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. 


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Lesson Materials Organization

As organized as I usually am, my classroom lesson materials have been in disarray over the last few years, especially as I’ve accumulated more and more items to use with classes. This year, I decided to create a new system for organizing my lesson materials that should save me some time and energy during the school year.

In the past, I would store all of my materials in various bins throughout my office that I would have to sift through whenever I pulled my current month’s materials. I still keep my current supplies in easy to access bins {see below}, but now it is a lot easier for me to find everything each month. Click here to see my original post on organizing my bookshelves.

I made space in my storage cabinet so that each grade level has a tray and a bin for lesson materials. Handouts and books fit perfectly in the trays, and I put all other supplies in the bins {trays and bins are all from the dollar store}.

The biggest change I implemented this year {that I think will save me a lot of time} is that I made copies of ALL handouts I need for lessons throughout the year, and I purchased ALL lesson materials for the whole year as well. Now, I don’t have to constantly think about whether or not I need to make a stop at the dollar store after school for a lesson the next day, and I don’t have to worry about copies for lessons!


I hope these organization tips are helpful! Cheers to the start of a new school year!


 

 

2018-2019 Complete School Counselor Planner


Back by popular demand, my 2018-2019 complete school counselor planner is up on my TpT store! The planner is available in two different themes: black, white, and marble & mint and gold.

Buy the 2018-2019 Complete School Counselor Planner {Black, White, and Marble Theme}

Buy the 2018-2019 Complete School Counselor Planner {Mint and Gold Theme}

As in the past, I am more than happy to make a custom cover page with name and credentials for anyone who ‘likes’ The School Counselor Life on Facebook. Just e-mail theschoolcounselorlife@gmail.com after you’ve purchased your planner, and send the information you’d like included :))

Here are some pictures of what you’ll find inside the planner:


Small Group Termination Activity – Reflection Book

This year, I created a new termination activity for my 5th grade girls small groups. The girls really seemed to enjoy this, and I thought it was a great way to reflect on the group and to assess what impact it had on my students.

{Follow the links below to read more about these groups}

Odd Girl Speaks Out Small Group Series Part I: Sessions 1 & 2

Odd Girl Speaks Out Small Group Series Part II: Sessions 3

Odd Girl Speaks Out Small Group Series Part III: Sessions 4 & 5


My inspiration for this activity originated in the dollar section of Target {where most wonderful things in life happen}. I found these blank books, which were only $3 for a set of 8, and I immediately began to brainstorm how I could use them with my students.

After processing the end of group, I gave each student a blank square of cardstock. The girls then decorated their names in the center of the cards, and wrote one thing they remembered from group and one thing they liked about group. The girls were told that their creations would be glued into a book to commemorate our time together. I made the card pictured below as a guide.

After the girls finished making their cards, they shared what they wrote with the group. We then decorated the cover of the book, and each girl signed her name. I later glued all of the cards into the book.

 


It was extremely rewarding to hear that our time as a group made a difference for so many of the girls, and I really liked giving the students this opportunity to reflect on group and how far they have come this school year.


Art & Grief – The Broken Bowl Project


In searching for an art-based grief activity for one of my students who recently lost a parent, I stumbled across The Broken Bowl Project. This activity is extremely powerful, especially for a child who is passionate about art.


The session prior to when we started the activity, I explained the idea to my student — that we would be breaking a bowl, painting it, and putting it back together. I asked her how she thought this might relate to her life, and she was able to recognize that the bowl will represent how her life has been shattered and that she has to put it back together.

This student wanted me to help her paint the bowl, so I related that back to the meaning of the project by saying she doesn’t have to put herself back together all by herself, and we talked about her support systems.

She wanted to paint the inside with bright colors so that she can feel bright and vibrant on the inside again, and she decided to paint the outside silver and gold because she thought she had to be bright and shiny on the outside for everyone to see {even though she didn’t always feel bright and shiny}. All of these artistic decisions led to great conversations while we painted.

