Clinician’s Corner: A Google Classroom Comes to Life
Co-Authored by Lori Klein & Julie Robinson
School is in Session (well, sort of…)
Editor’s Note: With the concept of the Clinician’s Corner in mind (learn more about the start of their journey here), colleagues Lori Klein and Julie Robinson opened the “virtual” doors of their new classroom this Spring. After working through the “crisis” of losing that face-to-face connection with their students, they were ready to shine in these new roles that they had created for themselves. The next, and perhaps the biggest hurdle was to tackle how to engage the students in meaningful ways. Further complicating this task, was a group of socially resistant kids and the potential interference of the digital platform. Undeterred, the team set out to create an appealing space that they hoped the students would find inviting.
Day One of Class
Lori: We began by posting more general wellness information. At the time we were under the directive from the district that we could only share wellness material and that the district was still trying to legally figure out the support that we could provide virtually. After a day or two of wellness materials and a lack of responses, we asked the kids to share a picture of their pet — that did the trick. We had a number of students who came out of hiding and shared a picture of their pet, their pet hat, really anything that they could think of to share. At that moment Julie and I knew we at least had their attention and yes, they were reading our posts and thinking about the material we had shared. A small victory for us but one that made us feel as if we had won the lottery. At that moment we knew that we could make this work in some way. We weren’t sure how, but if we were persistent we could redefine our ideas of the classroom, relationships, and learning.
Julie: After weeks of trying to figure out how to provide services, Lori and I were excited to get things going in the Clinicians Corner. Our first objective, now that we had a platform and students enrolled, was to encourage participation. We tossed around ideas and topics, looking for that right “mix” of skill-building and fun to entice the kids to join in. The kids shared their interests (movies, video games, and superheroes) and were used that feedback to drive posts. We created polls, asked about their favorite games, encouraged them to post and followed up to stimulate interaction with not only us, but also their classmates. Once we created that “virtual” relationship, we shifted some of the focus towards the work of developing social-emotional competencies that we had started when we were together in person.
Collaboration Goes Into Hyperdrive
Lori: Our week typically started with the use of a Mood Meter (continue reading for additional details). Julie learned about this tool during her “new employee – welcome to the county” training and started using it daily with each student prior to our shut down. I really liked the tool and thought it had a lot of value so I incorporated it into my practice. Her students were very familiar with identifying their mood, asking themselves if they wanted to stay or shift, and if so why. We thought that this would be a familiar way of gauging where the students were emotionally without directly asking. Our students are more forthcoming with accurate information when the “asks” are more subtle. The kids knew how it worked so we thought why not give it a try.
Julie: Being new to both Fairfax County Public Schools and the Comprehensive Services Site meant some adjustments to my practice of school psychology. During orientation week, I was exposed to some different tools used within the district for developing social-emotional competencies. I incorporated one, in particular, the Mood Meter, from the start. The Mood Meter tool was borrowed from RULER, an evidence-based approach to social-emotional learning (SEL) developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Students would arrive at my office and the first question they would have to work through was how they were feeling. The Mood Meter tool provided an excellent visual and an easy step-by-step flow for the conversation. The process worked so well that Lori and I used it as the basis for our push-in lessons. It was easy to integrate into our virtual lessons and it gave us great information as to how the students were feeling. We also noticed that some of the students who refused to participate when school was in person were posting in our Google classroom.
Cultivating the Climate
Lori: We knew the kids were accessing wellness information when they started sharing personal struggles regarding mood, eating habits, and behaviors. Julie and I noticed that the kids were either commenting on not being active, their weight gain, or in their words, “laziness.” We decided to use that as a springboard for the topic of fitness. Now Julie is an avid ultra-marathon runner who is very into fitness whereas I am not. As far as trying to eat semi-healthy I had let my life take over my fitness level and body weight. I thought “if I am going to get the kids to try and engage, I had to as well”.
We did a fitness week for the students and I shared my struggle with trying to get back into shape, the difficulties that I had encountered while trying to reestablish a workout routine, and my own thoughts and feelings around it. The best part was when we posted our pictures… Of course, Julie had this beautiful picture of her running looking super fit and mine was a picture of me on the floor, exhausted from working out, weights all around me with my dog sitting on top of me. I thought if I can’t be real and make a little fun of myself in the process this was not going to work. The kids liked the picture but the idea of doing some exercise was less enticing to them.
Julie: While we wanted to make sure the space was fun for the kids, we also quickly saw the need for some type of structure. This became glaringly apparent once a few kids overstepped the social boundaries of the virtual space. One infraction that created controversy was an inappropriate post that could be interpreted in far too many ways for us to address by posting back. When that happened, Lori and I had to take a step back and figure out how to classify the violation and resolve the situation. This would have been fairly simple if we were in the building but the rules had changed. If we approached it wrong and the student disengaged, we didn’t have the luxury of pulling them from the classroom.
