The Responsive Counselor - Elementary School Counseling Blog
Hey, y'all! I'm Sara. I have the privilege of serving as a school counselor at a Title 1 elementary school in a major urban district in the south. I'm particularly passionate about engaging and effective classroom lessons, curriculum mapping, and working with EL students. In this blog i'll be Sharing engaging and effective strategies, ideas, and resources with my school..
A few months ago, a fellow school counselor emailed me some questions - one of which was related to classroom management. After I responded to her, I realized this was probably worth a blog post. After all, most of us elementary school counselors spend significant time in the classroom...and very few of us received training in grad school on how to actually manage the class!
I'm included in this. My first year I knew nothing other than what I saw in the two minutes I observed teachers teaching before they handed their class over to me. And I still have days sometimes where I know my classroom management isn't great. I like to think I've come a long way though. Here are some small things I've found to be helpful:
1. A well-planned lesson is your best offense here. If you account for everything ahead of time, you won't have to spend nearly as much time during the lesson managing behaviors. How will you distribute materials? How do you expect them to share? Are students already grouped how you will need? Do you know how to operate any needed technology in the room? Have you planned for your lowest and highest students?
2. On that note: When I plan my lessons, I plan for no more than 15 minutes sitting still at a time and no more than 15 minutes of them being quiet at a time. I'm a social being and so are my (very wiggly) students. This means I incorporate movement and group work whenever possible! I wrote a whole post about best practices in classroom counseling lesson planning.
3. Bringing my voice down quieter is a new trick I've been loving! It helps to regulate them when they're getting a little rowdy, they know I'm 'serious' when I'm quiet, and the change in volume catches their attention.
4. Kiddos that I anticipate might be turkeys in my lesson, I try to connect with as soon as I walk in (before I 'officially') begin. I greet them individually, or give a compliment, or ask a question about what they're working on. They're more likely to make good behavior choices when I'm in there and if they don't, they still respond better to my redirection if I connect with them first.
5. Ask the students to tell you what the rules are, before you need them to follow them. "When Ms. ____ reads you a story, what are the expectations?" "What are the rules for when you're working with a partner?"
6. I use different clapping/stomping/snapping rhythms to get their attention. Clap-Clap-ClapClapStomp (repeat), etc. When I was in a PD once, the presenter said she wanted to honor peoples' discussions so instead of asking for people to stop them mid-sentence to give her attention, she always uses some sort of rhythm so people that need it have a moment to finish their thoughts before joining in.
7. If engagement starts to dip, I find something that I need a volunteer for. Nothing gets kids attention faster than "I need a volunteer..." It also allows students to switch their focus for a moment (to the volunteer) but still be focused on the lesson.
8. I move around A LOT during my lessons while I'm talking to them if they're at their desks/tables. I walk from front to back, side to side. If I need to sit, I sit on top of a table or empty desk - that gives me height which gives me their attention.
9. Anytime my lesson involves them working collaboratively (which is 95% of the time), I take a minute to explain or model specifics before I let them loose. For example, if they're going to be sorting cards as a group, I get a couple volunteers to sit next to me and I model how to put them all in a stack and to take turns drawing, reading, and deciding together where to put it. I model how to tell someone I'd like a turn. If I'm giving them a choice of where to work, we take a minute to think about where in the room we can focus best (at desks, by the door, on the rug, etc.).
10. This quote is the bees knees: "I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It's my daily mood that makes the weather." (-Haim Ginott) Especially when working with children, our mood and tone and emotions really set the weather for the room. The more regulated and calm I am, the better the lesson goes. Do the students push my buttons sometimes? Heck yes. Do I occasionally get bad news via text or email right before I walk into a classroom? Yup. But I have to channel all of my zen (and sometimes CBT myself) to get myself regulated and ready.
Do you have any tricks up your sleeve? How do you proactively manage behavior during your classroom lessons?
Have you grown weary of everyone talking about mindfulness all the time? If so, you're not alone. Not because I don't think mindfulness is great - it's awesome and powerful. I think the weariness comes from people overusing the word and applying it to anything that resembles relaxation or coping. Mindfulness in its purest form is focusing your awareness on the present moment with acceptance and without judgment. Constantly bringing your attention back to the here and the now. That is mindfulness and that is the discussion in Julia Cook's newest (wonderful) book: Be Where Your Feet Are.
