Re -Entry from a School Counsellor Lens

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us” Joseph Campbell

In 2013 I wrote about what I thought my ideal school would look like. Never did I or anyone else who was considering what the future of education would look like imagine what would happen in 2020. As I look forward I continue to believe we must educate the mind and the heart while having an extra dose of empathy this year as for some this has been a year of traumatic experiences.

Re -entry will not be a simple process. This year unlike any other year there is so much to consider. The Alberta Government has some ideas here for their school re entry plan.  Emotional wellbeing must be at the forefront if we want to ensure our students and staff’s needs are met. Physical and psychological safety are essential for learning. So how are we going to make that happen for our youth as they re enter school? Individual students and staff may experience stressors that the rest of the school and staff are unaware of, so empathy will be essential in any re-entry plan. How do schools ensure supports are available to both staff and students as they make plans to re engage in learning at school however that may look? 

I know there are many who have excellent ideas, my ideas are from the lens of School Counsellor and are not meant to be comprehensive, but some things to consider. Strategies will be needed to identify and assist students who may have been more impacted by covid than other students . For some the impacts could be long lasting, for others the impact may be that they are more resilient than ever.

How can schools and especially School Counsellors support all students, making sure to address the social and emotional needs of those who are particularly vulnerable? We need to look at risk factors as well as protective factors in identifying those in most need of supports.

Identify those students who:

  • Have a history of trauma and chronic stress or other pre existing medical problems.
  • Have experienced stigma and racism that may occur as a result of COVID-19.Have experienced a loss/death during this time.
  • Have been exposed to abuse/neglect.
  • Have parents who have lost jobs and still may be out of work. ( Food insecurity/financial insecurity can vary significantly. Those who were once secure may no longer be.)
  • Are ELL learners / students with disabilities physical or intellectual.
  • Develop attendance concerns: Attendance may drop due to higher rates of school refusal or  attendance may become optional due to students being medically fragile. A system should be in place for school counsellors to check in with students and families during the time frame COVID-19 may still be a threat.
  • Have had a more difficult time because of parental substance use and abuse.
  • Have been exposed to domestic violence. 
  • Became sick or tested positive for COVID-19 , those who have a family member who became sick or tested positive for COVID-19, those with allergies or respiratory illnesses that may result in coughing or sneezing.
  • Have equity and access concerns.
  • Had a difficult time over shut down.

Acknowledge the need to connect on a regular basis with both students and staff, Find creative ways to engage students in the process of returning to school whatever it may look like . Coming back to school will be easy for some and challenging for others. Ask for their input throughout. Acknowledge and validate student and staff concerns.

Identify the protective factors that students may have:

  • Ask students what it would take for them to feel psychologically and emotionally safe during this time.
  • Connections : Has the student maintained positive connections, Have them identify who they are.
  • Coping Skills: Identify what worked for them during covid 19 and ask them what they believe will assist them in coping as they return to school.
  • Engagement: Have students identify how they will engage in their school community either virtually or in person with all health factors considered. 
  • Supports: Have students identify their supports and community resources.

Anticipate

  • For some significant academic, emotional and social regression.
  • For some significant fatigue and sleepiness, particularly among adolescents who have been sleeping in since March and may have irregular sleep patterns.
  • Challenges and opportunities.
  • Missteps.
  • Successes and the ability to learn from things that don’t work.
  • The unexpected.

Avoid 

  • Using language like anxiety when you mean upset, worried, fearful. This pandemic affected us all ,but it does not mean youth have an anxiety disorder or are depressed because of the pandemic. Let’s not pathologize , but have a wait and see attitude as to the long term impacts of covid19. Frequency, duration and intensity matter when it comes to mental health. School Counsellors will know how to access and when referrals are necessary. Ask yourself Is this normal?
  • Punitive approaches when managing physical distancing requirements when possible. 
  • Entering into conflict with anyone who is not on the same page as you. Everyone has a story.
  • Being overly concerned with attendance and more concerned with finding ways to connect with the student.
  • Getting run down yourself because you are trying to do it all.
  • Avoid people who bring you down or have unrealistic expectations. . Find people who lift you up and support you. Surround yourself ( at a physical distance of course ) with those people.

Collaborate with colleagues. Using email/ google meet to connect and provide resources that can assist students. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. It can never be understated.

