How School Counselors Can Help Students Overcome Emotional Barriers

A guest post by Frankie Wallace


While many physical barriers to learning are often obvious, the emotional and social issues students face often go unseen and can be equally disruptive in a student’s education. These invisible issues may manifest in a number of ways, including low grades, poor attendance, behavioral issues, and other misleading displays. With so many students to instruct and interact with, teachers may not be able to cater specifically to students’ emotional states.

Fortunately, school counselors have the training and passion to help acknowledge and face these challenges. Here are two major ways school counselors can help students overcome emotional barriers involved with getting an education.

Boosting Self-Confidence

When students struggle to understand the materials covered in class, it can be easy to develop destructive thought patterns. Being surrounded by classmates who seem to be doing just fine in the classroom can encourage some students to believe they are inherently deficient and incapable of learning about various subjects.

This can affect the student’s grades, their behavior, their personal relationships, and can have lifelong impacts on the ways they interact with the world. For example, a student who struggles with reading and comprehension skills may avoid opportunities to build these skills. Unfortunately, low literacy rates make it more difficult for people to find quality employment and may contribute to ongoing self-esteem issues. Furthermore, students with negative mentalities about their learning abilities may pass these same mindsets on to future generations.

Educators may have trouble picking up on the specific causes of a student’s performance in the classroom. There are many factors that can contribute to a poor understanding of the material, and when students feel vulnerable, they may be more likely to lash out rather than ask for help. It’s important to acknowledge that teachers aren’t immune to intense emotions, whether or not these are intentionally expressed. In some cases, teachers may seem intimidating or outright antagonistic from a student’s point of view.

In contrast, school counselors aren’t responsible for giving homework and exams or assigning grades, which may draw fear and frustration from students. Because of this, school counselors are well-positioned to speak with students about their struggles, identifying thought patterns and circumstances that are interfering with their ability to learn. Afterward, counselors can work with the students to create plans for new ways of thinking.

A student’s confidence may not be tied directly to school itself. Outside circumstances such as family and financial issues may contribute heavily to a student’s lack of belief in themselves. To help begin rebuilding a sense of self-worth, a counselor may suggest simple exercises like creating a list of the student’s positive qualities and activities they enjoy. Items on the list might not relate directly to school, but they can help bridge the gap between the student’s sense of self when doing something they love versus their diminished confidence in the classroom.

Positive change in a student’s self-confidence won’t come all at once, even if the student is open to a counselor’s suggestions. However, without some sort of healthy intervention, low confidence will only increase the chance a student will continue to struggle and retreat from educational challenges and opportunities.

Responding to Violence and Trauma

With the national spotlight on school shootings, bomb threats, and other acts of violence, it can be difficult for students to feel safe in school. Although school shootings are still relatively rare, the attention these tragic events receive can easily encourage a lasting state of paranoia.

Even efforts to create safety measures can disrupt the psychological well-being of students. For example, when schools conduct active-shooter drills, students of all ages are asked to hide from imaginary gunmen. While these practices can help protect students against future tragedies, they can also create lingering fears.

When responding to these fears, school counselors can help students to focus on the predictability of their routines and encourage them to limit their exposure to the news. It’s important not to encourage outright denial of these events when they happen, but obsessing over them can create unhealthy thought patterns.

Students who bottle up their emotions may be distracted, causing them to lose focus on everyday tasks, including school work. They may also act out with anger in response to their fear as a way of coping or protecting themselves. Because of this, perhaps the most important thing counselors can do is listen to students’ fears and concerns and work to identify healthy coping strategies.

Violence in schools doesn’t have to involve a major crisis. Some of the greatest harm goes unseen in various forms of bullying, including physical abuse, verbal abuse, social exclusion, or damage to property. Physical hitting, spreading rumors, sexual comments, threatening, and stealing belongings are some of the most common forms of harassment in schools. Students who are victims of bullying face an increased risk for poor social adjustment, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and depression. This affects their grades as well as their ability to grow into well-balanced adults.

