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Tales from Quarantine | Reflections from Master’s Students in Counseling

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It will come as no shock that Covid-19 has dramatically changed society and our individual lives. For many people, this has been full of immense tragedy and stress. For others, it has prompted reflection on how to live. Three students from the master’s counseling program at William & Mary share their own experiences and the valuable lessons they have taken away from this generation-altering experience.


At the risk of trivializing the wake of grief surrounding us with the first-world-problem-curved lens covering my outlook, I want to convey what a refuge quarantine has been in certain respects. In that time, I learned a lot about the way I wear gender when things are “normal.” This year, I had a bad haircut, and it wasn’t the end of the world. My mask doesn’t take thirty minutes to put on in the morning anymore. I gained a few pounds, and I was still kind to myself. I put all my underwire bras in a pile in the corner of my closet and haven’t taken them back out since. 

-Lauren

One year into the pandemic, I feel like I’ve started to master living life with a blend of laziness and healthiness (Lazealthiness?). It all started with my George Foreman Grill. That thing is amazing. I throw a couple of frozen chicken breasts on there and set the timer for 15 minutes, and let it do its thing while I browse the Marvel Studios Spoilers subreddit. This lifestyle is best exemplified by my nap habit. Two naps a day may seem lazy and excessive, but it gives my eyes a rest from looking at screens and keeps me from throwing adult temper tantrums during class. Without the pandemic, I would have never mastered the art of Lazealthiness.

-Rocky

As we enter a new year I find myself hopeful and optimistic for change and progress. Although we may not be out of the woods yet, we can finally see the clearing. 2020 was a year unlike any in my lifetime and pushed many, if not all of us, to our limits. Changing the way we live our lives to fight an invisible foe has been no easy task. But through the stress and difficult times I have found clarity and fortitude. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.” You see we live in a microwave society, one in which having patience isn’t a necessity. But this year taught us something different. No matter how much we advance as a society, nature always has the last word. And that’s not a bad thing: it evens the playing field, it humbles us, it reminds us of what’s really important. For that I am grateful.

-Conor


Contributors

  • Lauren Jones is a second year master’s student in the Clinical Mental Health track at William & Mary.
  • Rocky Granum is currently studying Couples, Marriage, and Family Counseling at William & Mary. He is a family counseling intern at William & Mary’s New Horizons Family Counseling Center. 
  • Conor Yeomans is a master’s student studying Clinical Mental Health and Addictions Counseling at William & Mary.

Stephen Barlow is an assistant editor with the Wren’s Nest. He is currently studying Clinical Mental Health Counseling at William & Mary.

Teaching and Counseling in Era of Climate Crisis and Youth Activism | Alex Hilert, M.Ed.

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LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 15: Thousands of youth strikers gather in Parliament Square in central London to protest against the governments lack of action on the climate change and destruction of the environment. The 1st UK-wide youth strike is part of a global FridaysForFuture movement inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg who protests in front of the countrys parliament every Friday since September 2018 and is determined to carry on until the Swedens climate policies are in line with the Paris agreement. February 15, 2019 in London, England. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

“Adults in positions of power such as teachers and counselors can play a major role in supporting young people in responding to the climate crisis through meaning-focused coping”

The movement for climate justice consists more and more of young people demanding a socially just and equitable transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy (Fisher, 2016). Most recently, sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg ignited the international school strike movement that culminated in more than one million young people protesting for climate justice (Marris, 2019). Indigenous youth and youth of color from around the world living in frontline communities disproportionately affected by climate change have led numerous protests and advocacy efforts including the Dakota Access Pipeline protests (Wikler & Yakupitiyage, 2019). Organizations such as the youth-led Sunrise movement have led political advocacy efforts and 21 youth activists have sued the U.S. government for a clean and safe environment (Juliana et al., v. the United States of America, 2015). Spurred by a growing sense of frustration from the inaction of older adults in power, youth are no longer waiting to take their cues from adults in responding to the climate crisis. Researchers believe this is a powerful tactic because adults view youth as having more moral authority (Marris, 2019). 

At the same time, many youth are struggling to make sense of a future in a world that is in peril. Learning about the climate crisis frequently induces experiences of worry, anxiety, frustration, and hopelessness (Ojala, 2016). These emotional responses can be considered adaptive for their role in promoting pro-environmental behaviors (Verplanken & Roy, 2013). Yet they can also lead to avoidant coping, which is associated with the development of mental health issues (Burke, Sanson, & Van Hoorn, 2018). Alternatively, psychologists describe meaning-focused coping as an optimal strategy for promoting well-being and environmental engagement (Burke et al., 2018; Ojala, 2016). In meaning-focused coping, individuals “draw on their beliefs, values, and existential goals to evoke positive feelings that can help them to bear the worry associated with the threat of climate change, without having to minimize or deny its reality” (Burke et al., p. 35). Examples of meaning-focused coping can be seen in youth-led activism, as described by Greta Thunberg: 

I lost a lot of weight, because I was just so depressed. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. But then I started to come back, to become better, to feel better. And a reason for that was because I saw that there are actually things you can do, and I realized that I can do things.… I became a climate activist. And that helped a lot. And I think the more involved I became … the better I feel, the happier I feel, because I feel like I’m doing something important, something meaningful. (Democracy Now, 2019). 

