Supporting students when they return to school for the 2020-21 school year preoccupies many of us, even as we ease into summer break. Most of us intuitively know that this pandemic is going to go on in fits and starts for at least the next year, repeatedly disrupting our lives after short periods of seeming normalcy. So how do we support students in this chaotic environment, especially when they return to us in the fall?
Supporting Students When They Return: The Consensus
After reading all I can find on this topic, here is the general consensus: start right in with guidance lessons focused on healthy coping skills and SEL strategies tailored to this specific situation. Also, assist in training your staff on this too, so they can supplement these efforts and support students. Recovering from this pandemic trauma as a nation will take precedence over anything else for the first few months. Above all, keep in mind that this is just a suggested plan- take from it what works for you and your situation. So, let’s jump into some concrete steps, strategies, and resources for what this will look like.
Supporting Students When They Return: The Literature
First of all, here are some of the articles that informed this post. Basically the links below include our leading professional organizations’ thoughts and tools on: what Fall 2020 will look like for schools and on how to help students transition into the next school year.
- The CDC’s School Decision Tree
- The American’ School Counselor Association’s (ASCA) site on School Counseling During COVID
- NEA’s site on SEL & COVID
- This NEA Webinar on trauma-informed self-care is so helpful and it is a great resource to share at a staff training.
- This CASEL document informed almost every aspect of my 3-point plan below- here it is in full in case you want to read it.
Supporting Students When They Return: A 3-Step Plan
Now, let’s talk about what school counselors can do to support students as they return to us in the fall. When they all come back to us, either on-campus or virtually, it is good to have a plan. After all, our kiddos will have lived through a pandemic, which definitely counts as a traumatic experience according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (2013). So, how do we support and connect with them when they come through our “doors”, in various stages of traumatized reactions? We might know loads about trauma, (here’s a trauma post), but what do we actually DO with our students when they return to school in the fall?
Well, let’s look at a 3-step plan…
Keep doing the same pre-COVID school counseling delivery as recommended by the ASCA National Model or your state-mandated model: guidance lessons, individual sessions, and student support groups (2019). Begin by focusing on an intro guidance lesson to tell all students your role and how to get help from you. This intro lesson will give students the crucial info on how to access school counseling services if they are struggling this fall, as so many may be. Then, start your regularly scheduled guidance lessons by exploring transition/pandemic topics such as processing the pandemic experience, hopefulness, connecting with others, etc. We know that hope and human connection are two huge protective factors against trauma, so including these topics in your lessons will be so helpful. Also, facilitate individual sessions through Minute Meetings and/or student concern check-ins. So many of our kiddos will need to talk so having individual sessions readily available will be key. Finally, start up your student support groups, once you are able to do so. If you need a complete guide that includes all of this information, check out Helping in Hard Places: Trauma-Informed School Counseling.
Assist with training staff on recognizing and referring students struggling with trauma. If you don’t have the time to create your own training presentations, you can use the trauma info in this presentation and the referrals steps for staff in this presentation. Basically the key takeaway for this staff training is to teach your colleagues how to recognize, support and then refer traumatized students to you; then you can work with the student or refer them to a therapist, as needed (ATF, 2020).
Finally, have a list of outside counseling referrals for struggling staff members, since there will definitely be some staff members with pandemic-related fear, anxiety, and sadness. Whether they are fearful of catching COVID from their students, worried about students distance learning in difficult homes, or just overwhelmed by all of the above, staff members will need support. While we don’t counsel adults as part of our school counselor role, we definitely want to be a support for them; this may involve an empathetic ear and guidance to locate community counseling.
So, hopefully this gives you a place to start if you are feeling unsure of where to begin the 2020-21 school year. In the meantime, if your students or families need SEL support over the summer, you can share this resource with them.
As I’ve stated in previous posts, baby steps and giving yourself grace to not do all-the-things is so necessary in these trying times. Keep in mind that I’ve presented an ideal, all-of-the-things plan in this post, so take from it only what works for you in your situation.
NEWSY & NOTEWORTHY
So let’s end this post on a positive note, since the topic of planning for Fall 2020 can be so heavy and overwhelming. Here are some happy thoughts…
- Who’s attending ASCA’s Annual Conference this summer?!? It’s virtual- which means a MUCH lower price and no travel expenses! I’m super excited to be presenting on trauma-informed school counseling practices at this conference on June 30th at 1pm. Here’s the link to all the ASCA@Home Conference info! Hope to “see” you there!!
- My new book is out and the topic is so timely as our entire country is living through a traumatic experience! Helping in Hard Places: Trauma-Informed School Counseling has activities and lessons for individual, group, and whole class settings. You can check out the details or order it at the link above.
- My Youtube channel is up and running! It has tons of counselor content, though I am still adding all the bells and whistles to make it pretty. You can subscribe and see my video clip describing the 3-step plan above or a clip about creating strong counseling systems at your school.
- Finally, if you need a school counseling handbook to set up your program for next year, here you go!
That brings me to the end of this June counseling post. Please leave a comment because I’d love to hear about what you think 2020-21 will look like! You can catch up with me again for my monthly counseling post that I share during the first weekend of every month. In the meantime, you can find out about my latest promotions, free stuff, or counseling adventures by following me on my School Counselor Stephanie Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest pages.
American Federation of Teachers [AFT]. (2020). A plan to safely open America’s communities. Retrieved from https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/covid19_reopen-america-schools.pdf
American Psychiatric Association [APA]. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fifth edition. VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
American School Counselor Association. (2019). The ASCA National Model: A framework for school counseling programs. Alexandria, VA: American School Counselor Association.
American School Counselor Association. (2016). The school counselor and trauma informed practice. Retrieved from https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/PositionStatements/PS_TraumaInformed.pdf
American School Counselor Association. (2020). School counseling during COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors/professional-development/learn-more/covid-update
CASEL.org. (2020). An initial guide to… Retrieved from https://casel.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/CASEL_Leveraging-SEL-as-You-Prepare-to-Reopen-and-Renew.pdf
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/Schools-Decision-Tree.pdf
National Education Association. (2020). Social-emotional learning should be priority during COVID-19 crisis. Retrieved from http://neatoday.org/2020/04/15/social-emotional-learning-during-covid/