We took 2 sessions to paint the bowl, and during the third session, we put it back together. The student figured out how the pieces fit together, and I hot glued them. There were moments of frustration when a piece didn’t seem to fit or it didn’t fit quite the way it was supposed to, which of course is symbolic that her life will never fully be the same again, even if it is bright and wonderful. We processed the meaning behind the bowl each step of the way, and the student took the bowl home with her as a reminder of her journey.


I really liked this activity because it provided an interesting symbol for the student to relate to and it naturally brought up a lot of grief related topics while giving the student an external activity to focus on during talk therapy.


Lesson on Positivity Using the Energy Bus for Kids


Today I will be introducing a lesson I used with my 3rd graders on the impact of positive energy. The kiddos responded SO well to this lesson, and I’m excited to share it with you all!


The lesson is based on the book, The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon {such an amazing read if you’re looking for a new book!}, which has a version for children too. I begin by reading The Energy Bus for Kids to the class. This book follows the character George as he navigates school using the 5 rules of the energy bus, given to him by his bus driver, Joy.

5 Rules of the Energy Bus:

  1. Create a positive vision
  2. Fuel your ride with positive energy
  3. No bullies allowed
  4. Love your passengers
  5. Enjoy the ride

Even though this book is on the longer side {I probably wouldn’t use it with students below 3rd grade}, the kids were engaged the entire time and were able to tell me all 5 energy bus rules at the end. I also used this time to discuss the differences between bullying an meanness, as it connected to the ‘no bullies allowed’ rule.

I found a lot of wonderful supplementary activities and resources on http://www.energybusforkids.com, including a blank energy bus license plate the students could fill with positive energy. My students completed this activity, and they were so excited to share their positive license plates with the class.

I think that the idea of positive energy and the way it’s presented in this book ties in nicely to CBT concepts, in that changing your mindset can change your mood, so I explained that to my class on a 3rd grade level. Most of them seemed to get it, and one student even said, “So, it’s like we have superpowers to change our feelings by changing our thoughts?? Cool!” <- why I have serious job love 


I hope you enjoyed this lesson! Comment below with any lesson topics you’d like to see on The School Counselor Life Blog!


Weekly Data Report Log

I received so many requests for my monthly data spreadsheet that I decided to share my weekly data collection with you as well! I found that collecting data on a weekly basis makes it much easier to manage, and the system I use ensures I maintain my case notes in a timely manner.

{School Counselor Monthly Data Reports}

As described in my post on scheduling sessions with individual students, I log every session, parent communication, and meeting in my planner. When I write my case notes {which I typically do first thing on Monday morning for the previous week}, I go back to my planner, and write my notes for sessions, phone calls, and meetings. Once I’ve written all of my case notes, I use that information to add to my weekly data spreadsheet.

As you can see in the pictures above, I track the following information each week:

  • Classroom lessons
  • Individual sessions, along with the breakdown of topics
  • Small group sessions
  • Speech/accommodations meetings
  • Parent meetings
  • Parent e-mails
  • Parent phone calls

This year, I’ve created a section to track my intern’s individual sessions as well.


I’m able to utilize this spreadsheet when I create my monthly report, but it is exceptionally helpful when I pull together my annual data report for each school year. If you’d like a blank version of my weekly data spreadsheet, ‘like’ The School Counselor Life on Facebook, and e-mail theschoolcounselorlife@gmail.com !


My Favorite FREE Printable Rapport-Building Board Games

I like to have simple board games on hand for individual sessions, especially when I am pulling students who didn’t ask to see me themselves {but rather were referred by their parents or teachers}. The games I’ll share with you today are great ways to build rapport with students while gathering more information.

  1. Tell Me About… Board Game by Games for Learning

This is one of my favorite games to get to know students better and help them feel comfortable in my office. Each space includes a favorite thing that the player who lands on it shares with the other players. To make the game last longer, I play by flipping a coin instead of using a die. If the coin lands on heads, the player moves one space forward, and if it lands on tails, the player moves two spaces. You can download the game here.

2. Emotions Board Game by Life Over C’s

This game not only helps build rapport but also teaches students to identify and express their emotions. Students get to match facial expressions with different feelings, and they have the opportunity to share times they have felt angry, sad, happy, and scared. To read more about this game and download it for free, click here.

