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. 

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 be 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 session 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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Reading Together Parent Volunteer Program: Calli Be Gold

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Last December, I wrote about a parent volunteer group I created to replace a pre-existing program that wasn’t working. This program involves parents in the school while giving the children an extra dose of SEL. I’ve divided this program into 2 groups this year: Kindergarten-1st grade and 2nd-4th grade.

To read more about the program and how it came about, check out my previous post here.


Kindergarten and 1st Grade

After evaluating the first year of this program, there were a few things that needed to be adjusted. For example, this year, instead of 1st-4th grade reading the same book throughout the year, 2nd-4th will be reading one book (with monthly readings from parents), and 1st grade (like Kindergarten) will have parents read one short book 4 times during the school year. Here are the books I chose for Kindergarten and 1st grade:

Kindergarten

  • 1st Quarter: A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue by Julia Cook
  • 2nd Quarter: Hands Off Harry by Rosemary Wells
  • 3rd Quarter: Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners by Laurie Keller
  • 4th Quarter: Berenstain Bears Show Some Respect by Mike Berenstain

1st Grade

  • 1st Quarter: Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester
  • 2nd Quarter: Ruby the Copycat by Peggy Rathman
  • 3rd Quarter: Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
  • 4th Quarter: If Only I Were by Carl Sommers

I gave each parent volunteer a summary of the book they would be reading, along with some possible discussion questions and a short activity. {If you would like a copy of all of this, ‘like’ The School Counselor Life on Facebook and request it via e-mail or Facebook message.}


2nd-4th Grade

For my 2nd-4th grade students, I chose a book they could all understand and get something out of {which was actually a pretty difficult task}. After lots of searching, I settled on the book Calli Be Gold by Michele Weber Hurwitz.

This book is about a girl named Calli who is a member of the Gold family. Her siblings and parents all excel at specific things, but Calli has not yet found her talent. She is pushed into many activities and fears she will never make her family proud. Along the way, Calli’s 5th grade class is paired with students from a 2nd grade class for a project, and Calli’s partner is considered “weird” {while it doesn’t say it in the book, the character’s behavior lends me to believe he is on the spectrum]. Calli befriends her partner, their project gets special recognition, and Calli learns that her talent is being kind and a good friend {which is just as good as winning trophies}.

The only challenge I had with this book is that there were a few things slightly above the 2nd grade level {i.e. talking about how another girl got her first bra and snippets from a sex ed class}, so I have a few pieces that are skipped by the parent volunteers who are reading.

Volunteers come to each 2nd-4th grade class once a month to read a section of the story, and the book will be finished by May.


Next year, I would like to switch all grades to once a quarter readings like I do with Kindergarten and 1st grade. I LOVE the idea of a lower school wide read, but it has proven extremely difficult to find a book that not only is appropriate for 2nd-4th grade students but also has a strong moral, social, or emotional lesson. If you have any ideas for a book, please let me know!


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Self-Concept Lesson with Magazine Collages

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Today, I tried out a new lesson with my 7th grade students, and it went so well that I couldn’t wait to share it with all of you! {Spoiler alert: my wonderful students made this lesson even more powerful by their actions toward another classmate…keep reading to hear a beautiful story of kindness}.


I started off the lesson by asking the students what they think “self-concept” means. Once I had a few good guesses {none of them actually knew}, I gave them this dictionary definition: “An idea of the self constructed from the beliefs one holds about oneself.” With that definition in mind, we started our discussion. Here are some of the questions they answered:

  • What are things that influence our self-concept?
  • Do you think it’s possible for someone’s self-concept to be different from reality? Give an example.
  • Do you think self-concept stays the same throughout your entire life or can it change?
  • Why might somebody have a negative self-concept?
  • How do you think somebody with a negative self-concept can one day have a positive self-concept?

Once our discussion was complete, I introduced our activity. Each student was given a piece of construction paper and some magazines. They were instructed to cut out words or pictures from the magazines that represent the beliefs they have about themselves in order to get a picture of their own self-concept. My students were really creative in choosing their self-concept collage items.

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Once they were finished, each student got a chance to share their collage with the class. This is where something magical happened. One of my students who I know struggles with body image issues had a lot of negative words written on her magazine collage, like “fat,” “lardo,” “dogface,” and “unpopular.” {How sad that a 12 year old views herself that way!}. The beautiful part happened when her classmates started cutting out positive words they thought described her, and glued them over the negative words to show her how the world sees her {ALL THEIR IDEA!!} She was so touched by this gesture that she blacked out the remaining negative words on her page and read all of the positive ones aloud again. She was beaming by the time the class left the room. Here is her collage after the students added to it:

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I am so grateful that I could witness this act of kindness between peers, and I was truly impressed by my students. Obviously you might not have the same magical experience when doing this lesson yourself, but it can give you some valuable information about how your students see themselves.


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Self Esteem Affirmation Rating Scale

 

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Earlier this school year, one of my 6th grade students came to me wanting help with some self esteem issues she was experiencing. In our initial meeting, I was using some scaling questions to gather information, and I decided to try out an idea that popped into my head, which is the self esteem affirmation rating scale I’ll be sharing with you today.