This balance of teachable moment vs. reprimand took on a whole new meaning on a digital platform.
Creating Predictability in an Unpredictable Situation
Lori: We decided to develop a weekly agenda to help us narrow down our thoughts and give us a little time to find the right content. We spent hours combing through videos and articles that we hoped would connect with our kids. Each Monday, we did a feelings check using a form that Julie created based upon the Mood Meter. On Tuesdays, we shared a tip that was related to our overall topic for the week. Wednesdays were for wellness and we encouraged the students to get active and do some kind of movement or meditation. Thursdays were where we slid in the “big ideas” around the theme for the week. For example, we were building upon gratitude and kindness and it just so happened that the “Be Kind Online” day was approaching. Julie found a video and the post was born! Our favorite day was Fun Friday and we suggested they watch a movie that related to the theme with their family. I found a bunch of movies that included gratitude as an underlying theme and the week was connected.
Julie: We really tried to make a point of using the feedback the students were giving us to select the topics. This added a level of difficulty since we could only plan out so far using that strategy. Having the schedule helped remove a little of that unpredictability for the students and added some much-needed structure to our conversations. It also made us aware of how influential the environment was in our practice. Even though we had begun exploring the teaching of specific skills through lessons in the classroom, the majority of our work was done as a response to something that had happened.
Now we were tasked with forecasting what might be needed without any idea how it might work virtually. It felt a bit like a labyrinth and we were mindful that we would have no idea if the path we chose would lead to a dead end.
We Were in This Together
Lori: Every day we tried to post something inspirational, real, and at times raw. One day we posted that we were feeling isolated and frustrated. Our hope was to let the kids know that it is alright to say you are not okay, nobody is going to freak out, and that we can talk about it in a calm and rational manner. Our message was that we are uncomfortable and are lacking a sense of control but we are moving forward, using our supports, and making the best of an unusual situation. The other message that we seemed to share a lot was that we missed the kids. We missed seeing them and having the time to interact with them. This was our way of also letting them know that at any point in time they could reach out privately for support.
It was important to us that we maintained that availability as though we were still in the buildings. Part of our “in-person” work includes regular check-ins with the kids. Much of this work can be done by manning the halls between classes, popping into the classes, and pulling students based upon teacher reports. We also rely heavily on the teachers to encourage those students who are reluctant to ask for clinical support to come see us. The closure removed that luxury of catching kids in the halls or having the teachers send them our way when they seemed “out of sorts.” We responded by asking the teachers if we could drop in during the virtual Personal Development classes. We also sent private messages to the kids to offer time alone to talk.
Julie: Lori and I went through a lot of highs and lows trying to make this work. We got super excited when the kids responded to a post and then really let down when something we thought was great didn’t fly. At times it was hard to keep at it, especially when that reinforcement came in small doses and nowhere near as much as we would have liked. Yet we felt very strongly that this was the pathway for us to support our kids so giving up wasn’t an option. We decided to send out weekly emails to each student and their parents in hopes of increasing participation and strengthening those relationships. In those emails, we would remind them of the many ways we were accessible (the Clinicians’ Corner, a link to the Mood Meter, our email addresses, etc.). The idea was to meet them wherever they were and encourage that involvement.
Hard Work Pays Off
Lori: Something very interesting to note was that the kids were doing the “assignments” even though there was not a grade and at times they were doing it several weeks after the fact. I don’t know how to account for it but it must have connected with them on some level. Many of the kids who did the assignments late were often the ones who did not engage while in the school environment, so why now when it “didn’t count?” We did get a few emails from parents thanking us for the topics and sharing that they tried to engage with their students and incorporate what we were doing into a discussion. This virtual classroom was more than a classroom. It became our lifeline to the kids as well as the best way we had to do our jobs. It was far from ideal but we were creating this based upon what the students were responding to as we would if we were providing the services in person.
Julie: It was so important for Lori and me to stay connected with our students. We had spent the first part of the school year working hard to build those relationships while establishing a relationship of our own.
Our dedication and determination to work collaboratively from the start transitioned smoothly despite the challenging conditions that grew out of the global pandemic. We each brought our strengths, reframing this crisis into an opportunity to broaden our roles and draw the best from our respective disciplines.
It was gratifying to see what can happen when egos are set aside and differences in opinions are starting points, not ending points, for discussion. Be sure to check out other articles on the SSWN site and feel free to connect with us on the SSWNetwork platform!