3. School Days Ups & Downs by Play Therapy Works

This game is a CBT take on Chutes and Ladders, and it gives students an opportunity to talk about struggles they face at school and to think through hypothetical situations others may experience. Students are asked to identify feelings and reframe thoughts throughout the game. You can download the game for free here!


These are the top 3 games I use to build rapport with my students that help me gather information without the child feeling intimidated by traditional talk therapy. Enjoy!


Halloween Themed Lesson on Feelings

Happy almost Halloween! Today I will be sharing with you one of my favorite lessons that I use with my 2nd graders to teach them about feelings.


I begin the lesson by asking the students to name as many feeling words as possible, and I write all of their responses on the board. We talk about what the words mean as they are written down, and I usually add a few of my own in the mix to teach them about some feelings they may not already know how to identify.

 

We then talk about 3 main ways we can recognize how others might be feeling: words, facial expressions, and body language.

To make a point that sometimes our words are not congruent with our facial expressions or body language, I usually will give a few examples such as jumping around the room with a happy face saying “I’m SO sad!!!” or walk around with my arms crossed and a sullen expression telling them how excited I am to be in their class {this tends to be a big hit with the kiddos}. Usually a child brings up the fact that at times someone will say they are fine when they aren’t, and we can tell by what that person’s face and body are also doing.

Once we’ve identified feelings and talked about how people express them, I pass out a Halloween creatures feelings worksheet {you can download this worksheet from Lita Lita here}. Student draw facial expressions on the creatures based on the corresponding feelings words.

To finish the class, I read the book Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson.

Before starting the book, I ask the class to notice how the characters may be feeling. After I’m finished reading, the kids tell me the pages they remember and how the character was probably feeling. We go back to those pages and look at the reasons we think the characters may have those feelings by focusing on the words, facial expressions, and body language.


How do you teach your students about feelings? Comment below with your favorite ideas!


Moving Offices and Being Flexible


School counseling requires a lot of flexibility, and this year, I had to use those skills when I was told my office would be moving to a different building in a smaller space. I’m excited to share my experience moving offices and show you what changes I’ve made to my office layout and decor!


Even though the idea of packing up my office at the end of last year was overwhelming, my move was a positive experience overall. The best part is that I was able to purge everything I didn’t need, which helped me when I was organizing my new space. There was a lot of stuff left over from the previous counselor, and when I took over the office, I didn’t know what I could get rid of, so I just kept everything {even some files and workbooks from the 90s!}. The move was a perfect excuse to sift through those items and, with the help of my principal, figure out what to toss.

                     

I labeled and numbered all of my boxes and created a reference page with all of that information because (1) I am an extremely type A person and (2) I was paranoid something would go missing in the move.

          

I started getting a little nervous when my furniture wasn’t in my office the week before school started, but it all worked out, and I am so happy with the way it turned out! Here is what my office looks like now:

{^ My intern’s desk}

 


3 Apps for Organization & Productivity


Once the school year starts, it can be particularly difficult to organize your professional and personal life, so today I will be sharing my favorite 3 apps that I use to stay organized and to increase productivity!


 

1. Done

 

 

My favorite app of all time is called Done. As a goal-oriented person, I love having a place to track my daily, weekly, and monthly goals on my phone. This app is designed to build positive habits or decrease negative ones, and you can customize how often you work toward meeting those goals.

 

2. One List

If you love to have a to-do list with you at all times, this is one of the better electronic ones I have found. You can give each item on your list a level of priority {low, medium, high, or urgent}, and you can set due dates that automatically switch priority level as the date approaches.

 

3. Headspace

 

For me, an important part of staying productive is managing my stress levels. Once I reach a certain level of anxiety or stress, I am no longer as effective in getting things done, so that is usually when I use the Headspace app. Headspace offers short, no-fuss guided meditations. The first 10 are free, and there are more you can buy {although I just use the same 10 because they work well for me}.


Comment below with your favorite apps for organization!