How I Structure 45-Minute Elementary Classroom Counseling Lessons

Do you travel to classrooms or have your own (or shared) classroom space? How long are you in the classrooms? Are you in the specials rotation or do you schedule visits with teachers? Do you split grade levels with another counselor or tackle it all on your own? Every school seems to do it differently!  

Today I’m sharing how I structure a 45-minute classroom counseling lesson. Because 45 minutes seems like a looooooong time to fill with a classroom of little ones. I try to break up the time as much as possible, with shorter activities for the younger grades (PreK-2nd) and longer working time for the older grades (3rd-5th). With preschoolers, I try to change up the activities every 5 minutes.

Some years, my classes are shortened to 30 minutes, and because I tend to chunk activities, it’s easy enough to just modify or delete one activity to bring it down from 45 minutes to 30 minutes.

I start all of my classes by taking attendance using this attendance-tracking form. Instead of students simply responding “here,” I call them individually and ask them to wave a hand (so I can spot them right away) and share their answer to my Question of the Day. Taking attendance serves multiple purposes for me: 

  • With a glance, I can quickly see who missed the last lesson.
  • Students get a chance to hear their names (and correct me if I say them wrong!)
  • I keep track of attendance for grades.
  • I have a class record in the event of a drill, emergency, or early dismissal.
  • The students get to share a little about themselves with the “Question of the Day” that I ask.
  • On the roster, I also keep track of special notes for each student — allergies, medical conditions, special accommodations, etc., and I review those as I call their names. (In preschool, I use picture rosters!)

Next we learn and practice a mindful moment. I pull my ideas from mindfulness picture books like Alphabreaths by Christopher Willard and Breathe Like a Bear by Kira Willey. In the winter, we do hot chocolate breathing (freebie here!). I like to start and close the class with the same mindful moment for continuity and practice. We talk about where, how, and why we might use these mindful moments.

Next, I present the lesson, which might include a mini lesson on the Promethean board, reading a story, or doing a movement-based activity, such as a scoot or game. Here are some of my favorite types of lessons!

We typically follow-up the lesson with a craft/take-home or movement response activity and then wrap up by playing a fun collaborative game or dancing. (Participation in dancing is optional but encouraged.)

Because I travel to classrooms now, I often pack a few extra activities just in case we have extra time. My students love playing learning games like “Sit Down Saturday” or “Sparkle.” I keep a list of short icebreaker games on my clipboard. This year, they are non-contact, but other years, I might bring a thumbball or Koosh ball (remember those??) to toss around along with the game. You can find more camp-like circle games listed here. Other time fillers I use include asking follow-up questions about the lesson, encouraging students to share their completed papers/drawings/responses, structured clean up time, playing music, stretch break or more mindful breathing practice.

Do you need more counselor hacks for traveling to classrooms? You can read my 8 Tips for Traveling to Classrooms” here! It’s also fun to observe another counselor in action! If you don’t have a co-counselor, look into visiting a counselor at another school to observe a lesson. I always pick up fun ideas to mix things up with my students!

What tips would you offer to counselors for structuring their classroom lessons? What is your favorite time filler or class icebreaker game?

27 Ways to Boost Teacher and Staff Morale

With so many changes, extra assignments, new mitigation strategies, and the added realm of distance learning put on already-overloaded schedules, teachers and staff could certainly use an extra boost of encouragement these days! We want to lean into both self-care as well as the compassion and patience we have for our students and their learning. I’ve compiled a range of ideas we’ve tried recently that you might be able to implement at your school for your teachers and staff. 

