How School Counselors Can Prepare for Hybrid Learning

Hi fellow counselors!! I’m back at school in a new routine with hybrid learning and taking each day at a time. I wanted to share some of the things I’ve been using with my students as we navigate uncharted waters of socially-distanced classrooms and virtual learning.

My county has adopted a hybrid learning schedule, with students attending in-person (face-to-face) two days a week with three days of virtual learning at home. Some students, including PreK and Kindergarten, attend 4 days a week. We just finished a month of workdays (in addition to summer training) to prepare.

First I prepped my virtual resources, knowing that no matter what happens with our schedule this year, we’ll definitely have distance learners. Just like the spring and summer, I created choice boards for my students at home. You can find 3 of my Social Emotional Choice Boards over in my TPT store, Counselor Station. We are using a few different virtual learning platforms where we can share lessons with our students.

I finally joined the Bitmoji Craze and created a few Bitmoji virtual offices for students to explore. THIS IS NOT SOMETHING YOU SHOULD FEEL PRESSURED TO DO! In fact, I resisted all summer. But then my team was making them, and it was so much simpler than I expected, and gave me a creative outlet during the workdays. I printed the image of my virtual office and added a QR code for students, faculty, and parents to scan if they’re in my office, for quick access at home. I’m also sharing simple monthly activities online. My specialists team is working collaboratively to create fun, engaging activities for our online learners, as well as Google Forms so they can contact me.

For my in-person classroom lessons, I am teaching my Meet the Counselor lesson, where I do icebreakers, an introduction, “I Wish My School Counselor Knew” prompts, and sharing my classroom rules (this year I added masks and face shields to the “Dot Dudes!”). We’ve been doing a “What’s the Feeling Behind the Mask?” Google Slides activity and some other “meet the counselor” activities. With much fewer lessons this year, I’m being super intentional with the lessons I select this year, adhering to ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors Standards in each lesson.

Two things that are keeping me sane during all this: finding my people at work, and having a sense of humor about these circumstances. With so much changing and so much out of our control, it would be easy to feel completely overwhelmed (and that’s completely okay and totally understandable, too!). But it’s also nice to have something to look forward to each day, and having some colleagues you can confide in and laugh with are invaluable. I’m not one to ask a lot of questions, but I’ve found myself being more vulnerable to ask for help from colleagues or ask how to do things I’ve never done before, technology-wise. Just this week, I learned how to open an incognito window (Control-Shift-n on a PC!) so that I don’t have to bring my Chromebook or thumbdrive to classes when I push-in for classroom counseling lessons. With all the new technology, it seems impossible to stay on top of it all, so asking questions is a huge time-saver! It has also helped me make connections with other colleagues as I share what I know.

To break up my workday, I’ve been intentional about getting outside and getting my heart rate up by walking with colleagues during lunch. How are you taking care of yourself? I’m posting more self-care ideas over on my Instagram @CounselorStation beginning next week if you want to follow along and share your own self-care ideas!

However you’re returning to school, I wish you lots of flexibility and patience! Let’s do this!

Ashley

10 Ways to Help a Student with Separation Anxiety

You know the situation. A crying student is clinging to a parent in the office or hallway, unwilling to let go, and the parent is soothing the child and lingering, sometimes offering to walk the child to the classroom. Elementary-age students often struggle with separations after long breaks from school, including weekends, winter break, spring break, and summer break. It’s not uncommon for your newest students to struggle with coming to the school for the first time. Today I’m breaking down tips for helping your student come to school with a positive attitude, ready to participate. At the end of this post, you’ll find a FREEBIE handout to give to parents and caregivers!

