Suggested Activities for Working With Students and Adults

National School Psychology Week (NSPW)  is a fun, easy way to highlight the important work school psychologists and other educators do to help all students thrive. 

Suggested Activities for Working With Students and Adults

The NASP annual National School Psychology Week is November 8–12, 2021. The 2021 theme is “Let’s Get in GEAR” (Grow, Engage, Advocate, Rise). After what has been a long and challenging year for many, students and adults alike find themselves stuck in a rut or even regressing! We hope to connect students and staff to show that if they Get in GEAR together, it can lead to substantial positive change for all involved. Central to this theme is the importance of the relationships between all students, staff, faculty, and parents within a school building. This theme is perfect for any school that is actively looking to improve their climate.

Growth acts as a broad focus for the 2021 NSPW theme, with some activities involving goal setting, maintenance, or evaluation. Practitioners can choose the topic and adapt example materials to work with students and adults of all ages, ability levels, and interests. But remember, these are just ideas of one committee. Get creative and let your imagination run wild to find the best way for you to help students and staff thrive. Be sure to share your efforts through the NSPW Feedback form and on social media using the #SchoolPsychWeek..

Counseling Activities

Build social skills. The poster provides some initial ideas for positive behaviors that can help students envision how to grow social skills, engage with community and peers, advocate for others, and rise to be their best selves, all to develop and maintain deep friendships. Discuss the ideas on the poster and consider why they might be good suggestions for the students in your group. Help them brainstorm other activities that will help build their self-confidence and connect with others in order to overcome barriers and understand what’s possible. Have them role play specific behaviors with you or other members of the group and discuss when would be ideal times to try to engage in these behaviors. Consider giving each student a homework assignment to try one new or challenging behavior from the list and report back at your next meeting. *Virtual Activity: Use the chat feature of your platform to ask students to share ideas.

Build active listening skills. Discuss the power of listening and the power of being listened to as they relate to developing connections with others and expressing needs. Have students engage in an activity to practice active listening and learn the importance of understanding a message. Active listening builds a foundation for engaging with others and building trust that is essential in advocacy. Break students into pairs and have them interview one another, with the goal of learning three new things about the other. After the interviews, have each group present the information about one another to the rest of the group. Next, ask an audience member to summarize what was presented. Pose the following questions to students: How did the audience members show that they were listening to the information (e.g., discuss nonverbal cues)? Why was it important to listen to the person presenting? *Virtual Activity: Consider using break out rooms to increase participation.

The “Three Good Things” writing exercise. Teach students about the power of shifting into positive gears, even when working on what may seem like challenging situations. Instruct the students to write down three good things that happened each day for a week. The three things students list can be relatively small in importance (i.e., “I answered a really hard question in Language Arts today.”) or relatively large in importance (i.e., “The guy I’ve liked for months asked me out!”). Next to each positive event listed, they write a reflection on one of the following questions: Why did this good thing happen? What does this mean to you? How can you increase the likelihood of having more good things in the future? Reference: “Positive Education: Positive Psychology and Classroom Interventions”. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 May 2017.

Supportive adults. Growing involves recognizing our support systems and knowing when to ask for assistance. Discuss the importance of being able to identify a positive adult who students trust to offer support during challenging times. Ask students to think of their dream role model and write or draw what qualities this person may have.

Create personal growth steps. Work with the art/computer tech teacher or individually with students to have them create personal posters depicting either how they can choose and change the gears they are in or how they have shown growth since the start of the school year. These may feature action words from the poster, a key theme, or steps they have taken to discover and explore new possibilities.

Individual goal setting. The poster includes behaviors that will help any student or adult discover and explore their ideas for growth, engagement, advocacy, and how they aspire to rise and overcome obstacles. Help students consider specific possibilities, hopes, goals, or behaviors that can inspire them to get in gear, thereby creating positive momentum in their lives and the lives of others. Work with students to create a timeline or presentation depicting the steps they will take to reach these goals.

Build self esteem and confidence. Lead a discussion about previous experiences in which students have risen to a challenge. Ask them to identify the ways in which they changed gears to meet their situations with their strengths. Then discuss the feelings associated with their achievement, such as pride, happiness, self-confidence, and self-esteem.

