Sunday, June 09, 2013

Sensory Needs and Calming Doodads

Over the past couple of years, the occupational therapists, behavior specialist, and former school psychologist, at my school, have been teaching me about sensory overload and the sensory needs of a number of our students. I found out that sensory issues not only affect those students who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, but also students who have developmental delays, attention problems and learning problems. They've taught me about how to intervene with those students who have difficulty self-regulating when faced with overwhelming sensory input or when feelings of anxiety, anger, nervousness, worry, etc. take over a child in in the form of acting out behaviors (tantruming, aggression, panic responses, etc.). These are the students who don't yet know how to classify their feelings, rate their feelings, and then are unable to use the executive functioning skills that will help them regulate their emotions. I've learned about sensory diets (scheduled, everyday sensory breaks) and how they can help a student say organized and focused throughout a day. 

There is all kinds of information out there about sensory diets (I certainly didn't realize it). Here is just one place where you can find more information:

Book: Raising a Sensory Smart Child - Authored by: Linsdey Biel, OTR/L and Nancy Peske

Because of the expertise sharing from my colleagues, last summer I began to think about how to provide sensory options for the entire school population, in addition to, those students who have these needs in our special needs population. Often students of all age groups come by for help to regulate their feelings. I always offer these products. Students who need a break from their classrooms or students who are on a scheduled break will stop by and go right for these materials. Furthermore, I have secondary counselor friends and they have often told me that the students will items such as this to hold/fiddle with while they are chatting. All age levels love this stuff!

I wrote in a previous post about the glitter/gel bags and sensory balloons I made. I made some of the find it games with colored rice, popcorn kernels, and used orange juice jugs! As we went through the seasons and stores put our their merchandise, I kept my eyes open for the perfect products to create a sensory collection. Also, you can get all types of stress balls for free at conferences (I'm hoping to find some at the upcoming ASCA Conference) and community events where businesses are present. FREE is FOR ME!!

I now have a significant collection of "Calming Doodads" that my students can use! 

Here is the collection of products I love! Below, you can find the links to purchase many of these items at Amazon.

My Office Shelf

Calming Doodads

Rice Box

Noodle Box

Sand Box

Have fun!!

Monday, June 03, 2013

Blogger Meet & Greet at 2013 ASCA Annual Conference

The ASCA 2013 Annual Conference will be taking place in Philadelphia from June 30th - July 3rd. This year I will finally be able to attend (primarily because it is so close to home). I am so excited about meeting folks from all over the place and I'm thrilled about all of the professional development I will get that pertains to my career as a school counselor! If you are not registered to attend, yet, please consider doing so -- if only for a day!! 

Andrea Burston of JYJoyner Counselor Blog and Danielle Schultz of School Counselor Blog are hosting a Blogger Meet & Greet on July 2nd from 8:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. at the ASCA Conference. I would love to meet those of you who read Entirely Elementary...School Counseling!! Stop by on July 2nd to say, "Hello!"

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Thoughts About...School Counseling Core Curriculum

Recently I read a blog post or article about the shift from using the terminology "classroom guidance" or "large group guidance" lessons to the "school counseling core curriculum." Sorry whoever wrote it -- can't remember who you were or where I read it!! I was wondering how I missed this key terminology change when I read the newest ASCA National Model. It makes sense - real sense to me to start using this sort of terminology to describe school counseling services to large groups of students. It is amazing to me how just a name change of the same services can suddenly make the service sound so much more important and official.

In an urban school, it is very easy to spend most of my direct service time putting out fires. While certainly there are many days where I find myself reacting and responding all day long, I had to make the difficult transition to ensuring that all students are benefiting from the school counseling services I provide - not just the "few" who are self-referring, having a crisis, or experiencing conflict. Many years ago, I felt I was continuing to spin my wheels with no identifiable progress being made. It was then that I decided to make a conscious shift to focus on prevention - prevention using classroom guidance lessons (now the school counseling core curriculum) and a hefty number of small support groups. 

This sort of shift takes strong organizational skills and the ability to manage effectively. Early on in my career, while I had my list of what I hoped to accomplish during the day, quickly my attention was given to what everyone else wanted me to accomplish during those same 8 hours. For example, if a parent came into the office, I was expected to, and I would, drop everything to meet with him/her. If a student is crying, heck with the students I was currently working with - the tears were a priority. I was beginning to realize that everyone else was deciding on what was important for a school counselor to be doing and what types of situations were important enough to drop everything to address. Others were defining my job and my work with students.

So, I changed my mindset. I decided on a system that would work for me and scheduled grade level lessons (30 minutes in length) - lots of them. I scheduled small support groups - lots of them. I scheduled programs/events that matched my curriculum. While difficult to implement at first, that parent who dropped in unannounced to meet with me would have to wait a few minutes until my lesson was over. Those parents could see that I was out working with students, not sitting in my office waiting for the next problem/situation to pop-up. The student who is teary can wait a few moments, until I finish my small support group, so I can give him/her my undivided attention.

