School psychologist Cat Magielnicki talks about how to support your students’ (and your own) mental health in this crazy time, including tips for talking to elementary, middle, and high school kids about coronavirus, and the very cool “PEACE” acronym (which comes from Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s book, The Power of Showing Up (order it from your local bookstore if you can – lots are doing free home delivery).
It’s also new, right? And I think everyone right now needs someone to reach out to them. When I think about the kids who are the most impacted by this, I’m thinking of the students who have less resources, where school was a safe place for them and kind of an escape. Those are the kids that are really on my mind right now.
This is High Tech High Unboxed. I’m Alec Patton, and things are a little different for us around here, as I’m sure they are for you. I’m recording in my garage, which is basically a large shed underneath the flight path. High Tech High is closed, and like everyone, we’re trying to figure out how to show up for our students when the entire state is on lockdown. So I talked to the person whose voice you just heard, Cat Magielnicki, who’s school psychologist for High Tech High’s three newest schools. That’s High Tech Elementary Mesa, High Tech Middle Mesa, and High Tech High Mesa.
So this episode is our second pro session, where I sit down with an expert and go deep on one of the hundreds of skills that go into being a teacher. And obvious caveat, there are no experts on how to be a teacher in a pandemic. So I’m slightly hesitant to even use the phrase “pro session.” But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to play the pro session theme music.
This episode is all about showing up for our students and for ourselves. And Cat first used the term “showing up” pretty early in our conversation when I asked her what a teacher’s role should be right now.
What is the role of an educator? I think it’s showing up, just showing up for our kids and letting them know, like, hey, we’re still here and we’re still OK. I’ve been seeing so many educators doing some really creative ideas from just holding video calls with their whole class to check in. And sometimes on those video calls they’re doing, like, movement breaks on websites like Noodle or even schools going around and driving through the neighborhoods of their students and waving from afar, which is really awesome to see. So those are just some ways that teachers right now are showing up.
I think, in other ways, that we’re showing up, too, is just holding a safe space for our kids and letting them be able to know that there’s a place and there’s someone reliable each day or each week, whatever it might be, where they just know, OK, there is this consistent person. And really, I think the best acronym I’ve heard for this is PEACE, so giving them our PEACE, spelling it P-E-A-C-E.
The PEACE acronym comes from a book that Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson co-wrote called The Power of Showing Up, How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired. The P stands for presence, the first E is engagement, the A is affection, the C is calm, and the final E is empathy. Let’s start at the top with presence. Specifically, how do we present for students when you can’t actually be present?
When you are present with a student, you are using eye contact and showing that you care. But you also want to approach it and remain calm when you’re talking with them.
I know. Calm isn’t supposed to show up for another three letters, but this is an important point, especially right now.
Because it’s important to remember that students and children and adolescents, they really look towards adults when they’re unsure about how they feel. So we have to bring our presence and be aware of what we’re communicating with our presence, even our nonverbals. So remaining calm is really key to them. Let them talk about how they’re feeling and provide that safe space so they just can say what’s on their minds.
And it’s hard to be fully present for someone when you’re talking online, because there’s a lot going on in our homes and in our heads.
I think all of us are struggling with the time piece because they’re feeling like there are so many things happening, and our minds also feel just so busy amongst all of this. But really, as we transition, potentially, to distance learning, we’re going to have that time in the day where we’ll be working as educators and being able to say, like, at this time, this is when it’s open for conversation. Or if someone needs an extra video chat or an extra email– maybe that’s how you’re outletting– this is the time that I’m going to be doing it– so being able to have that line of, OK, from 1:00 to 2:00, I’m going to be sending an email out to all the students that I know need that extra little bit of love this week. Or maybe I’m going to each day just video chat with one of my students, specifically to just engage in a conversation with them or however that might look, depending on what your school is using.
And there’s another element to presence. As much as none of us wants to think about this, there’s a chance that we’ll get sick, and at least for a while, we won’t be able to show up for the kids who are depending on us. I asked Cat how to prepare for that possibility.
It is the harder question to answer. How can you prepare for that? And preparing for that is also something that probably feels really hard to do and to acknowledge that it might happen. I think, in those cases, being able to know, OK, I have these teachers who can also reach out to my kids, but making sure that there’s just some kind of backup of what can I do or who can help me and jump in during this time.
And I also think so many people, if another teacher got sick, everyone’s got each other’s back at this point. And we’re really feeling the sense of community and how can we help each other out through navigating all of these different aspects of education now.
OK, that’s real. And we need to think about it. But let’s move on to the first E in PEACE, engagement. For Cat, this starts with validating the way that a student is feeling, whatever that may be.