One of the first steps school counselors can take is to encourage students to report bullying. This can be extremely challenging for students currently facing abuse as they are already living in fear. If they tell someone about what is happening, they may fear the bully will learn who told on them, after which, things will only get worse. While counselors can’t force students to come forward, creating a clear pathway and encouraging students to speak up is one of the only ways to break the cycle of abuse.

Rather than directly punishing a bully, which could spur a violent reaction, school counselors may work with large groups to teach empathy for their fellow classmates and seek out peaceful methods for dealing with conflict. Over time, this can create more understanding student populations and help bullies to find healthy ways to deal with their own emotions.

On an individual level, school counselors can work with abused students to find healthier ways of processing their emotions related to harassment. Often students who are bullied come to believe they deserve physical abuse and change their self-image based on the insults they hear. With effective counseling, students can learn to challenge the lies bullies tell them, regaining belief in themselves and moving forward despite past abuse.

As with self-confidence issues, trauma can easily extend from circumstances outside of a student’s education. These situations and events may be beyond the school system’s control, yet the psychological effects on students can still have a major impact on their success.

In a perfect world, student success would depend solely on their willingness to take part in their education. Unfortunately, there are many factors that can disrupt a student’s progress, creating extreme emotional challenges. However, school counselors are trained to assess and work through a vast number of difficulties a student might experience. When students can realize and take advantage of this amazing resource, they stand to perform better academically and develop social skills and coping mechanisms that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

The Fastest Way to Get Your Students to Clean the Room

I teach third graders and they all have desks with openings like the mouth of a whale shark. Being third graders, they cram all sorts of stuff in them. Which means all sorts of stuff falls out of them. All day long.

I can’t bring myself to care that much most of the day. We have better things to do than constantly pick up the floor. And since most of the trash is produced by about five students, I get tired of nagging those kids all day long (probably like my wife gets tired of telling me to pick up after myself).

So I wait until the end of the day. Of course, by this time, the floor is festooned with all manner of pens, markers, half-crayons, breakfast bar wrappers, pencil shavings, and God knows what else. And, impossibly, not one of those items belongs to any individual student, so most of them balk at picking them up (even after giving the ‘ole “This is our room and we this and team that and all for one and one-for-all” rah-rah speech.

And I can’t say I blame them. I don’t like picking up after slobs either.

Over the years, I’ve tried all sorts of methods for keeping the floor clean. I once had a custodian who used to write scathing critiques on my whiteboard at night for me to see in the morning.  I’d read it to my students in the hopes that it would shame them into being neater. I’ve done the whole, “We’re not leaving until it’s clean” routine, which works but has the effect of ending the day on a sour note, with me barking at or pleading with kids and them resenting me for making them pick up other people’s trash and resenting their classmates for making messes and lying about it.

No matter what I did, it was nagging and negative and no fun.

So about five years ago I decided to go positive and make a game out of the whole thing.

I bribe them. I bribe them unabashedly.

The game is called Mystery Trash and it’s played like this:

As students mill about grabbing their backpacks and ignoring all of the items they’re stepping on or around, I loudly announce, “It’s time for everyone’s favorite game…Mystery Trash! Who will be today’s lucky winner? Who will win a fabulous prize? Only the person who finds and picks up the MYSTERY TRASH!”

I then scan the room as students follow my eyes, trying to guess which item I’m going to select as the mystery trash. Once I find something, I say, “Ok, I’ve chosen the mystery trash. Go!”

Students dart around the room like human hoovers sucking up everything in about 30 seconds. I, of course, make sure to not stare the item down so as not to tip them off, and, okay, the truth is I sometimes change the item to one a favorite student grabbed. Sue me.

Once the floor is clean (and not a second before, no matter when the mystery trash item was picked up), I announce that the mystery trash has been found. I then tell students that everything in their hands has to be put where it belongs (because the mystery trash item doesn’t have to be trash but anything that isn’t where it should be) or thrown away. If not, I will not announce the winner (And at this point, they all still think they might have won).

Once students are quiet and back to their desks, I announce the winner with a flourish:

And the winner of Mystery Trash is… Oscar!

At which point Oscar makes his way to the prize box and chooses an item that cost me a few pennies.

