Thursday, December 6, 2018

What is your "BRAND"?

This month we are finishing up our unit on Empathy and Critical Thinking in our Sanford Harmony lessons.  One of the vocabulary words that we have learned is stereotype.  Our discussions at the different grade levels have been amazing!  I really thought this was going to be a tough concept to grasp for our "littles" but they are NOT giving me the glazed over look!

Here is our definition of stereotype: 
a belief that all people in a group are the same in some way because they are all part of the same group; a fixed image of a group of people; judgments of someone based on ideas about the group they belong to.

The activities were great.  Before we even gave the term a definition, I would ask students to go to one side of the room if what I said was true of girls and the other side if it was true for boys.  We did the same for old people and young people.  It wasn't long before kids would say, "That could be either.  Both boys and girls could do that!"

We also talked about examples that we may see of stereotyping.  They did a great job finding examples in the stories they currently had in reading.

The 4th graders had a fun time writing characteristics of different age groups.  You can see from the papers pictured below what they thought was true for the various groups we discussed.  I asked the students how they knew these things were true.  Some of them said it was because they have siblings or cousins in that age group.  They also decided that not everything was true for all people in that group.  So, as we said in kindergarten and 1st grade, "some people do, some people don't" fit the stereotype.  
One student said that all of those traits described his sister perfectly!  
"She's 16!  She has a car!  You know what I mean?"  😏

I loved how they found the characteristics of parents to be mostly positive!  Loving, caring, helpful.....and of course, "neat freak"!  Also "mean and strict"--which I'm sure most kids would use as descriptive traits if they have had to hear "no" from a parent or have experienced consequences of their bad choices.

I told the kids I was very interested in seeing what they wrote for grandparents since I am going to become a grandma in February.  It looks like I can put away the wrinkle cream since "wrinkles" made it to their list.

We also talked about what causes stereotypes.  Is it based on what we see most people doing in society?  Or is based on what we learn at school or from our parents?  All of this talk about stereotypes got me thinking about another term:  Branding!
How do we "brand" ourselves?  In other words, do we create a "stereotype" or "brand" for ourselves based on what we do?  What we post on social media?  How we act?  What we say?
I think we do.  I decided to take this to another level with my middle school students who are more in touch and active with social media.  We have been talking about drug and alcohol prevention in 5th and 6th grade.  Here are my questions:
What type of stereotype or "brand" do we give people who drink, smoke, vape or use drugs?
What type of "brand" does media give those choices?  Do advertisers give a different brand in order to sell their products?  How does this affect our choices?

My next challenge for them:
"What type of brand have your created for yourself?  Base this on your social media posts, what you "Like"?  How about the brand you create for yourself based on how you act?  Or treat others?
Are you creating a brand that would be popular? (Remember, "What is popular isn't always right and what is right isn't always popular!") Have good value?  Show good character?

So, what is your personal brand?
Are you happy with it?  Or, do you need to do some changing?

Friday, November 30, 2018

Put your own oxygen mask on first!

The Importance of Self-Care

Self-care is usually NOT the first thing we think of as school counselors, or even as adults!  So often we are busy taking care of EVERYONE else first!  Every time I get on an airplane and the flight attendants are going over the flight procedures, I think about the part called "In the event of an emergency.....put your own oxygen mask on first".  I remember the first time I flew and thought, "That's crazy!  What about the kids!"  
Bottom line....if we are "lacking oxygen" we will be of no use in helping anyone else!
Isn't it interesting how life events help us learn?  I'm going to share a little personal information here so I am kind of stepping out of my comfort bear with me.
This past summer I thought I was having trouble with my thyroid.  Symptoms were fatigue, my hair was thinning, weight kept creeping up, etc.  The first thing I did was to self-diagnose using Dr. Google!  Oh, I visited all the sites to get my "research" together---WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and probably a few that I am not so sure how credible they are.   After I gathered my info and had my "diagnosis" ready, I decided to make an appointment with my local health care professional and get it "confirmed".  We started off with blood work....."just go to your relaxing spot in your mind" and then ouch!---got that done!  My report was waiting for me when I got to the clinic for my appointment.  The nurse came in and took all my numbers---weight, blood pressure, and go through the series of questions....
Do you smoke? NOPE
Do you drink? NOPE
Have you been out of the country in the past month? I wish, but no!
Yada, Yada, wait for the PA to come in.
A few minutes before the PA came in, the nurse returns and hands me my blood work print out and said I might want to look that over before Tasha (PA) came in.
I was thinking in my head, "I know what I's a thyroid issue!"
Well....surprise.  It wasn't.
I saw things like..."pre-diabetic" and "cholesterol numbers that indicating in a "too high" category.
Time to reframe what I was thinking the discussion was going to be with Tasha!
Long story short....Tasha told me exactly what I needed to hear.
Simply put..."You need to take care of some of these problems.  Let's start with your A1C." (That's blood sugar talk --- new to my vocabulary!)
I seriously left there thinking "Well, my life is good foods to eat any more for me."
You know, the self-pity party kind of thinking.
A week later I met with the dietician (Sheila) and the diabetic educator (Kathy).
I can't say enough good things about these 2 ladies.  They filled me up with information that I needed in order to turn these numbers around!
So....that was 5 months ago.  How have I been doing?
Not too bad actually.  I decided I needed to make my health a priority.
I was more intentional about watching what kinds of food I was eating.  I followed the plan that Sheila gave me.  I also started walking EVERY day!  I discovered how much better I felt relatively fast actually!  And, my numbers started going down.  My clothes started fitting more comfortably.
I even have more energy.  LIFE IS GOOD!
Self-care makes me a better school counselor!  A better mom!  A better wife!
I show up to work feeling great!
So, how did I start my day today?
Rolled out of bed and headed to the wellness center in town for my walk on the treadmill.
(I really prefer outside but the temps and ice dictate where I walk!)
While I was walking I decided to listen to a youtube video about growth mindset that my friend Barbara Gruener presented last night in Texas.  Click on the link below to "attend" her presentation.

