Thursday, April 27, 2017

What to Do When You are the Last Person on the List?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Over the last week, I have really wanted to respond to the Netflix Series "13 Reasons Why". However, when I tried to write something, at least seem half way intelligent, I would just stare blankly at the computer.  So I thought...

Okay, just give it up.  All the great commentary has been taken and everyone has said what you would have liked to say. Let it go!

That was it...I was satisfied with reading other counselors' blog posts, accepting the statements made by experts, and viewing the webinars for educators. Then, last night happened!!  As I was searching Pinterest (again, my fav!), I saw something that was utterly disturbing to me as a school counselor.  It was a meme displaying the school counselor in the series, Mr. Porter, and at the bottom the teen had written, I hate Mr. Porter! He could have saved Hannah.  Now, I am going to be honest and tell you that I have not watched the series.  I have seen a few clips, read a lot of great blog posts, attended a webinar hosted by Kognito, and read the Tips for Educators (that is my extent of interest at this time of the year). However, I was very curious to read the dialogue between Hannah and Mr. Porter and you know what, Hannah blamed him too.

The now infamous Mr. Porter
In the script, here is how the dialogue starts.  First a little background, if you are clueless, like me about the story line...

Hannah is recording her last tape which includes the meeting with the school counselor.  At this point you can hear her voice dramatically say...

"One . . . last . . . try.  I’m giving life one more chance. And this time, I’m getting help. I’m asking for help because I cannot do this alone. I’ve tried that.  Of course, if you’re listening to this, I failed. Or he failed. and if he fails, the deal is sealed. Only one person stands between you and this collection of audiotapes: Mr. Porter.  Mr. Porter, let’s see how you do." 

Source: Netflix
Fast forward...after the disappointing meeting with Mr. Porter, Hannah leaves and has made her decision to end her life.  

"I’m walking down the hall.  His door is closed behind me. It’s staying closed.  He’s not coming. He’s letting me go. I think I’ve made myself very clear, but no one’s stepping forward to stop me."

In her desperation for someone to help her in her darkest hours, the last person Hannah reaches out to is her school counselor, Mr. Porter.  Unfortunately, we know what happens to Hannah in the story and Mr. Porter becomes the scapegoat (along with 12 other people). I am not here to judge the character, but I am concerned how at-risk students will view school counselors after watching this show. Unfortunately, this is not great PR for school counselors and I would dare to say that there are actual Mr. Porters who really exist. 

My Goal for This Post...  

The purpose of my post is not to lay blame on the school counselor in this series. In his experience or lack of experience, he may have thought he did his best.  He had a limited amount of knowledge and may have believed his actions were appropriate for the situation (although I vehemently disagree!). Could he have done more? Of course!! Since there are many things we don't know about this character, we can only speculate why he made the decision he made that day.  Unfortunately, the failure of his character to act appropriately is making a big impact on how at risk students may see the school counselor in the future.

Why Do Counselors Like This Exist?

Why do professionals like Mr. Porter exist?  It is not that they don't care because the counselor seemed genuinely interested in what Hannah had to say.  For instance, he wanted to know how she felt, he encouraged her to keep talking about the reasons for coming to see him, he was solution focused, and he picked up on her cue about her wanting to kill herself.  Also, he seemed to have a good rapport with Hannah and she knew she could come to him (she even laughed a few times).  He knew something was wrong and tried to convince her to stay. HOWEVER, there were many things he did not do as a professional school counselor.  For instance, he did not provide informed consent to her regarding the limits of confidentiality, he did not contact her parents regarding the sexual assault that she reluctantly told him about (he wanted to bring her attacker in the office!) AND, most importantly,  he did not ask the question, "Are you thinking about killing yourself?"

There are several theories that I have for Mr. Porter's lack of professionalism that I will not go into in this post, but I believe there are ways to prevent yourself from falling into this negative stereotype. If you were someone's 13th person and you believed that he or she was going to kill him/herself, what would you do? Well, this is what I want to talk about in this post.  How to prepare yourself for those Hannahs who will walk into your office at a moment's instance whether you are in the middle of testing, schedule changes, paperwork, or you are eating lunch.  It is imperative that we are ready to meet the challenge as a professional school counselor!

