Thursday, July 19, 2018

ASCA18: Check Out Our Presentation!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

My colleague and I had the honor of presenting at the 2018 ASCA Conference in Los Angeles!  Our  presentation featured how peer leadership can benefit school counseling departments as an effective strategy for assisting at-risk students. Researchers discovered that establishing a peer program promotes development assets in youth, shows effectiveness in reducing at-risk behavior in youth, leads to reductions in alcohol use and tobacco use more than teacher-led programs, shows a decline in fighting, fosters desirable learning and behavioral change and show effectiveness in a thriving community.

Presentation Highlights

Each participant received a handout featuring an overview of our program in two schools from our district: Heritage High School and Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology.  I am attaching a link to this overview of the peer activities from these two schools so that you can see the diverse activities and outreach of our program.

Now I want to share our presentation with high school counselors.  You may want to explore establishing or expanding your own program in your school district.  As always, feel free to reach out to me for assistance if you want guidance or ideas!

Thank you to all of you who came out on Sunday afternoon!!

Your's Truly

Monica Seeley, Heritage High School

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Ultimate Guide to ASCA18

Sunday, July 8, 2018

As I was walking by the calendar on the refrigerator, I suddenly realized that ASCA is less than one week away!!!  In a panic, I decided to go ahead and start my preparations (pulling out clothes, packing books, buying supplies, etc) for my trip.  My husband noticed all the "stuff" on the bed and asked why I was already packing.  Annoyed by his ridiculous question, I quickly replied to him my intent. "Honey, I am just trying to be prepared that's all."  Of course he rolled his eyes and walked away.  So, in my pursuit for ultimate ASCA preparation, I decided I need to get myself mentally and physically ready for LA.  As I am going through my list, it occurred to me that there may be others  who feel the same way.  As I prepare for the conference, I thought I would share some tips that I have learned and other pro-ASCA attenders have shared over the years.

Step 1: Pre-ACSA Preparation

Now that you are past making your hotel reservation, it is time to prepare for the actual conference.  To make your arrival less stressful, download the ASCA conference app and pick the sessions you want to attend (by the way, I completed this the other night and it was really easy). The good news is that you still can view the handouts from the conference even if you cannot attend (#notatASCA18). Also, if you love paper, you can print out the full conference agenda.

If you have not already, become part of the #ASCA18 conversation on Twitter.  If you cannot go this year (I have been there), follow the conference on Twitter using the #notatASCA18 hashtag.  Believe me, you will get a lot of great information.  Already, I am seeing a lot of buzz and excitement about the conference!

Some last minute preparations for those of you who are flying. Looking on the ASCA website today, I noticed that conference attendees must schedule transportation from the airport to the hotel (again, glad I am planning ahead).  The good news is that ASCA has arranged a discounted price on Super Shuttle (you will need to make reservations in advance).

Now back to packing and what to bring.  Carol Miller (The Middle School Counselor) gives some great tips of what to bring in her latest blog, "Going to ASCA?  What You Need to Know".  Carol suggests some basic staples such as Advil, a battery pack, extra I-Phone charger, notebook, reading materials for the plane, and of course your business cards (I have to go get mine from work this week).  In addition, I am bringing highlighters, colored gel pens (got to have them), sticky notes, and folders for any handouts someone may give out.

My ASCA Notebook
Okay, the important question everyone wants to know is what to wear?!  I like to dress in business causal attire for conferences, but I am also wearing some of my counselor swag that I have picked up over time.  I looked at the weather forecast for LA and temperatures will be in the upper 80s and low 90s...perfect for this southern girl!!

Need some counselor swag?  Buy a t-shirt and donate to the school counseling community scholarship!! You will learn more about this scholarship at the conference!!

My Counselor Swag

Step 2: Arrival

Now, you have finally arrived in Los Angeles at one of the greatest conferences in the world!  What is next?  You already have your schedule down (remember you are doing this before the conference, right?) and it is time to attend your sessions.  Since I am arriving late on Friday, I plan to register Saturday morning (registration is from 9AM-6PM) and then head to the Open Session Keynote featuring former NBA star, Kareem Abdul Jabbar. After lunch, I will be heading to the breakout sessions and looking to connect with some of my counseling buddies!  Since we are in LA, I will definitely be looking for some of the stars of school counseling that I follow, okay stalk, on social media!!

If you want to meet some of these amazing people, my suggestion is to sign up for the ASCA Meet Up sponsored by one of these stars, Carol Miller.

Another great way to meet people and see the sites is to take the ASCA College Tour on Tuesday.

Step 3: Enjoy the Trip!

So, I am taking my daughter with me to the conference for her 21st birthday and we are going to make sure we take in the sites while we are in LA!  I am looking ahead and there are TONS of things to do in Los Angeles (it is a little overwhelming).  I doubt I will have time to accomplish all my site seeing wish list, but here are at least three places that I would love to visit!!

Beverly Hills (my shopping Mecca!)

Hollywood Walk of Fame (hoping to see a star or two...maybe or maybe not, just a thought)

Sunset Strip (Because I am a child of 80s Hair Metal!)

Want to know where to go in LA? Check out the Beginner's Guide to Los Angeles for more information!

Well, those are some of my tips for attending ASCA.  You will learn a lot, meet a lot of great people, and definitely want to go to #ASCA19 in Boston for sure!!  Also, I hope you will stop by my session on Sunday afternoon about the super power of peer leadership...I would love to you meet you!!

Want to know more about attending the ASCA conference?  Check out these other great posts!!

Can't Make It To ASCA18?

Can't make it to ASCA this year? No sweat!! Here are some tips from an expert #notatASCA attendee.

1.  Attend the conference as a virtual attendee.  See my post from last year on the advantages of attending from home.

2.  Follow the conference on Twitter...#notatASCA18.

3.  Plan early for #ASCA19 in Boston!  Download the conference justification letter for your school administrator.

June 29–July 2, 2019
"Revolutionary Ideas"

4.  Consider following my counseling superstar blogs to keep up with the highlights from the conference.

Enjoy the Conference!!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

#SCCHAT Coming Soon!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

I am honored to be a co-moderator for the 2018-19 School Counselor Chat or #SCCHAT!  #SCCHAT  is an international school counselor chat for school counselors to learn and grow from each other.  #SCCHAT was originally founded by Danielle Schultz and Dr. Erin Mason in 2011 and has been growing every year. 

Want to know who the contributors are for #SCCHAT this year?  Check out the list of co-moderators created by Canadian retired school counsellor, Susan Spellman Cann.

Here is my introduction and I hope you will attend!!

Chat Month: September

Topic: Suicide

Where do you live?
McDonough, Ga

What brings you joy?
My family, my faith, relationships, working out, and COFFEE!

What do you want your students to know?
Students matter! All you need is one supportive adult to help you change your destiny!

Where did you go to University?
Georgia Southern University and Walden University

What is your favorite quote?
I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It.” Voltaire

What message do you want to share?
School counselors are truly the heart of the school and have the ability to make a difference in the lives of students. Our actions don’t have to be big to make this change. Just taking the time to greet a student warmly in the hall, checking in with a student in a short impromptu meeting, providing a quick snack to a student who missed breakfast, or attending a event in support of a student can make a HUGE impact on students for the better. All students need is just one be that champion!



Saturday, June 30, 2018

Senior Reality Check

Saturday, June 30, 2018

As a high school counselor, I am always looking for effective activities to conduct with my seniors who seemed to be well...stuck. By the fall of the senior year, you definitely know your students who are struggling with their post-secondary plans and you then feel the pressure from the administration and parents to get them UNSTUCK.  So, if you find yourself working with a group of seniors who are just lost (for lack of a better term) then this may be the post for you!

