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Category Archives: School Counseling

A Child Slept on my Office Couch Today

…because as if her childhood hadn’t been unstable enough, she had another traumatizing abandonment late last night. At 15 she has more life experience than I probably will in a lifetime- even basic needs are often absent.  Are we lucky or cursed that sleep is a gift we can give?

Moving On

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I’ve been hearing lots of chatter lately about people wondering whether they are where they should be. In relationships, an activity, a possible addiction, with kids (mine’s 15…oy vey), at our school or post, in our industry.

‘I’m done. I’m over it. I can’t do this anymore. Why am I here?’

It doesn’t mater what profession you are in, there are always signs of weary souls wandering around.  But in the education profession, we walk a particular line with questions of moving on. We joke at work that it’s like an abusive relationship.  We start the year fresh, excited, we get worn down, we are asked of more that we can give, we go unseen, we say we’re done.  Then, right before we turn in our papers- TA DA! -we get a break (Spring, Summer, Winter? No difference at all).  And in that sweet, sweet freedom, we say…’it’s not so bad.’ Ha! And the cycle continues year after year until we turn around and can’t believe we are getting another five-year paper weight.

It’s like when you go to Target and fill your basket impulsively with a million ridiculous kitchen gadgets, DVDs you’ll never watch, 70 ridiculous lay tiny towels, and adorable stationary sets.  You feel so good…until you get to the line and realize you work for the public school system and can’t afford any of that Target magicalness and empty it all but the peanut butter and Cheerios.  But the feeling of pretending for a little bit is enough to hold you over.  For 2 hours (albeit wasted), you were all 5 (I think) of the Kardashian sisters.

So I started thinking about what factors could be considered when trying to decide if it’s time to move on.  I found three, mainly based on my BFF and main man, Viktor Frankl and his Existentialism. If you haven’t read Man’s Search for Meaning, throw your worthless electronic down and run -don’t walk- to a book store near you and get it.  Well, unless you are into digital reading, then don’t throw your electronic down, dummy. I’m sorry, that was mean.

Anywho, I think these three things are the most important to consider when trying to decide if it’s time to move on. OK, here goes:

1. Letting go of the past- Have you tried, to the best of your ability, to let go of the past?  This includes letting go of things you wish were true (even the age-old).  Hanging on to what should or could be only gets us stuck, and keeps us from being able to view our prospects with clarity.  You’ve got to let go of this and catalogue what is so that you know what the reality of the situation is.

2. Honest perspective- Have you really truly taken in other perspectives? Like, reeeallllllyyyyy tried.  This means understanding the bigger picture, our role in the larger system, and getting clarity on your situation in context of what other people are going through. I know, I know, this seems in contradiction to the first consideration, but I don’t mean stopping on what could be, but understanding our situation in a larger manner to ensure we have not simply lost focus of a world in which we are the center staple.

3. Effort toward contentment- Have you truly tried to find meaning in your situation? This one is a big nod to my Vik (we’re cool like that). A la #2, Frankl points out that Holocaust survivors, POWs, terminally ill, etc. report being able to find meaning in the moment.  They can still appreciate something, and feel a meaningful existence by something.  This is not to shame goal-seeky people though guys. I mean, a little fire goes a long way… and under the tush pushes us to do some amazing stuff.  But this is more like a gut check. Have you truly put effort into finding contentment and holding tight to it? The trick is that you should feel contentment and meaning that is not based on how you feel, but rather your contentment in being a bystander to great things and other people as well.

So here’s the deal.  I feel like these are really important to try, BUT they are not the end of the road.  Sometimes we do everything we can (these three things included) and still cannot find happiness.  It’s not that we’re not trying hard enough, maybe it’s that whatever situation you’re in has run its course. And it’s time to move on.  Like, these make up the timeless 90’s movie’s holy grail. If they don’t work, maybe you’ve really exhausted your time and effort, and/or you are STUCK (and probably bitter) and you’ll get your full mojo back after moving on. Of course, if someone keeps moving around and still feels pooty, there might be some other things to contend with- patterns are super revealing.

