Animals in Schools

Posted by: Derek Collins on September 20, 2019 11:28 am

Part of our mission at Vermilion Outreach School is to create a safe place for our students. Vermilion Outreach is an alternative school for students who have not had success in a regular program. Many of our students find it difficult to focus on their work; this may be for personal reasons or academic difficulty. As the principal and counsellor, I am constantly looking for strategies that would allow the students to overcome some of these barriers. I knew other outreach programs that had a school pet program but it was not something I thought I was ready for. That is until my own dog, Kona, needed to wait somewhere for her veterinarian appointment. With no other options available I brought her to school.

The effect on the students was immediately apparent to  the staff and me. Kona, an older miniature schnauzer-poodle cross, would trot to the door and greet everyone. She would then continue to walk around the school stopping at different locations where a hand would reach down and give a scratch or a pat. Some students would try to get her to jump into their lap, although Kona was not quite ready for that. But she loved the attention. Work only stopped briefly as she walked by but often the students would continue to read or work on an assignment as they gave Kona some attention.

There have been studies on the success of animal-assisted interventions. A systemic review of animal-assisted interventions found that there are some positives for students when dogs are in classrooms. Animals appear to be buffers to psycho-social stress. Classrooms reported that there was an improvement in motivation, focus and a sense of well-being. (Brelsford, Meints, Gee, Pfeffer, 2017)

The most impactful moment for me was when Kona helped me make a connection with a student. I noticed that a relatively new student to our school left her desk and headed to one of the side rooms. I gave the student a few minutes of quiet time before I knocked on the door. The student was crying and I offered to listen. The student nodded, I sat down, but the words were not coming. I tried to be patient. We heard scratching at the door.

“Is it okay if Kona comes in?” I asked. The student nodded. Kona strode into the room and looked up at the student. Then suddenly, she jumped up into her lap.

“You don’t have to hold her if you don’t want to,” I reminded the student, both of us a bit surprised.

“It’s okay,” the student answered. She started talking while petting the dog. Somehow Kona knew she was needed. Her presence gave that student something to focus on while she told her story. That event led to many other sessions.

I encourage other programs to consider a school dog or pet and I would love to hear stories and share ideas.

Brelsford VL, Meints K, Gee NR, Pfeffer K. Animal-Assisted Interventions in the Classroom-A Systematic Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017;14(7):669. Published 2017 Jun 22. doi:10.3390/ijerph14070669



*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Playing the “Long” Game

Posted by: Derek Collins on July 26, 2019 3:29 pm

At Vermilion Outreach School, we become invested in our work. The result is that we want to see immediate change and growth in our students. The reality is that teaching and counselling are what I call a “long game”. I have a dedicated staff trained to assist students returning to high school; students attending our alternative school often face personal issues and past trauma. We have found that because students have not experienced success at school, there tends to be a reluctance to talk and work with us.

One particular student spent most of her first year virtually silent. Fortunately, she connected with one of the school coaches. During their conversations, the young woman revealed her anxious thoughts. It was clear to the coach that this student needed to connect with a community counsellor with proper resources and training to help her move forward. The coach offered the young girl the opportunity for that connection, however, the student remained uncertain and provided no definite answer.

It was not until nine months later that this individual approached the school coach and said she was ready to see a counsellor. It is no surprise that the staff member was full of excitement and energy at a staff-planning meeting. We needed to connect her right away, and we needed to talk to her mother as soon as possible in order to gain for permission for a referral to our mental health professional. The excitement was infectious and soon everyone on the team took on a task.

Days passed quickly. Mom said she was willing to sign papers but they were routinely forgotten or misplaced. My staff grew more concerned that the student herself was falling into a “silent mode” again. Staff excitement turned to concern and then worry.

This was a time for us to come to a realization we knew, but often forget. Change is not something that comes quickly. Often change is a long process; this is why we have come to label counselling as the “long game”. It is unfortunate that many of our students are not with us for long. A significant number enroll in school and withdraw during the year for many reasons. Sometimes, we are fortunate and honored to see them grow and graduate. For others, change takes many more years and they leave school and the community. We rarely find out what happens with those students. As for our young student, she eventually met with our community counsellor and made plans for more meetings over the summer. We all look forward to hearing more from her when school reopens in September.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Mandatory Career Planning

Posted by: Derek Collins on April 26, 2019 8:21 am

In the beginning, I did not like career counselling. I saw it as the “fluffy” part of a school counsellor’s job. Compared to cognitive behavioural therapy or grief counselling, it did not dive deeper into the inner person. I thought that anyone could do career counselling. All a person needed was a working knowledge of the post-secondary world, some insight into scholarships and willingness to take some time and help a student look at requirements on a university website. Most of this information could be gathered through web pages and college catalogues.

