Friday, November 23, 2012

Let's try this again

Hello world,

I have been in Saudi Arabia for about...two months. I wanted to create this blog as an alternative to the other extremely helpful School Counselor blogs out there. I do not know if this will ever be as helpful as the other blogs, like Corner on Character (incredible!),  but I do hope to shed light on the life of a counselor abroad.

However, after being here for just two months, I am quickly realizing that life in Saudi, even as an expat, is literally like nothing else. The way of life here is SO incredibly different than other countries. That said, keep it in mind when reading some of my future posts. I think some of my experiences will be very specific to living in this country, and may or may not be applicable to  working abroad elsewhere. At any rate, maybe this will inspire you to do something you never thought you would do. I certainly never pictured myself as a twenty-something-newlywed-outspoken woman-right out of grad school landing and taking a job in Saudi Arabia. But here I am, enjoying myself and learning so much.

This is a crossing sign on the way to our school. Women in this country must wear an Abaya whenever in public, and around men that are not family. Abayas are basically black robes, most women wear them with a matching headscarf, but it is not uncommon to see a woman with her entire face covered. I had a parent meeting with a Muslim family and the mother/wife was completely covered (with the exception of her eyes). 

At first, I anticipated her covering to be a major communication barrier because of the inability to see body language and facial expressions. I was also wondering if it would simply distract me because it was something so unfamiliar to me. 

How could I possibly be have an effective meeting with such a barrier?!

I was wrong about all the above. It is amazing how quickly cultural assumptions can disappear when you realize you share a common goal. We were meeting together for the same reason-to help a student/child succeed. 

I never would have asked her to remove her facial coverings. Unfortunately I know people who would, or who would refuse to meet. As a Counselor (anywhere in the world), you have to meet the 'client' where they are. If I was unable to look past this woman's cultural beliefs, and request that she meet me where I am, all trust would have been gone. 

I found it a covert teachable moment for myself. Since that meeting, I've come across new cultures with beliefs that I know nothing to very little about. In this international setting, you must always be openminded and ready for a 'value challenge'. What I mean by 'value challenge' is that your personal values might be challenged when you learn about an alternative perspective. It is okay to disagree-its not okay to disrespect. That is what I tell students that find themselves confused about the different cultures that surround them in the classroom. 

Next time you find yourself in a cultural situation you do not understand, or are unfamiliar with
Take a step back.
Try and remember why you are there in the first place. Do you share a goal? Do you have anything in common? At least one thing? 
I bet you do...

Until next time...

Monday, July 23, 2012


Hello world...

As people, we are always transitioning. When we wake up: we transition from dream to reality. When we communicate: we transition from speaking to listening. When we eat: we transition from hungry to satisfied (or full if you eat dessert too).

Do I still have your attention because I am about to transition to something new....

What about those transitions that require our attention. Like transitioning from player to coach, young adult to parent, town to town, job to job. Sometimes transitions are well received and a welcomed change in routine, while others may happen against our will and instead of calling it a 'transition', we say we are 'adapting'.

As a child, I am pretty sure I was not fond of frequently moving all over San Diego, but in hindsight I am happy I had that experience. Actually to this day, I never really lived in one household for more than two years. And as you may know, Phillip and I are starting international careers that provides two-year contracts. If we want to transition someplace new-we can, if we like it-we will stay. Phillip has never lived far from the ocean, and his seven years in California hold the record for longest stint in one place. Between he and I, we could bounce around the globe, near an ocean, and be very content. However...

I have a very difficult time with transition. I enjoy moving, but only because it allows me to 'purge' all of the 'stuff' we accumulated and start fresh. Aside from that, 'adapting' to the new setting has always been a challenge for me. I find that I am most successful in routine, with the understanding (of course) that things come up and we adjust.

Like this summer for example: Enjoy a sneak peek at life since June 1st: move out, unpack, repack for storage, pack suitcase for three weeks of traveling to five states with just a carry-on, come back for 11 days, go to Kauai for 8 days (not complaining at all), back for 10 days, San Diego for 9 days, Tahoe for 2 days, back for 5 days, camp for 2 days, back for 6 days, leave for Saudi Arabia.

I had to get that out. This has been the most memorable summer ever (aside from the wedding). I feel so absolutely fortunate to have the ability to be this busy, to explore, and spend time with people I care about. But to be completely honest...being out of my routine is challenging for me. I anticipated this, I looked forward to it, and I know this 'busy summer' is nothing compared to the culture shock awaiting me in Saudi. Bring it on.

So tell me...are you in a transition? What kind is it? Was it expected/unexpected? How do you respond to life's transitions?

Until next time....

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Staying anonymous...

Hello world...

At the bullying training I went to a few weeks back, several people brought up the reporting piece of bullying. We cannot respond to bullying if it is never reported; students do not report bullying for fear of retaliation.