 

Confessions of a Social Anti-social

My husband has been known to drag me out of the house telling me to go to one social event or another and to stop being anti-social.  Anti-social?! How could he possibly call me that? I’m a counselor for goodness sakes.  I mean, I went through my whole Master’s Degree and have a whole profession surrounded by the fact that my gift, my talent, my -dare I say- genius status is based on my ability to be social (ok, genius might be a stretch, but it sounded cool).  And it finally hit me, I am an outgoing and social person who suffers from communication fatigue.

We learn a lot about compassion fatigue in school.  I know I am not there at this moment.  In fact, I am still at the point in my perfect job illusionment where a good emotional barrier (ok, and maybe a good story too) engages and intrigues me. But, it’s the other stuff, the in between, that drains my social brain.  It’s the “got a sec?” And the “can I talk to you?” And the “a parent is here to see you” ‘s that make me tired.

As counselors, we spend all day listening, calculating responses, and making sure that each and every sentence uttered out of every student, teacher, and parent is the most important and fascinating thing we have heard all day.  And when I get off? I’m not suddenly anti-social in nature, I’ve got communication fatigue!

Snow-Weekend Inspiration 

Ahhh…fresh off of Winter Break and my lucky tail gets an extended weekend for Snooooooowwwmagedddddooooonnnnn 2017!  I know, I know, we’ll have to make it up, but I am a big fan of enjoying it while it lasts and paying the piper later.  And enjoy I have.  Lucky ducky me, I got some books from Free Spirit Publishing, my favoritest place to get books for work and inspiration, right at the end of last week!  As part of the Advisory Board, Free Publishing periodically thanks us with book choices and I cannot get enough (their blog is also awesome with so much info and insight they will win you over with just that)!  Anywho, I received the books below and have not been able to put them down!


I recommend each and every book I get from Free Spirit, so I suppose this is overkill, but I recommend all three of these as necessities of a Middle School counselor’s box of tricks.  The Respect: A Girl’s Guide to Getting Respect and Dealing When Your Line is Crossed book is ridiculously amazing, and I would marry it if it were legal and I was not already married. For real.  It really speaks to young woman and is incredibly empowering in a super low-key classy way. 

I started to think about how I wanted all of my babies to be able to read this book.  In particular, how great it would be to have a girl’s group (girls’ group?) using the book as a guide to each session.  I have seen some really great girl’s groups that are centered around confidence and character building, but I find that they are often created for the girl who needs a confidence boost and place to exercise socialization and meeting friends.  Though there’s definately a place for that, sometimes it starts to feel marginalizing, as if all girls are broken and need to recognize how pretty, smart, and valuable they are.  But what about girls who are confident (quiet does not equal a lack of confidence), but don’t know how to use that confidence?  What about teaching strong young women how to use their stories and their amazing characters to walk around and own the place, and become power-house communicators and mountain-movers? This book seriously does just that.  Though there is some reflection on experiences past, it avoids revictimizing them, but instead uses those barriers to further empower themselves.  It tackles media, social perceptions, body image, relationships (WITHOUT the whole “mean girls” stereotype that my girls know they ARE NOT allowed to say in my office), and so much more in such a real way.  There is a short chapter on sex (I think it’s super tastefully done) which I think is a valuable message for girls, but borders on taking over where parents have the right to keep at their own pace.  But paper is made to be paper-clipped, so I don’t think it’s a problem with sharing the book. 

My initial thought was to buy 15 copies of the book to have at the school to run groups with.  Then I remembered I work for a middle school and this would blow our entire budget for the year that was already half-way spent.  Impossibility. And then I remembered the awesome websites one of my besties has had great success with: Donor’s Choose!  I decided to make a page and put it out there to see if I could get some books this way.  I was WWWAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY easier than I thought it would be, and I am bummed I haven’t used it sooner (as she points out all the time). So here it is, check it out after you’ve spent hours dreaming on the Free Spirit catalog! 

