Inquiry Interview: Jennifer Clarke, School Counsellor

I started my interview with Jen by asking her about her experience with childhood trauma. What I hadn’t realized, however, is that she typically refers kids who have experienced any sort of abuse or major trauma to a specialist. There are specific agencies that have more resources for dealing with trauma than what she has access to as a school counsellor. She did touch on a few resources I may want to look into. For example, she mentioned that the “stages” of grief are no longer held to so concretely, but that I may want to look into the “tasks” of grief, which can appear in any order. She also lent me her copy of The Whole-Brain Child, which touches on the need for students to talk through their experiences in order to connect their left and right brain activity. She lent me several other resources as well, which I’ve touched on at the bottom of the page.

While Jen doesn’t often work directly with many students who are working through experiences of trauma, she does spend a lot of time working with kids who are experiencing anxiety or distraction in general. From what she has encountered and read, anxiety is on the rise for kids. She’s worked with students separation anxiety, even in middle school, and students who suffer panic attacks. Many parents don’t know how to deal with their child’s anxiety, so they allow their students to avoid school or switch to homeschooling. Unfortunately, one of the worst things you can do to deal with anxiety is allow the student to avoid whatever is making them anxious, since that will only embed their fear and inability to face it. Instead, she is pushing for teachers to be more flexible and have lots of empathy for their students so that the classroom can become a less overwhelming space.

Because it can be such a life-long struggle, her goal is to provide students with tools they can use when they leave school too.  At her table in her office she has a variety of fidgets for students to interact with. She also has several meditation sites on hand so that she can lead students through different mental wellness exercises when they are feeling overwhelmed. While she mentioned that cognitive behaviour therapy (exposure, in particular) is a big part of dealing with anxiety, she also mentioned that a large part of her job is just listening.

Referring to Carl Rogers’ “Client Centred Theory”, she explained that many of the students just want someone to talk to. Parents and families have increasingly busy lifestyles, so many students don’t have the opportunity to talk through their frustrations and feel validated. Parents also often feel the need to “fix” situations for their children, when in fact it may be more beneficial to listen and lead children towards solving their own problems, when possible.

My conversation with Jen was really helpful for identifying ways I can make my classroom a safer space for students with anxiety. She also pointed me towards several helpful resources, which I’ve included below.

  • The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
  • The MindUp Curriculum Trademarked by the Hawn Foundation
  • Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
  • The Explosive Child and Lost at School by Ross W. Greene
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