  1. Be proactive before Day 1. For your new students, encourage families to familiarize themselves with you, the school building, and new routines. Reach out to families before the first day of school, and arrange a time for students to visit the classroom and find their cubby, table, or desk ahead of time. Open Houses and Back to School Nights are perfect times to ease little ones; nerves. (Check out how I prep for Open Houses here: How School Counselors Can Prepare for Open Houses and Back to School Nights). If an in-person visit isn’t feasible, consider sending home a kindergarten welcome letter or tuck it into your school’s kindergarten orientation packets.
  2. Suggest a goodbye ritual to repeat each day. The parent might have a specific thing they say to their child each day, and saying it is a cue they are leaving. It could be something as simple as “I love you, I’m proud of you, and I know you’ll have a great day.” It could also be a physical goodbye ritual, such as a kiss on the hand or cheek. I always suggest the book The Kissing Hand* to parents to read at home with their child, which offers the idea of holding a parent’s kiss in the palm of your hand throughout the school day.
  3. Encourage the parent to make a quick exit. As hard or awkward as it might be to suggest, insist the goodbyes happen quickly at the car or office and not near the classroom. From what I’ve experienced, the closer the parent gets to the classroom, the harder the separation will be, and then it’s disruptive to other students and the morning routine. Encourage the parent to make a quick exit, but not sneak away. They need to say goodbye so the child doesn’t feel tricked or betrayed. This will help develop trust for the next day’s transition. Be direct, say goodbye, have a goodbye ritual, and then go. Don’t linger or watch through window.
  4. Focus conversation on the school day ahead, not on the parent leaving. If the child is in the main office or sidewalk and hasn’t made it to the classroom, distract him/her by telling them about the day’s schedule. Ask for a lunch choice selection, or offer another choice about whether they’d like to carry their own backpack or have you carry it. You can also try asking them to help you in some way, such as “we need to take a note to your teacher, let’s go take it to him.” Talk to them about recess and or an interesting class that day, and ask the child to show you his/her desk or cubby.
  5. Allow the child to carry a transition object. Offer to let the child bring a transition object to school, such as a stuffed animal, small blanket, or photo. Allow them to carry it and then tuck it into their cubby or backpack for safekeeping during the school day. You might want to talk to the parent about this ahead of time, so they can help the child choose an appropriate object (maybe not the most special thing, but something that would be okay if it were lost or damaged at school). Spell out the rules for keeping the object in a backpack or desk during the day.
  6. Establish a morning routine in the classroom. Knowing what to do when they arrive in the classroom will ease the transition into the school day. The teacher will have already done this, so the child should know the routine. In most cases, once the day gets started, they’ll be busy and happily distracted. Sometimes it may help to contact the parent later (when the child is not without earshot) to reassure him/her their child had a great morning after all. Along these lines, stress the importance of arriving to school on time. Once the day has started, the transition will be that much more difficult.
  7. Provide the child with a sense of ownership in the classroom. Assign a simple daily task where the student can be in charge, such as watering a plant, drying the sink, and making sure tissues and hand sanitizer are plentiful. (Avoid jobs like checking the weather if looking out the window at a parking lot and spotting their parent would trigger another meltdown!)
  8. Involve peers. Be strategic about where the student is seated, putting him/her by a friend, or a peer he/she is comfortable around. Say, “I bet (friend’s name) is waiting to play with you this morning! She’ll be so excited to see you!” Encourage the friend to greet the student.
  9. Involve another staff member. In more difficult situations, you may want to designate a few people (other than the classroom teacher) who might be available to meet the student at dropoff and walk him/her inside. Seeing this consistent face will help, and you also want to have a backup in case the designated staff member is not available. Also look into whether riding the bus would be an option so that the goodbyes happen sooner and the child gets in the mindset of school once on the bus.
  10. Consider the reason behind the separation anxiety. If there is a history of trauma, such as family illness or parent incarceration, attachment disorders or other factors, take those into consideration and work with the family to connect them with resources, which could include a referral for outside counseling or inclusion in a small group or individual counseling. It’s helpful to have a list of local resources you can use to refer families, as well as a list of helpful books. The three I suggest that specifically address separation are The Kissing Hand, The Invisible String, and What to Do When You Don’t Want to Be Apart. If the child is complaining of physical symptoms of anxiety and medical reasons have been ruled out, help to teach the child how to recognize feelings of worry in their body and offer coping strategies for dealing with those feelings.

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
What to You Don’t Want to Be Apart: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Separation Anxiety

What are the tricks you keep up your sleeves for students experiencing separation anxiety? Share them with us in the comments below!

I hope you have a wonderful year! You can download my FREE Separation Anxiety Parent/Caregiver Handout for your students and families here!

Let’s do this!