Tangibles/Treats

  • Coffee truck: hire a local coffee truck to come to your school to serve the teachers. See if the PTA/PTO or another local organization will pay for the coffees (or at least to upgrade a drink size), or teachers can self-pay — it is still a treat to have a visit from a coffee truck! See if you can arrange to have it come on a workday or during lunch break.
  • Ice cream truck (or other food truck): same idea, different spin
  • Emergency kit: Put together small bags with hand sanitizer, wipes, chapstick, etc.
  • Drink, snack, or donut trolley: Admin walks around with a decorated cart and serves up afternoon treats at each classroom door.
  • Candy delivery: Walk around the school and toss candy to teachers
  • Giveaways: We had a beautiful floral arrangement donated, and then we drew the name of a staff member to take it home for the Thanksgiving centerpiece.
  • Secret Pals: Set up Secret Pals and have them treat each other throughout the year. Have a reveal party at the end of the year.
  • Scavenger hunt: Hiding a small display of treats somewhere in the school on a workday. Make an announcement when it is ready, and staff members can look for it when they get a chance, or all at once. It’s a nice change to to get away from their desks and get some steps in!
  • Socially-distanced events planned by social committee: These might include catered luncheons (sitting 6 feet apart in the cafeteria), staff celebrations, etc.
  • Mindfulness: Pair these free “Hot Cocoa Breathing” cards with packets of hot cocoa mix and put them in all teachers’ mailboxes.

Acts of service

  • Duty-free lunch: Arrange for volunteers to cover lunch duty (or other duties)
  • Clear the clutter: Tidy up workrooms and shared spaces, including the microwave and refrigerators.
  • A quick break: Volunteer to cover a teacher’s class for 15-30 minutes

Words of affirmation

  • Purposeful inservice: Our district invited Gerry Brooks present a (virtual) inservice on boosting staff morale. He gave us so many wonderful, easy-to-implement suggestions!
  • Staff shoutouts: Give staff members a chance to send in shoutouts to other staff members in the staff newsletter. Send reminders each time you need more.
  • Staff celebrations: Establish a bulletin board in staff mailroom or work area for staff celebrations — birth announcements, special awards, etc.
  • Encouragement: Put motivational notes in the bathroom or other common areas.

Privileges

  • Jeans Day: Announce a jeans day or jeans week!
  • Passes: Recently I won a staff competition, and once of the choices of passes was a leave early pass. (I couldn’t take it because of my afternoon responsibilities, but it was a great thought!)

Time together/laughter

  • Quiz Games: Play staff quiz-show games, such as trivia about each other. We recently played a fun Would You Rather? game by The Counseling Teacher Brandy.
  • Get creative: Our art teacher hosted a 2-day ceramics class where we made bowls. She then fired our glazed creations in the kiln. It was so exciting to see the finished design! We did this over the course of 2 workdays (several weeks apart). We sat 6′ apart in the cafeteria and talked/listened to music while we worked.
  • Exercise: Find a group to walk or run together after school. Plan to meet outside or map out a route inside the school. Challenge each other, make it competitive, or just enjoy the company and conversation.
  • Book club: Host a book club outside of school with a book that is not professional development related. These days, it may have to be virtual. Some great books I’ve read lately have been Where the Crawdads Sing, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Big Lies in a Small Town, Just Mercy, Dear Edward, A Good Neighborhood, and Oona Out of Order.
  • Competition: Ask each faculty member to submit their Bitmoji (facing forward). Combine them into one group photo. Make a copy, number each person, and send out a blank key with all the numbers. Staff members will guess whose Bitmoji is whose, and submit their entries. Give a prize to the person who guesses the most staff members accurately. (I won 2 weeks of jeans days from this contest!)

Misc.

  • Therapy dog: Teachers and students alike always enjoy time with our school therapy dogs.
  • Showcase staff talent: Putting art created by teachers in the school’s display cases at the beginning of the year before they fill up with student artwork. If you are virtual, create a virtual display or talent show using pictures and videos submitted by staff.
  • Spirit wear: Host theme days at school (or online) around holidays or spirit week. We even make a fundraiser with Hat Day — students pay $1 to wear a hat, and the money collected goes to a national charity.
  • Create a virtual self-care room: link calming and mindfulness videos and activities.

