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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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!


Appointment to See the Counselor Handout


One of my goals for last school year was to have 100% of middle school students report that they know how to set up an appointment with the school counselor on their end-of-year evaluation surveys {read my data collection post for more on that}. I am happy to say that I met that goal, and I think I owe most of that success to the handout I will share with you today.


At the beginning of last year, I went into all middle school classes to introduce myself to new students, remind everybody where my office is located, and give them a handout explaining how to see me. We talked through the handout as a group, and I answered any questions they had {see handout below}.

This is also when I had them complete my Beginning of the Year Middle School Check-In Google Survey.


 

The second purpose of this handout was to differentiate between an emergency situation and a problem that can wait {since I am the only counselor at my school, it is important they know the difference!} I explained that non-emergencies are still important, but they are problems that can wait until I finish meeting with a student or finish a lesson in the classroom. Emergencies are problems that I should drop everything for, including a session with another student or a meeting with the principal. Of course if I am free, I see a student when he or she comes to see me, but as you all know, that is unfortunately not always the case 🙂


I hope you all find this form to be helpful! I am currently working on a version for my lower school students, so I will share that when it’s complete!


2017/2018 School Counseling Intern Binder


First of all, I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been supporting my 2017-2018 Complete School Counselor Planner! I am thrilled to see so many of you purchasing the planner, and I can’t wait to hear how it works for you during the school year! {If you missed my post about the planner, you can read all about it here.}

The wonderful feedback I’ve gotten so far has inspired me to make an intern binder/planner as well. I plan on giving this to my intern this year, and hopefully it helps both of us as the school year progresses!


 

School Counseling Intern Binder

Here is a run down of all of the pages included in the intern binder document:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Assembly

For this project, I used a plain white binder as well as dividers with clear page inserts. In the divider inserts, I placed the header pages for easy access, and I 3 hole-punched the remaining pages of each section to place behind the appropriate dividers. I also included a divider that is labeled “important information,” and I plan on using this section for our daily school schedule, teacher’s e-mail addresses, copy machine directions, etc.


I think that this will not only help my intern stay organized, but it will make gathering data for the school year even easier because everything she does during the year will be in one place.

If you’d like to purchase the intern binder {either for yourself or for your intern!}, you can find it here in my TpT store.


Guest Blog Post: What School Counselors Can Do About Cyberbullying


Hi everybody! Today is very exciting because guest blogger Amanda Ronan from Teach.com will be sharing her ideas for school counselors to prevent and handle cyberbullying in schools. You can read her contribution below 🙂


 

What School Counselors Can Do About Cyberbullying

Bullying has always been a topic of concern among educatiors and is especially troubling for school counselors who are often charged with dealing with the after-effects of the teasing and taunting. Traditional bullying includes things like physical assault, threatening, exclusion, and rumor-spreading. With the modern prevalence of technology, many of those same bullying events have found their way online as cyberbullying.

Cyberbullies torment and threaten their victims via social media, text messages, email, and other online forms of communication. They post fake images and spread rumors about their victims, who are usually excluded from group communications. Cyberbullies often create fake accounts and impersonate their victim. With this account, the bully posts mean things about other people or shares information meant to shame or embarrass the victim. Sometimes these aggressions are done anonymously. Other times, the person doing the cyberbullying is well-known by the victim and peers alike.

Dealing with cyberbullying is a challenge for schools. The bullying events often take place outside of school hours using computer and devices that are not school property. But the effects of cyberbullying most definitely impact students’ school experiences. So, while you may not personally witness the bullying, as a school counselor or educator, you are very likely to see the emotional and mental aftermath of cyberbullying.

Teachers need help supporting their students who are victims, as well as perpetrators of bullying. Administrators need advice about what sorts of school rules need to be in place around the issue of cyberbullying. The school counselor is a great person to provide support and information about how schools should react to cyberbullying and proactively try to stop it. Here are a few ways counselors can help combat cyberbullying.

 

Teach digital citizenship.

Teaching digital citizenship will help students better navigate in the world online. A strong digital citizenship curriculum includes information about being safe on the Internet. It teaches students about maintaining privacy and understanding scams and phishing. The curriculum should explain to students how to communicate with others in respectful ways, noting that sometimes it’s best to say nothing or not leave a comment. Students should also consider what they leave behind as a digital footprint. One important part of teaching digital citizenship is to emphasize the fact that once something is published online, it is nearly impossible to make it disappear completely. Warn your students againt sending sensitive information or images electronically. These things can come back to haunt them years in the future.

 

Help and be an advocate.