Ashley

*Amazon affiliate link

My School Counselor Professional Development Summer Lineup

I always start my summer with high expectations, even though summer always seems to slip away like sand between my fingers. I’ll be spending almost all of my time with my three small boys, ages seven and younger. We are in the thick of puppy training and potty-training, and I know our days will look a lot like they have during quarantine. And I plan to soak up every minute of it. But without the added layer of distance learning, I’m also hoping to slowly chip away at my professional development goals during their quiet time each day.

This summer offers fantastic opportunities for taking advantage of discounted conference pricing, as many conferences are being offered virtually. Here are a few awesome upcoming conference and online learning opportunities:

  1. June 9, 2020: ASCA webinar – Pop-Up Webinar: Address Students’ Race-Based Stress and Trauma
  2. June 29-July 2, 2020: ASCA Conference: ASCA @ Home virtual conference
  3. July 6-10, 2020: TPT Forward conference (for TPT authors)
  4. July 17-18, 2020: e2e Teacher Summer Reboot Conference
  5. I’ve taken advantage of the discounted rates for many of the ASCA-U Specialist Trainings and have worked my way through most of them, including: 
    • Trauma and Crisis Management Specialist
    • Grief and Loss Specialist
    • Cultural Competency Specialist
    • Anxiety & Stress Management Specialist

I’ve been reading a lot of good novels lately, but I also want to read professional development books. Have you seen the book studies being offered in some of the school counseling Facebook groups? The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma* is starting up in the Elementary School Counselor Exchange group. I’m also planning to work through the books I started during the school year, some of which were for book studies my school had planned for spring before school closures happened:

  1. Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitve Classroom by Kristin Souers
  2. Responsive Classroom for Music Art PE and Other Special Areas
  3. The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language that Helps Children Learn by Paula Denton, Ed.D. 
  4. Counseling Toward Solutions: A Practical Solution-Focused Program for Working with Students, Teachers, and Parents by Linda Metcalf

I also recognize I need grow personally by reading more books related to social injustice and antiracism. Several years ago I read the novel Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, which really started opening my eyes. Here are a few more titles I’m picking up this week:

  1. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
  2. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Journals are also great resources for staying up-to-date on current trends and issues related to counseling. If you are a member of a professional counseling organization, you’ll usually receive literature with current issues. I’ll be reading the Virginia Counselors Journal as well as any I receive from ASCA.

I’m also soooo excited about launching my first children’s book, Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle! It has truly been a dream of mine since second grade. I just received a contract on a second book after submitting the manuscript, so I’ll have another project to focus on even as we launch my first book baby!

Do you have any plans or goals for professional development over the summer?

*Amazon Afflilate links used

Returning to School After Extended School Closures

Even more than ever, schools will be focusing on social and emotional learning (SEL) in returning to school after this extended closure due to COVID-19. So many students have been without structure or consistency for the last nine weeks, and we still have a long way to go. School counselors and teachers will be looking to model or reteach self-regulation skills, problem-solving skills, and social skills. I am guest-posting over at Bright Futures Counseling today with “4 Ways Elementary School Counselors Can Empower Students to Solve Problems.” Our programs are already designed to reach students through individual counseling, small group counseling, classroom guidance, and collaboration, and we can use those outlets for focusing on SEL. In the post, I elaborate on how I use each of these elements of my program to begin to equip students with the tools they need to solve problems. I hope you’ll join me and Rachel over on her blog to check out the post! You can find it here: https://brightfutures-counseling.com/blog/4-ways-elementary-school-counselors-can-empower-students-to-solve-problems.

Is your district creating a school reentry plan? I’ve been reading through idea posts in my various counselor groups, and I’d encourage you to join us on Facebook at Elementary School Counselor Exchange or “CoVID School Re-entry Think Tank” to join these conversations. Feel free to share ideas in the comments below!

5 Ways to Minimize Tattling in the Classroom

I don’t know about you, but now that I’m quarantined at home with my three little boys, I hear their nonstop play-by-plays of each other’s behaviors. Overhead during lunch today: “Moooom, he poured too much ranch on his plate.” “He’s just taking bites and spitting them into the trash.” “Mom, the flower pot is dripping onto the floor.” “The dog just made a mess beside his water bowl!”

