5 Ways Meditating Makes me a Stronger Counselor

There are so many benefits of having a daily meditation practice:

Decreasing stress, anxiety, and loneliness.  

Increase in happiness, healthier friendships and relationships, better decision making and problem solving.  

An improved immune system, better sleep, and higher energy levels.  

The benefits of daily meditation are powerful and I do believe as a human, I am better for meditating.

Recently I began to reflect on all the ways that having a daily meditation practice benefits not only my personal self but also my professional self and my counseling practice.  Here are some of the awesome things I have noticed:

  1. I am a better listener.  As a counselor, I have always prided myself on being a strong listener.  However, since meditating I feel that this sense is even more heightened and tuned in.  In classroom lessons, teacher consultations, and 1:1 sessions I still notice what is being said but I also feel I have become more skilled in listening to more than just words.  I notice tones, the pace of speaking, and the breaths of my students.  This puts together a better picture of the story that is being shared and connects me with what might be omitted, as well.  As a counselor listening is key.  Meditation took my listening from an 8 to a 10.
  2. I am more generous with my time.  As I have explained before, as a counselor – time is not my own. However, there are still the daily pieces of work that need to get scheduled and done.  Sometimes it is hard to fit those pieces into a counseling schedule and so I resist face-to-face interactions when they come my way for the need of getting tasks completed.  Now through meditation I realize that nothing more matters than this moment we are in now.  Therefore, if someone needs to connect, chat, question for a few minutes I am happy to stop and let that process happen — even if I was “working on something.”  I realize that giving two minutes to someone does not negatively impact my schedule or get me off track.  Rather it creates a humanistic connection and helps build my approachability as a counselor.  Most importantly, it keeps me centered and present and in the now.
  3. I am more patient with students, staff, and parents.  Let’s be honest.  Even if I’m a counselor, I am still human.  My patience can wear thin and I can feel with an interaction before it even starts.  Now by meditating I realize that my patience > frustration. This isn’t just acting patient – it is true patience in action.  This means that the frustration that used to be present in certain conversations or situations – which made me want to “fix” the situation to get out of it – just doesn’t show up as much.  I find that even in the most challenging of situations I have a higher tolerance for things and I’m not looking for an escape like I did in the past. I am patient and willing to be open to whatever situation is coming my way.
  4. I forgive myself more.  In my professional life I can be pretty hard on myself.  I want to do things and do them well.  Most importantly, I never want to disappoint people.  Since meditating, I realize that I regularly and willingly forgive others but I don’t do the same for myself.  So, through meditation I have started to practice forgiveness toward myself especially when it comes to counseling.  If I missed something at work or did not support a situation in a way I wished I had, I forgive myself.  If I have an interaction that doesn’t go the way I wanted it to, I forgive myself.  If I forgot to do something, I apologize and then forgive myself.  It has been a beautiful and freeing thing to give myself the same grace that I daily give to others.
  5. I notice more.  At work I tend to work from the minute I walk in till the minute I leave.  I put my head down and get the tasks done.  This work-ethic and “busyness” causes me to miss out on amazing things going on around me.  Through meditation, I find I am more in tune with all my senses and this allows me to appreciate more throughout the day.  I now pick my head up and slow the pace down.  Due to this,  little things I would be too busy to notice during work no longer get left behind.  As I notice more I feel more grateful for the world in which I live and the environment in which I work.  So noticing leads to more gratitude.  We all need more gratitude.

I am just a true beginner when it comes to meditation and practicing mindfulness. However, I do believe the benefits are more than I ever could have hoped for.  If you are interested in developing a mindfulness practice of your own, here are some great resources to help you develop your understanding and practice.

Resources for Personal Practice:


This is your brain on meditation

Types of Meditation

Guide to Start Meditating

Resources for Schools:


Meditation in Schools

Mindful Teachers

Do you meditate as an educator?  How has your meditation improved or impacted your education practice?  Do you think meditation matters as an educator?


On Finding Balance and Avoiding Burnout

I recently received a message from a fellow school counselor who was part of my Master of Education School Counseling cohort.  She sent a message to our entire graduating cohort to check and see how we were all feeling and faring as school counselors.

