Monday, July 29, 2013

Back to School- Back to Connecting!!

The FANTASTIC Franciene Sabens at School Counselor Space created the Linky Party for Back To School! SO I will be answering some questions and hopefully reading everyone else's responses :) 

Let's Begin!

1) When Do You Head Back To The Office?

Our first Teacher Work Day is Monday, August 5th (work day?... yea right, more like "Teacher Day-Full-Of-Meetings Day). The students start back two days later, on Wednesday the 7th. I've already spent a few hours at each School and am hoping I get in this week to finish decorating and setting up my office (and then posting my Second Office Tour post!)

2) Share 1 Thing You Want To Accomplish This Year.

Just 1?!?! Well, this is going to be an interesting year! This is my second year so I won't be flying by the seat of my pants :) We have TWO new Elementary School Counselors starting (there's three of us total) so I want to help them to get acclimated and start implementing some Corporation-Wide Data forms to keep track of what we do. I would like to have a few more groups going and try to systematize my day so I'm not just always putting out fires. But, we'll see!

3) Top 3 School Counseling Tools I Can't Live Without.

a: Halfway through last year, I stole commandeered my wife's iPad  It has been AMAZING in record keeping, Counseling apps, etc. I would LOVE for out Corporation to provide iPads for Counselors, but I'm not holding my breathe! 
b: My office. I know it sounds weird, but I love having an office that is safe and warm and inviting for students to come and feel comfortable in sharing their fears, secrets, worries, etc. 
c: IMAGINATION! Being a School Counselor on a limited income can be a challenge sometimes. I LOVE finding new ways to implement techniques, ideas, etc. Last year, I incorporated Post-It notes, Duct-Tape, flour, writing with lemon juice, etc. into my lessons. Sometimes it takes a bit of Imagination to keep the kids interested and engaged!

4) How Do You Introduce Your Program To Students At The Beginning Of The Year?

Well... I don't know :) Last year was my first year so it was more introducing myself than the program... also because I didn't really have a program yet. In our District  we meet in EVERY classroom every month. So August is dedicated to "Meet The Counselor". This year, I am excited to do the Minute Meetings! with my students - I am hoping it proves to be successful (I'll let ya' know).

5) What Has Been Your Most Successful Method Of Sharing Information With Parents And Other Stakeholders?

We implemented a lot this past year and hope we will implement more electronically this year. Last year we created an Elementary Counselor Newsletter. All three counselors and the Social Worker wrote a column and we compiled them and sent it out to EVERY parent monthly. It would showcase what we did in the classroom last month, this month, what was coming up, community happenings, tips for connecting with your child, etc. We also hosted a Parent University once per semester. We invited ALL parents to an evening of free workshops, free meals, free childcare, free door prizes... did I mention FREE?!?! Our PTA, Administration, Title One, community business, and others were vital in helping with this and I hope it expands even more this year,

6) Share 3 Tips For Delivering School Counseling Curriculum.

a: Keep it engaging! Don't just stand up there and drone on for 45 minutes. Get the kids up, moving, doing something hands on- change it up, change location, change tools, etc. 
b: Keep it at the same time. We meet 1x per month so they know after a month or two that my time is SET! I value my time... If The teacher gives me 10-10:45 on Wednesday, that's when I'm coming!
c: DON"T MAKE THE KIDS LATE FOR SPECIALS OR LUNCH! They won't forgive you :)

7) How Do You Stay Organized?

... Organized? What's that?? I'll be posting more on that as the year goes on :)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

School Counselor Office Tour 2013: Before Pics

Perk of my job: I get to service TWO Elementary Schools, which means I get to personally interact with over seven hundred students via Classroom Guidance Counseling Lessons, Small-Group sessions, Individual Counseling, lunch, etc.

Downside of my job: I have to service TWO Elementary Schools! - Which means if I find a cool poster, project, idea, sign, etc. I have to buy TWO of them. Two computers. Two desk areas. Two sets of lesson curriculums. Two personal libraries. Two filing cabinets. Two... I saw a really cool idea on Pinterest for putting pencils in an old straw canister...
I had one donated to me. Okay, great... BUT WHAT SCHOOL DO I TAKE IT TO? It's like having twins and finding one cool shirt and having to pick who it goes to! 