Sure, some of these need my immediate attention. (And a roll of paper towels.) But to some of the others, I just want to say, “Whyyyy?” I’ve rounded up some of most effective strategies I’ve used with my students to discourage tattling behavior.

  1. Show students how to discern the size of the problem. When I’m teaching the different between tattling and reporting to my students, I often talk about the “size of the problem” and the “size of the reaction,” and that the two should match. When I refer to a small problem, I emphasize that “small” does not mean “not important.” I use the word “small” simply to mean the student should be able to handle it on his/her own– or at least try. A “big” problem would require the help of a trusted adult. Ask students to try to come up with their own examples of small problems and big problems! For older students, you could even add in a “medium-sized problem” category for problems that are not dangerous, but require immediate attention, such as a spill or losing a tooth. What other situations could be considered “medium-sized” problems? We do the same with discussion reaction size, and what a small reaction looks like, versus a big reaction. We talk about times when we’d need to have a small reaction by letting it go or dealing with it ourselves, and when we’d need a big reaction, especially during an emergency.
  2. Model strategies for solving small problems. I teach and model how to solve small problems using role plays, scoot games, and my favorite, the Kelso’s Choice wheel. Encourage them to try to solve small problems on their own first, before going to an adult. Give them language to use to share how they are feeling with the other person using “I statements.”
  3. Provide examples through storytelling. One of the best ways to model social skills is through storytelling. Susie Allison of @BusyToddler posted an infographic on 5.8.20 highlighting reasons to read to a child, including “Encourages social-emotional skills” and “Builds background knowledge.” Young children tattle for so many reasons, including to show the teacher they know the rules, and through story they can begin to understand that the adult does not need to know of every minor infraction. This is the premise behind the book, Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle.* It includes helpful tips for parents and educators. Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle also has five companion lessons that will be available on the Boys Town Press website soon!
  4. Talk through example scenarios. Get them moving! I love a good movement-based activity, and so do my students! This classroom scoot activity gets students up and moving around, responding to 30 different “Tattle or report?” scenarios. Afterward, we discuss our answers and when we disagree in our responses, we talk about extraneous circumstances that could be “exceptions” to the rules. Encourage students to come up with their own examples!
  5. Help children understand the difference between tattling and reporting/telling. Give examples of situations where students would need to report a large problem, such as when someone is hurt or in danger, to a trusted adult. Help them identify trusted adults at home and at school who would be able to listen and help. Encourage them that if the adult does not listen to a big problem, such as bullying, to keep telling other trusted adults until action is taken. Remind students to ask themselves, “Are you trying to get a classmate IN trouble or to help them to get OUT of trouble?”

How to do you address tattling in your classroom? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below! Be sure to check out Counselor Station’s “Social Skills and Tattling” board on Pinterest for more ideas and resources related to tattling.

New title releasing July 14, 2020 through Boys Town Press!
Engage students with this fun movement-based scoot activity!

*affiliate link to support the blog!

Counseling Lessons: 8 Tips for Traveling to Classrooms

In 14 years of teaching classroom counseling lessons, I’ve had every combination of circumstances: splitting grade levels, sharing grade levels, teaching in the specials rotation, teaching out of the specials rotation, teaching in my own classroom, and traveling to classrooms to teach. I’ve put together 8 ways you can make the most out of traveling to your students’ classrooms if you do not have one of your own!

THE POSITIVES OF TRAVELING

  • Students are already in their own classroom. For many, it’s a safe place where they feel comfortable. 
  • Students have their desks, cubbies, or lockers nearby and have access to their own school supplies, which minimizes what you need to carry into the room. 
  • Teachers have most likely already seated students strategically to minimize disruptions or conflict and maximize positive relationship-building.
  • The classroom teacher might be in and out of the room and may catch parts, if not all, of your lesson to be able to reiterate with the students at a later time.

POTENTIAL CHALLENGES OF TRAVELING

  • Each classroom has a different setup to learn and may even have different technology to navigate. 
  • Sometimes younger students are confused and will ask, “Where is my teacher? Why can’t I eat my snack right now?” 
  • If students have desks, they are tempted to pull out a book or other supplies and then fidget with them. 
  • You are still reliant on the teacher to return so you can get to your next class/appointment. 

