So many people are facing immense challenges that were brought about by the pandemic and school shutdowns. This has led to some adults and children feeling traumatized. 

Our most recent roundtable, titled Leveraging Future Planning to Help Students Overcome Trauma and Regain Control took place on February 18, and touched on this topic.

The panel included Alicia Jackson, the Counseling and College and Career Readiness Coordinator at Olathe Public Schools and Tessa Barbazon, Director of School Counseling and Social Emotional Learning at Clarke County School District in Athens, Georgia.

The panelists discussed trauma, future readiness, SEL, and more. They noted how schools play a key role in each of these spheres. Read on to get an in-depth understanding of the discussion that occurred during this roundtable.

Watch Webinar: Leveraging Future Planning to Help Students Overcome Trauma and Regain Control

It’s been a tough year for everybody. Why should educators prioritize future readiness during uncertain times? How can they do this?

While counselors/educators have mandates and requirements to keep it mind, these unprecedented times bring up issues that demand attention. It requires counselors/educators to mix the practical with the emotional and do so with sensitivity.

“Focusing on future readiness is easier for high school counselors,” said Barbazon. This is so, she notes, because of the immediate needs of students who are graduating and need assistance with their post- secondary plans.

“But it’s easy to let it [future readiness] go for K-8 and it’s okay, to a certain extent, to focus on top priorities whether it’s students’ social emotional well-being or their mental health,” she added.

However, future readiness for those in K-8 should not be dismissed as it can be a source of hope. 

“When we enable them to think of a plan for the future, we tap into an element of hopefulness,” said Barbazon. 

“It’s a reminder that this situation will not last forever, and planning for the future can be fun.”

To help her students cope, Jackson talked about how she embraces conversations that lets them know it’s okay to be stressed and okay to be not okay. 

She encourages students and adults to, “think about what has been helpful and what can I apply that I have learned to the future.”

Focusing on what we can control has been a mantra for Jackson. Prioritizing has also been helpful, and she talked about how she is focused on the district’s mission, goals, and standards.

K-12 leaders have become more convinced they’ll spend on SEL moving forward. Why do you think this will be important in supporting students facing trauma? Can you offer advice on how to instruct with a trauma-informed approach? 

While relationships have always been the key to student learning, they have taken on greater importance during this traumatic period that the world has been going through.

“Maslow before Bloom, is something we have been talking about a lot,” Jackson said. “We have to take care of those basic needs first before turning to kids’ learning.”

Having relationships with students enables educators to help students more effectively. “It’s critical to have strong relationships with students and to see each individual student for who they are,” Barbazon said.

The two – social emotional needs and future readiness — are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can and do work together. 

“What I like about Xello is the consideration that SEL and future readiness don’t live in silos,” said Jackson. “It’s natural to talk about SEL with career development.” 

Relationship building is a key component and when educators develop these strong interpersonal relationships, they can assist students in multiple ways.

How can we help students undergoing trauma develop their sense of self, including their interests and goals in life?

The pandemic and everything that has followed has upended many things people took for granted. Many people and communities have suffered great trauma because of this. To effectively work with students who have undergone trauma, educators need to recognize it and make provisions for dealing with it.

During difficult times, the basics can be invaluable. For Jackson, the basics include providing consistency. 

“Studies about best practices for trauma indicate that consistency and relationships matter,” Jackson said. 

“Having those adults that kids can go to, and maintaining the patterns for kids is important.” Something as minor as keeping a gym class every Thursday can be helpful. 

While this past year has demanded adjustments, the need to continue and offer consistency where possible is valuable.

To provide for students who have been traumatized, schools/districts need to take stock of what systems they have in place and remove critical barriers that make it hard for kids to access these systems.

“We ask ourselves ‘what are the barriers students face to access future plans and goals that they have been developing since early elementary level,’” Barbazon said. 

She noted many of the students in her district live in poverty, and their parents have little education.

To help students, they take a “whole child” approach which includes considering families and what might be creating access issues for them. 

“You can be doing great future planning work with students in the classroom, but are you looking at data to see what matriculation looks like,” Barbzaon asked. 

“Are students following their articulated post-secondary plans or are there barriers due to trauma holding them back? “

Once those barriers are identified, the goal is to provide ways around them. 

Barbazon suggested that schools and districts should consider what they can put in place to support students. 

One answer may be onsite grief counseling. 

“Ultimately, we need to make sure we have some things in place to address their traumas that impact access to their post-secondary plans,” she stressed. 

How have you made the case in your district for prioritizing this approach and future-readiness programs during the pandemic? Can you share examples of how your district has prioritized future readiness and SEL during this time?

Technology has been a great asset during the pandemic as it has allowed many things to continue that might otherwise have been left behind. This is particularly true with regards to education.

Both Barbazon and Jackson have found that technology has encouraged greater participation and engagement in events. The people in Jackson’s district speak many different languages which may have been a barrier to attending large scale events in the past. 

“Now, parents can be home and watch live or access a recording of Zoom with PowerPoint, which has automatic translators,” Jackson said.

Technology has enabled one-on-one meetings to happen which has proved to be quite beneficial. 

“We’ve found we’re better linked and aware of family situations which allows us to more effectively engage them and remove barriers,” Barbazon said. 

“It’s also given families flexibility to participate in events on an individual level rather than as a whole group.”

Jackson has also seen positives.

“We’ve shifted to one-on-one Zoom based events and have had an outpouring of positive response,” she said. 

In Barbazon’s district, certain state metrics were dropped both this school year and last. Yet, they don’t want to send the message to students that these should not be considered. 

“We want to instill a sense of normalcy and continue on with programming,” she said.

However, they have been very intentional about SEL. That includes looking at the classroom culture of each individual class. 

“We want to cultivate a classroom culture where students feel valued, heard and respected, are more engaged, and able to move on to core content work and future planning activities,” said Barbazon.

Jackson agreed about the need to find normalcy. In her district, educators were challenged by leadership to think creatively and use their strengths as they adjusted to this unusual year. That led to greater use of technology to put on annual events that the community has come to expect.

Each quarter, the district focused on an SEL topic which helps guide their Xello lessons and career and academic lessons and SEL lessons. They got student input on this and greater buy in.

Do you have any final advice for other educators who may be nervous to broach this subject, either with their peers or with students, in their district?

“Start small and dream big. Especially if you’re feeling stuck,” Jackson said.

“And before broaching the subject, identify the key people for this work, so they can act as champions and advocates,” she added.

Jackson also cautioned counselors to continue to focus as it’s easy to get lost this year with so much going on. 

To convince someone that something should be changed or prioritized, Barbazon encouraged the audience to be strategic. 

“Think about what your current vision is and your long term strategic plan,” she stressed. 

Ultimately, everything must be connected to the why. 

“You can sell your priorities by connecting it with data,” Barbazon said. 

“It comes down to student outcomes and helping them learn more and if the new priority can do this and the data shows it, it has a better chance of approval,” she said.

The challenges this year are greater than ever and educators can easily feel overwhelmed. 

Barbazon counseled the audience to not operate with a deficit mindset. 

“We have to remind ourselves that we are doing the best we can.” 

It’s great to have long term plans but don’t get overwhelmed when they don’t happen right away. Take one step at a time. 

Watch Webinar: Leveraging Future Planning to Help Students Overcome Trauma and Regain Control

ABOUT LARRY

Larry is an experienced educator having taught at both the K-12 and post high school level. Outside of the classroom, Larry is a freelance writer whose writing focuses on edtech and general education topics.