At only 7 years in, I expected people to be talking about finally feeling established, making change (albeit slow), or realizing how much this career offered them personally and professionally.  What I read was the complete opposite — people are exhausted, people are frustrated, people are losing hope.  Some had already stopped with school counseling and moved into private counseling practice.  Some had decided to move back into the teaching classroom or go for an administrative certificate hoping it would be “easier.”  Some talked about declining funding, positions being on the chopping block, or being over dealing with combative parents.  From my cohort’s response it did not seem that any one individual was experiencing true joy in their counseling role.

I shut down the email chain and felt so deflated.  Why? I struggled to relate to my friends comments, complaints, or concerns.  Their words were not mirroring my experiences.

I love being a school counselor.

I enjoy going to work every day.

I find joy in my position, my role, and my interactions.

More importantly, I was deeply saddened by the fact that a group of powerful, caring, compassionate school counselors could be feeling so bad and so tired that they were considering giving up the trade.  

I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what is different for me? What I kept coming back to was a  few established beliefs, norms, or practices that have helped me stay focused, achieve work-life balance, and maintain the joy of counseling.

In the hopes of maybe sparking a new practice for fellow school counselors who might be tired and questioning their choice to counsel — here are my tips and advice to staying bright and energized and not burning out.

  1. I leave work at work.  At the end of the day when I pack up and go home, my work is done for the night.  I get to school early and am happy to stay late(ish) to finish what I need to do.  I work hard all day to not waste time. Once I leave campus, though, I am done.  No work emails.  No work phone calls.  No real planning.  My phone is not hooked up to my work email so that I am not tempted to check and reply.  Granted, there are the occasional extenuating circumstances but these are few and far between.  Once I leave the physical space I try to …
  2. … Make time for me.  This ties into number 1.  Once I am done with work, I am focused on “me” time.  I workout.  I reconnect with my husband.  I read for pleasure. I meditate.  I connect with family.  I cook and consume healthy meals.  I try to not let work thoughts seep into this time which allows me to honor who I am with and what I am doing.  I don’t feel selfish.  I feel balanced and refreshed. More importantly, I feel renewed to counsel the next day.
  3. I recognize my limits.  I am one individual.  I have a huge caseload.  I realize that I am not a magician and that I am unable to make things better for every human.  I do what I can and celebrate the small victories.  I am honest with people about my time and my limits.  With this I don’t feel like I am letting people down or failing them.  I let go of false expectations of being a super-woman and just do what I can in a meaningful way.
  4. I surround myself by marigolds.  While it is important to vent, it is also important to stay positive.  The negative weighs on me and makes me feel gross. So, I choose to not put myself in that environment.  Rather, I celebrate with those who are like minded and find the joy.
  5. I do not search for extra.  I think it is a personality trait of many counselors to want to know everything going on in a school.  NOT ME.  I have always said as a counselor I hear a lot of things every day.  If I don’t have to hear/know more that is great with me.  In other words — I do not need to know the “gossip.”  If someone chooses to not share with me I am okay with that.  I don’t feel like I am missing out.  If a student goes to another adult and is supported and doing well, beautiful.  I don’t need to insert myself in just to feel like I have the inside scoop. I carry enough and am not hurt by not knowing something that really I do not need to know in the first place.
  6. I take joy in my daily interactions.  I love working with students.  There is something good in everyday.  I recognize it.  I notice it.  I celebrate it.  When you experience joy it really is hard to feel weighed down or burnt out.
  7. I try to not personalize things. Like a duck, I let things roll off my back.  When students, parents, or teachers are hurtful I acknowledge they are not attacking me. There is something that is hurting them and I just happen to be on the receiving end of that misdirected anger/sadness/frustration.  It’s not me.  It is bigger than me.  I can support but I will not absorb.
  8. I refuse to be stagnant. I am always developing and trying new things. I think burnout occurs when we are stagnant.  So I take risks, develop new learning opportunities for students and staff, grow as a professional, learn from those around me, create, innovate, and then reflect.  It keeps me on my toes and keeps me focused on how things could be (and how I can get them there).
  9. I seek feedback.  I ask parents, students, and staff to help me grow as a professional. I want to hear what I could do different to support students and develop authentic learning opportunities for students.  By asking and putting myself out there, I have found that people are willing to offer areas for growth and development.  In this way I am constantly aware of how I am doing and how to improve.  I feel noticed and like what I do really matters.  I also get the occasional recognition of something I have done well which is always a confidence booster in itself.
  10. I live by the South African Proverb: “How do you eat an elephant?  Bite by bite.”  I recognize I am a small cog in a large machine.  I do what I can, when I can, with meaning and intention behind it.  Bite by bite I do believe that I — as a school counselor — makes a difference.