About a year ago, I was visiting my former high school and happened to venture into the media center.  While I was there, I couldn't help but notice a higher than usual student volume in a typically quiet space. Since my curiosity was killing me, I finally asked one of my peer leaders what was going on and she told me that the College Adviser was conducting Senior Reality Checks.  Intrigued, I walked over and stood behind a bookcase to listen to one of the conversations.  When the student left, I popped out from behind the bookcase (startling everyone at the table) and greeted the College Adviser.  "Hey Ms. Smith (not her real name)! Can you tell me about what you are doing with the students?  That sounded amazing!"  After she recovered from her coronary, she told me if I could come back another day she would afford me an interview.  It was a date!!

What is a Senior Reality Check Activity?

About a week later, we sat down for our interview and she informed me about a new initiative she was involved in with the College Advising Corp called "Real Spill."  The purpose of the senior meeting was to meet with students who met the following criteria:
  • 2.4 GPA or lower;
  • In danger of not graduating in four years;
  • Failed to indicate to their school counselor that they had a plan after high school.
Here is how the Real Spill Program works...

During the initial student meeting, the College Adviser introduces herself and describes her role.  She explains to the student that she will be conducting a series of meetings with seniors over the next several months to discuss their goals during the year and after high school.  At the end of the first meeting, she gives the student a goal sheet to complete and the student is to bring back the form in their next meeting.  Here is a snapshot of the initial meeting form.

Real Spill Goal Worksheet
When the student brings back the worksheet, they discuss the student's goals for the year, goals after high school, and how the adviser can assist the student. During this second meeting, the adviser tells the student that they will be meeting each month to see if the student is accomplishing his or her goals.  The following meetings will involve checking on the student's grades, attendance, classroom performance, and to answer the student's questions.

In subsequent meetings, the College Adviser will focus on different topics and issues that the student brings to her.  In one particular meeting, the College Adviser will focus on grades and possible options after high school.  In this meeting, the adviser gives the student a handout called "Reality Check" where the student has to research and answer the following questions:

1.  Determine your GPA/College Entrance Exam Score
If the student does not know this information, the College Adviser will help the student locate it on his or her transcript and permanent folder.  If the student has not completed the SAT or ACT, the adviser will give the student the testing information and dates.  One special thing that Ms. Smith did for the students was to use peer leaders to take them to the computer and help them register for the exam that day.

2.  Conduct a college plan on and explore post-secondary schools
Students are to bring back information on the schools that interest them and meets their current GPA and College Entrance Exam Score.

3.  Place schools you are interested in into 1 of 3 categories
These categories include:
Safe School (1 to 2 schools): You EXCEED minimum admissions requirements.
Target School (around 3 schools): Your credentials fall into the "average" range of the school's admission requirements.
Reach School (1 school): Your credentials are below that of the average admitted student, but  you may have a slim chance of getting in based on essay strength, extracurricular involvement, life experiences, recommendations, etc.

Reality Check Handout

Based on the information gathered from this form, the College Adviser then generates a plan for the student. Some of the goals in this plan can include:  assigning the student to a peer mentor, providing lists of extracurricular activities, setting the student up to see the College/Career Adviser for assistance with essay writing, encouraging the student to go to tutoring, and/or setting up a parent/student/counselor meeting.

At the end of our conversation, I asked Ms. Smith to share her thoughts about the Real Spill student meetings and she said the response from the students had been extremely positive.  What impression she left with me was that students who were "at-risk" needed that additional support and hand holding.  I could not agree with her more!!

If you want to hear more about how College Advisers assist with college admission, check out this NPR interview

Career and Technical Letter of Intent Signing Day

Another great idea to think about conducting with your students, who may not be recognized at award nights, college signing days, or honor ceremonies, is Career and Technical Letter-of-Intent Signing Day." At this ceremony, students and company representatives signed letters of intent regarding conditions of the students' employment, training, and compensation. Want to know more about the benefits of this program? Listen to Mike Rowe of "Dirty Jobs" explain more about this ceremony.

Credit: Henrico County Schools

I hope this post gave you some additional ideas of how you can help your students who may need additional support in their post-secondary plans.  If you have any ideas you wish to share, please feel free to let me know so I can share with other school counselors!! Also, here are some past posts and additional resources for working with seniors.