Adults in positions of power such as teachers and counselors can play a major role in supporting young people in responding to the climate crisis through meaning-focused coping. Ojala (2016) argues for the potential of transformative and transgressive pedagogical approaches that include a focus on addressing the emotional aspects of climate change, such as anxiety and despair. Teachers and counselors can do this through role-modeling and evoking a sense of hope.

Teachers are powerful role-models when it comes to emotional regulation and expression. In a study of environmental and sustainable education, researchers found that high school students who believed their teachers would not validate their negative emotions concerning social issues were more likely to de-emphasize the threats of climate change than students who perceived their teachers as validating and supportive (Ojala, 2015). In the aftermath of climate-change related natural disasters and other climate change-related headlines, teachers and counselors should create spaces for students to openly process their feelings relating to climate change. Teachers and counselors can engender a sense of hope by drawing attention to the success of social movements throughout human history, discussing concrete pathways towards social change and environmental sustainability, and promoting individual agency by discussing ways students can become involved in advocacy efforts.  

In conclusion, climate change presents an existential threat which threatens the livelihood and well-being of future generations. Young people all across the world are already beginning to wake up to this reality and take political action. Teachers and counselors can follow their lead and act as supportive allies and role-models in this fight.

References

Burke, S. E. L., Sanson, A. V., & Hoorn, J. V. (2018). The psychological effects of climate change on children. Current Psychiatry Reports, 20, 1-8. doi:10.1007/s11920-018-0896-9

Democracy Now. (2019, September). “We are striking to disrupt the system”: An hour with 16-year-old climate activist Great Thunberg. Democracy Now. Retrieved from https://www.democracynow.org/2019/9/11/greta_thunberg_swedish_activist_climate_crisis

Fisher, S. (2016). Life trajectories of youth committing to climate activism. Environmental Education Research, 22, 229-247. doi:10.1080/13504622.2015.1007337

Juliana et al., v. United States of America, F. Supp. (D. Or. 2015)

Marris, E. (2019, September). Why young climate activists have captured the world’s attention. Nature: International Journal of Science. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02696-0

Ojala, M. (2016). Facing anxiety in climate change education: From therapeutic practice to hopeful transgressive learning. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 21, 41-56. 

Ojala, M. (2015). Hope in the face of climate change: Associations with environmental engagement and student perceptions of teachers’ emotion communication style and future orientation. Journal of Environmental Education, 46, 133-148. 

Wikler, M. & Yakupitiyage, T. (2019, October). 11 young climate justice activists you need to pay attention to. Vice. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/8xwvq3/11-young-climate-justice-activists-you-need-to-pay-attention-to-beyond-greta-thunbergVerplanken, B., & Roy, D. (2013). “My worries are rational, climate change is not”. Habitual ecological worry is an adaptive response. PLoS One, 8, 1-6.


About the Author: Alex Hilert, M.Ed. is a 3rd year doctoral candidate in Counselor Education and Supervision at William and Mary. He is currently pursuing research in culturally competent counseling practices and mindfulness meditation.

Positives of Pivoting: Reflections on the Transition to Virtual Career Advising | Corinne Townley

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“In a world that feels so out of control, career development is something tangible students can work towards.”

On March 6th, 2020, the Cohen Career Center was buzzing with students making last-minute edits to their resumes and internship applications before setting off on a week of rest and relaxation. No one knew when we left that sunny Friday afternoon, the career center’s doors would remain closed well past the end of spring break. Now, as we approach the one year mark of the pandemic, the career center has pivoted to offering services in a completely virtual format. Before the pandemic, Zoom appointments were not common and usually reserved for alumni or students completing their semester in Washington DC. Now, every student I see is a Zoom expert, and I suppose I am as well. I suspected when we switched to a fully virtual format that students would seek out career services less. Thinking about your career during a pandemic seemed like too great of an ask. However, as the fall semester progressed, I have been proven incorrect. Students have been active, engaged, and eager to talk about their careers. Here are some lessons I have learned being a career advisor in the midst of COVID-19: 

Students feel more comfortable in a virtual format. The generation currently in college grew up with iPhones, tablets, and Facetime. This is their wheelhouse. Students have expressed to me that they feel more comfortable having a significant conversation about their career now because they can wear leggings and be in their favorite comfy chair while they do it. We are both on the same level when we are each zooming from our homes. 

