To Educators: We See You

Inspired by Edna Sackson’s latest blog post To Teachers Everywhere and tailored to the wonderful educators at our school specifically.

In case you think it goes unnoticed…

To the educator who gives up part of their weekend to support their students’ action. We see you.

To the educator who stands at the door to greet each and every student, each and every day. We see you.

To the educator who goes out for extra duties, often just to play with students. We see you.

To the educator who has a PYP binder full of notes, highlights and post-its. We see you.

To the educator supports student learners with an array of interventions, techniques, modifications, and strategies within the classroom.  We see you.

To to the educator who gives up part of their morning prep to offer extra support to their students. We see you.

To the educator who is often here until 6:00 pm each night. We see you.

To the educator who comes in every Saturday. We see you.

To the educator who has “taught” other staff about giving and sharing.  We see you.

To the educator who gets behind in their own work because they are busy supporting their new team members. We see you.

To the educator who nurtures students and supports their emotional learning.  We see you.

To the educator who takes time to provide meaningful feedback on a daily basis to the parents of a struggling student.  We see you.

To the educator who throws away their lesson plan to follow a student-led inquiry. We see you.

To the educator who is dealing with parents who may not yet understand how we teach in the PYP, yet perseveres and stays true to what they believe is best for students. We see you.

To the educator who is sitting at their computer not booking trips or checking facebook – but instead reading blogs and posting on Twitter. We see you.

To the educator who apologizes to their students when they make a mistake. We see you.

To the educator who gives up their break to help a student, even though you haven’t eaten or gone to the bathroom in hours. We see you.

To the educator who looks at each student holistically and supports her/his social-emotional and behavioral development alongside the academic.  We see you.

To the educator who stops at every classroom after school to check in with coworkers and make sure they are getting the support they need.  We see you.

To the educator who gives time, self, money, resources to students, parents, coworkers, and administration from the good of the heart — never seeking praise.  We see you.

To the educator who refuses to label or make generalizations about groups of students.  We see you.

To the educator who uses humor with students and is never afraid to break the tension with a joke.  We see you.

To the educator who is dealing with challenging situations in personal life but never lets it impact student learning and professional responsibilities.  We see you.

To the educator who has been teaching for many years, but gave up old practices and adopted new ones. We see you.

To the educator who refuses to embarrass or humiliate students.  We see you.

To the educator who gives up time with family and children to support school-wide initiatives and programs.  We see you.

To the educator who spends precious prep time promoting health and creating new athletic opportunities for students.  We see you.

To the educator who refuses to believe that early learners are not capable of deep, critical thinking.  We see you.

To the educator who has spent countless hours building a classroom community built around mutual respect, caring, and compassion.  We see you.

To the educator who may be quiet during sharing times at meetings, but has amazing learning happening in their classroom. We see you.

To the educator who takes risks and tries new things they may have never dreamed of doing in their classroom. We see you.

To the educator who went a different direction from the rest of their team because they felt it was better for students. We see you.

To the educator who dreads dust days and unexpected holidays because it takes away from learning time. We see you.

To the educator who let their students redesign their classroom and their schedule part way through the year. We see you.

To the educator who is never satisfied with her/himself as a teacher and spends endless hours trying to improve. We see you.

To the educator, who takes the time to tie a shoe, pick up a book, carry a bag. We see you.

To the educator who maintains and practices confidentiality with students and coworkers.  We see you.

To the educator who lives, breathes, practices, and promotes inquiry with student and adult learners.  We see you.

To the educator who refuses to countdown to holidays because they believe in the power of each instructional day. We see you.

We may not always take the time to say it, but we see you and appreciate all the amazing things you do for the students at our school.


Making Good Humans & Globally Minded Counselor

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 Question to Determine Motivation for Change

Change cannot be forced.

I am a firm believer that change can only happen for an individual when they want to change.  As a counselor, I often work with students on developing pro-social and positive behaviors (re: changing behaviors from undesirable behaviors to more desirable behaviors).  With teachers, I consult and provide feedback around areas of concern with specific students or groups of students (re: changing current practices to better align with student needs).  With parents I meet to discuss strategies to help a student academically, behaviorally, and socially both inside the school and inside the home (re: changing specific systems in place to maintain continuity for the student).  A large majority of my counseling discussions center around change — changing behaviors, interactions, norms, conversations, and expectations.   For change to occur the student, parent, or teacher must have motivation to change.  This individual needs to see the value of change or understand what in the long term what would be different or better if change occurred.  There has to be a drive to want to change — motivation.  In other words, I cannot — no matter how hard I try — force another individual to change.

