By Colleen (Moore) Coirolo, M. Ed.
Alumna, American Public University
Virtual learning may be a new concept for some people, but for me, it has been a part of my life for over 15 years.
I have been on the higher education student side of virtual learning and the learning institution side, and I have worked at a virtual K-12 public school as a school counselor. You could say that I’ve had a multifaceted experience in online education.
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What we are seeing in the educational world right now with regard to virtual instruction is not necessarily what we would call online learning; instead, it is crisis schooling. As a result, many families, staff and students are walking through uncharted territory.
Now, school counselors are needed more than ever. Based on my experience, I have compiled five tips that will be most helpful for those school counselors who are new to the world of virtual school counseling.
#1: Develop Your Auditory and Data “Spidey Sense”
As school counselors, we have an intuition or “Spidey sense” that allows us to be hyperaware of people’s body language, their outward appearance, and the daily lives of our students, staff, and even parents. During virtual counseling, we do not always get to see our students in person. As a result, we need to rely on other facts and senses than we typically would.
When you’re on the phone with a student or parent, listen closely to what is happening in the background. Are there other children or adults screaming? How does the student’s or parent’s voice sound? Make it obvious that you are with them in that moment, even though you are not physically there.
When you’re on a video call with the student, ask them about what’s going on around them. Look at their facial expressions, and determine if they look nourished and healthy.
Also, look at students’ grades and assignments regularly. Be sure to identify any concerning trends in their schoolwork.
#2: Keep Up Your Office Hours or Open-Door Policy in a Virtual Office
Whether your school is using Google Classroom, Adobe Connect or some other virtual classroom-like setting, set up your virtual office as you would in person:
- Create a visually appealing virtual office.
- Add a welcome video, explaining who you are and how you can support students throughout the school year.
- Create a Bitmoji version of yourself.
- Add a photo of yourself or your pet.
- Add school-appropriate GIFs, memes or calming pictures/phrases to your virtual office.
- Send emails to your students or homeroom teachers. Let them know of your availability, and describe how to contact you or enter your virtual office.
#3: Continue to Facilitate Groups and Host Guidance Lessons
Although you are in a virtual setting, you can still be sure that you are staying true to your comprehensive school counselor program by facilitating your usual small groups and guidance lessons. I utilize my virtual classroom platform, and I have scheduled real-time meetings with classes or schedule my own time for guidance lessons. Here are some additional ideas for virtual groups and guidance lessons:
- Use Google Forms (or some other approved surveying tool) to create needs assessment for small groups and share them with staff members.
- Share any corresponding documents with students ahead of meeting times.
- Use worksheets, puppets, books and presentation slides to hold students’ interest.
- Utilize (if permitted) interactive platforms like NearPod to import your own slides and turn on your camera to create a more personal feel to your presentation.
- Coordinate the timing of meetings with your school leader/principal and other staff members to ensure attendance.
- Create before and after surveys for guidance lessons using Google forms or another survey tool.
#4: Promote Themed Months, Hold Virtual Career Fairs and Go on Virtual Field Trips
There are a host of interesting activities school counselors can host for students and staff:
- Create a virtual career fair week. Invite people from your community with varying career paths to give a presentation to students each day. Record these sessions, so students can view them again later, especially if they’re unable to make the virtual career fair.
- Make a calendar of monthly themes. For instance, October is National Bullying Prevention Month, so you could schedule some virtual activities for the month of October.
For instance, there could be a weekly or daily video challenge or a similar challenge to post #stompoutbullying on Instagram. You could also work with other staff members to implement discussion topics for their classes on this topic and provide resources for students.
#5: Remember that Self-Care Is Paramount
When you work from home, it is sometimes difficult to maintain a proper work-life balance by separating your home life and work life. This difficulty in keeping a work-life balance is especially true if you have others in your household who also work from home during the current pandemic.
I have carved out a few general self-care guidelines to follow each day. I recommend that you:
- Have a designated workspace and set timed boundaries for working (as school counselors, even without a pandemic, maintaining a work zone can be difficult!).
- Schedule breaks to stand up and take a walk or stretch throughout the day.
- Stay hydrated! We all need between 11 and 16 cups of water per day.
It is clear that COVID-19 is affecting our society in countless ways and for an indeterminate amount of time. School counselors have an important role to play in order to assist colleagues, families, and students with the anxiety and stress that comes with a global pandemic. It is our job to ensure that no matter the barriers, virtual or otherwise, that staff and students are able to have the tools they need to help cope with the weeks and months ahead.
About the Author
Colleen (Moore) Coirolo lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her husband and son. She holds a M.Ed. in School Counseling with honors from American Public University and a B.A. in English/Literature from Towson University. Colleen is a licensed professional school counselor in the state of Maryland, and she is a member of the Maryland School Counselors Association and the American School Counselor Association. Colleen is currently a school counseling consultant for Pearson Online and Blended Learning.
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