While reading this book, I could almost feel myselfcringing because it was essentially describing my own jumping thoughts and multitasking ways. Be Where Your Feet Are (affiliate link) is about a boy whose mind hops around from idea to idea...and he struggles because of it (failed math test, awful soccer game, frustrated mom, etc.). It also speaks to the fact that our kiddos often have a lot on their plates.
The story, in true Julia Cook fashion, involves the boy's mom teaching him the lesson - in this case: BE WHERE YOUR FEET ARE. I have to admit that I had never heard this phrase until this book was announced and I really love it. His mom points out that the most successful part of the day was the part when he was totally present. The boy takes her advice and, of course, he has a better next day.
One wonderful thing about this book is that it is simple and kid-friendly in its depiction of mindfulness. The vocabulary feels accessible and while the story is 31 pages long, it didn't feel overly wordy. I also loved that it talked explicitly about multi-tasking as well. The book feels like a great fit for 2nd-5th grade students and could be used in small groups or for whole group lessons. I'm also envisioning this as a great early year read for counselors who plan to start the rest of their lessons with mindful moments. Side note: My mother in law was in town when I received these and she picked one up to read and commented on how much she too liked the message.
Mindfulness is tricky - and so I think reading the book is an awesome starting point (or reinforcement if you've already begun discussing this topic) but that kiddos need more discussion and practices to really "get it." I created some resources that partner with this to use in lessons in order to help students better understand how to be mindful.
One activity I'm going to use will have students physically feel the difference between focusing on one thing vs. multitasking or thinking about many different things. You can do this by taping different colored pieces of paper spread out on the floor or by using pages that have different graphics on them. Ask students to literally "jump" from topic to topic, thought to thought. Then tape or layout pages with the same graphic on them (or same colored paper) and ask students to walk along the straight path to illustrate how much easier it is to stay on the same idea.
It's also helpful for students to see and practice with additional examples and situations. The resource I made includes sheets showing different scenarios and thoughts that can occur with them. Students identify (individually, in small groups, or whole group) which thoughts show the character being where their feet are. I also made some task cards to use with my students to help them 1) practice using strategies to help them be more mindful and 2) discuss the concept in some more depth. You can find the activities in my TpT store by clicking the picture to the left.
And now...for some extra excitement (beyond the release of a new Julia Cook book which gets us youth workers all in a joyful tizzy)...a giveaway! I have TWO copies of the book to giveaway and will email the companion activities to the winners as well. Just comment on this post to share what (if anything!) your school or your school counseling program is doing with mindfulness and you're entered!
And as an aside, the National Center for Youth Issues rocks. They publish SO many of the books (bibliotherapy and resources) that we love as school counselors. I'm also a big fan because they host/sponsor some state school counseling conferences (including one I've presented at for a few years now). You can look up their conferences and resources here: https://ncyi.org/
Disclosures: I received free copies of this book in exchange for an honest review. All of my views are my own. I'll only ever review and share books that I think are great and that I do or would use with my own students. You must 18 years old and a resident of the United States to enter. Giveaway ends at 12am CST Wednesday, August 1st.
Someone on Instagram recently asked me for any advice I had on setting up her very first school counseling office. This has all been super fresh in my mind as I packed up my office and prepare to move into a new building. Offices can run the gamut, from old custodial closets to classrooms with wall to wall windows. I tried to keep that in mind and provide tips that can apply to any type of situation you find yourself in!
1. Meet sensory needs. The most used item in my whole office is surprisingly my sequin mermaid pillow! Really comforting to hold and fidget with. I think having a variety of fidgets available and visible makes a big difference. My pillow is from Amazon but I've seen them cheaper at 5 Below and WalMart. The majority of my fidgets have come from the Target Dollar Spot. I've also got seat discs available to students in small groups. You have to look out for your own sensory needs to - for example, I sit on a yoga ball instead of a desk chair because it keeps me more engaged both physically and mentally.
2. You don't have to have a desk! I downgraded to a small table and I think I'll forgo it all together next year and just use my small groups table when I'm on my laptop or doing paperwork. This keeps my organized because I don't have places for stuff to pile up, and I also think it makes me much more approachable when I'm in my office without a big crazy desk between me and whoever walks in. You actually don't really have to have anything. Lots of counselors swear by lamps instead of overhead lights - this makes me sleepy and I love overhead lighting (though I do put filters on them). Lots of counselors love their white noise and Pandora - I personally avoid them after a trauma training I went to said they can easily dysregulate people still experiencing trauma symptoms.
