Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Coffee With The Counselor: Anxiety!

I hosted my first Coffee With the Counselor at our local coffee shop this week.   Our topic for the morning was: Anxiety:  How to help our kids!

Anxiety seems to be a hot topic for the last few years in the school counselor world.  I see more and more students each year and I am hearing that from other counselors as well.  I decided this would be a great topic to start off our Coffee With The Counselor series.  This is the first year I have tried something like this and I was pleased with our turn out.  One thing we talked about is that sometimes anxiety and worry are very similar.  Here is a rundown of what we talked about for those of you who were unable to attend.

The answer to that is pretty much anything!  Kids may worry about things like tests, grades, their changing bodies, fitting in with friends and family problems to name a few.  I shared with the group that I had seen a few students who were very worried that they weren't going to have "enough" likes or friends on social media.  In essence, if it exists or doesn't exist, a kid might worry about it!

Kids show anxiety in very different ways.  One child might hold it all in.  Another might yell or get angry.  And yet another might cry and not even be able to put into words what is exactly wrong.  One of our frequent symptoms at school is a tummy ache.  We can usually tell if a child has complained of a stomach ache frequently that something is bothering them, especially when they don't have other symptoms.  Some kids might even withdraw from others while another kiddo tries to just hold it all together.  If you notice a change in your child or a pattern of behaviors that are different than normal, something might be going on with them. 

1. Notice out loud---have a casual conversation with your child.  Maybe just mention or ask if things are okay, especially if they seem different.
2. Listen to your child---LISTEN attentively and calmly.  This means STOP what you are doing, sit down and establish eye contact with your child.  No cell phone in your hand (kids number one complaint!).  It really doesn't take a lot of time for your child to talk to you once they know you are listening.  If you are like me, you might also have to remind yourself to just "zip the lips" and not jump into their words!
3.  Put a label on it.   Our little kiddos don't have the vocabulary to explain often times how they feel.  They know sad, mad and happy and that is often times how they explain their emotions.  Helping children understand different feeling words and how to explain them also helps them grow their vocabulary.  This will make communicating these feelings more effective later on.
4. Listen and move on.  You know that little color wheel that spins when your computer is thinking?  Sometimes our kiddos can get stuck just like that and not move on to find something to do that might make them feel better.  We can help them by NOT giving the problem more attention than it deserves.
5.  Limit stress where possible.  There are so many opportunities out there for our kids to be involved.  Last night I was working at a junior high volleyball game.  As the first game finished up I saw a family hustling through the commons of the school being told, "HURRY UP!  We have to get to a football game and if you don't move it we are going to be late!"  Families are running in 15 different directions at any given time and this causes stress!  Find the happy medium!  Figure out what your child truly enjoys or wants to try and go with that.  Signing your child up for every club, rec activity or event offered can be a huge stressor for the whole family.
6.  Guide kids to solutions.  Helping kids to learn to deal with challenging situations is a skill they will benefit from in life!  As adults, we have challenges that come our way and we have to know figure out what we are going to do about it.  Teaching kids to be problem solvers also empowers them and builds confidence.  Avoid the urge to jump in and fix the problem for them.  When we do that, we send the message that they are incapable of doing it for themselves and that we don't believe in them to be a problem solver.
7. BIG ISSUES!  War, terrorism, kidnapping, school shootings!  Unfortunately, our kids are exposed to this all the time on the news or in papers or magazines.  Be sure to discuss these things in an age-appropriate manner with your child.  Offer accurate information if they have misinformation.  Be sure to tell them what adults are doing to tackle the problems and to keep them safe.  
8. Highlight the positive!  Ask your child "What did you enjoy most about your day?"  This type of question is a great way to guide the answer in a more positive direction.  Of course, keep in mind that they might respond with "NOTHING!"  If emotions are at a real high, let them calm and then ask what is going on.   Give plenty of time to listen to the good things as well as concerns.
9.  BE A GOOD ROLE MODEL!  Even when we don't think our kids are watching us, they are!  They see how we respond to stressful situations and learn from watching us.  YIKES!  That might not be so good if we aren't modeling healthy ways to handle anxiety.
10.  Don't avoid things just because they make a child anxious.  I like to use the "What if..." questions.  Maybe they don't want to try out for a lead part in a play but are worried they won't make it.  Try the "What if you don't get the part?  What is the worst thing that could happen?"  This helps to examine the situation and look at things realistically, instead of catastrophizing it.

I hope this has given you some insight on anxiety.  One important fact to remember is this: you don't want to eliminate stress from your life.  Stress, which can cause anxiety, can be a motivator.  It can help us to get things accomplished, such as study for a test instead of worry about failing it.  When anxiety takes over and starts to have negative effects on a person's life, it is probably time to get help from a professional.  Start with your child's teacher and school counselor.  See if they are noticing things at school.  School counselors can help teach some relaxation techniques to students to help them in dealing with stress, worry, and anxiety.  Getting active, exercising and eating healthy foods can also help. There are times when a person needs more help.  School counselors are able to make referrals to medical personnel or therapists who can also help.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Harmony Time!

Imagine a classroom (and school) where students are empowered to: communicate, cooperate, connect, embrace diversity, and resolve conflict!

(So excited to order this banner for our hallway bulletin board!)

I found out about an amazing program last year that addresses all of these! It is called Sanford Harmony and thanks to philanthropist T. Denny Sanford whose passion is to inspire others to create a positive change in the world.  His vision resulted in the development of the Sanford Harmony program.  Please read more here to get the entire story.  

At Sibley-Ocheyedan we are making Harmony happen in our classrooms!  I found out about the program last spring and decided to look into it more.  One trip to their website had me convinced that we needed to get on board.  Our Early Childhood-6th grade staff was introduced to Harmony in May.  I was so hoping they would see the importance of making room for Harmony in our district----and they did!  (That's just the amazing people I work with!) 

Harmony might not look the same in all schools.  After taking an in-depth look at the Harmony program, we decided to make it a part of our classroom counseling time.  I go into classrooms weekly to present the Harmony lessons.  Our first unit is on Diversity and Inclusion, which are really important words for kids to know.  Here are some of our discussions:
Me:  "What does 'harmony' mean?"
Student responses:
"I heard that word in music!"
"It is when things work well together!"
"The Trolls sing a song about that!"
"It is when we all get along and that feels great!"

Me:  "What is diversity?"
I told the kids to find their twin!  Someone who looks exactly like them, thinks the same, everything the SAME!  (I told them even twins aren't exactly the same and I know that because I am one!)
We agreed that being different is what diversity is.  Wouldn't it be a boring world if we were all the same?!

Me: "What is inclusion?"
Me: "How about include?"
"Oh, that's when we don't leave people out!"

Now we were ready for learning more about each other.  In 4th grade we played the Commonalities game.  There was so much excitement seeing what they had in common with their buddy they were working with.  They discovered that commonalities help us make connections with each other.

Some kids discovered they had so much in common with their buddy.  They also learned new things about them, which was really cool to see.  I asked them how knowing things about others in the classroom helps to create harmony----loved the responses that I got but these are my favorites:
"When we know about others we understand them better!"
"If I know someone is going through a tough time, I can show empathy to them."
(Yay!  They remembered about empathy too!)

Third grade filled out an information sheet naming 3 things that were important to them, why it was important and what that item tells about them.  After they finished they were able to share with a buddy what they had written about.  It was interesting to hear the conversations that went back and forth between students, asking each other questions and showing interest in what they were talking about.

We learned so much about each other in 4th grade when students shared something they brought from  home that told about them.  It was interesting to see the different things that kids brought and hear the story about their item.  The rest of the kids had really great questions to learn even more from their classmates. Here are a few snapshots from some of the kids with their special item they brought.  (Even Mrs. Runia shared why her wedding ring and mother's ring was important!)

First and second graders talked about getting back to school and the different feelings we might experience.  We also met Z who is our little Harmony friend.  (Kids are always a sucker for a little stuffed friend!)

3 of our kindergarten students with their new friend Z!

We are about half way through our first unit on Diversity and Inclusion!  So much fun building community with our kids!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Be Where Your Feet Are!

Our elementary has been invited to be a pilot school for rolling out Julia Cook's new book "Be Where Your Feet Are".    Today I am finishing up sharing with ALL of my elementary classes!  It has been so exciting to share this awesome book about mindfulness.
I started off my lessons asking them what they thought it meant to be where your feet are.  I had many responses which included:
*keep your hands and feet to yourself
*don't run around the room
*stay focused on where you are
*practice personal space (okay, that's another whole lesson!  Personal Space Camp!)

I read "Be Where Your Feet Are!" to the class next.  It was so hard to not interject my little comments as we read through the book.  The kids had questions like "How does he get his legs to do that?" and "Did he eat too much spaghetti?"  (I love what kids come up with!).  We learned that when we have too many things going on in our brain it feels like we are running in different directions and that our brain feels crowded.  

"Well, how do I do that?" is what is asked in the book when he wants to learn how to be where his feet are.  This is where we learned about multi-tasking.  When we are trying to do too many things at once, we don't do any of them well.  So we learned that we need to divide our day into hunks of time and do one thing at a time.  We discussed the importance of sleep and getting enough sleep,  that our school day takes up a big chunk of our day.  We also have to fit in other things such as soccer practice, homework and even helping out with our chores around the house.  When we do these things we still have time for ourselves to play and relax.

Every good book has a great ending and this one doesn't disappoint us.  The boy in the book figures it out with the help of his mom and teachers.  This is the last page where he is trying to tell his mom the same thing he learned, BE WHERE YOUR FEET ARE! when she is doing 4 (yes, we found 4) different things while trying to talk to him! (Ahh, the life of a mom!) .  My students decided that helping out their parents allows them to spend more time with them too! (And they learn to be responsible by helping out!  SCORE one for good character!)

This is where I need to give the parents out there a suggestion (myself included!).  How often are you distracted by your phone or device?  Maybe the TV?  When we aren't looking at our child when they are talking to us they don't feel they are being heard.  I hope our kids don't stop talking to us because our phones are more important!

We had fun acting out what it is like when we have too many things in our brain and our brain has to compete.  Mrs. VV's third grade class enjoyed playing a little brain tug-of-war to demonstrate the importance of being where our feet are.

We also closed our eyes for a mindful moment and just focused on listening.  It was interesting all the sounds we could hear when we just focused on one thing, listening!

We love our vinyl clings that are around our school to remind us of being mindful.

Are you where your feet are?
Every school needs to read this book to their students!

Shout out (again) to Julia Cook for another amazing book that teaches us how to be our best!
We love you Julia!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Yay! Yay! It's the FIRST DAY!!!

Maybe it's the smell of new crayons.  Maybe it's putting on that new first day outfit.  Maybe it's the excitement of seeing everyone!  I'm not really sure.  But no one can deny the excitement in the air on the first day of school!  
I come from a family of educators.  When we have family get togethers it's like a big staff meeting!  Sharing stories and the latest thing you are trying with kids in your classroom seems to be the conversation that takes place.

Here I am with my baby---my junior in HS daughter has surpassed me in height!  She still allows the first day pic!

 My oldest daughter is an associate in the elementary school I work in.  How great is that to work with your daughter!  We actually barely see each other while we are at school!

This is my twin sister.  She serves as our instructional coach and our offices are right next to each other.  Blessed to work with her!

It was great greeting the elementary kiddos as they arrived.  Of course, there were a few attached to a parent, but we managed to peel them off and get them where they needed to be.  I had fun walking through the rooms and seeing the kids opening up their supplies and getting everything organized.  (Again, that sweet smell of new crayons!) It is so awesome seeing teachers excited to meet their class and get them used to the new routines and procedures of their classroom, hallway, lunch room and playground.

I haven't met this new kindergarten student yet.  Dressed for success!  So proud to walk into school looking so professional!  Doesn't this just tell you how important education is when you come dressed like this?!  

I can't wait to see how these kiddos learn and grow!  What an opportunity to be a part of their lives and help them in the process of learning.  

I met a mom on her way out of our school this morning after she had dropped off her child for kindergarten.  I told her to have a great day.  She looked at me with tears flooding and said, "Please take care of her!"
I gave her a big hug, looked her in the face and said, "We keep kids safe, educate them and love them like they are our own!  We've been trained for this and we've got it handled!  Now, go get a coffee and some tissues and have a good day!  Won't be long and you will be back to pick her up!"

Then I stepped back, wiped a tear from my eye as I remembered sending my first one to school (pictured above).  I stayed at home and my husband took her because we had just had our 3rd child, the youngest one pictured above!  And yes, I got out a box of tissues and a cup of coffee and had a good cry!  Boy, did the years really fly by!
They grow up fast!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Julia Cook Visits AGAIN!!!

Okay...so I can't get enough of Julia Cook visits.
It all started when I called her up about 8 years ago after getting my first Julia Cook book!
I actually got 3 at an ISCA Conference I attended.
Personal Space Camp, Volcano Mouth and Bubble Wrap Queen.
As I was reading them on the way home from the conference, I discovered that this author who I had never met was from Fremont, Nebraska.  So, I decided to call her up and ask her if she did school visits.  The rest is history!  That became a yearly 'thing' for our school.
And the best part, it became the beginning of a great friendship.

These kids were so glad to see Julia.  They met her when they were in kindergarten!  Now they are 8th graders and they are definitely not too "cool" for Julia!  (They were actually sad they couldn't come to the assembly today!)

I love how she teaches the kids through her books.  Here she is explaining the difference between listening and hearing.  AND why it is important to listen to their teachers and parents!  (I need a pair of those ears!)

I love ALL of Julia's books....but I think the one I was so glad she shared with our kids today was "The Technology Tail...A Digital Footprint Story".  I hear kids talking all the time about sharing on their social media....and it isn't always good.  Julia stressed to the kids that whatever they send through social media leaves a footprint digitally.  It stays connected to them forever!  Here are the points for parents and kids from her book:
1.) Go online with your children.  See what they are using for social media and what websites they are visiting.  
2. Monitor online access by placing the family computer in a central location and limiting the use of smartphones, tablets and laptops to public spaces in the home.  Setting time limit boundaries and content boundaries is essential.
3.) Unplug and recharge ALL digital devises during family routines, such as mealtime and bedtime.  If a child uses his or her smartphone as an alarm, replace it with an inexpensive alarm clock.
4.) Tell and continually remind children never to post personal information on social networking sites.
5.) Explain, remind and reinforce this safety rule:  Never meet face-to-face with someone you only know from the internet.  AND if someone asks to meet you, tell a parent, older sibling, teacher or trusted adult.

We are a Growth Mindset school at S-O so Bubble Gum Brain was a true hit!  This book talks about the difference between a bubble gum brain that stretches or a brick brain that just stays the same!  The kids loved the characters that depicted the difference between someone who has growth mindset and someone who has a fixed mindset.  I enjoyed working with Julia on an activity guide to go along with this book with great activities to help kids learn to use growth mindset thinking!

If you haven't checked out Julia's latest books, be sure to visit her website and see all she has to offer!  I always call her "The Book Machine" because she always has a new one or two ready to come out!  THANKS Julia for teaching us with your books!  
We love you!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Guest Post: Partnering for Leadership!

I love partnering with my community resources!  It not only gives our students a chance to learn from them, but it also helps their programming.
One of our partnerships is with ISU Extension and Outreach.  Our County Youth Coordinator, Ashley Peters, shared a blogpost and it really summed up the great work she does.  I asked her if I could share her post as a guest blogger on my blog.  Of course, in typical Ashley fashion, she obliged with a smile on her face.  So, sit back and read what Ashley has to share!

