Kelly Counselor's Conversations

A discussion about life and how school counseling fits into it all

It’s Not About Me, It’s About Us

When I have a student rush into my office having an panic attack, I’ll admit more often than not my mind immediately rushes back to my twenty year-old self. But in my profession, I have to remember that it’s not about me.  It’s difficult. 

20 is when I had my first panic attack that began a now 13-year struggle. 

With May being National Mental Health Awareness Month, I felt called to speak publicly for the first time about my diagnosis and life I live with Panic Disorder. Much of the help I received led to my passion of being a school counselor today. 

I had my first panic attack in Indianapolis at the RCA Tennis Championships in 2002. Excited to eat in the player’s lounge, I suddenly felt the urge to vomit and had to leave. Right now. Sitting in the bathroom stall after not getting sick, I chalked it up to having the flu.  I was afraid to eat for the rest of the day. 

A year later, other than commuting to college classes, I rarely left my house and was afraid most nights I would vomit my dinner. I would force myself to eat, deathly afraid to lose weight.  A pretty vicious cycle. I refused to go to restaurants and if I did, panicked internally the entire time. 

I thankfully went to counseling and with this in conjunction to taking an antidepressant was able to begin to live a normal life, until the next big life stressor came.  I then reverted back to my old phobias and habits.  Living in an apartment for the first time.  Getting married.  Deciding to have a baby.  It was a tough day to have to admit to my husband that I needed help again after cycling in and out of panic for a week.  

I am thankful to not have a major episode now for three years, but know the struggle is real and life-long.  When I think of all I’ve accomplished as an adult, I’m amazed.  

If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or any other mental impairment affecting the quality of your life, the hardest but best step is to ask for help.  Help comes in many forms for many types of people.  Just acknowledging it and being honest is such a burden relieved.  Just as all of us are, have been, or know someone affected by cancer, so too it is with mental illness.  You are not alone.  I can at least guarantee you have me.  

See President Obama’s NMHAM proclamation here:

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The Power of “Yet”

Something that has preoccupied my thoughts often lately is an opportunity I have to be considered for an MBA for Educators fellowship through the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation.  The MBA would be through the Indiana University Kelley School of Business and woud be a full-ride, 18-month hybrid program consisting of classes on the Bloomington, IN campus this summer and next, and online during the school year.  15 fellowships will be awarded between five school corporations on April 1, 2016.  I’m looking forward to traveling down there sometime in February or March to interview, but much less excited to have to take the GRE next Saturday.  While they made it clear this score was lower in terms of importance of who they would award the fellowships, those who know me know I never like to show up to anything unprepared.

This has forced me to face my high school math demons once again in reviewing statistics, algebra, and geometry and taking the subsequent practice tests.  Math will be much more of a component in a business program than it ever was in my school counseling graduate program, so I know a growth mindset will be critical not just for this test, but for the next 18 months should I be fortunate enough to earn a fellowship.

The past few weeks I have been preparing for the test, I have thought a lot about a lesson I did with our Alternative program students in the fall about re-phrasing negative thoughts into positive ones, like “I’ll never get math” (ha!) to “I just don’t understand this concept yet.”  This springboarded to a conversation about how much more confident we would all feel if we simply added that critical “yet” when our fixed mindset thoughts crept in.

I made sure to share that just a week later I corrected myself in Zumba class when a song with really hard steps came on to “I cannot do this dance…yet.”  And, for the first time in my 32 years, I am kind of enjoying algebra.  It feels awesome to know that as long as I keep watching (and re-watching) the videos on Khan Academy, I can do it.

Appreciate that your students, your colleagues, your supervisors, and everyone else (including you) have fixed mindset baggage.  It’s so easy to lose patience after a few times of not grasping a concept or falling back into counterproductive habits.  Remember whoever you’re frustrated with just doesn’t know it…yet.  Your support and encouragement could make all the difference.


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Customer Service

A few weeks ago my administrator called me into his office and asked me to read an email he received about me.  He recently had a received a negative email about the counseling program, and it came to his inbox two weeks after the fact to boot.

Isn’t it sad that I got three words in and started to say “uhhh…I think this is another one you got late, I really did work this out with mom and everything is good now!”

He stopped me and said, “Kelly, read it.”

It was a glowing compliment about the meeting I had with her earlier that day and how appreciative she was.  I felt like a million bucks.

My administrator told me how proud he was that I provided great customer service.  I felt that term was a little odd to use at the time, but upon further reflection, realized it made sense.  Why?

First, let’s stop for a second and just admit that these days, customer service sucks.  Your doctor is always trying to diagnose you as quickly as possible to rush into the next appointment.  The rep on the other line seems bored and monotone.

School counselors are the best customer service reps around, because we hold ourselves to a higher standard.  It’s hard and even downright annoying to do so some days, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.  We:

  1.  Listen not only to what the other person (parent) on the other line is saying, but try to understand the meaning behind it,
  2. Respond sympathetically at the right moments without interrupting, and
  3. Validate their concerns and try to collaborate to find a solution as best as possible.

What if all customer service reps were like this?  You’d be a repeat customer for years to come.

Whether you’re a school counselor or not, try to reflect on this- when you’re listening to someone, are you TRULY listening or just waiting for your turn to respond?  I didn’t realize how much I was the latter until my first year of graduate school when we had to practice active listening in groups.  It’s much easier said than done, but with a little honesty and a lot of practice, I think you’d find your relationships with those you serve would improve tremendously.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day!


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The People Displeaser

This week has been my first experience with beginning of the year high school scheduling.

I hate it.

I’m certainly not unique in experiencing the stress that comes along with the massive pile of requests that come from students, parents, teachers, and even administrators.  Knowing it’s impossible to honor everyone’s exact request, but wanting by nature of the job for students to leave my office feeling better than when they came in has left my heart heavy and me feeling drained.

Oh, and school started yesterday.

Most people who know me well wouldn’t say I live my life seeking approval.  My nature is much more to stand up for my beliefs and the rights of others.  But these past few weeks have left me wondering if perhaps I need the validation of others more than I thought.

I’ve been confronted more by students and parents these past nine months than my previous five years as an elementary counselor COMBINED.  I guess I never used to have to say what people didn’t want to hear.

Putting things into context: the counseling department was seen as incompetent for years, I never used to have to create schedules, this is a different parental demographic, really gives me no solace.  All I can think of at the end of the day is, “will these kids come to me when they really need help, or have I blown it?”

Then it terrifies me to think of Ace growing to be a teenager.

Over the course of time, our procedures for this will evolve and improve, our rapport with students will deepen, and our reputation will be a good one.

That day can’t come soon enough this week.

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#ASCA15: The Takeaway

After three years of planning and REALLY trying to go to the American School Counselor Association Conference, I was finally able to make the trek to Phoenix for five days.  After crying at least once each of the first three days missing my son Ace, I was finally able to fully relax and absorb the amazing experience of being in the company of some of the best and brightest school counselors in the world (yes, I said world.  We were joined by others from Canada, China, and even a few countries in Africa!).

Since I’ve been home, I’ve been asked the same three questions: “did you have fun?” (yes), “was it hot?” (GOD, yes), and “what did you like the most?” (hmmmmm….).

My initial most exciting reason turned out to be the final one as well- to connect and network with school counselors I had gotten to know in both real life and through Twitter chats (#scchat, #hscchat, #escchat, #scin30).  I had built this up in my mind to be the “school counseling Oscars”.  And it was.

My first day of conference sessions left me feeling pretty disappointed- the topics were very specialized and sounded specific to my school’s needs, but didn’t turn out to be quite what I had expected.  I switched up my game plan for day 2, and instead went to sessions where I knew the presenter would be captivating and would connect with the audience.  This plan did not disappoint (mental note for ASCA16 in New Orleans)!

Of course you pay for and plan for a great learning experience at a national conference (and you should very well get one), but I realized that even without that, it was still worth it simply to get out of your comfort zone, connect with others just as passionate as you, and form relationships that will serve you well for years to come.  This, my friends, pays you dividends.

Which presenters did I learn the most from?  The ones who connected the best and were the most relateable.  Were they always the most educated and credentialed?  Nope.  This made my think, do my students care about my degrees and certifications?  Nope.  They want to connect.

There are many, many absolutely outstanding counselors that will never go to the ASCA Conference.  But the ones that go ALL have a little “something extra.”  It’s a honor to know many of them.

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The Un-SAHM Life

I haven’t written in quite a while, but truly haven’t felt inspired to do so.  Until yesterday.  And then our internet went down.

I have a confession to make- I’m not a very good stay-at-home mom (SAMH).  And, after a long while, I’ve made peace with it.

I’ve had to stare at this realization square in the face since I’ve been off work for the summer.  Don’t get me wrong, spending more time with my son Ace is wonderful.  I’m already seeing him learning and grow in ways that make my heart grow 100 sizes bigger.

But of someone were to ask me what I did all summer, right now I’d reply “empty the dishwasher and clean Ace’s highchair.”

I’ve read a lot of stay-at-home mom vs. working mom debates and everyone in these arguments is under one of two camps: the SAHMs who are grateful to be able to stay home, and working moms who wish they could stay home but must provide financially for the family.

Believe me, both admirable situations.  But even if I COULD stay-at-home, I WOULDN’T.

I’m not quite sure exactly why I feel this way, but I know as a school counselor that being honest with oneself is critical in the entire growth process.  Maybe it’s the need for a fast-paced day.  Maybe it’s that I’m prone to cabin fever too quickly.  Maybe it’s my inability to find enough things to do with Ace (there are only so many walks and patty-cakes we can do).  It’s likely a combination of all this and more.

Ace goes to daycare twice a week still to stay in the routine of things, but really, I know the interaction he gets with everyone there is good for him.  The time away is good for us,  And I’m so happy to see him when I pick him up because, by golly, I miss him.  It’s good for me to miss him.

There are more moms like me out there, I know.  Hopefully one is reading this and feeling just a tad better knowing she’s not alone.

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My principal used this hashtag to communicate to the staff and students who follow him on My Big Campus yesterday.  I love this in its simplicity.  I LOVE it.  Why do I love this so much?

In my previous post, I had mentioned how encouraged I felt that the high school I work for was really making strides to debunk the myth that high schools do not, in fact, care.  The myth that by the time students reach this level they are already “gone” if they have issues, and that teachers are “jaded”.

You know what?  Becoming jaded is a CHOICE.  It is a choice that the preschool teacher can make, and it’s the choice a college professor can make.  The age of the student really is irrelevant.  The danger lies in the making of said choice.  One the adult makes it, the student can become jaded themselves.

Students need to know you care about them before they will care about you.  It may not sound right or “fair”, but let’s move past what sounds “fair” and do what’s right.

After a very mentally and emotionally draining day with a few students yesterday, I sighed and told my principal how tough the day was.  He said, “that’s good.  It means students are trusting us and knowing we’re there for them.”  This was particularly powerful because it reminded me that these students had these stories all along.  We just know about them now.  Because #wecare.


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Don’t Poop on my Parade

I’ve been asked several time in my now almost three months as a high school counselor, “it’s pretty different from the elementary world, isn’t it?”

I love that I’m always able to reply, “surprisingly, not as much as I thought.”

Sure, there are definitely differences- the ebb and flow of the school day schedule, developmental level, scheduling, etc., but the foundational components are the same.  I’m here to directly serve students to help them be successful in the personal/social, academic, and career domains.  I advocate for students and their families when needed.  I collaborate with staff, parents, and the community to support those I serve.  And I use data to inform the decisions I make.

Sadly, many people, including some counselors themselves, don’t believe this.  I was told a lot before I started, “they don’t care at the high school; they have given up on kids; make sure you don’t become jaded”, and so on.  And I’ve seen small elements of this already.

But mostly, I’ve seen a staff whose embraced that I’m different, and students who have thanked me for teaching them something they hadn’t known before.  They didn’t make fun of me the first time I visited a classroom (as I had feared) or sent them thank yous for National School Counseling Week (as I had feared).

The reality is, just as I have to support ALL students, I have to work with ALL staff to support students, whether they’re on “my ship” or not.  There will always be 10-20% of those who won’t get or like what I’m doing.  I can’t ignore them.  I can’t refuse to work with them.  But I don’t have to condone it.  And I can hope that my work, day in and day out, will help them realize I’m using this one chance of a career I have to its fullest.

Just as I told a group of students the other day, “show up.  And I don’t mean just come and fill a seat everyday.  Be focused.  Be intentional.”

Ship quote

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2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 540 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 9 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Time Heals All Wounds

This past week I was privileged to accept my first high school counseling position, and it has been a whirlwind to say the least- the adjustment to new home, new baby, and now new job leaves me exhausted but in the most invigorating way possible.

In my second interview, my new principal asked me, “why do you want to work here?”. A pretty generic question, but the response I gave surprised even me. I told him that even a month ago, I would not have felt ready for this. I was still grieving leaving my old elementary school and feeling overwhelmed with new motherhood.  But the clouds seemed to part one day at a time, and I felt now I was in a position to be excited.

I’m tremendously grateful to be given this opportunity, considering a lack of high school experience and not a great internship at this level seven years ago.  I was told I was hired because my boss knew I’d always put the kids first.  And while life is still very unpredictable, I do know he’s right about that.

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