TIPS FOR MAKING THE MOST OUT OF TRAVELING

Set your own rules and expectations from Day 1 and remind your students frequently.
  1. ESTABLISH YOUR OWN RULES AND EXPECTATIONS

I find that students sometimes have a hard time separating classroom time from “specials” time when I am in their room. To avoid confusion, set your own rules and expectations from Day 1 and remind your students frequently. I bring this set of colorful classroom rules posters on the first day of class and allow students to vote on their top three rules. I write their three choices on the top of my attendance roster and remind them of their classroom expectations for each other each time I visit. They love having ownership over their rules! I usually add, “If you don’t bring it with you to your other specials classes, such as PE, Library, Music, Art, or Computer, don’t take it out during our time together, either.”

  1. CARRY CLASS ROSTERS AND TAKE ATTENDANCE

I carry a class roster with all medical notes and accommodations on my clipboard and take attendance for each class. Even if the teacher tells me who is absent or elsewhere, I make a point to take attendance. This helps me learn names, track attendance for report cards and emergencies, and make connections with my students. I usually ask a “Question of the Day” for students to answer when I call their names for roll.

  1. TRAVEL WITH EXTRA ACTIVITIES

Bring extra activities in case you finish early or the technology in the classroom doesn’t work. Keep a small ball in your bag, like a thumbball or Koosh ball* for simple energizers such as Name Juggling. I have had times where the power went out or the technology was unavailable/not working and I had to improvise. I usually bring a storybook related to the lesson for if we have extra time. Movement activities to recap your lesson are also great ways to fill time! The teachers always appreciate when I return their students back in a calm state, so I keep a ring of laminated mindful moment cards to open and close our time together. (I got mine from Counselor Keri.)

  1. FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH EACH ROOM’S EMERGENCY PROCEDURES

Learn crisis procedures: how to do all drills in that room, locate evacuation routes, and carry class lists with you (there are apps for this). Along these lines, leave this information any time you have a substitute teaching your class. Keep emergency sub plans updated with a map or list of room numbers and emergency procedures.

  1. FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH THE CLASSROOM’S TECHNOLOGY

Travel with your Chromebook or jumpdrive for quickly accessing your files. If you can, email teachers in advance if you’re going to be using their computers/presenters — as a courtesy.

  1. TRANSPORTING MATERIALS

Carry your materials in a roller case, shoulder bag, or even the cardboard lid from a ream of paper box as a makeshift desk. I loved my IKEA 3-tiered cart (similar available at Michaels and Amazon*), which I used at a pod school, but now that I’m in a two-story building, I try to avoid relying on the elevator. I stick with a tote bag, roller case, or paper box lid, depending on how much I need to tote for each lesson.

Ready for a 1st grade classroom counseling lesson!
  1. WEAR COMFY SHOES!

Wear comfortable shoes for walking all over the school, especially if your classes are back-to-back! For ladies’ shoes, I love my Rothy’s (save $20 with my referral link here!). Side note – I also love my bronze Tieks, but my feet are completely flat and my Rothy’s accommodate for my custom orthotics so my lower back doesn’t ache all day! (Gentlemen — feel free to weigh in with your comfy shoe suggestions in the comments below!)

  1. MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!

Get students up and out of their seats, especially since they aren’t traveling for their specials time. Invest in a small portable bluetooth speaker* for music, an instant energizer. I bring a class set of 30 colorful rubber spots and we do all kinds of games with music and movement.

Music is an instant energizer!*

With these tips, you can make the most out of traveling to classrooms and may even prefer it to having your own space! I love being able to see students in their everyday classroom environment, and I’m able to interact so much more with the teachers by coming to their rooms. Have you traveled to classrooms? What suggestions would you add to this list?

*Counselor Station is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.Thank you for supporting the blog!

Six Fall-Themed Activities for Elementary School Counselors

Happy October! October is by far my favorite month, but also my busiest, both at home and school! From family programs, to community partnerships, Red Ribbon Week, schoolwide programs and assemblies, fundraisers, and preparing for holiday assistance programs, my co-counselor and I stay busy! Can I just add how grateful I am for our local coffee truck that parks right outside of our building with delicious pumpkin roll lattes a few times a month? Here are some of my favorite fall-themed counseling ideas to save you some time and give you some inspiration!

