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Gearing Up

Such a busy year!  We have started a new section in our library- so exciting!

We ordered a bunch of books through Free Spirit Publishing with the remainder of our services budget. I’m in love with their books because I think they do a great job of writing in a way that is in touch with all ages of students.  It’s really hard to find books for middle schoolers that aren’t too young or too old in content and verbiage.  Small now, but I love the idea of having a place to bring students to suggest something that might help them.  We have even talked about hiding small notes in the books to brighten the day of the reader.  Adorbs! 

We are also gearing up for the testing season.  This always crazy, hectic, stressed-out time is ripe with counseling opportunities to calm down students and get them in high confidence mode.  As much as we try to seperate the school counseling profession from the dry necessary, political growth mindset centered scored standards, I try to remind myself that it is a reality for students.  School Counselors can really change the overall environment during testing to be positive and productive, easing students’ anxiety and helping them realize their potential.  One of our counselors bring in Pom-poms and cheers for her students as they come in, one of our teachers gets donated fruits so students can have a bite to eat.  These small things make such a huge difference.  I like to go to each classroom in the morning and spread a little cheer by telling students they should smile because it has been shown to increase test performance (I’m pretty sure I read this somewhere, but in all actuality I have no idea). 

My principal shared the Larry Bell testing strategies and they really make sense.  It breaks down the processes of testing very well.  He encouraged us to find ways to make sure the concepts are part of our students’ everyday language- I took that to heart with a bulletin board project meant to trick students into learning about the 12 steps…when in Rome, right?

Weekend crafty therapy

My dad recently moved into a new house, and I have been waiting patiently for an excuse to make one of these to make one of these nail/string art wall-hangy-thingies for him. I finally did it! I made one for Virginia, where we live now, and one for Ohio, where he was raised and visits family often. Feels nice to have some weekend therapy, sure needed it this week…

Dropping Drop-outs!

I have recently started working with the Drop Out Prevention Task Force at my school, and I am finding that I love it! I mean, I don’t like the act of dropping out, but I love looking at data and identifying student needs and concerns. So, for our first meeting, I was inspired by some Personalized Professional Development stuff I had been following on Twitter, so I decided to find something to derive focus before coming. I found this AMAZING video from PBS that I think every person on Earth should watch and discuss. It is really the best description of the role of Middle School in student development that I have heard. I had everyone watch the video before the meeting to come prepared with what direction we would be going to.

Second, I took a page out of my HS bag, and decided that I needed to create a list of heavy-hitters to focus on at the meeting. Sometimes, leaving the concern portion open-ended can become a little witch-hunty or complaint session, which is perfect for SC venting session, but not so productive for a 20 minute meeting. So I used our amazing data people to pull three lists consisting of the three subgroup of risk in the video: Student with 3+ discipline infractions, 15+ absences (verified or unverified), and 2+ classes failed in the previous 9 weeks. Now, we all know that populations vary, so some of these numbers might need to be adjusted- I was looking for our top 20-30 biggies out of all three grade-level. My last list was a cross-reference of these three lists, to identify students who were on more than one of the three lists.

So at this point, committee members have watched the video, and I have created 4 packets of each of the three lists, the compiled list, and a page for intervention notes and “honorable mentions”. I wanted to put members into a group and have them evaluate each list. On the side of all four lists I added a notes column, and I asked teachers to identify anything they knew about the students mentioned- at-risk factors such as mobility and helpful info such as sibling in the school. Here is the order I took:

  • Welcome
    • Video
    • Less than 80% attendance, fails Math or English, unsatisfactory behavior in core course = 75% chance student will drop out
  • Identifying
    • Identifying our students (lists made for each table)
    • 2+ Failure, 15+ Absences, 3+ Discipline
    • Cross-reference list results- 2 Ss on all three lists, 10 Ss on two
    • Explanation of other risk factors- retention, SC, high mobility- increase risk
  • Action
    • In groups, look at lists and write any notes that would be helpful (e.g. SRT held, deceased parent, lives with grandparents, good relationship with mom, stays after for a sport, e-mail regularly with parent, etc.)
    • Add any names that you think are at risk but not on the students that are on 2+ lists
    • Write any ideas for interventions
  • Moving forward
    • Filio to create master list (that’s me!)
    • Team leads to share risk information with content/grade level
    • Administrators and Counselors will evaluate list/actions

My next steps are coming together too, but proving to be more vague. I compiled all of the information for student information (and we definitely learned so much more from having input from teachers and specialists), and will give that to administrators and counselors. At this point, we know who we need to focus on for a targeted program. I am thinking I would also like to have admin and counselors get together to review what interventions have been used, and what interventions we can collaborate on. Then, at the next meeting, I will have an updated list with updated data and students so that we can review what has been done, get suggestions, and celebrate those who have fallen off of the list. It is so exciting- I could do it all day every day! I can’t wait to hear about what other schools are doing too!

The Moment

Quick share today just for the sake of inspiration.  I was participating in a Twitter chat (I know how that sounds, and I’m OK with it), and the final question was “Q5: How can teachers encourage students to become active creators of their own learning?” BAM. Great question. So many answers, so few characters.  My answer was “A5 Make a personal connection, build confidence, allow them to stumble and then help them rebuild.” but the only way to really sum it up is with this:


Isn’t this the best feeling ever?! The whole reason I am in education is to be able to say this to students.  Empowering them and then seeing them succeed is one thing, but to get to say, “SEE??! YOU did this!  YOU made this happen!” is flipping amazing.

Recruit! Or Just Support!

So, my daughter is on a 16u Softball team and we have started to look at the process for college applications and recruiting and whatnot.  It’s crazy (and a little uncomfortable) to be on this side of the process!  Being that I’m in the system, I have been sending info to parents and players in hopes to help with their process as well.  I recently sent out a “touch base” e-mail and thought I could share it here!
Hello parents and players!
We are now half-way through Freshman/Sophomore year, so it’s time for a gut check! Here are a few things to consider:

  • Get NCAA ID- Please be sure to go to the NCAA Eligibility Center and make sure players have a NCAA ID. All Sophomores should have one by the end of the year.
  • Review transcripts/meet with counselor- It’s a good time to review transcripts with your School Counselor to assure you are taking the right classes and the steps for eligibility. You can also start talking schools and other scholarship opportunities, as many scholarships are already available to underclassmen.  Parents are also encouraged to reach out to the counselors and use them as a tool to help guide through this process. (you know I have to put a plug in there for us Counselors!)
    • Students should know their general GPA at all times.
  • Attend camps/clinics/showcases- Students and parents should be looking into camps at colleges/universities. You can choose both multi-school camps and camps at schools your player is interested in (both can be very beneficial, especially in a skill-building context- if players/parents attend a camp just to be recruited, they have fallen out of the growth mindset and are missing a large part of the point). This is NOT required, but is a great platform for development.
    • It might be good for players to attend at least one camp, clinic, or showcase by themselves. This team is amazing because of the way the players get along and interact. However, many of them will not be at prospect camps together and/or attending post-secondary paths together. This could help them perform without the crutch and comfort of each other.
    • When players return from camps, they should share at least one exercise/drill/lesson with their teammates. This will broaden the scope of individual monies spent (coaches- this could even be required for players who miss practices for a camp, as a way to require them to apply what they learned).
  • Communicate with coaches- Players can continue to send e-mails to coaches with questions you have about being a student-athlete and navigating this crazy process.
    • Any time you are in contact with a coach, always follow up with an e-mail. You should thank them for their time, ask a question, and mention something that you learned.  This gets you info and gains exposure. Make sure your inbox is cleaned out so that you can see when they hit you back.
    • Also, tweet, tweet, tweet!! Just yesterday I heard a D1 coach say, “follow us on Twitter!” This is a great tool. See a good play on a televised game? Wish you could make a great rivalry game? Retweeting a picture of the roster/team/campus/etc.? Tag the team and coaches on all of these.
    • Continue filling out interest surveys online
  • Compile/narrow post-secondary options- Now is the time to talk about post-secondary options that players are interested in. Early decision admission deadlines will be as early as next year for some players! With financial guidelines and lessons on the money, time, and work required to attend school, kids can make better decisions for themselves, and know where they will be responsible in filling in the gaps of areas where your checkbook ends.
    • It is easy to default towards discouraging a student from looking at a school/team that is out of their GPA/skill reach, but it could hurt the process. This could make a difference between their being picked up by a D2 vs. D3 team, even if the original goal was D1. Realistic and honest conversation is perfect- but at this age, it is beneficial for students to come to realizations on their own. In the school we try to lead the student to the reality check and have the student do the work (ex. ‘Harvard? Look up the minimum GPA, then compare it with yours. Is it possible?’ instead of ‘not a chance’- the difference is, this is Harvard’s decision, not the counselor or parent’s). This goes for hopeful teams as well; if a student is interested in a super competitive team, be honest with them about the skill and work that will be required to get them there. If it’s above their skill level, they can strive to get better. College coaches and admissions officers will be happy to let them know they did not make the team or entering class! I’ve seen students do amazing stuff- some rise to the occasion with the thought that someone believes in them!


I mean…I just can’t even.

B Board and Doggies

I finally finished my bulletin board!  Before break, I made a mindful and executive decision (don’t tell my admin) to finish my registrations and tie up loose ends instead of finishing my 6th grade hall bulletin board. I did, however, involve STEM in my procrastination nation, as you can see below:


Feel free to use this technology-infused intervention.  I think it’s genius.

I actually love making bulletin boards.  It’s a total excuse to get artsy and craftsy in the middle of a long week. Mindfulness, my dears can be productive (so are my lunches with peers where we have closed-door gossip sessions conversations about the goings ons of the day, but sometimes more is needed).  So, I have been wanting to use a really cool Kindness Game idea that I found at the trusty Edutopia.  I love how it gives simple ideas of how to be a good citizen, no matter where you are.  Always in the field of assessing the health of the school environment, it is also a perfect way to remind students (and staff!) that we can work together to help each other and be happier throughout the day.  So the finished product is…dun dun dun dun dldldldldldldld (that’s a drum roll, much more difficult to write than I thought)…



Ain’t she pretty!  I laminated just about everything so I can wipe away middle-year germs and save it for later.  I tweeted it (@steffschoolcoun) to Edutopia and they actually tweeted back! I geeked out.

Just as an update from my short break post, here is a view from my loom on one of the last a lazy and lovely days:



And here is one more of that cute pup, who was making us pay for leaving her behind when we traveled to see family in Ohio:




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