From the For High School Counselors Blog

Over 70 Resources to Help School Counselors During the Senior Year

50 College Resources for High School Counselors

College Decision Day Ideas

National College Application Month

Reconnecting Disconnected Senior Parents

Whose on First: List of School Counseling Resources and Tools to Help First Generation Students Reach College

Other Senior Resources:

12th Grade College Planning Timeline

College Application Bootcamp

College Signing Day Kit

GPA Calculator

Navigating the College Admissions Process

Senioritis Presentation

Friday, June 22, 2018

ASCA...Here I Come!

Friday, June 22, 2018

After three years of attending ASCA on my couch, I can say that I am finally getting to attend one of the best conferences on Earth (my first time was in 2014)!  Not only am I going to attend the conference, but my proposal was selected as well!!  If you are interested in stopping in, here is a spoiler!

Learning Objectives...

-Participants will be prepared to provide leadership in designing an effective peer program that is a 
valuable component of a school’s mission and vision.
-Utilizes the NAPPP Programmatic Standards and Ethics regarding establishing, supervising, and
 evaluating peer programs.
-Incorporates peer helping as Tier 1 support in prevention, intervention, and postvention.
-Bridges peer helping from middle to high school to college.
-Incorporates an evaluation process that effectively measures the success of the program. 
-Provides students with a variety of social and emotional skills instrumental to the developmental
process of middle and high school students.
-Leave with a framework to develop or implement a sustainable peer helper program.

So, what does ASCA say about incorporating peer programs in schools?

"ASCA believes peer support programs are a means of helping students develop social/emotional 
 competencies, define positive values including personal responsibility and learn pro-social behaviors
 (Varenhorst, 2004). Furthermore ASCA believes the effectiveness of school counseling programs is
 enhanced by the informed implementation of a peer support program, which can provide increased
 outreach and expansion of services."

What is the counselor's role in incorporating a peer led program?

The school counselor is responsible for determining the needs of the school population and for 
implementing a peer support program designed to meet those needs. 

School counselors:

 • Have unique responsibilities when working with peer helper or student assistance programs and 
safeguard the welfare of students participating in peer-to-peer programs under their direction 
• Are ultimately responsible for appropriate training and supervision for students serving as peer 
support individuals in their school counseling programs (ASCA, 2010) (Latham, 1997) 
• Create a selection plan for peer helpers reflecting the diversity of the population to be served 
• Develop a support system for the program that communicates the program’s goals and purpose
 through positive public relations
 • Monitors, evaluates and adjusts the program and training on a continual basis to meet the assessed
 needs of the school population the program serves 
• Reports results to all school stakeholders (e.g., students, teachers, administrators, parents, 

Want to know more? Please plan to attend our session on Sunday, July 15th from 3:30-4:30 in room

Looking forward to meeting you if you can attend!!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Why Students Dislike Their School Counselors...Explained By a School Counselor!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

It is a rainy afternoon so I decided to sit at my desk and share a post with my fellow counselors. I often try to wait for an inspiration of something positive and uplifting, but today is not that kind of a day.  In fact, my post is going to reflect the weather outside my window...ominous. So, I am going to start out pretty disheartening, but I think if you can hang in there it will end on a palatable note.

This post reflects my soul today...forgive me!
I decided to write this difficult post based on my interaction with some pretty burned out school counselors within the last couple of months. Our interactions really had me thinking that counselor burn out is an issue that needs to be discussed within our profession.  In our wonderful social media groups and blogs, we often share the ups and downs of our experiences (which is awesome by the way).  It is really helpful to have a network of colleagues who support, uplift, and guide you when you are having a bad counselor day.  The people who usually participate in these groups are looking for insight, encouragement, and direction for their profession.  I have been a recipient of this support and I appreciate all the school counselors who have encouraged me over my career.  So, saying this, this post is NOT ABOUT YOU!  I wanted to get that message out so no one feels that they are being targeted in my writing today.  This post is about those colleagues (who probably don't read blogs anyway) who are not so supportive of others, don't care to receive feedback (or can't take feedback), and stay enmeshed in their own narrow minded world.  This post addresses the school counselor who has the bad reputation in a school.  This person is known as rude, snide, critical, and seems uncaring (okay, you get the picture). So, this may not be you,  but you may work with a person who falls in this category.  Now that I made that clear, let's proceed to my point!

Okay, so not everyone likes us...I get it.  I am not liked by everyone, but my goal is to be consistent, reliable, and on top of my game as I can humanly be.  If I make a mistake (which happens despite my best efforts), I also try to make it right as I can.  However, I found that this is not the case for all counselors.  Case in point (and the reason for this very post), a colleague shared a letter from a student who was looking for some true "guidance" from any counselor at his school.  The student went to three different counselors and felt disregarded by each of them.  He wrote an impassioned letter to a teacher, who he felt really listened, and said to her, "why can't you be my counselor? You helped me more in 10 minutes then my counselor has helped me in three years.  Why doesn't the counselors at this school like me?"  My heart broke when I read his letter and the teacher said to me that he was so disheartened by the treatment he experienced that he refused to go back to them.  Unfortunately, this seems to be systemic in this one particular school and the mode of operation for that department.  The counselors in that school have a bad reputation for being uncaring, unhelpful, and students often ask..."what do those counselors do all day?" In fact, many students will recall their bad high school counselor as adults before they will remember that bad History teacher.  Money Watch Magazine said it best..."students reserved their scorn for their high school counselors -- not teachers."

Why Students Dislike their Counselor?

When polled by students, here are the top answers of why most students do not like their counselor (Source: Lynn O'Shanghnessy):

1. The counselor did a fair or poor job in helping them prepare for a post-secondary option.
2. The counselor never got back to them after they put in for an appointment.
3. The counselor never really listened to their concerns.
4. The counselor failed to show empathetic regard.
5. The counselor simply was too busy to talk to them (i.e. testing, meetings, etc).
6. The counselor lacked knowledge about the subject and failed to direct them to where to find an answer.

Why Some School Counselors are...well, BAD?

I think that the majority of school counselors start out as caring professionals who want to help kids.  However, for some school counselors (remember, not you), something happens to change them from caring to passive, unreliable, and even callous.  Typically, school counselors who acquire the bad reputations are those who have been impacted by vicarious trauma themselves.  In fact, the act of caring to the point that you are drained of empathy is a real problem for people in our profession.  This draining of empathy often occurs after school counselors spend a lot of energy caring for others over a long period of time.  Researchers have coined this type of burnout as compassion fatigue or secondary PTSD

How do you know when you or a colleague is experiencing burnout or compassion fatigue? When looking at burnout in school counselors, Michael Nobles found there are four distinct stages:

Stage 1
Are you or your colleagues always available to families or students?  Also, do you or your colleagues tend to over-identify with students? For instance, a school counselor may fail to eat lunch, miss family events, or begin to think about students constantly (even in their dreams). 
Stage 2
Are you or a your colleagues realizing that you are working way too much and making the decision to reduce the time on your job?  After this reduction in commitment,  have you started to feel discontented or stagnate in your job?
Stage 3
Have you or a colleague felt frustrated with your job, become less tolerant of others, or failed to sympathize with your students. Have you started to avoid students or withdrawn emotionally or physically from work?
Stage 4
Finally, have you or a colleague become listless and apathetic? Have you found yourself sitting in the office all day, failing to see students on a regular basis, and even starting to miss work?

When burnout is allowed to continue without self care or help, it can have negative implications on students, colleagues, and our personal lives.  Some of the immediate dangers include: little interest in work, impaired relationships with your colleagues and students, and even physical and emotional withdrawal from work (i.e. missing copious days of work or hanging out all day in your office at the computer).  

