Complete the following statement:
Spring is in the air, a time when educators' thoughts turn to:
a) summer vacation
b) a new season of The Voice
c) state-mandated MCAS testing, the results of which are considered the single most important indicator of what a child has learned and---by extension---how effective his or her teacher is.
Ignoring the fact that spring is most emphatically NOT in the air (at least here in northeast Massachusetts where this afternoon it was 16 degrees), the correct answer is: d) all of the above.
MCAS stands for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. "Comprehensive" in grades 3 and 4 refers only to reading and math skills, as measured by a mostly multiple-choice bubble test.
It's "comprehensive" in the way my physical would be if a bunch of paper-pushers from the insurance company told my doctor that my entire check-up should consist of him looking in my ear.
Yesterday was a pretty tough day, as school days go: three IEP meetings (one of which lasted two hours), missed sessions (and therefore upset kids), a trashing of my office followed by a restraint, and a sexual abuse disclosure. It kind of sucked, frankly.
But I've noticed that even when a day has been filled with extremely difficult issues, there is always at least one little something that will make me smile. Yesterday it was this note slipped under my door:
And in this way I was notified of "The Great Boot War of Room 303."
After I showed a few people the note and stopped chuckling, I thought about how this student---who is on the autism spectrum---would have handled a similar conflict when I first met him last spring. He would have had an absolute screaming fit. He would have hit Naya (who obviously started it, with her space-hogging boot). He would have been sent to the office and likely suspended.
But now, he asks his teacher if he can write me a note telling me what happened. He was still livid, but he didn't do any of those completely out-of-control things he would have done a year ago. And more importantly, he seems to trust that I can help him feel better and we can solve his problem together.
I have a blackboard with this quote on my office wall, "Every day may not be good, but there's something good in every day."
Don't forget to look for the "something good."
Much like the school nurse, I am responsible for the well-being of every child in my school regardless of whether or not she is technically on my caseload. Unfortunately, in a school with 500 students I have a lot who are on my caseload, and they keep me very busy. I often worry about those kids who may be quietly having a hard time but don't know who I am, what I do, or that I am available to help them.
So I was very psyched to come across the idea of Minute Meetings on a couple of school counselor websites. I don't know who first thought of them, but I'm giving credit to Andrea Burston and Danielle Schultz.
I e-mailed teachers telling them I'd like to spend 45 minutes or so with each of their classes. The first 5-10 minutes is for me to introduce myself to the class, and the remaining time is for me to sit in the hall and meet individually with students for literally about a minute each to ask a few get-to-know-you questions. In my schedule I set aside two blocks per week for Minute Meetings between now and Thanksgiving. I put an old-school (i.e., paper) sign-up sheet in the teachers' room. Since I'm quite new to the school and the previous counselor was not very visible in the building, the teachers were excited about the idea.
I created a survey form using Google Docs. When I'm done I'll be able to use Google Docs to sort the information I gather (yo, here's a golden opportunity for ever-lovin' DATA COLLECTION). You may notice that I'm asking some different questions than other counselors do in their Minute Meetings. For me, it's hugely important to know how connected kids feel at school, so I chose to focus on that.
This week I started with my first two classes. I took a bag with some of my "tools" (a book about feelings, a stress ball, a magic wand, and---of course---my celebrity sidekick Mr. Squishy). I used the props to explain what my job is in the building. I told them where my office is, as well as how they can request an appointment if they need one. Then I planted myself in the hall with my new tablet to hold the individual Minute Meetings.
A good time was had by all. The kids got a kick out of being able to punch in their answers on the tablet. I enjoyed sharing. And later, at recess time when the classes went by my office on their way to the playground, I heard a few excited voices saying, "There's her room!" and "Hey, I see Mr. Squishy!"
Best of all, I had a few kids who said yes, they have something they'd like to speak to me about. Without a Minute Meeting, I may never have connected with them. I feel good knowing that soon all 500 students will at least know who the heck I am and what I do, and will have the opportunity to ask for help. Awesome!
Last spring when I started at my new school, I was given the previous counselor's office. Since he didn't see groups (what the what?) or have any materials other than about a dozen versions of Uno, he had been fine in a very VERY small space. With no windows. While it was certainly cozy, and the custodian had painted it a lovely periwinkle blue the weekend before I started, it wasn't conducive to working with groups or, you know, breathing.
Also, for an hour after my 4th grade boys' group left, it always smelled like feet.
So my awesome new principal (without me even asking because I'm no diva, people) assigned me a big, beautiful room---with windows!---overlooking the playground for this year. I've spent a lot of the summer working on it. My Pinterest addiction has come in mighty handy, let me tell you. Also, I've been clicking around to a bunch of other school counselors' websites to see what ideas I can steal. I mean "borrow." Here are the results:
My door. I have the obligatory "Where Am I?" thingy (which is an excellent question on so many levels), a couple of cool quotes, and mini appointment request forms with a "mail" basket to leave them in. This should work out well since the kids have to walk past my door on their way out to recess. On the other hand, they also have to pass right by on their way in AFTER recess. Uh-oh.