3. Functional decor is the best. My first couple years I accepted all the hand me downs and bought all the cheap Target back to school character posters. I didn't love any of it but I felt like I had to have something up everywhere. Then and I learned that less is more. And that's a good thing because unless you have a classroom, wall space is limited. Too much stuff on the walls is overwhelming (which is the last thing a dysregulated kiddo or teacher needs). I try to make sure the stuff on my walls is either awesome and makes me super happy or it serves a purpose. Feelings posters rock! I made my own with clipart but used to have the "hand drawn kids" ones you can find on Amazon (affiliate link). I had one of "what's behind your anger" posters too.
4. Comfort is key. Get the good chairs. My circle chairs and bean bag chairs were a little splurge because they were bought from my own money but totally worth it. Sometimes teachers like to come sit in the circle chairs as well, and I've been known to use some of the comfy seating myself to decompress before I leave. Comfort to me also means that my space shouldn't be sensory overload, so I try not to put too much on my walls or have too many colors.
5. Focus on organization. I am way more effective and get way more done when I'm organized. If you don't see it and/or if it's not easily accessible, you won't use it. This goes for games, toys, books, and important paperwork you're supposed to complete. Consider prioritizing your organization over your aesthetics. Create systems for all the different kinds of "papers" you'll have: copy paper, referrals, lesson plans, RTII stuff, behavior plan copies, the list goes on. Where will you store papers for ongoing individual students (workbooks, drawings, etc.)? Will you have a place to put "outgoing" papers (meeting note reminders for parents, copies of meeting notes for teachers, etc.)? Where do materials for classroom lessons go when you're done with them? Make a plan! Chances are the plan is going to change, but you'll still have a more successful year if you make sure your space is set up for efficiency.
I am less than a month away from setting up my third school counseling office and all of this is so good to have fresh in my mind!
This is the fourth post in my school counseling curriculum series! If you want to catch up, the first is on curriculum mapping, the second on needs assessments, and the third on best practices. I once offhandedly made the comment to a colleague that I don't use worksheets; her facial expression couldn't hide her skepticism and confusion. I specified that I just meant in classroom lessons (I still use worksheets with individuals and small groups); her face did not change. It was then that I realized I was in the minority with my 'no worksheets' rule. I have since had many conversations with other counselors about my reasoning. While they might not always agree (especially if their school demographic is different), they do always understand my 'why'. For the majority of the time, they just aren't awesome for my students in my lessons. Do I ever use worksheets in classroom lessons? Of course! And I wrote about those situations at the end. But it's pretty rare for me. Keep reading and I'll explain why. I'm not trying to convince you to stop using all your worksheets - just to maybe think about them a little hard to decide if they're your best option.
With that said, here are five reasons I don't use worksheets in my classroom lessons:
1. Paper isn't free. ($$$)Our paper supply is not unlimited. For real. This blows some educators minds - maybe in other schools you guys can use as much paper as you want? All faculty in our school is given 1 or 2 boxes of paper each school year. If you run out, you run out. And most of us aren't willing to spend what little amount of school budget money we get on paper. I want to buy books! And fidgets! The first year I cut out worksheets was a year that our school's budget was TIGHT and we just didn't have enough paper for me to do worksheets. I had to get creative and quickly realized I didn't miss them.
2. Lots of student levels in each room.In any given classroom, I have students on four different grade levels academically. The best worksheet is only going to be 'on level' with about half of them. While I don't need to hit their academic level for them to grow socially and emotionally, giving them a worksheet too easy or too hard does have negative ramifications. If it's too easy, I've got 'early finishers'. I don't have my own classroom so I don't have protocols and activities in place for this, which means I would have to hope for them having a book in their desk or risk important loss of their time (and yeah, 5 minutes of lost instructional time is kind of a big deal at my school). Or on the other end, I have students that cannot complete the worksheet independently. I don't have time to differentiate for all my kiddos. Modeling best practice for my teachers is important to me; so it feels wrong to not differentiate for my students with IEPs (and my EL newcomers and my student going through MTSS).