Tips for Becoming a Efficient, but Caring School Counselor

One of my favorite television characters was Ziva David from NCIS.  She was tough, but showed great care and concern for those she was sworn to protect.  Maybe her character was based on the concept of the Israeli school counselor who is considered to be an expert problem solver.  In fact, these school counselors have adopted a quarterback concept which means that they are very effective in their role.  According to Edutopia, their roles are clear..."promote a positive school climate, encourage strong relationships with multiple faculty and staff members, assist parents in providing proper guidance and support for their children, arrange and support programs to build students' social-emotional competencies and sound character, bring in community and Internet resources around career and academic planning, and to provide direct services where possible or arrange for them from elsewhere when necessary." Although we have standards set by ASCA, not all school counselors may not understand or even want to ascribe to the ASCA standards.  Therefore, here are some tips you can employ or suggest to your colleagues to become an efficient and caring counselor in your school. 

1.  Advocate for all students, not just for the few who are going to college.  
2.  Increase communication with outside agencies to bring resources and assistance to all students.
3.  Stay informed about changes in policies on the national, state, and local level.  That means you may need to go to conferences, workshops, and attend staff development opportunities.
4.  Be visible which means you need to get out of your office.  Go to classrooms, stand in the hall, eat in the lunchroom, attend or sponsor an after school club.
5.  Answer all your emails and appointments within 48 hours. Jeff Ream, the Counseling Geek, suggests setting aside 15-30 minutes a day to answer and go through emails.
6.  Take students seriously when they make threats...especially suicidal threats.  Don't be like the counselor from "13 Reasons Why" who has become the poster child of a bad school counselor!!
7.  Exercise self care!  This is a school counselor ethical standard that is often neglected!!

I hope that this post was taken in true true spirit in which it was written...not to put down counselors, but to recognize bad behaviors that can put a negative light on our profession.  I recognize that school counseling is not all roses and sunshine and there will be truly overwhelming and negative experiences; however, recognizing the signs of burnout is imperative! Although it is difficult to change others, you can recognize and encourage others to renew their passion that they once felt as a new school counselor.  In addition, here are some additional resources that may help or can be shared with your fellow colleagues.  

What can you do now to prevent burnout?  Take the summer to renew, refresh, and revive yourself so that you can support our most precious resources, our students!!

Additional Resources

3 Habits of Effective (Yet Caring) School Counselors by the Counseling Geek

Importance of Practicing Self Care by Confident School Counselors

Archives from the For High School Counselor Blog

How to Fix a Broken School Counselor

Tips for Avoiding School Counseling Nightmares

What To Do When You are Last On the List

End of Year Tips for the Overworked School Counselor

Monday, May 14, 2018

Chronic Marijuana Use and Its Impact on Mental Health: Tips for School Counselors

Monday, May 14, 2018

The end of the year is quickly approaching and part of my job is to push seniors to the finish line.  Since January, I have been pushing one particular senior who is taking an online course with  our virtual campus.  When I speak to him about his course, he is always polite and says the right things; however, he is just not very motivated. When I say he is not motivated, I mean he has not logged into his class in two months and he is supposed to graduate in two weeks. The last time I met with him, he starred at me blankly and said, "Everything is just gray."  Confused and fed up with his empty promises, I decided to go to his school and speak to a former colleague of mine who is working as the assistant principal.  I looked at my colleague and said, "Okay, what is the deal with Chuck (not his real name). We have met with him numerous times, called his mom, offered him times to come in and meet with the teacher, but he is not taking advantage of any opportunities. Is he using?"  She gave me an affirming look and my suspicions were confirmed that he was a chronic marijuana user. 

Mental Health and Addiction

Since May is mental health awareness month, I wanted to share the impact of marijuana on students' mental health and school performance. Although marijuana use is not legal for minors in legalized states, a national report found that students, ages 12-17, believe there are nominal risks for smoking marijuana (for instance some teens believe marijuana makes you a better driver...yikes!). These beliefs have increased marijuana use and the chance for addiction. Many students with addiction to drugs, like marijuana, have a co-occurring mental health disorder and the purpose of their use is to simply alleviate their symptoms (Spotting Signs of Addiction in Students)  The National Institute on Drug Abuse  found that students who smoke have poorer academic performance than nonsmokers.  Medical studies from the New England Journal of Medicine have found that early use of marijuana can impact school progress and ultimately impact functioning of the adult brain. A University of Waterloo study also found that students with prolonged marijuana use had a significant decline in interest to attend an university after high school. Not only does marijuana use negatively impact academic performance, but can affect the mental health of adolescents as well.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse  also reported that marijuana use can increase the risk of psychosis (impaired thoughts and emotions) and schizophrenia (distressing hallucinations and paranoia) among those who who may be genetically predisposed to mental illness.  This fact is displayed in the graphic below...

Source: Di Forti et al. Biol Psychiatry. 2012.

Other negative impacts of chronic marijuana use can include dropping out of school, possible lower wages, unemployment, lower life satisfaction emergency room visits, and even suicide. Unfortunately with the rise of legalization in many states, schools will see more and more students adversely impacted by cannabis misuse. Researchers found that adults who started smoking as teens had “impaired neural connectivity".  In other words, their prolonged use impacted their "memory, alertness, and processing of basic routines." The graphics below show states that have legalized marijuana for recreational/medical purposes and the correlation between legalization and the increasing trend of marijuana use among adolescents.

States That Have Legalized Marijuana
States that have legalized marijuana
Source: Mental Health America

Daily Marijuana Use Increasing

Long Term Trends in Adolescents

Long Term Use Among Students in grade 8-12
With marijuana outselling ice cream in the US in 2017, there should be a real cause for concern for school counselors.  As a school counselor, I often feel overwhelmed and helpless in my efforts to educate and inform students and parents of the real dangers of chronic marijuana use.  Truthfully, I feel that many school counselors don't know what to do so they just don't address the issue.  In this post, I want to give you some practical information of how you can identify chronic marijuana use, how you can help students who chronically abuse marijuana, and provide some helpful resources to share with your colleagues, students, and parents.

First, let's talk about how to identify the signs of chronic marijuana use among teens.  As a school counselor, there are notable signs that may signal possible addiction. These signs include:

  • Change in academic performance; such as a decline grades;
  • Change in social group;
  • Skipping school and tardiness;
  • Decline in overall hygiene;
  • Physical signs such as bloodshot eyes, falling asleep in class, and a lack of responsiveness;
  • Conversations about drugs or getting high;
  • Apathy and feelings of ambivalence.
Although identifying chronic marijuana is important, where do you go from here?  Having the information is one thing, but helping students reduce their chances of addiction and mental health concerns is another.

So, What Can School Counselors Do?

Now that we know marijuana use is on the rise among our students and causes lifelong issues, we must have strategies for working with these students. As a school counselor, we can be the first ones to notice that a student has begun to decline academically and disengage from school.  If you suspect marijuana use, you can educate parents and students about when marijuana use has become problematic.  Mental Health America says that marijuana use becomes a problem "when it interferes with a person's ability to function in their personal and/or professional lives."  Some questions that Mental Health America has provided for marijuana users include...

In the past year have you:
  • Used marijuana in large amounts for longer than intended?
  • Wanted to stop using marijuana, but weren’t successful in attempts to quit?
  • Spent a great deal of time getting, using, or recovering from marijuana?
  • Had strong cravings or urges to use?
  • Failed to perform work, school, or home duties because of marijuana?
  • Continued use despite it causing problems with relationships?
  • Stopped participating in activities you used to enjoy because of marijuana use?
  • Used  marijuana in physically dangerous situations (driving, etc.)?
  • Continued using marijuana despite physical or mental health problems that it has caused or made worse?
  • Developed a tolerance to marijuana (needed more to get the desired effect)?
  • Felt withdrawal symptoms when you stopped using marijuana, possibly using again to relieve your discomfort?
Once identified, how can school counselors help students who have developed chronic marijuana use? When talking to students about addiction, it is easy to get into a moral discussion about consequences and legal repercussions; however, these arguments seldom make a difference in changing students minds. Instead, We Are Teachers,  recommends talking about brain science and long term impacts. The National Institute on Drug Abuse For Teens, provides great information to provide to teens and parents.  This graphic form Chen (2004), gives students a great visual on how marijuana impacts the brain.  Also, I am attaching a video from Dr. Nora Volkow that may be helpful for you to view about how drug addiction impacts the brain.

