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Tuesday’s Parent Coffee & Conversation: Supporting all learners

During Tuesday morning’s Parent Coffee & Conversation (sponsored by PAWS in the Lower School), Dr. Carol Matheson and I will talk about student support at Westminster. How do we work together to support all learners? Dr. Matheson will share a lot of information you’ll want to hear. I will share the methods I use for reaching out to students, how students initiate visits me, some of the most frequent topics students want to discuss, and more. There will be a Q&A session at the end. See you in the Hamilton Room at 8:00, Tuesday October 6!

Curriculum night video

If you missed PF-2nd Grade Curriculum Night (like I did!), here’s the 3-minute video parents watched during their SEL/Guidance and Bible Values rotation, 45 seconds of bloopers included. No one’s perfect, right? Enjoy!

Rocks, rabbits, LEGOs, and more!

We are almost finished with the sixth week of school! How did that happen? Time flies when you’re having fun in Love Hall. Read on for seven fairly unrelated but fun things to know about our year so far!

1. Fancy decor: My wall tree gets “leafier” by the day! Almost all students’ and teachers’ names are on a leaf. I love to see them when I walk into my room each morning, and I hope that kids and adults feel like they belong in there with me.

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Day one — an empty tree

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Six weeks into school — check out my tree full of names!

2. Rocks in your shoe: How do you know if your problem is “big enough” that you should seek out your school counselor? Here’s the simple way I explain to students how I can help them with their problems:

“If you had sand in your shoe, could you walk?” I ask the students, holding up a small bag of sand. “Sure,” they reply, “but it would uncomfortable — weird — annoying. I’d want to dump it out!” The grains of sand represent tiny problems or nuisances that kids can take care of by themselves. Through our SEL/Guidance lessons (and everyday teachings by all adults and school and home!), kids can learn problem-solving strategies to deal with sand problems.

Next, I hold up a bag of pebbles. “What about these? Could you walk if you had pebbles in your shoe?” Students’ responses vary, but usually they say, “Yes, you could walk, but it would hurt. You’d be thinking about the pebbles when you take a step.” Pebbles represent the problems that cause pain or feelings of discomfort, and for these, kids can reach out for adult help. I encourage students to go to their teachers as a first point of contact. Are they experiencing friendship drama? Is there a situation at home they need to talk through? Homeroom teachers can help. As their school counselor, I can help, too. A student can write me a note and leave it in the mailbox outside of my door, and soon I’ll find him or her to check in.

Finally, I hold up a bag of rocks the size of small potatoes. “Could you walk if these were in your shoe?” All of the students say, “No way!” I agree. Rock problems are the ones that are so big that functioning normally at school is almost impossible. Teachers and classmates can tell that something’s wrong. Kids should seek adult help immediately. Near the beginning of the school year, a teacher brought a tearful student to my door. The student wanted to participate in morning meeting, but her “rock problem” was weighing so heavily on her heart and mind that she couldn’t think of anything else. We spent 30 minutes together, coloring pictures and talking about her situation.

We all have “sand problems,” “pebble problems,” and “rock problems.” At school, your children are surrounded by adults who guide them toward solving their own problems or step in to provide needed assistance. Don’t forget that this goes for parents, too. Worried about something your child has shared about the day at school? Send me an email or call anytime, and we’ll talk through it.

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Sand problems, pebble problems, and rock problems — we all have them!

3. Pre-First lessons: In Pre-First SEL/Guidance lessons, we’ve focused on good listening skills and the reasons for why we need to be good listeners at school (and home!). Howard B. Wigglebottom is a very silly rabbit who makes poor choices at school by not listening to his teachers and friends. During a stint in time-out, he realizes that it’s up to him to make better choices. He decides to use his eyes and ears to listen, stay safe, respect his classmates and teacher, and allow others to learn. Students enjoyed watching Howard’s animated book online (see this story and many more on www.wedolisten.org) and then coloring a paper, making Howard as crazily decorated as possible. They’re learning that Ms. Strother likes for each student’s creation to be different from the next student’s creation!

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It’s fun to color outside the lines and make your Howard look different from everyone else’s Howard!

4. Fantastic Five: Do you know the members of the School Counseling Department? I’m thankful to be part of an awesome team. Tray Malloy is the Middle School counselor, and in the Upper School, there are three school counselors to take good care of Westminster’s oldest and wisest Wildcats: Rose Harper, Morgan DiOrio, and Ben Merrill. Our contact information and philosophy statement, mission statement, and belief statement are on my Counseling Department page.