3. What happens after the worksheet is done? For a really unfortunately large amount of my students, the answer is 'nothing'. For a lot of different reasons, our parents don't look at the papers in their kiddos' folders, let alone discuss them together. Educators usually give worksheets for a combo of these reasons: 1) to check for mastery in order to give a grade or plan next steps in instruction, 2) to provide a capture of a learning for parents to see, or 3) because the actual completing of the worksheet is super meaningful in the learning process. Numbers 1 is accomplished in other ways more applicable to the skills I'm teaching. Number 2 doesn't apply to me. If number 3 does, I will consider putting the sheet in a sheet protector and having students complete it with a dry erase marker.
4. They're not well aligned to lesson objectives.My lesson objectives are predominantly related to how students interact with one another. This means that my lesson activities should involve students interacting with one another! Sure, kiddos can chat together while they're completing a worksheet, but it's not the same thing - and they're usually not chatting about the worksheet anyways. If my lesson objective was multiplication fluency, a worksheet might make sense. If my lesson objective was correctly identifying education levels needed for different careers, a worksheet might make sense. Those aren't usually my objectives though. And when my objectives might involve knowledge acquisition that can be measured or applied by matching or sorting - I'd rather use a hands on cooperative activity like having them work together to sort cards.
5. You (and your students) are missing out.Worksheets aren't terrible. They're not even bad. They're just not great. Your students could be engaged in activities that lead to much deeper learning and growth. They also could be practicing important social skills (eye contact, listening, sharing, turn taking, complimenting, etc.) Is it more work and energy to do a lesson without worksheets? Hecks yes. I have to put a lot more thought into the flow and management of a lesson. But it's also more meaningful and I truly believe results in more social emotional growth. Would it be a lot easier to just read a story and then do a worksheet with it? Of course. But that would just be planting a seed of an idea. Planting seeds is great, but I'm looking for my lessons to do more.
When do I use worksheets?
In some individual sessions, especially if we're doing CBT work together
With small groups, where I only have 6 students to differentiate for and provide individual assistance to
For more sensitive classroom lessons, like personal safety, when students are reluctant to dig in with discussion
To bring as an option to some classes: Some years I have students that, for various reasons, have days that group work is not the best option for them.
If I want students to refer back to something - for example, I've used a full worksheet for my goal-setting lessons and a half sheet (that students slipped into their folders) for a reputation goal-setting lesson.
I will also be transparent and say that I sometimes include worksheets in my TpT resources. Why? Because I want counselors to have every option available to them to run a lesson that works for their students. For some, that might mean worksheets. I also know that I personally often adapt my classroom lessons to use in small groups and I imagine other counselors may do the same.
So what do you think? Am I crazy? Do you have "rules" about worksheets or anything else in lesson planning?
Last year, I used the gem that is The Invisible Boy with my second grade classes. This past year, I included it as part of my 4th grade unit with Trudy Ludwig books. With their more advanced brains (and trickier social networks!), I went with a new plan of attack.
This time around, after reading the story, we dug a little deeper into the concepts of included and excluded. The students and I co-created anchor charts representing these ideas and what they look like (what would we see if people were being included), what they sound like (what would we hear people saying if kids were being included), and what it feels like (what type of feelings words would describe being included). For each, students did a quick 'turn and talk' with a partner before sharing out as I wrote on our sticky chart paper. What I found after doing this in two classes was that my students already have a veeeerrrryyy good idea of what exclusion is all about it - it's the inclusion piece we need to understand better - so in the remaining classes we only did the anchor chart for included.
After we all get on the same page about what it means for students to be included, it was time for them to practice making sure everyone was included. I adapted an activity that's part of Responsive Classroom morning meetings called 'maitre'D' - that I called "Table Of..." to keep things clear for my students. It required a minute of pre-teaching since many of my students have never been to a restaurant and didn't know about putting your name down on a list and waiting for the host/hostess to call for your family. Here's the gist: students mix and mingle and wait for me to say "Ms. Owens' class, part of 3 to 4" (using their teacher's name, and mixing it up, doing 2-3, 3-4, and 4-5). Students have to get themselves into small groups of the size I gave, and to make sure EVERYONE is included. Sometimes this meant a group that formed had to break up and make new groups so that no one was left out. Once students were all assembled in their groups, I asked a discussion question. At this point, students were standing all over the room and facing various directions. Auditory processing was not going to be phenomenal so I decided to use some visuals (just projected on the document camera) to help out. We repeated this for 4-6 questions depending on time.
