Kooringal High School

Kooringal High School - "The Edge in Education"

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Message from Mr Johnston, School Counsellor

08 Apr 2020

Aaron Johnston
Provisional Psychologist PSY0002121075
School Counsellor
Kooringal High School

Given the positive feedback on the last post I wrote, I thought I would develop some further information and ideas to help students and parents coping with the “new normal,” just now. These are evidence-based suggestions and strategies which will be mostly based in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a psychological therapy.

The first of these I thought I should base around values.
Values can probably be explained as a code of morals and ethics we live by. Everyone develops their own set of values through life but we are all influenced by the culture and environment we exist in, historical experiences through life, and people around us, both past and present. Chances are most of us have some similar values as well as values which are more unique to us individually.

Values are typically expressed as a single word, and they are not the same as goals, although people often will confuse the two. A goal is something which can be achieved, moved on from, and ticked off a list. A value is something that we can strive to be consistent with in our lives, with varying degrees of success, but never ‘achieved.’ We are not able to say we have successfully achieved ‘family’ as a value. Your family will go through periods of thick and thin, closeness and remoteness, happiness and sadness and so on.

In the context of COVID19, values can be useful. Reminding ourselves as we enter into another week of social-distancing, isolation and quarantine of what is important to us can help us navigate the uncertainty, worry and difficult situations that are bound to arise. Some examples of values could be: family, closeness, individuality, spirituality, honesty, integrity, enterprise, assertiveness, wit, health, imagination, creativity, community, independence, bravery, stoicism, protectiveness, understanding, humour, freedom, empathy and many, many more.

Sometimes, we need to take a step back from the trenches, take stock of where we are and how we are going. Given the uncertainty that comes with COVID19 and the quarantine, we are probably all going to become stressed at times and react with emotion rather than logic and reason. This is normal, human and understandable. But it can also make us feel uncomfortable, or upset with ourselves.

When this happens, and we notice what we are doing, it can be useful to ask ourselves how we would like to remember we coped throughout this. Most of us would like to remember that we faced a difficult time according to our values; the things that are important to us. For me, I would like to remember as I try to balance my workload, my registration as a psychologist, my obligation to provide for my family, and coping with remote learning with my daughter and son, that I stayed true to my values where I could. I would like to remember in 5 years times when I reflect on this time that I provided a sense of security for my kids, and that I provided some humour. I want my family to think I was predictable and steady in a crisis. I would like to think that I continued to be productive and did some good work with students and families while working remotely. Of course, there will be times I get this wrong. But what I know is that when I look back in 5 years time, I will feel a lot better about myself if I can say I tried to do the right thing by my values.

Another way we can apply values to our quarantine is try and do something each day which brings us closer to our values. We might find at times that our ability to do what is important and meaningful is diminished when we are stressed, annoyed, worried or angry, or even just plain busy with working from home. This may mean that we do less of the things that fundamentally matter to us. A person who values connectedness might find they spend less time with people they care about, more time on their own, or find it hard to give time to others. A person who values productivity might find themselves procrastinating more, immersing themselves in micro-management or obsessing over minor details while losing the bigger picture. I would suggest to anyone in a similar situation to take some time to actually affirm to themselves what they value, and then find a small thing they can do which will lead them closer to their values. Remember, a value is a journey, not an end-point. So it is okay to start out small and build from there. Call a person you care about or find something fun to do with your kids (or parents). Allow time for yourself as well as giving time to others. Cook a meal together or sit with someone and ask how their day was. None of this is ground-breaking, but depending on your values, could be quite important. Finding little things which are consistent with our values can be a great starting point for making bigger changes as we build our capacity.

If you prefer a visual medium or writing things down, have a look at the provided Values Bullseye. This is a sheet which can assist us in taking stock of how close, or distant we are from the things that matter to us in several domains of life. You could put a mark where you think you are in terms of your closeness to your values in, for example, the relationships domain. If you feel you are more distant from the bullseye than you feel comfortable with, try coming up with some small actions or tasks as outlined above which would help you move a little closer to what matters. Also, when doing this, focus on the process of moving closer to your values, not the outcome. If your focus is on connection with people around you and you try to spend some time with someone and they say no, that they’re too busy, it does not mean you have failed. You cannot control what others do and say and what matters is that you are trying to do what is important.

The last thing is that although we are in the thick of it right now, and we are all learning and adjusting to our new normal, this will not go on forever. This will end and we will return to some form of normal life, some time in the future.

If you are finding it more difficult to cope, visit the KHS Student Support facebook page where you will find strategies, tips and contact information if you need to speak to someone. The school counsellor is also available for consultation during the period of quarantine and remote learning. Other supports include the kids helpline (1800 55 1800), Lifeline (13 11 14), the Mental Health Line (1800 011 511) and Parentline (1300 1300 52) amongst others. A range of services can be found on the Student Support page.