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Before I became a school counselor, I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education (Pre-School – 3rd Grade). I loved working with younger students because I felt I could speak their language. I knew how to motivate my students, create engaging lessons, and foster relationships between peers.
When I transitioned into the elementary school counseling world, I gained three additional grade levels: 4th, 5th, and 6th. To put it simply, I was nervous. How could I motivate a student who already developed a strong pattern of defiance? How could I engage my students when “looking cool” inhibited their natural reactions? How could I foster relationships between peers when social groups seemed rigid and unchanging?
I knew I had to develop a strong rapport with my students, especially this population. I began a program called Counselor Mail, which involved writing a letter to every student in my school at least twice per school year. In each note, I wrote about the positive behaviors and strengths I saw in that particular student. This program forced me to know my students and allowed me to connect with everyone on a 1:1 level.
In addition to Counselor Mail, I worked with students individually, in small groups, and as a whole class. I quickly discovered that my students responded best to activities that stealthily eased into discussions, as opposed to jumping right into a conversation. The activities allow students to engage themselves in a safe way; they do not have to risk their reputations to answer a question or make a comment about the topic. Everyone participates in the activity, then, when the group has lowered their guards, students feel less insecure about expressing their thoughts and feelings. Additionally, activities allow for shared experiences, which can remind students of their similarities and create a more open, friendly classroom environment.
Some of my favorite activities include, but are not limited to:
· Watching a movie clip that illustrates a specific topic, then reflecting as a small or whole group. Technology, however simple, seems to energize my students, so I roll with it.
· Using doll families (yes, even with older students) to reflect on family dynamics. I used this in a small group session on divorce and my 6th graders really enjoyed it. At first, we all laughed at the image of“playing” with dolls, then the students became very serious. They looked at what they created, then discussed the similarities and differences with each other. Many students said things like, “I didn’t know your dad moved away like mine did” and “That happened to me too. It’s hard, isn’t it?”
· Games, especially in small group settings. I love Whoonu for “get-to-know-you” sessions, simple cards games (i.e. UNO, Go Fish, etc.) for relaxed conversation, and I even make my own board games to address specific topics. The video on the bottom right shows games that are more K-2 in focus, but could be adapted (the overall look, types of questions, etc.) for older students.
· Food. Simple, delicious, and can encourage even the most difficult student to take a “bite” of the conversation. Ask students to make pictures out of food, illustrate social patterns, and create reminder cards to use in their classroom (print a photo of their image on cardstock and laminate).
Over the years, I've learned that simple rewards, like time in my office, can motivate students. I'm not that special - I think they just like the peace and quiet.
For some of my students who have behavior concerns or have trouble making friends, they can earn time in my office. They are allowed to pick 3 friends to join them. This provides my students with the opportunity to have positive social interactions with their peers and, especially for the students who are shy, they must build their courage to initiate friendly conversations.
In my room, we talk, play games, or even watch short video clips to encourage discussion. My students have a couple favorite video clips this year. The first is "Fresh Guacamole" (left). Students love to talk about this creative video and the conversation tends to continue outside my school counseling office. Another great video (right) is in the Shaun the Sheep "Championsheeps" series. It's short, sweet, and helps facilitate discussions about prosocial behaviors.
You may remember my BFF, Tim. Oh, the fun times we have at our school!
Tim helps with my office tour, visits classrooms, catches students being good, makes videos for special school events, and is often a behavior reward for my students.
But, I still thought Tim could add another job to his resume. I have a bulletin board that I update monthly to focus on my district's core values. This year, I am including pictures of Tim demonstrating the core values with me. So far, the students LOVE this new addition to the interactive board.
Last month, our core value was "courage."
Take a look at how Tim and I demonstrated this character trait...
This American Life is one of my favorite radio programs. The content is always thought-provoking, engaging, and sometimes even heart-breaking.
When I heard this episode, I knew I had to share it on my blog. As school counselors, we are handed extremely difficult situations and, with other school personnel, must help our students rise up out of their challenges and succeed. "Back to School" offers great information to help with this task. Check it out!
Click here to read the transcript.
My name is Marissa Rex and I am a 1st Grade teacher and an elementary school counselor from Ohio. I hope you enjoy my site!