Polka Dots

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Red Ribbon Week

To celebrate Red Ribbon Week this year, I provided the teachers with short classroom activities and lessons that they could incorporate into their classes. Each student was also given a red bracelet on Monday and asked to sign a pledge card stating that they will remain drug free. I collected all of the signed pledge cards and turned them into a giant red ribbon that is hung in the main hallway. Every class passes the ribbon on their way to the cafeteria, so it is in a great location and can be seen by everyone. I have heard many students making great comments about it as they try to find their pledge card.

Next year, I would like to incorporate many of the great Red Ribbon Week ideas that I have seen on other school counselor website such as themed days, dress up days, and community activities. Since this is my first year at my new school and their first year having a counselor, I wanted to start off slow and get everyone acclimated with the purpose of Red Ribbon Week before I incorporate more activities.

Red Ribbon Week also tied in nicely to our October virtue of Respect. We talked about respecting our bodies, minds, and friendships by staying drug free.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Say Something

For the Respect lesson in 5th grade, we read the book Say Something by Peggy Moss. This is a great book to go along with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program because it talks about the roles of the bystander and ally. In the book, the main character sees other students being made fun of, pushed around, and laughed at. She comments to the reader that she does not do those things, but she does not defend the other students either. After reading the book, we discussed the terms bully, victim, and bystander. We discussed the different reasons why someone may remain a bystander and not stand up for the victim.

After our discussion we talked about how to "say something" to stand up against bullying. The students came up
with ideas of phrases they could say to both the bully and the victim such as "Stop it! That's not nice!" or "Come and play with me today." We then created a poster with all of our sayings. The posters are hung in the 5th grade classrooms as a reminder for the students to say something and become an ally rather than a bystander.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Simon's Hook - A Lesson in Respect

During the month of October, we discussed the virtue of Respect. In 3rd grade, we read the book Simon's Hook. I actually found a few YouTube videos based on the book (Part 1 and Part 2 can be found here). I ended up showing the students the videos instead of reading the book because they did a better job of explaining the different fish comments. A lot of the pages in the book contain thought or speech bubbles, which I find hard to use in a read-aloud. I thought the videos did a better job than I could. The videos are a little hokey, but the kids really liked them. I think it also helped to keep their attention longer than if I was reading the book in front of the class. We do not have document cameras, so having it up on the SmartBoard for everyone to see is always a plus!

We watched the first two videos and discussed how teasers and bullies will throw out hooks by calling names or making fun. It is easy to get caught by their hooks and make fun back, get angry, and let the hook get to you. The book gives five alternatives for being able to "swim free" and not get hooked.

1. Do little or nothing - don't react
2. Agree with the hook
3. Distract - change the subject
4. Laugh or make a joke
5. Stay away

After our discussion, each student chose one way that they can avoid getting hooked and decorated a paper fish. We hung all of the fish on a poster to help remind the students that they have the power to control their own reactions and avoid getting hooked by teases and put-downs.


September was Responsibility Month. In 5th grade we discussed "Keys to Success" again this year. Here is a new poster from my new school. More information about this lesson can be found in a previous post. We talked about what goes into being a successful student and the need to be responsible.

In 4th grade, we read Shel Silverstein's poem, Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out. We discussed how Sarah's responsibility of taking the garbage out literally started piling up on her. To demonstrate how our own responsibilities begin to pile up if we don't take care of them, I brought a bag of "clean" trash (crumpled up paper, paper towel tubes, empty water bottles, etc). We talked about one of the responsibilities the students' have: taking tests. We went through the different steps needed to do well on a test, such as paying attention in class, completing classwork and homework, reading the textbook or reading book, completing a study guide, studying several days in advance of the test, getting a good night's sleep, and eating a healthy breakfast. After we listed all of the steps, we went through them again, but this time, I asked the students what would happen if they did not do that step and threw a piece of trash on the pile. Soon, the pile so high it began to topple over and we talked about how hard it would be take on the responsibility of doing well on a test when you haven't been paying attention, haven't been completing the work, haven't been reading, and haven't been studying. That responsibility would seem too large and the "pile" would be too tall to tackle. After our discussion, each student wrote a promise to themselves to be responsible this year.


Before I left my school in Virginia, my Girls on the Run team "challenged" me to the St. Louis Rock n Roll Marathon. I somehow convinced my husband to sign up for the half marathon with me. I had never run more than a 5K before starting to train for the half marathon. We began training over the summer after I moved. The training was long and hard and I wanted to quit multiple times.