PUMPKIN PATCH FALL-THEMED ACTIVITIES

  1. By now, I’m sure you and your teachers have started to identify students who may need some extra support with friendship skills. Check out my fun pumpkin-themed Pumpkin Patch Friendship lesson for use in classroom instruction, small groups, or even individual sessions. 
  2. Introduce a Pumpkin Patch Breathing Board for a fun, mindful breathing exercise to open and close your classroom lessons and counseling sessions this fall!

PEER PRESSURE AND HEALTHY CHOICES

  • 3. Red Ribbon Week is coming up Oct. 23-31, and I recently wrote a blog post about how I teach “Peer Pressure and Healthy Choices” concepts to my 5th graders using my Peer Pressure and Healthy Choices lesson and a the generosity of a few community partnerships. This year I’m passing out bracelets, pencils, and bookmarks as my flash prizes throughout the lesson.

FAMILY EVENTS

  • 4. It’s also book fair season, which we pair with Donuts with Grownups and other breakfast events — such fun, easy ways to encourage family involvement in your school! I have so many editable flyers for all sorts of creative breakfast events!

NATIONAL BULLYING PREVENTION MONTH

  • 5. National Bullying Prevention Month coincides with a unit I teach 5th grade using Trudy Ludwig’s books, “My Secret Bully” and “Confessions of a Former Bully.” I love how Trudy provides 8 responses beyond simply “just ignore it,” and I’ve created a fun Response to Bullying Scoot Game to practice similar phrases. 

ATTENDANCE

As always, thank you so much for supporting Counselor Station. Feel free to check out more ideas and posts here on my blog, Counselor Station, and on social media (Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest).

Happy fall, friends!

Peer Pressure and Healthy Choices Red-Ribbon-Week-Inspired Lesson for School Counselors

Confession: I do not implement a school-wide Red Ribbon Week event. Instead, I teach classroom lessons about making healthy choices around that same week in October. (This year, it is October 23-31, 2019). My “Peer Pressure and Healthy Choices” classroom lesson is one of my favorites to teach in the upper elementary grades, because it involves movement, unique partner and group pairings, and prizes. Spoiler: The students love it, too! We talk about peer pressure and discuss the difference between positive and negative peer pressure. The students take away tangible items to remind them of their pledge to make healthy choices, and they create a goal of a healthy choice or habit they would like to develop or maintain. I also love that it ties in closely with October Halloween themes by using spiders, spiderwebs, and trolls. Check out my upper grades Red Ribbon Week lesson here!

For prizes, I print colorful bookmarks and pencil toppers for the students (included in the lesson download), but I also collaborate with our local high school and Office on Youth to provide tangible Red Ribbon Week prizes for some of the “flash giveaways” I do throughout the lesson to keep students on their toes. We distribute red ribbons, bookmarks, pencils, and stickers from the high school. Because I only distributed the items to my upper grade students (3rd, 4th, and 5th graders), I was able to make the prizes last for several years.  

Substitutes: In a pinch, this is also a great lesson to leave for a substitute! It is very scripted, does not involve technology, and the students stay engaged for the entire 45 minutes! My maternity leave sub left very positive feedback about this lesson when she filled in for me during maternity leave!

What do you do to recognize Red Ribbon Week at your school? Share your ideas in the comments below!

12 School-Family-Community Partnership Ideas for Elementary School Counselors

School counselors have so many responsibilities on our plates, and one thing I know for certain is that we cannot do this work alone. I’m grateful my graduate school program emphasized the importance of school-family-community partnerships, because they have truly become the backbone of my program. I’ve compiled a list of a dozen types of partnerships I’ve created over the last 12 years, some within my school community, and others in our larger communities and beyond. Each quarter, I include a list of the partnerships I’ve created recently in my school counselor newsletter (template here!).

