A school counselor from Summerside, PEI takes her dedication to her job to a whole new level when it comes to making sure her students feel good.
Jo Cullen, who works at Athena Consolidated, began making videos on positive self-talk, mindfulness and flexible thinking during the first COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in 2020.
“We didn’t have a lot of protocol at that time for reaching out to students and how we were going to reach out to families,” Cullen said.
“So I came up with the idea to make a daily video and post it on our school’s Facebook page, on our school’s website and on YouTube, and kids could access social learning materials and emotional.”
More recently, Cullen posted videos on his personal YouTube page.
Her videos have reached beyond Prince Edward Island and helped more than just school children, she said.
“During the previous lockdown, I had people in Alberta using them in group homes. I was getting emails saying they found them very helpful there,” Cullen said.
“It’s good to know that what you’re doing is making a difference and that you can help people feel some sense of agency when we’re in quite unpredictable times.”
Children are more anxious now than when the pandemic began, Cullen said, due to rising COVID-19 cases in the province.
“I think there’s more anxiety this time around because Prince Edward Island is seeing an increase in cases that we haven’t seen in the past. We’ve kind of prepared all this time, but we haven’t seen all the real things that the kids were afraid of coming true.”
Most of them are also suffering from pandemic fatigue, exhausted by pandemic restrictions – although Cullen said a lot of that came from watching frustrated parents.
“[Kids] are inspired by adults both verbally and non-verbally, they pick up on our cues.”
Focus on what we control
Her advice for thriving during the pandemic and its restrictions is to focus on what we can control.
“For example, we have no control over the numbers that Dr Morrison is going to announce each day, but the things we do have control over are whether we wear our mask, wash our hands and get vaccinated,” Cullen said.
Dwelling on things we can’t control is “more anxiety-inducing,” she said.
Here are some tips from some of Cullen’s videos for K-8:
- Take breaks.
- Go outside.
- Eliminate negative self-talk.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Perform a daily self-check.
It’s important for kids to get outside and play while they learn online, Cullen said.
“Children learn best through play, it’s their time, and nature definitely resets us and helps us tune our nervous system. It helps us feel safe and calm.”
In general, taking a break is what’s most important, she says.
“The best advice I can give you is to give yourself a break, to focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do,” Cullen said.
“Then we’ll have a better chance of really thriving than just surviving, thanks to the school being closed.”