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The School Counseling Department of The Westminster Schools: Tray Malloy, Kate Strother, Rose Harper, Morgan DiOrio, and Ben Merrill

5. For the birds: The After School Program (ASK!) club of which I am a part is called the Kindness Club. Every Tuesday afternoon is a new adventure. To be kind to our bird population, last week we made a mess pinecone bird feeders to hang outside. From the “to do” list to the final product, it was a packed 60 minutes of stickiness, controlled chaos, and forest exploration. As I explained that they could wait for my assistance, the students surprised me by carefully tying their own pinecones on the branches. It was a humbling lesson for me! Next time, I’ll step back and allow these capable students in Pre-First, First Grade, and Second Grade to lead as I follow.

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Spreading an allergy-friendly mixture of wet ingredients on our pinecones

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After rolling the pinecones in birdseed, we were ready to hang them as a treat for our bird friends!

6. Piecing things together: The members of the Lower School Robotics team, the WiredCats, have been busy building mission models and researching “the fascinating world of trash” in preparation for participating in the FIRST LEGO League Challenge with teams across the state. Interested to know more about what we do? Check out the FIRST LEGO League website.

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Fifth Grade WiredCats prepare to carefully — very carefully — follow a few dozen steps to build a mission model

7. Game on: Finally, here’s a great blog post from Art it Out Therapy Center about how parents can use games to help improve social skills and self-management in their children. One of the keys to this: Talking before, during, and after the game. Read and bookmark this page for future reference! (I have quite a few card games and board games in my office to get kids talking when we’re in a small group. They share, we all learn, everyone has fun!) Happy gaming!

Confidentiality

It is my privilege to serve the students and families of Love Hall. Trusting relationships are the foundation for all of my work. So, after your child talks with me about something that’s on his or her mind, will I call you immediately and tell you everything? No. My primary relationship is with the child. A school counselor keeps information provided by students confidential.

But shouldn’t parents have the right to know what their children are saying at school? Shouldn’t the school counselor share what has been discussed? Indeed, there are times when parents should know exactly what their children are saying, and when appropriate, I will contact parents right away. However, what a student tells me is confidential unless he is being hurt, wants to hurt himself, wants to hurt someone else, and/or gives me permission to share. To come to me, students must be able to trust me. They must trust that I will help them — and if that means getting help from another adult, including parents, it is my obligation to help them however I can. Below is an excerpt from a 2008 article entitled “What Parents Need to Know About Confidentiality” that explains more.

“While respecting the rights and responsibilities of parents/guardians for their children, the school counselor works to establish a mutual relationship with parents/guardians to maximize a student’s development. … School counselors also adhere to laws, local guidelines and ethical standards of practice when assisting parents/guardians experiencing family difficulties interfering with a student’s effectiveness and welfare. School counselors are sensitive to diversity among families and recognize that all parents/guardians, custodial and noncustodial, have certain rights and responsibilities for their children’s welfare. School counselors also make reasonable efforts to honor the wishes of parents/guardians concerning information regarding the student, and, in cases of divorce or separation, exercise a good-faith effort to keep both parents informed with regard to critical information, with the exception of a court order.”

The guiding body for school counselors in the United States is the American School Counselor Association. The ASCA position on confidentiality is as follows: “School counselors recognize their primary obligation for confidentiality is to the student but balance that obligation with an understanding of the family or guardians’ legal and inherent rights to be the guiding voice in their children’s lives (ASCA Code of Ethics, 2010, A.2.d).” To read the full statement about confidentiality, click here.

You know your children better than anyone else knows your children. I work to establish trusting relationships with students and with parents, consulting also with mental health providers outside of Westminster to deepen these relationships. I will share with you what your child gives me permission to tell you, and if I feel it would beneficial for you to know more, I will gently encourage your child to open up to at home. In some situations, this encouragement will take place over multiple days.

So, in my room, students can unburden themselves and tell me whatever they’re thinking and feeling. They can feel safe knowing that I’ll share their thoughts with others only if one of the four following situations applies:

  • Someone is hurting you
  • You want to hurt someone
  • You want to hurt yourself
  • You give me permission to share with a trusted adult

I am in the process of visiting all classes to explain the confidential relationship between student and school counselor. I discourage the word “secret” when we talk about confidentiality; I encourage students to understand that what they tell me is private. Below is a poster that hangs in my office. Parents, if you have questions about confidentiality or if you’re curious about any part of a school counselor’s job, please email, call, or stop by anytime. I look forward to partnering with you.

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Confidentiality poster in Ms. Strother’s room