Handle parent-teacher crucial conversations effectively

In my years as a school counselor, I coordinated and lead a lot of parent-teacher conferences.  Lucky for me, I worked in a school with an amazing dedicated team of teachers who came to those conferences prepared and eager to serve.  It’s an important mindset to cultivate.  However, I also talk with parents and teachers who encounter a very different environment.  Typical problems include an unwillingness to listen, a need to be right or prove a point and a lack of sensitivity to the intentions and efforts of others.  How can you best ensure that a conference starts on the right track, ends with an action plan for moving forward and doesn’t get derailed in between?

Here are some tips to create a positive environment during crucial conversations:

  • Begin by clarifying what you really want to accomplish in the meeting. Are you sharing information and bringing someone up to date?  Do you want to make a decision about services or placement?  Are you creating a behavior plan or academic plan for moving forward?  Make sure everyone is prepared for the goal and on the same page.  Being blindsided as to the real purpose of a meeting creates tension.
  • Ask yourself how you need to act to accomplish your goal?  Calm and focused? Confident and prepared with the facts?  Sensitive and empathetic?  Take some time to create a positive mindset beforehand.
  • Avoid the extreme choices of:
    • Maintaining peace and harmony at all costs by withdrawing, not speaking up or not identifying what you think is the best goal and why.
    • Being more concerned about making a point than making a difference.  Being determined to win and express your opinion at any cost.
  • Instead of looking for differences and either/or decisions, look for common ground and make decisions that incorporate everyone’s concerns.  Anticipate and encourage cooperation and investment in a positive outcome on everyone’s part.

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 Wyatt Learns about Good Manners

Wyatt is always wondering about something and lately it is how to get his friend, Max to change his bossy ways.  What can he do?  Join Wyatt as he considers some rather unusual options until he finally discovers that a heart to heart talk with Max can create a new friendship with an old friend.  Wyatt_the_Wonder_Dog_Cover_Manners_Kindle

Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Good Manners





Be the hero in your story

In a school where I was doing some training, I found this quote on a classroom wall: “Be the hero in your own story.”  I love the concept.  In recent years the art of story telling has been incorporated into business and many other mediums where we might not expect to find it.

What if we helped kids recognize that their life is a story that they are writing every moment of everyday?

Would it make a difference as they make decisions and choices on a regular basis?

Since elementary school is the age where we learn about writing stories with a beginning, middle and end, it seems like a perfect time to also teach students to consider their life as a story telling opportunity as well.

Here are some common characteristics of writing a fictional story and a life story:

  • There is a main character or a hero- This is the student.
  • There is a problem- This is the challenge that they face.
  • There is tension- This is the difference or gap between how things are now and how they want things to be in the future.
  • There are possible solutions- These are the strategies, the tactics that they try to solve the problem.
  • There is closure- This is the solution or resolution of the problem.

Helping students see their life as a story is useful in several ways:

  • It gives them ownership of their life-  It places them clearly at cause in their life rather than at effect.  It sets them up as problem solvers not just someone who is waiting for life to happen to them.
  • It promotes a growth mindset-  Problems in most stories, just as in real life aren’t solved immediately.  In fact, it often takes many tries to solve the problem with sub plots and distractions, false starts and mistakes. Thinking of our lives in the same way gives us confidence to kept trying even when we fail.
  • It gives them hero status- When kids see themselves as heroes, it helps them recognize their strengths and skill set.

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Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Cooperation

Wyatt wants to play Frisbee. Max wants to build a fort and Callie wants to have tea party. How do the three friends reconcile their differences? Can it be done? When Wyatt doesn’t get his way, Max’s mother suggests he be the Superhero for the day. Join Wyatt as he learns how the magic of cooperation and compromise can bring the five friends closer together.

Wyatt the Wonder Dog -Cooperation Cover
Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Cooperation (Volume 6)