So, here is to my friends and fellow counselors refocusing and refreshing and reigniting their joy.  Here is to an amazing group of thinkers, educators, and believers who I know do amazing work for students.  Here is to not giving up hope and not hanging up the towel. Here is to school counselors — around the world — with careers that are long, satisfying, healthy, and meaningful.  Be well.

Practicing Gratitude: A Reflective Experiment

I recently read an article about the power of gratitude.  Gratitude is a concept that often gets overlooked or applied only at a surface level.  

We say thank you.  

We send an “obligatory” thank you note.  

We feel grateful when a friend/partner/coworker does something for us.

While nice, this is not true gratitude.

True gratitude is much deeper than a thank you.  In fact, according to research, gratitude is not simply an emotion but a true state of mind that must be developed and practiced on a daily basis.  Cultivating gratitude has, as Robert Emmons points out, physical, psychological, and social benefits from stronger immune systems, to experiencing more joy and pleasure, to being more forgiving and feeling less lonely.  Gratitude also helps us tune in to what is good in life and naming and recognizing where that goodness comes from — which is often from outside factors, not from things we do or control.The best part about gratitude is that “you can choose at any time to tune in” as Robin Stern and Robert Emmons write.  

As it has been a more challenging than typical year for me (personally and professionally) for the past week I decided to choose to tune in to gratitude.  I chose to go deeper than feeling thankful to actually becoming more thankful in words, actions, and deeds.

Here are my reflections on gratitude after my past week long experiment:

  1. It’s easy to focus on one or two negative events and in doing so you let hundreds of positive ones pass you by Someone stood me up for a meeting, I lost my scarf, or a frustrated parent snaps at me.  While dwelling and ruminating on these things, however, I forgot to notice a student waving and calling my name, a hot cup of coffee on a cold dessert winter day, a loving text message from a friend just “checking in,” the awesome new program a co-worker introduced to support students, etc.
  2. Children are natural at expressing gratitude in authentic, tuned in ways.  Students dancing at lunch because their family packed their favorite snack, delighting in finding a ladybug on a tree and marvelling at its colors, being so happy when I stop to visit with them for three minutes that they leave me with a huge hug and smile.  If these are not natural expressions of gratitude, then what is?
  3. Gratitude does not need to be mutual.  It’s okay if I am grateful and notice something that those around me don’t notice or recognize.  If it is meaningful to me, then that is all that matters.
  4. Practicing gratitude helps you stay grounded in the present.  Celebrating what is going on in my life, relationships, and with those around me keeps me centered on the now — and appreciating what is happening at this moment — instead of always wondering what is to come.
  5. Practicing gratitude is not easy.  I have to be aware, conscious, and tuned into the “now.”  I have to be aware of my interactions, focus on the motivations of my actions, and learn to let go when other people miss opportunities for gratitude.  Practicing gratitude is a skill I need to develop and hone.

After one week, I am excited to keep cultivating gratitude and making it a focus in my life.  I am also excited to look for ways to help students develop gratitude and express it to those around them.  I am hopeful that while developing my own practice of gratitude then I can support staff, teachers, parents, and administration develop their own gratitude and in turn, become more physically, psychologically, and socially healthy.

A Back to School Wish

My wish for educators in the upcoming school year:  Reclaim your passion.  

As educators we spend so much time planning, organizing, meeting, and aligning.  We spend hours in professional development learning about new techniques and best practices.  We structure our classroom, build lesson plans, peruse resources, decorate bulletin boards, collaborate with colleagues, prepare assessments, and think endlessly about how to best engage students.  We focus on the big picture and hone in on the small details.  I can’t help but wonder — as we get caught up in the doing — how often do we step back and reflect on why we entered education in the first place?

