Why I stopped blogging …

… and why I must restart.

I used to love to blog. I felt like it was the perfect medium for me to think about my practice and share my trials, failures, growth, and reflections.  I felt like writing about my practice, beliefs, thoughts, and lessons kept me vibrant, innovating, and thinking critically about what it meant to be a relevant, meaningful school counselor.  I blogged for me – it didn’t matter if anyone else read it (however, readers are always appreciated).  The more I wrote and reflected, the more I felt empowered to try new things and better my practice.  

Then all of a sudden I stopped blogging.

Every day for the past year I would add “blog” to my to-do list.  Every day I would leave work with that task still looming and never crossed off.  I think I managed to add a few blogs over the period of a year but somehow I had lost the desire, joy, and ability to get anything out in words.  I could not identify why I had stopped – I just knew I no longer wrote about my counseling practice.  It bothered me and I constantly thought of restarting but for some reason I could not bring myself to write.

There were all sorts of excuses:

“I am at a new school and the first year is so crazy, I don’t have the time.”

“My lessons are boring and not engaging.  No one wants to read about them.”

“My voice is too whimsical – too philosophical.  People want tangible takeaways when it comes to education.”

“My job is too restrictive and I have not been allowed to create and innovate here like I did at my past school. I have nothing new to share.”

“I am no longer at a PYP school so who is going to believe I am still using inquiry to facilitate social and emotional learning?”

“I would be better off taking my ‘blog time’ and using it for lesson planning (atlas updating, catching up on emails, connecting with staff, reading, and researching, etc).”

“Let’s face it … I am not a blogger.”

Somehow I could rationalize my decision to stop blogging in my mind but it kept eating away at my core.  Why did I stop?  If it brought me so much joy, why did I not restart?

Then it hit me.  Somewhere along the way I stopped writing for me and started writing for others.  Every post I wrote I worried how it would be received and if people would connect with my ideas. I began to worry that people would think I was phony or contrived. I doubted my lessons and thought people would judge my teaching practices  (never mind I just facilitated these same lessons to students – the people that matter the most — without fear of judgment).  I was questioning my voice and my craft in writing and believed others would do the same.  I became so caught up in how others would view me that I paralyzed myself into not writing. Instead of doing something that empowered me and brought me joy, I let perceived judgment shut me down.

Over the past few months, I have been telling people I feel like I am stuck in a counseling rut.  After a long conversation with my husband, he asked me, “When was a time you were not in your rut? What was different?”  I sat for a hot minute and then said, “I blogged.”  I realized that without have some means of sharing my practice and my beliefs, I had regressed in my counseling practice.  I had stopped trying so hard to innovate and build inquiry-based lessons.  I had stopped adapting practices, routines, and structures I believe help students make their own meaning into my counseling lessons.  I had stopped challenging the status quo and current paradigm of education.  I had morphed into a counselor I didn’t like being.

I realized that blogging was a little extra push and a little bit of accountability for me to better my practice.  Blogging helped me keep current, keep innovating, keep improving and growing because I would take a new idea, try it out, reflect, and then share.  I wanted to try new things as a counselor so that I could record my experiences and share them with fellow counseling practitioners to inspire and shift their thinking, as well. Blogging was my system of checks-and-balances between what I believed and wanted to do and what I actually practiced. I realized without blogging as a tool of conscious reflection I was not always pushing myself to improve and grow the way I knew I could.  Blogging helped me become a better practitioner for students by always thinking about what I did (or could do) to support them.  Not blogging is no longer an option.  I had to do it for me. No one else.  ME.

So here I am, sharing this reflection – on my blog – not for anyone else but for me.  I do so to be accountable to myself, to continue to push counseling forward, and at the same time reclaim the joy that I find in being a meaningful and relevant counselor.


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.

For the days you feel like quitting

For the days you want to throw in the towel.  

For the days where you can’t seem to find your counseling/teaching rhythm and nothing seems to be going right.  

