Simulations in Guidance: Mock Day

Socratic Seminars.  Tea Parties.  Historian’s Breakfast.  Process Dramas.  In today’s relevant classroom, simulations are everywhere.  Simulations — intentionally staged activities and event that bring real world experiences in the classroom setting so as to enhance student learning — are an integral portion of a student’s learning and understanding of concepts in today’s global classroom.  Simulations — no matter how simple or complex — are a powerful learning tool in that often mimic real life and real world experiences.  According to Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience, the very best learning experiences occur when doing the real thing.  Simulations fall only second to the “real thing.”  Therefore, to create meaningful learning for students, simulations should be planned and included in their educational process.

So what does this mean for a school counselor?  How can a school counselor create simulation experiences that are meaningful, authentic, and have a lasting impact on student learning?  How does a counselor engage students using simulations that impact the academic, social-emotional, career, or global development of a child? Should school counselors spend time creating simulations or should that work be left to homeroom teachers?

Just like a homeroom teacher, a counselor should be skilled in creating simulations to engage student inquiry and learning.  One way I have managed to successfully use simulations to create meaningful learning opportunities for students is during our elementary to middle school transition program.  In spite of all three divisions being housed on the same gated campus, our grade 5 students complete a comprehensive transitions guidance program.  This includes classroom guidance around reflecting on the elementary and PYP experience, having questions answered about middle school and the MYP, participating in middle school tours, meeting middle school ambassadors and advisors, attending a middle school assembly, and more.  However, what came to surface is that even with all this programming, students still walked around with a lot of unease and trepidation about what middle school looks like, feels like, and sounds like. The unknown experiences were causing a lot of stress.  I could answer all the questions I wanted about changing for PE but since the students had never experienced this activity — their unease remained.

Enter guidance simulation activity.  

After consulting with the grade five teaching team, a Middle School Mock Day simulation was designed and implemented.  This means our grade 5 students spend a whole day experiencing middle school in the comfort of their own elementary hall.

Students in first five minute transition period.  Chaos ensues.

Students in first five minute transition period. Chaos ensues.

How it works:  Each homeroom teacher is assigned a teaching subject for the day. These subjects are based off the current offerings our grade six students have.  We bring in specialist teachers to cover specific subjects and to create prep periods for our homeroom teachers.  A master set of student schedules is created based on the middle school timetable (55 minute classes with 5 minute passing periods).  Students are assigned a schedule at random with consideration being made to accommodate mother tongue class needs. PE space, break space, canteen needs, supervision, and supplies are all arranged as necessary.   A meeting is held with all staff involved or impacted by Mock Day to go over logistics and questions.  Students are then briefed about the day and informed that, just like in middle school, they are going to have a random, rotating schedule of classes that is made up of random groupings of their peers.  They are informed that they might not have all the classes being offered (as true at the middle school level) and that they might have different peers in each class.  They are also notified about now only having one lunch break (compared to the 2 in elementary) as well as only having one small “play” area instead of a playground.  They are told about the daily advisory class in middle school which in the simulation means the students go back to their homeroom teachers to do some debriefing and reflecting about the day.  Just like in middle school, advisory is a brief time with a trusted adult to discuss current things happening in the students’ lives and create strategies or interventions to solve problems and be successful.  In the Mock Day simulation planning process we try to balance the amount of information we provide students so that they are comfortable while still leaving room for inquiry and for an organic experience to unfold.  It is important to let the day play out for the students — we have not made everything “safe” for them which would create an inauthentic experience as there are always unknowns in life.

To allow the simulation to have the most impact we also enforce middle school rules: students must wear pants (no shorts) with their uniform, they cannot use mobile phones as devices, they collect tardies if they do not make it to class on time during the five minute transition and — the biggest one of all — the students have to change into and out of their PE uniforms prior to PE (which every student is guaranteed to have on his/her schedule).  *Out of all the biggest fears, worries, and concerns about moving to middle school, changing for PE is consistently listed as the biggest worry.  Once again, we could talk about it being easy and not scary but until the students experience it, the fear remains real.*

On Mock Day, students arrive to school with their schedules and begin the rotation process.  A bell is used to indicate the start and end of classes and warnings are provided as the 5 minute passing period counts down.  When staff see students struggling, frustrated, or perhaps engaged in an undesirable behavior, we pull the student aside to have a conversation and to make a connection to middle school. Every situation is presented as a learning experience.