Change can be challenging especially if a certain behavior or pattern is working for you.  Change takes time, energy, and investment.  It also takes a future vision of what life would be like after things change.  Without this vision, the need for change might be unclear.  Therefore, I have come to realize that before jumping into a support plan with a student or teacher, there is value in asking a simple question.  That question is:

“Are you willing to do whatever it takes to make things different for you?”  

If the answer is “yes,” then we have someone who is willing to put in the work and reflection (however long that may be) to change their current behaviors, actions, responses, situation, etc.  If the answer is yes, as a counselor I know that the work that will be done to create meaningful, lasting change will be mutual.  I will not be working harder for change than the student or teacher and the outcome for the individual is usually much more positive and sustainable.

If after asking the question, the student or teacher responds with a “no” or “I’m not sure” then this is a good indicator that the individual is not fully motivated to change.  The current behaviors, situations, or interactions are working and changing might be too big, scary, or overwhelming.  Perhaps the vision of the future (post-change) is cloudy or unclear.  The individual might not fully understand the benefit of changing, at this point.  

If the response is “no” I do not lose hope.  Rather, I typically thank the person for her/his honesty.  Then, I remind the individual that the only person who can change is the person him/herself.  So, at this time, what the “no” response tells me is that I am going to be doing work for the student or teacher instead of with the teacher.  I typically let the teacher or student know that they should go and reflect for a few days on:

  1. What the individual would like to see differently?
  2. If change occurs, how would life be different (better, improve)?
  3. What the individual is willing to do to for things to be different?

Over time, most people realize that work has to be done for change to occur — hard work and self-reflection.  I have found that sometimes hours, sometimes days, or sometimes months have to pass.  However, more often than not a situation occurs that causes the motivation for a student or teacher to change and make something better for her/himself. Then, when I ask the question, “Are you willing to do whatever it takes to make things different for you?” the answer has become a solid yes.  Let the counseling support begin!

The Power of Notes

I have a very simple, tried-and-true, stand-by counseling technique that I believe could benefit and improve the practice of all educators — not just school counselors.  It is a quick, easy, and effective tool that often takes only a few moments to use with a long lasting impact.  It is a practice that creates connections, is student-centered, and promotes well-being in the classroom.  It is a tool I turn to over and over again and am continually shocked, amazed, and surprised with the outcome.  What is this magic tool?  A note.

Dr. Linda Metcalf writes of uses notes in her counseling practice to connect with students, remind them of their goals, and to celebrate successes. When I first learned of this tool to support counseling, it naturally stuck in my mind.  Personally I have always enjoyed writing and sending hand-written notes.  These might be to give thanks, to celebrate, or to simply say “I’m thinking of you.”  In my personal life, I have always received positive feedback about how meaningful notes are and how they make an individual feel.  Therefore, when I learned this could become part of my professional practice, I was an immediate believer.  If a note has such an impact to someone who does not necessarily “need” support, how much more of an impact could it have then on a student who is working through a problem, issue, or stressful event.  I was excited to see if this was a meaningful and authentic tool to add to my counseling tool-box.

The first time I wrote a note to a student, I was unsure how it would be received.  I was working with a student who lacked a positive school affiliation.  He had bought into the belief that he was not smart, a troublemaker, and that no teacher liked him.  After meeting a few times together (and feeling like our sessions were not moving forward), I decided to write him a note.  It was simple.  I took construction paper, some markers, and sat at my desk.  In the note, I greeted him, told him good morning, and that I was very excited to have him at school that day.  I wrote that I could not wait to see him after lunch and hear how his morning had gone.  Then, I went to his classroom and placed the note on his desk in an inconspicuous place.

That morning, during passing periods, I noticed that this student was smiling more and seemed a little more happy.  At lunch, he was engaged with friends and joined in a game.  At our session that afternoon, he did not mention the note but he did seem (for the first time) to be excited to connect with me and create a plan for how to complete some missing assignments.  It was the first time that he fully bought into our counseling session and advocated for his own needs instead of believing what others thought of him.

Since this experience years ago, I have regularly used the note as part of my counseling practice.

If a student is struggling to separate from parents and caregivers in the morning, I write a note saying how glad I am they are at school and how proud I am of them for joining their learning community without fear.  

If a student is new to our school and trying to transition in, I write a note acknowledging the fear and bravery that comes from entering a community where no one knows you.  

If a student is working through a death or divorce, I write a note commending the student on his/her ability to be at school, learning, thinking, and participating when her/his mind might not feel like it.

