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!

4 Ideas to Close Out the Year for Elementary School Counselors

It’s hard to believe, but my district finishes up with school this Thursday! (We started in July!)

My counseling office is packed up and closed out for the year, and I’ve picked up my kids’ materials (sad day!), so now we just have some fun drive-by closing celebrations and preschool graduation photos later this week. I’ve turned in my report cards and SMARTGoal data, which was a little tricky this year, not having finished the last nine weeks in person. As you plan your end of the year, here are some fun lessons and close-out activities!

1. PROMOTING PERSONAL SAFETY

Emphasizing personal safety is so important for your students, especially this summer. My best-selling Stranger Danger lesson will help students identify three types of strangers so they know which ones can be helpful and which ones to avoid.  

Another fun lesson is about Summer Safety, teaching students how to be safe during many different summer activities, from camping to swimming.

2. TRANSITIONING TO MIDDLE SCHOOL

I use these six middle school transition activities in getting my fifth graders excited and less-nervous for the transition to middle school. (Usually we would have gone for a visit by now!)

3. CELEBRATING MILESTONES

I just couldn’t resist designing these fun “Last Day of Distance Learning” photo-op signs for my kids, so I wanted to offer them to you all as well! The set includes Preschool and PreK through 12th grade “First Day of Distance Learning” and “Last Day of Distance Learning” signs. 

4. WELCOMING YOUR NEWEST STUDENTS: KINDERGARTEN ORIENTATION

If your school is putting together welcome packets or an orientation for incoming Kindergarten students, consider tucking a welcome newsletter from the school counselor into the packet or mailing so your families will know who you are and your role in the school before they arrive! Check out my EDITABLE Kindergarten Welcome Letter! (Grab the entire bundle here!). If you can, plan to attend future kindergarten orientations and back-to-school nights to introduce yourself to your new families. You can read more about planning for Open Houses and Back to School nights on my post here!

Last but not least, I just have to share my BIG NEWS!

My first children’s book is releasing THIS SUMMER with Boys Town Press on July 14, 2020!

Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle by Ashley Bartley

Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle” helps children learn the difference between tattling and reporting and will be such a fun addition to your counseling or school library. It’s already available for pre-order on Amazon* now. Boys Town Press will also be offering book companion lesson plans and activities on their website. I hope you will check it out and share it with your colleagues!

I hope you have a healthy, happy, and smooth end to your school year… what a year it has been!

*affiliate link

School Counseling During Distance Learning

If you’re like me, you’re trying to navigate this new territory as school counselors all around the world are adjusting to distance learning and new routines. Here are some ways I’ve been helping to serve in my community while juggling my three little boys and their own distance learning from home and figuring out my next steps for providing connection for my students.

NEIGHBORHOOD AND COMMUNITY BEAR HUNT

Many communities are organizing community-wide bear hunts based on the children’s book by Michael Rosen, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. My own boys (ages 3, 5, and 7) loved walking around our neighborhood searching for plush bears in windows, on porches, and even in front yards and mailboxes! They were excited to be featured in our local newspaper when they shared the story. We used these fun free printables to keep track of how many bears they spotted, and they walked three miles without complaint! My resource includes printable badges and printable bears for residents to tape to windows in lieu of stuffed bears. I always try to think of how I can help, and making this freebie for my neighbors was so rewarding and fun!

MEALS FOR STUDENTS

It’s been tricky to find ways to volunteer at my school because I have little ones at home who obviously can’t come in the school building with me, but when my husband was home during spring break I was able to help distribute meals to students. Some teachers rode buses, and others gave out bags from the school cafeteria.

CONNECTING WITH STUDENTS

In the meantime, I’ve used Loom to make videos to feel more connected with my students. We also waved to teachers from our local elementary school parade through my neighborhood, which I know provided some closure to such an abrupt end to our school year. My own school’s parade has been postponed because of the governor’s orders to stay home, but I’m hopeful we can make it happen! I’ve also had lots of meetings using Zoom, and our teachers put together learning at home packets for students for continuity of learning. When I call students, I dial *67 before 1 and the area code to keep my personal number private. I keep a communication log on a shared drive with my administrators and staff.

DISTANCE LEARNING

During all of this, I’ve been working with my boys using many of the free resources that are out there. It’s OVERWHELMING how many free educational sites are out there, from websites, to virtual tours, to Facebook Live events, but I’m trying not to fill all of our time with screens and making sure to go outside as much as we can to balance our online appointments and classes. I’m using these homeschool/distance learning pages to keep track of what we do each day. I’ve found that if I plan out what we’re doing the night before, it goes so much more smoothly and doesn’t feel so much like playing Whack-a-Mole! You can download these pages here!

EMOTIONAL SUPPORT

I’m also looking out for how I can best support my students who are adjusting to a new normal and the losses associated with school ending for the year without warning. So many of you have been using my Hoping and Coping Feelings Journal already, and I hope they are helping students process their feelings during distance learning and school closures. I’ve included letter templates for writing to teachers, friends, and more.

I know my activities will continue to evolve as we navigate this new territory, but I’m proud at how my community has already worked (from a distance) to support each other. Check out ASCA for more updates and information about our profession. They have been updating FAQs throughout this process and providing recommendations on ethics. How are you finding that your role as a school counselor has changed? What is a new platform you’ve learned? Are you journaling during this time? I’d love to hear in the comments below!