Students during the first 5 minute transition period.  Chaos ensues.

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The energy at the start of Mock Day is high.  Students are excited, staff are engaged, and learning is occurring authentically.  Not only is there the academic learning, but more importantly, social and emotional learning is taking place.  It is amazing to see the student energy shift throughout the day when students get settled in.  The frenzy dies out and the confidence sets in.  Students are spending more of their transition time at their cubbies (lockers), having snacks between classes, visiting with friends.  Also, after their PE changing experience when students successfully change clothes, fill their water bottles, and make it to class on time, the smile on their faces is evidence that this unease about changing is diminishing — through experience, the students have developed in the social-emotional domain.

By the end of Mock Day, students are tired yet happy and invigorated.  The feedback/reflection sheets are genuinely positive and supportive of the simulation process.  Student feedback shows an increase in confidence about middle school, a connection that middle school is not that different from middle school, an excitement to move up to the middle school campus, and a lot of thanks for having the mock day simulation.

So, do simulations have a place in guidance?  Is it the school counselor’s responsibility to provide experiential learning opportunities for students?  Absolutely.  By providing a Mock Day for our students, the middle school transition process moved from theoretical to concrete.  Students developed not only in the academic but also the social-emotional domains.  Through a simulation, students were able to experience activities that helped alleviate concerns and fears.  The simulation helped students develop confidence and understand that in all actuality, middle school is not so different from elementary.  Most importantly, the simulation allowed students to face the unknown in a supportive, familiar environment surrounded by their peers and teachers who could address concerns and celebrate successes as they happened.

This is one method of using simulations to promote guidance activities.  What are some other ideas on how to use simulations as a school counselor?  How have you used simulations to support the academic, career, or social-emotional development of students?

A Framework for Support

Support

Part of the counseling practice involves providing support — support to students, support to parents, support to colleagues, support to administration. Often this comes in the form of professional support. Sometimes this comes in the form of emotional support. No matter the form, being supportive is a skill. It is a skill that needs thought, reflection, and action. It is also a skill that needs practiced and developed. Too often someone might believe they are being supportive and yet, their actions –however well intended — can be causing more harm than doing good.

As a practitioner, I have spent a lot of time thinking about and reflecting on support. I have come up with my own framework of support that is applicable to staff, students, friends, family, alike. In my framework, there are five points to always consider so as to be effective and intentional with support.

1. Support looks different for every individual. How I would define support is different from how my partner would define support is different from how my co-worker would define support. Every individual, in a time of need, has unique and particular ways that he/she would like to receive support. Each individual also has distinct, personal criteria that would be perceived as unsupportive. It is not enough to assume that my definition of support is the same criteria that anyone else would use to define support. Support is usually such a mashup of different standards that it is impossible to guess the criterion someone might place in the “when I feel supported” category. For some, support means a kind, comforting word. For some it might be being physically present with another person. For some, it might mean being left alone. For some it might mean springing into action and distracting the individual from whatever is on his/her mind. The list of possibilities is endless. Therefore, what I always tell people, “The best thing you do to support someone is ask them ‘What does support mean to you?” This is the first step in creating a genuine and meaningful supportive relationship. Have the person voice what support looks like, feels like, and sounds like — in his or her perspective. That way you (as the supporter) have a clear understanding of what the friend, co-worker, student, etc. is looking for. With a clear definition in mind, you have a clear starting point or jumping off place to ensure genuine support can provided.

2. Unless you know how the individual defines support, you are most likely setting up a situation of disappointment and failed expectations. The biggest mistake is jumping in to provide support without first having a clear working-definition of what support looks like to the individual who needs it. A co-worker is at a loss with her classroom and the behaviors of her students. She comes in saying “I don’t know what to do.” The counselor jumps in by coming into her class, creating behavior plans for specific students, reestablishing routines, doing guidance on pro-social behaviors — and the teacher feels worse than when she went in “asking” for support. Why? Because the counselor did what she thought was supportive. The teacher just felt challenged, undermined, and like her professionalism was being called into question. If the counselor had simply asked (prior to jumping into action) “What can I do to support you? What does support look like to you?” then the counselor would have been able to see the teacher just wanted someone to listen to her and validate her feelings. She did not need more than a quiet ear. In other words, we can spring into action based on our definition of support. We can walk away feeling proud of ourselves for being so supportive. The other party involved, though, might feel like we did nothing, that there was no follow through, or that we minimized his/her issue. The individual receiving support may feel like his/her expectations were not met and the person providing the support might never understand what they did wrong (which in this case was offer support based on his/her interpretation, not the person needed supporting). It’s a lose-lose situation for both parties involved. Start with a clear understanding of support and eliminate the confusion and disappointment that can ensue when neither party involved was aware of the others expectations from the start.