Totally worth it. The room is cleaned quickly. We end on a fun, positive note. We go home immediately after, so no one stews for long about not winning (after all, they get to go home and that’s winning, too!) And bribery is used exactly how the science says it should be used: to motivate people to do simple, undesirable jobs.

So if your floor is a mess at the end of the day, you don’t mind bribery, you have nothing against putting cheap candy in a prize box, and you just want the room picked up quick, give Mystery Trash a try!


Classroom Crowdfunding 101: Crowdfunding Tips for Teachers

Summer has flown by, and teachers all over the country are preparing to return to the classroom. This means writing lesson plans, learning about incoming students, and creating welcome packs and letters. It also means buying classroom supplies, which often turns into an out-of-pocket expense. How can you as a teacher reduce, or even eliminate, this expense? Many teachers have turned to classroom crowdfunding.

If you’ve never heard of crowdfunding, have concerns about classroom crowdfunding, or are looking for tips on improving your next classroom crowdfunding campaign, this post will help you start off on the right foot.


What is Crowdfunding?

In a sentence, crowdfunding is the practice of raising money for a project through small amounts of money from a number of people. Typically, it’s done online. You may have seen crowdfunding campaigns for all sorts of projects from new inventions to businesses to paying medical bills to classroom funding. The goals of a crowdfunding campaign can change the nature of it slightly. (For example, inventions usually use rewards-based crowdfunding while businesses might use equity crowdfunding.)

Classroom crowdfunding, then, is the practice of raising money through donations for a classroom project through small amounts of money from a number of people.


Why Choose Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is one of many ways to save on classroom supplies, field trips, and other classroom projects. You might choose to crowdfund over other more traditional fundraising methods, or you might use two methods at once. As a teacher, you might choose crowdfunding for some (or all) of the following reasons:

  • You have a supportive and involved community of family, friends, and colleagues.
  • You have a specific project you’re looking to promote and get off the ground.
  • Your project requires a deadline.
  • You have several projects you hope to fund.
  • You want to teach your students about the elements of fundraising.

These are just a few of the reasons you might choose classroom crowdfunding. As you read about the basics of crowdfunding and the tips for a successful campaign, you may find more personal reasons, as well.


The Basics of Crowdfunding

Successful classroom crowdfunding campaigns require time and attention, but they do not need to be complicated. In order to start a classroom crowdfunding campaign, you only need to take three steps.

  1. Choose a crowdfunding platform.
  2. List your crowdfunding information.
  3. Share your campaign.

Let’s break these three steps down.


#1 Choose a Crowdfunding Platform

With the rise in popularity of crowdfunding among all industries, there’s a dizzying amount of platform choices out there. Some platforms cater specifically to teachers. The two most well-known platforms for teachers are Donors Choose and Adopt-a-Classroom. As you’ll see, there are reasons to use one of these platforms, and there are reasons to choose a different platform. Here are several other popular platforms.

When researching the different platforms, you’ll want to ask yourself a number of questions.

Do I need flexibility in the items I choose? Some crowdfunding platforms require you to choose from a list of items rather than choosing a total amount.

Can I reach my target goal once the fees are factored in? Each crowdfunding platform has its own fee structure. Make sure the fees aren’t too high to reach your goal amount while still asking donors for a reasonable amount.

Have any of the platforms successfully funded projects similar to mine? If you find a platform with several projects similar to yours that have been funded, odds are it’s a good platform for you.

Do I plan on running an all-or-nothing crowdfunding campaign? Some platforms work on an all-or-nothing basis. In other words, if the project is not completely funded by the deadline, you will not receive any funds.

Does my district have any rules or guidelines about crowdfunding? More and more school districts have guidelines in place regarding crowdfunding and which platform(s) teachers can use. Check with your district before choosing a platform.

Will I give donors something in return? Most teachers use donation-based crowdfunding, where donors give without expecting anything in return. Some platforms, however, require a gift in return.


#2 List Your Crowdfunding Information

Once you’ve chosen a platform, it’s time to tell your story. How much money do you need? Why are you raising this money? Who is it going to help, and how? Share how these funds will benefit your students without using teacher jargon. The tips section will give more details on how to share your information in the best possible way.


#3 Share Your Campaign

After you’ve crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s for your classroom crowdfunding page, it’s time to share it with everyone you know (and even people you don’t know). Successful campaigns build on their community first, so send your campaign to family, friends, colleagues, and your students’ families. Encourage them, in turn, to send the information onto others. You can send your campaign through email, social media, or through any websites you manage.

You may also find that there are organizations, businesses, or even strangers out there interested in your campaign. Reach out to any potential donors with a personalized message as to why your campaign affects them. Then, again, encourage them to share it with others.


6 Tips for a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign

Now that you have the basics down, it’s time to go through your classroom crowdfunding campaign with a fine tooth comb to make it as successful as possible.

#1  Be specific.

What exactly will the money go towards, item by item? Some platforms even allow you to request money for specific items. Or, you could make a list on Amazon of the items you want rather than asking for the money.

Also, if there’s something unique about your project, highlight it. Similarly, if your campaign aims to fill a specific gap, highlight that as well. For example, if you’re a science teacher who wants art supplies because your school cut art classes, this story will draw donors in.

Finally, make sure to focus on the students, as donors want to help kids above all else.


#2  Share pictures and videos.

Make them as high-quality as possible. Donors won’t necessarily expect professional camera work (especially if you’re raising money for technology!), but it should show a clear picture of what you’re aiming to do and tell a clear story. If your students appear in any of your pictures or videos, make sure you have permission from their parent or guardian.


#3  Look at other crowdfunding pages.

Examine how other teachers set up their crowdfunding pages. What do you think makes them successful? Do you find yourself motivated to give to any of them? Why or why not? This information will help you strengthen your own campaign.


#4  Ask for less.

Some teachers have found that by asking for less money, they’re more likely to reach their goals. These teachers recommend asking for $100-$200 for your first project.

When you ask for less, it also makes it easier to always have a project up. Some teachers point out that corporations or individuals will sometimes fund the projects of every teacher in their area. Having a project up might pay off in unexpected ways.


#5  Identify your donors.

While the basic message of your campaign will remain the same, how you posit that message may differ according to who you’re appealing to. Parents will give different amounts and for different reasons than alumni or colleagues, for example.


#6  Use your campaign as a teaching opportunity.

Transparency is key when it comes to crowdfunding campaigns, and that goes for your students, as well. By teaching them through the process, you’re not only involving them in the classroom; you’ll also be able to show your donors every single benefit of giving to your campaign.


The best way to know if classroom crowdfunding is right for you is to try it out! The risks are minimal, but the potential rewards are great. Within a short amount of time, you can launch a classroom crowdfunding campaign that will take your classroom above and beyond.


Kristen Seikaly began writing on topics in education for her website, Operaversity. Now, she primarily writes about educational games for Crossword Hobbyist and My Word Search. This is her first guest post for Teacher Habits.


5 Ways to Integrate Videos Into Your Classroom Routine

Illustrative, graphic, and engaging—videos are among one of the most used forms of multimedia in the classroom. Whether it is a K-12 public school class or a college setting, videos can add an element of wonder and inquiry, but how do you utilize them in a way that engages students rather than distracting them from the lesson? There are several ways to integrate videos into your classroom routine and be an influential educator for your students.

1 — Add value to lesson plans with pre-made video materials

If you are an educator then you know that planning instructional materials and lesson plans can be a challenge, whether you are a first-time teacher or you have just hit a roadblock with your lesson planning. The advancement of online curriculum providers and higher-education online institutions has expanded the availability of materials teachers can use to provide up-to-date resources that meet the status quo. On, for example, self-paced guided courses give teachers the option to follow pre-built syllabi or simply pick and choose resources that support their lesson and provide real-world imagery and examples to their students. Their video resources help students grasp and visualize the lesson in an engaging way.