What are some of your favorite morale boosters? Without taking on too much extra work for yourself, is there something from this list (or another idea) you can offer to your staff? Do you have a specific gift you can offer the staff, such as leading a painting class? Do you have a connection to someone who can offer some of their gifts? Think outside the box — after all, I bet you’ve gotten pretty good at it by now! 😉

I hope you have a safe, healthy, and peaceful holiday season!

~Ashley

11 Ways to Fund Your School Counseling Program When You Don’t Have a Budget

11 Ways to Fund Your School Counseling Program When You Don’t Have a Budget

Years ago, when I started a new school counseling job, I stood in my new office, looking around at 40 years worth of counseling materials left behind from the counselor before me. Trash bags filled with old felt puppets, stacks of outdated curriculum and college textbooks from the 70s, bins of transparencies, binders of lesson plans penciled in cursive writing smeared from years of use. The only technology in the cinderblock annex was an old cassette tape player, which doubled as a tape recorder. A career’s worth of materials and I didn’t know their context.

It was frustrating, especially as a new counselor, to begin a year without a counseling budget or with limited funding. You see so many amazing ideas and book reviews on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook, and you want to implement everything all at once. Today I’m sharing 11 ways to think outside the box to find extra funding for your school counseling program needs.

  1. Create and share an Amazon teacher wishlist. I named mine “Ashley Bartley – SEL and Trauma-Informed Resources.” My friends and family purchased 21/29 of the items on my list! I wrote a small caption with each item explaining how I would use the item in my program and posted my wishlist on Facebook. Each time I received an item from my list, I not only sent a thank you note, but also took a picture of the item and tagged the donor on a new Facebook post, and linked my wishlist each time. It seemed like every time I posted, a new person would see the post and purchase an item. Many people asked me for the link. I also paid it forward by purchasing items for my friends off their teacher wishlists. It was so fun to look through their lists! My list is here if you need ideas (not an affiliate link).
  2. If your school has a PTO or PTA, consider presenting a written request for your specific program needs, or attend a board meeting when they discuss budgets. Price up exactly what you need, where to find it, and how you will use it, and write up a small proposal with all this information. I was able to get a SmartBoard for my room and some much-needed hygiene supplies for students this way. If you are running a club or leadership group, the PTO/PTA might be happy to support your efforts, like footing the bill for a pizza party for your 5th grade helpers!
  3. If you have a school counseling supervisor, or someone you report to at the division-wide level, check with him/her about access to funds for your program. Present specific requests and how you will use them. Share what you’ve already done to secure some of the funds. Sometimes conference money is available at the division-wide level. Vendors at conferences often discount their items 10% for conference attendees, and you may be able to use school purchase orders if you ask your school in advance.
  4. Before your school submits its annual budget, put in your own requests for large items. Do you need a piece of furniture or large-ticket item, such as a Cozy Cube, dollhouse, or sand tray?* Or a large classroom counseling lesson plan bundle? Your principal might be able to honor large-ticket requests in the school’s budget, especially if you don’t have a counseling budget of your own. It can’t hurt to ask — one year, right before I purchased a yearlong curriculum from Counselor Keri, I submitted a request to my principal, and she approved my request! I saved myself over a hundred dollars just by asking.
  5. Form school-family-community partnerships to meet the needs of your school. Check out this post about 12 school-family-partnership ideas and this one for supporting your students and their families during the winter holidays.
  6. Look into attending conferences that might provide technology incentives. Recently, many of my coworkers acquired Chromebooks after completing a Google course. I was able to get a document camera and iPod from attending an NTTI conference and completing a small project over the summer.
  7. Partner with a local high school. I was able to get clothes for our clothing closet and Red Ribbon Week materials by partnering with my vertical teams at the middle school and high school level, which freed up my money for other things.
  8. Apply for a local grant! Many times, there aren’t as many applications as you would think, so check them out! Attend a grant-writing workshop or online course, come up with a fabulous idea, and go from there! Conduct a needs assessment and use the data to justify your request.
  9. Check with your school librarian or technology resource teacher. My library had a technology budget for the school, and I was able to purchase a bluetooth speaker* for traveling to classrooms with this money. Your local library may also have many of the books you need. If not, check with your school librarian to see if he/she can purchase the books you need for the school, then check them out!
  10. Raise your own funds in creative ways. The counselor before me always held a plant sale to raise money for her Career Day budget. My co-counselor has a jewelry business where she donates 10% of the proceeds from the sales of her beautiful earrings and mask necklace chains back to our school to help children read and succeed.
  11. Lastly, don’t forget to write off up to $250 of your own money you spend on materials when you do your taxes. Keep receipts organized in a folder along with a spreadsheet to make things easier when you enter your deductions during tax season. When you spend your own money, shop at thrift stores and yard sales to find great deals on books and games you can use. I found The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game at Goodwill for 99 cents, individual Play-doh tubs on clearance after Halloween, and many children’s books from a retiring counselor. Just be careful when purchasing games used, such as Jenga – check the pieces carefully, or you may just end up with an adult version of Jenga!

