4 Tips for Getting Started with Interactive Notebooks in School Counseling

When I first started doing classroom guidance, I often had handouts or small crafts for students to complement my lessons, but where did they end up afterward? On a bulletin board for a while? Shoved in a backpack? Maybe a desk or *cringe* even the floor? I wanted a better way for students to have the materials I was spending lots of time creating in an organized place so they could reference them anytime with ease. Enter the interactive notebook! 

Interactive notebooks are one of my all-time favorite tools for school counseling because they allow students to be creative, engage their senses, and keep everything in one easy place. Sometimes we go a week or more without seeing our students, and it's easy for papers to get lost in that time. Keeping everything glued in a composition book creates an easy reference for students when they need to quickly look back at those conflict resolution steps you taught them last week or practice the anger reduction strategies they chose during your last small group. Nobody has time to dig for papers!

I watched classroom teachers use these with ease as a way to not only enhance learning and promote creativity but also to stop the loose paper madness. If you've also seen the teachers in your building using clutter-free, creative interactive notebooks and wondered how you could use them as a school counselor, you're in the right place! Read below to find 4 tips for getting started with interactive notebooks in your school counseling program!

1. Start Small

While I am typically a go-big-or-go-home person, I definitely do not recommend going full force with your first interactive notebook on a school-wide level! Start with a small group to figure out a system that works for you. Get feedback from your small group about what they liked, what was difficult, and what they wish their interactive notebooks would have. Make modifications and try again with another small group before moving to a grade level. Bonus: at the end of group, the INB makes a great take-away and doubles as a journal.

If you are in the classroom for a good portion of your day and are not getting to spend much time in small groups, choose one class or one grade level to pilot your interactive notebook. If possible, choose a class/grade that is already used to doing interactive notebooks with their classroom teacher. They'll love knowing they're helping you learn about INBs too!

2. Start Simple

Begin your first INB with simple shapes that are easy to cut and simple for students to glue and use. There are so many fun shapes and templates out there for interactive notebooks! You can find hearts, accordion books, flower petal foldable papers, pockets, and so much more. These are great and really do make for fun, interactive elements, but if it's your first time, I recommend starting with rectangles and circles that have simple flaps or folds rather than more difficult shapes. This will allow you time to figure out (a) how long it will take students to complete their notebook pages and (b) how much help they will need with folding and figuring out the spatial aspects of the shapes.

3. Have a Plan for Storage

Figure out ahead of time where your students will store their interactive notebooks. In the past, I've had classroom teachers who were willing to keep a small crate in a classroom cabinet with our counseling notebooks, and that worked well. I was able to get the crate out when I arrived, and we put it away before I left. At the end of the year, students took their notebooks home with a year's worth of counseling materials to show! If you're using INBs in a small group, decide if students will take the notebooks home each week to use for journaling, reflecting, or recording skill practice or if the notebooks will stay in your counseling room. 

4. Get Organized

Lastly, get your supplies organized from the beginning. I like to put together caddies for tables (if I'm in the classroom) or have a caddy for the small group that contains all of the necessary supplies in one place. You'll need scissors, glue, coloring utensils, and writing utensils. I know most counselors spend about 30-40 minutes in the classroom, so there's no time to spare for students to dig for supplies!  Put a caddy in the middle of each table/desk group so students can easily reach everything they need. 

Another tip for promoting organization is to create a system for discarding trash. Have all students gather their paper scraps and assign one student in each group to throw away trash or use the classroom teacher's designated system. It even helps to move all of the classroom trashcans close to the tables! Your classroom teachers will love you for not leaving behind scrap paper :-) 

So are you ready to give interactive notebooks a try? I really think you'll love them! I love seeing students use their creativity to create something that is personally meaningful, and I love that they essentially have a counseling book full of tools and strategies that they can keep forever! 

If you're looking for inspiration, check out these {interactive notebooks} in my TpT store by clicking the images below:

5 Ideas for Building School-Community Engagement

Getting students involved with the community is a wonderful strategy for boosting academic success, teaching students about the world of work, and improving positive behaviors. Building community involvement through the school can take many forms, both student-led and community leader-led. In this post, I'll discuss 5 ways to get your students involved with community members to build a stronger bond between your school and the surrounding community!