They might say that they’re feeling scared, and that’s OK to feel scared. But also make sure that what they’re saying and their perspective or perception is accurate, too, so if they’re starting to spiral, just making sure to ground them back into, yeah, this might feel really scary right now, but this is also what’s happening, so that you can bring them back to not catastrophizing.
And then you also want to make sure that you’re providing information in an age-appropriate manner. So that’s kind of taking those two pieces of the PEACE– presence and engagement– you want to make sure, OK, I have my eye contact, I’m also validating how they’re feeling, reflecting how they’re feeling, but providing accurate information, too.
So now Cat’s going to break down how to talk to kids about coronavirus by age.
When we’re thinking about elementary kids, just being brief and simple information and providing facts and appropriate reassurances about, like, schools and your parents or your caregivers are here to keep you safe and the adults are working hard to make sure that we remain healthy. And then give little examples of steps that they can take every day to stop germs and stay healthy. So we’re going to make sure we wash our hands every day or cover our cough, so keeping it simple and really putting it at their level and, once again, providing that accurate information while remaining calm.
When we’re talking about upper elementary– so probably, like, sixth grade or fifth grade and then middle school– you’ll start to notice the shift where they’re being more vocal and asking questions. Oh, am I really safe right now? And what will happen if this comes to my school or happens in my family? So they need more assistance of separating reality versus building something up in their minds and then also from rumors, because they’re going to start hearing some rumors as well– so being able to discuss more in-depth, but also keeping that accurate information and keeping them grounded and keeping yourself grounded while you’re having these conversations, because as we start to have more developed and mature conversations about this, I think we start to see some teachers also amping themselves up– and not just teachers, parents as well, caregivers, anyone who’s having these conversations. So it’s important for yourself and for these kids to stay calm while you’re having these conversations.
And then as we transition into high school, we’re going to see more in-depth. So just provide the honest, accurate, and factual information, and also giving them the knowledge of how they can keep the control within themselves, and maybe even starting to talk about, like, the self-care things that they need as well. And I do notice a lot of people asking about having those honest and accurate conversations and the fear of, oh, no, what if I do provide misinformation by accident?
And that happens. That happens to all of us on any given topic. And then you can go back and have a conversation about, like, oh, you know what? Something that we were talking about yesterday, it actually turns out that that wasn’t true, and I’m sorry that that happened. And you can have a whole conversation about that. And information is changing all of the time, so it’s OK that mistakes happen. I think the important part is not intentionally lying to protect students.
So you want to make sure that you’re providing the accurate information that you do know versus saying, oh, no kids can get sick from this. Well, that’s not accurate, and we know that’s not accurate. And if we’re just trying to protect our students by lying to them, that actually can do more harm than good in the sense of building a relationship.
This is probably more obvious when we think about adults than when we think about kids, but honesty is at the heart of any meaningful human relationship. But though honesty is necessary, it is not sufficient. That’s why next up in the PEACE the acronym is A for affection.
I think that’s emphasizing showing up for your kids and letting them know that you care. And I think even just showing up sends that message in a huge way.
And now it’s time to return to probably the toughest one of these to maintain right now, calm.
They are looking towards us about how to react and how big of a deal is this. So that’s where the factual information comes in, but then remaining calm. And now you’re asking, but I’m feeling kind of freaked out, and how do I control those feelings as well?
We’ll come back to that question in a minute. But first we’re going to finish the acronym with the final E, empathy.
That’s really validating how they’re feeling and acknowledging, yeah, I think a lot of people right now are feeling this way. What are things that we can do to support one another? What are things that I can do to support you right now? And I’ve been seeing some teachers do that as well, where they’re asking students what do you need today, what do you need this week, and finding ways to try and incorporate that as much as possible.
And folks, those questions don’t just apply to your students. They apply to you as well. This brings us back to that question of how we can feel calm within ourselves. And this is what we’re going to end on because it’s really important.
Honestly, I think the approach to kids with that PEACE acronym is just as important to approach with ourselves. So being able to give yourself the time and the presence and showing up for yourself, so engaging in that self-care and doing what helps you get through these times, showing yourself affection and acknowledging, OK, I need this time. I need that connection with others. And then also your calm, so doing things that help you remain calm, whether that’s deep breathing, and then also showing yourself some empathy and acknowledging the feelings that you’re having and validating them.
“High Tech High Unboxed” is written and edited by me, Alec Patton. Our theme music is by Brother Herschel, and our special pro session theme music is by Temple Dogs. The best way to learn more about the PEACE acronym is to read The Power of Showing Up by Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson.
We’ll be back soon with another pro session episode. In this one, LeDerick Horne and Margaret [INAUDIBLE] Izzo will talk about how to support kids with special educational needs right now. Thanks for listening. Take care and be safe.