space where her right thumb landed. If it is a question, the student would answer the question, then toss the shape back to me {repeating the process}. If the student’s thumb lands on a space that says “Write a specific time you felt worried or anxious,” she would take a slip of paper and write a time she experienced anxious feelings.

After all of the questions have been answered {and you have quite a few anxiety producing situations written}, you can sit down with the student and review the slips of paper–yours and the student’s. This is when I begin to introduce some CBT concepts, starting with some psycho-education on types of disordered thinking.

 

I printed out four pieces of paper with the following cognitive distortions: All or Nothing Thinking, Overgeneralization, “Should” Thoughts, and “What If…?” Thoughts. After telling the student about each type of thinking, we looked at all of the stressful situations we each wrote during the game. First, we figured out what thoughts caused the anxiety or stress, then we sorted them into the different categories. Finally, we replaced the distorted thoughts with ones that do not make us feel awful {I found that students liked to use my examples first to identify and change bad thinking because it wasn’t directly tied to them…and one of my students even said she felt happy that she was helping me – so sweet!}.

      

When I did this in private practice, the whole activity from start to finish filled the hour long session, so with the limited time we have in the school setting, it might be more realistic to do this over the course of 2 or 3 meetings.


I hope you enjoyed reading about this activity! Please let me know what kind of results you have if you try it out!


4th Grade Kindness Challenge

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

I thought today would be a great time to tell you about how my 4th grade students spread some love and joy recently through a kindness challenge ❤


A few weeks ago, I presented a lesson to all 4th grade classes on the differences between meanness and bullying and how to deal with each. I used a modified version of this activity from The Handy School Counselor {the one where a student holds a bucket as the counselor fills it with rocks}. At the end of my lesson, we talked about how the only weapon we have against meanness is KINDNESS, and I gave these students a challenge.

Their challenge was to show kindness to at least 6 different people in 2 days. At least 4 of the 6 had to be students at our school, and they couldn’t choose their friends. Anyone who gave me their list of kind acts got candy, and if they had more than 6, they also got stickers. I wasn’t sure if any students would actually turn in their kindness lists, but…

…I was blown away by the response I got! Almost every child in the 4th grade {about 60 students} completed this challenge, and many did more than 6 acts of kindness.

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One student even gave me a composition notebook with the 40 acts of kindness she completed in the 2 days 🙂

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The students were so excited about this challenge, and I think it was a great way to show them how good it feels to do kind things for other people. I hope this was a good starting point for getting rid of some of the mean behaviors in my school!


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How I Celebrated National School Counseling Week This Year

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Happy National School Counseling Week!!

I love this opportunity every year to advocate for our wonderful profession. This week, my school also happens to be undergoing a re-accreditation process, so I wasn’t able to do quite as much as I would have liked, but I’m happy with the bit of celebrating I was able to do. Here are two things I’m doing for #NSCW2017:


Teacher’s Lounge Treats

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To kick things off, I put a basket of treats in the teacher’s lounge, and I attached a sign to the treats expressing my thanks to the teachers {this also allowed me to humble brag about how much the school counseling program has accomplished so far this year.}

 

School Counseling Infographic

I posted this wonderful infographic from ASCA describing the school counselor’s role in the lounge as well as outside of my office.

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I hope you enjoyed my modest attempt at advocating for the role of school counselors. I’d love to do more for next year’s National School Counseling Week, so comment below with your ideas!!


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School Counseling Monthly Data Reports

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Every May, I create a data report that includes all the things I have done during the school year, and I use this data to create goals and to drive my program forward. If you missed my 3 part data series, you can check out those posts here:

Needs Assessments, Evaluation Methods, and Data, Oh My! Part I: Data Collection

Needs Assessments, Evaluation Methods, and Data, Oh My! Part II: Data Interpretation

Needs Assessments, Evaluation Methods, and Data, Oh My! Part III: Setting & Evaluating Goals

This year, I decided not to wait until the last month of school to collect and examine my data. I’ve been keeping monthly reports on my school counseling duties, which keeps me accountable, gives my principal information on what I’m doing, and offers direction for my program goals. {I also keep a weekly log of my duties, which I will share in a future post.}


My monthly spreadsheet {which I am happy to share with anyone who wants it} contains information on my individual sessions, small group sessions, classroom lessons, and parent contact. As you can see below, October was a busy month!

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To create this report, I go back through my case notes and appointment log {see my post on how I schedule sessions for more info on how I keep track of it all}, then I transfer that data to the spreadsheet. This gives me and my principal a clear view of how my time was spent during each month. This will be particularly helpful in the months I am assigned non-counseling duties, such as my role in testing, because the reports will show that my time with students and parents was limited.

To take this information to another level, I created monthly infographics as well. I used Piktochart to create these {which is free!}. In addition to the information in my spreadsheet, I also included a breakdown of direct versus indirect services. Yes, I know that according to ASCA, parent contact would be considered an indirect service because I am not interacting with the students, but I think this way of dividing things would be easier for an administrator to understand {since they typically think of “direct contact” as interactions with students and/or parents}. This is just what worked for me in my particular school, so feel free to adjust your way of presenting data to tailor your specific situation 🙂

Here are my infographics for the month of October:

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I will still be creating my more detailed yearly report, but having monthly data on what I am doing {even if it is limited} has been very helpful this year. Again, this is just what works for me, but feel free to reach out to me if you want my spreadsheet or any other information on how I created these reports!