  1. PTO/PTA: Reach out to your school’s parent-teacher organizations for additional support and even potential funding for your programs. Ask the PTO president or faculty representative when they will have their annual budget meeting, and submit a small grant or proposal (or ask for a few minutes of their time). In the past, I successfully wrote a grant for my own SmartBoard! This year, I wrote a small proposal for hygiene items for 5th grade girls. The PTO is also a wonderful place to recruit parent volunteers – I had several volunteers who managed my clothes closet and school supply closet, keeping things organized and with an inventory with what we did/didn’t need, which was helpful when organizations called about donations. (Just make sure you follow your school’s procedures for proper sign-in and background checks).
  2. Local chapters of professional counselor organizations: Seek out local chapters of your district, regional, or statewide professional counseling organizations. Many provide networking events, socials, and professional development opportunities throughout the year, which will keep you sharp and put you in contact with other professionals and resources in your specific area.
  3. Foster care organizations: Reach out to your local foster care support groups for ways you can collaborate and support them, which in turn, will support the students and families at your school and in your community. We collected backpacks for our local foster care organization to make “Journey bags” for children during new placements, to replace the trash bags they were previously given to collect their personal belongings.
  4. Career Day: Planning a Career Day at your school is a great time to make connections with your students’ families and local organizations. Our Career Day committee reaches out early in the year and gives a “Save the Date” gift to presenters each year to ensure they have next year’s Career Day on their calendar.
  5. Resource fair: Collaborate with local agencies and host a resource fair for school counselors in your district on a workday. Invite representatives from organizations who can bring literature and information about their community programs. This event is great to learn more about the resources available in your community, which then helps when you need to refer families to community supports. We’ve invited therapy dog training programs, grief counselors, incarceration camp directors, energy assistance programs, warm shelters, our local Community Services Board, and dozens of other agencies who support children and their families and caregivers. Some local organizations are able to provide more intensive support than you may be able to provide, so it’s a win-win to refer families to their resources and services. (Make sure you follow your district’s guidelines for distributing literature to your families — we have a disclaimer statement that our school system does not support or endorse the organizations in addition to a list of guidelines for distribution.)
  6. Organizations supporting families: Partner with a local agencies who support your families, for example, local programs supporting families who have a child with cancer. They provide information, gas money, local connections, and more. We’ve raised money for pediatric cancer research and even worked with organizations including Monkey in My Chair (with permission from the families). Plan a schoolwide 5k to provide further support and raise awareness for these organizations.
  7. Local and national businesses: Each year, my school has an allotment from a large corporation to provide students with much-needed hygiene items, including deodorant and feminine hygiene products. Pay attention to program deadlines and how to get your school on the list. Many places require ordering supplies nearly a year in advance for delivery the following school year.
  8. After-school enrichment opportunities: Local organizations such as Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Girls on the Run are a fun way to bring extracurricular activities to your students. Grab a few colleagues to help sponsor or coach alongside you, and advertise the opportunity to your school community. Don’t be afraid to pioneer a new program — I was the first to bring Girls on the Run to my school district, and now we have teams all over the county! Is there an organization or hobby you love? Think about how you can use it to connect with your students! (I love running, so GOTR was a great outlet for me!) Too busy to stay after yourself? Recruit parent volunteers to teach after-school classes, such as origami or cooking, and help support their efforts!
  9. Local Religious Organizations: I am often approached by local churches asking how they can best support our students. I keep a running list of school supplies we need, as well as those we don’t need! Do you have notebook paper coming out of your ears, but no zipper binders? Be honest and gracious. When churches call ahead, I can help give direction for meaningful ways they can serve.
  10. Local camps and universities: Parents are always asking about summer activities for their children, and chances are, your community may also offer camps for specific needs. I spent many summers volunteering at a local grief camp for children who have lost a family member, and now I feel confident in referring my students there, knowing they are in good hands in a wonderful program. Other camps may include a camp for children with incarcerated parents or a grief camp weekend at a nearby university. Keep an eye out for camps that provide scholarships or payment options. 
  11. Holiday Assistance: Collaborate with community resources to provide holiday assistance to deserving families. Some families may need extra assistance in the winter, including winter coats and warm clothes, energy assistance, or gifts for children. We collaborate with a local network of churches and teachers to provide assistance, and we begin the process as early as October!
  12. Local Agencies Supporting Schools: Check with your local Office on Youth, United Way, Salvation Army, and other resources for a list of programs and services they provide. We are fortunate to receive family education programming through our Office on Youth, including parenting classes and support groups, we receive “Stuff the Bus” supplies from The United Way, and holiday assistance from our Salvation Army. The Office on Youth also teaches Family Life Education as part of their programming.