Helping kids cope with loss and grief

Loss and grief are always difficult emotions for everyone, adults and children alike.  As school counselors, we are in an especially challenging position since we are expected to be a resource to others while we can be equally affected and emotional about the situation. When faced with the death of a student, a teacher or someone related to a student or teacher, what can you do?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Try to move the discussion from what happened and why it happened to a more personal and more positive means of coping with the tragic situation.  I might say something about how we all know about the tragic death of our friend and classmate and that while we know a lot of details about what happened and how it happened, there are a lot of things that we will never know or understand and speculating about them doesn’t help make the situation better for anybody. I might mention that often bad things happen to good people and while we can’t go back in time and change what happened, what we can do is remember the good things, the things that we will miss about our classmate.  Then I would allow some time for students to express their memories and perhaps share some emotions.
  • I might then talk about the grief process  and what they can expect to feel over time; sadness, anger maybe even fear or anxiety.  I would normalize those feelings and suggest that they find someone they can trust to talk to when they have those feelings.  I might ask students to give examples of who they can talk to and offer my services as well.
  •  I would also point out that often times when someone dies it reminds each of us of losses in our own lives and causes us to grieve again for those losses.  I might ask if anyone has found themselves thinking about other sad situations in their own lives and felt themselves grieving over them again.  I would allow some time to talk about those related situations.
  • I would point out that sometimes kids feel that because something bad happened to someone else, it must mean that something bad will happen to them. However, events are not connected in that way and I would reassure them in whatever way is appropriate to the situation that we can feel safe.
  • Finally, I would address the fact that often when something bad happens, we feel guilty that we didn’t in some way see it coming or prevent it from happening but that again, the best thing that we can do is to give ourselves credit for doing the best we can in each and every situation we are in.  I would remind them that rather than regretting something they didn’t do in the past, the best we can do now is to be sure to care for and support each other as we grieve in the present.  I might have students give examples of what they need and would appreciate receiving from others as they grieve this loss.

Need more ideas?  Here is a website with lots of grief resources:


Coping With Loss: 115 Helpful Websites on Grief & Bereavement

My all time favorite book to use with individual students who are grieving is, Marc Brown’s When Dinosaurs Die:  A Guide to Understanding Death. It outlines and explains everything from what to expect at a funeral to the many emotions a child might experience.

Another excellent book is,  Grandad Bill’s Song,  by Jane Yolen.  It is a lovely sensitive book about each family member’s memories of Grandad Bill after his death. This book could be easily used with a grief group and followed with an activity where group members discuss memories of loved ones.

Stuff Parents Want to Know:  Answers to Frequently Asked Questions 

In twenty years of school counseling I’ve been asked a lot of questions.  This ebook is a compilation of some of the most common ones along with some effective strategies and books you can read with your child to address the problem. stuffparents   Click on the link below to purchase:

Stuff Parents Want to Know: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions



four steps to change failure into success

I’ve written a lot of posts on how to handle failure.  There are several of reasons for this.   As a kid, I don’t know that anyone ever helped me understand the role that failure plays in growing, improving and becoming your best self. I just figured out on my own that failure was something to be avoided at all costs and that misguided perception would rule my life until well into recent years.

As a school counselor for 20 years, I also spent a lot of time consoling kids who felt devastated when life didn’t go as they planned.  They failed a test. Their work didn’t win the prize.  They weren’t chosen for the team or club.  I want to help kids learn to handle failure because it so often involves learning to handle losing, making mistakes and criticism. Each one of these experiences can either provide needed helpful information for our future or it can crush our spirit.  It is all in how we perceive the information as well as how it is delivered.

Most of the time when someone feels crushed by failure, the problem is the message or the story that the individual is telling themselves about the situation.  This is obviously true for adults as well as kids so the steps that I’m going to suggest below might be something that you will find helpful in your own life as well as kids that you teach, parent or counsel.   Here’s the secret sauce for turning failure into research and development.

  • Become aware of the message or story that you are telling yourself or repeating in your brain.  Here are some examples that I’ve heard:
    • How could I be so stupid?
    • I’m a loser and now everyone will know
    • What’s the point of trying?  I can’t do anything right.
  • Change the message to change the feeling:
    • It’s okay to make mistakes.  That’s how I learn.
    • I’m not a loser, I’m a learner.  Everyone makes mistakes and those who don’t understand don’t need to be in my circle of friends.
    • I haven’t learned the best way to succeed yet.  There are lessons to be learned from this experience.
  • Ask the question:
    • What have I learned from this experience?
    • How can I apply what I have learned?
    • Where is the opportunity in this experience?
  • Set a new goal to apply what you have learned
    • Create a new goal with a timeline- I will study differently for the next test by reviewing the material nightly.
    • Create an opportunity for constructive feedback:  I will ask my teacher for suggestions for the best way to learn the material.
    • Evaluate how the action steps are working:  I will take a practice test before the final exam.

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Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Winning

Wyatt the Wonder Dog didn’t make it on the All Star baseball team and he feels like a loser.  All  his friends will be playing baseball this summer, while he and his pesky sister, Callie, visit grandparents at the beach.  How Wyatt learns to handle disappointment and failure will be an important lesson for the future.  Will he give up trying new things?  Will he have the confidence to try again?  Are there some things that take more practice and persistence to learn than others?  Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns About Winning
Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Winning (Wyatt the Wonder Dog Books) (Volume 5)

Lesson Plan on Winning/Failure on Teachers Pay Teachers





4 ways to teach your best lessons

Take a trip back in time with me and visualize your most memorable teacher.  Maybe it was the one who inspired you to be an educator.  Maybe it was someone who encouraged you in a subject area that you were challenged in.  Maybe it was someone who recognized a gift that you had.  For me it was a teacher in middle school (I’ve long forgotten her name)  who encouraged me to write.  She taught English, always a favorite subject of mine anyway, but she assigned writing topics and through her comments helped me recognized a gift that I had.  At the time, my grandfather was writing a column for the local newspaper and I sent him some of the work I produced in that class, which he proudly published.

In this day of data and research driven lesson plans, it is sometimes  easy to lose the heart of teaching.  Even school counselors who deliver classroom lessons on character education and mindfulness often get lost in prescribed lessons and collecting data on behavior changes.  What can we do to create lessons that capture and inspire students?

Here are four teaching suggestions:

Get personal:  As a student don’t you remember how much you enjoyed those stories that teachers shared from their personal lives and experiences?  Sometimes it made the material come to life.  Sometimes it gave you insight into them as a real person with a family and outside interests.  Sometimes it helped you understand a mission or passion they had.  Keep the shared experiences relevant to the topic at hand but put some of yourself into the mix.

Get relevant:  Students are engaged when they see how the material relates to their lives.  I remember a teacher I was observing in a math class who was teaching problem-solving through word problems that she made up which were practical as well a  bit humorous.  I was so entertained that I had a hard a hard time remembering to observe the student I was there for.

Get inspirational:  Use your material to inspire students to change the world and to be the best they can be.  Every lesson no matter the topic has a personal application and a history.  Share your personal desire for a peaceful world, saving endangered species or finding a cure for cancer. Help students to visualize a future that is better because of their focus and effort.

Get innovative:  While it is easy to fall back year after year on the same tired lessons, challenge yourself to add something new and innovative each year.  Your dedication to being a lifelong learner yourself will transfer the same enthusiasm to your students.

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 Wyatt Goes to Kindergarten

Wyatt has never liked change, at least not at first.  Once he tries something new, he usually finds he really likes it.  Now that he is about to begin kindergarten, Wyatt is really worried.  Will he make friends?  Will he get lost in the new school?  Will he miss his mom?  Join Wyatt in his latest “wonder-full” adventure! Wyatt-kKindergarten_thumb
Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Goes to Kindergarten


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teaching kids problem solving skills

When I designed the Wyatt book series, eight years ago, my goal was to teach children to be better problem solvers. As a school counselor in an elementary school, I spent most of my time helping kids solve problems. I didn’t want to just tell them what to do, but teach them how to think about the problem so they could figure it out for themselves the next time.

That goal hasn’t changed.  In fact, I think it is more important than ever that we equip students to learn effective problem solving strategies.

 What are the necessary steps to problem solving?

  1. Identify the problem-  The first step in any problem solving is awareness.  if you don’t recognize the problem it is hard to solve it.  We all know it is easier to see the problems in others than ourselves, so at least in part this means developing an openness to feedback and insight.
  2. Recognize the possibilities for growth and change-  It is always easier to stay in our own comfort zone and view the world through our own lens.  In order to solve problems though, we have to develop a willingness to move outside of that arena of knowledge and venture into the unknown.  This is where true creativity and insight develop.
  3. Recognize our strengths and our limits–  We are always most effective when we know what we do well and when we develop those skills.  It is equally important that we know our limitations and that we engage others in those areas where we need help and guidance.
  4. Develop team work-  it is essential that future problem solvers know how to work well with others.  The world has become a connected and interdependent place and successful problem solvers use all the interpersonal resources available to navigate complex problems.
  5. Develop a growth mindset–  Problem solvers are comfortable with change and growth.  They envision a positive solution even when it isn’t yet obvious how it will be accomplished.   They know that maintaining status quo means doesn’t solve problems.
  6.  Embody courage and commitment–  Problem solvers take action, sometimes imperfect action when they aren’t quite sure of the outcome of their efforts. Problem solvers don’t live life as victims but rather take action and effect change. They are resilient in the face of failure.  They know that each step moves them forward, even when they don’t yet have the answer to the problem.

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Wyatt’s Leadership Series for Kids

While supplies last… a $120 value for $95

Get all 7 Wyatt story books:

Wyatt Goes to Kindergarten

Wyatt Learns about Being Organized

Wyatt Learns about Winning

Wyatt Learns about Cooperation

Wyatt Learns about Friendship 

Wyatt Learns about Good Manners

Wyatt Learns about Giving


7 Lesson Plans based on Stephen Covey’s 7 habits of Highly Effective People


A set of problem situation cards to develop critical thinking skills in difficult situations

Your investment: $95