13 Ways to Avoid the Mr. Porter Stereotype:

1.  First of all, it is okay to feel uncomfortable when addressing student suicide.  In fact, most experienced school counselors will admit that they are uneasy when it comes to handling these delicate situations.  If you feel uncomfortable and uncertain,  first just admit it  Then ask for and seek professional development in suicide prevention, intervention, and post-vention. One great place to start your training, especially if you are inexperienced, is the Life Trilogy for Suicide Prevention, Intervention, and Postvention.

2.  Find someone you trust to consult with on a regular basis.  I have a list of professionals that I regularly speak to about specific cases and I need to know if I am wrong!

3.  Know your district policy for handling suicide.  It is important to know what to do if you suspect a student is thinking about killing him/herself.  My suggestion is to find that policy, print it out, and keep it close to you.  Make sure you ask questions and get clarity about your role in the protocol.

4.  Help others understand their role in suicide awareness.  This can include teaching students how to recognize the signs of suicide during classroom guidance and informing staff members of signs in staff development.

5.  If you believe a student may be suicidal, call his or her parents and DON'T LET THEM OUT OF YOUR SIGHT!!

Two court cases make this very clear...

 Eisel v. Montgomery County Board of Education (1991)

In this case, a student was referred to the school counselor for making remarks that she was going to kill herself.  Two school counselors talked to the student and the student denied making any suicidal comments.  Unfortunately, the counselors did not contact the parents nor did she notify the administration and the student committed suicide later in the day.  The Eisel case determined that school counselors have a special duty to protect student from harm.

Rogers v. Christina School District, et. al (2013)

A student spoke to his school counselor about his suicidal feelings and his suicide attempt two days before.  The counselor did not contact the student's grandparents about his attempt and later in the day he hung himself at home.  The Rogers case determined that the counselor was negligent in not contacting the family.  

6.  Join the local suicide coalition and build connections with local mental health clinicians.  I am a member of the local coalition and I have learned so much from being involved in this group.  Also, I have found resources, training's, and opportunities to grow as a professional.

7.  Keep an updated list of local resources and mental health clinicians to give to students and parents.  These resources can also include the National Suicide Hotline and Text Line.

8.  Even if you have had training, continue with advanced training to train your students and staff.  One such training is Gatekeeper Training which helps staff and students recognize the signs of suicide, ask the important question, and refer to school based mental health professionals.  Another great training is Youth Mental Health First Aid which teaches adults, who work with youth, how to look for signs of mental illness. 

9.  Seek training in suicide screenings like the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale. 

10.  Be proactive and contact parents of students who present signs of depression and give them contact information of mental health professionals. This is a great step to prevent contagion!!

11.  Train students for peer support.  One great peer training in suicide prevention and awareness is Sources of Strength.

12.  Simply just ask the question if you suspect a student is going to kill him/herself.  I know it is scary, but what is more scary is that the student follows through like Hannah.

13.  Educate yourself by viewing webinars,  reading guidance from experts in suicide awareness, and join professionals communities.  I have attached many resources that may be helpful for you as you get started.

Resources from the Experts:

13 Reasons Why Talking Points

13 Reasons Why: Considerations for Educators

Helping Students Manage Negative Thoughts Worksheet

Parents: Talk to Your Kids About 13 Reasons Why

Some Great Blog Posts from Other School Counselors!

Counselor Up - 13 Reasons Why School Counselor Should Be Talking About this Show

The School Counselor Kind - Responding to 13 Reasons Why

There are More Than 13 Reasons Why Your Life Matters

Additional Suicide Resources:

After a Suicide Toolkit for Schools 

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 

Ask for Help Cards 

100 Ways to Make It Through the Next Five Minutes 

Bullying and Suicide 

Center for Suicide Prevention - Tattered Teddies Handbook 

Depression and Suicide 

Gay and Suicidal 

Guidance of Students Returning to School After a Suicide Related Absence 

Lifeline Suicide Prevention E-Cards 

Lifeline Trilogy

Memorials After a Suicide  

Mental Health First Aid

More Than Sad 

My3app - Suicide Prevention App

Not My Kid - Video for parents

Prevent the Attempt  - What to say if your organization has an online presence.  