Finally, race day came on October 23rd. I wore my hot pink shorts in honor of my Girls on the Run team. It was such an emotional day. I was really nervous before we started but once we got going, I felt a lot better. Seeing all of the people cheering on the sidelines was very moving. Around mile 9 I felt like I had hit a wall. I didn't know if I could make it to the end, but I pushed through it. When we finally got in sight of the finish line, I took off, leaving my husband in the dust! :)

When I finished, I was so proud of myself. I wasn't sure if I could really do it, but I am so glad that I took the chance and persevered. And I am so glad that my GOTR team challenged me to it. I think it made me a stronger person, not just physically, but emotionally as well.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New School, New Office

I am slowly getting acclimated with my new school. It has roughly 300 students, with two classes per grade. My half-empty office has been transforming into a cozy counseling "suite". I have been picking up materials and resources where ever I can, sometimes in the most unlikely places. I found of bunch of great "teacher" things at Dollar Tree at the end of the summer - stickers, awards, stamps, and small toys. I also got some great books at Goodwill. Another school in the area must have downsized their library because I found so many great picture books - and they were only $.25 each! I must have picked up about 15 books, many of which I was getting from the public library because I didn't have the budget to buy them. But at that price, how could I pass them up? They have really helped to increase my counseling library.

My New Office Space

My parents had a never-been-used rug just sitting in their basement. It is now party of my individual counseling area. Students can sit on the rug or in the butterfly chair that I found at Target. Also included in the area is a bean bag donated by one of the teachers. The students love the "comfy chair" and I am hoping that it creates a soothing and safe place for them to visit. I also have two filing cabinets behind my desk. The dark grey one holds all of my files and lesson plan resources. The light grey one holds some counseling supplies such as a rice tray and foam noodle pieces.

Group Counseling Space

When my principal asked me to describe my dream counseling office, I told her all about the groups that I would run during the year. I mentioned the need for a kidney-shaped table with enough chairs to meet with 5-6 students at a time. I love sitting in the cut-out and being able to see all of the students. I also love having the dry erase board next to the group table. It will definitely come in handy when we are learning specific skills or keeping track during games and activities.

Bookshelf Storage

I found some great plastic bins in the Target Dollar Spot. They are colorful and I can use them for so many things. I have the blue one full of "Lunch Bunch" supplies such as paper towels, straws, plastic cutlery, hand wipes, and Clorox wipes. I keep the bin next to me during lunch bunch in case the students need anything. I also use this side of the bookshelf to hold all of my lesson plan binders, resource books, graduate school books, and counseling publications. This shelf is right behind my desk for easy access.

The bookshelf runs across the back of my office and has a lot of great space. I am trying to stay organized by keeping all of my supplies neat and tidy. I found some great clear boxes with green lids at Target to hold all of my stickers, awards, craft/art supplies, game pieces, and small counseling supplies. This side of the shelf also holds all of my games, legos, construction paper, stuffed animals, and stress balls. Basically anything that a student might need during a counseling session.

New Counseling Resources

Over the summer, some friends and I created some great counseling resources. I had been wanting to make a sand tray for a while and when a friend showed me a picture of a colorful rice tray, I knew I had found what I needed. We found some fun beach items at Dollar Tree and went to town coloring the rice. I'll post more instructions later. I have not used it with my students yet, but I am sure it is going to be a huge success! I am now on the lookout for some inexpensive people and animals to add to the tray.

We also created some anger management glitter bottles. The kids have really enjoyed shaking the bottle and watching all of the glitter spin around and settle at the bottom. They were super simple to make - just add glitter and food coloring to a clean soda/water bottle filled with warm water, shake and enjoy! I have the glitter bottle sitting on my bookshelf and it has sparked many great conversations. The kids are drawn to it's sparkly colors and want to know more about it. It gives me the opportunity to do some impromptu anger management lessons. I am considering adding this activity to an anger management small group. Maybe instead of making stress balls we can make glitter bottles!

So far I am really enjoying my new school and new office. It is slowly coming together but I am excited to be making it "mine". Since I am the first counselor the school has ever had, I really have the opportunity to define myself and my role in the school. As my office evolves I will be sure to add more pictures!

Big Changes

The past few months have brought about some pretty big changes. I know I have not been keeping up with my blog very well, and I have resolved to do better this school year (although I am making this resolution later than I would have liked). I am hoping that I can document all of these changes with better constancy.

My husband's job was transferred from Washington DC to St. Louis, our hometown. He moved back around Easter, while I still had to finish out the school year in Northern VA. I officially moved back to St. Louis at the end of June. We are finally settling down, having found a house not too far from our parents. We have been enjoying getting to spend time with family and friends and working on our new house.

I was very fortunate to find another school counseling position before I left Northern VA. I am working at another Catholic K-8 school very similar to the one I left. There is one major difference - my new school has never had a school counselor. I am starting a program from scratch. I walked into a completely empty office in April when I came to meet my principal and tour the school. When I came back in August, the office contained a desk, filing cabinet, u-shaped table, and five chairs. While the furniture was there to fill up the space, I was still missing a crucial part - all of the counseling materials. Luckily, I have been a packrat since graduate school and have been collecting materials, lessons, books, and other resources. I was able to fill up the office pretty well without having to purchase very much. I have pictures that I will include in another post.

I am very excited to be starting my own program and having the freedom to define my role in the school community. It has been thrilling and stressful all at the same time. I am modeling my new program after my program in VA, with a few changes. I have been trying to get as much information about my program through my website, newsletters, notes home, and at both Back to School Nights. I am working on educating the student, parents, and faculty about what a school counselor is and what a school counselor does.