For the days where the lessons seem off, your behavior management is not quite hitting the mark, and you begin to doubt yourself as a counselor (teacher, coach,  coordinator, administrator …):

  1. Remember, this is about YOU not “these kids.”  Who is the only person you are in control of?  That’s right … YOU.  Therefore, instead of pointing the finger and blaming a group of 8 (11,13,16) year olds, look inwards.  The students might have been a factor but they are not the whole equation.  Instead, look at your actions and choices and change the parts of your day that you have the power to change.  Reflect. Don’t blame.
  2. Step back and ask yourself, “Is this the norm?”  Chances are the answer will be “no.”  Chances are that you are a strong educator and 99% of the time you have great days where you feel productive, proud, and like you connected with students and helped them make sense of their learning.  Chances are, days like this are the exception. Today might have been that 1% kind of day.  Acknowledge that it sucked but remind yourself that this is not your normal.
  3. Reflect on the times you feel like you are an educational-rockstar.  What did this look like?  What was happening?  What conversations were you having? What were you doing to support learning?  How were you growing as a professional? How were you pushing yourself and your students at the same time?  Ask yourself my magic counseling question, “What was different.”  Most likely when you reflect on the great times you will recognize what made today a little tougher, more challenging, or frustrating — like mentioned above — are not typical.
  4. Practice self-forgiveness.  Let’s be honest — maybe it was you.  Maybe your lesson was not engaging.  Maybe students were bored.  Maybe you were off your game. Beating yourself up over whatever you might have done to contribute to your off day can never change the day you had.  Instead, you can forgive yourself for whatever it is you felt you might have done “wrong” this day and then move forward.  Give yourself grace — like you would for students who might have been off their game.img_3097
  5. Find your marigold and share your honest feelings.   Tell them why your day sucked and how you are feeling at this point in time.  Share your thoughts of feeling unworthy as an educator.  Vent in a safe space without judgement.  Then, let it go.  Start focusing on what you can do to make the next day better instead of ruminating on how bad you may feel now.
  6. Push your “reset” button.  You give one to students, don’t you?  Imagine a student is “off” for the class, period, or day and you are feeling frustrated with their choices. The next day when they walk into class you give them a fresh start. They are not their behaviors or choices from the day before, right!?!  So, do the same for you. Walk in knowing that you a have a fresh start for the day ahead. Maybe you need to change some lessons, strategies, techniques, or conversations to fully reset but once again, wouldn’t you do the same for students to help them reach academic or behavioral success?
  7. Plan a lesson that you can guarantee will feel successful.  For at least one lesson, facilitate a lesson where you will teach from your heart and reaffirm your belief that you belong as an educator.  When a student is on a new academic or behavior success plan, educators set that student up to experience success right away so that they see how it feels to be successful and so that their self-efficacy increases.  By teaching a lesson you know will be engaging and meaningful for both you and students, you are like that student on the plan.  You will experience immediate success, feel confident and hopefully believe that you are a strong educator.
  8. If needed, ask for help and support.  As educators, we teach (and expect) students to advocate for themselves.  If a student needs additional support we encourage them to ask an adult they trust.  We teach this skill because we recognize that every learner (and every human) needs different things to feel successful.  This same sentiment is true for educators, as well.  You might need some support or help in figuring out what areas you need to tweak, develop, or grow in.  You might be feeling like you are having more off days than good.  Ask for help.  Go to someone you trust and who you could be vulnerable with.  Ask for assistance, mentoring, coaching, or support just like you would want a student to do.

Remember, we all have days when we question our value, skill-set, and expertise. Those days when it feels like all signs are pointing to “career change” are sometimes the best points of reflection and opportunities for self-awareness. Instead of quitting think about how you can turn the next day around. Treat yourself with kindness and be well.

A Transition Plan for the Counselor

As a school counselor, I am used to transition.  In a comprehensive counseling program, transitions are an integral piece of student support.  I help students transition from one grade level to the next, one division to the next, or in and out of schools.  I am also used to supporting staff in transition as people come and go, move divisions, change positions, retire, or accept another job at another school in another country.  Transitions are normal, healthy, and in my wheel-house.  I know what to do, how to process, plan, and support .. when it is someone else’s transition.

