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

Are You Really Living?

In 1999 I thought I had breast cancer. I got the dreaded call that I had a mass in my breast and I would need to have a biopsy to find out if indeed I did. Being a very optimistic person, I thought well if I do I do. I can’t change what has happened , but I can decide how I will respond to it. From the moment I got the call to my surgery date which was over a one month period , I did think about the possibility of having cancer every day. I wasn’t under the delusion that it couldn’t happen to me. For the most part I was living as best as I could making the most out of my life. When the surgery was over and the results came in a week later, it was discovered I only had a fibroadenoma which was non cancerous and they removed it. I remember crying with relief vowing to even live life more fully than before.

I have experienced several deaths in my life including my first love, my roommate, my family doctor, my mechanic, my accountant, several friends, students, mentors and family members so I knew from a very young age to live life fully. I knew full well life could be cut short at a moment’s notice and I know many live with the truly sad reality that they could die at any time. Do I always live life fully? No, but I do my best to make the most out of each day. Living one day at a time is the best advice I have ever been given and often pass onto others. It sounds so easy , but is not always as easy as it sounds to do. I still work at this daily.

We can’t live in fear of dying. It will happen to us all someday. We can’t live in fear of coronavirus either. We can do all the things that we are supposed to as recommended by the health professionals and we should. We have a moral obligation, a responsibility to society and our family to do so. So go ahead and live life fully whatever that means for you. No, at the present time we can’t be around many of those we love and care about, but we can make the best of the situation we are in. Am I perfect at this?  NO. Have I had moments of sadness , fear and a multitude of other feelings?  YES, but just for today I am going to really LIVE. What about you?

Moving School Counselling Online #scchat

I don’t often get very nervous, but last night as I co-moderated #scchat , I was very nervous because I wasn’t sure I could keep up with the pace of the chat. My role was posting the questions in a timely manner. I knew there was a team around me and leading the way and I felt happy about that. They were outstanding! Thanks to Erin Mason, Laura Ross, Alicia Oglesby, Cynthia Morton , Caroline Lopez- Perry, Shay Reynolds, Vernice Jones, Chloe Benjamin , Joanne Norris, Kelly Wright and as always Erin Luong helped to help people feel connected.

My dear friend Erin Mason @ecmmason led the way knowing that this chat could connect us and validate our collective concerns and I believe that happened. There is much for us all to learn going forward , but yesterday in #scchat for about an hour and a half I lost myself . It was as if I didn’t have a care in the world I left all my worries behind . I had to focus and that I did. Well if you call watching 1138 tweets fly by focusing I guess I did.

Loved seeing all the newcomers and the willingness to help each other.

Today I am grateful for all of the online connections and most of all friendships that I have made. School Counsellors are passionate people who really care about the next generation of youth. Their willingness to share gives me great HOPE.

Want to checkout the chat click here .

The resources from the chat can be found here.

Dear School Counsellor

You make a difference don’t ever forget it. You are a helper and you go about each day doing your best . It’s in your DNA. Now is the time to maybe step back a bit and take care of you and your family. Each day is precious and needs to be savoured , some of us may recognize this now more than ever. I know that so many in our school communities and especially your School Counselling friends from around the world recognize and are grateful for what you do.

Take a moment to put things on pause thinking what can you can realistically do until the end of the school year. Whatever you planned to do as a part of your Comprehensive School Counselling Plan F2F is there a way of doing that now ?

There may be somethings you just need to let go of and if so what are you doing to bring some flow into your life? You can take time for you and not feel guilty.

You have and will continue to make a difference. Just be you and most importantly take time to do all the things you counsel others to do.

Here are some self care tips that you may wish to use. I kept them simple with you mind.

In case someone hasn’t thanked you today I will . Thank you because I know the passion and purpose you give to each day helping some of our most vulnerable youth.

Now go take care of YOU!

HOPEFUL THOUGHTS

You have a purpose don’t ever forget it.

What has this pandemic given you the opportunity to do ?

How can you grow today? What can you learn? What are you supposed to do today that is meaningful?

Feel all the feelings and journal away.

Compassionately listen to others.

Find ways to be in the flow.

What are the possibilities during this time?

How can you live and love fully during this time?

What can you be open to at this challenging time?

Find people places and things to appreciate even if they are online.

Tap into music, writing or art or whatever brings you true joy.

How can you contribute today?

Demonstrate your humanity.

Live love laugh …

Reach out … there is always someone who has had more difficult challenges than you or I have ever had.

Think of all the HOPEFUL things you can say and do.