By Stephanie Filio
Raise your hand if you will be teaching school digitally.
Raise your hand if you will be teaching students on a hybrid or elective schedule.
Raise your hand if you will be teaching 100 percent of students in person.
Raise your hand if you’re going to take whatever decision your division makes and hit it out of the park because that’s just the kind of educator you are.
Hi, colleagues. I just want you to know that you’re going to do great. You are in the education industry because you love to teach and because you just can’t give up that feeling you get when you watch a student make a new connection in their brain. You are stressed and obsessing over the new year because you care. And guess what colleges can’t teach you in undergrad programs and divisions can’t map out in a division pandemic plan? Just that: how to care enough to devote your life and daily energy to your community’s young people. And you’ve already got it, so you’re one step ahead of anything that might come your way!
All that being said, this year will bring with it a reimagination of time. There will be less time to build relationships coupled with a need for extra efforts to do things like make digital meetings meaningful and determine the best times to connect with students at home. I think it is safe to say that our entire profession is hunkering down this summer to refine our practices on responding to students in ways we could never have anticipated (like imagining what it will be like to have a 15-student roster, hey-oh!).
Preparing to be Unprepared
I am very excited about the upcoming school year because I will get to start a new three-year adventure with a fresh group of kids. Rotating to the sixth-grade hallway, I get to welcome these students to middle school and establish norms that will hopefully carry us all considerably unscathed to eighth grade and beyond. When my students get to eighth grade and prepare to
abandon me go to high school, I will have had three wonderful years to get to know them, process emotions, and grow together.
This year, I will have to make these trusting connections with a screen between us instead of in the hallway that provides easy daily opportunities to have a moment with every one of my students. Additionally, after everything students have been through, they will also need us more than ever to establish ourselves as a secure and safe place to process emotions about the pandemic, societal crises, and everything else the year 2020 has given us. My tried-and-true tactics will not be available, so it is time to get creative and make new ones or alter old ones.
Activity: Minute Meetings
A couple of years ago, one of my teammates came back to work after spending the weekend at the Virginia School Counseling Association raving about some new individual counseling tool called minute meetings. As she talked about this new intervention, I was skeptical. One minute with each student seemed time consuming and lacking in depth. She sent me to my office with resources, and though I was not completely won over by the idea, it did seem to have more teeth to it than I realized.
I held the minute meetings on my hallway and was kind of blown away. My students responded really well to the survey, and I actually was able to get to know them better! Just a minute or two of one-on-one time makes a huge difference when you have a large caseload. I learned that minute meetings are an easy way to connect with each student and have a mini-assessment in lightning-fast time.
Essentially, when you organize minute meetings, you set up a small questionnaire for data collection and meet with students individually to get a pulse check on specific targets you are interested in learning more about. Because you only have to address the class as a whole at the very beginning to explain what you will be doing, there’s also the added bonus of not having to take up much content time. This really helps with teacher buy-in as teachers navigate large classes and a packed curriculum, and it might be especially important if your school is on a hybrid virtual/face-to-face model!
With just a couple of steps, minute meetings can be carried out any time of the year, and as many times as you would like:
- Determine what mode of data collection you would like to use. I used Google Forms to collect data because they are so easy to create and provide a really fast way to view data for evaluation. When students came to sit in front of me, I had the questionnaire displayed on an iPad and was able to use it to guide my main questions and stay on task. If you have never used Google Forms before, there are many free tutorials online to help you set up forms and tailor them to any project.
- Determine the questions you would like to ask. The questions I used with my students were for a general check-in and to get an idea of what their needs and wants were within the school. I asked questions such as, “Are you involved in any after-school activities?” “What types of activities would you like to have at school?” and “Have you made at least one meaningful friendship with your classmates?” Remember that these meetings should only be about one minute, so it is important to have only three to five quick questions. As a general rule of thumb, it is beneficial to add a space for students to request a follow up or comment on things they would like to discuss further.
- Determine when you will complete the minute meetings. I scheduled the meetings through the same teachers that I would typically have had classroom lessons with. Instead of taking over the class, however, I sat two chairs outside the classroom and students came out one by one while the teacher taught the lesson in the classroom. Because I had students enter their name on the form, I was able to instruct them to go in line with their seating so that when one student returned, the next exited. This eliminated the need for me to continually interrupt the class by calling for a specific student.
I have to admit, writing about minute meetings knowing that I will not be in the hallway with my students to start the year makes me feel blue. However, as I plan my year ahead to include ways I can establish presence and show my personality to students online (like Bitmoji virtual classroom, YouTube videos, and snail-mail postcards), I’m also trying to find a new lens for minute meetings. Like much else these past few months, my plan is to have several scenarios mapped out because I honestly do not really know what will work or what to expect. I think I will just have to lean on good old trial and error in this new virtual educational environment and plan to be overprepared. Some of the ideas I am rolling around are:
- Sending the form link out and then following up with individual messaging
- Scheduling Zoom meetings at five minutes each
- Pulling students from their virtual classes to meet me in my virtual room
- Popping into the end of a virtual class and having students populate my Zoom waiting room, then allowing them in one at a time
The Time Is Now
Minute meetings are such a great way to reach every student on your caseload and get a small snapshot of the things they need, the things they like, and the things that make them who they are. Who knew that this practice that I was so hesitant to even try may turn out to be my ace in the hole during this crazy year?!
Between increased trauma at home, economic hardships, exposed racism and injustice, and a global pandemic, our students will no doubt need social and emotional supports for the next decade to regain a sense of security in their worlds. Minute meetings can be another tool in our toolbox to provide one-on-one attention to each student and to facilitate data collection to drive our practices as we learn how to best support our students after 2020.
Stephanie Filio is a middle school counselor in Virginia Beach. She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in counseling from Old Dominion University. In a discussion with one of her UVA professors about her desire to stay in school forever, her mentor wisely responded, “If you want to be a lifelong learner, go into education,” and so she found her place. Prior to her six years as a school counselor, Stephanie worked in private education, specializing in standardized tests, test preparation, and future planning. She writes about her career and hobbies at her blog, Weekend Therapy, and can be found on Twitter @steffschoolcoun. Stephanie also enjoys spending time with her books, crafts, and family.
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