When you are aware of a cyberbullying situation, the best reaction you can have is to listen carefully. If students think they will be punished for what they share, you will lose their trust. Students who are victims of cyberbullying need support and understanding. You should take the time to counsel them and find ways to help them additional support if needed. You might team up with another trusted adult, such as the student’s advisor. In addition, the person who is doing the bullying needs to be educated about what they’re doing and why it’s wrong. An immediate punishment without help them to understand why they’re engaged in these relational aggressions will not help change the situation.

 

Update the code of conduct.

If your school’s code of conduct does not already include points about cyberbullying, you should work with the administration get the document updated. As a school counselor, you are the resident expert in students’ social and emotional growth. The code of conduct is the definition of expected behaviors for every stakeholder at the school. While cyberbullying may not take place on campus, it affects student behavior and student achievement at school, so it needs to be addressed in formal ways.

 

Keep an eye on emotions and relationships.

You may not work with every student every day, so you need to help teachers become more aware of the emotions and relationships happening in their classes. Often there are subtle changes in the way students relate to each other when cyber bullying is going on. For example, a normally popular student might be sitting away from the group, or a quieter student might seem even more timid. If teachers just listen to the conversations their students are having coming into or leaving class, they may hear about what’s going on online.

Encourage students to report cyberbullying.

No matter the cyberbullying or digital literacy curriculum your school uses, the number one emphasis for students needs to be to not let things go unreported. This can be difficult for students who don’t want to be seen as “snitches,” but bystanders stepping in is often the only way bullying will cease. Teach students how to find the inner strength to stick up for others and to call out bullies. In addition, you can implement an anonymous reporting program so that students can let you know what they’ve seen or heard in a way they feel comfortable.

 

Help parents set limits on tech.

Parents need help and guidance understanding the online environment in terms of cyberbullying. Most of the parents that you’re working with today did not grow up in an online environment and so don’t know how to translate the school yard bullying to what’s happening on the Internet. Hold a parent information night, and emphasize the need for parents to set limits on tech usage at home, especially if that time is generally unsupervised.

Build a cohesive, supportive community.

A strong school community with a supportive culture is a great way to keep cyberbullying at bay. When students at school are required to work together in meaningful ways, they get to know each other as people. Collaborative and supportive work helps students develop empathy for others that they might not normally spend time with. Train teachers in social and emotional relationship building programs and activities that they can do in their classrooms on regular basis. As a school counselor, you may need to constantly remind teachers to include this time and remind them why it’s so valuable. They feel the burden of the lack of time teaching content as it is, so give as much support in the classroom as possible.

 

Know your obligations under state’s anti-bullying laws.

Many states have begun to draft anti-bullying laws. These laws outline the definition of bullying and the expected response by schools and administrators. Counselors and teachers are also held accountable for reporting issues that they observe or that are reported to them. Be sure that your staff development includes training teachers in understanding what their responsibilities are. It’s also important to understand, as a counselor, what your responsibilities are and if they’re any different than the classroom teacher.

 

School counselors have the training and understanding to help make schools feel safe and supportive. You can create anti-bullying programs that address online incidents, help students feel comfortable discussing what’s happening online, and make sure your school has a clear plan in place to deal with cyberbullying.

 


Amanda Ronan is an Austin-based writer. After many years as a teacher, Amanda transitioned out of the classroom and into educational publishing. She wrote and edited English, language arts, reading, and social studies content for grades K-12. Since becoming a full-time writer, Amanda has worked with a diverse set of clients, ranging from functional medicine doctors to design schools to moving companies. She blogs occasionally for Teach.com, writes long-form articles, and pens YA and children’s fiction. Her first YA series, My Brother is a Robot, is slated for release by Scobre Educational Press in September 2015.


The 2017-2018 Complete School Counselor Planner

I’ve updated my school counselor planner for the 2017-2018 school year, AND I created two different designs to choose from! I absolutely LOVED using this planner during the 2016-2017 school year {& I hope you all will as well!}.


2017-2018 Complete School Counselor Planner in Black, White, & Marble theme

2017-2018 Complete School Counselor Planner in Mint & Gold theme

{for more pictures of mint & gold theme, head over to my post on the 16-17 planner}


So, let’s dive right in! Here’s what you’ll find in the planner:

Year at a Glance & Monthly Calendar Pages 

Weekly Planner & To-Do List Pages

Large Group Classroom Lesson Log & Curriculum Planner

 

Small Group Session Log

 

Pages to Record Books/Articles to Read

Pages to Record Important Contacts

Pages to Record Future Ideas and Goals for Counseling Program

Professional Development Log & Notes

 

Assembly

I print all of the pages double sided {this year I used card stock for all pages except for weekly planner/to-do pages}, then I get it bound at Office Depot for about $4. Easy peasy!

Custom Cover Pages

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 :))


So, there you have it! A complete planner book designed specifically for school counselors! Head over to my TpT store to get your own!


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. Although 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 in, 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.