Remember that it doesn’t happen all at once. You may get a few things here and there, and over time, you’ll find creative ways to fill in the gaps. What other funding ideas would you add to my list? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below!

*Amazon Associates Program affiliate link

A Fall Update from Counselor Station – Updated Google Slides for Distance Learning!

Hi friends!

How is your school year shaping up? Are you in the building at all? We have some students attending 2 days a week, some 4 days a week, and some 100% virtual. It’s safe to say our teachers are juggling so much right now! 

I’m using the gorgeous fall weekends in Virginia to recharge… lots of bike rides through crunching leaves, pumpkin patch trips with my 3 little boys, a corn maze with cousins, and yummy apple cider slushies! I’m trying to incorporate all 5 senses into my self-care lately. How about you? I’ve also taken to reading novels this year — such a nice escape!

I wanted to give you a quick update on some of the fall-themed resources I’ve made to make life a little less overwhelming for you so you can devote more time to yourself and your people!

Fall-themed counseling resources!

I’m also working on converting some of my resources to Google Slides! Check out these newly-updated resources! Both now include versions in Google Slides, PowerPoint, and PDFs!

If you already own them, simply re-download for free to enjoy!

I’ll keep you posted over on my Facebook and Instagram pages about each resource I convert to Slides as I go! I hope you are making the most of the start to your school year and finding something to look forward to each day! 

~Ashley

Strategies for Working with a Child with Selective Mutism

According to the Child Mind Institute, Selective Mutism, or “SM,” is “an anxiety disorder in which a child is unable to speak in certain settings or to certain people.” They outline some of the specific challenges faced by children with selective mutism: showing what they know, initiating conversations or play with peers, asking to use the restroom, and, in some cases, even being hesitant to use nonverbal communication. 

While your first instinct might be to contact a speech therapist, you’ll want to consider the underlying anxiety or discomfort that could be causing the selective mutism. I’ve compiled a list of strategies to try, involving teachers, peers, school counselors, caregivers, and outside resources. Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or medical doctor, but these are strategies I’ve come across during my 13 years as a school counselor.

Strategies in the classroom

Strategies in the classroom may include: 

  • Asking the student to write or draw pictures in order to communicate responses.
  • Encouraging the student to whisper-speak (to you, to peers, or to a puppet).
  • Providing individual dry erase boards* to all children in the classroom.
  • Allowing wait time for verbal responses without “rescuing” the student or repeating the question. 
  • Allowing for nonverbal means of responding (pointing to answers, thumbs up/down, etc.)
  • Allowing the child to point to a feelings scale to indicate how he/she is feeling.
  • Using positive reinforcement to encourage and reward desired behaviors.
  • Offering a visual schedule or First/Then chart to provide visuals for the day to alleviate any anxiety over what comes next in the schedule.
  • Providing a response spinner tool for simple answers to questions (Yes, no, I need to use the bathroom, I don’t understand this yet,” etc. 
  • Encouraging the student to write/draw in a journal or notebook.
  • Asking the student what is/isn’t comfortable about their day at school.
  • Offering choices or asking questions to elicit open-ended responses instead of yes-or-no responses.
  • Echoing what the child says so the class or group can hear and the student feels like a participant in class.
Student response spinners, response printables, and feelings scale

