Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Gearing Up for an Uncertain Fall

by Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D.

Welcome back from a summer that, well didn’t quite seem like a summer, did it? For many, the annual trip to the lake or the sojourn to Aunt Ida’s house was put off for a year, and there weren’t quite as many nights to be a concertgoer, since there were far fewer concerts to go to, at least in person. Still, the summer did offer some time off to ponder, reflect on the big picture of the world around us, and determine how to best support our students in their efforts to make sense of a world that is changing daily.

For as much as the world has changed since school was last in session (remember that?), it’s important to keep in mind how much hasn’t changed, especially when it comes to school safety. A majority of schools plan on starting the school year offering most, if not all, instruction online, a plan that creates special opportunities for counselors to offer support in new and exciting ways, across all aspects of the school counseling curriculum:

The nature of learning itself —For better or worse, this is usually the time of year when helping students make strong school progress means making sure they’re on track to graduate, a task that often requires counselor involvement with schedule changes. That task is probably still with most of us unfortunately, but the very nature of online learning brings its own set of counseling needs. Isolation from peers, reduced access to teacher intervention, and online sessions that are either too short or too long can provide new stressors to students, along with the pressures some students feel of learning from a home that is far from supportive. This ASCA checklist can help you review the resources and strategies you put in place last year on the fly; now that you have a little more time to plan, it’s a great document to build on.

Social-emotional development One of the biggest arguments for reopening schools this fall was the importance of face-to-face interaction between students as it relates to both cognitive and affective development. Clients who worry about “fitting in”—and sometimes, clients who don’t worry enough about fitting in—take up a good part of a school counselor’s day when everyone is in the same building. Is this issue less important when instruction occurs online? This article from Ed Week has stood the test of time when talking about how educators can make sure social-emotional learning is still part of the online lesson plan. Given how much time students spend on social media, it’s more important than ever to understand how to provide online guidance for growth in this crucial area.

Postsecondary planning The major changes K-12 education has been called on to make the last six months pale in comparison to the shifting worlds students must prepare for after high school is over. Soaring unemployment and uncertain medical conditions make the paths for postsecondary employment more hazy than ever, while colleges are faced with the challenge of providing quality education for their students, all while safely housing and feeding them at the same time—provided colleges aren’t also starting the year with online instruction. As this article points out, some colleges are still changing their fall plans, so you can expect some of last year’s graduates to be in touch, asking for help.

Online presence While everyone wants schools to open in the fall, way too much of the conversation in education circles is talking about when K-12 learning goes back online, not if. Since a strong online presence is key to an effective counseling office all the time, now is the time to review the Webpage, simulated online office, or other tech-based outreach you have for your students and families, and give them the upgrades they deserve. This article is one of many that will show you how to use Bitmoji to create an online office appealing to younger students, but whatever you use, make sure it’s accessible, and includes the resources students are asking for most. They can make a huge difference when you’re out of the office, or when the virtual line to see you is longer than you think.