Resiliency, Not Normalcy
Show of hands from everyone who is tired of hearing “unprecedented”, “learning loss”, “unique challenges”, “deficits”, and “new normal”.
Let’s face it…none of us knows what a “new normal” even is, much less how to adapt to it. But this seems to be the focus for the upcoming school year, so as I see it, there are some steps school counselors can take to make a positive impact.
In my opinion, our primary goal should be changing the mindset. Students are excited to be returning to in-person instruction. Instead of focusing on losses and deficits, it is an imperative step in this school year’s journey to help all the relevant stakeholders adopt a strengths-based approach. The more we tell our students they are behind, the less likely we are to help them work through the reason they are “behind”. And behind what? An arbitrary benchmark that takes no account of the circumstances many of our students faced. For those whose learning challenges made growth more difficult or those living in conditions that denied them access to the same resources as their peers, this philosophy only serves to further remind these students how they are different. Let’s celebrate their perseverance and the gains they did make. Furthermore, we must avoid placing additional pressures on an already overwhelmed staff by tying their value to test scores and strictly academic outcomes.
Instead, let’s talk about what our students (and staff) have gained! Let’s orient ourselves to resilience! Let’s acknowledge the critical role relationships play in student successes and dedicate time to strengthening those. As conversations happen about shortening circle time or eliminating recess in an attempt to “makeup” instructional time, it is our job to remind people that learning takes many forms. We need to support all forms of social-emotional learning and not solely as its own curriculum, but also embedded through all areas of the school experience.
When working with our individual and small groups of students who struggle with resilience, it will be especially important to help them focus on their strengths and accomplishments and to guide them through identifying their support systems. If we think of ourselves as an elastic band, resilience is what allows us to return to correct shape after stressful events. Individuals lacking in resilience will either “snap” or be unable to return to their original shape. When students lack protective factors, adopting a strengths-based approach helps students to change their mindset from “I can’t do this” to “I haven’t been successful YET”. As leaders in our schools,counselors can help create an environment of finding balance and celebrating strengths. That’s the kind of place we all want to be!