2 — Get students interested in a career path

Another great way to integrate videos into your classroom routine is to introduce students to career options they may have that are connected to your lesson. For example, rather than just exploring disciplines in a traditional manner, teachers can showcase videos of engineers, doctors, software developers, and more to create an understanding of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and how they apply to the real world. Research has shown that this approach can increase independent inquiry when students can connect the real-world to the lesson. This can also pave the way for students to get a head start on planning for their future careers. Once they are able to know what career path is the best for them figuring out what necessary additional skills and requirements will be easier than compared to those students who graduate that are still not knowing what the best career path is for them.

3 — Give students access to career advice, job search tips, and more

Giving students access to videos in order to figure out what careers exist in different discipline areas (such as STEM) helps students figure out what career path is the best for them. Giving students additional video resources to achieve internships, job-shadowing, or class credit is even better for students that are in high school getting ready to graduate or trying to incorporate a job into their everyday lives., for example, gives students access to instructional videos on searching for jobs along with many other tips. Integrating these types of materials into a classroom not only showcases your lesson, connects them to the real-world, but also gives them a chance to hear first-hand how it all comes together full-circle in the end and truly see the connectivity between learning and career building.

4 — Give students access to college credit

A big added bonus to any video platform is the ability to not only share resources, but to be able to give students the ability to gain access to college credit. Incorporating the importance of college in your classroom can easily be done with many providers and provides students with opportunities to earn college credit while still in high school. Many students are able to reap the benefits of up to two years of college credit earned while gaining the necessary understanding to be successful once they transition from high school into a real university or college classroom. Videos help this transition as they make clear connections in the lessons to the real-world, explore higher learning discussions and questions, and learn more about the requirements needed to obtain the degree of their choice. As an educator, offering these types of videos to students can help enhance the overall dual credit experience and prepare them to enter a college or university classroom with all the necessary tools.

5 — Prep students for the standardized tests

Integrating videos into the classroom is also a great way of helping students prepare for their standardized tests. For example, the SAT and ACT exams are requirements for acceptance into colleges and universities across the country, and having the access to videos that demonstrate necessary criteria to excel will support students as they plan for their futures. As an added bonus, integrating prep resources like’s into your lessons means that you can spend more time preparing content for your curriculum, rather than focusing all of your time on preparing your students for their exams.

In addition to their standard test prep materials, also offers a suite of preparation materials for common teacher certification exams to help you excel as a teacher in your classroom. From national exams like Praxis to state-specific exams like TExES and FTCE, their resources are perfect for aspiring educators and current teachers alike. Whether you are looking to pass your initial certifications or add additional qualifications for new subjects/grade levels, they have the materials you need to succeed.


The above article is a sponsored post from


The IKEA Effect of Lesson Creation

The following is an excerpt from my new book, Leave School At School: Work Less, Live More, Teach Better. It’s available in both Kindle and print forms on Amazon.

I eat in the teachers’ lounge, and almost every day someone brings in one of those Lean Cuisine frozen lunches and pops it in the microwave.  You can trace the origins of such convenience foods to the years following World War II. The military had developed MREs and other foods meant to withstand long periods of storage and allow for easy preparation on the battlefield. After the war, several commercial food companies had leftover manufacturing facilities, so some of them created new freeze-dried and canned food products for domestic use. They pumped out boxes of fish sticks, canned peaches, and even ill-fated cheeseburgers-in-a-can. Jell-o introduced new dessert flavors throughout the 1950s. Sales soared.

With so many new products to sell, advertisements swept across the amber waves and purple mountains, reminding Americans again and again how busy they were, how hectic their days had become, and how desperately they needed quick meals. “If you’re a typical modern housewife, you want to do your cooking as fast as possible,” wrote a columnist at Household magazine who was promoting instant coffee and canned onion soup. Kellogg’s even created cereal that could be served faster. Their ads claimed that busy moms loved their presweetened Corn Pops. Because who had time for the laborious task of sprinkling on a spoonful of sugar?