Link to the Gratitude Works program. Identify one of the actions that embody gratitude and select one of the Gratitude Works activities to do. 

Building social connections. To help improve social engagement and connectedness, play icebreaker Jenga. Write a number on each Jenga block that corresponds to an icebreaker question. When a student pulls a block, have them answer the icebreaker question. Ask how many other students have an answer in common.

Build interests and make connections. Encourage students to join a club or spend time with others who have a similar hobby or interest. Spend time exploring school clubs and discussing what clubs may help support an area of personal growth. Show students how to find information about clubs (i.e., looking at the school website, looking at a list in the main office) and when the clubs meet. Have students list their top three clubs and determine when they will attend the next meeting. Debrief after the first club meeting.

Journaling. Have students think of some negative phrases that they may say to themselves over the course of the week. They will make a T chart on their page. On the left side of the chart write “Instead of …” and on the right side of the chart write “I can say ….” List more supportive phrases on the right side of the T chart that correspond with the negative phrase. For example, instead of … “I am no good at science,” I can say, “I will get better at science if I reread the information.”

Acknowledge others. Engage students in a discussion or activity about noticing when a peer has gotten in gear. Encourage positive shout outs as a way to create a supportive school climate.

Classroom Activities

Start the day in a positive light. During morning class meetings, the teacher can pick some different gears, or mind-sets and behaviors, that can help students set goals or lead discussions to create the connections necessary for learning. Further, teachers can pick one item that represents a positive social interaction, emphasizing how positive social interactions lead to building connections in the classroom community. This would be the theme of the morning meeting. As they share, each student takes a turn to do or say something that reflects the general idea.

Classroom lesson. Work with teachers to design a writing, social studies, or health lesson on small acts of positive behavior that can have a larger impact on peers, adults, and students themselves. Have students pick different suggestions from the list or develop one of their own to relate how even small behaviors, particularly interpersonal ones, can leave a lasting impression on others and change the course of your day and that of others. Some suggestions could be: Have the students write about getting into gear and why it is important to them or to others. Talk about how kind acts “ripple” and change how everyone is feeling and acting. Work with speech pathologists to include the GEAR words in vocabulary and concept formation lessons.

Classroom debate.At times, advocacy requires allowing space for arguments or disagreement. Assign students to research a topic and assign students (in pairs) to opposing opinions about each topic. Have students debate their side and encourage them to focus on using active listening and supporting evidence to advocate for their side. As a class, discuss how allowing respectable space for an argument helped increase engagement.

Hold a scavenger hunt. Have students work as a class-wide team to find someone throughout the day who is demonstrating growth, engagement, or advocacy, or who is rising above challenges. See if together the class can identify all of the concepts from the poster. Or have students select four concepts to find that day and see if each student can find people demonstrating these concepts. Provide an opportunity to share at the end of the day.

Create a foundation for advocacy. Help students create leadership groups that focus on areas they are interested in. Topics could include issues portrayed in the media or on the news (e.g., civil unrest, crime, violence, social justice, politics, racism, sexuality, bullying). Work with students on developing strategies for expression of their thoughts and ideas. Areas to consider include working with others with opposing views, strengthening public speaking skills, and attendance to events (community, social, or civil events). These groups can also be used to teach problem solving and conflict resolution skills.

Empower students by helping them get into gear. Consider nominating students for the NASP Student Power AwardThis award was created to honor students who support others and recognize students for progress toward personal goals, optimism, problem solving, eagerness, resiliency, and dedication. This would be a great way to honor students at an award ceremony that parents can attend.

Visualize growth.Have students start by setting a goal (academic or personal) that they can work towards throughout the school year. As part of a science lesson (or in collaboration with the science teacher), allow students to plant their own seeds and monitor the growth throughout the school year. At each stage of the growth process, have students journal or draw the stage their plant is in and write a step they are taking towards their goal that corresponds with the stage. This emphasizes the importance of smaller steps (i.e., engagement and advocacy) that build up to a larger goal.

