Counseling Support from the Elf on the Shelf (#20)

Inspiring School Counselors
Inspiring School Counselors
Counseling Support from the Elf on the Shelf (#20)

When former school counselor Kelly Dunn was looking for ways to reach one of her students over the holidays, she came up with a clever idea using the help of a tiny little “person” with a pointy red hat.

This Week's Storyteller

Kelly Dunn is a former Indiana elementary and a middle school counselor as well as a licensed mental health counselor. Kelly is the facilitator of RAMP Ready, a new online program from Inspire Success offering multiple ways for K-12 schools to learn about the ASCA National Model and become a Recognized ASCA Model Program (RAMP).

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Resources Mentioned in this Episode

  • Head Elf from the Life on the Fly blog by Angela Poovey


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Matt Fleck:
Welcome back to Encouraging Words for School Counselors. I’m Matt Fleck with Inspire Success. We’re glad you’re here.

Our five-minute podcast this month features stories connected to the holidays. And we didn’t have to go far to find this week’s tale. It’s from Kelly Dunn – who has been a good friend and colleague of mine for 15 or more years and who is also the host of our new online program called RAMP Ready designed to help K-12 schools understand and adopt the ASCA National Model. But before working with Inspire Success, Kelly was an elementary and middle school counselor. And she recalls that – for some of our students – the anticipation of winter break is not happy. The prospect of spending two or more weeks at home, away from school, was not something they looked forward to. This was the case for one particular student of Kelly’s.

Kelly Dunn:
From the outside, most people wouldn’t think that he would be worried or stressed about the prospect of being at home, um, that he would be looking forward to his Christmas break. He probably would get a bunch of Christmas gifts, be with family the whole time, but his family situation behind the scenes was stressful and unhappy. And this was a student who had been taken to various psychologists and specialists by his parents in search of some kind of diagnosis. He’d been labeled with everything from autism spectrum disorder to being bipolar, to oppositional defiant disorder. He was, in reality, he was really bright. He was very sensitive and had a lot of empathy, but he was living in an unhappy and angry home situation.

A positive aspect of this story is that the student’s father WAS engaged, and was working to support the school, as much as possible, from home.

So I’d been working with the student on anger management because he kept, of course, having outbursts at school, he would be sent out of the classroom, et cetera. So right before winter break, his dad called and told me that they had an Elf on the Shelf at home and was wondering if I could somehow use the elf to help with his son’s behavior at school. So I wanted to make whatever I came up with something that would be positive to help reinforce when my student was able to keep it together, even if it was just for part of the day or just at lunch, or maybe just at recess, especially since he really just had so little positive support going for him. So I came up with an elf-gram. I shared it with his teacher and then I explained to my student how work that when he had a good day or really any success, I would give him an elf-gram to take home each night and share with his elf who could then take it to Santa’s when the elf returned to the North pole each night.

Using Elf on the Shelf may not work for every student – but you never quite know – sometimes you have to try several strategies before something clicks.

My student wasn’t really enthusiastic at first, but as I found something positive each day to know, even if it was just something small and give him a, an elf gram to take home, he gradually bought into it and the outbursts at school were fewer, and they were more manageable throughout the rest of December up until break. There, of course, were still some ups and downs, but overall it helped.

It continues to amaze me how a small change in perspective – using something as small as an Elf on a Shelf – can create small victories for students.

Well, looking back, I never really thought about it before that point, but about harnessing the power of a Christmas elf for school counseling, but it ended up helping me help a student even just for a little while.

It’s a wonderful story, thanks Kelly.

We learned that LOTS of you use Elf on the Shelf at your schools – who knew? Check out our link to elementary school counselor Angela Poovey’s blog with pictures of her “Elf on the Shelf” named STAR who sends encouraging messages from the counselor to teachers who are administering standardized tests before the holidays. Ah, nothing like standardized testing to get you in the mood for the holidays. We’ve added a link to Angela’s website at where you can also find OTHER encouraging stories from school counselors.

AND – while you’re there – click on “Add Your Story” which will take you to OUR online sound booth where you can record your OWN encouraging story for us to share.

One more thing – be sure to subscribe to the Encouraging Words for School Counselors five-minute podcast on your favorite listening app or device.

That’s all from us – your audio elves – have a great week!