COVID 19 has required nearly every person around the world to adjust their lifestyle, make sacrifices, and get used to a “new normal” that still doesn’t quite feel normal because we’re all constantly longing for the old normal! Even the most well-adjusted, stable adults with nothing but “first world problems” have their ups and downs … and for many folks the downs are, frankly, really down. If we’re not careful, we can all start spinning in our heads around factors in life we cannot control - and this can easily lead to self-pity, despair, lethargy, and worse if we’re not careful.
It’s no secret that teens across the country are struggling with the social isolation and instability brought on by life in the pandemic. Cases of reported depression and anxiety are markedly up in adolescents and teens, and it’s time that the adults in these young people’s lives start to pay attention and take it seriously.
Of all middle and high school curricular areas, College and Career Readiness is uniquely positioned to provide a sense of normalcy and hope to students, providing them a positive and productive distraction from the palpable uncertainty hovering around this current school year and other areas of their lives.
Let’s look at what counselors can specifically do this coming school year to support their students’ states of mind simply by implementing a future planning framework whether students are in the building or at home.
1. Provide the light at the end of the tunnel
Who doesn’t like having something fun and exciting to both look forward to and strive toward? Exploring career pathways, colleges, and life possibilities should be a fun and hopeful endeavor! The process is always more inspiring when students are guided by an enthusiastic and supportive counselor, and 2020 / 2021 is the time to ramp up the enthusiasm and individual attention to new levels!
Set the tone from day one of this school year that no matter what happens you are here to support them, provide them with engaging resources and activities, get to know them as individuals, make suggestions, and encourage them. It’s more important than ever to get students curious, engaged, and excited about the possibilities for their future - and you can be a key factor in helping this happen.
2. Set a cadence and method for communication and 1:1 meetings
Regardless of the form instruction takes in 2020 / 2021, it’s critically important that counselors are seen as making an effort to reach out to students individually and consistently. The best way to do this is to lay out your expectations and standards clearly from day 1. Learn the best methods of communication for each of your students (especially if they’re remote), and let them know what to expect and the plan for success. Be thoughtful about your method of communication, how often you’re going to communicate, how you’re going to meet 1:1 with students, how often these meetings are going to occur, and what these meetings are going to look like. If we can demonstrate early on that we’re going to be meeting with students 1:1 throughout the year, students and families will be reassured, supported, and motivated to prioritize, set, and keep these appointments.
And … share your meeting notes! Make your 1:1 meeting notes - including next steps and action areas - visible to students and parents. This will help keep a transparent record of your 1:1 counseling as well as giving students an important point of reference to help them stay focused.
3. Start a newsletter with frequent (positive!) updates about the employment landscape and postsecondary opportunities
Start with the belief that your students want to hear from you, and become a source of information that they come to rely upon. One suggestion: curate an online newsletter - including links to pertinent articles as well as school and district-specific information - and send it to your students and families every couple of weeks. A great place to start is Google news. Through Google news you can search for news articles on any variety of topics. From college-related news to news about evolving industries to inspiring stories of success - there is plenty of positive information out there that you can share with students and families.
In today’s news cycle, positive stories - and often the really important stuff! - can get buried in favor of sensational topics which, let’s face it, we often need a break from. You can do a lot for your students’ states of mind by curating positive, useful content for them that can help them as they plan for their futures.
4. Get creative about virtual events and unique learning opportunities
Many schools and districts were incredibly frustrated that college rep visits, career fairs, and other similar events shut down in the spring. On the cusp of a new school year, we’ve got a fresh start where we can line up some exciting events for students that can be as entertaining, inspiring, and informative.
College and industry rep visits can absolutely happen online. Get creative - how about moderated panel discussions? Multiple, online career nights where you bring in professionals from various fields to connect with students about what they do? What about an alumni night where you invite recent alumni back to share with students about their postsecondary experiences and what they wish they had thought through back when they were in middle school and high school? If we’re creative, there are plenty of ways to still provide unique and authentic learning experiences for students in a remote environment.
Mindset and Approach Matters
As you approach college and career readiness this coming school year, remember that you’re not only helping students prepare and plan for their future, you’re helping bring them to a more positive and hopeful state of mind. Students, more than ever, will feed off your attitude and subtle cues. Stay positive, show empathy, and take deliberate actions to individualize your messaging to each of your students. A cohesive, and successfully implemented college and career readiness curriculum has the ability to normalize the world for teenage students - so let’s step up to the plate and make it happen!