The one thing that I am still struggling with is having a professional network. In VA, I had a great network of school counselors in both public and Catholic schools. The Diocese of Arlington held several school counselor meetings each year and we were able to communicate with one another through online forums in between meetings. Although one of my friends in St. Louis is a public school counselor, I have not been able to form a solid network of Catholic school counselors.

I am hoping to keep up with my blog to help me chronicle the start of my new counseling program. Here's to a new school year, a new program, and a new life in St. Louis!

Friday, March 11, 2011

December: Kindness

During December, we learned about the virtue of Kindness. This is a great topic to talk about during the Christmas season!

2nd Grade: We read "The Recess Queen" and discussed how Mean Jean was unkind to all of her classmates. I copied two pages out of the book back-to-back, one with Jean being mean to her classmates, and the other with Jean making friends and being kind. Each time we discussed Jean behaving unkindly, I cut a piece of the "mean" picture until Jean was all alone. We discussed how being unkind cuts out all of our friends. After the story we discussed how Jean could get her friends back and each time the students came up with an idea, I taped a piece of the picture together. Once the entire picture was taped back together, I turned it around to show Jean smiling with all of her friends. The students got a kick out of the picture being double sided.

3rd Grade: We read "Have You Filled a Bucket Today" and talked about how we can all be bucket fillers rather than bucket dippers. After our discussion, I explained to the class that they were going to be in charge of a classroom bucket and their goal was to work on filling the class's bucket. I gave the class a plastic bucket and handed out small slips of paper for the students to write down random acts of kindness. I asked each student to write down one way that they could be kind to their classmates. They each put this pledge into the bucket and then I asked them to be on the lookout for classmates preforming random acts of kindness. Each time someone did something kind for them or they saw someone acting kindly, they could fill out a slip and add it to the bucket.

5th Grade: We revisited the idea of bullying and treating each other with respect. The students preformed short skits in small groups to illustrate different types of bullying and we discussed how this kind of behavior "tears us down". We then talked about kind acts that help to "build us up". Each student was given a paper brick to write down one way that they plan on building others up. I then created a "wall" of their bricks.

6th and 7th Grades: We focused on the concept of "paying it forward". We watched a clip of the movie and talked about examples of kind acts the students could preform for three people.

November: Stewardship

In November, we focused on the virtue of Stewardship - sharing our time, talents, and treasure with others. This is a great virtue to talk about during Thanksgiving. We don't often focus on all of the things wonderful things in our lives and Thanksgiving gives us that reminder to be thankful for what we have. Showing stewardship allows us to share our gifts with others.

3rd Grade: We explored career clusters as a way of sharing our time, talent, and treasures with others. I have been gathering hats, props, vests and other career items for a few years. Michaels, Dollar Tree, and the Target Dollar Spot have great career items every once in a while. Anytime I see something, I pick it up. For 3rd grade, I hand out a career card to each student. These are color coded depending on the different career paths. The students read the career and a short descriptions and then break off into their color groups. Most of the career cards also have some sort of career "prop" to go with them (handcuffs for the police officer, stethoscope for the doctor, funny money for the banker, etc). In their groups, the students have to try and figure out why their careers are grouped together. At the end, each student is able to explain their career and then the groups tell the class why their careers go together. We then discuss what career clusters are. The students REALLY enjoy dressing up like their careers and give me great ideas for future "props". After the lesson, I hang some of the cards and props on a bulletin board.

5th and 8th Grades: We focused on career exploration as a way to show stewardship. We can share our talents and interests to help others through the career that we choose. Virginia Career View has a wonderful website that offers games and activities for students of all grades to begin the career exploration process. In grades 5 and 8, we use VA Career View take the career interest inventories of Kids Search (grades K-5) and Who R U? (grades 6-8). More information can be found on their website http://www.vaview.vt.edu/ There are tons of games and other activities including printable books and worksheets.

October: Respect

Way back in October, we learned about Respect. The focus in the lower grades was how to show respect to classmates, teachers, parents, and selves. The focus in the upper grades was on bullying. We also talked about respecting our bodies and everyone signed a pledge card for Red Ribbon Week.

Follow the Golden Rule Bulletin Board

Radiating Respect Bulletin Board with examples of showing respect

Red Ribbon Week Pledge Bulletin Board
Each smaller ribbon is made up of each classes pledge cards.

In 1st grade we talked about how mean and disrespectful comments and actions cannot be undone. This was illustrated by using a mini tube of toothpaste. One student was chosen to squirt out some toothpaste onto a plate. Another student was chosen to try to put the toothpaste back in the tube. We talked about how it was impossible to get all of the toothpaste back in the tube after it was squirted out. This was related to disrespectful actions and comments and how we cannot go back in time. The students discussed ways to resolve issues of disrespect and we practiced apologizing to each other.

Each student colored in a toothbrush and I put them on a paper toothpaste tube as a reminder of the lesson.