We’ve all been thrown into a world of distance learning, and while the tech world can be an overwhelming new space to occupy, Confident Counselors are adapting! From Zoom to Google Classroom to Seesaw and everything in between, we’re occupying spaces we may have never before touched, but we’re making it work to keep those connections with students growing. Whether you are brand new to the tech world or you feel like a distance learning pro, we’ve got a few tips to make your distance counseling life a little bit easier!
1 - Less is More
While we may feel the need to #doingallthethings, when it comes starting with distance learning, less is more. Overwhelmed families, adapting to new situations, are stretched thin while balancing the needs of their children who are suddenly out of school. We want to be a force for encouragement, not a force for stress.
We suggest sharing 1 simple activity each week with your classes that requires little to no prep work for families: no printing, no cutting, no extra supplies. Keep it simple so they don’t feel like it’s one more thing to add to their already long lists of things to manage. Here are some simple ways to do this:
- Reach out to teachers to set up a time to be a guest reader during their scheduled Zoom meetings. Share your favorite SEL books and discuss with the students.
- Send a no-supplies-needed choice board that families can complete together or family discussion prompts
- Share your favorite Youtube mindfulness clip with some suggested affirmations for students to use
- Share no-prep digital activities your students can complete on their devices without any additional materials. Here are a few of our favorites: Feelings About School Closures Activity, Stress Management Digital Activity, Calming Strategies Digital Activity, SEL Conversation Prompts
2 - Let Technology Make Your Life Easier
One sure perk to distance learning is cutting down on paper. But the physical distance can make connecting with families much more challenging. To embrace and face these issues, try these awesome tech tools:
- Google Voice: If you’re using your personal phone to reach out to families, use Google Voice to protect your personal phone number. The app is free to use and will give you a phone number where parents can reach you within the app. It also transcribes voicemails to emails!
- Kami: For all those paper resources and activities you want your students to complete, the Kami Chrome extension is a must! This extension will allow students to annotate, draw, and write on uploaded PDFs, and it works with Google Classroom. For more advanced options, there is a fee, but the basic one may be just what you need.
- Google Forms: Want an easy way to collect information from your students, complete check-ins, or survey families? Google Forms is a must-use tool that compiles data for you so you can spend less time organizing and more time connecting.
3 - Kick Up Your Collaboration
This change to distance learning is new for almost all of us, so it’s no time to be an island! Team up with your district counselors to prepare your tier 1 counseling materials (#worksmarter, right?). This is a great opportunity to also embrace “less is more” by connecting with your colleagues. Do you really need to create your own Google Classroom, or can you be added as a “teacher” to existing Google classrooms and share information there? The added perk here is that it eliminates one more step for families to virtually find you.
Collaborate with your teaching teams as you reach out to families. Start a Google Doc to log contact so you know which families have already been reached. Everyone is well-intentioned when reaching out to families, but unfortunately the impact from multiple people reaching out within a brief timeframe may create unintended stress and pressure on families.
Consider creating a script for your colleagues as well. Think about it - during other crises, classroom teachers and staff are often provided a script with talking points, suggestions, or referrals for families. A script may help them feel prepared for some potentially distressing conversations as families may disclose about their current struggles. And one last thought: take some time to team up with your local therapists too. Find out who is accepting new clients for teletherapy so you have an up-to-date referral list to give to families.
4 - Create Virtual Events
If you’re bummed to be missing big events that usually happen this time of year, put a digital spin on them! Instead of an in-person career day, ask local community helpers to record 5-10 minute videos about their careers to share with students digitally. Or plan a new event on a smaller scale. Ask for volunteers to share a 5 minute clip with a self care tip to create a wellness fair.
But listen, if you can’t turn that amazing event into a virtual one, that’s okay too! Remind yourself that this is not #businessasusual. You may have to scrap or postpone awesome annual events you love doing. Rather than beat yourself up with negative thoughts about it, think about what would be most beneficial to your families at this time, and focus your energy and events there.
5 - Deliver Lessons that Work for You
How to deliver engaging virtual lessons is a hot topic, but not nearly as important as thinking about the inequity that exists with sudden distance learning. While live lessons are awesome, and a great chance to connect with students in the moment, the fact remains that many students will not be able to join in for lessons at a set time and date.
Class management is also an interesting phenomenon, especially depending on the grade, and if tech features like mute and disabling chat are not used! Live lessons also provide potential scheduling challenges - not only for the students who may be attending other lessons virtually, but also for you! As counselors we’re used to being thrown for a scheduling loop when crises present during the day, but how about when your toddler is suddenly screaming in the background? Good times.
Pre-recorded definitely has its perks: it can be edited, and it still allows for other opportunities to connect with kids and check in with a “live session.” If you decide to go live with lessons or activities, be sure to record them and post them where they are available later on for students who couldn’t attend. Asynchronous learning is one piece to trying to level the field of distance learning inequity.
6 - Focus on What Your District Requests From You
We know it’s easy to pop on social media, and go down the slippery slope of “compare and despair,” even when we know better. Sometimes it looks like counselors are still #doingallthethings for distance learning, but it’s important to ground yourself in what your district is requiring of you. Your district doesn’t want you to create a Google Classroom chock full of social-emotional learning opportunities? Then don’t. Your district wants weekly emails to the families you serve normally? There you go. Feeling like you need to learn every online platform out there? Stop it.
It’s easy to start falling into the trap of “not being productive enough” or “not doing enough for students.” Here’s a friendly reminder: we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, there are serious ethical considerations for virtual counseling, and we're personally impacted in multiple ways. Leave your superhero cape in the closet, and focus on what your district requires of you, what your students need, and on being a positive, caring counselor.
7 - Boundaries Matter
We get it: we miss the students and the regular face-to-face connection. We want to be there for our students and support them in any way that we can while doing distance learning. But clear boundaries are important even (especially) during a global pandemic. Stick to your office hours and don’t feel like you need to make yourself available 24/7. Prioritize your family and your own mental space.
During this time, know that Confident Counselors has your back and are hoping that you are staying healthy and well.
Have another tip? Drop it below!