While I come from the camp that addressing the entire issue of bullying should come from a pro-social systemic level (and not a reactive punitive response), I think I have an idea that could be a useful tool in any school.

Ever heard of a 'Compliments, Cares, Concerns' box? I remember we had one at an after school program I used to work at. It was a place for staff to anonymously submit appreciations, questions, or report concerns. I thought it worked pretty well. The supervisor would read them, and then they would be addressed at the weekly staff meeting.

I feel like this could be a useful tool for students and the school community as a whole. A 'CCC' box is not only anonymous, but because it serves multiple purposes a student can use the box publicly and no one would ever know what for.

For example: A student (or staff) walks up to the box and puts a note inside. It could be a note about:
a) a care/complaint (it would be helpful if basketball students could access the locker room right before lunch is over on game days, that way we could get into uniform without having to leave our last class early)
b) a compliment (I appreciate Maria for always straightening up the class desks)
c) a concern (David and Stephanie told me they were the ones that put the Facebook comments on Jamie's wall)

Just as the common school rules "Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible" cover most behaviors, the title "Compliments, Cares, Concerns" pretty much covers anything.

I am sure there are logistical pieces to work out, but I think this is a good start. At any rate, this is not to serve the sole purpose of reporting bullying-it is to exercise sharing things that ought to be shared. Most students are not comfortable voicing complaints, or compliments to others. This could be a great way to start practicing.

What are your thoughts? Any feedback on how it may/may not work at your site. 

Until next time...

Friday, April 13, 2012

Digital living...

Hello world...

A truly great person shared this TED Talk with me and I wanted to pass it along. It is about the role technology plays in our lives.

Yes, I have a blog and am sharing this via Internet technology, but that is the beauty of accessing relevant information these days. Maybe I am hypocritical in sharing this via a blog (this will make more sense after you watch the talk), but I like to think my purpose for even creating this blog is to challenge myself as a person and a school counselor.

I hope you find this insightful, if not thought provoking.

Until next time


Monday, April 9, 2012

Bullying Seminar...

Hello world!

Bullying is sort of my thing. No, I do not enjoy bullying others, but when it comes to being an educator, counselor, someone involved in children and youth...I take bullying very seriously. I did my first big 'graduate level' paper on Cyberbullying, which in turn inspired me to do my research paper on fostering resiliency as a response to bullying (instead of anti-bullying). That said, I am actually not a big supporter of the anti-bullying approach. But more on that later...

Anyhow, this weekend I went to a presentation on Bullying-specifically, How Counselors Can Support School Climate/Prevent Bullying. From the get-go, the presenter let us know that we will not leave with all the answers. I appreciated that. As a participant, we each had opportunities to discuss what has/has not worked for us (individually) and why. This was inspiring. We were also given handouts and handy resources. I wanted to share one of those handouts with you all. It is a short article from Education Week by Lyn Mikel Brown:

10 Ways to Move Beyond Bully Prevention (And Why We Should)

Seven years ago, I helped found a nonprofit organization committed to changing the culture for girls. Our work was based on the health-psychology notion of “hardiness”—a way of talking about resilience that not only identifies what girls need to thrive in an increasingly complex and stressful world, but also makes clear that adults are responsible for creating safe spaces for girls to grow, think critically, and work together to make their
lives better.

As a result of this work, I’ve grown concerned lately that “bully prevention” has all but taken over the way we think about, talk about, and respond to the relational lives of children and youths in schools. So, from our group’s strength-based approach, I offer 10 ways to move beyond what is too often being sold as a panacea for schools’ social ills, and is becoming, I fear, a problem in and of itself:

Stop labeling kids. Bully-prevention programs typically put kids into three categories: bullies, victims, and bystanders. Labeling children in these ways denies what we know to be true: We are all complex beings with the capacity to do harm and to do good, sometimes within the same hour. It also makes the child the problem, which downplays the important role of parents, teachers, the school system, a provocative and powerful media culture, and societal injustices children experience every day. Labeling kids bullies, for that matter, contributes to the negative climate and name-calling we’re trying to address.

Talk accurately about behavior. If it’s sexual harassment, call it sexual harassment; if it’s homophobia, call it homophobia; and so forth. To lump disparate behaviors under the generic “bullying” is to efface real differences that affect young people’s lives. Bullying is a broad term that de-genders, de-races, de-everythings school safety. Because of this, as the sexual-harassment expert Nan Stein has noted, embracing anti-bullying legislation can actually undermine the legal rights and protections offered by anti-harassment laws. Calling behaviors what they are helps us educate children about their rights, affirms their realities, encourages more-complex and meaningful solutions, opens up a dialogue, invites children to participate in social change, and ultimately protects them.

Move beyond the individual. Children’s behaviors are greatly affected by their life histories and social contexts. To understand why a child uses aggression toward others, it’s important to understand what impact race, ethnicity, social class, gender, religion, and ability has on his or her daily experiences in school—that is, how do these realities affect the kinds of attention and resources the child receives, where he fits in, whether she feels marginal or privileged in the school. Such differences in social capital, cultural capital, and power relations deeply affect a child’s psychological and relational experiences in school.

Reflect reality. Many schools across the country have adopted an approach developed by the Norwegian educator Dan Olweus, the “Olweus Bullying Prevention Program,” even though it has not been effectively evaluated with U.S. samples. Described as a “universal intervention for the reduction and prevention of bully/victim problems,” the Olweus program downplays those differences that make a difference. But even when bully-prevention programs have been adequately evaluated, the University of Illinois’ Dorothy Espelage argues, they often show less-than-positive results in urban schools or with minority populations. “We do not have a one-size-fits-all school system,” she reminds
us. Because the United States has a diversity of race, ethnicity, and language, and inequalities between schools, bully-prevention efforts here need to reflect that reality.

Adjust expectations. We hold kids to ideals and expectations that we as adults could never meet. We expect girls to ingest a steady diet of media “mean girls” and always be nice and kind, and for boys to engage a culture of violence and never lash out. We expect kids never to express anger to adults, never to act in mean or hurtful ways to one another, even though they may spend much of the day in schools they don’t feel safe in, and with teachers and other students who treat them with disrespect. Moreover, we expect kids to behave in ways most of us don’t even value very much: to obey all the rules (regardless of their perceived or real unfairness), to never resist or refuse or fight back.

It’s important to promote consistent consequences—the hallmarks of most bully-prevention programs—but it’s also critically important to create space for honest conversations about who benefits from certain norms and rules and who doesn’t. If we allow kids to speak out, to think critically and question unfairness, we provide the groundwork for civic engagement.

Listen to kids. In her book Other People’s Children, Lisa Delpit talks about the importance of “listening that requires not only open eyes and ears, but also hearts and minds.” Again, consistent consequences are important; used well, they undermine privilege and protect those who are less powerful. But to make such a system work, schools have to listen to all students. It’s the only way to ensure that staff members are not using discipline and consistent consequences simply to promote the status quo.

Embrace grassroots movements. There’s nothing better than student initiated change. Too many bully-prevention programs are top-heavy with adult-generated rules, meetings, and trainings. We need to empower young people. This includes being on the lookout for positive grassroots resistance, ready to listen to and support and sometimes channel youth movements when they arise. We need to listen to students, take up their just causes, understand the world they experience, include them in the dialogue about school norms and rules, and use their creative energy to illuminate and challenge unfairness.

Be proactive, not reactive. In Maine, we have a nationally recognized Civil Rights Team Project. Youth-led, school-based preventive teams work to increase safety, educate their peers, and combat hate violence, prejudice, and harassment in more than 250 schools across the state. This kind of proactive youth-empowerment work is sorely needed, but is too often lost in the midst of zero tolerance policies and top-down bully-prevention efforts. And yet such efforts work. According to a study conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, youth-led gay straight
alliances make schools safer for all students.

Build coalitions. Rather than bully prevention, let’s emphasize ally- and coalition-building. We need to affirm and support the definition of coalition that activist Bernice Johnson Reagon suggests: work that’s difficult, exhausting, but necessary “for all of us to feel that this is our world.”

Accentuate the positive. Instead of labeling kids, let’s talk about them as potential leaders, affirm their strengths, and believe that they can do good, brave, remarkable things. The path to safer, less violent schools lies less in our control over children than in appreciating their need to have more control in their lives, to feel important, to be visible, to have an effect on people and situations.

Bully prevention has become a huge for-profit industry. Let’s not let the steady stream of training sessions, rules, policies, consequence charts, and no-bullying posters keep us from listening well, thinking critically, and creating approaches that meet the singular needs of our schools and communities.

Until next time...

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Teenage Brain

Hello World...

A colleague and I have started a three part parent ed series on Parenting the Teenage Brain. We are utilizing the Active Parenting Teens Lunch and Learn kit, as well as various resources about research on teen brains. Luckily, a teacher at the school is a neurologist and he has offered to make a special appearance to cover more of the 'science' piece. Anyhow, I found various resources that give a lot of great insight on what is going on inside the teenage brain. If you work with teens (or live with them), you might find these links helpful, or interesting.

Until next time...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

You've got to start somewhere...

Hello world!

In about two months from now, my husband and I will be moving out of our apartment and temporarily moving into my in-laws place. Then, we will be traveling the states to visit friends and family one last time before we cross the pond and start our careers together.

Come August 2012, I will start my first placement as an elementary school counselor (he will be teaching grade six). To make it even more awesome, we will be doing this in Saudi Arabia! 

I have recently been gathering inspiration from various school counseling blogs-inspiration as a school counselor, and inspiration to start a blog of my own. Since, clearly, there are already several school counseling blogs, my intention is to make this more specific to the international school counselor.

So get out your passports and join me on this fantastic international journey!