 If a student has been working on changing a behavior from an undesirable one to a more pro-social one, I write a note praising the student on a time I “caught” them in the desirable behavior and stating I am eager to see the momentum continue.  

At times, a student will come by and say “thank you” for the note.  Most often, they do not.  I do see little changes, though, whether it be in a smile, a change in behavior, stopping to say hi more often, or a little more buy-in during future interactions.  I do often hear from teachers, parents, and other stakeholders that when the student read the note, there was a genuine smile on the student’s face.  And, every once in a blue moon, a student writes me a note back!  For me, that is enough to keep writing notes and believing in the power of them to positively impact students.  In fact, the note is one of the most used tools in my counseling tool-box.IMG_0380

Is there a student you think could benefit from a personalized note?  Have you used notes in your educational practice before?  Are there other ways you think a note could benefit the school community?

What You Have to do in Education

I am currently embedded in a culture where tutoring is a commonplace activity. The school day ends and teachers head to the homes of students to provide tutoring support.  This happens at all grades, across all subjects, and with all levels of academic support.  It is also a serious thorn in my side.  Why?

In counseling, I am consulted by teachers, parents, and administration on a regular basis.  Stakeholders are seeking out advice, strategies, and interventions to support students across all domains — academic, social, behavioral, and emotional.  It is one of my roles to coach, collaborate with, and offer support to adults so they, in turn, can support students.  So, imagine my frustration — when offering strategies, interventions, and solution focused strategies — to hear the stakeholder reply, “I don’t have time.  I have to go tutor.”  

You HAVE to go tutor?  You HAVE to go?  


You choose to go.

Do you know what you have to do??

  1. Get to know your students and build authentic, genuine relationships with them.
  2. Act as a facilitator of learning while providing engaging, meaningful, relevant lessons to students.
  3. Provide feedback that helps a student understand where they are as a learner and provides an idea of what they could do to improve their learning practice.
  4. Engage with students in the classroom by being up, inquiring with them, modeling learning, and dialoguing to help them make meaning of their inquiries.
  5. Provide differentiated instruction and assessments to meet the needs of all learners in your community.
  6. Look at students holistically and support their social, emotional, and behavioral needs along with academic.
  7. Spend time planning, marking, moderating, and collaborating to ensure that student lessons are meaningful, engaging, and differentiated as well as goal-oriented and objective driven.
  8. Demonstrate compassion and empathy to all students, treating them with respect and dignity.
  9. Put students at the center of every decision, conversation, choice.
  10. Involve parents in the educational process sharing both areas of strength and areas for growth.
  11. Be human.  Admit when you make a mistake.  Laugh at yourself.  Share something about your life.  Why?  (See number 1).
  12. Give time.  Lots and lots of time.  More time than you often want but time your students deserve.

I think this list is only the tip of the iceberg.  There are so many things you have to do as an educator.  Sometimes, these things often take time, energy, investment, and commitment outside of the contract hours.  Sometimes, adding these things into our days seem like our often meager pay is being spread even more thin.  Sometimes, doing these things is not lucrative like private tutoring is.

However, do you know what the catch 22 is?  The more you make time for the “haves” of education, the more simple your life often becomes.  Why?  Students feel valued. Students by in.  Students pro-social behaviors increase and undesirable behaviors decline.  Academics typically improve and your attitude toward students becomes more compassionate and positive.  In fact, call me controversial but I posit that if you practice all these “haves” off on a regular basis, your tutoring job might have just become obsolete.

In your experience, what are some other “haves” in education.  What should be included on this list?

Using a Graffiti Wall in Classroom Counseling

I am always looking for new strategies and ideas to help students unpack their thinking. Recently, I had the opportunity to deliver counseling lessons in grade 3 classrooms. The Unit of Inquiry was “Who We Are” and the central idea was “Decisions determine consequences.”  The grade 3 team noticed that many students were struggling with tattling.  When in a collaborative planning session, they asked if classroom counseling lessons could be tied into their unit because when students tattle, they experience natural consequences — often in the form of negative feedback — from peers.  It was decided that through the counseling and social-emotional lens, students would inquire into the ideas of tattling vs reporting.  

As I began to think about the counseling lessons, I realized that tattling and reporting are big concepts for grade 3 students to comprehend.  I began to think of all the visible thinking routines, protocols, and strategies I had in my toolbox to help students think about their thinking and make meaning out of these two big ideas.  I began to reflect that many routines like See, Think, Wonder and Chalk Talk have already been used numerous times by the teachers this year.  I wanted to try something new to help students tap into prior knowledge, learn from their peers, and begin to make sense of what they know and what they don’t.

