We know there seems to be a higher rate of anxiety and panic disorders then there was just a decade ago. Whether that is true, or whether it is just being diagnosed more is uncertain to me. Either way, anxiety seems to the driving force for student absenteeism. I currently have a few students who leave class and wander the hallways looking for places to hide, hoping the teacher forgets they are gone so they do not have to go back to class. Often times those students end up at my door. Sometime they are crying, shaking, trying to get out of the school, making excuses to leave, etc. I have built a habit of being very kind at first when a new student comes in who seems to be anxious. I let them talk, pace, draw or whatever they need to do to calm down for the time being. I have light hearted questions about family, friends, activities, favorite anything, whatever will keep them in my office and not wandering the halls again. I am usually pretty successful in this area and students start to come back to see me willingly.
For me, when students come to me because they want to, the real work begins. I must now do the careful dance of keeping up with the students’ feels, fears, ideas and thoughts without stepping on their toes. I want them to believe that I truly get it because I do. I live around anxiety everyday, at home with my husband and son and at work with staff and students. Working with my own loved ones’ anxiety disorder has helped me to see how it affects people and as a result I think it has made me a “you have to be cruel to be kind” kind of person. I go through a process where students are given tools to make it through and they need to learn them because I will not always be there for them, and sometimes I send them back to class after reminding them of all the resources they have at their disposable (just not me). I request that parents take their kids to school even on the hardest days. I ask teachers to not let my students out of class unless necessary and I send students back to class as soon as possible, whenever possible. I get strange looks from parents and staff but I tell them, “If you want this to get better sometimes they need to do the things that cause anxiety”. A person who is afraid of spiders will not be able to avoid them for the rest of their lives and those with school anxiety cannot avoid school either. They need to be in that moment and experience the uncomfortable, heart pounding moments when anxiety sets in. Feeling and surviving those emotions is part of the battle. Soon those feelings start to diminish and the more you face it and think and talk about it, the easier it gets. It may not ever go away in its entirety but you can learn how to deal with it day by day, minute by minute, hour by hour. *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
I have a new student that I am working with who has selective mutism (SM). She is a very bright girl, lots of talent but does not speak in school. I have only just started to get to know her a little and I sense this is going to be a long journey for her. At present, her sister and her friend both speak for her at school. This dependency started long ago and was not discouraged in any way. As a result she is now in grade 8 and says absolutely nothing in school.
The Anxiety BC website suggests that SM is maintained through a process of negative reinforcement. It is a cycle which looks like this: I am asked a question > I am too afraid to answer > the person with me gets anxious and answers for me > we both feel better and anxiety decreases. This interaction continues each time and the person with SM no longer needs to speak for themselves.
So how do you help someone overcome an obstacle such as SM when a dependency has been allowed to grow for so long? Do I suggest that we let her be since she is actually doing very well in school? She has friends, she does her work, she has great marks, she just does not speak. Teachers do not push her to speak and in fact most don’t try to get her to talk at all. Is this good or should I be requesting that they begin with one word answers, or speaking to a classmate first? I have not had this issue before and frankly I am a bit uncertain of what it is I can do to support her. All those supports and ideas that could have helped at a young age seem to be too late now. How do you start speaking in school when you have not done so for 9 years and how do I as the guidance counsellor proceed with this? My plan at this point is to do more research on the topic and possibly use pictures as cues for her. I look forward to learning more about SM and I am sure another student will come along, and when they do, I will be ready, or at least more prepared.
Anxiety BC has a great video on how to work with students with SM. The website is http://www.anxietybc.com/parenting/selective-mutism. *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
This will be a short and to the point blog. I have been recently asked by my schools to work with students outside during lunch hours as a way of interacting with those students who may not be candidates for my services, but could still use a positive role model in an unstructured environment. I was apprehensive of this at first as I felt that my time would be better applied doing group work with students. Two days outside and I already find myself reaping the benefits of the all-student interactions. I do miss eating and chatting with my colleagues but I have students coming up to me to chat, walk around, hang out and ask for advice. What a great unobtrusive and informal way of getting work done. I was stuck with this idea that we work in our offices, one on one or small groups, doing lesson plans and talking to teachers about ways to help children. All that is great and I am very comfortable with that, but perhaps it is time for me to see and try other ways to counsel students.