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Goal Setting Bulletin Board {Quidditch Themed}

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Continuing with my Harry Potter bulletin board theme for the year, I created a Quidditch themed board about goal setting. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, I hope you’ll catch some of the subtle references and plays on words throughout the board.

{To see my other Harry Potter themed bulletin board, check out that post here.}

I made things easier on myself by using the same background and boarders that were already up from my first bulletin board of the year {which is why the colors look so similar to the other one}. Then, I simply added the new pieces on top. Here is what I included on this bulletin board:

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This is a great way to introduce the idea of SMART goals to the entire school without doing a single lesson. I will be building upon this in the classrooms, but if you are crunched for time, a bulletin board is an effective medium to get a message across to your students.


I’m more than happy to share the files for this bulletin board with anyone who wants them. Just ‘like’ The School Counselor Life on Facebook, then e-mail theschoolcounselorlife@gmail.com to request the document. Thanks for reading!


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How to Stay Healthy in the New Year {Physically & Mentally}

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Happy New Year!

2017 is officially here, which means a fresh start, new goals, and another year to make excellent. Unfortunately, this time of year is also when a lot of us school counselors get sick and/or experience some burnout since we still have a big push to the end of the school year. It is so important that we make sure we are healthy {physically and mentally} so we can best serve our students in the new year. Here are my tips to avoid illness and stay peaceful as we make our way to the finish line of summer break…


Staying physically healthy…

We all know that dreaded feeling of waking up with the first symptoms of an oncoming cold. As the only counselor in my school, when I get sick, I am faced with choosing between going in feeling awful {and probably not doing my best work} and staying home {which means my students won’t be receiving any mental health services}. Because this dilemma feels truly awful to me, I try my best to minimize the days I am sick. Now, when I feel the first signs of a cold, I make a wonderful little concoction that usually makes me feel SO MUCH better. Even if it doesn’t completely stop me from getting sick, it usually stops my cold from lasting more than a few days.

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Here are the ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp honey {local honey is best for the immune system}
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp water
  • A dash of cayenne pepper

I put all of these ingredients into a mug and heat in the microwave for about 15 seconds so that the honey mixes easily. Then, I usually take it like a shot, because honestly, it isn’t the best tasting thing in the world {totally worth it though!} This best serves me when I drink it the moment I feel even the slight tingle of a cold symptom. As we know as school counselors, prevention is important to reduce later problems.

Other things I do to stay physically healthy…

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  1. Drink lots of water {I use the Daily Water app on my phone to keep track of my water intake throughout the day}
  2. Go to bed early {for me, this means before 10pm}
  3. Make sure I have healthy, easy to grab snacks available {I love fresh fruit, roasted seaweed snack, edamame, and Kind Bars —watch out for the ones with lots of sugar!}
  4. Plan out healthy meals that take minimal prep time {some favorite recipes of mine come from Mind Over Munch and Living Well Kitchen}
  5. Stay active {even a short walk a few times a week is good for your health!}

Staying Mentally Healthy…

This is where we really have to practice what we preach. We spend most of our time helping others work toward mindfulness and self care, yet sometimes we neglect our own mental health. Here are a few things I’m doing this year to avoid burnout:

Top 10 Goals and Vision Board

To start this process, I thought about the things I would like to change about how my life is now and things that I personally want to work on to better myself. I settled on a list of 10 things, and wrote them in a journal.

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I also wrote down the things I could do to work toward each item on my list.

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To make my vision board, I found images that represented the items on my list as well as pictures that showed how I want my life to look in the upcoming year. I glued them onto a small piece of poster board. Under each image, I wrote more about why I included it and how I can achieve it. My vision board will stay on my home office desk this year {I’m trying to find a glass covering for it, so it actually becomes a part of my desk} as a reminder of what I am working toward.

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Journaling 52 Lists for Happiness Book

One of my goals on my vision board is to incorporate more mindfulness/meditation practices into my daily life. One way I am doing that is through the book 52 Lists for Happiness by Moorea Seal.

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This book is a guide for daily journaling and mindfulness practices. Each week, there is an assignment to make a list {the first week’s list is about anything that makes you happy}. Each day, you add to the list for that week, and every list includes another journaling prompt or mindfulness exercise.

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I am so excited to use this book! Free journaling has never worked for me, so having specific prompts that I can work on every week will be so helpful.


That’s a Wrap…

Obviously there are many other things you can do to take care of yourself, but these are my top practices for staying healthy in the new year {and beyond}.

Thank you all so much for supporting my blog! I have a lot of exciting content coming your way this year, so make sure you’re subscribed to The School Counselor Life on WordPress, and ‘like’ The School Counselor Life Facebook page so you never miss an update.


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