Consider

  • Embedding social and emotional learning into all core subjects.
  • Reading How to Be Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi over the summer.
  • Using Race and Equity resources
  • Connecting students with a virtual calm space . You can find one here and here.
  • Providing students with opportunities to discuss any concerns or challenges they are experiencing or needs they may have given Covid19’s impact.
  • Focusing on social and emotional skill building, mental and behavioral health, personal safety and self-regulatory capacity, which likely regressed with a lack of social interactions.
  • Finding opportunities for students to work cooperatively, feel empowered and able to help others.
  • Finding ways to build on some of the unique experiences students have had at home.

Continue:

  • To find ways to connect and empower students.
  • To involve and support families (we are in this together).
  • To use trauma informed resources and trauma informed practices
  • Informal virtual check ins. Use a google forms such as this
  • To support students in finding ways to engage in their learning. 
  • To develop ways to build upon relationships.
  • Understand how grief has impacted us and our students. 
  • To use developmental assets as a guide.
  • To connect with other School Counsellors who have found ways to connect virtually. Check out #scchat on Twitter.

Think about your own well being and how to address compassion fatigue and self care . Find ways to live each and every day to the best of your ability. Life will undoubtedly be very unpredictable in the fall using and sharing just for todays can be helpful.

Here are some excellent Just for Today’s from some of the youth I have worked with this year.

Just for Today I will be as happy as I can.

Just for Today I will find some fun.

Just for Today I will try and stay out of my head.

Just for Today I will make sure I get some rest!.

Just for Today I will try not to should.

Just for Today I will give myself a ‘Just for Today’ every day when I get up.

Just for Today I am living in the moment rather than thinking about what I have to do tomorrow. 

Just for Today I will prioritize doing things that make me smile.

Just for Today I will trust the process and live in the momen.

Just for Today I’ m going to take some time for self care, go for a walk with my dog and breathe in the sunshine 🙂

Just for Today I am going to express my gratitude for those I love while I have the chance.

Just for Today  I’ll take the happy with the hard and let them just happen… 🙂

Just for Today I will not overthink the future and just enjoy the present moment.

Just for Today I will let go of my worries and what this pandemic might bring to all of us, and just focus on the great things it has brought to all of us.

If you want to use some Just For Today’s with your students check out 101 ways to kickstart your day .

What will school reentry be like ? I can imagine that all educators including  School Counsellors will have skills that they did not have before and each will work together to provide the best education possible for their students. My wish for all is to stay connected,  stay healthy and safe physically , emotionally and spiritually and have an abundance of love, joy and hope . 

Just for today I have a lot of hope for the future of education if we all work together to make our places and spaces a learning opportunity by helping each other along the way. School Counsellors are an essential piece of doing that in every school.

A special thanks to Bryan Sanders @nayrbgo  for encouraging me to put some thoughts to paper and for all who I have connected with as we all are #learning2pivot in 2020. What do you think re-entry should look like from your lens?

Reference: School Reentry Considerations National Association of School Psychologists and the American School Counselor Association

25 Ways Of Making The Best Of Each Day : Just For Today For Educators During Covid19

Choose ONE of the following tips. You may want to post it on your mirror at home or pin it to your desktop and remind yourself of what you need during this time.

  1. Just for Today I will acknowledge that we are all grieving the world as we once knew it. I will be compassionate with myself and my students.
  1. Just for Today I will take the necessary actions so that I don’t burn out during Covid 19. I will take breaks and put things on pause when I need to.
  1. Just for Today I will be grateful I am an educator who loves and cares for youth.
  1. Just for Today I will remember that relationships are a key factor for academics to occur especially as I move online. 
  1. Just for Today I will trust the process . If I don’t get exactly how to use the tech at this time that is more than OK.
  1. Just for Today I will acknowledge that I need time and space for myself and my family,  I will take time to care for my own well being and theirs.
  1. Just for Today I will share a just for today , a positive quote or thought with my students.
  1. Just for Today I will not speak negatively about myself, treating myself empathically focusing on what I do know, not on what I don’t. 
  1. Just for Today I will focus on doing my best and let go of the rest, acknowledging that I care about all of my students.
  1. Just for Today I will make sure that I take time to have a proper lunch and take breaks.
  1. Just for Today I will find ways to decrease my workload.
  1. Just for Today I will connect with a colleague and  collaborate knowing this will lighten some of my load. 
  1. Just for Today I will focus on my strengths and not fall into the trap of comparing myself to others .