School-family-community partnerships can really take your program to the next level and introduce you to people and services you may not have met or known about otherwise. You may even have several in place that you don’t even have to think about, because your collaboration is so automatic! Do you have that parent volunteer who is always willing to help? A local author who would love a chance to share at an assembly? Grad students looking for meaningful internship placements? Opportunities are all over the place, and by reaching out, you strengthen the fabric of not your own school community, but the surrounding community as well.

How Schools Can Streamline Afternoon Carpool Lines

If your family is anything like mine, afternoons are nothing short of chaotic. We are constantly on the go, picking up our kids from daycare, preschool, and elementary school, feeding them (my crew is ALWAYS ready for a snack), and getting them to their next activities before homework, dinner, baths, and bedtime. I know the families in our school carpool line also have places to be. Unless I have a meeting, I wrap up my workday as efficiently as possible to maximize family time.

This was the impetus for streamlining our carpool line pickup procedure at school. With the exception of my very first year as a school counselor, I have always been a part of the afternoon dismissal process, and I am always looking for ways to shave minutes off the process. We load anywhere from 75-100 vehicles per day, many with multiple children.

The backstory: Years ago, I wrote a proposal of ideas for streamlining this entire pickup process that also tightened up on safety measures. It had 2 columns; the current problems on the left, my proposed fixes on the right. My administration laughed and told me, “Clearly you don’t have any kids, you have too much time on your hands!” I was a little taken aback, and hurt, and a million other things, but I’m proud to say that eventually, my ideas were ALL adopted and last year at my new school, we took them a step further.

I went from juggling a clipboard, a pen, and a walkie-talkie — and, on many days, an umbrella– to simply holding my Smartphone. I rarely reach for my walkie anymore.

We created a digital carpool line log. To put it simply: Each vehicle is issued a numbered hangtag. I walk the car line, typing the vehicle hangtag numbers into my phone on a Google Sheet. As soon as I hit “Return” after each number, the student’s name automatically populates in the column next to the number. The car rider team inside with the students receive this information real-time, quickly line up those students in the order of the numbers, and Safety Patrols walk them outside, in order, to our curbside “valet” service, where more car duty team members are waiting to load them into vehicles, 3-5 vehicles at a time.

The technical stuff: This digital car rider duty log requires at least 2 Smartphones or computers/iPads to access Google Sheets using Wifi or data during car duty. This is intended for use in schools that issue numbered hangtags to vehicles picking up students. Use this log to streamline the entire pickup line process. This log ensures that students will be lined up and ready in the order of the carline.

THE BEST PART! Simply type the vehicle hangtag number, and the names of the students assigned to that hangtag automatically populate in the next column! If needed, click the checkbox for who is picking up the child (mom/dad/gma/gpa/other), or type in the adult’s name. If a car does not have a hangtag, just type that student’s name in the field after verifying the adult picking up.

This log also provides a digital record of all car riders for each day of the year. The directions pages include instructions on how to flag a student if there is an emergency alert (no pickup allowed by certain people), how to add daycare van pickups without hangtag numbers, and how to save a copy and clear the shared sheet so that it is ready for use again the next day without having to re-share.

The Setup: When setting up this system before use, type all students’ names and numbers as hangtags are issued to families, and from then on, you will only have to enter the hangtag number! The names will populate on their own. Names are easily editable from the source sheet if you need to add additional hangtag numbers for new students or change a student’s name.

Enter the tag numbers as vehicles drive up, and students’ names will populate in the next column in real time.

My digital car rider duty log includes a 6-page PDF with a clickable link to make a copy of this 2-page Google sheet, as well as a directions page complete with screenshots and tutorials. This resource does NOT include numbered hangtags or tech support for the Google Sheet, but thorough instructions are included!

Want to check it out? It’s available from Counselor Station on TpT! Car Rider Duty Carpool Log – Populates Names from Car Tag Numbers Entered

Not quite ready to go digital? Don’t want to ditch the clipboard and walkie just yet? Here’s a FREE, simple car rider log printable for you to try!

Terms of Use – Counselor Station. Preview clipart by Bricks and Border and fonts by Miss 5th.