Personally, I am going through a major transition in about every capacity of my life. In the past 4 months I have said goodbye to friends and students, packed up my life, moved halfway around the world, started a new job, in a new country, with new coworkers, programming, students, staff, and more.  About every major transition you can possibly experience, I just did in the span of a few months. And guess what? … I have felt lost and floundering.  I have been struggling with my own transition and making sense of who I am in time and place.

So, I did what I do for others — I sat down and drew up a transition plan.  Except this time the person who I was supporting and developing a plan for was myself. Here are the elements of my transition success plan and what I did to be kind to myself and make sense of what I was going through.

  1. I identified my support group.  I clearly outlined who could help me in my transition.  Who would understand the various pieces of what I was experiencing and be able to support me through those aspects?  Who would be gentle enough with my emotions but also provide tough love and alternate perspectives to my thinking? Who was already not overwhelmed with their own life so that they were open and willing to let me lean on them when needed?  Who could support me personally? Who professionally?  I quickly realized it was not fair to my husband to be my sole support as he was in the same stage of transition. Rather, I reached out to a few family members, some old friends, and some new staff who were in the transition boat right along beside me.  Each were able to help me in a specific way that was not overwhelming to them or me.
  2. I clearly defined what support looked like to me. As I discuss in this post, I clarified specifically what support looks like for me so that my needs were met in a manner that felt meaningful for me.  I spoke what I needed and was willing to ask for help. Sometimes my support had everything to do with school.  Sometimes it had nothing to do with school.  I was just clear in what I needed at my transition at that moment to set myself up for success instead of disappointment.
  3. I found my slice of “normal.”  To ease transitions, I am a firm believer in establishing routines and settling in.  This meant I identified what I needed both personally and professionally to feel like I could conquer the day in a manner that felt true to who I am.  Coffee maker in the kitchen.  Planner filled out and updated daily.  A comfortable couch to curl up on at night.  A gym membership to maintain my workout (aka sanity) schedule.  A really good pencil sharpener and a set of pencils.  Knowing where to access the daily schedule.  Knowing what standards guide the counseling department at my new school.  Once I had those pieces of “normal” figured out, I felt more settled and like life was not so different after all.
  4. I allowed my emotions to be.  I named my feelings.  I acknowledged what might have made me feel that way.  I sat in the emotion for a while and honored it.  Then, I did something to move through it instead of letting it swallow me up.  I did not apologize for pure glee.  I did not apologize for pure sadness.  I recognized there was a reason that emotion surfaced and then I moved through it.
  5. I created “triage lists.”  I created three different sets of lists: What needs to be done/known/understood now?  What needs to be done/known/understood soon?  What needs to be done/known/understood in the future.” This helped me break life into manageable pieces.  It also helped me understand that there were things to focus on now and gave me the grace to push some things to the back burner.  Instant grace. Instant clarity.  Instant focus.
  6. I embraced the new and I stopped comparing.  I realized I was packing a pretty hefty “back home” or “at my last school” suitcase.  That was not fair to my new situation to compare or score one item against another.  It also did not allow me to fully embrace the new and engage in the change process.  I realized that as long as I was constantly comparing I was not fully embracing.  Transition means reflecting on what was while also looking forward to what will be.  So, I stored that suitcase away in a closet and opened myself up to being vulnerable, unsure, unsteady, and ready to tackle the new.

As I wrote and worked through my transition plan I realized that just like every other individual in transition, having some tangible actions to focus on helped make the unmanageable seem doable.  The scary become less overwhelming.  I seemed to move through the chaos quicker and found my semblance of normal.  The plan helped me clarify my goals and gave me a sense of purpose while still honoring the change, emotions, and fear that goes hand-in-hand with transitioning.  Most importantly, I reflected on how essential a solid, individualized, student-centered transition plan is to support students through change.  I more fully see the benefit of a comprehensive plan that meets student needs as they move into the next unknown.

What are some ways you support student transition?  How have you supported yourself in a major transition?  What would you include in your transition plan?

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 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.

A Framework for Support


Part of the counseling practice involves providing support — support to students, support to parents, support to colleagues, support to administration. Often this comes in the form of professional support. Sometimes this comes in the form of emotional support. No matter the form, being supportive is a skill. It is a skill that needs thought, reflection, and action. It is also a skill that needs practiced and developed. Too often someone might believe they are being supportive and yet, their actions –however well intended — can be causing more harm than doing good.