Preventing Suicide A Toolkit for High Schools

Question, Persuade, Refer - Gatekeeper training.

School Suicide Prevention Accreditation

Signs of Suicide  - Secondary Suicide Prevention Program.

Sources of Strength  - School program to prevent suicide.

Substance Use and Suicide Prevention 

Suicide Awareness Poster 

Suicide Isn't About Wanting to Die 

Suicide Help Card 

Suicide Prevention Among LGBT Youth  

Suicide Prevention Resource Center 

Suicide Prevention Guide for Teachers 

Suicide Prevention Primer 

Suicide Shouldn't Be a Secret 

2013 State Suicide Stats 

Suicidal Warning Signs 

Talking About Suicide With LGBTQ Populations 

Teens Reaction to the Anniversary Date of a Peers Death 

Teen Suicide - Facts and Information for Canadian Educators 

My past blog posts regarding suicide awareness:

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Helping Students With Autism: Tips for School Counselors

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The first time I ever experienced someone who had autism was in the early 1980's when I was a young teenager.  My first cousin, a beautiful little boy, began to show the inability to communicate, made peculiar sounds, and had some unusual gestures.  My family, not aware of his condition, always had advice for my aunt on how she could "make him normal"; however,  his condition never changed.  I can't imagine the difficulties my aunt has experienced with my cousin over the years.  Later, my family noticed some similar, but not as pervasive, patterns in my sister.  She had peculiar mannerisms (we now refer to as stimming), repetitive behaviors, and she often blurted out for no apparent reason. It was not until much later (after she graduated from high school) that she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  So, to  say the least, I have had some experience with autism in my family.  

Fast forward 20 years later...   

As a school counselor,  I experienced life with my first autistic student. This student had parents who were professionals (mom was an attorney and dad was a psychologist) and they let me know very early in his 9th grade year that their child had special needs, but he will go to college!!! Although I was familiar with my autistic family members, I was still very unfamiliar with the Autism Spectrum.  At this point in my career, I never had to try to come up with strategies for working with a student with Autism and I often felt unprepared in helping him to become college ready. For four years, I sat through contentious IEP meetings with the parents (these meetings often lasted three to four hours), met with special education advocates, and tried to work harmoniously with his often anxious parents on post secondary plans.  Although he graduated and went to a two year school (whew!), I think I could have done a much better job of working with the family to assist the student in his post secondary plans.

Since it's Autism Awareness month, I wanted to provide some information for school counselors who may not be confident when working with students who are diagnosed with Autism, like me!

What is Autism

Okay, let me preface this by saying I am not an expert and I am sure I have left out some important information.  So, please be gentle...

Now, let's define and understand the diagnosis (with my emerging knowledge).  If you have ever been in an IEP meeting, you may have heard the word Autism used to describe a student's behavior. Many educators, who are unaware of the diagnosis, often have preconceived notions which can negatively impact their perceptions about the student.  As a school counselor, it is important that we understand the definition of Autism and how it may impact the student's educational experience.  From our understanding of Autism, we then can educate our colleagues in layman's terms.

Okay, here is the definition...

According to Autism Speaks, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) "are characterized by social interaction difficulties, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors." In fact, one out of every 110 children are diagnosed with ASD (American Counseling Association Conference Paper, 2012).  Also, ASD now poses a "significant public health risk" as males are three to four times more likely to develop ASD than females (CDC, 2011).  With increasing numbers of students being diagnosed with ASD, school counselors must have an understanding of the disorder and develop best practices for helping students in their educational plans.

Want to know more about Autism?  Click the courses below. 

See also Autism 101 and Autism 101 

Before I get into suggested interventions, when working with students with ASD, here are some common symptoms that your students may experience (honestly, these outward signs often impact our perception that the student is difficult or peculiar). Understanding an ASD student's behavior is an important part of knowing the daily struggles that may impact his or her educational success.