Enter an awesome member of my professional learning community, The Relevant Educator, who suggest I try using a Graffiti Wall.  A graffiti wall is a thinking strategy where students use pictures, powerful words, symbols, and colors to share their thoughts and connections around a specific topic.  Similar to a chalk talk, students work on a large piece of paper to create an individual and collective understanding and unpacking of a big idea.  “Brilliant,” I thought.  Grade 3 would be my new strategy guinea pigs.

The Set Up

Since the inquiry was around “tattling” and “reporting,” two large pieces of butcher paper were hung on the wall with these words in the center.  Since we use Kelso’s Choice as a school wide problem solving method, two additional posters were created with “Big Problem” and “Small Problem” as the prompt.  Bright colored markers were placed by the posters, as well.

The Introduction

The posters were introduced with a brief check in for prior knowledge and understanding.  Students were asked if they were familiar with graffiti.  (I was amazed at how many of them had examples and understanding of it).  Some examples of graffiti were shared for those tuning in to the idea.  It was explained that students would be sharing their knowledge, understanding, ideas, and thoughts around the concepts/ideas on the poster using graffiti — pictures, colors, powerful words, statements.  I asked them to do their best to show and represent rather than tell.  **Note, students were very excited when I mentioned graffiti as the first response was “WE GET TO USE SPRAY PAINT!!!”  No.**

The Activity

Students were fully excited and engaged in the activity.  Due to the familiarity with a chalk talk, they instantly got to work on sharing their understanding on the “graffiti wall” through pictures and powerful phrases.  I facilitated when to rotate to the next poster so that students were spread out working on all 4 rather than having 22 students en masse at one.  Every student had the opportunity to share their understanding on each poster.  After the time was up, we moved back together as a group to share some of our thoughts, what we noticed about what our classmates shared, how our understanding of the concept word changed, was challenged, or grew.  We then formed a working definition of each term — tattling, reporting, big problem, small problem — based on their images, dialogue, and connections which became the anchor for the rest of our counseling lessons.


Big problem example. Those are bees attacking the student.


Creatively using a horse and owl to solve problems.

Reporting Copy

This wall clearly shows that reporting is thought of as only report cards.


My Reflection

  • Having the prior knowledge and experience with a chalk talk was both a help and a little bump.  It helped students as they already knew the butcher paper was a working document to share their ideas. They understood there was no “correct” answer but just a medium to make sense of their thinking.
  • It was a little challenging in that students wanted to write their thoughts and ideas in detailed sentences instead of drawing, coloring, using powerful words.  Also, some students simply wanted to star, check, or put a smiley face by other student’s drawings (as you do in chalk talks) instead of share their own images.  This really upset some students that certain student pictures were “liked” while others were not. 
  • I should have allowed more time.  Students felt rushed and like they could not get all their images completed in the manner they wanted or needed.  They also needed additional time, at the end, to view their peer’s work and see other thinking. 
  • It was clear that students had no real concept of “reporting” in the context we were discussing it. Therefore, we spent more time discussing this concept and coming to a working definition for our counseling lesson. 
  • Due to the size of the paper and how it hangs on walls (like graffiti), the teachers could not leave the papers up in their rooms for further investigation.  This activity does require space.

Overall, I was glad I was a risk-taker and tried a new strategy to help students unpack their thinking.  I do believe it was successful in making sense of thoughts and ideas and challenging misconceptions.  I had students report they enjoyed the drawing (and some got pretty creative with their images). I think with some fine tuning, this activity will definitely be used again in both a classroom and group counseling setting.


Small problem art. Not sure what is in the student’s hand but he/she is choosing one of Kelso’s Choices.

How Your Classroom Management Practices Lead to Counseling

Startling statement:  Whole class behavior management plans cause your students to need counseling.

Let me state that again.  When a teacher chooses to use a whole class behavior plan — move the clip, flip the card, Class Dojo, beans in a jar, table points, class points, etc., etc. — it can impact a student so much that they need to seek the intervention of counseling.

You think I am being dramatic?  Up until a month ago I would have thought I was being dramatic, too.  Unfortunately, this is pure truth. I am the counselor providing the intervention services to students who have been negatively impacted by their class-wide … umm … “intervention.”

In the last month, I have been approached by three different parents who have students at our school.  These students are in different grades, different classes, and in no-way are connected to each other — friends, family, classmates.  Each parent has sought me out to share their concern about their child and the student’s outlook on school.  While each situation is unique and different, there is commonality — the fact that a whole-class behavior system has negatively impacted their child.  In fact, each student is so impacted that the parent requested individualized counseling to help shift the student’s self-perception and school-perception from negative back to positive.