In addition, here are some tips from Mental Health America that may be helpful in working with chronic users:

  • Keep track of your marijuana use to see if you notice patterns.
  • Be specific with yourself about how you would like to change your marijuana use (how often, when, where, etc.) and your reasons for making changes.
  • Take a month-long break from marijuana. This enables your body to get rid of the drug, reduce tolerance, and get over the discomfort of withdrawal that some people feel when stopping.
  • Identify what triggers the urge to use, and think about what you can do to manage those triggers.
  • Avoid using marijuana before activities that require thinking and remembering, like school and work, or before an important or new challenge.
  • Don’t mix marijuana with alcohol or other drugs.
  • Get immediate help if you are unable to control your use or if you have a medical emergency.
Talking to students about chronic use is not easy.  Therefore, I have attached a list of talking points from The American Academy of Pediatrics that can be helpful for school counselors.  Here is a list of ten points (six for students and four for parents) that you can reference in your conversations.

For Students

  1. Marijuana is not a benign drug for teens. The teen brain is still developing, and marijuana may cause abnormal brain development.
  2. Teens who use marijuana regularly may develop serious mental health disorders, including addiction, depression, and psychosis.
  3. There are no research studies on the use of medical marijuana in teens, so actual indications, appropriate dosing, effects, and side effects are unknown. The only data available on medical marijuana in the pediatric population are limited to its use in children with severe refractory seizures.
  4. Recreational use of marijuana by minors and young adults under the age of 21 years is illegal and, if prosecuted, may result in a permanent criminal record, affecting schooling, jobs, etc.
  5. Never drive under the influence of marijuana or ride in a car with a driver who is under the influence of marijuana. Adults and teens regularly get into serious and even fatal car accidents while under the influence of marijuana.
  6. Marijuana smoke is toxic, similar to secondhand tobacco smoke. The use of vaporizers or hookahs does not eliminate the toxic chemicals in marijuana smoke.
For Parents

  1. You are role models for your children, and actions speak louder than words. So if you use marijuana in front of your teens, they are more likely to use it themselves, regardless of whether you tell them not to.
  2. It is important to keep all marijuana products away from children. As with other medications and toxic products, containers that are child-proof and kept out of reach should be used. For small children, marijuana edibles and drinks can be particularly dangerous.
  3. Remember that intoxication and euphoria are predictable effects of using marijuana products. Being “high” from your own recreational or medical marijuana use may alter your capacity to function safely as a parent or to provide a safe environment for infants and children.
  4. If your child asks you directly whether you have used marijuana, a brief, honest answer may help the child feel comfortable talking with you about drug use issues. However, it is best to not share your own histories of drug use with your children. Rather, discussion of drug use scenarios, in general, may be a more helpful approach.
In addition to education, school counselors may use Motivational Interviewing as a strategy to help adolescents who chronically use marijuana.  Motivational Interviewing is a counseling technique that is instrumental in reducing ambivalence and supporting a commitment to change. This technique is not confrontational and points out discrepancies in thought patterns.  If you are interested in learning more about Motivational Interviewing, check out Reagan North's book for school counselors.

Organizations and Other Resources

Need more information?  There are several organizations that are determined to educate the public about the non publicized side effects of marijuana.  


Let’s Be Clear Georgia – Website that focuses on preventing and reducing marijuana abuse among youth in Georgia. 
Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) – Project SAM provides a breakdown of up-to-date information involving marijuana, such as legalization, public health and cannabis-based medications; fact sheets and talking points; and opportunities to get involved in their efforts.
The Marijuana Report – This site provides fact sheets, infographics and toolkits that detail information on the dangers of marijuana.
The American Academy of Pediatrics – Medical site that includes information about the drug, signs of use and steps parents can take in prevention.

National Institute on Drug Abuse –Provides up-to-date facts on marijuana, including how it is used, how it affects the brain and other health effects on the brain.