Wednesday, February 7, 2018

On Self-Care and Work/Life Balance

Happy National School Counseling Week! I decided it couldn’t be a more perfect time to bring some life back into my blog again.

I got a great journal last year called The 52 Lists Project. Each week, there’s a different list to fill out, which is a fun and different way of journaling. With the new year, I was looking back at my first week’s list, “List Your Goals and Dreams for the Year”. One of the things I wrote was “Compartmentalize --> Work/Life Balance.”

When I excitedly began this blog over the summer, I forgot how mentally and emotionally draining the school year can be. I’m enjoying my new job, but it’s had its challenges and many nights I just couldn’t bring myself to even scan through Pinterest pages, let alone update my own blog. I feel a little guilty for falling off of my blogging when the school year started, but I know it’s what I needed at this juncture, and it leaves me more refreshed to continue the work I’m doing happy and healthy. And now I feel excited and inspired to write again! And what better topic to restart with then self-care.

As counselors we learn about self-care for ourselves and encourage it for others.  Yet sometimes self-care ironically can feel overwhelming – do I need to set aside time in my day to meditate and drink herbal tea and get a massage? (Not that all of these things aren’t wonderful.) I’m coming to learn that self-care can be as simple as a change in a habit. Here are some of my self-care strategies I’ve been picking up. Hopefully they’ll help you too!

1)    I won’t check email after work. This tip probably isn’t new, but it’s important. And truthfully, I’m not always the best at following it. But I’m definitely way better than I used to be. And when I give into temptation and see I have a dreaded email from *that* parent I leave it closed. Because I have not yet received an email that couldn’t wait until tomorrow and I don’t expect that to change. And because checking email after work almost never lowers my stress.

2)    “I don’t have to fix that” Maybe it’s my people pleasing nature, maybe it’s the nature of the job, but sometimes I feel like I have to find solutions and fix everything for everyone always. But I have been trying to use “I don’t have to fix that” as a sort of mantra, a reminder that what I have offered to that student, that parent, that teacher is enough. That sometimes a parent is just going to be mad at me because they’re frustrated with the situation and I am the safe target. Or that sometimes the student who cried it out in my office yesterday about a friend issue is still having that friend issue, and none of our conversation seems to have stuck. But in either of these cases I could be there for them and that can be enough.

3)    I am allowed to exist as my own person at work. I’ve described to others that sometimes it feels like during the day I am a vessel for other’s thoughts and feelings. My existence revolves solely around being there for others, and it feels like my actual self gets put into a box in the corner for later. But ultimately school counseling is a profession and not my raison d’ĂȘtre and it’s okay if I need to take 10 minutes and shut my door and read something funny on the Internet, or eat lunch alone and in silence and think about an upcoming vacation, or just take a few deep breaths. I find that returning to my own life for a moment can allow me that little bit of perspective to handle a tough situation with a fresh take.

What are the self-care lessons you’ve learned that help you? Share in the comments!

P.S. I am setting a goal for myself to do more regular updates (and have lots of ideas for posts), so expect more soon! 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Organization Relay

Working with 6th graders means lots of helping reorganize overstuffed lockers, messy binders, and mystery-paper-filled backpacks. At our school, 6th grade is the youngest, meaning that having so many classes and transitions is new, and keeping it all organized is a major challenge.

This year, I am going in monthly to classes to deliver counseling lessons. Based on feedback from teachers, my co-counselor and I decided to start the year with lessons on organization and time management (I’ll be making a post on my time management activity soon!)

To prepare for the lesson, I put together a well-organized binder and a messy folder. I went to teachers from four different subjects and made two copies each of various pieces of work they had (homework, worksheets, etc). I gathered about 15-20 pieces of work total. I divided the binder into sections, hole punched and dated each piece of work, and placed them in order in the binder. For the folder, I only dated some of the sheets, shoved them all in with some upside down, and added in a few irrelevant doodles. I made a sheet with assignments the teams would have to retrieve in the relay. Each item on the list said the subject of the assignment, the name of the assignment, and the date it was given (e.g. ELA: Greek Mythology Document from September 14).

I started my lesson by telling students we were going to begin with a relay. I divided them into two teams and explained that in this relay students were going to have to retrieve the listed assignments. They would form a line behind the desk and one at a time find what was next on the list, show it to me, cross it off, and then the next person would go.

I then gave them the catch: that one team would have a well-organized binder and the other would have a folder with everything shoved in. Immediately some students on the folder team exclaimed “that’s not fair” or “oh no” and I told them to save their thoughts for the discussion afterward.

As expected, the binder team won every time (with one exception). In the follow-up discussion I asked whether the relay was fair, and why the organized team had the advantage. I had members from each team share their experiences, and students on the folder team expressed feeling stressed and frustrated finding their assignments in the folder. We discussed why it’s so commonplace for 6th graders to end up with something that looks more like the messy folder than the organized binder if it’s so much more difficult to deal with, and brainstormed ways to combat the obstacles to staying organized. I then had students share how they have kept themselves organized so far. Students were very engaged in the discussion and came up with excellent strategies on their own!  

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

DIY Counselor Mailbox (with a Bonus Office Pic!)

I can't lie - one of the most exciting parts of my week so far has been getting a table. A real table. Not the temporary, makeshift, actually-is-a-two-person-desk table I was using, but a table I can have groups and meetings at. My office finally feels complete enough to post a picture of! 

In addition to my office, I want to share with you all how I made my mailbox for my door. 

My system for kids visiting me is as follows: if my door is open and I am there, they are welcome to come in and talk to me (provided they have permission from their teacher, of course). If I am not here or if my door is closed, provided it is not an emergency, they can leave a note. These are what my notes look like - nice and simple:

I took a cardboard box like this one - the kind you might get something small in from Amazon (such as a new computer charger, which mine came from).

I put the part that opens on the bottom and closed side, I cut a slot for students to stick the notes in. That way, it's not obvious how to get into it, but I can easily open it up to retrieve a message. 

My favorite part is that I found dry erase tape! I covered the top, sides, and front with it, which both makes it look much prettier and allows it to double function as a dry erase board! So if I know I'll be out of my office for a period of time and know where I'll be, I write it on my mailbox. 

The whole thing took me about 5 minutes and less than $10 in materials (really, the only thing I bought special was the tape, which I have plenty left of!) I hung it up with a couple poster strips, and it’s working out great so far.

Hope all of your offices are turning out nicely too! Post a picture of yours in the comments!