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:

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!


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.


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!)


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. 


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

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!


  • 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.


  • 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. 


Set your own rules and expectations from Day 1 and remind your students frequently.

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.”


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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!

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!)


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 and affiliated sites.Thank you for supporting the blog!

Helping Students Diffuse Anger with Healthy Coping Skills

One of my most common questions in classroom counseling is, “Is it okay to be angry?” Some students respond with no, it’s not okay to angry, or that they are “bad” if they are angry. I always reassure my students it’s okay to be angry — we ALL get angry — but it’s never okay to hurt someone or break something when we are angry.

Unless it’s my stress ball cat. Because that just happened.

As counselors we are often called to help diffuse students in crisis, and sometimes we are working with them in the “in between,” when students are calm and seem to know all the right answers, when their bodies are calm and it’s easy to self-regulate.

For my youngest students (usually preschool, kindergarten, and first graders), I love to read “Cool Down and Work Through Anger“* by Cheri Meiners as part of her “Learning to Get Along” series. It is simple to read, with relatable examples and clear visuals for each example. It includes feelings such as sad, hurt, and angry, and helps children understand “All of my feelings are okay.” It explains how anger can manifest in physical symptoms and provides clear examples of healthy coping strategies.

My older students love the humor in the analogy Julia Cook provides in “Soda Pop Head,” which you could pair with a 2-Liter of soda (or can) for an easy object lesson — just be careful of your mess! You want to keep a good relationship with your custodians!

Balloons are excellent tools for explaining how anger works. Most students will tell you that when the balloon gets too full of air, it will pop! And I use that demonstration sometimes. I also LOVE to make up a fictional story of a child who gets progressively angry throughout the day. As I tell the story, I continue to blow air into the balloon without releasing any of it. Eventually, it gets so full that I let go, and the balloon flies willy-nilly all over the room. I explain how when we bottle in our anger all day, incident after incident, we will eventually lose control, just like the balloon. My students looooove this example (and the sound effects)! I retrieve the balloon and tell the same story again, only this time, after every anger-inducing situation, I ask the students to tell me a healthy way to cope with that problem. As they come up with examples, I release air from the balloon, so it never fills completely, and the main character never loses control or explodes.

Games are always a fun addition to a small group. My anger-themed groups are called “Rocketships.” One of my favorite group games to address anger is “Escape from Anger Island.” It allows students to choose from one of six categories they’d like to focus on regarding their anger: “Know your hot buttons,” “Self talk,” “Talk it out,” “Deep breaths,” “Reduce stress,” and “Relaxation Techniques.”

One-on-one in individual sessions about anger, my go-to game is “Mad Dragon.” It’s very similar to Uno and each for students to learn regardless of whether or not they know how to play Uno. Along the way, thoughtful prompts facilitate natural conversations and sharing related to the topic of anger. In individual sessions, I also sometimes use “What to Do When Your Temper Flares,” if I want more of a guided discussion/workbook. I found it at my local library!

In classroom counseling lessons, I help equip students with coping strategies by giving a menu of ideas and allowing them to identify and practice ones that might work for them. I help them understand that what works for one person might not work for someone else, but we all need healthy ways to cope and someone at home and/or at school to talk to about our feelings. I’ve also helped students diffuse their anger by taking walks, playing basketball, and punching my sequin mermaid pillows, which often turns into them smoothing the sequins back and forth — wonderfully calming!

Everyday Coping Skills Mini-lesson and activities to develop and practice coping skills

My favorite lessons for teaching coping strategies are Cactus Coping Skills and Everyday Coping Skills. The printable coping strategies page included in Everyday Coping Skills is perfect to print, laminate, and display inside a classroom cozy cube! At my school, all kindergarten classrooms are equipped with a cozy cube, as well as both administrators’ offices. I’d have one, too, if I had the space in my new office! The coping skills categories I highlight on the printable include: Create, Move, Talk, and Pause, with examples from each category, so students can identify their preferred strategies.

Part of my goal is always to help my students to identify resources and people who can help them when they begin to feel dysregulated and how to recognize those symptoms. It’s important to help them explore options in the various places they are most likely to get angry, whether it’s at home, at school, on the bus, or out on the field. We all get angry, but by recognizing anger patterns and healthy coping strategies, we can help them diffuse before they lose control.

Now to go find some super glue for my stress ball cat…

*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 and affiliated sites.Thank you for supporting the blog!

Advocacy during National School Counseling Week (and Beyond)

Hi friends! Happy National School Counseling Week! This week is an excellent time to advocate for the hard work you do as a school counselor. Here are my suggestions for advocating for your role! If you already follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers, I just sent you this info! Be sure to follow me there for monthly updates!

Highlight your program to your school community through newsletters!

I post about recent and upcoming programs and partnerships, and I always list what we are learning in each grade level. I also provide contact information for parents to reach me at school.

Host a family event to introduce yourself and your program! 

I host “Donuts with Grownups” in conjunction with our school’s book fair in the spring. It’s always a huge success!

Place student self-referral counseling request notes in teachers’ boxes now for the spring. Students are more likely to request to see you when they know how to go about it! This also cuts down on referrals in the hallway — I can never remember those requests! 

Coming up!

My 5th graders are gearing up for our Middle School Transition unit! 

Career Day will be here before we know it! Here’s a fun time-filler for an open block, or a fun game as part of a career exploration unit: 

I hope you have a wonderful week! Make sure to carve out time for yourself to fill your tank. I’m outside on my patio enjoying the unseasonal 65-degree weather while my boys play basketball, now that we’re all home from school!


5 Ways to Ease Your Students’ Worries about Middle School

Students may hear all sorts of stories about middle school from older siblings and friends, whether they are well-meaning or intending to scare. Help them to know their own experience will be unique and to keep an open mind about the transition. They may hit it off with that teacher everyone warns them about, or they may find their own niche in a new activity. I’m sharing five ways you can help ease your students’ worries about their transition to middle school.

  1. Visit your local middle school(s). 

Plan a field trip (or walk, if close enough to campus) for your rising middle schoolers to visit the middle school they will attend. Coordinate with the middle school to select a time when your students will be able to visit areas throughout the building and actually see students in class (but not the locker rooms — if your timing is off by just a minute, it could get awkward, trust me!) If your students feed into multiple schools, make separate trips if possible so students can see the actual school they’ll be attending.

If possible, request that older students, especially your own former students and/or older siblings of your current rising middle schoolers be the tour group leaders (e.g., 8th grade ambassadors). Ask that they be available to greet the buses as they arrive.

Make plans to tour the gym, locker room, cafeteria, music room, exploratory/elective classes, and other important areas of the building. It’s always fun to hear a demonstration from the band and to listen to different instruments. Our band director hosts a “band night” in conjunction with Parent Night, where students have a chance to try out all the different instruments.

Pro tip: While you’re there, take a picture of a bank of lockers so that you can show next year’s students what they will look like. My students always want to know how big the lockers are (and whether someone will try to stuff them inside!)

  1. Invite the middle school counselors to visit your school. 

In addition to visiting the middle school, the middle school counselors make a special trip to our school to talk with our students about electives, exploratories, and band options. They also help them register on-the-spot, in the comfort of their own classrooms, after they’ve had a change to talk with their families about their decisions.

  1. Normalize their questions and worries. 

It’s so helpful for students to hear their peers express the same worries and questions they have about middle school. I’ve compiled lists of commonly-asked questions by 5th graders and sorted them into categories in this helpful presentation we explore during my middle school transition unit. Before the presentation, I also gauge their feelings about middle school with these short writing prompts.

  1. Practice opening combination locks. 

My fifth graders’ favorite classroom lesson each year is when I bring a class set of combination locks to practice opening. Pay attention to their efforts, and if you notice students struggling with opening a combination lock, suggest purchasing one to practice over the summer, or offer time during their lunch when they can practice in a small group with you. While middle schools typically provide the combination locks, the basic steps to open them will be the same, so they will build up muscle memory by practicing with you or at home.

Reassure your students that it may take a few days to get it, and that faculty will most likely be available to assist, especially at the beginning of the year and after extended breaks. I bring a class set of locks, purchased on Amazon and from Wal-Mart, and I use this Opening a Combination Lock presentation to facilitate a discussion about lockers, show directions for opening the locks, and even play a game at the end of class! 

  1. Involve the entire family.

Look into whether the middle school will offer a Parent Night or Open House in the spring/summer for your students and their families. It helps for a student to picture themselves in the school and begin to recognize faces of teachers and faculty there.

Don’t forget to collect data from your students before they head off to middle school! I do this by giving exit interviews to them on our final class together. I also ask for their advice for rising 5th graders, and videotape their messages to share to next year’s group the following August, when we return to school. You can find many of the activities I mentioned, as well as a few others, in my Middle School Transition Bundle available in my store, Counselor Station.

