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

Being A Connected Educator Has Changed The Way I Think

Being a Connected Educator has changed the way I think about education and has helped me understand the lives of our students in a completely different way.

Nine months ago I was not a Connected Educator, but I wanted to grow professionally so I took the plunge and took a Massive Open Online Course called ETMOOC.  That changed everything.

 

I felt if I wanted to understand the world that our students live in then I too must learn what it is like. So for the last nine months I have entered into the connected online world and opened up a whole new world of learning for myself and the students I serve. Every time I am connected with others online I come away with new ideas and resources to share.

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cc by Catherine Cronin

For anyone who feels they are too old to do this, I hope I serve as an example. I started teaching in 1980 and I can still say that I LOVE what I do. Being a Connected Educator has helped me stay passionate about teaching and learning .

I believe it has helped me be a better school counsellor as now I can connect with other school counsellors #scchat #cscchat from around the world and we can learn together. As a result of being a Connected Educator I am more open and want to serve as one model for positive Digital Citizenship for our students.

Thanks to all of you who have shared your experiences, resources and optimistic attitude with me. This thanksgiving I am very grateful for you.

Mental Health Literacy Training

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This week I was extremely fortunate to be Certified as a Trainer for the Mental Health Literacy Program facilitated by renowned psychiatrist Dr. Stan Kutcher

I was excited to be able to participate, as I have known about Dr. Kutcher’s work for a while. I am happy to say all four days were absolutely worth it. I left feeling I had learned many things that will assist me in my professional work and as a result impact the lives of the students we serve in our school community. I also loved his dry wit which absolutely kept me engaged during the process.

The training has fabulous resources for school counsellors, educators and mental health workers to utilize. This program is one of the best I have seen in a long time. It is rich in content, research, and resources.

When it comes to mental health we want students to:

CONNECT

  • With someone they trust like their teacher advisor , teacher, coach or other significant adult in the school who can then assist them in connecting …

CONNECTING

  • With their school counsellor who can assist them in connecting with their doctor, health care provider and or parents to assist them with their mental health concerns

One of important things that  Dr. Stan Kutcher discussed during the four days is the difference between:

  • Mental Health Distress (one example lose your keys)
  • Mental Health Problem (one example a parent dies)
  • Mental Health Disorder/Illness (one example clinical depression)

Too often we do not normalize what young people are feeling. It is normal to feel sad after a break up, but that does not mean the student is in a clinical depression. We need to teach our young people the difference between distress, problem and disorder and the Mental Health Curriculum Guide  does just that. It teaches students and educators the Mental Health Literacy that they need in today’s world based on present day research on the brain.

If you want to learn more you can take a quiz here to get you started…

Below I will share a few of the fantastic resources available. You may want to book a training in your area if you do contact @TMentalHealth

Digital storytelling:

Panic Disorder:

Coping with suicidal thoughts:

http://teenmentalhealth.org/resources/entries/coping-with-suicidal-thoughts/

Depression:

I really hope educators from around the globe will consider this fantastic program as part of any initiative that will benefit every student and family in their school and community.