I admit that change is not an easy thing for me and I do tend to get anxious when expectations of me change. However, change can be a very good thing and in this case it has given me the opportunity to look at my job in a different way. School counsellors are moving away from the ‘office’ and into the classrooms and playgrounds. This is a good thing and I plan to do my best to embrace it. I know there will be times when I will want to stay inside on the cold winter days, huddled in the staff room with my fellow teachers. When these thoughts creep up I will have to remember that the benefits of working with students in their own space while at the same time getting fresh air and shaking out my own cobwebs is well worth the 30 minute change in my schedule. *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
In school counselling we often work with children who need support due to issues in school or at home. These issues run the spectrum just as any other group would. The one major difficulty I have in working with elementary children is the need for parental consent. I do understand why we need consent from parents as not all children are developmentally prepared to understand my role as a guidance counsellor and how we can help. In those cases it is important for a parent to be able to say “Yes, I feel my child needs help in their social/ emotional development and Yes I think the guidance counsellor can help”. For those reasons parental consent is vital. However, I worry about the group of young children who deal with serious issues at home and parents/guardians are not willing to allow their child the support they need through counselling. Parental arguments, alcoholism, neglect, divorce and separation and unstable home lives can have major impacts on a child.
But what do we do when parents will not give consent, or asking parents for consent may cause even more harm? I also must have consent from both parents if the situation involves separation/divorce and there is shared custody. In many cases one or both will deny consent. Where I work, any child under the age of 12 must have parental consent for counselling after the initial session. Many of the students who are in the most desperate need are denied services due to the lack of parental consent. What do we do in these situations? How do we go about providing a service that is being turned down by parents, even when we know the service is necessary?
In the past I have used my judgement with older students whom I feel need my help and have the ability to recognize they need help. However, I only see them for short periods of time and more than likely on a quick ‘one time only’ situation. I always let staff know if they are worried about someone to let me know and I will see them once without consent and then determine what the next step will be after the initial contact. At this point I have been using my judgement if I believe the student is capable of making that decision, but children between the ages of 4 and 10 really are not ready for that. Continue reading *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
I have very recently began a new position as a guidance counsellor in three schools, all of which have never had a guidance counsellor before. Although all schools are extremely grateful to have me, there are still some challenges surrounding the creation of a brand new position. Where are they going to locate me, will there be a private space, private phone line, filing cabinet to store confidential files, a space that is suitable for counselling? How will staff, parents and students react to this new role? Some of this is out of my control and I must live with that. However, there is still a lot I can do to make this an easier transition for everyone.
At this point in the game I am simply trying to allow students and staff to see me in the school. I am walking around before school, talking to students, going into the staff room to meet teachers. Overall, I want them to know that I am here. Now is not the time to come into their classrooms and start pulling out students. They have only been back to class for two days and I am unfamiliar to everyone. I feel that staff must first get to know me and what it is I do, before they will be willing to send their students to see me. I think that is reasonable. I feel it will be a while before they are comfortable enough to send students my way, and that is OK. Continue reading *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
As the summer winds down I am beginning to think of all I must do to prepare myself for a new school year and a new job. We all go through those transitions where we must get to know our new clientele, our communities and our colleagues. These tasks are a new and exciting challenge for me and ones I look forward to. However that excitement comes with some anxiety. We all know what the fear of the unknown can do to one’s mental health. Lack of sleep, restlessness, stomach issues along with a whole host of other symptoms often prevent people from making transitions in their lives. Perhaps they feel that dealing with the status quo is easier than dealing with change. Continue reading *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
Working in public education has many challenges but it has many perks as well. Two months off in the summer is pretty nice after 10 months of action filled days. Many teachers will take time in the summer to take courses or other professional development opportunities. For us it is the best time to devote ourselves to learning. This summer, in between a few books and time with my children, I have decided to do some colouring.