Winter Break is Over Ya’llllll

For real, it’s been amazing! A stay-cation with the kids and hubby (for half of the week), holidays, family, empty calories, and plenty of break-therapy craftiness. Note that the exclusion of lesson planning, deep and educational industry article reading, e-mail fretting, and general housework is sincere and deliberate.  And it was worth it.

Two things I’m excited to continue going back to post-holiday and break unconsciousness:

  1. I’m dipping my toes in the world of Etsy! Scary!
  2. I found an awesome stitch-a-day that I’m joining. Whoop! Check it out and I’ll keep posted.  Check out 1 Year of Stitches here! http://www.brwnpaperbag.com/1-year-of-stitches-2017/  

 

Late Post on Leadership

I have been meaning to post about my November lesson on leadership- it was fun and I really had some good kid participation.  Having never been a classroom teacher, I am certainly a work in progress on creating lessons.  I can make things graphic enough to draw kids in, and my babies and I have good rapport to banter and keep the convo engaging, but the actual *teaching* part is definitely something I struggle with.  First, I have attention issues, so I am easily distracted (pair that with less-than-stellar classroom management and basically the kids rule the roost), and second, there is a reason I’m not a teacher.  I am so in awe by these dang teachers and their endless energy and self-control…for me, my family knows the frazzled look in my eye on those loooooonnnng classroom lesson days, and I have to decompress after being in the classroom all day.

So, it was a light-bulb moment when last year my principal (a previous outstanding teacher) told me he thought I was working too hard- bogarting all of the talking, and not having more participation. He suggested I play with incorporating asking questions instead of telling, having students work in groups, and checking in with “shoulder partner” moments.  WHAT a difference that made this time around!

Being that this was a November lesson, and we were knee-deep in the crazy election process of 2016, I knew I wanted to cover leadership.  These kids were witnessing some stuff, hearing a lot, and, I can only assume, feeling more disconnected from democracy in the midst of one of the loudest and in-your-face elections we’d ever seen.  I wanted to draw them in; my goal was to introduce them to leadership on their terms and invite them to reconstruct the concept to their own definition.

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We started by warming up with Free Spirit Publishing’s Everyday Leadership Cards .  I love these because they are really engaging for multiple age groups.  They are perfect for whole classroom discussions and activities, individual and small groups, and apply to multiple different topics (I can think of ways to use them in all counseling domains!). For this lesson, they were in small groups, and then when we came together as a class, a couple groups shared their Q&A.

Then we touched on the current events in politics.  Now, I didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole and hear about different views and whatnot, so my questions came with a disclaimer about not revealing which candidate they (or their parents) were rooting for.  I told them my core question was, “what makes a leader?” They talked with their shoulder partner and also came together as a class.

The next and best part: movie time!  I played three movie clips, and after each clip I asked them what examples and types of leadership they saw.  The three clips were:

  1. Cinderella (my favorite, the dress-making scene)
  2. Remember the Titans (various clips since the entire movie is every counselor’s dream-boat)
  3. Lion King (Scar’s song where he takes over the kingdom) ***WARNING: the clip that auto-starts after this scene is Hakuna Matata so you MUST quickly drop the browser, as students are nearly violent if you take away Timon and Pumbaa.  I learned this the hard way.***

I won’t go into my main points for each one, because they’re pretty obvious.  After movie-time, we then started talking about the broader concept of leadership again.  I had them use their devices (if you can’t beat ’em join ’em, right?), and discuss two main questions in pairs, then enter their answers using the Poll Everywhere app.  This thing is awesome and super easy to use by the way (or BTW if you prefer).  They were asked to use one word that was described a leader, or was the main quality a leader needed, and also what their platform would be if they were president (I only had to toss about five of the roughly 250 responses, which I think is pretty good!). I love some student voice, and so I printed their responses and stuck them on our hallway board.

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Hope your lessons have gone well, and your break is lovely and relaxing! Cheers!

 

Get Some Perspective, Dude!

I recently completed my first lesson of the year.  Most of this consisted of Guidance info, school info, graduation requirements, academy information and opportunities, etc.  But I also wanted to add a little something for students to think about throughout the year.  Classroom instruction is definitely not my strongest point to begin with, but I also realized last year that I went the whole year without explaining the grading scale to my students.  In some school systems this may not be necessary, but in mine, where students in 5th grade go by standard-based grading (Developing Proficiency, Proficient, etc) to performance based grading (A, B, C, D, etc), it was total dud move!  I had spent all year chasing those kids around wondering why they were so easily accepting Cs!  I felt like when I accuse one of my kids for losing something of mine and I make them look all over for it…only to find it was in some hidden place I had put it. Except for there was no way to secretly drop this information somewhere and act like it had been there all along to cover myself (not that I do that at home…). 

So, I knew I needed a message.  I was also excited that I would have the same group as the one last year- my first experiencing looping with my kids.  I had introduced this group of kids to some mindfulness stuff last year, and I decided to keep going with it.  Who knew middle school kids would love breathing so much?!  I start with basic 4×4 breathing, and then through the year added some simple stretching.  I am not sure what direction I will go in this year, but I decided to add this slide to start things off-


Then, I landed what turned out to be a really great message!  I love it when that happens…because believe me when I say I have had some flatter than flat lessons in my day.  I wanted them to think about perspective in a new way.  I figured that concept could be easily tied to something they were way knowledgeable about- selfies.  I used some selfies from my family that my own kids had taken.


I asked them to tell me what they noticed about the pictures- what was something they had in common.  After a few guesses, they came to describe how they all looked like something was happening that was not.  At this point, realizing it was working, I could have drooled on myself I was so excited.  But I played it cool, as per usual.  

I asked them how the pictures would look different if they were taken from different angles, distances, with different subjects, etc.  Once they said that the photos would look completely different, I knew I was on my way and I switched to the plan.  I told them we were going to try it out.


I put myself at the front of the room, and the teacher directly across from me in the back.  Then I asked someone from class to stand with each of us, and had two more students on each side of the room opposite of each other.  Next I stood next to the student by me, and had them move my fingers to where if I made a pinching motion, it looked like I was pinching the head of the teacher.  Giggles ensued and we did it a couple of more times.  I had the student with me describe what it looked like, then I asked the other students standing and sitting (they all said it looked like I was pinching the air, and a couple said I just looked crazy- both of which were and are accurate).  I told them that the student with me would get candy, but no one else did because they were wrong.  The rest is pure magic and goes something like this: 

Them- What?! That’s not fair!

Me- Why not?! He/she was the only one that got it right.  He/she described what I saw!

Them- But! But! That’s not our fault, they were standing there with your perspective!

And I just stood there, with a somewhat sinister surprised happy face.  The “ooooooohhhhhs…” came without me even having to say it.  I was almost on the floor I could not contain myself.  Still cool though.

For the second one, I whispered in the student’s ear that was by me “Mrs./Mr. So-and-so is the best teacher ever!” But I made a snippy, grossed out face.  I asked the kids if they thought what I said was positive or negative and they all said negative.  When I told them what I’d said, I asked why they thought that, and they all said that it was because they could only see my face. Again with the “oooohhhsss”.  Middle school educators, I know you know exactly where my inspiration would come from for this…because now when I hear “he/she is always talking trash about me” I start to twitch.  I finished the discussion with this-


I asked the students to keep this lesson in mind throughout the year as they battle relationships, situations, developments, and decisions. I told them to think about the perspectives of others and really try and consider this.  To think about how there own perspectives might look different from a different angle.  To be willing to discuss the difference in perspectives in situations where people are to seeing eye to eye.  And for added measure, I asked them to keep in mind the perspective of the teachers; who get up in front of the class every day.  I asked them what they might think if they are in front of 30 people and two of them are snickering or talking- what would they think if it were them out there.  And when the kids respond, “if that were me, I would think they were talking about me” I drop the mic and walk out.

(Really, I don’t.  I promise to do a solid conclusion to bring things in)