Saturday, April 30, 2016

Small group structure for Elementary School Counselors

I've been thinking about my favorite things about small groups lately, and I feel like I've reached a point that I really love my outline. It's only taken me about 10 years to get there.

I start all of my groups, regardless of topic, in the same way. 99% of my groups are run during the lunch blocks, so we often have to wait for group members to make it through the lunch line and arrive.

I really needed something for the kids to do while they waited (besides eat their lunch). I adapted this idea from someone in the Elementary School Counselor Exchange on Facebook a couple years ago (despite my best efforts, I cannot find the original poster. If it was you - or you know who it was, please tell me!!). At the start of every new group, the students create a "feelings card." These are pretty simple, rectangular bookmarks that the kids decorate and label with their name (if they want). When I'm feeling super fancy and ambitious, I laminate them, and then I store them in a grade-specific pocket so they're easy to find. As the students come in, they find their card and pick how they're feeling that day. You can download the template that I use for free here.

Feelings check in for small group counseling

As you can see, all the pockets are labeled with an emotion and an image. I shrank the Feelings Posters by School Counseling Files and attached them to the pockets using paper clips. Simple, right? The posters are really cute, and I use them for other group activities so the kids get used to recognizing the clip art images and emotions. 

The kids looooooove this. They spend quite a bit of time looking at the emotions, thinking about how they're currently feeling, and sometimes during the group or at the end they put their feeling card in a different pocket as their feelings change. I've found it really opens students up to discussing emotions, and it lends itself well to our group check-in. I typically use a feeling frog, and the kids take turns sharing good/bad news, and/or how they're feeling that day. Students also seem to really enjoy guessing which color/emotion frog I'm going to pick. Weird, I know. It's the little things, I guess.

From there, we move on to the activity of the day! Easy peasy! The kids like the consistent structure, and the opportunity to share with their peers. It gets them focused on feelings, and ready to roll for group.

Do you have a certain outline or structure to your groups? What have you found effective during elementary school counseling groups? I'd love to hear about it - share below!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Parent Communication about School Counseling Small Groups

Ever struggle with the best way to communicate with parents? I know I have... for years. I facilitate many small groups throughout the year as part of my comprehensive school counseling plan. I send permission slips home to families, with an outline and a couple examples of what we might do during group. Despite this, I often have caregivers, at some point in the year, asking "Yes, but what exactly do you do in group?"

This is tricky to answer. All of my groups are different, based on group dynamics and need. I usually give an explanation about identifying feelings, managing emotions, and a brief discussion of the counseling component or topics might be a part of that particular group (e.g. family structures, conflict resolution, types of bullying, etc.). But this conversation never feels like it does groups justice... and I'm really lucky. I get to work with families who want to know what I do, and how they can support and reinforce group ideas at home with their children.

So behold... the parent mini flip book!

I found the template for the double-side mini flip book on Teachers Pay Teachers. It was created by Learning in Wonderland and it's amazing. It's big enough to include a lot of information, different enough to gain attention from parents and caregivers, and small enough that I don't feel overwhelmed creating it. 

Photo credit of Feelings Frogs to and Curto Toys  
I thought about what I wanted families to know, and I decided upon the general structure of my groups, along with a few examples of what students did while in group. I also try to add in some resources for the parents, or information about the materials used in group in case they'd like to check them out.

The feedback from sending the mini flip books home has been great so far! A first grader told me last week that her mom really liked the book I sent home about "Changing Families" group. I sent those home in January, so I know it made an impression when a 6 year old retains that information in April!

What's your favorite way to communicate with families? Comment below!

Wondering what I used to create these amazing parent resources? The mini flip book template was created by Learning in Wonderland. The font used on the mini flip books is Lightning Speed. Clip art credit to Teaching in the Tongass and Educlips