14. Just for Today I will not put 20 things on my to do list. I will tackle one concern at a time.

  1. Just for Today I will centre myself while helping students find ways to centre themselves.
  1. Just for Today I choose the path of being there for a child.
  1. Just for Today I will acknowledge that I cannot be everything to everyone.
  1. Just for Today I will accept support from others.
  1. Just for Today I will find a way to celebrate student success.
  1. Just for Today I will film a short message to check in with my students.
  1. Just for today I will avoid overthinking by attempting to stay in the moment.
  1. Just for Today I will remember that it’s okay not to feel okay.
  1. Just for Today I will collaborate with my team to share resources.
  1. Just for Today I will send a message of thanks to a member of my school community.
  1. Just for Today I will turn my computer off at the end of office hours. 

Want to check out previous posts for students. You can find them here.

What is your Just for Today Tip? Please share in the comments. Erin and I would love to hear your ideas.

School Counsellors Collaborating With Librarians: An Exceptional Way To Help Students

Collaboration is a wonderful thing. Tonights #scchat was so inspiring. It got the creative juices flowing and I am sure will be helpful to so many School Counsellors from across the world.

Find ways to connect with your School Librarian today.

Thanks to the amazing @angcleveland @kiddcounselor15 and @lieberrian who co-moderated #scchat on Dec. 4th , school counsellors now have several new ideas they can use to help students . Take a look at the chat on wakelet .

It will most definitely get your mind thinking of the many ways you can work together and in the end help you to serve your students and community . I think we can never underestimate the power of collaboration. We are definitely #bettertogether. I look forward to hearing the many ways you have collaborated. Please do share.

You Are There For A Purpose

Each day as a School Counsellor you have an opportunity to impact a child’s life in a way unlike others are able to do. Never ever lose sight of that. It might be a small action that touches a child’s heart and makes a difference for a lifetime. You have the time to truly listen and understand what it is a child needs and how to help them in a way that can change their perceptions of themselves and the world around them. It is a gift you have been given to give away , so treasure the moments that are right there in front of you each day as you enter your school. You are there for a purpose.

Ways To Get To Know Me Better

At this time of year I know some of you are already preparing for next year, so I thought I’d add a little way to get to know your students and their stories better. If you’d like to do this yourself and share with me, that would be great too. Have a fabulous summer. You deserve it!

The World Would Be A Different Place Without YOU In It

 

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“You are not here to fill space or be a background character to someone else’s movie. Consider this: nothing would be the same if you did not exist. Every place you have ever been and everyone you have ever spoken to would be different without you. We are all connected, and we are all affected by the decisions and even the existence of those around us. ” David Niven

I believe we all have a purpose in life. Each child that comes our way is precious and we were brought to them to make a difference. It is up to us to leave them feeling or thinking or doing something differently than when they walk into our office. It is up to us to help . That is the reason we do what we do. So keep doing it! The world would be a different place without YOU in it!

 

 

 

Raise Up Your Voice Canada … It’s School Counselling Week

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As soon as I entered the field of School Counselling I knew I had to be an advocate. I thought as a teacher I knew what School Counsellors did. Was I wrong!!!

Since then my colleagues and I have advocated at a district level to bring more awareness to what we do.  Has it made a difference? YES! YES! YES! Our district is one of the best in the country when it comes to supporting , understanding and recognizing the work that School Counsellors do.

I have also advocated at a provincial level by being one of the voices and president of the then Alberta Guidance Council. Today my friend Erin Luong has taken up that advocacy role in the ATA Council Of School Counsellors and they are lucky to have her.

At a national level in 1999 , I was part of the first delegation of Counsellors to go to China along with my leader and friend Maria de Cicco as part of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association . My administrator and district supported me as a School Counsellor advocate on this journey. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I will treasure and never forget.

Strong leaders are needed to be the voice along with School Counsellors . We need someone in Canada who has the same powerful, inspiring voice as Michelle Obama does here:

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Today although I am semi retired I still want to advocate. I believe School Counselling is one of the most important positions that every school still needs , maybe now more than ever.

So I say Canadian School Counsellors raise up your voices, if you want change , make it happen … be the change!!!!! We need your voice! Being silent won’t produce the changes needed across the country. You are valuable. You do matter . You are needed and you do make a difference.  YOUR VOICE MATTERS!