And then to close the lesson we did an exit ticket - a little different than usual. I asked all of the students to identify 1 kid in their grade that they believed might be feeling a little invisible and to write 1 thing they would do to help that person feel less invisible. Note: I had a few students ask me if they could write themselves. I gave them the go ahead but asked them to identify what they could do to help themselves be less invisible.
To be honest, this cohort of students are pretty naturally inclusive, and there are a large number of them whose kindness steers them towards being intentional about including others as well. That means this lesson was much more developmental and preventative than most of my lessons, which tend to address an existing issue. This lesson went really well, but I'm excited to do it again with a group that might be needing this in a different way.
You can find all the pieces and parts to this lesson ready-made on TpT by clicking below:
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I've been meaning to do a post about my office for five years. I procrastinated because my office was either "too messy" or, when it was clean, I realized it looked crazy blue due to the filters I put on my fluorescent lights (#excuses). So then when it got closer to time for me to pack up and move to a new school and new office, I decided I needed to make it happen before it was too late! I'll go ahead and apologize now for posting an office tour again in August when I'm in my new one.
My office was small, but could have been smaller. I managed to squeeze quite a bit in the 13'x18' space. Because I worked in a fairly old building, I had the luxury of painting and decorating however I saw fit. It's a challenge to create a space that's child friendly, professional enough for meetings (we have a conference room but I hold some meetings in my office if I think the main office may be intimidating/threatening), and also a safe haven for when I'm pulling my hair out during test coordination. I worked in this space for five years, improving on it bit by bit, and I absolutely loved it (minus the nasty chipping wall paint I didn't have time to paint over). The biggest challenge with the space is the complete lack of closed storage - everything is totally out in the open, meaning it looks cluttered very quickly.
Without further adieu...here's the tour!
This is the view walking up to my office; my self-referral board on the wall next to my door and my "inspirational" door interior which I put up in July and kept up all year because...you know. Life.
And this is the view from the door of where I spend my non-teaching time - where much of the counseling magic (ha!) happens:
I have 5 "zones" or areas in my office:
My work area
Small group space
Individual counseling space (on the floor, with rice tray)
Individual counseling space (bowl chairs, also used with grown ups)
Bookcase storage for #allthethings
I'll share more about my organization in a later post but here's a brief rundown of this area: drawer carts on the left hold current lesson materials, thank you cards, support team (RTI/MTSS) documents, teacher surveys, etc. I don't like filing cabinets but I love this. The little bookcase holds the sort of things that would normally go into (and get lost in) a desk. You can just barely see the yoga ball behind my table - I started sitting on it when pregnant with my first to alleviate back aches, went back to a chair after he was born, then did the same with my second but stuck with the ball. I think it continues to help prevent back pain and prevents some of the literal and figurative afternoon slump that can occur by keeping my body more physically engaged. There's a mini white board above my office supplies; the plan was to do a quote of the week for myself but the truth is I never use it. I also rarely use the whiteboard behind me. The corkboard is where I hang pictures (etc.) students give me. I keep things up about a quarter and then start fresh. It seems to mean a lot to the students to see me hang up what they've given me right away. The empty space above the drawer carts held a character trait poster that I had to take down during state testing.
Onto small groups...
This kidney bean table is where I do the majority of my small groups and lunch bunches. Occasionally I'll work with an individual student here if we're playing a board game with a big setup or if they're more comfortable doing artwork at a traditional table and chair. I realized I needed some storage by the table so I found a super skinny cart that goes next to the HVAC unit. This houses supplies and small games that I like having an arm's length way. I also bought some chair pockets from a teacher friend that makes them. Inside are supplies for students to use during small group sessions. The clothespins hot glued to the wall are for hanging group expectations, group session foci, etc. The crate of yellow seat discs (I've written about them before here) is for any student who needs or wants one for small group. You can also see a little bit of my scale on the wall by the window. I use this for problem size and emotion size scaling with kiddos.
I like to offer my students the option of where they want to sit when they come in. Even though I think the blue bowl chairs are comfier, these bean bag chairs win about 60-75% of the time. I don't love the figurine storage - it's a lot of upkeep because they're constantly falling and the bookcase is really dark. The kitchen spice risers were an awesome find though. This is also where, as you can see, I keep all of my games and my other few toys. To be honest...it's tough having everything out like this (I talked about it in my instatories tour a bit). I want everything out and welcoming and inviting students to engage with things, because that's what you're "supposed to do" in children's counseling spaces. The two problems I encounter with this: 1) students are constantly asking me if they can take figurines home and 2) I often have individual and small group sessions already planned out and I hate having to say "no" when the kiddos ask "Can we play a game today?" Next year I'm either going to try and be super counselor and work the toys and games into my sessions better OR I am going to cover them with fabric that is velcroed on (most likely I'll probably do a combination of the two).
This is where my oldest students come to chat and where I sometimes do teacher consultations. The feelings posters are something I made using clipart I bought. I used to have these posters and while I loved them, I just needed a change for myself. The IKEA cart contains stuffed critters to snuggle, art supplies, the paper shredder, and loooooooots of fidgets (nearly all from Target). The most loved item in my office is that sequin mermaid pillow. The orange thing draped across the other chair is a weighted lap belt. I offer it to students having a tough time physically or emotionally regulating. My mom made it for me!
And this is what I stare at when I receive infuriating emails and have to look away from my computer screen: "organized" bookcases. Ok, the books are legitimately well organized. The bins (with extra supplies, resource books, lesson materials, bulletin boards, etc.) start the year organized and end the year less so. C'est la vie. I wanted to be really authentic and honest with this post and include the area above the bookcases in the picture but I just couldn't. It's just that horrendous. "All the stuff that doesn't go anywhere else and I only need maybe once a year but I don't want to toss."
The informal theme to my office was weather, which came as a result of my using weather-sized problem sizes with all of my grades. I have rainy, storm, and sunny each represented in a corner. Clear umbrella with laminated cardstock raindrops hotglued onto yarn...foamcore with one million cotton balls glued on and a construction paper lightning bolt...and a giant paper lantern with cardstock "rays".
I loved my office. It got better and better every year and while I'm excited for the fresh start, I will certainly miss it. As I was taking everything down and packing up, I thought a bit about the changes I want to make in my new space. Here's what's on the docket:
I need a rainbow to hang in the final corner! Hoping my new space has grid ceilings like this that make it easy for hanging things. There's an inflatable one I saw but I think it's too big so I may need to try the pool noodle DIY option.
As I mentioned above, I need a new way to store the games and figurines so that it is still inviting and welcoming when the time is right but is not a distraction when the time is wrong. Strongly considering splurging on the IKEA Trofast for my rice tray and just laying out all of the drawers when doing that work.
I'd like to move the rug to the middle of the floor. It will get dirtier faster, but I found myself needing space for 3-4 person mediations and I wanted them to be able to face each other better than they could at my groups table.
Thinking about skipping the desk entirely! Some teachers at my school put low bookcases along the wall behind their kidney tables as office/teacher supply storage and just used that as both their group table and personal workspace.
I need to use the zipper style baggies for the chair pockets (so that they actually get used correctly by students more often) and I think I'll switch to community markers for small groups (not enough room for individual sets in the pockets).
After I took everything down, I decided I wanted some better and more cohesive visuals (the scale, the self-referral board, etc.) I've got most of it printed and prepped, but there's a few posters I'm waiting on seeing the space to decide which size to use. You can see more details of those things here - I'll post more about them once my new space is up.
That's it folks! A complete tour of my office. Feel free to email me or use the contact me page to ask any questions you have. Anything I could find the exact match of online, I'll link below. (Note: Some of these links are affiliate links.)
I'll admit it - I bought The Bad Seed after seeing it on a few education instagrams, just crossing my fingers that it would live up to the hype. Spoiler alert: It does! It's amazing.
This. Book. Rocks. In the first month I owned it, I used it with two different individual students and read it as part of a mini classroom lesson. The illustrations are fun and the story is engaging and simple without being the slightest bit preachy or like it's "teaching a lesson". The Bad Seed (affiliate link) is a tale of a sunflower seed that is "bad", very "baaaaaad" according to both himself and others. The bad stuff he does isn't too awful but he's certainly rude. And then he tells us that he was not always so bad, and shares what is a heartbreaking story (Yes, for real. He's a fictional sunflower seed but my heart still hurt for him). He had a loving family in his sunflower, then they dropped to the ground, got scooped up and put into snack bags, and he was almost eaten by a giant. Pretty traumatic! It was after this that the seed turned "bad", purposefully isolating himself and pushing others away. And then he decided to make a change. The seed chose to be happy and beginning choosing prosocial behaviors, thus changing how he and others viewed him.
Here's the who/what/when/where/why that I use this book:
With individual students struggling with their own identity as being "bad".
With individual students or small groups to talk about a person's ability to change.
For classes that are having a tough time showing empathy to their peers with behavior challenges.
I always think it's helpful to see inside a book and Amazon doesn't have a ton, so here are some snaps of some of the pages:
Here are some of the think alouds and ask alouds I used before/during/after when I read this with a class:
This story is about a sunflower seed that everyone has decided, even himself, that he is "bad". What do you think it means to be "bad"? What does it mean to be "good"?
Hm. I'm noticing that the seed talks about himself pretty negatively and other people are talking about him being bad too. How do you think that affects him?
Do you think all of these behaviors make him a bad seed? (If a person did it, would they be a bad person?)
How could the other seeds around him have acted differently when he misbehaved?
How do you think the seed felt when he fell to the ground? when he was in the bag? When he was almost eaten?
It almost seems like after the scary stuff happened that he decided he was bad and should act bad.
Why do you think he decided to change?
With a couple of the students I read this story with, just reading it together seemed therapeutic and we could easily talk about how the story applied to them and their lives. Without any prompting, they started making connections! It's not always like that though - especially for students whose strengths aren't as verbal or whose minds just aren't as metaphorically inclined.
For them, or for when I need more structure (like with a classroom lesson or a small group), I created some more directed activities: small group processing "seed" cards (I use these in Fan-N-Pick with upper grades and a modified cakewalk game for emerging readers), a craftivity, and 4 different worksheets. They cover self-talk, finding the good in situations, self-concept, and people's ability to change. Like many of my favorite books, The Bad Seed has a few different key themes to it and I like having activities to fit whatever my students need.
To find all of the activities I use with this book on TpT, click the image below:
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Many moons ago (4 years and 3 months to be exact), I wrote a blog post about teaching empathy with the book Stand in My Shoes and a bunch of old shoe boxes. I used it a couple more times in the classroom and then a few more times in small groups. And then...it became time for an upgrade.
The lesson was originally designed for 4th grade, and with a specific cohort of students in mind. The needs of my students have changed since then (holy guacamole - they are so much kinder to one another now!), this year I needed to do an empathy lesson with 2nd grade, and I was a bit tired of carrying the boxes around to each classroom (#shrug). I also saw a decent chunk of students get too distracted by the shoe brands on the boxes. This lesson needed a reboot.
First, I tried to find another book. A better book. I failed. I could find some marvelous books that had 1-2 examples of empathy in them (Those Shoes, Each Kindness, etc.) - but I needed a book that explained empathy and gave several model examples! I looked at Hey, Little Ant (again, since I did perspective taking using this book last year) - but again it only had 1 example and it wasn't very applicable to my students. I read through How Do I Stand in Your Shoes? - and I couldn't get over the awful illustrations and the wording that seemed so out of touch with how my kids think and talk. So...it was back to Stand in My Shoes. Not perfect, but also not bad and at least it has several examples. I did skip a few pages in it (a couple "examples" were not what I actually would call empathy), but I do that now and then in other books too. (Note: I love the Sesame Street empathy video and I use that in small groups all the time, but I really needed and wanted more examples to scaffold the concept whole group before having groups practice showing empathy on their own).
Because of my EL learners, and just to make sure I was making it as concrete as I could, I also had some student volunteers come and "stand" in the shoes of some of the characters to tell us how the main character showed them empathy.
Then I introduced the activity. This was where I had previously whipped out my super cool shoe boxes. Less exciting (but also less distracting), were the file folder scenarios I brought this time. Inside each was a printed photo of someone wearing shoes and a written scenario with two questions (how was the person feeling and how could you show them that you care). I laid one on each table and explained to students that they'd be rotating around, practicing standing in the shoes of the characters in each scenario. We did one together and then they were on their own!
Even in spring semester, with 2nd graders that have been receiving regular SEL instruction for years, and that just had a lesson on identifying the feelings in others, this was a little bit of a challenge. The could ID the feelings in a snap, and unlike my previous students they didn't all try to say what the character themselves should do. It was tricky for them to think of actual things to do or things to say in the situations though. But I think empathy is also just tricky in general - it's easy to describe but it's a complex skill that takes repetition and reinforcement and modeling and practice to take hold!
Looking for the lesson plan pieces and parts all typed out and ready to go? You can find it in my TpT store by clicking below:
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After a few years of obsessively listening to all sorts of podcasts (true crime, home DIY, TED talks, etc.), I had the honor of being the first guest on a brand new school counseling podcast. Alaina of Cutting Edge School Counseling took on the challenge of hosting and I'm really excited to add it to my weekly listening list. Click the image below to get to the podcast's webpage, or just find it on the podcast app on your phone! Alaina's awesome (I connected with her on IG) and I had a blast chatting with her about school counseling things keeping me up at night.
A couple years ago I wrote about my love for Julia Cook's The Kid Trapper. My love for it stays true! This year, I finally made a complete lesson plan to go with it, pushing beyond just the content and message of the story. The school counselors at the middle school many of my students attend are awesome, but middle school is full of sticky situations and I needed to talk through some of them with my students before I let them leave me.
I start off with a little spiel prepping them for the book. I'm honest with them that some of the situations I read about in the book might make them feel a little uncomfortable because they are inappropriate and scary for him. This spiel has the added benefit of piquing their interest - my students are more engaged with this book than with any other. Whereas I usually stop to make comments or ask questions during my read alouds, this one I read straight through with the exception of, in some rooms, letting them know that when the author wrote about Frank and the boy hugging, she may have been really trying to talk about inappropriate touching.
After the book's over, I open it up to questions and comments (letting them know that comments about actual people or situations need to happen one on one with me and not whole group). Then I debrief with them, asking them to tell me what Frank did to earn the boy's trust (and then I add in some other grooming behaviors of predators), why the boy didn't speak up (with my adding in some other tactics sometimes used), and then fully processing the outcome and the fact that his parents still loved him after. Some of my students point out that parents might not always believe you, so then we talk about how (if something like this really does happen to you) it's important to keep telling safe adults.
Then I introduce them to the idea of sticky situations; situations where you feel stuck and don't know what to do, and where someone might be in danger. I have three student volunteers pull and read these questions that I teach them can help you make a good decision: What would your role model do? What are all of the consequences? and What does your gut say? And I quickly realized that many of my students didn't know about their "gut" or "gut instincts" - and realized that's really tricky to explain! If you have any ideas about how to explain that, especially to students who aren't 100% fluent in English, please let me know!
Next up, the students were put in small groups to examine some sticky situations examples. Each gave a scenario and a response, and they needed to be sorted into "safe" vs. "unsafe". Some notes about the scenarios:
Most were pretty clear/obvious whether or not the response was safe or unsafe. There were about three that students had to go back and forth on, but I tried to write them more as examples to expose them to than for them to have to think critically/dissect them.
I reached out to my middle school friend to make sure I was hitting some of the key 5th grade sticky situations as well, since this wasn't just a personal safety lesson for me but also a transition lesson.
I "went for it" with some of the situations, which is always scary. I included vaping, cutting, a potentially inappropriate uncle, and a discipline vs. physical abuse issue. At the end of the day, I decided I would rather risk an angry parent than risk not preparing my students for what are real issues they are likely to face within the next year or two. I also get to decide each year, based on the needs of the cohort and the climate of the school and community, which scenarios to use.
While my students are/will be exposed to some of these sticky situations, my emphasis was less on how to navigate them and more on the need to tell a safe adult when they happen.
The last piece for most classes was me asking them if there were any of these that we needed to talk through more or that they had questions about. The topics they most wanted to debrief: a rumor about a knife in a backpack and not wanting to gossip, headache medicine offered from your friend's older sister, and an uncle that is making you a little uncomfortable.
With most of my classes, the students had lots of questions and comments after the story and after the sort, and this wrapped up our 45 minutes. One of my classes however was just a lot quieter, and we had some time left over. I gave the students a worksheet to continue their processing and application of the material. I thought it was pretty self-explanatory - WRONG! So when I used the worksheet again in a different class with a couple early finisher groups, I made sure to briefly explain each of the three sections on it: writing (made up) examples of good/safe secrets and bad/unsafe secrets, identifying 4 safe adults, and then coming up with a way to start a tricky conversation with an adult.
I have this lesson plan on my TpT store for anyone interested in buying it ready-to-go, just click below:
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