Out with the old, in with the new: Getting ready for 6th grade (again!)

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By Sabrina Bartels

Last Thursday, I said goodbye to my wonderful 8th grade students. While I made it through each of their completion ceremonies without crying (that was a shock!), I won’t deny that I shed a few tears when I got home. I was relieved. I was nervous. I imagine this is what most parents are like when they send their son or daughter off to college. I was so proud of my kids for making it this far, and I was so nervous about how their lives would evolve from this point forward. As I told one of the high school counselors, these were my kids, and I felt like I knew them pretty darn well. Would the high school counselors know that the best thing to do when Patrick got angry, was to leave him alone for a few minutes to let him sort out his emotions? Would they know that Drew acted like he knew everything, but was incredibly vulnerable and would become upset when he encountered difficulties in school? Would they be able to coach Hannah through her emotional troubles, and would they provide a listening ear when Lily sobbed about her parents and their recent divorce?

I know the high school counselors are fantastic – I interned with a few of them. But when you spend three years of your life getting to know students, you become ingrained in their lives. And they become a part of yours. I can’t tell you the number of students who asked (rather hopefully) if I was going to become a high school counselor. Then there was a fight about which high school I would work at … I think my students compromised that I would just have to split my time at both.

As sad as I am to lose my current 8th graders, I am very excited for the new 6th grade class. I’ve already been brainstorming some ideas of things that I want to do with them. Some things are different than what I did the first time around; I’ve learned some new skills, and found some new things online that I would like to attempt. At the same time, there are some things that I did with my class that I think was really helpful.

  1. A paper bag speech. One of the other counselors in my building strongly recommended that I do this with my incoming class three years ago, and I’m so glad that I did. It gave my students a chance to see me as a “real person,” not just as a counselor. It also gave my students different ways to remember me – every one of my students can tell you about the high heel tape dispenser in my office and my love of shoes!
  2. One-minute meetings. I actually heard about this on Pinterest and Facebook; a number of counselors use this technique to check in with their students. They will hold one-minute meetings with each and every one of their students. It’s a way to quickly check in with everyone. This also provides students with accessibility to me – they don’t need to worry about coming down to my office and how that will look to their friends. If there are students who need more than one minute, I can follow up with them. I could do these one-minute meetings once a month, and then use the rest of the days to follow up and do responsive services.
  3. Positive praise. I’m not 100% sure yet how I will integrate this into my practice, but I’m going to find a way. A video was circling on Facebook about a special education teacher who started every day by calling each student up and telling them something positive about themselves. According to the teacher, this revolutionized the way his classroom ran. Behavior referrals decreased, test scores went up, and students were overall happier. Finding time to meet with 200+ students every day to say something positive may be difficult, but hopefully I’ll figure something out. This might require extensive collaboration with my teachers.
  4. More groups! I would love to figure out how to do more lunch groups with my students, or groups in general. It would be a good way to teach skills to a very specific group of students. I haven’t quite figured out which groups I would like to run – it all depends on the needs of my students – but I have some ideas: a group on the use of social media, a self-esteem group, and possibly a group for boys. I feel like a lot of my groups in past years were focused more on girls; I would love the challenge of working with a group of boys.

I will keep everyone updated on how it goes! Suffice to say, I am very excited to meet my incoming group of 6th graders!

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