In the first meeting, when that particular student was expressing self esteem problems, I had her identify the negative thoughts she was having about herself {i.e. I am weird, I am ugly, my stomach is too big, etc.}. Then, we turned those negative statements into positive ones {the way she wants to think of herself} as a way to begin reframing her thoughts. Using those positive statements, the student rated each item on a scale from 1-10, with 1 meaning that she absolutely does not believe the statement at all and 10 meaning she fully and completely believes it is true. These are the items we had rated by the end of our first meeting:

  • I am beautiful
  • I am not weird
  • I am the good kind of crazy
  • I am awesome
  • My stomach is perfect just the way it is
  • My nose is perfect just the way it is
  • My feet are perfect just the way they are
  • I don’t care what anyone says or thinks about me

The student also made this list into a poster that she keeps in her bathroom. Every morning she reads the list out loud as a way to reinforce her thought modification.

Each subsequent session with this student began with us going through the rating scale items. This allowed us both to see her progress, and it offered me some great information. For example, if there was a dramatic drop on one item, that let me know something significant probably happened, which then gave me a ready made open-ended question to ask {i.e. “Last week, you rated ‘I am beautiful’ at an 8, and this week you rated it a 3. Can you tell me about that?”}.

I turned the rating scale from each meeting into a graph so that we could easily see the progress, and after the 5th session together, there was a big jump from each initial number to the ending point on the graph. This let me know that my CBT techniques were working for this particular child {which is feedback we don’t often get as counselors…especially in schools}.

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This is now a student that I check in with from time to time and see on an as needed basis, but she still asks if she can mark her ratings on the graph each time she comes to see me {even if there has been a long stretch when we didn’t meet}. I definitely will be using this with students in the future because I think it gives them thought modification goals and provides a visual representation of the progress being made.


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Harry Potter Inspired Bulletin Board

 

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I love creating bulletin boards. Mostly because making one gives me an excuse to use the laminator {I may or may not have a slight laminating addiction…}, but also because it is an easy way to reach all of the students at my school.

One of my favorite bulletin boards I’ve made is my Harry Potter “Let’s Make This Year Magical” display. It includes various character traits that students should strive for, and each trait has a HP quote to go with it. This board is right outside of my office, which is prime real estate in the middle school hallway. Every middle school student sees it when switching classes, getting water, and heading down to recess, and the younger ones pass it when they go to music class {and of course when they come to my office}.

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Here are the six character traits and quotes I included on my bulletin board:

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In honor of The School Counselor Life’s 1 year blogiversary, I will be giving you all of the pieces of this bulletin board FOR FREE!  You can download them here and here. Enjoy!


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

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If you missed Part I and Part II of this small group series, you can check them out here:

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

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

Today I will share the final 2 sessions of this group designed for middle school girls.


Just like in sessions 1, 2, and 3,  I start off with a check-in, which consists of our “pows” and “wows.” A “pow” is a bad or disappointing thing that has happened recently, and a “wow” is a good or exciting thing that has happened. This allows me to quickly check in with students and assess how they are doing, while giving them an opportunity to learn more about their peers.

Middle School Girls 5th Grade Small Group – Odd Girl Speaks Out – Sessions 4 & 5

Session #4

  1. Check-Ins
  2. Read the “Why Is She Acting Like This?” from Odd Girl Speaks Out {page 139} — This section centers around the different reasons girls might act mean {i.e. going through something at home, wanting to be popular, mimicking older siblings or parents, etc.} It also touches upon jealously and how feeling jealous from time to time is normal and okay, but the way we express those feelings makes a difference.
  3. Discuss as a group. Possible discussion questions:
    • What do you think about fear or insecurity being the root of girls being mean? Have you ever snapped at someone or treated someone badly because you were angry at something else (a bad grade, fight with parents, etc.)?
    • Why do you think that women, for so long, were not allowed by society to show aggression? Has this changed? How so?
    • Have you ever said a mean comment about someone because you were jealous? What would have been a better way to handle jealously?
  4. Read the next 2 sections, titled “Are You Mad at Me?” {pg. 142}. and “IM and E-mail: Clicking Your Way Through a Fight” {pg. 144} — “Are You Mad at Me?” is all about how girls show anger and react to the assumptions that they make. It gives some great suggestions for girls to deal with those moments. The “IM and E-mail: Clicking Your Way Through a Fight” section is a little outdated because it references instant messaging, but the content is great, so I just change “IMing” to “texting,” and it all works out. This part of the book offers solutions for girls who tend to use the internet to work out their conflict  {including the reasons why using the internet or text to work out an issue isn’t always the best choice}.    Disclaimer: this is one of those sections that has some content more suitable for high school, so be sure to screen the book before using it with your groups.
    • Discuss main points
  5. Activity: Play a few rounds of the game telephone. Use the activity to talk about how things get lost in translation, and relate it back to the book sections that were just read.

 

Session #5

  1. Check-Ins — in addition to “pows” and “wows,” have each girl share one thing she liked about group this year.
  2. Read “Finding Your Inner Strength” (pg. 177) and “Why Are We So Cruel?” {pg. 181} from Odd Girl Speaks Out. — “Finding Your Inner Strength” is a very short section that sums up the lessons learned in the book and offers a few more tips for girls who feel different or “odd.” “Why Are We So Cruel?” is a poem written by a 17 year old girl about how girls treat each other and what should change.
  3. Discuss final readings as a group.
  4. Have students complete the group evaluation survey{see my evaluation survey below}:

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That’s a wrap! If you have any questions about how I run my 5th grade girls small groups, please leave a comment or e-mail theschoolcounselorlife@gmail.com


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