As a practitioner, I have spent a lot of time thinking about and reflecting on support. I have come up with my own framework of support that is applicable to staff, students, friends, family, alike. In my framework, there are five points to always consider so as to be effective and intentional with support.

1. Support looks different for every individual. How I would define support is different from how my partner would define support is different from how my co-worker would define support. Every individual, in a time of need, has unique and particular ways that he/she would like to receive support. Each individual also has distinct, personal criteria that would be perceived as unsupportive. It is not enough to assume that my definition of support is the same criteria that anyone else would use to define support. Support is usually such a mashup of different standards that it is impossible to guess the criterion someone might place in the “when I feel supported” category. For some, support means a kind, comforting word. For some it might be being physically present with another person. For some, it might mean being left alone. For some it might mean springing into action and distracting the individual from whatever is on his/her mind. The list of possibilities is endless. Therefore, what I always tell people, “The best thing you do to support someone is ask them ‘What does support mean to you?” This is the first step in creating a genuine and meaningful supportive relationship. Have the person voice what support looks like, feels like, and sounds like — in his or her perspective. That way you (as the supporter) have a clear understanding of what the friend, co-worker, student, etc. is looking for. With a clear definition in mind, you have a clear starting point or jumping off place to ensure genuine support can provided.

2. Unless you know how the individual defines support, you are most likely setting up a situation of disappointment and failed expectations. The biggest mistake is jumping in to provide support without first having a clear working-definition of what support looks like to the individual who needs it. A co-worker is at a loss with her classroom and the behaviors of her students. She comes in saying “I don’t know what to do.” The counselor jumps in by coming into her class, creating behavior plans for specific students, reestablishing routines, doing guidance on pro-social behaviors — and the teacher feels worse than when she went in “asking” for support. Why? Because the counselor did what she thought was supportive. The teacher just felt challenged, undermined, and like her professionalism was being called into question. If the counselor had simply asked (prior to jumping into action) “What can I do to support you? What does support look like to you?” then the counselor would have been able to see the teacher just wanted someone to listen to her and validate her feelings. She did not need more than a quiet ear. In other words, we can spring into action based on our definition of support. We can walk away feeling proud of ourselves for being so supportive. The other party involved, though, might feel like we did nothing, that there was no follow through, or that we minimized his/her issue. The individual receiving support may feel like his/her expectations were not met and the person providing the support might never understand what they did wrong (which in this case was offer support based on his/her interpretation, not the person needed supporting). It’s a lose-lose situation for both parties involved. Start with a clear understanding of support and eliminate the confusion and disappointment that can ensue when neither party involved was aware of the others expectations from the start.

3. Support does not mean solving the problem or having the answer. A lot of people do not offer support because they do not feel like they know “what to do.” You don’t need to know what to do! Support means being present as an individual, friend, student, family member, works towards resolution, closure, or clarity. People often think that to be supportive means making the issue go away. This is simply not the case. Rather, be there, listen, validate, question, challenge the person asking for support. Let them bounce ideas off of you. Don’t feel responsible for having to make everything better. Just focus on being supportive in the way that he/she expressed would make him/her feel supported.

4. There can be too much support. There is a fine line between being supportive and being suffocating. If you feel that someone needs support — ASK. Don’t assume you can be of assistance and then find out that you are bothering, annoying, and adding additional stress to their life. Maybe you are not the person they will turn to. Maybe at this time they want to muddle through the mess on their own. Do not overdo the support or feel like you have to be involved in the support. It all comes back to that word “ask.”

5. Support is ongoing — not a one time event. If you step up to offer someone support, remember that you are making a commitment to him/her for an unspecified amount of time. Do not make the offer and commitment to support someone if you do not have the time, resources, energy, or capacity to see the process through to fruition. That is unfair to everyone and in that situation, no one walks away feeling good.

These are my go to points when people inquire into support. What are some things you consider when offering support to someone? What are some barriers to offering support? What are some tools you use to create meaningful supportive interactions?

…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.