I have come to realize how wrong this view was. I took on a new role ten years ago at an outreach school. These are alternative high schools for students who have not experienced success in traditional “brick and mortar” schools. The previous counsellor of the school did extensive career planning with his students. It did not take me long to understand why. For students who had dropped out of school, there was a need to find a new purpose for attending. Career exploration activities was a way to find that purpose. It built a motivating vision of the future. And it was essential for helping students choose appropriate and meaningful courses. Career planning is now mandatory for all the students at the outreach school.

As I mentioned, my primary reason for incorporating career counselling with all my students is to help them find a purpose for school. Most of my students experience stress around school. Career planning has been found to reduce the academic stress of school. (Sharma, 2014) I have also found that there is an interesting gap when it comes to career planning. Often schools may feel that parents will help their children explore careers and post-secondary options. Levine (2013) found that parents themselves are unsure how to help their children.

Parents assume that their children are capable of finding information about post-secondary programs and related careers on their own. This is too bad because parent expectation is the second most important determinant as to whether a student will attend post-secondary study or not. Proper academic preparation is the most important factor. And if we lower a student’s stress, they are more likely to engage in their work. Helping students carry out career planning ends this cycle.

-Derek Collins

References:
Levine, K. A. (2013). History Repeats Itself : Parental Involvement in Children ’ s Career Exploration L ’ histoire se répète : La participation des parents dans l ’ exploration de carrière pour enfants, 47(2), 239–255.
Sharma, V. (2014). Role of Career Decision-Making in the Development of Academic Stress among Adolescents. International Journal for Research in Education, 3(6), 58–67.



*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

School Counsellor in an Outreach School

Posted by: Derek Collins on March 4, 2019 10:57 am

My impression of school counselling has certainly evolved. It did not have a great first impression. For the first half of my career I worked in a rural K to 12 school. School counsellors were mythical creatures similar to teacher librarians and lab technicians. I saw “school counselling” as something that was done by the vice-principal in addition to his other tasks. He “counselled” the students on which courses to put in their schedules in order to graduate. Meeting the entrance requirements of a post-secondary program was a wonderful bonus.

My understanding grew when I became the vice-principal. I found a copy of the Alberta Education publication of “Building a Comprehensive School Guidance and Counselling Program” released in 1995. On page 35, it lists the three key issues facing school counsellors: promoting academic growth skills, encouraging positive student transitions, and developing positive interpersonal relationships. As a new school administrator, I tried to help students plan their academic course loads. I worked to help students develop better interpersonal skills when they were sent to me for disciplinary actions.

A side effect of disciplining students that I began to realize is that every one of them had a back-story. I began to hear the terms such as “anxiety,” “depression,” “anger issues” and “stress.” While I was initially overwhelmed, I was intrigued about this vast field of counselling. I realized I was allowed into a privileged place to help guide these students to find their strengths. At that point came the wonderful opportunity I still get to work in today. I became the principal at Vermilion Outreach School. Outreach schools are alternative schools set up to “meet the needs of students who either cannot or will not pursue their education in traditional high schools” (from the Outreach Program Handbook, 2009, Alberta Education, pg. 1). Many people describe it as a school for “those” kids with addictions, criminal records or violent pasts.

Certainly, every school has a tremendous variety of individuals each needing different types and amounts of support. Working in an alternative school setting has provided a wonderful place to learn more about mental health and supporting youth. I hope to explore various aspects of school counselling and the field itself from this viewpoint. There is a strong need to advocate for trained school counsellors. Hopefully, I can hear from others about their experiences.

Derek Collins




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Don’t Make Any Assumptions: Inside U of T Mississauga’s Career Centre

Posted by: Mark Franklin on August 26, 2016 11:44 am

Listen to this episode of CareerBuzz at CareerCycles.com

“Don’t make any assumptions,” said self-confessed career geek, Felicity Morgan, “about what you think about any career area.” Felicity is director of the career center at the University of Toronto at Mississauga. The UTM career centre serves over 13,000 students, with 15 staff. When we make assumptions we risk “not see your own biases and not identify career opportunities.” Instead, Felicity recommended career exploration: “Check it out, talk to people, check yourself out internally if it’s the right thing for you. You can only make the best decision with the info you have in front of you. So get that info in front of you.” Hear the whole interview with Felicity Morgan.

CareerBuzz is hosted by Mark Franklin, president and practice leader of CareerCycles.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Pushing Through Anxiety

Posted by: Jennifer Morrison on January 26, 2016 2:47 pm

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, hopinAnxietyg 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

Millennials

Posted by: Trudi Wyatt on January 18, 2016 1:29 pm

Increasingly in my practice in Toronto’s Financial District, some of my “baby boomer” clients, roughly defined as individuals aged 51 to 69 years old (1), are noticing and wondering about the possible differences between them and “millennials,” roughly defined as individuals aged 18 to 34 years old (2). For example, do millennials and baby boomers have different perspectives on taking time off work for mental health, and/or on working overtime.

Coincidentally, I have also recently noticed 2 magazine articles related to these questions, so I have created this blog post to explore them a little further.

The first, Millennials at Work (2), suggests that in addition to money, millennials also assign high importance to workplace flexibility, being coached/mentored, and autonomy, as well as to collaboration with rather than competition between colleagues.

The second, Healthy Minds (3), cites an increased demand for mental health services at the University of Toronto (U of T), such as a tripling of mental health presenting as a disability at Accessibility Services, as well as a general increased rate of mental illness among university-aged individuals. Healthy Minds focuses on an October 2015 U of T report that included a list of recommendations to address mental health on campus, and that generally encouraged the whole university community to embrace support of students’ mental health needs. Among the recommendation themes were calls to:

  • Promote prevention/resilience by promoting sleep, nutrition, exercise, social life, and strengths.
  • Promote peer support.
  • Locate counsellors right in day-to-day environments, so as to improve accessibility and confidentiality.
  • Provide quick access to a psychiatrist if needed.
  • Tap into community resources outside of the university, though the article points out that “’We do offer health services, but we do not see ourselves as health-care providers… We are an educational institution… We can’t do it all ourselves.”

In conclusion, perhaps the answer is yes, that millennials are different–that they are for example more aware of their mental health and resilience needs than previous generations. If so, then hopefully this translates into a healthier and happier future!!

Sources

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_boomers (accessed 10Jan2016)
  2. http://www.financereference.com/learn/baby-boomer  (accessible link)
  3. Millennials at Work (https://www.cultureamp.com/zine/010-millennials.html), in CareerWise 22Dec2015 (https://contactpoint.ca/careerwisesecure/2015/12/employability-vs-employment-millenials-at-work-employment-challenges-for-syrian-refugees/) cited in CERIC (Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling) email 22Dec2015.
  4. U of T Magazine, Winter 2016, pp.26-31, Healthy Minds: As U of T responds to a rise in mental health needs on campus, a powerful source of help emerges: students themselves. By Cynthia Macdonald.

Trudi Wyatt, MA, RP, CCC is a Registered Psychotherapist and Canadian Certified Counsellor in Private Practice in downtown Toronto. She has been practising for almost 7 years and currently works with individual adults on a variety of life challenges such as depression, anxiety, anger, trauma issues, and career choices.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Selective Mutism

Posted by: Jennifer Morrison on January 12, 2016 1:25 pm

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 mutismto 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

Counselling in the Outdoors

Posted by: Jennifer Morrison on November 9, 2015 1:30 pm

playgroundThis 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

Compulsive Texting

Posted by: Dawn Schell on November 4, 2015 2:52 pm

It started out innocently enough. A teacher asking students to put their phones away and focus on what was happening in the class. One of the students said she felt “anxious” about not having access to her phone.   Other students echoed her sentiment. The teacher was flexible enough to engage in the conversation and ask them to explain.   The conclusion – some students said not being able to text at any given moment or to check their messages left them feeling nervous, anxious, worried. Naturally this concerned the teacher.

Now I don’t mean this to come across as yet another adult shaking her finger at the younger generation and saying they have it all wrong.   When someone says NOT doing something leaves them feeling anxious I think it merits further exploration.

CompulsiveTextingA recent study published in the Psychology of Popular Media Culture journal (http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/ppm-ppm0000100.pdf) looked at the role “compulsive texting behaviour” plays in students’ academic functioning. The research focused on assessing what counts as “compulsive texting” as well as three components of academic functioning (grades, social bonding and perceived academic competence). While the study was conducted with a relatively small number of Grade 8 & 11 students (n=403) and is based on self-reporting it’s worth having a closer look at their results.

The first step was to create a measure for compulsive texting that is similar to one used for Compulsive Internet Use (Young, K.S. 1998). They wanted to assess for: interference with tasks, cognitive preoccupation and concealment, all potential indicators of compulsivity.   Their research showed a high internal consistency for their Compulsive Texting Scale.

The authors measured frequency of texting, compulsive texting, academic adjustment, and gender differences.   They found:

  • Females had higher levels of compulsive texting than males (12% vs. 3%)
  • “It appears it is the compulsive nature of texting – not the sheer frequency – that is problematic”
  • There is a relationship between compulsive texting and poorer academic functioning for females and not for males

Hmm. Now that is interesting!

The authors go on to speculate about potential explanations for females being more susceptible to compulsive texting behaviour.   They point to research that indicates “females are more likely than males to engage in rumination or obsessive, preoccupied thinking” (see study for details). They also are “more likely to focus their intimacy in interpersonal relationships than males”. Which may mean the content of their texts may be more “distracting or interfering than the texts males receive”.

The researchers discuss the limitations of their study and conclude with a reminder that texting can have potential benefits as well. It’s like anything really – when the use becomes compulsive that’s when we need to find ways to address it.

Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online, Inc. http://www.therapyonline.ca




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA