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Damage Control

I was listening to an NPR recording on how companies correct their image and consumer trust after there is some sort of mistake or public controversy. It got me thinking about how much damage control we do in the school system and as School Counselors. The interviewee was talking about specific steps that they take with the public to get them back on “their side” and ultimately start to buy their products again. So I, always a fan of lists, decided to break down my usual process. This was particularly time-appropriate since today was especially trying with a few teachers, students, parents, and situations (I’m taking a half day tomorrow, so I should have known I would be paying for it).

Anywho, bitterness aside, I think this is the typical process I take when talking with upset parents (and sometimes teachers):

1. Make sure I start with a super pleasant and positive voice, even if I know the person on the other end is anxious, seething, and/or in manic mode.
2. Ask them to address their concerns. More specifically, I give them a chance to define the circumstances before I do. This helps to not start the conversation with possible defense.
3. Acknowledge their concerns and make sure they know I am concerned about the situation, understand their concerns, and am invested in the success of their child as well. I think this validation goes a looooong way, and also becomes part of every step (sometimes needing extra emphasis at different times). Just like we encourage with students, there is surely always other perspectives to consider and things that could have been handled differently on either side (even the side of the teacher who is amazing and dedicated, but at their wits-end with a challenging student nonetheless).
4. Address inconsistencies, but not the emotional side. I do think we should not take charisma to the point that we compromise the reality of the educational environment. As a parent myself, I know that I can sometimes be blind to specific- er- particulars about my kid that others might not appreciate as much as I do. So I am real about bringing out discrepancies, but I try to do it in a way that states facts or data, not what my personal judgements or the teacher’s emotional responses are on the situation.
5. This is a good time to reassure them of your understanding, and validate their concerns again. If you are on the phone, they better feel your smile through the line.
6. Now we start to brainstorm solutions. Truth be told, if the other party appears way off base, I have found that (excuse my frankness) humoring their claims seldom hurts. Example? When a student has crazy truancy issues, and the parent tells you it is because they have had a cold or get headaches. Riiiiight. Well, even if I know the student simply stays up all night and then whines until they can stay home, I entertain the idea (in counsely terms, I meet them where they are) and mention services reserved for students who are gravely ill (such as cancer treatments, scoliosis surgery, etc.) in which the student can get education at the home. Typically, when the parent knows their students is not quite there, they will balk and either throw the kid under the bus, or backtrack to accept more appropriate solutions.
7. At this point, the reassuring and validation returns, and I use student-centered angles to push solutions that I think are good ideas, or that teachers have urged.
8. I leave the final decision open-ended. I have found that if the solution is agreed-upon, offering other steps ends the call much more nicely. For example, you might resolve that the student will attend tutoring, change classes, or attend a P/T Conference- but you note that you will reconvene and if the circumstances have not changed, you will try an alternate intervention.

And then, everyone becomes best friends and makes Starbucks plans and lives happily ever after! Well, not really, but the hope is that, even if for that moment, the fire is out and the damage has been controlled.

If at some point you can find something to connect (e.g. you also have a child, you both work in high-stress environments, there are a million things to do before a holiday, you were an only child as well, etc.) it is a REALLY good idea to play on this and find a common ground outside of the situation.

I really do love working with parents. Even some of the tougher ones are really only trying to advocate for their child the best way they know how. When a relationship can be forged, there seems to be no better way to see success in a student, than when there is a united front. Sometimes it feels like putting a puzzle together, but when the pieces fit, I sleep so much better!

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So my department wanted to make a video for our 8th graders to go over the logistics of their registration for 9th grade. We’re having the department chairs from our feeder high schools talk about everything, so they also get some face time. It’s an awesome idea because there are lots of tiny things (how many classes, selections, section availability, etc) that we end up saying over and over in the registration lesson. What we would rather be an interactive lesson ends up being droney and lecturey. This is tough, especially when our face-time is important for report building- basically, us counselors like to be the fun ones. The video will also allow us to disperse the information much more quickly.

The videos turned out great, but it is so much info, and I hated the idea of not being able to “check in” with students as different points were being made. Luckily, our computer resource lady showed me an awesome app that I used in between takes to do just that! It is called Tellegami, and allows you to do short clips of an avatar that has your voice. It’s incredibly easy to use. If you have iPads in school I would highly recommend it! If you are already using it, good on ya!


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Let’s take a look

I’ve been hearing whispers about a report that came out regarding the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. When that happened, like so many others, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fallout from that tragedy. Even with all of its darkness, that story elicited one of the few times the news brought me to tears. Not once or twice, but every time it came on TV. I pictured my own kids, and all of my babies at the schools I was serving, and could not imagine what the families were going through in loss, students experience in shock, and staff felt in their hearts.

I have started reading some of the report on the treatment measures that had been taken with Adam Lanza in his short lifetime. It is astonishing, and an insanely stark reminder about the importance of what we do in our counseling and educational professions.

We throw around the word “accountability” in goals, classes, presentations, and statements. But for the first time, I am realizing the true magnitude of what that means. We can examine a million points of data and give thousands of surveys every week, but at the end of the day, the acts of Adam Lanza represent the true nature of what we are capable of in this powerful profession. Not that the weight of the world should be put on the shoulders of one or two professionals or agencies- that is equally dangerous- but how different might every life be if students were not touched, changed, influenced, or inspired by the people at their schools.

The capacity of our potential for change stands for both good and bad results that have occurred in the past and will continue in the future. I am extremely proud to be a School Counselor. I have seen awesome change and development in students, and have also let a few hands go in hopes that the students might allow success for themselves at a later age. But for the first time, the notion of “accountability” is a wonderful thing for me. It is a loaded word now that means, on one hand, we have the position to allow a student to realize their worth and become confident adults despite grudging circumstances. On the other hand, it means we can play a part in something as horrendous as the Sandy Hook tragedy.

The tricky part is that we will never know how many tragedies we have helped to prevent. This being, it is important to have faith and be confident in our skills and abilities. Holding ourselves accountable, we have to be honest about feelings of complacency. For all of our hard work, there is no shame in admitting when we are having a dark day, or have little strength to smile wide and show patience.

What a huge learning experience. I will definitely be rolling this one over in my head for some time.

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Stitching Therapy



What do these two pictures have in common? Anti-burnout. One for me over the weekend, and one that we put in the lounges for my teacher-peeps! Here is my equation for teacher support (and it’s besides the fact that I can hardly hang doing three days of classroom lessons a month- these teachers are indestructible!!!):

Happy teacher = Happy student = Happy counselor



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A Trophy for Everyone

I read a great blog post on challenging students. I really believe that our notion of placement in middle and high school seems to have progressively become skewed towards the easy. I say often in P/T Conferences that when a student struggles, pushes themselves, and grasps the concept in a developmentally appropriate way, they are placed in the right class. Straight A’s are not necessary, or always appropriate.

Information like that is often met with silent blinking. And sometimes crickets (once, an actual cricket that mocked me in my office for a week like some sort of investigative torture to break me).

Students so quickly ask to be dropped down in classes, and it makes me wonder: at what point did challenging students become a bad thing? I had always figured that true learning is occurring when there is some struggle. If a placement is easy for a student, perhaps they are placed below what they are capable of learning. Is this a result of standardized tests and pass-rate chasing, or the outlook that “everyone should get a trophy” so that failure does not deplete confidence?

Wow, I am getting deep so quickly after the big return.

For the record, my own 7th grader last year struggled in Algebra, and told me often how difficult the teacher/material/homework/class work/pencil sharpening/paper organization/and overall existing in that classroom was. She talked pretty confidently about dropping that year, or retaking it the next. All year. Everyday. Well, that was dramatic, it was every other day because their schedule alternated. Anywho, her Algebra’s year-end test ended up being her highest. Bam. Turns out the teacher was, well, teaching.

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Writing Project! Whoop!

I’ve got another little freebie to add on here, this time, I’m posting a little project I’m going to try out in small groups.  It’s for my girls, in celebration of Women’s History Month. Go chicks!  Basically, I’d like for them to sign up, come in small groups and fill out the worksheet after a brief conversation about the Women’s Movement.   Should that be capitalized? Not sure, and I’m OK with that (you know the saying, “those who teach, should know things like that.”).  SO, below you will find a copy of the pass and the worksheet.  I am attaching this great timeline to the pass as well for some inspiration (I mean, I know they probably won’t read it, but a girl can dream). My goal is to make a book that can be given to the school, or kept in the Guidance office.  Anywho, enjoy! And let me know if you have any ideas!

I love the look of the pass, and will probably alter it for the book’s cover.  The picture is from Edutopia’s amazing page on Women’s History Month, where I initially got my inspiration to do something.  The lovely tag on both the pass and the worksheet were snipped from the always amazing Kind Over Matter. You can get the PDF by clicking the picture, or here and here.




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Patchwork Therapy

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An impromptu long snow weekend led to lots of crafty therapy.  I finished a quilt that had been in -ahem- progress for about a year now.  After some serious consideration (not really, it was more like productive procrastination), I decided to use this method that I saw some time ago on Whip Up.   It saved so much time!  Basically, I had all layers together (sandwiched right side down, batting, right side up), and then quilted everything together as I attached each line.  To take out a step in the quilty process (having to construct the top and then quilting the layers together) worked perfectly, especially since it will be an everyday couch quilt.  Here are some  in-progress pictures:


Everything is quilted together- starting at the top, I laid out the bottom (RSD) with batting on top (using a few safety pins here and there).  I put the first line down RSU, and the next line RSD on top of it.  The I sewed all layers together.  Next, I folded over the top strip RSU, and laid the next strip on top of it RSD.  Going over and over until… voila!  Then I edged and was all done.  Sadly, all of the ups and downs on the floor to lay it out has me totally sore today.  The hazards of quilting are real people.

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I also finally finished a square by hand from the amazing Wombat Quilts.  I cannot put the fabrics together quite as well she does, but with her pattern it’s hard to mess it up!  Now, I am far too lazy to make an entire quilt, but I think it will be a lovely small something-or-another.  I just need to add an edge and back and I’ll be donezo.

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More for Career

So, as I said earlier, I have been working on a small career lesson for my 8th graders.  I found some awesome videos to use, and I was stumped trying to avoid yet another assessment to tell the babies what they must be when they grow up.  Those things still make me nervous when I take them recreationally, and I am actually in my meant-for-me profession; I can’t imagine how it must make them feel.  Granted, if presented correctly (which I think I’m still working on), I understand kids can get the point that career assessments are meant to simply explore the broader idea of what they might like.  But in the age of so many serious tests and exams, I can’t imagine they would be able to relax enough to not feel like they would be banished from all educational rights if they answer incorrectly.    Luckily, I found this really cool diagram from Willo O’brien (which turns out is actually a pretty inspirational and cool bog too):


I’ve seen this before, but I thought this version was especially appealing.  I remade it by middle-school-izing the verbiage and adding blanks so that they could fill in the information.  You can get the PDF of the Career diagram by clicking the jpeg below, or you can snip the image to re-size if you’d like!


Now I just have to cross all of my fingers and toes that I can get the point across to a classroom of pre-teens before the 8th grade minds start to joke about my using the words “sweet spot.”  I’ll have to work fast.