THANKS BARBARA for spending my workout time with me this morning!

Then it was home to get ready for school!
Here is my latest "diabetic friendly" breakfast pizza.
Here is the line-up:  Flatout, mozzarella cheese, veggies (green and red peppers, mushrooms, spinach) and 2 scrambled eggs!

Saute' veggies in olive oil sprayed pan.  Add the eggs.

Spread the mixture out on the flatout.

Top with mozzarella cheese. (I used sliced but shreddded works fine.)

I bake mine in a toaster oven on a copper pan.  No idea what this is called because I bought it on an auction but it allows the crust to get crispy.  Baked at 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes---not sure exactly---the time it takes for me to run to the shower and get dressed.

I like to let it cool while I do my hair (low maintenance girl!) so about 5 minutes.

Then slice it up and eat!  Yum!  I will be adding turkey breakfast sausage this weekend for added protein but didn't have any thawed out this morning.

This is how I take care of myself.  I get to work feeling ready to roll with the kiddos!  
Bottom line....if you aren't taking care of yourself, give it a try!
The people around you will thank you and you will feel great!

Monday, November 19, 2018

If you're happy and you know it!

I'm not sure if the part of my job I love most is going into the classrooms for lessons, but it sure rates right up there in the top 3!  I have mentioned before that we are implementing a new social-emotional learning curriculum this year, Sanford Harmony.  I can't say enough about the benefits our students are gaining from it!
This is one of those weeks where not every class will get a lesson because of a shortened week.  I decided to dig into the Quick Connection cards and find a couple of ideas that will help keep the kids connected!  First, we warmed up by singing "If You're Listening!"   It is similar to "If You're Happy and You Know It" but we changed it up with using our listening skills.  (In all honesty, I don't know of any teacher who would turn me down if I asked to do an extra activity on listening skills!) 

Here is the card giving the details of how to do this activity.  It is just one of MANY cards that come in the Quick Connections Cards box from my Harmony kit.

I went "off the cuff" coming up with things for them to do as we sang the song.  Shout out to Mr. B for being my videographer during our fun!

After we finished up with the listening song, we sat in a circle and did the Compliment Can activity.  
Again, see the card below with the description of this activity.

I loved hearing the kids come up with ways to compliment their classmates.  Here are a few of what was shared:

"You are a hard worker!"
"You are a caring person."
"You are always kind to others."
"You are funny!"
"You help others when they get hurt."
"You are fun to play football with."
"You are generous."

We finished our time by passing the Thumball around!  The kids L.O.V.E. these!  I think I have about 30 of them on different topics.  You can get them here.  Great discussion starter and way to get kids to share.

What a great way to start my workday!  Hanging out with kids and having fun!  
Best part, they were learning and connecting the whole time!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Coffee with the Counselor: Children's Mental Health 101

One of the most requested topics for school counselors is anything to do with mental health.  It seems to be the "hot topic" in many circles these days, which is why our November Coffee With the Counselor topic this week is:  Mental Health and Children.

Let's first just break down the barrier we all do not want to admit is there.  Mental health seems to have a stigma surrounding it.  This is very unfortunate.  Do we have a mental health crisis in America?  Great question.  Try Googling America's Mental Health crisis and you will get about 1.2 million results.  Yes...MILLION!  According to NBC News, American children's mental health is worrying experts, with one in five kids suffering from a diagnosable mental, emotional or behavioral disorder.  Let's break that down:  in a classroom of 20 kids, that could be 4.  
What exactly is mental health?
Here is the definition from The American Heritage Medical Dictionary:
When we hear people talk about mental health, it usually has negative vibes to it.  How often do you hear someone say,  "I am really taking care of my mental health."  We are more likely to hear someone say, "I am so stressed!  I can't hardly take it anymore!  I need a mental health day!"
Well, October 10, 2018 WAS World Mental Health Day!  Sorry if you missed it and needed it, which I think many people would say they would take it!