Example 1:  My child lost all of his friends

A student was in a class where a behavior clip-chart was used.  The teacher made it clear that the students could move up the chart when an individual’s behavior was above and beyond the expectation.  The students could also move down the chart when the individual’s behavior was off task or not meeting the classroom expectations.  Often, this one student was moved all the way to the “bottom” of the chart where his name was placed on the red circle.  This meant the student had reached the bottom and his behavior was so “bad” that he could not possibly get any worse (well, according to this teacher and this chart).  

After a while, the mother started noticing that her child no longer wanted to go to school.  Her son would often cry in the morning and try to come up with any reason he could think of to stay home.  Mother also noticed that her child was not getting invited out for playdates anymore.  Her son also reported that no other student would play with him at breaks.  When mother and child began to ask past friends why they stopped playing with him, the response was always similar.  “(Name) is always on red and getting in trouble.  We don’t want to be friends with him because we will be ‘moved down’ too.”

So now, a new year and new grade and this same student still finds himself without friends and not being invited to playdates.  The social shaming that occurred was due to this child always being labeled as “bad” in public and then — through the power of repetition —  perceived as true by his peers.  This student now meets with me to help rebuild his self-image, belief in his ability to demonstrate positive behaviors in school, and to build social-skills around how to make new friends.  Thanks, whole class clip chart.  You helped alienate this boy from his peers.

Example 2:  A girl would rather be alone

The teacher uses table points as a whole class management strategy.  Be on-task, the quietest table, the quickest to clean up, the group who finishes their work first.  Your whole group does this — you get a coveted point.  What are the points used for?  A party, a treat, free time.  It does not matter but your success or failure is tied to 3 or 4 other individual’s success or failure.  Once again, after experiencing this for a few weeks, a girl’s parents approached me very concerned that their daughter always seems to be anxious about coming to school and upset when she returns home.  When they asked why, their child shared all about table points.  This student gets so anxious, frustrated, and upset by having to wait for her 3 table mates to do what the teacher expects/asks (ultimately never doing good enough to get the “table point) that she does not want to be in class.  She told her parents “I would rather just sit alone.”  The parents asked the teacher if this request for an individual table could be granted and the teacher reported that learning to work in a group is a needed skill.  Therefore, no, their daughter would be expected to continue in the group setting (and for her behavior “success” to only be depended upon the behaviors of 3 of her peers).

Now the student meets with me to help her with her anxiety and build some stress-release skills she can use in class.  We talk about the perceived importance of table points and how she can re-focus on her celebrating her choices, behaviors, and ability to follow teacher directions and try to not worry about her peers.  This is hard to do, though, when a carrot of a party, free time, or treats is being dangled.  So, the counseling continues.

Example 3:  From Engagement to Disengagement

This student is a model of engagement.  He loves everything about school.  He actively inquires,  makes meaning, participates, and takes action to apply his knowledge.  His is vibrant, passionate, and radiates zeal for learning.  Or maybe I should say, that was him.  Now, thanks to a whole class behavior strategy of all being penalized for the actions of a few, this student is different.

Parents report he no longer wants to get out of bed in the morning.  He has faked sick three times to go home.  He becomes grumpy and moody when his parents try to ask him how his day was.  They suggested he talk to a counselor.  Here’s where I enter. After meeting with the student, he finally disclosed that the real issue is that “he is always in trouble.”  However, this is for nothing he does but rather, the fact that the teacher has a whole class management strategy that when a few students are off task, all students’ heads go down on desks and lights get turned off until ALL students can settle.  

Even at this young student’s age, he can articulate that this strategy does not make sense.  When many students are demonstrating expected behavior, why are they being “punished” like the ones off task?  Why, when he always does what is expected, does he have to stop his learning/inquiring/exploring to put his head down?  He feels embarrassed.  He feels shame.  He feels tired of being lumped with the other students. He feels frustrated the teacher never comments on his positive behaviors.  He feels like giving up.  Guess what?  He is.

I share these examples not to guilt people or embarrass their strategies.  Rather, I encourage teachers to examine what whole class behavior management strategies they have in place.  Switch the lens and ask yourself:

If I were the student, what are all the ways I could be impacted by this whole class intervention?  

How would I feel to be the student always in trouble?  The student always on task?

How would this impact me socially?

What message about behaviors do I want to promote to my students?

How does my plan change undesired behaviors to desired behaviors?

Most importantly, ask yourself, “Do I want my ‘management’ strategy to be the reason a student might have to see a counselor?”