Choosing to join the education field is typically driven by a passion:  Passion to develop students as life-long learners.  Passion to challenge status-quo and shift educational paradigms.  Passion to impact the lives of young learners and have them impact you as an adult learner.  Passion to never settle for “good enough” and instead challenge through inquiry.  Passion to make a difference and to believe that the work you are doing has a lasting impact.

What was your drive?  What is your passion for education?  Do you even remember? Or, has it become lost in the nitty-gritty?  In the “to-dos” and standards based assessments?  In the budget cuts and difficult parents?  In the long hours and low pay?

What would happen if, when planning, organizing, and polishing the classroom you carved out honest time to reflect on your choice to join education field?  What if you reconnected to your passion for _________________ that caused you to become a teacher, counselor, administrator?  What if you wrote down your original hopes and dreams when you thought of becoming an educator and re-read that statement every day?

I believe that when we reclaim our passion and remember the heady goals we started on this journey with, then we will be better educators.  By tapping into our passion we will teach more passionately, connect with students more passionately, build an effective school community more passionately.  Reconnecting to our educational passion will not only refresh and recharge us but will also be noticeable to others around us.  Perhaps, our renewed sense of drive and purpose might even inspire students and co-workers to be a little better, try a little harder, or be a little more passionate about their education.

So go ahead.  Reclaim your passion.

Curse The Countdown: Teaching to the End

At this time of year, in any school community, teachers and students have their sights set on summer vacation.  An anticipatory energy seems to fill the school as the weather gets warmer and days get longer.  In the international school community, this time of year also signals a time of transition as highly mobile expat students might be moving onto their next school and as teachers say goodbye to one school to move to their next placement.  A lot of energy and resources are placed on year-end activities and providing closure for students and staff, alike.  I enjoy all the aspects of wrapping up an academic year.  All aspects except one:  the COUNTDOWN.

The dreaded countdown.  

How many instructional days left?  How many days till summer break?  How many student contact days?  How many days till I am on a plane headed “home?”  

No matter how it is framed or what method is used (corner of white board, calendar cross off, having students count remaining days, a countdown app on your device), I believe a “countdown” devalues the educational process.  Why?

A countdown tells the viewer (students, peers, parents, administrators) that the only thing that really matters is when school ends — not the learning that is in progress.  Why are we telling students to be so excited for their structured learning environment and daily inquiry process to come to an end?  If we are so focused on the end of the academic year then what value are we assigning to all the days of meaningful instruction that have not yet occurred?  By highlighting the last day of school as a celebration, I feel the messaging is that school is a chore, boring, something that has to be done rather than something we get to celebrate daily.  Educators should be counting every contact day with students as a learning opportunity yet to be had and creating an atmosphere of excitement about the opportunity to gather as a classroom community to inquire, unpack, and explore together.  We should model for students that learning is something to celebrate and build excitement for as learning happens every day. Counting down toward the end of an academic year does not promote the zeal and excitement around acquiring knowledge to create lifelong learners.  Instead it says “Hey, you get 180 days to learn and then — BOOM — take a break (and you “deserve” that break because school is hard, boring, and monotonous).”  Students pick up on our attitudes and messaging whether we intend them to or not.  If we are not placing a value on every academic day then why should they?  While we might not intend for a countdown to be detrimental to academic progress, I have yet to hear anyone to argue the benefit for student academic growth.

So, in a time when we are all getting ansty and thinking about things to come, what can we do instead of a countdown?  My suggestions:

1. Set daily goals of things you want to accomplish during the workday and cross those off the list instead of days.  Make them small goals of meaningful tasks to accomplish.  Give meaningful feedback on the latest assessment.  Get in a peer’s classroom for an observation.  Read a blog on assessment in inquiry.  Try a new teaching strategy.  Set a daily goal or two and make yourself follow through on accomplishing it.  Then, once you have achieved your daily goal, scratch it out and reflect on the process.

2. Take the initiative and lead a year end closure project or opportunity.  As the end of the academic year approaches, there are always too many projects that need accomplished at the school and never enough time.  Volunteer to take the lead on a goodbye assembly, grade 5 moving up project, organize a year end celebration for leaving staff, review documents that need updated prior to the next academic year, be part of the new staff orientation planning process, facilitate group sessions for students leaving the school and moving, or plan something totally new and innovative in your community.  By focusing on something extra or bigger than yourself, you will find the year end becomes too busy to count down.  You also model learning and growing yourself professionally and not shutting off because the “end is in sight.”