According to Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, leadership is the ability to influence others in a positive manner to achieve a common goal.  As the Sibley-Ocheyedan fifth graders recently discovered, leadership is also fun!
I have spent the last six weeks delivering the Ricochet curriculum to the 5th graders.  Ricochet is a hands-on, game based curriculum that teaches youth five essential leadership skills: leadership attitude, leadership information, communication, decision-making, and stress management.  While learned alone, these skills are incredibly important, but together, they create a powerful combination, and more importantly, they create a refined leader.
This is the second time I have had the opportunity to interact with the 5th graders, as the ricochet curriculum is a 3 part program.  We have now completed the second portion, and even though I’m sure that they were not fans of losing some of the games, I can assure you – we all had fun (yes, kids too!).  These games were designed to make the youth dig deep to work together and break down social barriers and see that anyone can be a productive leader, as long as they are willing to work with their group in a positive manner to achieve a common goal.  Sometimes their goals were as goofy as typing a message on a giant, homemade keypad in less than 6 seconds, or playing my made up version of silent chicken football, but the one thing that they all had in common was a leadership skill.  Sometimes our conversations were insightful and poignant, talking about the difficult things like divorce, adoption, and familial deaths. During other times, we got silly and decided that we would much rather it snowed scoops of various flavored ice cream, than rain sticky apple juice.  Some days, tempers flared as we discovered that we do not always agree on minor decisions and that even though strong personalities may clash, they could actually complement each other when they decide to work together for the groups’ success, instead of their own.  Either way, there was a lot to be said and learned from these groups during our time together.
While I do not anticipate every single 5th grader that walks through the halls of S-O to become the CEO, CFO or COO of a major corporation, or the president of the United States, I do think that every single one of these students has the potential to do so.  They all proved to me that when challenged (and believe me, they were!), they are capable of working together and providing awesome leadership to each other.  Which, when I think about it, is much better than being the leader of a fortune 500 company.  Who wants to lead the country, when you could be a leader in our great county anyway?

See this crazy girl!  She will do anything for the students!
Thanks Ashley!  You help ROCK our program!

Using Leadership Skills to ESCAPE!!!

We just finished our second round of Ricochet.  This is a Leadership program from our ISU Extension and Outreach.  I love to use our local resources and the students and I have totally enjoyed having Ashley Peters, ISU County Youth Coordinator, come on board and allow me to co-teach this with her.  I like refer to the two of us as "The Daring Duo" because we seem to really mesh when it comes to planning and carrying out this program.  Ricochet has 5 components:
Leadership Definition
Leadership Attitude
Decision Making 
Stress Management

We started our year off with 6 weeks of Ricochet Part 1, doing activities in each of the 5 components.  The activities in Ricochet aren't your typical classroom type of learning.  We enjoyed in the beginning of the year being able to go outside to do many of our activities in the school yard.  Ricochet Part 2 has been equally awesome.

We decided to celebrate the ending of Part 2 with an escape room.  This  would require the students to work in teams and put into practice all the skills they have learned so far.  We have 4 sections of Leadership 101 (5th grade Counselor in the Classroom) so it was important to have 4 different escape rooms because they love to share with each other what they did in class.  Now that would just ruin the fun if they knew the answers!  I found some great escape room activities on Teachers Pay Teachers from Pathway 2 Success.  These fun activities were easy to assemble and get ready for my classes.  You can check them out right here.

Here they are trying to figure out the code so they could ESCAPE!  It was great to hear comments such as:
"This is hard!"
"I think you are on to something!  Keep going!"
"Don't get stressed!"
"We can do this!"
"This is fun!"

I loved seeing how hard they were having to think!  Problem solving as a team really made it interesting also.  They discovered how well they could use their leadership skills they learned during our Ricochet lessons.
The products I used are all in this bundle (click here), but can be purchases separately as well.  

THANKS TO KELLY from Pathway 2 Success! for the great bundle!

So....we had to say "See you later!" to Ashley.  She will be back though in April when we dive into Ricochet 3!  We can't wait!