So, let's talk about our kiddos and their mental health.
Children can develop similar mental health conditions as adults, although their symptoms may look different.  Let's look at some of the warning signs which may indicate your child could have a mental health condition. (Source: Mayo Clinic)

Mood changes.  Look for feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last at least 2 weeks or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school.
Intense feelings.  Be aware of feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason--sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing--or worries or fears intense enough to interfere with daily activities.
Behavior changes.  These include drastic changes in behavior or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behavior.  Fighting frequently, using weapons and expressing a desire to badly hurt others also are warning signs.
Difficulty concentrating.  Look for signs of trouble focusing or sitting still, both of which might lead to poor performance in school.
Unexplained weight loss.  A sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting or use of laxatives might indicate an eating disorder.
Physical symptoms.  Compared with adults, children with a mental health condition might develop headaches and stomachaches rather than sadness or anxiety.
Physical harm.  Sometimes a mental health condition leads to self-injury, also called self-harm.  This is the act of deliberately harming your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself.  Children with a mental health condition also might develop suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide.
Substance abuse.  Some kids use drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their feelings.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, consult with your child's doctor.  It may be a good idea to write down dates and behaviors of what you are seeing to take along with you.  You may also want to talk to your child's teacher to see if they are seeing any concerns in behavior before you seeing the doctor to take that information along as well.

How does a child get diagnosed with a mental health condition?
The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has criteria which will help your child's doctor or mental health provider determine if there is a mental health condition to be concerned about.  Other factors considered can include a history of medical conditions or trauma.  Diagnosing a child with mental illness can be difficult depending on the child's age.  Younger children have difficulty expressing their feelings.  Also, what is considered normal development for children varies from child to child.

How is a child treated for a mental health condition?
Common treatments may include psychotherapy or medication.  Psychotherapy is known as talk therapy or behavior therapy.  This type of treatment the child will learn about their condition, moods, feelings, thoughts and behaviors.  The ultimate goal in psychotherapy is for the child to learn how to respond to challenging situations with healthy coping skills.

What are some of the more common mental health conditions?
Anxiety disorders.  Children with this condition experiences anxiety as a persistent problem that interferes with their daily activities.  These can include: obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobia and generalized anxiety disorder.
Just because your child worries from time to time, doesn't mean they have an anxiety disorder.  IF worry or stress makes it hard for a child to function normally, an anxiety disordered should be considered.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  A child with ADHD has symptoms which include difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.  A child may have all of these symptoms whereas another child may only have symptoms in one of these categories.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  This disorder will usually appear before age 3.  ASD is a serious developmental disorder with symptoms and severity ranging among children in their ability to communicate and interact with others.
Eating disorders.  Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder are serious conditions which can become life-threatening.  Children can become so preoccupied with food and weight that they focus on little else.
Mood disorders.  Examples of these disorders include depression and bipolar disorder.  Mood disorders can cause a child to persistently feel sadness or extreme mood swings, much more than normal mood swings common in many people.

I just shared A LOT of information regarding mental health.  First of all, don't start self-diagnosing yourself or your child.  Gather information.  Talk to your child's teacher or school counselor.  Talk to family members or caretakers for your child and see if they see any of the symptoms you may be seeing.  If you feel your child may be suffering from a mental health condition, talk to your family doctor.  They are a great resource for you and can refer you to mental health providers in your area.  Your child's school counselor can also be a resource for you.  School counselors are trained to help your child in the area of social-emotional learning.  They are also trained in knowing when to refer a child to a mental health provider.
We had a GREAT conversation this morning!  So grateful for those attending and willingness to share.  Oh my, how we can learn from each other.

Find more info on mental health here.

My next blog post will cover the ways to take care of our mental health.  Stay tuned!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Will you teach me that?!

My 6th-grade students were so excited to teach a person they had been randomly paired with something new.  The first part of the assignment was meeting with their partner and talking about what they could possibly teach each other, coming up with some skill they had that their partner didn't have.  I enjoyed hearing things such as, "That sounds cool!  I would like to learn how to do that!"  And so....the fun began.  Note the pictures below with some of the learning that took place.
 Card games seemed to be a popular choice.

 Learning how to braid hair!
 How to show a "stuffed" pig.
 Face painting with Ashley from ISU Extension and Outreach!
 Our superintendent Mr. Boer stopped by and showed a couple of magic tricks with a deck of cards! 
We sure didn't know he had that skill up his sleeve!
 Friendship bracelets.
 More card games!
 This pig got a real workout!
Making slime!
 A new game to learn!
 Cutting stone.
 How to make a snowflake from paper.
 Video games aren't the only thing we play!  Loved learning new card games.
Do we look like Ice Princesses?  Thanks for your creative work Macy!
 How to speak French!
Tap dancing!  Addy, can you get Aaron ready for Dancing With the Stars?

 Cole is the 'flossing' king!  I thought I was the only one who hadn't conquered that skill!
Marco teaching Alexis some Spanish.

 Sign language.
 Friends painting each other!
Lego kits.

I think we should do this more often.  I really saw the kdis connecting with each other.  This was one of our Harmony lessons which teach Social-Emotional Learning.  I had made the rule that they couldn't use a computer or any type of electronic device.  It seems they discovered that they have so many other ways to have fun and share their skills.  WAY TO CONNECT KIDS!

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!