Organizing Your School Counseling Program in 2020

Happy 2020!

Last night, on the eve of a new year, I went through my school counselor planner and listed what worked in 2019 and what didn’t work, and I added to my gratitude list. I am so grateful for you and this counseling community!

Whether you are a seasoned counselor or just finding your rhythm, now is a great time to reflect on your program mission and goals. Moving into 20202, what are your school counseling program goals? What worked for you? What didn’t work? Is there a program you’d like to implement? Do you want to work on better communication with teachers and parents? Is there something you need to let go of so that you can take on something else, or just have space to breathe?

Here is a quick roundup of resources to help you kickoff an amazing semester!

GETTING ORGANIZED – The beginning of a new semester is a great time to reset. My planner is editable and undated and comes with soooo many different forms you can use for planning your program, from goal sheets to follow-up logs to small group planning! Print it all, or print what you need for a customized option! Are you in need of newsletter templates to send to parents or to include in your schoolwide newsletter? Fresh new intake notes forms? I have you covered!

 WINTER-THEMED LESSONS: My students love these engaging winter lessons! Divide students into groups for a challenging escape room, where they learn to discern the size of a problem, or split them into teams for a fun snowball toss game, where they learn to identify their preferred coping skills!

MIDDLE SCHOOL TRANSITION RESOURCES: This semester, I’ll take my rising 6th graders to the middle school for a visit, and I do an entire middle school unit leading up to their visit. We talk about our questions and worried, they share what they’re most excited about, we compare and contrast elementary and middle school, and they even practice opening combination locks! Check out my unit here: Middle School Transition Bundle.

I hope you have a fantastic start to 2020! 


8 Partnership Ideas to Support Families During the Winter Holidays

Do you coordinate holiday assistance for families at your school? Here are some quick partnership ideas for the holidays! These are all partnerships I’ve done in the past with my local communities.

  1. Toy Lift: When I worked at a middle school, we had a local “Toy Lift” to collect toys and gifts for families in need. With permission from families, we gathered lists with sizes and interests and went to a giant warehouse to shop for presents! The organization delivered the gifts to our school, and we distributed them to families in time for them to wrap for Christmas.
  2. Marine Corps Toys for Tots: Consider organizing a toy drive at your school with your SCA officers to collect toys for Toys for Tots. I also coordinated with Toys for Tots to provide gifts for students in need at my school. 
  3. Salvation Army Angel Tree: We partner with our local Salvation Army to invite families to participate in their annual Angel Tree program. Because we send home food bags with many of our families, we sent the flyer home in a food bag for several weeks in a row. Later, I collaborated with them to check our lists to ensure we were not duplicating families when we offered our “Giving Tree” to families at our school. 
  4. United Way: Our local United Way is always a great resource for school supplies through their “Stuff the Bus” program. I have also coordinated with them for purchasing gifts for families. 
  5. Partnering with local law enforcement and fire/rescue stations: We have partnered with local agencies to provide warm coats (“Operation Warm”) and bikes for our families in need over the holidays. We even got our firefighters to deliver the coats to the school on ladder trucks, which was very exciting!
  6. Giving Tree: We offer our own Giving Tree to students at our school. I send a survey to all faculty and staff members asking about who might want to sponsor a child over the holidays, and gauge how many students we can sponsor. Consider whether you will shop for all siblings, or just the ones who attend your school. We double-check with other local groups to make sure we are not duplicating resources, and invite families to participate by filling out an information page and a wishlist with sizes and interests. Check out my full 57-page resource here!
  7. Thanksgiving dinners/meals: I offer information about local organizations who serve community Thanksgiving dinners or who offer tickets to pick up a free turkey and food box and distribute that information to families who may benefit. 
  8. Consider resources and partnerships you can create within your own school division with your school’s PTO/PTA, school social workers, community groups, etc. 

Another tip: Keep track of your partnerships from year to year and the students/families you are able to help. These lists will help you when you start to screen your lists next year. For example, if you invite a family and they opt not to participate, denote it and keep it in mind the following year. Thank you for all you do to support your students and families during the holidays and throughout the year! You are making a difference.

Coordinate your school’s holiday assistance program with all the information, forms, and helpful tips you need from start to finish!

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!


  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!


  • 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.


  • 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!


  • 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. 


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!