Around the school

Involve other school staff members by: 

  • Encouraging your student to say his/her name (or student number)  in the lunch line.
  • Greeting staff members in the office.
  • Offering to be a helper to a specialist, such as in the gym, library, music room, or art studio.

Incorporating peers

  • Playing the telephone game with a group.
  • Allowing the child to choose a peer buddy to communicate with during the school day.
  • Including peers to help support the student (without speaking for him/her), start with whispering, then moving on to conversations.

Collaborating with caregivers

  • Recording assignments at home to send in.
  • Participating in brief phone conversations with the teacher (from home).
  • Offering incentives at home if the child speaks at school.
  • Visiting the home to hear the child speak at home.
  • Allowing the student to send a video of himself talking (at home) to the teacher, and you send a video back.
  • Reminding the caregiver not to rescue the child by providing answers for him/her.

Offering school resources

  • Consulting with the speech therapist
  • Collaborating with school counselor

Referring to community resources

Referral to outside counseling or a psychologist

Counseling strategies

  • Sand tray
  • Small goals: eye contact with specials teacher, waving to specials teacher, saying hi to teacher)
  • Practice with counselor and then add peers to the session
  • Teach coping strategies
  • Positive self-talk
  • Playing games like checkers or UNO
  • Motivational rewards (interest inventory)
  • Coping strategies to deal with the anxiety behind the selective mutism

Helpful resources

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

How to Get Your Children’s Book Published: Getting Started in Publishing

Over the last couple years, I’ve had a number of people reach out to me with questions about traditional publishing. Most often, I’m asked to recommend a specific publisher or agent. I wish I could say the process for me was as easy as contacting the right publisher or agent, but the entire publishing process, like everything, is so much more complex, and you have to be willing to put in your homework. In this post, I’ll share the types of resources I used in getting started with writing my first children’s book and getting published. Maybe you already have a few stories written and aren’t sure what to do next — I hope my post gives you the inspiration to take the next step in the publishing process! (And I’ll just add that I’m not an expert in children’s book publishing, but I’m happy to share the steps I took here!)

After college and grad school, I completed a diploma in an 18-month program specific to publishing children’s books. The course taught me how to peruse market guides, how to write query letters to publishers, how to select a publisher for my writing, and how to identify my specific niche. I came away from the course with about a dozen professionally-edited, polished pieces, as well as a query letter. If you go this route, consider what type of writing program might interest you and approach the course(s) with an open mind. I was surprised to find myself drawn to the magazine market, which is where I got my start!

My next step in moving forward was calling myself a writer. Until I saw myself as a writer, it was all just a distant dream of mine. I am a full-time elementary school counselor, and writing a book has been on my bucket list since I was seven years old, but it was never a tangible goal or a reality I could grasp. When I began calling myself a writer, however, my mindset changed, and I had the confidence to begin sharing my writing with an audience. Soon after, I began submitting my writing for publication while writing on my own blogs. I actually hung a letter board in my home library with a quote from Seth Godin, “The book that will most change your life is the one you write.” (I kept this quote in my office until I signed my first contract!) I made a list of my writing goals and discerned my next steps from there.

Online writers’ groups are valuable resources. I joined a few membership sites for writers, where I gained not only a wealth of resources, but also a supportive community of writers with goals similar to mine. There are also countless Facebook groups and other online groups devoted to writers, if you’re not interested in a membership site, so I’d suggest searching for a group to fit either your genre or your specific writing goals. Your local library may also have writer’s circles who meet in person to share manuscripts and ideas. Make sure to contribute to your writers’ groups as much as you gain, if not more.