TV dinners. Minute rice. Instant potatoes. “Hot breads—in a jiffy!” All were peddled to harried housewives who just didn’t have enough hours in the day to cook like their mothers had. “It’s just 1-2-3, and dinner’s on the table,” exclaimed an article in Better Homes & Gardens. “That’s how speedy the fixing can be when the hub of your meal is delicious canned meat.” [1]

But the faster the cooking, the less it felt like real cooking and the greater the potential for guilt on the part of the homemaker. That was the problem with instant cake mix. Intended to save busy housewives time by simply adding water to a mix, stirring, and popping in the oven, instant cake mix seemed like a fantastic idea. But sales fizzled after a few years. It turned out that TV dinners or the kids’ cereal were one thing, but a cake — well, that was another matter. Any homemaker worth her salt wouldn’t make a generic cake from a box that couldn’t be distinguished from a cake baked by the guests she was serving it to.

When marketers dove in to uncover what went wrong with cake mix, they discovered that it was too easy. The solution was simple: Have the baker add an egg. Once the powdered egg was removed from the mix, sales recovered and instant cake mixes became a mainstay in nearly every home in America. By adding one step to the mixing process, homemakers felt they were really baking again.

The cake mix lesson has since been repeated many times over. Build-a-Bear sends you the raw materials and the directions, but it’s up to you to actually build the bear. Cooks at “patron-prepared” restaurants like Mongolian Barbecue will cook the food for you, but only after you select the ingredients. City-dwellers take “Haycations,” where they pay farmers to do their work for them. And of course, there’s IKEA, which sells furniture at a discount because buyers have to build their own bookcases, cabinets, and tables. In each of these instances, people seem to place more value on items to which they have contributed some labor.

With this in mind, three psychologists, Michael Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely, conducted a series of studies to find out whether consumers would, in fact, pay more money for products they themselves assembled. The research consisted of three different experiments.

In the first experiment, researchers found that participants were willing to pay 63% more for furniture they had built over furniture that came pre-assembled.

In the second experiment, Norton, Mochon, and Ariely asked subjects to make origami frogs or cranes. They then asked the subjects how much they were willing to pay for their own work. Following this, researchers gathered another group of volunteers who had not created any origami. These new subjects were asked how much they were willing to pay for origami built by the participants. Then the researchers asked how much they were willing to pay for origami built by an expert. These people, who had no personal connection to the creations, were willing to pay more for the expert’s products, which is exactly what one would expect. The participants who had made the origami frogs and cranes were then shown a display of origami that consisted of one set they had built themselves and one set that had been built by the experts. They were asked to bid on the different origami. The builders perceived the origami they had created as being of equal quality to those created by the pros.

The results of these studies suggest that when people construct a particular product, even if they do a cruddy job of it, they will value it more than if they had not put any effort into its creation.

Participants, wrote Norton and colleagues, “saw their amateurish creations as similar in value to experts’ creations, and expected others to share their opinions.”

The psychologists dubbed this the IKEA effect.

Two Problems For Teachers

There are two problems the IKEA effect creates for teachers. The first is that what you make is likely not nearly as good as you think it is. Your rubric is not better than another teacher’s. You just think it is because you made it. Same goes for everything else you’ve created. You would almost assuredly be better off using a product made by someone else. And as much as you don’t want to hear it, you’d be best off using products created by people whose job is to create those products. So while it may offend your sensibilities, stick with the program your district spent thousands of dollars on because it’s probably better than anything you’re going to design.

The second lesson is that there is a cost to spending time creating stuff. If you spend an hour making a magnetism unit because you tell yourself it will be better than anything you currently have in your filing cabinet or that you can find online, then you’ve lost the opportunity to spend that hour doing other things. You could have used the time on something that will make a difference for your students. You could have spent it doing an activity you enjoy. You could have even taken a nap during that hour and gone to work the next day better rested. The science is harsh but clear: If you’re a teacher who creates his own materials, you’re wasting your most precious resource making stuff that isn’t very good, in spite of the fact that you can find better resources with a few clicks of your mouse, or even more simply, by opening your teacher’s guide.

For the teacher looking to improve his effectiveness while spending less time working, the IKEA effect gives you permission to stop making stuff and steal (or purchase) from others.


[1] Shapiro, Laura. Something from the oven: reinventing dinner in 1950s America. Penguin Books, 2005.


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