3. Support does not mean solving the problem or having the answer. A lot of people do not offer support because they do not feel like they know “what to do.” You don’t need to know what to do! Support means being present as an individual, friend, student, family member, works towards resolution, closure, or clarity. People often think that to be supportive means making the issue go away. This is simply not the case. Rather, be there, listen, validate, question, challenge the person asking for support. Let them bounce ideas off of you. Don’t feel responsible for having to make everything better. Just focus on being supportive in the way that he/she expressed would make him/her feel supported.

4. There can be too much support. There is a fine line between being supportive and being suffocating. If you feel that someone needs support — ASK. Don’t assume you can be of assistance and then find out that you are bothering, annoying, and adding additional stress to their life. Maybe you are not the person they will turn to. Maybe at this time they want to muddle through the mess on their own. Do not overdo the support or feel like you have to be involved in the support. It all comes back to that word “ask.”

5. Support is ongoing — not a one time event. If you step up to offer someone support, remember that you are making a commitment to him/her for an unspecified amount of time. Do not make the offer and commitment to support someone if you do not have the time, resources, energy, or capacity to see the process through to fruition. That is unfair to everyone and in that situation, no one walks away feeling good.

These are my go to points when people inquire into support. What are some things you consider when offering support to someone? What are some barriers to offering support? What are some tools you use to create meaningful supportive interactions?

16 Habits of Mind and the Learner Profile

At a recent NESA council of overseas schools conference, Dr. Bena Kalick presented on the Habits of Mind and why they make a difference in schools. The 16 Habits of Mind are especially interesting to me in that they relate to how students react when a answer, solution, or information is not immediately known. As a counselor, I believe we should develop students who possess the habits of mind that causes them to actively seek out solutions and information on their own accord.  We should ask ourselves, do students demonstrate habits that indicate resilience and grit and a willingness to dig deep when needed?  If our students do not exemplify this on a regular basis, educators should question how they can teach habits of mind so as to develop students who behave resourcefully when solutions are not immediately known?

As I geeked out over the habits of mind and began planning implementation for my own school community, I suddenly stopped.  I realized that in an IB school where PYP concepts, skills, attitudes, and themes are already being addressed, some teachers are not going to be excited about introducing yet another set of terms, words, or ideas.  So, how could I impart on staff that Habits of Mind are an important skill set to recognize and explicitly teach students without being another check mark on a “to cover” list?

** LIGHTBULB MOMENT **

Align the 16 Habits of Mind (new instruction) with the IB Learner Profile (already in place).  

So, that’s what I did.

LPEdit

Habits of Mind are all “-ing” verbs meaning they show action.  Therefore, for example, when a child is “managing his/her impulsivity” (Habit of Mind) this is evidence that that child is progressing in being “principled” (IB Learner Profile).  Or if a child is “questioning and problem solving” or “creating, imagining, and innovating” (Habits of Mind) these are indicators that this student is on the path of being an “inquirer” (IB Learner Profile).

In my opinion, the 16 Habits of Mind are tangible, action-based skills that students can practice on their progression of developing learner profile traits.  Habits of Mind provides a concrete understanding and exemplar for students to know what actions would equate development in a specific learner profile trait.  It is not another thing for teachers to check off but something that can be promoted in class or recognized when students are exemplifying a Habit of Mind action.  By no means are the Habits of Mind the only way to reiterate or promote the learner profile.  However, they seem to naturally align and compliment one another in developing students who demonstrate resilience, grit, and the willingness to dig deep when it is required of them.

Costa, A. & Kallick, B. (2000). Habits of Mind: A developmental series. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.