March 30, 2016

In Loving Memory, Dealing With the Loss of a Pet

I love being able to make a kid smile.
Nothing warms my heart more than a smile breaking across cheeks that just a few seconds ago had tears rolling down them. 

On my drive home, I feel so fulfilled if I can look back at my day and know that I touched someone, that I was fortunate enough to be the one to help turn their day around or help them cope with a hard situation.
It's those moments that make me love my job. 

The most recent "love my job" moment happened when a little girl was referred to me because she came into class in a state of shambles. She confided in her teacher that her dog had passed away that morning. It had been viscously attacked right in front of her, it was a very traumatic experience and she was visibly shaken.

The teacher and I agreed, in her state, learning wasn’t going to happen.
Her mind was too busy trying to process the terrible event her little eyes had just witnessed without the right tools to process the information on her own. 

As soon as the teacher explained what was happening, I went and got her. Even though we had never met, getting her to come with me was effortless. I could tell she was hurting and needed to talk but at the same time wanted to save face with her classmates. She was happy to momentarily fall apart anywhere but in front of her peers.

I brought her into my office and told her she could sit anywhere she wanted. She crawled up into my big comfy chair, buried her face and let the tears pour out. I let her cry for a bit and get out all that she wanted to get out. I sat close by but I gave her the space she needed.

After a few minutes, she looked up at me and was ready to talk. We spoke for a little bit and when it felt appropriate, we moved to my desk and I gave her this memory book.

I told her she could keep it, but for now I just wanted her to color the front of it. Coloring is so therapeutic, there’s a reason they made adult coloring books! I wanted her to calm her mind and have a few minutes of silence to process and sit with her thoughts. She took her time and colored precisely and methodically. She outlined the shapes and blended colors, I was impressed.


Once she finished the cover, she flipped through the workbook.

“Can I color a picture on this page?”

“Of course! This is your memory book, when you are ready you can color any page you want.”

I saw a sheepish little half smile come across her face as she grabbed the orange colored pencil and started coloring the cat.

She colored and answered the first two pages. I was enjoying seeing her come out of her shell. She started talking about her dog a little bit. This time, there were no tears.

I really enjoyed watching her make Chui’s memory come to life.

When she got to the end of the book, she drew a big heart because “Chui would want me to feel his love and love like he did.” With that, she wrote a goodbye letter to Chui and let a single tear fall.

Her family affectionately called this Pomeranian fluff butt, I thought that was kind of cute. From the way she described him, I imagined a pint size ball of fur running my way.
I asked if I could look over her memory book. I picked a page that I knew had made her really happy. We talked about that memory again, I wanted her to go back to her class on a happy note.

Before she went back to learning, she said, “Can I have a book for my mom? I think it would really help out a lot.”

That was the best compliment I think she could have ever given me. 

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To protect my student's confidentiality, I recolored a memory book to closely resemble my student's book. 
The story unfolded as told but the images are recreated. 

March 17, 2016

Empathy- Walk a Mile in Someone Else's Shoes

Empathy- The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Also known as, the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes and understand 
their feelings and point of view.

It may seem simple to some, yet it can be very abstract 
and hard for little ones to grasp.

For some, it seems like an easy concept, it just comes naturally. Some kids are born with an amazing skill to emphasize with others and do not 
need to learn much more. They can evaluate a situation and know exactly how 
the other person feels and are blessed with the ability to instantly put 
a plan into action to make a person feel better.

Others are not so lucky. For some kids, it is really hard to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and understand the other person’s perspective. It can cause interpersonal issues because they do not understand what their friends are going through or what they can do to help. I cannot blame them, this is a high level skill if you really think about it. 
I know a few adults who cannot even do this.

I wanted to teach my students empathy and foster their skills in a non-intimidating way. I wanted to teach it in a way that allowed them to learn while they think they are just playing a game. By guiding the student through open discussion, a strong sense of empathy can be developed.  

I tried out some new ideas on a student that I’ve been working with to further develop  her empathy skills. She is super sweet, incredibly honest and self-reflective, yet doesn’t always think about how her actions may affect others.

In our last lesson, we started the conversation about empathy. Somehow we started talking about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. She told me she wanted to practice walking in other people’s shoes so I created these cards just for her.  

The next time she came to me, we used the “Walk a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes” cards to solidify her idea of empathy. I coupled these cards with Jenga to transform it from just a conversation into an interactive game.

The green box in the bottom left corner of the Jenga picture is the box I store the cards in. Once we were done talking about a card, it went right back into the box. I got pizza boxes from Jet's Pizza (they were nice enough to give me boxes that fit one slice that are the perfect size for these cards. I painted it green because, well, why not, and then glued a popsicle stick to the front of the box to use as a label. I wrote "Walk a Mile" on the stick in permanent marker and bam! I had a great home for these awesome cards. 

I laid all of the double sided cards face down on the tabel and set up Jenga right next to it. 

We took turns picking a Jenga block and trying not to crash the tower. 

After we successfully placed a block on the top layer, to finish our turn we picked a “Walk a Mile” card and had an open discussion about the situation. 

After all questions on the card were asked and answered, the next person took a turn.

She took advantage of a tool in my office that I did not think about combining with this activity but will 
always utilize together in the future. 

I love when the students teach me. 

There was one situation that she was finding 
really tricky. As she was thinking about how 
the situation would feel, she looked over at my
 emotions chart and talked it through.

“She wouldn’t feel mad because this isn’t a bad thing. She wouldn’t be sad either. Happy is a possibility but so is surprised. Would this make me more happy or more surprised? Hmmm.”

It was so fun listening to her thinking processes.

I realized she had been looking at the emotion posters on my wall and using them to narrow down her options. I thought that was genius. I pulled the chart off the wall and placed it on the table next to us. From that moment forward, if I thought the situation was important for her to think deeply about, or if I wanted to play with the idea longer, we would go through the chart and discuss why or why not the emotions would fit the situation.

I have to admit, I had so much fun with her and was really sad when our time was up and she had to go back to class. I'm not sure who benefited and enjoyed the lesson more, me or her. 

I want to do more empathy work with her and really make her empathy skills solid. 

What do all of you wonderful school counselors out there do to introduce students to the idea of empathy? 

What resources are a “must have” when teaching students empathy? 

I would love to build off of your experiences as well as collaborate ideas!

Comment or message me, I’d love to hear from you!

March 14, 2016

Kid's Career Choices

From a young age we tell kids they can be anything they want to be; that doesn’t do any good if we don’t help them discover what it is they want to be. It is very encouraging, but doesn't help them discover what they truly want to do with their lives. If kids arent exposed to various careers and informed of the educational requirements, they are less likely to make a career choice that suits their unique skill set. In this ever-changing and competitive world, students must plan well and work hard in order for their future dreams to come true. Planning starts with narrowing down options, which is what we need to do for our students. The endless options can be overwhelming for students, as counselors we have to expose students to many possibilities in a way that won't scare them. This is my ideal plan to accomplish just that during the 2016-17 school year. 
I explain to my elementary school students the job descriptions, educational requirements, and qualities needed to excel in 42 popular and realistic careers. I do not teach all 42 at once; I spread the exposure to the career options across the school year in a way that is kid friendly and challenges students to think outside the box and consider various career choices that might be right fit for them. 
This is my ideal plan for the 2016-2017 school year. I'll let you know how it goes!

I start by introducing the "Top 12 Careers of 2015" by hanging these posters as a career of the month activity in an area that the majority of the students walk past daily. I hung three posters in August so that the top profession will be revealed during the last month of the school year. 
This is my office window that faces a main hallway that all students walk through. I love catching students staring at these posters, starting discussions about how long it would take them to get these types of jobs and how much school they would need. My personal favorite is when I hear a knock on the door and a little voice ask, "Mrs. Bell, what's a degree?" I like knowing that my work is making them think and possibly changing their lives. These are the questions that I live for. 

I use the Top 12 Posters as a School Wide Career of the Month Activity. I like when the kids say they wish it was the first of the month already, they are so excited to see how much Career #1 makes and to find out how long they'd have to go to school.

I go on the school news weekly (for the first 10 weeks) and highlight a new skill each week by using the 10 Essential Skills of a Successful Employee Poster.  It's an easy way to hit all of my 1200 students with these skills at once and open their minds to new skills they may want to practice and perfect.
When it is not the first of the month (on the first I highlight one of the top 12 careers), I use the 42 different Career Posters on the school news to highlight a different career each week. I cannot get through them all, but I try to pick a career that I can tie into something going on at school that week. I like to connect it to real life so that the students remember it more and it leaves a lasting impact.  
The first time I went on the news I explained what a college degree was and the different types you can receive. The length of time spent in college to get these degrees and to make the big bucks blew my student's minds.

Just a few of the 42 possible career posters. If a student is really interested in a particular career I like to print a black and white copy for them.

Here are the included careers that you could choose from:
Top 12 Careers of 2015:
1. Physician Assistant
2. Software Engineer
3. Business Development Manager
4. Human Resources Manager
5. Finance Manager
6. Marketing Manager
7. Database Administrator
8. Product Manager
9. Data Scientist
10. Sales manager
11. Solutions Architect
12. Mechanical Engineer
Other Included Careers (in no particular order):
1. Hair Dresser
2. Chef
3. Crossing Guard
4. Doctor
5. Nurse
6. Librarian
7. Commercial Fisherman
8. Fireman
9. Seamstress
10. Bank Teller
11. Dentist
12. Landscape Architect
13. Air Traffic Control
14. Medical Assistant
15. Auto Mechanic
16. Gardener
17. Postal Worker
18. Financial Planner
19. Food Service Managers
20. Detective
21. Fashion Designer
22. Recreational Worker
23. Farmer
24. EMS Worker
25. Police Officer
26. Wildlife Officer
27. Conservation Scientist
28. Airline pilot
29. United States Military
30. Veterinarian
I love using the 42 Character Trait Cards, which outline the character traits and qualities necessary to succeed at each career, during guidance or small group lessons. I usually show these at the same time as the posters so that the students have a thorough understanding of what it takes to make it in each career.

The Career Sorting Interactive Game is perfect for individual students who are inspired by what they saw on the school news or during a lesson and want to learn more. I have them sort the career cards into three piles: this is a good career for me, this may be a good career for me, and this is not a good career for me. I love to play this and give students a little help narrowing down their options. If they get stuck on a career, I pull out the quality card and we talk about what having that career would look like. I challenge students to think of what type of life a person with that career or similar careers would have. It is really fun to see them think about their future and the endless world of possibilities.

I like passing out the Career Decision Worksheets to individuals or in a guidance lesson setting to help students get their ideas out of their head and onto paper.
I reserve the tech lab and utilize the Occupational Outlook Handbook Worksheet (an online search activity) with my fifth graders. I want to send them to middle school knowing that I get them thinking and inspired about their futures.
In this crazy world of endless options, thinking of the future can be overwhelming for a child. By playing the game, along with utilizing the posters and worksheets, from a young age we can get students thinking about what kinds of careers are available, what kinds of careers they may enjoy, and make them aware of the potential educational challenges of qualifying for the career. After these lessons, students can start to develop a clearer picture of what they want to be when they grow up and what steps are required to fulfill those dreams.
Leave me a comment and let me know how you introduce careers to your little ones. I love new ideas and creative ways to implement career development.

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