I purchased a mindfulness colouring book for adults. So, when I get the time, I pull out my book and colouring markers, sit in my chair and let my mind shut down the stresses of the day and focus on what is right in front of me. I have to admit it feels great. Sometimes I am lucky and I get 30 minutes to colour and other times I may only get 5 minutes. No matter how long the time is I am still able to be in that moment with my body and my mind. It truly is a calming experience. *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
We know that people often change jobs. In fact research show that’s on average people switch careers 5 to 7 times in their life. I am currently in this transitional phase and would like to share with you some of the angst I am feeling during this time.
I have had the anxiety that many teachers face when moving positions or schools but working within the same board has always made that transition easier.
Now, I found myself changing my job for the fourth time in 7 months. I have not lost a job, nor have I been fired, but that does not mean it is not stressful. The first job change came when I left my permanent job of 15 years to relocate our children and I to where my husband was working. I did find a job quickly, (job number two) in a great community but the pay was $30,000 less. WOW. We thought we could do it and we discovered pretty quickly that 5 people will struggle on two low incomes. So, as great as my job was I knew I would have to move on as soon as another job became available. That other job came quicker than I thought it would and so within 2 months of the first move I was off again. I took job number three, said goodbye again and moved on as a substitute teacher in the local board. Money went up, bills got paid and now, only a few months later I am facing another possibility: stay as a substitute in the position that I will probably have for a year and hope it leads to a more stable job down the road, or apply for some permanent positions that have recently crossed my desk. Again, I enjoy my position but it is not a permanent job. Do I stick it out and hope for the best or apply for others positions again? ARGH. I apply and thankfully, after several job moves in a short period of time, I am happy to report I have a permanent, stable career in my field. I am extremely glad that I made the decisions I did and that I am now in a better place financially and professionally. *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
However, perhaps my personal health took a bigger toll then I realized. Here I am again moving jobs, packing up my stuff, saying goodbye to great coworkers and moving into a new job. This is the third move and fourth job time since January 17, 2015. I did not realized how much stress I was under until I finally allowed myself to relax. I am now noticing that my shoulders are extremely tight, my migraines are coming back, my bite plate may need to be replaced and I have gained a bit of weight. Right now I have a headache and feel like a could sleep for days. AHHHH…the joys of career and life changes. Remember to take care of yourself!!
They are there, all around us, colleagues who do not believe in your profession or your methods of delivery. They have that “get over it and move on” mentality, or “you are too young to have problems” thought process and even “school is for learning not your problems” mindset. In education we see it all the time. Staff who feel they are there to TEACH and students are there to LEARN and nothing should get in the way. Emotional problems need to be left home and not taken into the classroom, as if emotions were something you can turn on and off like a water tap. I think a lot of us have experienced this type of person at some point.
So, what do we do about it? How do we explain the importance of our job and how do we go about explaining how and why life situations effect our everyday functioning? From one day to the next I could have a variety of students stop by just to let something off their chest. A relative is sick, a parent lost a job, friendships fall apart, relationships end. Students are crying, panicking, worrying and getting angry and this is a normal part of life. Yes, I think sometimes they just need a place to go and talk for a few minutes, get some suggestions, vent a little. I also believe one’s ability to cope with life events will determine how they are able to handle situations, whether in or out of school. Either way, we all need to be there in a supportive manner.
Continue reading *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
I have been a counsellor in elementary, middle and high school for 15 years now. Over those years I have dealt with a lot of students who truly needed my help. They come in with their hearts on their sleeves looking for ways to heal a wound that most people do not even see. I am glad to help these students not because it is my job but because it is what I love to do. It feels good to know that I have helped another person who may have otherwise suffered the pain of family chaos, abuse, neglect, anxiety, depression, etc.
Some students will see me for a few days until the problem lessens (issue with friends, anxiety over a test) and others will see me for longer periods of time (major family issues, personal difficulties). Sometimes you can get an idea of how often or how long you will see a student based on the issue and how they are able to cope. Some students are very resilient and learn how to pick up the pieces and move on quickly. Others need more time to work through issues, or perhaps they have no other means of support and I become the only person who they are comfortable talking to. I am here for all of my students, whether the problem is big or small. *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA