Expanding Mental Health Learning Communities
On a foggy Tuesday morning in February, 20 mental health professionals gathered in the large conference room at Turnaround for Children’s New York City office. Their common goal: to advance their professional skills and further develop a supportive network of peers.
The second of four Professional Development Consultation (PDC) workshops brought together community mental health, school and alumni partners. Brainchild of Social Work Consultant Amy Greenbaum Strauss, the four-part series has four main objectives:
- Develop a professional and peer network of support and sharing of skills and resources
- Provide consultative support around school counselors greatest challenges, whether in clinical work with students and families or their unique role in the school with teachers and administrators
- Strengthen the collaboration between schools and our mental health partners
- Develop skills and increasing knowledge related to counselors’ roles, particularly as leaders of initiatives in schools regarding the school’s partnership with Turnaround, and as leaders in the social/emotional realm.
“It is always powerful to me how responsive and appreciative school-based counselors, social workers and guidance counselors are to attend these trainings, and how committed they are to participating in these opportunities, said Greenbaum Strauss. “I always hear how meaningful it is for them to be with like-minded professionals who share their experiences in a way that no one else in the school does, to hear how universal many of their experiences are and to have the opportunity to expand their professional toolbox.”
The most recent PDC session opened with highlights and learnings from the first workshop held in December discussed secondary trauma, which refers to experiences professionals who work with traumatized individuals may have. Sometimes they themselves begin to exhibit traumatic stress symptoms as a result of the stress of their work and the emotional connection to those they are supporting. Greenbaum Strauss helped the group better understand secondary trauma, identify risk factors and warning signs, and practice proactive prevention.
The PDC session also covered mindfulness practice. Mindfulness, Greenbaum Strauss reminded the group, is the act of paying attention to inner and outer experiences with acceptance and patience, and without judgement. This act of focusing on the self and being in the moment can have a calming effect, and is a successful tool for helping students focus and become less reactive. Karen Tsiropinas, a social worker at PS85 Great Expectations in the Bronx, shared her success practicing mindfulness with students but noted that it is important to introduce mindfulness practice with care so that children will be open to what is a new experience for most of them.
The second PDC, held in early February, focused on growth mindset – beginning with a presentation by Turnaround’s Senior Research Scientist, Catherine Good, Ph.D. People with fixed mindsets believe intelligence or talent are immutable qualities. They think they are born with a certain level of ability and can’t do anything to change it. On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe their ability can change and improve with effort. A growth mindset is essential for student success and, as research suggests, often starts with the mindset of the teacher.
With guidance from Turnaround’s social work consultant team, each PDC offered participants the chance to break into small groups to process and plan how they plan to use what they learned. They also consulted with their clinical colleagues on the challenges they are facing in their jobs… “The sessions allow you to rehearse and practice all of these skill sets and tools we’re learning about,” said Matthew Ogles, Dean of Student Affairs and Social Worker at Queens United Middle School. “When I did my small group in the afternoon, a lot of people had some great suggestions and a lot of it we were already doing in our school – so that was reinforcing to know I tried a lot of things that other social workers have tried,” explained Andrea Vazquez, a social worker at JHS 117 Joseph H. Wade Academics.
Attendees reflected on the “positive energy,” “fun atmosphere” and “getting to brainstorm with other professionals.” Melissa Gendler, Guidance Counselor at Queens United Middle School summed up her experience, “Everything that Turnaround has implemented, both here in the professional development (PD) sessions and in our school, has been a really great resource for us. Every time we go to a Turnaround PD, we get another tool in our toolbox.”
Two remaining PDC workshops are scheduled for March and May. I’m very excited about the remaining sessions, said Greenbaum Strauss. “In March, we will continue to explore growth mindset and apply its concepts to behavior, emotional development and interpersonal relationships. May will recap what we’ve learned this year but also include a session led by one of our mental health partners. Todd Karlin, Program Director of the School-based Behavioral Health and Training Program at Astor Child Guidance, will share an evidence-based model of intervention for parents and their children that they have adapted for teachers and students.”