Our services are now more flexible. Students who previously could not have found the time to drive to campus and spend an hour at the career center can now access our services more easily. If students wake up at 3 am thinking about their resumes, they can log onto TribeCareers and find a virtual clinic. This also allows for students who are remote, work full time, are parents, or prefer to get work done at night to take advantage of the same services we would traditionally only offer in the 8:00-5:00 timeline. 

Students see working on their career as something to give them control. In a world that feels so out of control, career development is something tangible that students can work towards. There are an increasing number of online webinars, workshops, conferences, and other opportunities for students to explore career options and learn more about their industries. 

There are still challenges. Big events career fairs are difficult to replicate in a virtual format, and I don’t get to offer a seat to my students, shake their hand, or give them a glass of water. However, not every change has been negative. There are new, virtual practices that have been advantageous to William & Mary students that can be carried on after the pandemic is long gone. For now, I can offer students a space to air grievances about their online classes, their internship getting canceled, and their siblings running into their rooms when they need to study. But after we commiserate on how challenging the year has been, I then get to be a part of the student’s journey to a better tomorrow. 


Corinne Townley is a second-year master’s student in the Higher Education Administration program at the William & Mary School of Education. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Child Development and minored in Psychology and Leadership Studies at Appalachian State University. She intends to pursue a career in academic advising, career services, or other general student affairs role after graduation in May 2021.

Ways of Knowing: Dismantling Master’s House, Part 2 | Nick Dawkins

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Read Part 1 of this article here.


The struggle to arrive at the understanding of how deeply epistemologies and experiences shape educational organizations has taken my thoughts to a variety of experiences within Math spaces in my education. My mother’s math experiences and my experiences at home. My teachers and friends, math teachers I hired and observed, assistant principals and central office specialist we collaborated with designing and implementing math curricula. The central office math director and superintendents, the research and development department, and budget analyst, and my past school parents, who selected schools largely or solely based on math scores and ability to access advanced math courses. As I move outside of my home and into the organizational memories of faces that interacted and owned the math being utilized for decision-making, I can mostly see and remember white faces and spaces of employees and owners. This coupled with the black and brown faces of kids who we are constantly told need to catch up in mastering grade level mathematics standards. 

It is here that the ideas presented in Towards a framework for preparing leaders for social justice (Capper et al., 2006) most resonates. The exploration of a plethora of epistemologies, including Feminist Poststructural Epistemologies, Black Crit,  LatCrit, Tribal Crit, and Asian Crit Theories, Black Feminist and Disability Epistemologies, as well as Queer Theory, make clear a case for the expanded inclusion, understanding, and learning required to truly meet an organization’s diversity and equity goals—if truly desired for said organization. In leading for social justice and equity, an Educational leader must take into account the unseen structures that have created the need for social justice, and to ensure one is not replicating systems of oppression. The organization must understand how those systems of oppression have been built both unconsciously and consciously, and acknowledge the real harm done to many within the diversity of stakeholders the educational organization represents and serves. The bodies of literature we continue to explore, the practices we apply, the systems we interact with and the truth we see play out daily, reinforce unspoken ideas of white supremacy, white hegemony and otherness. In our own colleges while we are learning together, instances of racial conflict inspired by white supremacy currently surround our buildings and classrooms, with disturbing safety and security notifications sent electronically, informing us all of the constant attack on our singular and collective otherness, that is not the welcomed whiteness of this higher learning institutional setting. This further underscores the white supremacy inherent and intertwined in structural functionalism, and in the literal structures and tools surrounding what we hope to be our safest, most accepting and inspiring spaces for learning. What has emerged, pronounced more so than in any other time of my learning, is the attack and underscored invalidation diverse Americans face in their ways of knowing, ways people have learned, and the compromised position, suffering, and lack of coherence associated with this invalidation. 

Three recent encounters have continued to push my newest learnings forward. The images of my mother brought back by Capper’s writing on Black Feminist Epistemologies (2019, p. 157) filled me with warmth, reverie and the remembrance of my mother’s leadership after her work with the Black Panther Party and into her work with the Head Start organization. Capper’s examination of this particular epistemology resonated for me in the ideas of education as political liberation in connecting with the ethics of caring archetype of the nurturing mother (2019, p. 161).  “These leaders understand how educational inequities are not because of students, families, or communities but are a result of the structural, historical inequalities in society and schools” (Bloom et al., 2003). The continued discussion, documentation, reality and toxic impacts of macro-micro aggressions in this work as related to equity efforts and leading for social justice extends throughout the bodies of literature for educational leaders across diverse epistemologies and intersections; and I would argue designing, devising, and employing tools and tactics for educators to aggressively transform and dismantle inequitable educational spaces lays at the heart of the work of preparing school leaders for social justice. 