My "dealing with feelings" wall. It's mostly visuals re: anger management and Zones of Regulation. My daughter painted the "Surf the Angry Sea" canvas, which is a CBT idea. On top of the cabinets to the right of the sink I have boxes with my reference books sorted by topic (e.g., Service Learning, Self Expression, CBT). In the cabinets below are much bigger bins for the topics I use extensively. In those I have all my reference books, worksheets, and activity materials for Social Thinking, Zones of Regulation, Anger Management, Personal Space Camp, Bullies to Buddies, and Conflict Resolution. And yes, I'm so anal that I spray-painted office labels with chalkboard paint and stuck them on the doors. I admit I may have a problem.
I'm using the beach as a theme for helping kids learn multiple ways to calm down. There's the hula hoop-and-shower curtain hideaway, a table containing various calming activities (and under which there's a little rug, a yoga mat, and a basket of small stuffed animals for comfort). Not visible: a box of yoga cards with suggested poses, and "muscle-builders"---empty laundry detergent bottles weighted with sand. I also have made a play-list of calming music as well as one of upbeat songs for "Ms. Mendoza's Dance Party," which is one of the get-the-energy-out strategies. She's super freaky, yeow!
Book shelf. The Container Store really should give me a kick-back. Here are all my kids' books, also organized by topic. That's Mr. Squishy on the chair. He's WAAAAAAY more popular than I am! But he doesn't have his own website, so take that, Mr. Squishy!
My desk, which will never be clean again until June. I haven't decided yet how to decorate or use the space on the front of it, but I will.
My bulletin board (being photo-bombed by a corner of the file cabinet).
I'll update the photo when the board is complete (see update below). The first week or two I'm going to have kids trace their hands and arms onto big pieces of bright construction paper. They'll write a personal goal on the hand (I'm going to review my IEP goals with some of them as part of this process). Then on the arm they'll draw a ladder where they'll write the steps they'll need to follow to achieve their goal. It'll be a good way to monitor progress and keep us all on track. Love you, Pinterest! Mwuh!
Oh yeah, I HAVE STORAGE CABINETS! I'm using the outside space to put up some of my Social Thinking visuals, like the Thought Bubble vs. Speech Bubble and the Be a Social Detective graphics. I actually made up both of those on my own without Pinterest!.
Huh. I'm just noticing how gross that chair is. We'll have to do something about that...
The "word wall" (or "word tree" if you want to get technical) and the blackboard I'm going to use---or have the kids use---to write positive things about the day. At the top it says "Today's good thing..." and at the bottom it says "Every day may not be good, but there's something good in every day." As part of my campaign to foster resilience, we're going to spend at least a little of every session accentuating the positive.
The back of my door is the "Worry Board" since I ran out of wall space for a Worry Wall. There's nothing on it yet, of course, since school hasn't started. This is another great way of visually tracking how kids are doing from week to week. Click on the above link for details.
The imagination station. I'll use this stuff mostly for individual work. That dollhouse was the best $5 I ever spent (I got it at my church fair). In the plastic bin by the puppet theater are all the little puppets kids have made over the years out of card stock and popsicle sticks. Some of them are 20 years old!
Hope you enjoyed the tour!
*** Update ***
Here's my bulletin board after we did our personal goals. They ranged from "Get a pet" to "Earn a Chief's Award" (a big deal at my school) to "Stay off punishment at home." The kids did a terrific job.
I’d like to recommend a book that has changed the way I look at the issue of bullying and aggression at my school. Turn on the news, listen to discussions among parents and school staff, or think of how often kids say to you, “He’s bullying me!” It seems that we’re in the middle of a bullying epidemic, doesn’t it?
It may seem that way, but we’re not.
In her book Bully Nation, Susan Eva Porter totally dismantles the widely-accepted notion that kids are under siege from bullies 24/7. While she provides a number of good reasons why we have that impression, one is so obvious that I can’t believe it never occurred to me: the definition of bullying has expanded hugely in the last ten years or so.
My own kids may not want to be seen with me in public but---like most of you, I bet---at school I'm a rock star. I can't walk into a classroom or the cafeteria without being mobbed by kids yelling, "Take me, take ME!"
When I began feeling overwhelmed and irritated instead of flattered by the number of kids asking to see me, I decided to set up a system. I started requiring the upper grade students (4th and 5th) to fill out an appointment request form. I printed them on purple paper, and gave a stack to each of the classroom teachers. I went into the classes at snack time and explained what the problem was with the current (non)system, what I hoped to achieve with the purple forms, and how they would work.
This has helped on a number of levels:
One note if you've looked at the form: the question about using the "stop signal" refers to a PBIS strategy that our assistant principal taught the whole school to use if someone was bothering them.
So far, my favorite response to "What have you done to try and make things better?"---"I hit her." And what happened? "Problem is ongoing." Really? Shocking! :-)
This little form has helped tremendously, because now when kids act like the paparazzi chasing a Kardashian, all I have to say is, "Did you fill out a purple form?"
Now I just need to come up with something for the staff...