[rant finalized]

So in the past week, I was able to get into both schools and sit for a couple minutes (what seemed like HOURS) contemplating HOW I want my office to look. Not only how I want it to look, but what will make the best environment for my students to come in and feel safe in telling me whatever they need to tell me. 

So, here's where I am...

At my Falcon school, I got a new office this year. It is right next door to my old office, but it is two feet wider (yea, I measured). My old office also had a counter and sink running most of one wall. I never used the sink. Never really used the cabinets under the counter. Maintenance couldn't take them out because there was no carpet under them and my office doesn't get new carpet until next year. So, I switched :) Yea, I know it seems petty... but the office was small anyways and getting my six 6th graders in there for group was difficult! 

So Maintenance moved my furniture in and then I arranged it how I tentatively want it. 

This is looking into my office from the door. I want it to seem like a welcoming place 
(right now it just looks like an F5 went through it)

This is my Group area. The Gray cabinet on the floor has doors. Right now it's just hanging out on the floor but I would love to mount it and keep Group stuff in it (dry erase boards, crayons, paper, etc.)

This is behind the door. This big (ugly) cabinet has all my binders, curriculum, Counseling books, etc. 

Now... I am not happy with it :( According to my wife, it is very dated (furniture, cinder block walls, etc). However, it's what I have. So, now I have to add some color, put up my posters, etc. Any ideas???

At Wildcats, my office is actually inside the Library Media Center, but there is a door I can close. Since I had this office last year, these pics are exactly how I left it at the end of last year.

View looking in from the door.

My desk. Again, dated... But I have plans! Muahahahaha!

My big cabinet (that I LOVE) and filing cabinet.

These built-ins... Most of this space is used by the Librarian Media Specialist. I like them (kinda), it just makes them difficult to rearrange anything else. But again, I have plans.

So that's it... my home(S) away from home. I will be working next week to finish moving around and decorate since our first teacher day is coming soon (11 days, 21 hours, 22 minutes and 20 seconds)... but who's counting. And since the first student day is two days after, I have to have it ready for them on Day 1!

I am looking forward to sharing pictures of the finished product.

If you have any ideas on updating my space, give me a shout!

*Sidenote... please notice I crossed out Library and Librarian and replaced them with the correct new terms. If we expect individuals to refer to use as SCHOOL Counselors and not GUIDANCE Counselors, we must do the same. You only earn the respect you give :)

-Stay tuned for more-

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Just a lazy, tech-filled Sunday...

Yesterday, the family and I spent an evening shopping, eating, and Geocaching in Muncie. Despite being a great time, it somehow equated to our daughter being up sick with nightmares, my wife being up until 4am unable to sleep, and my hallucinating (thinking our son had gotten up and me taking him back to bed- neither of which happened). 
So, we spent the day lazily around the house. With the soothing sounds of the kids playing in the den, I had the opportunity to overcome come technology obstacles and fears that had been staring me in the face! And thanks to some amazing blogs, I was able to steal incorporate :) some technology
 into my counseling! Here's how:
1) Minute Meetings. Having two schools (both with over 350 students), I found it very difficult to meet every student in the beginning of last year. Our Elementary Schools do one lesson per month for EVERY classroom and much like writing a book and penning that first sentence, I was a new counselor and very unsure how to do that first "intro lesson". If you are unsure what Minute Meetings are, Danielle Schultz first had the wonderful idea here and Andrea Burston tech-ed it up here. Despite my fears, I found the Google Drive forms quite easy to use! I took some information that I wanted to know about my students and dove right in!
Once one form was done...
I duplicated it and renamed it for my second school. The nice thing about Google Documents is that ALL the data from these forms is sent to one Excel sheet. Can you say "DOCUMENTATION FOR MY PROGRAM!!!" I think this will be a great way to get an initial meeting for all students and a starting point for new students to our school. Plus it's super iPad-friendly and the kids love using my iPad!
2.) Now, at the end of last year, I played around with different ways to keep notes. I also sent out an email to our state's School Counselor listserv trying to find out how everyone else kept records of sessions. What I found was that no two counselors keep track the same way. I began experimenting with an Access template, EZ Analysis Timetracker, the Time Task Log from my Grad School Days, a Google Doc template, and different paper forms. I got a lot of ideas from Danielle Schultz's post here. What I found (and it was reaffirmed today) is that I will definitely be using Google Docs! I started the form today and am excited about how it's going to turn out! I will make another post on keeping data (with some info from an ASCA session I attended!) once the form is done and when school starts.
3.) Lastly, I had been toying with the idea of starting a Facebook page for the blog, but kept getting hindered by thoughts of "who on FB cares about what I have to say" (hmm... much like my initial thoughts on "who cares about me- why should I start a blog?!). Luckily, AnnMarie Birster at School Counselor Companion wrote this blog TODAY on creating a Facebook page! Divine intervention! So, I am happy to say that A Fellow School Counselor now has a Facebook page here:
All of these things took a little bit of time, yea. And are any of them set in stone and perfect? Definitely not. But I am pleased with the long term affects this will have on my time with students and for our Elementary Counseling department!
Stay tuned for more on my year, my offices, and my recent buys :)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The "Lone" Ranger