1. Community Mentors: 

Create a mentorship program between community members and students. You can focus on at-risk students or expand the program to as many students as you think could benefit. On a designated day during the week, students can meet with their mentors in the first 20-25 minutes after students arrive in the morning. They can meet in the library to read a book or play a board game, in the gym to shoot baskets, in the school garden to water plants, or even in the hallway for a walk. Invite community leaders, business owners, grandparents, parents of teenagers, or even high school students to apply to be a mentor. Encourage the mentors to not only learn about the students' lives but to share about their own experiences as students and what they do now as adults. Having that regular, dependable meeting can reinforce to students that they matter to someone and have a positive academic and behavioral impact

2. Interns for a Day: 

Think of this program like a field trip. Find local businesses that are willing to accept students as interns for a day. If you are within walking distance of several businesses, this may be more manageable as you can split students up between businesses (this will require more parent volunteers!). If transportation is necessary, find a large business, such as a grocery store, that would be willing to accept one class of students. The students can perform tasks such as stocking low shelves, bagging groceries, and pricing items to get a better understanding of how the business works. If you are working with upper grades students who can provide their own transportation, there are endless possibilities within the community for one-day or longer internships with community members. Exposing students to community businesses and community members' roles can expand their worldview and plant seeds for college and career dreams!

3. Class Grandparent: 

Many teachers have already employed the strategy of having a classroom "foster grandparent." Creating this program within your school gets older community members involved in the lives of students, which can be a mutually beneficial relationship! Class grandparents can read to students, spend extra time focusing on specific skills, or simply listen and be present. You might even find someone who is willing to be the counseling foster grandparent and help out with classroom guidance lessons!

4. Adopt a Group: 

As a class, small group, or club, have students choose a group or organization to "adopt." Students could choose a local nursing home or hospital and complete service projects or simple kind acts throughout the year to support the group. For example, if your students chose to adopt a local pediatric hospital, they could write encouraging notes to the patients, collect gently used toys to donate, write a class joke book, and more to support the organization throughout the year. Plan a field trip to visit the organization at least once if possible! Allowing the students to see the people they are supporting and learn more about the environment and events can fuel their desire to help out throughout the year.

5. Community Improvement: 

Allow students to choose a long-term community service project that they believe will make their community a better place. The goal of this project is for students to lead the way in order for them to grasp the idea that they are already community members who can make a difference. You can read more about my 8-step vision for these types of projects on Confident Counselors by clicking the picture below.

 8 Steps to Build Student-Led School-Community Engagement

How do you get your students engaged with the community? What programs have been successful for your school?



Meet the Counselor: Learn S'more About the School Counselor

Back to school is just around the corner, and during this time of year, I'm always just as excited as I was when I was a student! Yeah, I was that kid who couldn't wait for summer to end so I could pick out new folders and go back to school :-) Each year, I've racked my brain for new ways to introduce the role of the school counselor to students, and this year I landed on a delicious analogy: a s'more. 

I've heard from a few other counselors that they're using a camping theme for their counseling programs this year, and the s'more fits perfectly with that theme! Any excuse to make and eat s'mores at school, am I right? This is a fun and simple way to introduce your role, and is relatively budget friendly! Side note: for your students with special dietary needs, it's pretty easy to find gluten free graham crackers in the "health food" or "special diet" section of the grocery store - that's what I used for the s'mores pictured below!

Check out this simple way to help your students learn s'more about your role as the school counselor!

The bottom cracker:
The bottom cracker supports the s'more! Just like the cracker, the school counselor is here to support every single student! This doesn't just apply to hard times; the counselor offers support through academic, personal/social, and career endeavors and celebrations. Elaborate on your own program and how you will support students in these areas!

The chocolate:
The chocolate represents the sweet stuff of the counseling program! The school counselor will come to the classroom for fun, interactive time to learn about friendship, goal setting, conflict resolution, careers, and more. Let students know you'll play "sweet" games, do cooperative activities, and have lots of fun together.

The first marshmallow:
The first marshmallow represents the individual student. The counselor is here to meet with individual students when they are going through tough experiences, want to learn a new way to handle problems, or build new skills to help them at school and with friends. This is a great time to review policies for how to request an appointment with the counselor!

The second marshmallow:
The second marshmallow represents groups of students. The counselor is here to meet with groups of students who are going through similar experiences or want to learn new skills together. Discuss some of the group opportunities in your program!

The top cracker:
Finally, the top cracker keeps the s'more together. When it feels like things are falling apart or out of control, the counselor can help students learn and practice new strategies to help get them back on track and feel confident to face the challenges ahead.

If you're loving s'mores just as much as I am, check out this digital activity for students to sort out true/false statements about the counselor's role! It works with Google Slides (TM) and you can use it on a SmartBoard, iPad/tablet, computer, or any device that can access Google Slides! It's available here.

How are you introducing your role as the school counselor this year?

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