As the counselor at Pikes Peak Online School, I work with students to make sure they get their diploma, have a plan for life after high school, and are prepared for where their journey takes them next. But connecting with these learners can be tough. Many have come to us because they were bullied in brick-and-mortar schools; school no longer feels safe to them. I focus my efforts on building trust with them so they feel safe enough to let me guide them through the rest of high school.
Here are three tactics that have been successful.
Get to them know them in real life. Maintaining relationships can be tricky, since most communication takes place via phone, email or online sessions. I will often go a step further and meet students in their area, taking them out to breakfast or meeting them at Starbucks. I learn about their interests and extracurricular activities, such as plays or sporting events. I attend as many events as I can. Getting to know them as individuals goes a long way toward building trust.
Model healthy mindsets. Pikes Peak uses the 7 Mindsets social-emotional learning curriculum, to help students build confidence and growth mindsets. Our staff is committed to modeling these mindsets for our students, both personally and professionally. Before every lesson I prepare myself emotionally. I tie the lessons into my personal life so students can see how it relates to me. I tell them that it is easy to hide behind the computer when my emotions take over, but that I believe it is important they see how these lessons affect me as well.
Make it personal. I am reflecting more on my personal strengths and weakness, my likes and dislikes, and my goals and aspirations. I have found myself taking more responsibility for where I am in my life and taking ownership of who I am. Not only does this help to model these mindsets for my students, but it helps me connect to them on a deeper level. Those students who attend these SEL sessions become more open about what is going on in their lives. They start to understand us more as staff and they realize that they can relate to us and the struggles we have been through.
Everyone has their own path and there is more to a student than what he or she learns in a classroom. The flexibility of online learning, coupled with the benefits of SEL, allows our students to develop the maturity and confidence they need to pursue their ambitions and succeed.
Renee Breur is a 9th–12th-grade counselor at Pikes Peak Online School.
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