Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Structuring counseling and social skills sessions...what works!

I do a LOT more sessions with students individually and in small groups this year than I ever have.  I often go for a few hours without a break in between to catch my breath.  I thought I'd start a resource to share ideas for small groups in schools. To start out, I thought I'd start with the basics, scheduling and structuring groups.  I have been following the same format for 4 years, and I have no plans to change it anytime soon!

I follow the same general outline for all of my students, and for all groups I have in my room.  Most times, I write what I am about to share on the whiteboard in my room.  It helps to keep me on track, and it's fun to cross of things as we get to them.  Plus, it allows for the visual when I have to answer (and re-answer) the question, "Can we play a game now?"

(<minute to 2 minutes)
The "greeting" looks different for all of my groups and students.  For some (older, individual) students, it's just a simple "Hey, Emily!  Come on in!"  For others, it might be a reminder to "look in my eyes" and say "hello" when they walk in the door.  And for a few, we sit around the table, and take turns looking each other in the eyes and saying "Hi John".  Whatever it is, I like the greeting as a consistent way to welcome my students, and to teach social skills to those who need that support.

(1-3 minutes)
I love a good share.  I don't know why, but this is my favorite part of sessions.  My new school just started using Responsive Classroom, and this aligns with it well.  A share is typically a question I come up with, but other times, is a great spot for a random share if a child is itching to talk about something.  My most common shares are:
  • How was your weekend?
  • What are you doing this weekend?
  • What is the best part of your day today?
  • What did you play at recess?
But I will also do random, individualized as well.  The share is important for social skills because it teaches students to be able to share in a concise way, to stay on a certain topic, and for others, to use their listening skills, and to learn more about others.  To check for listening, I will often ask "What did Jack say was the best part of his weekend?" or another check-in question.  I will also have students practice asking each other questions/making comments, such as "Wow, Chris said he went skiing in Vermont, do you have a question or a connection?"

(10-15 minutes)
This is the main focus of our group, and guided my my students' goals and objectives.  Are we reading a book on friendship skills?  Playing a Focus game to help with attention?  Maybe I'm teaching a group about Whole Body Listening.  Whatever it is, this is the main teaching point

(5-10 minutes)
One of the most difficult parts about teaching social skills and counseling skills in my office is the transfer of these skills to other places.  So, I try to always make sure to work with my students on why  what we are doing is important, and how we will use it in real life.  If we are learning a mindfulness skill, we practice it several times, and think about specific times we can use it.  If we're doing friend files, we recap and review what we have learned about our new friends.  

(whatever is left ;))
However things have gone according to plan or the opposite, I try to make sure we wrap up with 2-3 minutes to go.  We talk about what we will do next time, sometimes I allow some groups of students to play together to practice sharing or turn taking skills, and other times, students have earned a reward they cash in.

And that's a wrap!  What do you do to make your sessions go smoothly?

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