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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Reflections of a First Year Counselor (Day 1 of Self-Care Challenge)

I'm taking part in Counselor Keri's School Counselor Self-Care Challenge. Each day, I'll do the "challenge" she included on her Self-Care Challenge Calendar. Today's challenge is reflecting on what went well this year. Overall, I am proud of how I performed as a first year counselor. I feel good about how I started to develop my school counseling program. I came up with checklists for creating 504s, parent and teacher input forms for 504 plans, etc. I did my first needs assessment, offered six of the seven groups I hoped to offer, and provided about 6 class lessons to each grade. I was pretty good about staying organized and managing my time. However, as a part-time counselor, a lot of times I was forced to do work from home for an additional 10-20 hours. I was good about prioritizing my time (Habit 3- Putting First Things First), but I wasn't willing to let certain things go, so I came home and worked to get everything done. That prevented me from Sharpening the Saw (Habit 7) or taking time for myself. In the future, I need to set some boundaries so I have more balance in my life.

1) Counselor Connection Emails:
       In late September, I started to send out weekly Counselor Connection emails to have teachers sign up for lessons and groups. I felt annoying sending out emails multiple times a week. A weekly email newsletter enabled me to have my contact information and brochure, individual counseling reminders, group sign-ups, class lesson sign-ups, surveys, current group times, important dates, and announcements all in one place. Toward the end of the year, I also started sending out tips and articles. About half the staff liked receiving the emails because it was convenient. I liked informing people about what I was doing and used it as an accountability tool. Habits involved: #1 Be Proactive, #4 Think Win-Win, and #5 Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.

2) Staff Shout Outs: 
      In February around school counselor week, I started sending out Staff Shout Outs as part of the Counselor Connection email to encourage staff to refer students to me, consult with me about behavior concerns, etc. Whenever a staff member contacted me about a student, signed them up for a group, raised a concern to me, etc. I included their name and a brief description in my weekly Staff Shout Outs. Teachers liked getting shout outs as a morale booster and it felt good "fill their buckets." I do think receiving shout outs encouraged some staff members to come to me more often about their students. It helped me establish rapport with the staff. Habits involved: #4 Think Win-Win and #5 Seek First to Understand. 

3) Study Skills Jeopardy:
      For my April second grade lesson, I read Julia Cook's Study Skilled... NOT!!! In order to practice what we learned in the book, we played Study Skills Jeopardy. I created the Jeopardy game using Jeopardy Labs and based questions off the story. I made my own "Final Jeopardy" Question. Students were broken up into teams of two. The kids had a great time playing the game. I gave them a hand-out of the answers at the end of the lesson in order to take it home and put what they learned into practice. It was one of my favorite lessons and definitely one of my favorite resources that I created. Habits involved: #1 Be Proactive and #6 Synergize. 

4) Observation Reports:
       As a school counselor, I conducted semi-structured observations, on/off-task observations, and Functional Behavior Assessments (FBAs). Semi-structured observations consisted of a sheet asking me about what was occurring in the classroom, additional supports, and student behavior. On/off-task observations consist of two rows of 20 blocks each. You observe a student for 20 minutes and record their behavior every 30 seconds. Functional Behavior Assessments enable you to look at up to three target behaviors. Over 10 consecutive school days, you record antecedent, behavior, and consequences in addition to the student's reaction. This allows you to make a hypothesis about why the student's behavior is occurring and teach a replacement behavior. It also allows you to make a positive behavior support plan/ chart.  All of these observations won't make much sense to someone who isn't trained in education. I decided to start writing observation reports to explain the results of my observations in a way that would make sense to parents. Teachers and admin always said that my observation reports were extremely thorough and accurate. Parents often commented that they felt like I was describing their kids perfectly. Habits involved: #5 Seek First to Understand. 

5) Advocacy:
       This year I put a lot of energy into advocacy. When I was younger, I was misunderstood by teachers. I spoke my opinion freely and my opinion was usually (and continues to be) unpopular. I strongly believe in right and wrong, which is why my opinion can be unpopular among certain people. I stood up for myself and my rights, I dressed different from my peers. I was unique and proud of it. While how I dress may have changed (but is still my own style), the opinionated advocate side of me has not changed. I remember feeling alone in school. Only a few teachers stuck up for me or were nice to me. These teachers would have been my champions according to Rita Pierson. I have a mix of a protector and helper personality. I wanted to be the champion for my students. I had lots of difficult conversations on behalf of my students. I had to say things that sometimes people didn't like to hear, but I did what I had to advocate for my students. My philosophy is to treat students as if they were my own child. I'm in their corner and I want to do whatever I can to help them access the curriculum. I'll do whatever I can to help each student that comes my way. Habits involved: #4 Think Win-Win, #5 Seek First to Understand, and #6 Synergize.

Bonus: Legal and Ethical Practice
       I had the opportunity while at Lehigh to take a Professional Seminar focusing on legal and ethical practices of the profession. I read Carolyn Stone's School Counseling Principles: Ethics and Law (3rd Edition). I appreciated learning about ethics when I was able to apply what I learned during practicum and internship. However, I really came to appreciate what I learned when I became the school counselor. Having a background in law and ethics of school counseling helped me tremendously with advocating for my students. I'm not a 'do the bare minimum/ just enough to get by' kind of person. I followed best practices, which I learned about in my training at Lehigh. I never realized how much I would need this knowledge on the job until I was on the job. I will be forever grateful for the training I received at Lehigh and I look forward to learning more on this topic. Habits involved: #1 Be Proactive, and #4 Think Win-Win. 

So there you have it. These are my five things (and one bonus) that went well this school year. Looking forward to day 2 of the self-care challenge!

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