This school year, the school counseling core curriculum I implemented in the K-5 classrooms included 8-10 classroom lessons (the number of lessons varied by grade level) on a variety of topics. Many of the topics were requirements from our district K-12 Comprehensive School Counseling Program, but some topics were based on student/school need or areas that need more attention.

What does my yearly core curriculum schedule look like? I visit all K-5 classrooms the first two weeks of school to do an introductory lesson. Then, in the fall (between September-before the holidays in December) I visit the classrooms to do a series of lessons. I take a break from classroom lessons between January - February so that I can facilitate all the small support groups. After most of those are finished, I continue my school counseling core curriculum in the spring by re-visiting all classrooms to do another series of classroom lessons. For the special needs classrooms, I facilitate our therapy dog's visits and each visit is tied to a specific theme to focus on with the students.

This year I implemented school-wide mini-meetings (most were finished in December before small groups began) that will now be a regular staple in my core curriculum. These meetings gave me a chance to spend a few moments with each kiddo to check-in and discuss their feelings and future goals. I loved this opportunity. They also served as a school-wide screening make sure I'm serving the neediest students in my small groups and to make sure we are intervening appropriately for those who need it.

There will always be crises; there will always be fires to put out; there will always be issues that need immediate attention; there will always be days when everything is cancelled, nothing on your "to-do" list is crossed off, and you are running around the place like crazy. However, I can say from experience, that switching my mindset from "serving a few" to "serving all students" has really made a difference in the number of fires, crisis, and immediate attention issues that come up. I'm putting the time and attention into kiddos on the front-end - loading them up with attention, prevention activities, and relationship building opportunities (with their school counselor) in the hopes of preventing the more serious issues. It is all worth it!

Consider taking the summer to focus on your school counseling core curriculum!

What is Your Reputation?

As school counselors, we know that springtime can be the most challenging time of the school year. As the weather heats up, so does the the student conflicts, mean behavior and  tempers. This is the perfect classroom lesson to do as the school year is winding down!

During late spring, this is one of the classroom lessons I do in all of my 4th grade classes. Read about the lesson below...

Materials Needed:
  • Colored pictures of famous cartoon characters. Best to print on cardstock or mount on cardstock and laminate
  • Cartoon Character fact slips.  Best if printed on or mounted on cardstock.  My fact sheets are mounted on a piece of cardstock that "folds" covering the facts.
  • Book: Confessions of a Former Bully by Trudy Ludwig

  1. I introduce the term "reputation" and solicit input on defining the term. I want to make sure that we focus on: the way others view/see you based on the way you act. We discuss the differences between a good reputation and a bad reputation.
  2. I have done this next activity one of two ways. 
    • Last year, I grouped together students into small groups. I gave them a picture of a cartoon character and each group discussed what the character's reputation is. Then we reconvened as a large group, each small group reported out, and then someone read the fact sheet to see how close the small group was in describing the character's reputation. This option takes a bit more time.
    • This year, I held one cartoon character up at time and the entire class discussed the reputation of the cartoon character. I asked students if the character's reputation ever changed. We discussed how that happened and which lead to a discussion on how changing a reputation requires a lot of work/determination because you have to PROVE you've changed.
  3. I then ask students what they would like to be known for. What is the reputation that you would like to carry with you? Ironically, in all of these years, I have yet to have a student state characteristics of wanting to have a "bad" reputation. But, I do find that when students who are having many conflicts or treating others unkindly are called upon to tell the class what they would like to be know for, students in the class begin to react. They may shake their heads, look directly at the students, make comments under their breath, look around the room, etc. I am very aware of these behaviors so I monitor closely and will specifically address any that I feel cross the line. This leads right into the next portion of the lesson.
  4. Here is where I refer to reported bully behaviors, mean behaviors, conflicts that I have been made aware of - in a general kind of way. I drive home the point that if he/she is someone who is _____________ (one of the examples), then he/she is creating their reputation right then and there.  If you are someone who _______________, then it is going to be difficult to change your reputation - you will have to prove yourself to others.
  5. I bring out the book, True Confessions of a Former Bully by Trudy Ludwig. I introduce the book by pointing out the title. I ask students what the title is telling us about the character in the story. I then tell students that the character in the story has really created a reputation for herself and she will tell us how that happened and how she changed it. 
  6. I begin to read the story and after the first sentence I pause. The first sentence states that she has been called to the Principal's office, AGAIN. It turn to the students and ask them if they are already creating a picture in their minds about the character's reputation. While the typical answer is a "bad reputation," someone in the bunch will respond, "Maybe she is going to the Principal's office for a good thing she did." So, I continue reading and that opinion is quickly changed.
  7. I never have enough time to finish the entire book. So, once I make it through the whole 4th grade with this lesson, I give the book to the classroom teacher to use in an upcoming class meeting. The teacher can finish reading this book, discuss further about bullying behavior, and how to build a reputation that they can be proud of!