In this week’s E-Therapy Voices Series, school counselor, Nancy Fernandez, helps us understand that our students may be facing anxiety during online learning. She shares tactical tips for helping them process those feelings.
Addressing Student Anxiety During Online Learning
by Nancy Fernandez
Today, more than ever, our current public emergency highlights the importance of schools as more than just places of learning. They are a source of sustenance, shelter and support. Schools are places where students build social skills, trusting relationships, and lasting friendships. For many students, schools are also places of psychological and physical safety. During this time of uncertainty and disruption, our students may feel a sense of loss, grief, depression, and anxiety during online learning. Students who are exposed to chronic stress and trauma are especially vulnerable.
Despite not being able to be in the same physical space, it will not be uncommon for students to reach out to teachers, and other school staff, to share their concerns during this disruption. We must continue to be vigilant about protecting students’ safety and well-being; especially a student in crisis. This work does not fall to teachers alone, and this blog is designed to provide ideas to best support our online School Counselors and E-Therapists.
Post virtual “office hours”
Schools can coordinate School Counselor “virtual office hours” shifts so that teachers know whom they can reach out to for consultation during their shift. In addition, schools can post these virtual hours through all their available online platforms and let parents and students know to reach out for support at these times. Schools should also engage their MTSS Team to reach out to students already identified for Tier II/III behavior supports, as well as coordinate support/safety plans for new students identified during this time.
Look for signs of anxiety or distress
As we know, students may share feelings of anxiety, depression, or fear; all of which are normal in these circumstances. During these instances, school counselors and teachers can implement trauma-informed practices that help students feel safe, calm, and can foster positive emotions.
Do not ignore strange or inappropriate behavior. Look and listen for signs of distress like nervousness, fearfulness, lack of energy, withdrawal, etc. Below are best practices and instructions for additional support when anyone becomes concerned about a student’s emotional or mental health, or related disclosure (i.e. in a written assignment, verbal statement, drawing/depiction, etc.).
- Post positive visuals and quotes on the school website, school Facebook page, Twitter accounts, and any other virtual platform allowed by the district.
- Teach students mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing exercises to regulate their body’s response (blood pressure, temperature, etc.).
- Help students become aware of feelings and reinforce healthy coping strategies: When Terrible Things Happen: For Students.
- Set a time to meet with the student and ask an administrator, colleague, or RSP/counselor to join you.
- If already engaged in a meeting with a student when you become concerned, stay present and available, and reach out to an administrator, colleague or RSP/counselor as soon as possible to consult.
When talking to a student:
- Listen carefully to what is troubling the student. Rephrase what they are saying and help them identify their feeling/emotion:
- “I can see how upset you are because …… and it feels like nobody will listen/understand.”
- “I hear how angry/sad/worried you are”.
- Avoid making promises such as, “Everything will be alright.”
- Acknowledge your observations and express your concerns:
- “It sounds like: it has been hard to be at home, you are worried about….”
- “I noticed you seem different…(are usually more engaged, smile more, seem more interested in learning, interact with your friends more, etc.)”
- “I am worried about you, and want you to make sure you are safe.”
- Thank the student for sharing, reassure the student that you want them to be safe and that you/others at the school are here to help.
- Make an appointment to check in with the student later that day or the next day.
When you are preparing to be the awesome and supportive “Virtual School Counselor”, remember to try and find yourself a dedicated and comfortable spot in your house that feels a bit like your own work environment. Be sure to be able to leave this space when you sign-off! This significance of creating a “work space” is important to how you re-energize when not there and get ready for your next counseling session.
About the Author
When I first started, as a Teacher, I realized that the mental health needs of students need to be met in order for them to succeed academically. This is how my passion for School Counseling grew and after 17 years, my passion is stronger than ever! In my personal life, I’m a mom of a 4 year old boy and a 2 year old girl. They definitely keep me on my toes, but teaching them mindfulness strategies has become a daily thing in my home. We enjoy tons of family time together and getting extra sleep whenever possible.