Common Symptoms

Sleep deficits
Lack of attention

Autism Speaks

If you work with students who are diagnosed with ASD and don't feel prepared, you are in good company.  Many educators often feel they do not have the training or information to serve ASD students.  So, from my own struggles, I have provided some tips that may be helpful for you as a school counselor (one additional thought when reading these tips, these tips are aimed at higher functioning students on the Autism Spectrum).

Now, what you have been waiting for...

Tips for School Counselors to Help Students with ASD:

1.  Train peer mentors to serve as social role models who will interact positively with ASD student(s) on a regular basis.

2.  Sponsor a school club of students who want to assist and serve as social role models for students with ASD.  

3.  Create a peer buddy system to provide social and academic support to students with any disability.

4.  Teach a social skills class during lunch or once a week to students with ASD.  One program is called the FRIEND Program which is a social skills curriculum which include DVDs, activity guides, informational tips, and a lot more. 

5.  Increase peer advocacy to reduce incidents of bullying of students with disabilities.  

6.  Train ASD students in self advocacy skills which includes:

  • The student speaking  up for himself or herself.
  • The student address needs or wishes.
  • The student takes responsibility for his or her actions.
  • The student knows his or her rights.
  • The student knows how to get help.

7.  Educate classmates, bus drivers, teachers, lunch staff,  on autism and how to effectively communicate with the ASD student (see page 30-70 of the Autism Speaks Information for Classmates, Bus Drivers. Teachers, Custodians, Front Office Staff,  Coaches, Administrators, School Nurses, School Security for specific guidance).

Here is a great video explaining the needs of students on the spectrum from a college professor for other college professors.   However, I think it has a lot of great information that may be useful for high school teachers.

8.  Help students manage behavioral challenges particularly when they are stressed and lack the verbal skills to express their level of frustration.  (See Supporting Appropriate Behavior for Students with Asperger)

10. Teach your ASD students social skills.  See the Social Skills Teaching Curriculum from Autism Speaks.

11.  Attend a conference to learn more information and skills.  
Milwaukee, WI
July 12-15, 2017

12.  Check out the resources below for more information and awareness.

ASCA Position Student on Working with Students with Disabilities

Autism Month Resources

Building an Autism Sensory Room on the Cheap

Dr. Temple Grandin

Five Ways to Support Families of Students With Autism

Resources to Calm Teens

TED Talks on Autism

Teens with Autism: Apps, Ideas for Lessons, & Common Core Reading Connections for Teens and Young Adults with Autism and Developmental Delays

Web, Print, and Video Sources from Autism Speaks

As always, I would love your feedback and thoughts!!  

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

10 Ways to Attend a Conference When You Fell to Meet the Professional Development List!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Spring Break is here...hip hip hooray!  Finally, I have a little free time to write my first post for the month of April (yes, I have been slacking). However, I now have an opportunity to sit leisurely on my bed and write this post while listening to I-Heart Radio (Whitesnake channel, of course).  

Today it hit me that summer will be here and I have to think about my professional development plans.  Often, I believe that professional development for school counselors is an afterthought for the majority of school districts (if you ever have been forced to sit in a session on how to use the grading program for teachers, you know what I am talking about). Also, professional development costs money which many principals are not willing to fork out to their school counselors either (bummer).  So, what is a school counselor to do?  Well, it is imperative that we make professional development plans ahead of time as part of our yearly goals; list the needs we are wanting to meet professionally for the year; communicate our goals to our supervisors; and make maybe even make some financial sacrifices (ouch).

So, what are some options for professional development over the summer?  Well, there are many different types from which a school counselor can choose; however,  I want to focus on the mother of all professional development opportunities, the summer conference. I know, I know many of you lack the money to attend a conference and I totally get that (more than you know). So here is where my experience of working in six different districts under 11 different principals may be helpful.

10 Ways to Attend a Conference When You Lack Funds 

Here is a list of ideas that I have generated from my own experience when I lacked supportive leaders.