In the meantime, build up a portfolio of your published works and other writing accolades (contests you’ve won, recognition you’ve received, etc.). Every piece featured or published is another feather in your cap toward your next project! Consider writing guest blogs, submitting to magazines, and even doing some of these things for free until you build a strong portfolio. I then referenced my published pieces in query letters I wrote to publishers. You can learn about writing query letters from a class like I did or from an online writer’s group, or even by Googling how to write a query letter for a publisher. (Later, I’ll talk about researching the publisher’s submission guidelines before reaching out to them.)

While I built my portfolio, I also started building my online platform – a website in my niche, a social media following in my field, an email list, etc. This happened organically for me, as I began to create a community for people in my specific field, using social media to connect with my audience. Most publishers these days want to see that you have an established platform, a voice in your field, and an established audience who will read your book. Make sure you regularly contribute to your field by speaking at events, guest posting or commenting on blogs, contributing to online groups, accepting podcast interviews, etc. Be a part of the discussions going on in your field.

Actually writing a children’s book is another process, but even after I wrote my first book, I didn’t send it off to anyone right away. In fact, I waited over seven months while I field tested it on my intended audiences and researched publishers and the children’s book market. You’ll also want to have close friends or family read over your work, or take it to an editor or writer’s group for a peer review. Because I already regularly create resources for school counselors, I also had to decide whether to publish my story in my online store or whether I wanted to use a traditional publisher. (You might also be wondering whether to self-publish or use a traditional publisher. I can only really speak to using a traditional publisher, so that’s the focus of this post.)

Before I ever contacted a publisher, I scoured several market guides about the children’s book market and magazine markets, which are updated yearly with current publishers and what they’re looking for. I then made spreadsheets of publishers that caught my interest, studied their websites and books, and read their submission guidelines for the ones I thought would be the best fit for my genre. Some of my favorite market guides* and writing books are:

Finding the right publisher is a process. It has to be the right fit for your project. You have to consider what type of books they publish, whether they accept unsolicited manuscripts or whether they require an agent, whether they accept simultaneous submissions, what their submission guidelines include, and more. Many times, they’ll post a list of current topics they’ll consider. These may change seasonally or with current events and trends. The market guides will be helpful in narrowing it down before you head to their website to find submission guidelines. You can also go to your local bookstore or library, find your writing genre, and see who is publishing those types of books. Be sure to read authors’ acknowledgements; they’ll usually thank their agent or other pertinent people you might be able to contact. I spoke with many publishers in person at conferences in my field to ask about what book topics were most needed. Reading current journals in your field, attending conferences, and belonging to professional organizations in your expertise will also help you know what topics are most needed and relevant.

My first two book contracts were for children’s books (fiction), so I actually wrote those entire manuscripts and submitted them along with the query letter to the publishers I researched in my field. I also developed a marketing proposal and included it with my query letter. You can look at publishers’ websites to learn what kind of manuscripts/topics they are currently accepting. (Nonfiction generally requires a completely different type of submission that includes a sample chapter and a book proposal.)

Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle releases July 2020 with Boys Town Press!

While I’m on the subject of books, if you’d like to read further, I’ve listed below my signature many of the nonfiction books* I’ve read in recent years that inspired me to start writing, taught me how to carve out time to write and how to write for an audience, and encouraged me to follow my dream. I’ve broken them into those four categories.

I hope this post is a helpful resource for you as you pursue your writing goals. You’ve already taken the first step by identifying your desire to write and starting your research!

Happy writing!

Ashley

Writing Inspiration and Practical Tools: Suggested Reading

Writing for an Audience: Suggested Reading

Carving out time (for me, it was to write): Suggested Reading

Having Courage to Pursue My Dream: Suggested Reading (*Many of these titles are faith-based*)

*Affiliate links used: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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!