January 3, 2018

Kindness Letters/Staff Morale Boosters

I don’t know about you, but we are exhausted at my school. Christmas break is around the corner and we are excited for the vacation time. In the meantime, I wanted to remind teachers why they come to work every day. I wanted them to remember why they are so important and that they are changing kids’ lives every single day. The impact they have is monumental; even if they don’t feel it. 

For this month’s guidance classes, I read students “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” and then did an activity with them that will help fill teacher’s buckets. I thought the kid’s eyes were going to pop out of their heads when I told them we were filling teacher buckets. They were so stinkin’ excited.

After reading the story, I gave them one of these worksheets:

I told them to think of someone who works at our school who has made a difference in their lives. It could be their current teacher, a past teacher, someone in the office, the librarian, custodian, cafeteria worker, bus driver, someone who smiles at them and makes their day better, anyone at all that has had an impact on them. The only rule is that the person has to work at our school. The reason for that is because at the end of our lesson, I am collecting the papers and will randomly give them to the teachers to brighten their day. The kids were stoked.

I gave students about 15 minutes to complete their letter and draw a picture (if they choose to draw). I collect them all and went through them in my office. I’ve got to tell you, I myself got so much joy reading through those letters. These teachers make a bigger impact than they will ever know.

Like a magical little Christmas elf, I’ve been randomly putting one in the teacher’s mailboxes. 

I cannot believe the smiles I’ve seen as they read these letters from current and past students. I can’t believe the smiles on the cafeteria workers and bus drivers faces when they find out a kid could pick anyone from the entire staff to write to and they chose them. That a kid thought they were important and that they mattered that greatly to that child. 

It might not last long, but for now, the morale of those teachers has been boosted and they have a beautiful keepsake to refer back to on the tough days. On those days when they are questioning why they became a teacher and googling what else they can do with a teaching degree, they can pull out those letters and be reminded of just how special and important they are. I am so blessed that I have a job that allows me to do that for them. 

I even got a few letters myself to look back at on the days that I question if I am making an impact. Reading back through those letters, I know that I am. That is an amazing feeling. 

How are you boosting morale at your school? How are you promoting kindness? If you want to do this too, click HERE for the FREE download!

November 21, 2017

What Makes You Fintastic?

I love activities that help boost students’ self-esteem. There is nothing better than the smile kids get while they explain something that makes them awesome.

This activity was designed to help students explain what makes them “fintastic”. I may have been shark week when I came up with this idea. 

It is super easy, students answer the questions,cut out the shape, 
and fold it up to make their very own shark fin. 
there are a ton of different question templates for differentiated instruction. It was so fun making these and even more fun seeing the kids enjoying it. 

Download your own copy here!

November 17, 2017

Playful vs. Mean Teases (Tease Monster)

Enduring some teasing is a part of growing up. We all had to go through it and all have had teasing that was meant to hurt as well as teasing that was done in good fun. The mean teasing is easy to identify, it hurts us and leaves a lasting impact. Playful teasing can lighten the mood, or it can be misconceived and seen as rude. It is all about who says it, and how it is said.

Kids are sensitive and sometimes what is meant to be friendly, light teasing, can really hurt their feelings. I’ve been noticing that a lot with my third graders this year. They are so quick to say that they feel someone is being mean or that they are being bullied, when in reality there is just a bit of teasing going on. I decided to teach my kids the difference between mean teases and playful teases in hopes of cutting down my peer conflict and bullying requests.

The main question I wanted them to ask themselves before visiting the complaint department (aka my office) is: Are they laughing at me or laughing with me? To accomplish this, I taught a thirty minute lesson to each class where we read Tease Monster by Julia Cook, reviewed key terms, played a fun sort game and completed an independent activity sheet.   

We started by reading Tease Monster by Julia Cook. I absolutely love her books, but they can be a bit wordy. I skipped a few parts but made sure the message was still clear. In third grade, most teachers don’t have comfy rocking chairs and reading mats, I displayed the book on the overhead and made sure all students could see.

After we read the book, I used these posters to review the difference between mean teases and playful teases. 

We talked about laughing with and how it is different than laughing at. We reviewed the mirror test and talked about how before we tease think of how we would feel if someone said it to us.

We then “feed” the monsters. I’ve got to tell you, the kids were cracking up at this part. Using two paper bags, I created two situation sort containers. One was for mean teases, the other for friendly teases.

Students pick a card, read it out loud, and then drop into the mouth of the appropriate monster depending on if they think the situation describes a friendly tease or a mean tease.

Some of the situations could be taken as mean or friendly, depending how the person it was said to, takes it. In these situations, I had all of the students give me a thumbs up if they would perceive the tease as friendly and a thumbs down if they would take it as a mean tease. This showed the class how sometimes what we mean to be friendly can really hurt someone’s feelings. It was a good visual to show that we have to be careful of the words we use.

After we finished with our sort, I passed out the activity sheets as a way to check for understanding and ensure all students were not only listening, but understand the concepts. There are two different versions of the activity sheets so I was able to differentiate instruction to an extent.

I have to admit, my third graders have been understanding each other a little bit better since I did this with their grade level. I definitely have had less kids in my office telling me about teasing. 

Download your own copy here!

October 17, 2017

Emotions Sliders (Empathy Builders)

Teaching empathy to kids can be tricky. Our little ones in particular have a tough time putting themselves in other people’s shoes and thinking about how other people feel from their point of view. Emotion sliders are a fun and interactive way to help teach little kids about other people’s big emotions.

With my small groups, I start by discussing each emotion in depth. We use these posters and chart as a guide.

We go over each emotion, one at a time, describing how the emotion feels and providing examples of situations that may make us feel that way.

Once we have a clear understanding of each feeling, we move into the “What Emotion Do You See” card game.

I place all the cards upside down in a pile and give each student their own sunglasses sliders template, allowing them to choice the color sunglasses they wish to use.

I always have to give the kids a moment to play with the sliders before I can start the game. They are fascinated with manipulating the slider piece and playing with the sunglasses cards.
Once students get playing with the templates out of their systems, we start our empathy builder game. Taking turns, students pick a card, read it out loud and then show how that situation would make them feel using the emotions slider. They move the slider until the emotion they think the person would feel is displayed in the middle of the sunglasses.

It is such a fun way to get kids thinking about how others feel. The conversations that follow and the reactions to the sunglasses sliders are truly interesting.

Download your own copy here!

October 10, 2017

I Survived, Group Processing of Hurricane Irma

Irma hit us hard. It created chaos not only in our personal lives but our school lives and schedules. We had barely started school before we were on a two and a half week break to recover and rebuild our lives after the storm.

My co-counselor and I wanted to assess all of the student’s need as quickly as possible that first day back. In order to do that, we had to get help from the teachers. After welcoming their class back, they passed out these “I Survived Irma” screeners. One version was for kinder through second and the other was for third through fifth. 

After each student completed it, the teacher reviewed the screener sheets so that they knew each student’s situation. They then sent the screener sheets to us counselors, flagging the ones that caused them concern. It was such a time saver. It allowed us to identify and create a list of students in need within the first two hours of the school day.

We were relieved to see from the sheets that the majority of our students adapted well to the chaos and confusion.  Many had evacuated and were spared from seeing the destruction unfold in real time. Their parents did a really great job covering up what had actually happened and making it seem like it was just a fun vacation time. They came back after the electricity was back on and had their homes fixed before they returned. I was really happy that so many kids were shielded and had no idea what exactly went down.

Others were not so lucky. I found out quite a few of the kids were still living in shelters even though it had been so many days since Irma struck. A handful of kids lost their homes and quite a few were really hungry. That was the part that hit me the hardest; the kids were so hungry. We didn’t know when they ate their last real meal. My heart broke for them.  

We decided to do a big group meeting that afternoon so we could cover some of their basic needs quickly. All the kids we were concerned about met us in the library. We had about 50 or 60 kids show up. During that time we gave out new backpacks, personal hygiene products, school uniforms as well as necessary school supplies that were lost during the storm. We are so fortunate to have such a great community and so many resources to pull from so we can help these kids when they really need it.

What really warmed my heart, was that the cafeteria staff prepared meals for the kids to take home and share with their families. You should have seen how happy they were when they were given those meals. I am so proud that I have a job where I can coordinate efforts that give students that kid of joy.

The vast majority of the students were fine after that meeting. They just needed to know that everything was okay and regain a sense of normalcy. Other students (like the ones who lost their homes) needed a bit more in order to cope with their loss.

With those handful of students, we had them work through their feelings using this handy flipbook. It was really nice for them to get their emotions out on paper and connect with other students in similar situations.

It seemed to help quite a bit.

I am so glad that school is back in session. I like being able to have my eyes on my babies and love that we are able to help in any way we can.  

Download your own copy of "I Survived" for free HERE
Download a copy of "I Survived a Natural Disaster" HERE 

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September 30, 2017

Friendship Fence (Buddy Bench on a Budget)

For most students, recess is the best part of their day. After sitting and thinking all day, they are finally able to run free and unstructured. They love the care free wiggle time where they can focus on being a kid and enjoy playing with their friends.

Some students aren’t as lucky. They do not see recess as a whirlwind of fun, they see it as a source of stress and anxiety. They may not have anyone to play with and do not know how to ask people if they can join in the games.

Do you have students who are having issues making friends at recess? Do you see kids who want to be included but do not know how to make the first move? A friendship fence may be perfect for you!

It is so easy to create a friendship fence. Print the signs, laminate and attach to a fence. Presto you now have your very own friendship fence! Students who do not have anyone to play with can now stand by the signs signaling to other students that they need a friend to play with. Kids will see them standing there and then will (hopefully) come up and ask them to join in on the fun. Think of it as a buddy bench on a budget!

My students are having so much more fun at recess now that we have a friendship fence. I have only been able to put up one so far because of Hurricane Irma and the flooding we have been having here in southwest Florida. I plan to put up four more so that there is one at all of our recess zones. Stay tuned for more pictures and updates on how my friendship fences are doing!

September 20, 2017

Hurricane Irma - School Family Reunion

It is really tough around here.

We’re going on day 12 without power. It is so hot outside. Our houses are 89 degrees with all the doors and windows open. People are hot, sticky and crabby. They’ve been eating canned food and tuna for almost two weeks. Our grocery stores shelves are empty. Restaurants and fast food are closed. There isn’t enough gas to go around. We haven’t had school for a week and a half and kids are driving their parents up the wall. Tensions are high in these parts of Florida.

Before Irma, we had only been in school three weeks. We are missing 12 full school days because Irma decided to throw a hissy fit and slam into us head on. We are pretty much starting the year over again.

I’ve been through hurricanes before, they are usually no big deal. I’ve never seen anything like this one. Irma was one of a kind.

There was so much build up to this storm that people were terrified even before we knew for sure it was going to hit us. She was supposed to hit us Monday. School was cancelled the prior Thursday and Friday so that we had time to prepare. Many people left that Wednesday immediately after school and drove out of state. Many waiting in some serious traffic since there are only a few roads that lead out of Florida. People were really scared and it caused some chaos.

I have never been scared during a hurricane. This time was different. I own a home this time. I have a five month old this time. I was terrified. Figuring out what to do to best protect baby, securing our home, removing everything from outside, packing up everything that is irreplaceable; it was hectic. 

We were as ready as we could be. We packed up, said goodbye to the house and headed to my parents a few days before my area was under orders for mandatory evacuations.
To make a long story short. My husband, four month old, our dog and I bounced around to five different locations over the course of two weeks. Once we left our home, it was 14 days before we were able to come back again. My street did not have power for 12 full days. It was traumatic.  

I was traumatized as a grown adult I cannot even imagine how my students are feeling. What they’ve been through? What have they seen and experienced? Did they have damage? Where are they living? Are they eating?

It’s been rough around here. Are they okay?

I am so thankful that I have a principal who is asking herself the same questions. Today, she invited all the kids to come to school for a Welcome Back Bash (Wednesday, school starts Monday). People could come by check out the school, ease their worries and know it is going to be okay. Also they could escape the heat for a bit since school had full power already and many homes still did not.

We had a few different stations set up around school. There was a supplies station where we passed out uniforms and backpacks to anyone that had damage and needed them. That way everyone would be ready to move forward and just focusing on getting back to normal on Monday.

There was a free books station where everyone could take home a book or two and a games/crafts station where everyone could just have fun and hang out together in the cool AC.

My co-counselor and I passed out tips to parents that will help them to talk to their kids about the hurricane. We were able to talk to a few parents and identify a few kids who are having a tough time dealing with Irma’s aftermath and really need some help.

It was really great to see those kids. It was really great to see their smiles as they showed off their new books and backpacks and became energized about coming back.

It was really great to come together and have a big school family reunion. Man I love those kids. I am really thankful I had the opportunity to see them and know they are safe. I am really glad that I have a principal who does too.

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