Monday, November 10, 2014

Travel Opportunities for School Counselors

Nope you didn't read the title incorrectly, this post is about ways to travel as a school counselor. This summer I had an opportunity to do an educator travel/study abroad program to England and Norway and it was awesome!  I got a staff email about traveling abroad for the summer and the requirements were to be a teacher.  I then emailed the contact person and asked if school counselors could come along and ironically the contact person replied "why we've never had a school counselor apply for this program"  BINGO, that was my way in (remember we have to be our biggest advocate)!  Here are some options on how to find out more about traveling abroad opportunities:

-Many colleges/universities have summer travel opportunities for teachers/educators/school counselors during the summer.  You don't necessarily have to be a student at the university to go on the trip either. Check with your alma mater or colleges/universities in your area.  My trip to England/Norway was through the university where I've supervised counselor interns.

2014 England Educator Study Abroad Group at Highclere Castle (the Downtown Abbey House)

-If you're working on the high school level, see if you can chaperone a study abroad trip with your foreign language department.  For us on the elem and middle school levels, make friends with high school counselors to be in the loop about traveling with a school group.

-Have a counselor topic that you'd like to research from a global perspective and do you live in a rural area?  Consider applying for a Global Teacher Fellowship (I'm not able to apply for this because where I live doesn't qualify as a rural area)

Most programs have end of year or early spring deadlines (just double check the dates for the trip you're interested in).

Hiking along The White Cliffs of Dover (Dover, England)

I've always enjoyed any opportunity to travel and I must say that going this route is great, I just wish that I had known about opportunities like this earlier in my career.  Better late than never!  I'll say the travel abroad bug has bitten me and I'm already making plans to travel abroad for the upcoming summer (I'm thinking of visiting Central America this time around).  

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Introducing the School Counselor Lesson

Whew, this school year has been quite busy and it's been a little obvious in my blogging absence.  I finally have some time to share how I introduced myself & the counselor intern at the start of the school year.  This year we used the book Mrs. Joyce Gives the Best High Fives by Erainna Winnett which is a fantastic book on introducing the school and describing what the school counselor does.

Reading the book Mrs. Joyce Gives the Best High Fives

As our activity, since Mrs. Joyce gives great high fives and we told the students that they could give us long lasting high fives.  Here's what we did:

-We used cut colored construction and gave everyone a sheet where they were to trace their hand (we did assist a bit with tracing the hands).

-The students then cut out our handprints (we had to help some with this too).

-After the hand prints were cut out, I let them decorate their hands with crayons or makers (we saw lots of creative decorations).

-After we had handprints from all of our classes (we did this lesson with 1st grade).  We made a "wreath" on high fives, which I put near our office, which reminds them of where the counselor's room is.

I loved this intro and love hearing the students say "that's my high-five"!

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Monday, October 20, 2014

The Power of Self-D Review & Giveaway

What counselor isn't a fan of biblio-counseling, meaning that we use books as a resource to work with students whether it be individually, with a small group or even with class visits.  I had the pleasure of receiving a copy of The Power of Self-D, Willie Bohanon & Friends Learn the Power of Self-Determination by Kip "Mr. J" Jones, which is an excellent character education book on overcoming facing challenges, peer pressure and making good choices.

I would use this book for my older students (4th-5th graders) and it would also be excellent for middle school students because it is totally relatable for "tweens".  Our story deals with Willie Bohanan raised in a single-parent home with several siblings who struggles with choosing academics over being "cool" with his friends and strives to be the first in his family to go to college.  I especially like how the (relatable to tweens) acronym SWAG (Self-Determination, Working Hard, Ambition, Guidance) shows them steps and tools they can use to be successful.  This is great addition to my counselor library.

Thanks to Mr. J, I have an extra copy to give away, please enter below to win:

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Make Use of Your State's Conference

After participating in the #ASCA14 Google hangout with fellow school counselors a few months ago, I thought about other ways that school counselors could get a "conference experience" even if they aren't able to attend the national conference ((I was #notatasca14 this year).  Attending your state level conference is a fantastic way to get fresh ideas, be among peers and network.  As Matthew M. from CO explained to me "our state conference is like a mini-ASCA" perfectly stated Matthew.

I got to see BOTH Erin Mason & Julia V. Taylor at the Virginia School Counselor Association Conference.
I didn't attend an ASCA conference until my 4th year as a counselor, but I had attended my state's conference since my very 1st year.  My state conference has been a great chance for me to meet other school counselors all over my state, which certainly helps since I as well as most elementary school counselors work solo at their schools.  Here's a list of all state conference dates from the ASCA website. Attending your state's conference is another fantastic way to get other great ideas.

Will you be attending your state's conference?

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Share how students show character

Sharing character the character trait of the month has been an on-going project that I've steadily been working on increasing each year.  This year I decided to add a video component of students sharing how they show the character trait of the month.  Here's what I did:

-I made signs with each character trait listed (in both English & Spanish, JYJ is a Spanish themed Magnet school, so I try to reiterate our theme, although my Spanish has not improved at all).  The students hold up the sign of the trait of the month while they share how they show the trait.

-I recruited students from various grade levels to share how they show that months' particular trait.  I use my school issued flip camera or iPad to record the students.  I give them the "script" which is:  "I show ____(the character trait) by_____"  for an example "I show respect by listening & following directions from my teachers".

-There's usually not a problem getting student volunteers, they all love being on the school news.

-I edit my own video using iMovie trailers (my character trait movie isn't more than a minute long) and have the video shown on our school's morning news.  The video is shown during the month of the trait.  

I would share the finished product, but since I don't have permission, just take my word for it.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Storyline Online...Great (Free) Counselor Find

I LOVE reading and enjoy reading to my students during class visits, but there have been a few cases where reading aloud hasn't worked so well in my favor.  These instances include losing my voice, not feeling my best or just not feeling reading the same story for the 10th time in a week.  I've found an amazing alternative solution...Storyline Online!  Which is an online book website where The Screen Actors Guild Foundation records well-known actors reading children’s books and makes graphically dynamic videos so that children around the world can be read to with just the click of a Storyline Online video book image. I also think that this is awesome because we'll be able to have more discussion and lesson activity time during our class visits and there's a good chance that I wouldn't have nearly as many interruptions during story time (we all have a class or two that provides lots of "commentary" .

I have a strong feeling that this will be used quite a bit in my class visits and small groups.  Thank you Storyline Online, this website is a school counselor's dream come true!
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Monday, September 8, 2014

Considering Going the Counselor Ph.D Route?

Occasionally I get some emails or questions from other school counselors asking for advice in pursuing a doctoral degree and I have no idea how to respond.  The only school I'm currently attending is the school where I work.  I recruited Julia V. Taylor, a former school counselor to chime in on what it's like to take the Ph.D route.

Give a little background about your school counseling experience.  How long you were a school counselor?  What grade levels did you work in?  

I was a school counselor for a decade before I decided to pursue a PhD in Counselor Education. I began my career as a high school counselor, then moved to a middle school, then I switched back to the high school level.  After a few years, I went to central office for a year to help build a 6-12 public girls' school and stayed a year after it opened.  

What did you like about being a school counselor?  
That's difficult to answer - I'm a huge fan of the profession. School counselors change lives; they make a difference and have a lot of influence. I think the profession is still an undiscovered gem in education, but that is rapidly changing. I loved the school part of school counseling. I liked working in a school, being on a team, and being surrounded by people everyday. I enjoyed watching students grow. I was fortunate to follow a group of students from 6th to 8th grade, then a position opened up at the high school most of them were slated to attend. I interviewed, got the job, and followed them there. When those students were beginning their junior year, I was presented with an opportunity to be on the founding leadership team of the girls' school. I was over-the-moon thrilled (dream job!) to do this, but I was also devastated to leave that particular group of students. Two years later, the highlight of my entire career was watching the Apex High School Class of 2013 graduate. Coincidentally, their graduation day happened to be on my last day of employment in WCPSS. I cried the entire ceremony, I was so proud of them. It was the absolute perfect ending.  

What sparked your interest to pursue a doctoral degree?

My interest in pursuing a doctoral degree was piqued a long time ago and grew over the years.  My advisor in my Master's program, Dr. Tammy Davis, had a decade of experience as a practicing school counselor. She was completely transparent and taught us the realities of the field. Her stories were real and her passion was contagious. I remember thinking "I'll do this for a decade and follow her steps." I'm not sure how calculated those thoughts were at the time, but throughout the years I became increasingly interested in education reform, school counseling leadership, and the science of the field. I'm an information monster and I want to know the hows and whys of everything. I want to learn how to read, write, interpret, and critique research. I want to learn how to think about my thoughts. And I want to be able to back up my many opinions with research/data.  With all of that said, I want to teach graduate students and I have to have this degree to do so.  

Why did you choose Virginia Commonwealth University?  

I spoke at VCU a few years ago and met the Counselor Education Department Chair, Dr. Mary Hermann.  She informed me that they were in the process of creating a doctoral program and said she'd keep me updated.  Fast forward a year, I began searching for schools and talked to different counselor education programs. The programs and people were great, but this was a big decision and I needed to listen to my head and my heart for this one. I was grappling with my next steps when Dr. Hermann emailed me to say VCU was moving forward with the PhD program if I was interested in applying. We spoke the next day and the rest is history. There was almost no hesitation. I just had this strange feeling that I needed to be there, so I put my application together and hoped for the best.

What has been your biggest adjustment in being back in school? 
Oh, there are many.  First, hovering above all of the adjustments over the past year is a healthy level of impostor syndrome. I'm not convinced it ever goes away. What else? If you would have asked me this in my first semester I would have said I missed students, my work is graded (augh), and time management. The spring semester was all about the "professional identity" stuff I read about but thought I was entirely too tough/cool/grounded for. Turns out, I'm not. I am a student who was a practicing school counselor and will hopefully be a counselor educator.  The in-between is a moderately terrifying place to be. This whole PhD experience is humbling, as in every single day humbling.  Lastly, the atmosphere of academia is a lot different than the atmosphere in a public school. I have a giant, quirky personality and am still adjusting to toning it down. I was always the one who would organize surprise (and wildly embarrassing) faculty skits at student talent shows, was the official Office Olympics Coordinator on teacher workdays, and I don't have a great indoor voice. There are no office olympics in academia (yet) and it's very quiet, so very quiet. However, adjustments are just that, they keep things interesting. 

What's something that you've enjoyed about your doctoral program?  The Counselor Education faculty at VCU is top-notch. They are driven, exemplary role models, and unbelievably supportive.  I've had the opportunity to teach a technology class specifically for school counselors and co-teach a few other classes. I have always loved writing, so I have enjoyed being able to do that on another level.  Another thing I really like about VCU's program is that it's under the School of Education umbrella, so I also take education leadership classes.  I actually looked into education leadership doc programs at one time in my life, so this is truly the best of both worlds.

What advice would you give to a school counselor thinking of pursuing a doctoral degree in counselor education? 

There are a lot of logistical things to think about: full or part-time? What type of program? What are your goals? Are you willing to move? Most importantly, are you ready? You have to make sure it's what you want to do and give yourself some time to figure out who you are. I don't believe there is a magic number of years of experience you should have - it's more about goals, confidence, and drive.  In fact, some of the best counselor educators I know haven't worked in a school. For me, my experiences in the field helped me develop a strong professional identity and figure out who I was and what I wanted, but that's just me. So, if you're in the trenches and this is something you one day hope to do, I recommend you switch schools, switch levels, learn from different colleagues and administration, lead, and don't lose sight of your long term goal. There will never be a perfect time to make an enormous life change. If you're ready and able, you just have to do it. Like the John Burroughs quote, "Leap and the net will appear."  

Lastly, former VSCA President and Old Dominion University Doctoral Candidate, Tracy Jackson, beautifully summed up this process in one concise quote.  She said "I don't love it, but I don't hate it. It's not hard, but it's not easy. I wouldn't persuade you, but I wouldn't dissuade you either. It is what it is; it's the Ph.D. experience."  Well said Jackson, well said. 

Julia V. Taylor

Julia is a Doctoral Student at Virginia Commonwealth University and the author of The Body Image Workbook for Teens, The Bullying Workbook for Teens, Perfectly You, G.I.R.L.S. (Girls in Real Life Situations), and Salvaging Sisterhood. Visit her online at
Thanks Julia!
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