Getting ready for my second year as a School Counselor, I am filled with excitement and anxiety for several reasons-
Last year was new and shiny. If I made a mistake, it was easy to revert back to the ol' "oh, I'm new- whoops!". Yea, I'm not sure I can use the ol' "oh, I'm not new, I just messed up- whoops" :)
More importantly, I had three AMAZING mentors and role models to emulate during my first year as a School Counselor. Ms. "Z" was my district-appointed "mentor". She had been there for four years and I loved her ideas and her preparedness for EVERYTHING: meetings, events, programs we hosted, etc. She always had everything we ever needed and came with her own built-in Spell Check! She loved the students she met with and it showed. At the end of last year she made the hard decision to go back to school to become Nurse "Z". And if she puts HALF the energy into that as she did School Counseling, her patients will be darn lucky to have her!
Ms. "W" was the second counselor that made up our team. She had an enthusiasm that radiated off her. She had been there two years and Ms. "Z" had also been her mentor. Ms. "W" was a true "winner" in everything she did. She had great ideas and I heard SEVERAL students at our church's AWANA Program who loved the days when she would come into their classroom, see them for groups, individually, etc. I recently found out that Ms. "W" accepted a position near her hometown and will be able to be closer to her family. Being over 2 hours away from my own family, I definitely understand the importance of that! I am excited for her to start that adventure but she will be missed by her students, staff... and us!
Luckily, I still have Ms. "S", our Social Worker. She always has GREAT ideas and gets us involved in her programs, organizations, and has been the backbone for several new events the Counselors have put on, including implementing the "Parent University" workshops we hosted. I am not sure anyone has a bigger heart than her and our students LOVE it when they get to see her. Despite our groans when she starts a discussion with "now, I have an idea..." she always has great faith that everything will work out amazingly.
However, with only ONE year under my belt, I am now the most seasoned School Counselor for our Elementary team. I am anxious that I will forget something or lead the new counselors astray! If you have any ideas or suggestions, please comment and share your thoughts!
Even though they're some pretty big shoes to fill, if our new team has HALF the energy and excitement as Ms. "Z" and Ms. "W" showed, I think our students and staff will be very lucky!
(me, Ms. "S", Ms. "Z", and Ms. "W" celebrating the end of the 2012-2013 school year)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

This is for real?... Now what?!?!

When I started Graduate School for my Masters in School Counseling, honestly it was all a fluke! I had applied the year BEFORE but had applied late so I didn't get in. The program started Summer I and I had applied for the Fall (so I was technically two semester late in applying).
Well, no big deal! That following year, we were contemplating moving and had become pregnant with our second child. So when I got the call from Indiana State University that my application had been accepted and I had an interview, I had no idea what they were talking about! I then found out they had carried my application over from the previous year. This is a fluke, I thought! But, I interviewed (just for the practice) and went on with my life, resigned to the fact I'd get denied. Well, lo-and-behold, I got accepted!
Um... now what? I never thought I'd get accepted. After pinching myself, I registered for classes and showed up for my first day! One week into classes, my wife gives birth to our son. That night (while Carter and my wife were sleeping, I was sitting on the floor of the room taking an online test for one of my classes). Talk about dedication!
During the course of that first "semester", everyone tried to prepare me to failure. "You have a lot going on", "classes are Mon-Thurs during the day and you have a job!" "your working full time", "you just had a baby", "you have two kids"... "when you fail, at least you tried". That was my favorite... "When you fail"... not "if". I almost went through Summer I like it was a game. Like it was just a taste of something I'd never really have. Well, Summer I session came and went and I got all A's.
Um... I didn't fail. I didn't flunk out... NOW WHAT?! I had so mentally prepared myself for failure that I had no idea what to do next! That next Summer session was when it really hit me, I'm in GRAD SCHOOL!!
How many times do we do this? As teachers, Counselors, Administrators, parents... We try to mentally prepare kids for failure and "soften the blow for them". We say those same lines: "you can try again", "not everyone is great at everything", "when you fail at least you tried". So when (or if) they do succeed, they don't know what to do next.
If it hadn't have been for my wife and family and friends behind me the whole way, I probably wouldn't have known what to do next. WE need to be that support for our students. Yea, soften the blow a little... But not to the point where we are setting them up for failure. Keep this in mind this year when your student wants to take Dance, register for a different elective, go out for football, be in the Spelling Bee, when they're preparing for Standardized Testing, etc... make sure your a SUPPORT for them. Help them transition to the next step WHEN they succeed!
Have a great day!

Monday, July 8, 2013

School starts when??

Since school is out for summer, I feel at an impasse. I am SO energized after ASCA to blog and talk about some of my ideas... but right now I'm not actively doing stuff (well, Pinterest counts as Professional Development, right?). I have some really good ideas from ASCA that I will be writing about as the year progresses, but for right now, they're only ideas...

So, some more about me. For the first time ever, I have had the opportunity to be a "stay-at-home" dad this summer. My wonderful wife works in community mental health so she does not get the summers off. So it has been me, our (just turned) 3 year old son and our 4 (almost 5) year old daughter. Anyone with kids has probably watched at least one episode of Phineas and Ferb (heck, even without kids you may have watched it)... The theme song states:

There's 104 days of summer vacation, then school comes along just to end it...

There's 104 days of summer vacation??

Wrong! I had 74 days of summer vacation and as of today I am down to 28 :(

SO what's on my to-do list? Well, last year my office was very random looking. I set it up best I could at the beginning of the year, but since it was my first year, I wasn't sure what I wanted where or what I would need when. So I just kept adding stuff and at the end I was just staring at stuff everywhere. So I've been planning and thinking and Pinning... and I hope my ideas come together to be the most peaceful place for students to come in to.

Pictures to come!


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Do I really want my first post to be titled "Welcome"?...

I guess it's true... the first post IS the hardest!

Since you're here, let me start by telling you about myself. My name is Johnathon Allen and I am an Elementary School Counselor. In 2007 I graduated with my Undergraduate Degree in Psychology and Criminology and I worked in Community Mental Health for about six years. In 2010 I began my Graduate Degree in School Counseling at Indiana State University and graduated in 2012. After graduating, my wife and I (along with our two kiddos) moved across the state for my career in School Counseling.

In our District, we have six Elementary Schools and three Elementary School Counselors. So, as your "Everyday Math" would leave you to deduce, I service two schools. Both schools have just over 350 between the seven grade levels. Once school is the Falcons  and one school is the Wildcats, and that is how I will address each school in these posts...

Oh yea, your probably wondering why I'm blogging to begin with. Well, I got to spend four AMAZING days at ASCA's Conference in Philadelphia, PA. While there I was lucky enough to meet Danielle Schultz and Andrea Burston, who lead a Meet & Greet and a Breakout Session all related to Blogging. I also found out why I couldn't find any blogs featuring male Elementary School Counselors... because there aren't any! And I also knew that if I was searching, I probably wasn't the only one... so, instead of just sitting and waiting for someone to blog about what I need... here I am!

Coming up: I'll be posting about coming into a new town, having a new career, and my journey this past year in finding my self, finding my place, and finding ANYTHING in my new offices :) So add me to your RSS feed and hopefully you will be pleased with what you find!