School-Wide Activities

Connect with school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports.Consider your school rules and how you support them when growing, engaging, advocating, and rising Help students see how engaging in these behaviors will help them meet personal or classroom goals. Encourage teachers to provide intermittent positive reinforcement in the form of verbal comments, thumbs up, or even school-wide tokens (e.g., printable gears) for engaging in these types of behaviors. Include the G.E.A.R. words and explanations in the school’s morning announcement. Consider using the poster as a kick-off to a year-long focus on the G.E.A.R. behaviors. For example, create a bulletin board that changes weekly or monthly to highlight different behaviors that relate to growth.

Morning announcements.On the first day of NSPW, explain that it is National School Psychology Week and this week is all about Getting in GEAR Explain that throughout the week, you will share what it means to Get in GEAR Read a description for each letter in GEAR per day over the morning announcements:

  • Monday, 11/8/2021 - “G stands for Grow. Today, think of a goal that you would like to achieve. The goal can be academic or personal. Identify one step you can take this week that will help you reach your goal. Even small steps count!”
  • Tuesday, 11/9/2021 - “E stands for Engage. Today, show interest in an activity during one of your lessons. At the end of the lesson, share one fact you learned with a friend. Showing interest helps you engage and learn.”
  • Wednesday, 11/10/2021 - “A stands for Advocate. Ask a question or share one thing you may need to help make it a great day.”
  • Thursday, 11/11/2021 (Read on Wednesday if you are closed today) - “R stands for Rise. Rise relates to resilience. Take a moment today to reflect on something that was difficult that you have overcome. What did you learn from that situation?“
  • Friday, 11/12/2021 - “As National School Psychology Week comes to a close, we invite you to reflect on how you worked with others to Get in GEAR Through growth, engagement, and advocacy, we can all rise together to make a positive impact in our school community.”

Connect with kids. Provide the faculty with a list of students in the building. Have each faculty member put their initials next to a student whom they have a connection with. Compile the lists and determine if there are students who do not have an initial next to their name. Have a staff member make contact with that student.

Invite an advocate to speak. Research individuals in the community who have advocated for an important cause (something related to education or kids would be ideal). Invite the advocate to speak to students about their path to becoming an advocate and tools they use to convey their message.

Bulletin Board Activities

Make it interactive. Post the words Grow • Engage • Advocate • Rise on the bulletin board. Each time a student engages in a behavior or completes a task related to any of those words, have them write it down or draw a picture and staple the description or picture under the word. In a pocket on the corner of the bulletin board, keep a list of sample activities the students can do that will relate to one or more of the four words (for those who may struggle to come up with ideas on their own). When they have completed this, have them discuss it in their own words and add it to the bulletin board.

Get Moving!

Health and wellness. Discuss the importance of taking care of our hearts, minds, and bodies. Healthy bodies and minds can engage effectively in their growth and contribute positively to teams. Have students share three things they do throughout the day to stay kind to their bodies and minds (e.g., meditation, deep breathing, walking, talking to a friend). Have students keep “data” throughout the week on how often they engage in these three activities and how they feel at the end of each day.

Bounce back. You will need a kickball or bouncy ball for this. Being resilient involves recognizing our strengths and positive qualities that will help us push through. Have the student stand across from you and take turns spelling your positive quality each time you bounce the ball to the other person. See who can guess the quality the fastest without spelling the entire word. Once it is guessed, discuss how this positive quality helped you overcome a challenge.

Nature walk.Invite students to engage with nature by going on a walk outside. While on the walk, guide students in focusing on their senses in order to engage (sight, smell, touch). Have students write or draw about something that stood out to them on the walk.

Suggested Activities for Working With High School Students

Standing Between the Sunshine of Past Success and the Shadow of What is Yet Possible. This activity is used to review and reflect on personal and group accomplishments. Individually, participants are asked to consider their roles in their groups’ success. One by one, participants are asked to physically “stand in the shadow” (the place in the room) where they felt they contributed most in helping the group grow and rise to challenges. For example, someone who helped facilitate a large group discussion might go stand by the board. Participants are invited to say one or two sentences about their contribution. Following, students are asked to brainstorm what more is possible in the coming weeks and months.

Index Cards. Participants are given two cards with the NSPW image on them. On one card, they are asked to write one thing they’ve learned, changed, or tried that helped them grow or rise. On the other card they are asked to write one question they (still) have. After writing the question, they should add one person they could ask to brainstorm answers, one thing they could try to answer the question, or one step toward gaining understanding over this lingering question.

