Student Support Groups in Schools
To start off 2018 on an educational best-practice note, let’s talk student support groups! I am just bursting with so many ideas and resources on how to run support groups in the counseling office or classroom! A student support group is a planned, repeated gathering of 5-10 students who work to learn, apply, or master a particular piece of knowledge. Some groups are tutorial in nature where they are led by an educator who focuses the group on re-teaching a certain topic. Other groups are psychoeducational in nature; psychoeducational groups are led by a mental health professional, such as a school counselor, who helps members gain information and develop skills for challenging situations through education-based techniques. Still another type of group is enriching in nature, where the educator teaches students a skill that allows them to better themselves or others in the school/community.
Why Group Work is Important & How Groups Help Students on Various Levels
Group work is crucial to student success in both counseling offices and in classrooms. In a best practice classroom or counseling program, all students receive what is known as “Tier 1 Instruction,” which means that all students are taught the same information based on a set curriculum. After this general instruction is presented to the student body, it is reasonable to expect that not all students will master, understand, or apply it. These are students who need further instruction on the same information in the form of student support groups. Generally, when the intensity (less students in the learning environment) and frequency (being re-taught the information a second time) are increased, the students who didn’t master the Tier 1 Instruction will be able to master it at Tier 2.
Students who do not master the information at Tier 2 can learn it again at Tier 3, but that is a topic for another post.
Another reason that group work is important is because some students have life experiences for which they need specific support. For example, if you have a group of students who are all struggling from recent changes in their family dynamic, such as a divorce, these students may greatly benefit from a psychoeducational group that gives information on how to handle the changes and stress that divorce can create. However, this is not a topic that you would teach to your entire student body, since not everyone is experiencing this challenge in their life. Instead, you would provide a student support group just for the students who are experiencing this challenge.
Similarly, if you are training specific students for a school-based job like student council or peer mentoring, group work is a fabulous way to impart this training. Group work allows students to learn skills needed to carry out their specific duties. It also gives them a chance to build camaraderie and rapport with each other, since they will probably need the support of their fellow group members in order to carry out their duties optimally. The RISING UP: Coaching Program is such an SEL program – it follows a best practice peer-mentoring curriculum that teaches students to mentor others through student-led groups. Leadership Summits are another example of best-practice group work to teach students the skills they need to be leaders in their schools!
Student Support Groups- Planning, Facilitating, & Topics
At my school, January is the month when we start gearing up to run our second semester groups. We start the planning process as soon as we return from Winter Break and then usually have the groups up and running by the end of January or the beginning of February. The planning process to get groups started is a bit lengthy as there is just so much to do! Check out our Group Prep Checklist to keep track of all the tasks, and to maximize your time. In my school’s counseling office, we will be running between 10-15 student support groups this semester. Below are short descriptions of a few of the student support groups we run with some tips for how to run them. Group curriculum guides for the groups below are included in my books, Get Your Group On, Volumes One and Two.
Boys’ Voice- This group teaches boys how to achieve goals, handle conflicts, and strengthen leadership skills. Through team building activities such as role plays, art projects, and games, the group members process all the ins and outs of healthy coping skills, masculine stereotypes, conflict resolution models, and more!
Culture Explorers- This group is for students who are new the USA. Our school will use the Culture Explorers curriculum to help them adapt to American life with weekly activities focusing on the cultural values, laws, rules, holidays, and traditions of America and American schools. For this group curriculum guide, here is a link to Culture Explorers since it is published separately.
The Goal Getters- This group meets weekly with student who are (already!!) failing multiple core subjects. In group, students check their grades, identify areas where improvement is needed, and formulate goals with specific behaviors to achieve improvement. All of this is facilitated through group strategies such as goal sharing, cheer leading, role plays, organizational tips, and scaling.
Freebie Student Support Lesson Plan: Healthy Coping Skills!
This month’s freebie lesson plan is actually a student support session that can be used with either a small group or with an entire class! It focuses on teaching students how to use healthy coping skills to manage their negative feelings, memories, or thoughts. Click on this link for the January lesson plan! You can find even more group resources at my own website, schoolcounselorstephanie.com.
In closing, I’d like to leave you with some of my favorite group resources.
That’s all for today, Folks. Hope to see you back here next month for my February post on lunch time stress and how schools are effectively alleviating it.
I’d also like to leave you with my all-time favorite support group comic by genius illustrators, Maurice Sendak and Dan Meth.
School Counselor, TEEN TRUTH