Want to know how to be a great advocate just follow the #SCCHAT feed on twitter to see how it’s done. Let’s join in Canadians with our world counterparts who are advocating and being the voice for School Counsellors worldwide.

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Anxiety: Plugged In Or Out? How Can We Help Mitigate The Effects Of Social Media On Our Kids?

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guest post by: S. Helen MacKinnon

The impact that social media has on kids is undeniable. A recent article in the New York Times highlights some of the more concerning issues.

I don’t think we need  much convincing that social media has had an impact on all our lives and it is not going away anytime soon. I am a neophyte when it comes to social media, but in my work with children and their families over the past 30 years has allowed me a first hand insight into the world of children and their families.

What can we do as parents, counsellors and educators to mitigate the impact that social media is having on our young people? As in any situation where we are trying to teach children, we ourselves need to be the role model. We need to examine the message we send our kids when we are engaged in use of our own devices. What parameters do we have for ourselves when it comes to use of devices?  Do we actually have discussions with our kids about amount of usage, times and places that are no go zones for adults and kids? Do we understand the  safety issues and if not do we educate ourselves about these issues and discuss them with our children?  Yes, with any privilege comes responsibility, both for us as the adult and for our children whom we must guide to be ethical digital citizens. Don’t let their media skills fool you! Although they appear to be very savvy in the area of technology, they do not have the life experience or a fully developed brain that allows them to project the outcome of what they may see as just having a little fun or wanting to fit in. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If We Know How to Do It … So Will They

With the new emphasis on digital leadership , I strongly believe we as parents and educators need to learn how to develop our own digital identity. How can we truly help guide students to learn concepts of digital citizenship , becoming a digital agent, a digital interactor, etc?

How can we help young people learn how to create change in their community or how to make the world a better place online if we don’t fully understand how to do so ourselves?

Joanna Sanders asks  great questions: What does this new emphasis on digital leadership look like in the classroom? How will this benefit our students?

Learning how to be digital leaders starts the day children are born and is a never-ending lesson. How do we celebrate all the good that our youth do while teaching them about privacy, collaboration and how to vet online sources? How do we become the models they need?

Let it begin with me I say … and yes it is never too late. I started learning how to become a good digital citizen almost five years ago after joining #etmooc. I am still learning today and take every opportunity I can to learn. I have made many mistakes along the way just as I did in my own parenting, teaching and counselling , but I really try to learn from those mistakes and model for others what I am learning daily.

I think we need to give educators the time during their days to learn along with their students. Being proactive means we need to learn alongside the students trying to master these skills we want them to have. They can teach us and we can teach them. If we want to drive change through technology we need to face the fear ourselves and take positive risks online. You may wish to join communities like #immooc, where you will find educators learning every day.

Digital citizenship is essential to what educators do. Join me as I learn along the way. You may find a few tips here .

Digital Citizenship Lessons are vital. Empowering proactive digital learners is a process. If we know how to do it , they will too . What do you think?

 

 

Anxiety: Threat or Gift?

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A guest post by : S.Helen MacKinnon

Often I am asked the question, ” Why do so many kids today suffer from anxiety ?” There is no easy answer to this question but there are many more questions that we need to ask. In particular, “What is it that appears to be causing such an increase in child and adolescent anxiety? Is it related to social media?  Are we over pathologizing what may be normal reactions to stressful situations in our environment. According to Dr Stan Kutcher, a leading psychiatrist from Dalhousie University, “anxiety is a gift we have inherited from our ancestors to protect us from threat and to kick-start ambition; to fight it we have to face it.” In order to “face it” we need to  first of all understand what is happening and then respond to it in a manner which will allow us to maximize the outcome.

In other words we can use the anxiety or stress, to benefit us in our day-to-day functioning.  If we see it as a gift, we respond from a totally different  repertoire or mindset than if we see it as a threat. A gift is something positive, something we welcome, something that may make things easier for us, or at times may challenge us and help us grow. How can we work with our kids to help them understand and see anxiety as a gift? What are some strategies that will help them develop a different mindset?  Additionally, what part does social media play and are we, as parents, educators, and counsellors, contributing to the mindset of threat or gift? In my next guest post I will explore these very questions and discuss ways to unpack the gift of anxiety.