Adults Matter, Too

Recognize colleagues. chool psychologists are natural collaborators who work closely with many caring adults to help children achieve what is possible. The “Possibilities in Action” Partner program is a great way to recognize colleagues, either through their own efforts or by encouraging the efforts of others, make an exceptional difference in the lives of students and families by supporting the possibilities within each student. This could be a teacher, administrator, coach, community provider, parent mentor, or any other individual who stands out in your mind as going above and beyond the call of duty to help students achieve their best. Recognize and honor others with the Possibilities in Action Partner Program. The program description, suggested selection guidelines, press release, and Possibilities in Action Partner certificates are available online.

Professional growth.Choose a topic professionally that you would like to learn more about and one activity that will help you grow more in this area (e.g., searching for information on the NASP website, reading a book, participating in a webinar, speaking with a colleague). Discuss what you learned with a colleague or reflect personally on how learning about this topic has helped contribute to the school or professional community.

Express gratitude. School administrators, teachers, and other school professionals can promote gratitude in students by modeling it. For example, schools could have periodic gratitude days, during which staff members announce what they are grateful for and ask students to do the same. In particular, it is beneficial for staff members to focus their thoughts and feelings of gratitude to specific people or students in the school and to directly express their gratitude in person. Use the downloadable and adaptable Gratitude Works note card to send gratitude letters.

Treat yourself and others. Write on the downloadable template (available on the NASP website) a key thematic word you notice colleagues exhibiting that has helped students grow, engage, and bounce back. Tape it to small candy bars, tea bags, or other treats and put them in staff mailboxes, on their desks, or in a basket in the staff lounge. Be sure to keep one for yourself!

Rest your gears! Give yourself time this week to do something that you enjoy and/or find relaxing. This will help relieve stress, build resilience, and enhance your ability to rise up. Encourage those adults around you to rest their gears as well.

Guide leadership. Identify parents and/or guardians who demonstrate an interest in leading a group or organizing family friendly events. Assist them in organizing meetings for the families and community leaders to attend. Events can vary from cultural nights, homework help/tutors, award ceremonies, book clubs, fundraisers, etc.

Involve your community. Work with school leaders to identify community agencies that work to create positive school climates. Many agencies are often looking for ways to get involved with schools and reach families. Consider contacting food banks, law enforcement agencies, recreation centers, and religious organizations. These organizations often work with families prior to students enrolling in school so new or ongoing partnerships can create a connected and positive environment where all stakeholders are working towards one goal.

Embrace culture. Encourage your school to embrace and honor the variety of cultures that exist in your building. Work with school leaders to infuse cultural lessons throughout the school year. Get your families involved. Reach out and ask about ways they would be interested in sharing the variety of cultural experiences that exist amongst the school community. Create “Show and Tell” opportunities within the classroom that will allow students to highlight strengths and areas of interest and aspects of their culture.  

Engage families. Offer families/guardians increased opportunities to access the school building, in person or virtually. Offer homework information sessions, positive parenting classes, trainings on alternatives in discipline, computer training courses, accounting courses, award ceremonies, etc. These events allow for the school environment to become a welcoming and warm environment that not only offers educational support to its students but also to parents and guardians.

Create critical connections. Identify at-risk students and assign a staff member or older student (mentor) to check in with them at the beginning of each day and again before school ends. This system will be beneficial not only for the student who is being checked on, but also the older student as well. This helps ensure that our at-risk students are connected to support.

Connect through social networking. Participate in a social media campaign through NASP with #SchoolPsychWeek. Engage on social media to share your NSPW ideas, highlight creative activities, and connect with colleagues. Read inspiring posts for additional unique activity ideas. Further, you can stay connected to your colleagues to see what is happening around the country by visiting the NASP website for daily recaps posted throughout NSPW.

So be creative, have fun, and remember to share your efforts through the NSPW Feedback form and on social media using #SchoolPsychWeek and @nasponline.


Placeholder ImageThe annual NASP NSPW poster can be used in many different ways to inspire all school personnel to help students thrive! The poster is also available in Spanish

Social Media Activation