Saturday, October 26, 2013

Scariest Moments in School Counseling

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Every Halloween, I watch the top 100 Scariest Movie Moments with my kids.  Sometimes we laugh at the older movies and the low budget effects (The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is one that kills me!), but
sometimes we cover our eyes when we see scenes of a truly scary movie, like The
Exorcist.  Inspired by the season,  I have decided to share my scariest moments in school counseling.



5. Helter Skelter

I am from a small town and most people attend a protestant church, including myself.  There was one catholic church in the town, but I never thought there was much difference in our practices.  When I
moved to the suburbs of a large city, I noticed many different cultures, ethnicities, and religious practices that differed from my small town upbringing.  Unfortunately, at this time, I was a young naive counselor who lacked experience and often put her foot in her mouth.  During the spring, I noticed a group of students with dark marks on their foreheads and I thought they looked ridiculous. I really did not think much more about the marks on their foreheads until one of the students came into my office and there was the mark staring me in the face.  At first, I suppressed the desire to ask him about the mark, but my curiosity took over.  As the student and I joked with each other I began to feel more at is my chance to do it I thought to myself.  Now, here is the stupidest comment I have ever made in my life..."So, tell me why you have a Charles Manson swastika on your head."
Charles Manson did not celebrate Lent
The student, who had been laughing and joking, stopped and stared at me with irritation.  "For your information, this is not a swastika, this a cross we placed on our heads for Lent.  At that point, he finished his business and left my office.  Uggghhhhh!  I was in horror that I uttered those words out of my mouth!!! In fact, it was a long time before that student came back to see me and I finally apologized for my ignorance.

Today, I am much more cautious about remarks I make to students and I try to educate myself about different cultural practices before I open my mouth.  I think school counselors should make efforts be culturally competent.

ASCA and School Counselor Competence
Culturally Competent School Counselors

4.  Jaws

So, I just started a new school year and was having a particularly tough day. One of my former parents came in to talk about his son's NCAA eligibility.  He was always a happy man with pleasant smile on his face.  In the past, he always came in with his wife, but that day he was alone.  Outside my office is always lively and he asked if he could close the door.  Since it was very loud, I got out my chair and closed the door.  He told me that I looked like I was tired and then he made some small talk.  After we spoke about his son's status, he asked about my lack of energy.  I shared with him that my son had been in the hospital and I had been trying to balance work and home without much success.  He had a look of kindness and compassion on his face and told me to take care of myself.  We both stood, walked to the door, and I turned to shake his hand. All of the sudden, this parent grabs me by the shoulders, kisses me near my mouth, and walks out.  I was in total shock! I think I stood there in the doorway in disbelief and doubting that the event ever occurred.
Surprise attack by parent
Since that day, I make it my policy never to close my blinds or my door when meeting with anyone of the opposite sex.  This situation showed me how close an innocent meeting can change in a minute's notice--like swimming in the ocean on a beautiful day!

Sexual Harassment Prevention in Schools
ASCA Regulations on Sexual Harrassment

3. Nightmare on Elm Street

In my second year as a high school guidance counselor, I worked at a school that had a large group of students who experimented with the occult.  These students were very open about their practices, wore occult paraphernalia, and were very unapologetic about their involvement in the unseen world.  As the year progressed, one of the new male students started coming to see me regularly after he met me at registration. He shared with me that he hung around with some of the kids who were involved in occult practices. The student mostly spoke about his rough relationship with his family and how his new friends made him feel loved and accepted.  During our meetings, he never mentioned their activities, their interests, or beliefs; however, he did tell me that he was starting to have bad dreams. We really didn't talk about the bad dreams, but we talked about how the dreams made him feel.  Once a week, the student would come to see me and each month his appearance seemed to deteriorate. Finally, the student told me that he was not getting any sleep because his dreams were becoming reality.  Puzzled and concerned about his well being, I asked him to tell me what he was experiencing at night.  " At first, the dreams were not that bad...I was watching what was happening to others, but as time went on I was being made to be involved in the acts and it became real."  Naively I asked, "What were you doing in the dream"? The student looked at me with swollen eyes and said, "The demon wanted me to do unthinkable acts to others, but I just cannot do it so he tortures me"! At that point, the student broke down and cried uncontrollably.

Being a new counselor and from a small town, I had never encountered students involved in occult activities and to be honest this scared me to death.  At this point, I knew working with the student was way beyond my level of expertise.  I told the student that I felt that he really needed to be able to speak to someone who could help him with these thoughts and that I was referring him to our mental health clinician.

ASCA Guidelines in Making Mental Health Referrals

2.  Jekyll and Hyde

Fortunately, I have worked with some very professional and strong principals during my career.  I am always impressed with their ability to handle angry parents, intense situations, and the unknown with proficiency and professionalism.  However, at one school, I had a principal that did not fit this description.

 One year, I was assisting with testing for a school with over 3500 students (talk about pressure) and everyone was on edge making sure everything ran smoothly. In the past, our principal stayed out of the way and let the testing coordinators work their magic, but this year was different.  This year, the county office was coming to observe and our principal was on edge.  The week before the test we noticed the principal's behavior begin to change.  First, the principal started questioning us about the test schedule and made last minute changes that made testing more complex; next we had to move the test materials to a vacant building in which we had to drive back and forth to transport the tests; last the principal put another person over us who had never coordinated testing to make sure things ran smoothly--this caused even more chaos.  All those things I could handle, but what happened next made me lose respect for the principal.  One afternoon before testing, we were counting calculators and several were missing.  At that moment we discovered we were short of calculators, the principal walked into the testing room and asked for an update.  One of my colleagues, who was a well respected teacher and had been at the school for many years, spoke up and told the principal we were missing calculators.  Before she could get another word out, the principal grabbed a folding chair and threw it half way across the room causing all of us to stop in our tracks as it crashed into the wall.  At that point, the principal began to relentlessly yell at her as her eyes filled with tears. The last remark the principal made was that we better not mess up and all eyes would be on us.

After that day, I promised myself that I would not allow myself to be abused by my superior. At that end of that year, I made a decision to leave that job and go to another school where I could work with a leader that cared for his or her staff rather than a test.

Enhancing the School Counselor and Principal Relationship

1.  High School Horror

It was a busy morning and one of my regulars came in to talk to me.  She was a student who always seemed down, in a drama with other students, or having trouble at home.  That morning, as she walked in and took a seat, the phone rang and I answered it. As I answered the phone, I covered the mouth piece and told her to give me a minute.  She said, "I don't have much time so can you give this present to my friend and I have a note for you." I looked at her and said to give me another minute, but she walked out.  Do you know how you get that feeling that something is not right?  I decided to open the letter and the words "kill myself" popped off the page.  Immediately, I flung off my heels and ran down the back hall to the front office where I saw her walk by the window going outside of the school.  As I reached the office door, I screamed to two male staff members to stop the student.  At that moment she sprinted to the parking lot and then to the main road.  As she made it to the highway, one of the males caught her and they both fell onto the road...he had saved her life!

Now when I work with students, especially students who are at-risk, it is my responsibility to give them all my attention especially when I hear key phrases that could indicate self harm.

  School Counselor and Suicidal Students

Feel free to share your scariest school counseling moments with me.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Keeping Peace Sexy!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Since 2004, I have campaigned to incorporate conflict resolution and nonviolent conflict skills in schools.  I would like to say that it has been easy, but in reality, promoting these ideas in schools has met resistance from school administrators, teachers, and students. Why have these ideas met such resistance in schools?  My theory is that peace educators have gone about promoting these concepts by using uninteresting, outdated, and abstract methods. My new approach in promoting nonviolent conflict skills is to use methods that are fun, interesting, practical, and experiential.

Practical Methods for Teaching Nonviolent Conflict Skills:

1.  Mainstreaming-this is the idea that nonviolent conflict skills are not just for major conflicts used by specially trained individuals. However, these skills should be taught in students' everyday lives as a method  to prevent violence and promote conflict transformation.
2. Experiential Learning-non violent conflict skills should be taught in a way that students can reflect on their experiences and translate those experiences into simple but effective actions.
3. Teach intercultural dialogue-miscommunication and bias is a source for many conflicts in schools.  Teaching students simple, respectful conversations can reduce conflicts in the classroom, when working in groups, on the bus, and in the community can reduce conflicts. 
4. Volunteering-when students volunteer they not only give to others, but they receive valuable knowledge, meet new friends, have fun, and breakdown cultural barriers. 
5. Incorporate conflict coaching skills-teaching these skills can empower students and staff to deal with situations like bullying, bias, misunderstandings, harassment, and other conflict behaviors.
6. Make learning nonviolent conflict skills fun-use catchy slogans, fables, modules, simulations, and out of the box activities with students to get them interested in learning nonviolent conflict skills.  One site that has great ideas is the Peace is Sexy website. This website offers fun ideas to promote nonviolent conflict skills and mediation to students and staff members.

Purchase a Peace is Sexy t-shirt

Here are some other great ideas to promote peace and get students to thinking more on a community level:

Make Valentine Sexy-Valentine Peace Project

We tend to think about chocolates, flowers, and stones as symbols of Valentine's Day.  However, some products have some pretty unsexy results: slave labor, exploitation, and war.  Get students thinking about how the products they buy may contribute to conflict around the world and how they can make a difference by choosing socially conscious products.
Blood Diamond Poster
Valentine Peace Project-check out this project as a new way to think about promoting peace and rethinking how we contribute to conflict in the world through our purchases.

Peace Superheroes Series-show students that they can be a superhero by helping others.

Peace Bag

Peace Bag is a toolkit developed by partnerships in Europe and Africa that feature tools, activities, case studies, key concepts, and practical activities to help youth workers incorporate nonviolent conflict skills in their everyday lives. 

Activities from Peace Bag:


A Moment in My Shoes-show students how it feels to be a child slave.

Do you want slavery with that?-understanding of human rights and our "I want that now" attitude.

More Than a Label-expose how our bias impacts our school and how we treat others.

A Seat at the Table-simulations that helps students explore and compare how other cultures would react in similar situations. 

Service learning lesson plans for changing the school community

Generation On-service learning projects in schools and communities.

ADL Antibias Study Guide for Secondary Skills-project based curriculum for teaching anti-bias education.

Teaching Tolerance Activities-The Southern Poverty Law creates free activities for schools from grades K-12 to teach non-bias.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Role of the School Counselor in Child Abuse Interviewing

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Often I dread staff development day as it is seems to be the same content wrapped in a new year. I have to admit that I sometimes find myself drifting off and my colleagues poking me to wake up.  However, this year I stayed awake and was actively engaged in the speaker's presentation.

Do you know your role in child abuse interviewing?
 What held my attention the day before fall break? 

 What kept my attention was a presentation regarding the school counselor's role in interviewing children in suspected abuse cases.  Maybe it doesn't sound that fascinating, but I have found that there is often skewed boundaries in schools when it comes to who should be involved in interviewing the student. In addition, I felt the presenter provided clarity in who should interview the student, provided a clear process for interviewing the student, and direction for what to do after the interview.

If you have found yourself scratching your head in these types of situations, please read on.

As a mandated reporter, the school counselor normally receives information about potential abuse of a student from a teacher, another student, a family member, or concerned community member.  In the state of Georgia, a mandated reporter has no later than 24 hours to make a report to our Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS). In order to make a report, there must be information provided about the student. Often, as mandated reporters, we know the law; however, many of us are not trained in interviewing. Thankfully, the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy conducted a great training on Minimal Fact Interviewing for school counselors which gave me clarity and direction about my role as an interviewer in potential child abuse cases.

What is Minimal Fact Interviewing?

Minimal Fact Interviewing is an initial basic fact finding interview that is used by mandated reporters and first responders when abuse has been reported. The interview determines if there is enough evidence to make a referral of abuse to state agencies.

There are five basic pieces of information that you want to know in the interview:

Don't ask how!
1. What happened?
2. Where did it occur?                                                
3. When did it happen?
4. Who was the alleged perpetrator?
5. Are they others who are involved?

Detailed fact based questions should not be asked during the minimal fact interview.  Very not ask why the abuse happened as it implies the student is somehow to blame.

Types of questions to use in a Minimal Fact Interview:

1. Free Recall-open ended questions that allow the student to give information in their own words.

"Tell me all about that?"
2. Focused Recall-open ended questions that are focused on particular date or place.
"Tell me everything that happened when you get home?"
3. Multiple Choice-the student is given several choices. It is important to leave an open ended choice for the student.
"Do you live in a house, an apartment, or something else?"

Questions that you should not used:

1.  Yes or No-closed ended questions with only one answer.

"Did he touch you?"
2.  Leading-questions that lead a person in a certain direction.
"He touched you, didn't he?"

Tips for Conducting a Minimal Fact Interview

1. Conduct the interview in a safe, private place.  It is important that you train your staff to recognize when you are interviewing a potential abuse victim.  You may place a special sign on your door that is different from all the signs that you normally post.

2. Limit the number of participants in the room (no more than two).
3. Keep in mind what you need to ask.  It is helpful if you have a Minimal Interviewing Handout.
4. It is important to build rapport before you start asking personal questions.  Have a conversation and ask non-threatening questions.

Building rapport includes:
  • Learning about the student.
  • Obtaining important family information.
  • Asking the student about hobbies, interests, and school.
  • Sticking to safe subjects.
Some Things to Avoid in Your Interview:

1. Vilifying the offender!
Don't vilify the offender!
Avoid saying: "What he did was terrible and that should have never happened!"
2. Avoiding teaching students correct terminology for body parts as the interview answers should be in their own words.
3.  Do not promise anything to the child like..."I am going to make sure nothing happens to you!" Instead, you can say, "I want to help you."


1. Record exactly what you asked and how the student responded.
2. Avoid using complicated terminology.
3. Avoid interpretation of the facts.
4. Record the reactions of the student in the interview.
5. Avoid interpretation of responses.

Making the Report:

In making the report to the Department of Family and Children Services, they want to know:
  • What the child said to you in the interview?
  • How did you come by the information?
  • Does the possible abuser have access to the student?
  • Are there additional family members of the student?  This is important as they may have to place the student somewhere else.
  • What have you done?
Oh, I found out that it is okay to say, "I don't know."
It's okay to say "I don't know."

If you find yourself reporting to the non-offending caregiver of the student, here are some tips:

1. Follow all protocols of your county and state.
2. Tell the caregiver not to ask questions about "your" questions.
3. Listen to the child and be supportive.
4. Tell the caregiver not to vilify the offender.
5. Praise the student for his/her courage and strength.
6. Don't discuss the situation in front the student as this creates contamination (defense attorneys love this!).

If you would like to know more about interviewing and becoming trained as a official interviewer in criminal investigations, you can take a 40 hour training in Forensic Interviewing. If you live in Georgia, go to the following website: Georgia Center for Child Advocacy

If you live any where in the US, go to: Stewards of Children.

NCAC Training Webinars

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month

Child Abuse Month Activities

Child Abuse Statistics to Remember