1.  It is imperative that you show a need to your school leader of why you must attend this the radio station for your principal...WFIM (what's in it for me!). Make sure you are targeting a need that is on your principal's radar.  This could include student discipline, test scores, at-risk students, etc. 
2.  Make friends or at least, connections, in the district office.  There may be monies available from grants or specific conferences that other departments may sponsor.  For instance, our Career Technical Agricultural Education department is sponsoring school counselors to attend our state's CTAE conference this year (sweet!).
3.  Write a grant.  Yes, I hear the moans from the readers out there; however, this is a great way to find funds to support your professional growth when it is based on fulfilling a specific need or objective.
4.  Fund raising may be an option.  Some districts may frown on this, but if your district is supportive you may have a source to sponsor you and your colleagues ability to attend a conference that you may have not considered.
5.  Get support from your PTA.  Sometimes your school's PTA may be on fire about a topic and you can volunteer to bring back information if you can get the funding to attend a conference.
6.  Look for local businesses to sponsor your professional development.  This can include insurance agencies,  law offices, local business partners, etc.
7.  Sacrifice....yikes.  Cut out the daily coffee trips to Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, reduce the number of nights you are eating out, cut out some extra amenities (i.e snacks) and save that money in a special account.  You will be surprised how much change you can actually save in a year (I have saved over $150.00 in change last year!).
8,  Look for evidence of why this conference is important to you professionally.  ASCA has created a justification letter that school counselors can download to share with their direct supervisors.
9.  Plan ahead for conferences you really want to attend and give your principal a road map of what you would like to accomplish by attending these conferences. This can be done effectively when you meet with your principal to sign your yearly agreement.  For those of you not there quite yet  (like me most of my career), put this as part of your professional development goal that  you would like to accomplish.
10. If you have a burning desire to attend the 2018 ASCA conference in Los Angeles (like me), consider applying for the School Counselor Community Scholarship hosted by Jeff Ream, the Counseling Geek.

Now, it is time to consider what conference(s) you would like to attend now or in the future.  Below I have posted a list of conferences that appeal to school counselors.  I hope you find one that you like or feel free to suggest one that I may have missed.

Conferences for School Counselors

Save the Date!

American Counseling Association Conference

April 26-29, 2018
Atlanta, GA

ASCA Conference
July 8-11
Denver, CO

*ASCA University Certification Program 
(Not a conference, but well worth mentioning as a at home option!)

Association for Conflict Resolution Conference
October 11-14
Dallas, TX

At-Risk & Struggling Students Conference
June 21-24
Atlanta, GA

Attendance Works

Counselor Fly-In College Tours

Summer and Fall, 2017

Counseling Strategies & Resources Conference

Evidence Based School Counselor Conference
See this year's conference highlights

Freshmen Success Conference
June 25-28
Orlando, FL

Girl Bullying Conference

June 27-30
Las Vegas, NV

International Conference on Conflict Resolution Education

International School Counseling Conference

NACAC National Conference
September 14-16
Boston, MA

National At-Risk Youth Education Network Conference
Baltimore, MD

National At-Risk Conference
March 4-7, 2018
Savannah, GA

National College Fairs
Listed by State

National Conference on School Discipline

June 21-24
Atlanta, GA
June 27-30
Las Vegas, NV

National Drop Out Prevention Network Conference
October 22-25
Palm Springs, CA

National Peer Helper Conference
Perdido Beach, AL

National School Safety and Prevention Conference

July 24-28
Las Vegas, NV

Next Gen School Safety Conference
June 21-24
Atlanta, GA

Peer Educator Training/Certification

June 13-15
Indianapolis, IN

Peer Resource Training
June 15-16
San Francisco, CA

Reaching the Wounded Student Conference
June 25-28
Orlando, FL

Safe and Civil Schools Conference
July 16-20
Portland, OR

School Climate and Culture Summit
June 27-30
Las Vegas, NV

Southeast Conference on PBIS
June 5-6
Savannah, GA

State Counseling Conferences 2017

Trending School Counseling Conference

Wired Differently Conference
June 21-24
Atlanta, GA