3. Develop engaging, innovative lessons that you have not tried before to promote student engagement and inquiry.  Excitement is contagious.  When students are engaged in meaningful, impactful, and purposeful learning, they will let you know.  You will also find that the more student excitement there is, the more excitement you will feel as a teacher.  When you are excited about something, do you really want whatever it is that is making you feel good to end?!?

4. If nothing else, remember — you are a teacher.  Your job means that you should be promoting learning and knowledge in your practice.  You chose to join a profession that, yes, has long breaks, but is tasked with developing a passion and desire for learning with every student you interact with.  Focus on the task you have at hand and represent the profession well.  Set high standards for yourself and then strive to achieve them.  At the end of every day, reflect and ask yourself, “Did my actions today promote or discourage students from becoming life-long, self-directed learners?”  I would reckon a big number on the board representing how many days left of the school year would not garner a tally in the “promote” column.

So, please, I implore you — wrap the academic year up when it needs to wrap up — after the students have left for the summer break.  Don’t start wrapping it up 54, 53, 52 … days early.  Kill the countdown and focus on the day in front of you.

…But Who Takes Care of You?

One question that I regularly hear from my principal/co-workers/family members/friends is:

“You take care of so many.  Who takes care of you?”  

It is not a secret that being a counselor can be an emotionally charged experience.  A lot is shared with a counselor — happy stories, joyous experiences, celebrations, laughter.  On the flip side — anger, hurt, resentment, fear, angst, really lousy situations. It takes a lot of balance for a counselor to practice empathy while also keeping up a shield and working through emotion without making it your own.  This is a skill that is hard to perfect (and many never do).

Over the years of my professional development and practice, I have been able to identify a handful of ways to refresh, recharge, and release.  This helps me to achieve an optimal balance of demonstrating empathy while maintaining a tough skin so as to serve others.  While my five strategies might not work for all, they might provide a good jumping off point for developing your own self-care plan.

1. Find Your Release.  Everybody has something that brings them peace.  Running.  Writing.  Dancing.  Cooking.  Riding horses.  Silence.  Music.  Family.  Organizing.  Whatever it is that makes you feel the most calm and full of solace is your release.  It is the activity that you can get lost in and before long, all your thoughts seem to disappear.  When it’s been a particularly bad day, make sure you engage in that activity.  Spend time “doing” and soon you will realize that the “thinking” has subsided.

2.  Just do you.  Spend time reflecting.  Counseling should be reflective in nature both for participant and practitioner.  In my experience counselors are highly skilled at helping other people be reflective but spend limited time reflecting on themselves.  Reflect on why this one day/event/issue might have had more weight for you.  Reflect on why this conversation triggered you or impacted you in the way it did.  Reflect on what you could do differently to work through the issue without bringing it home with you.  Reflect. Reflect. Reflect.

3.  Get comfortable with “no.”  When your plate is full and you are starting to feel like you are losing your balance, say NO.  Turn down an offer for something.  Tell your team you need some support.  Tell a teacher/parent/student that his/her request will have to wait for a bit.  It’s okay to choose how you invest your time.  Learn the power of saying “no” and feel yourself re-balancing.

4.  Identify safe people.  These are the people in your life who support you, love you, want to spend time with you because they appreciate you as you — not you as counselor.  They do not need an explanation of your day or emotions.  They are happy to engage with you and remind you that there is more to your life than your professional self.  Identify those individuals and seek them out.  Talk about anything and everything but work and then thank that individual for allowing you to be your best self.

5.  When all else fails, just _______ (Fill in the blank): Drink coffee, go for a walk, cry, laugh, get angry, run, bake (and eat) cookies.  Sometimes the best way to achieve balance is to just rid yourself of the emotional charge you are carrying.  You know what makes you feel better — even if you feel a little worse, first — so do it.  Release and move through it.

A counselor cannot effectively care for others without first caring for him/herself.  If you take care of yourself and find strategies that work to keep you balanced, your practice will be productive and you will be able to maintain taking care of others.