One of the most beautiful passages that I have come across was found in Capper’s description of indigenous knowledge systems: “A circular worldview that connects everything and everyone in the world to everything and everyone else, where there is no distinction between the physical and metaphysical and where ancestral knowledge guides contemporary practices and future possibilities. … This fundamental holistic perspective shapes all other understandings of the world.” (2019, p. 137).  This was also the passage that drove home my understanding of the concept of knowledge systems and how we know what we know, and what values are scribed to who knows what, and how they know. This is at the heart of equity work and reform. This is a central theme in how organizations are managed, operated, and led. In the past, this was nearly invisible to me. This understanding is now much more pronounced for me and reshapes a deficit frame of mind engrained since my childhood, one that continues to enact its own roadblocks in my mental models and deeply held beliefs about Black people and my own ability to learn in relation to mathematics and statistics, and by proxy my ability to find success in higher education. 

The truth is when the young student looked at me with tears in her eyes and stated she wasn’t good enough to find success in the upper level math course, inside my haunted unheard utterance and instinct replied, “I’m not good enough to help you out in learning math either. But I believe in you enough to believe that you can do it. The best I can do is coordinate some smarter white people in Math that will help you succeed. Not many of us are that good in math.” Deep inside me there was house built by “master,” where that belief lived and hid out. The house master had built inside of me is one of inferiority, doubt, and deep skepticism about what I know, how I know it, and the value of my collective knowledge and experiences. I am still fighting in my Introduction to Statistics course and taking in what I am learning in my Organizational Theory course. I am releasing the weight of past expectations and the invisible set of beliefs I’ve been conditioned to accept from various people, systems, and members who make up organizations I have learned in. I am continually learning that of all the tools that can be used to dismantle “master’s house,” belief may be the most powerful one.  


References


A leader and catalyst for change in the current educational reform efforts, Nick Dawkin’s two decades of experience in working in schools and communities has given him a deep insight, inspiration, and commitment to the youth in our cities. As an educator and school leader, he has tirelessly worked to close achievement gaps and increase access and equity to experiences that create significant impacts in the lives of our students from various cultures and regions throughout our country. Nick is currently working on his Ed.D. at the University of Denver.

Ways of Knowing: Dismantling Master’s House, Part 1 | Nick Dawkins

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“And hip hop is tied up in the back room
With a logo stuffed in its mouth
’cause the master’s tools will never
dismantle the master’s house.”

Ani DiFranco, Serpentine, 2003

Through a critical exploration of the current ideas and implications of the structural functional epistemologies dominating public education spaces, our cohort is currently learning to diagnose and distill the mental models and multi-layered histories behind educating the nations’ students. What continues to rise to the surface in my own understanding is how deeply embedded the conditioning of beliefs and values are within organizational frameworks and individual mindsets. I previously understood the importance of mental models, values, and getting to what is beneath the surface, however, I was less aware of how our stories, of how we learn, and how we have come to know, were implicated and situated within organizational structures. This emerging understanding has shifted my learning into deeply personal places and reflections.

The golden age of hip hop music and culture we grew up in was governed by golden ratios of rhythms and patterns; mathematical sequences of beats, rhymes and life. The math moving in our bodies is the best way I remember feeling and knowing geometry and the motion of numbers inhabiting both seen and unseen galaxies of life. My most intimate ways of knowing, feeling, understanding, and learning math are also connected to some of the most insecure and sacred areas of heart. I have always questioned inside and suspected that my indigenous, guttural and innate ways of knowing were only the ways that we knew, that we grew up learning, and that learning wasn’t validated, or good enough for inside the walls of a Math classroom. My childhood friends and I learned outside the walls of classrooms, and left behind the tattered Math books, broken binders and dingy pages of math practice problems.

While studying Organizational Theory this term, my learning has been coupled with Introductory Statistics, an area of research that has long been dominated by a kingdom of white male thinkers, “White guys who are now dead based on studies of White guys who are also now dead” (Capper, 2017, p.15), and in an area of academics where I have watched literally thousands of students of color struggle. As a school leader, every year I marveled at how little progress is being made in students of color reaching grade level standards in mathematics at scale and across various public-school districts. In my principal role I have held countless conversations with students and parents about upper level math classes, lack of access, performance, competency and confidence. Once, I demanded that my assistant principal supervising math instruction integrate our highest math class in the school after observing an all-white advanced math classroom for two semesters in a school that was highly diverse in student ethnicity. The hardest part of following up on that directive was my conversation with the single young Black student we placed in the class, based on our perception of her ability to succeed with supports. One day after school she waited by the school’s office and begin to say to me softly, “I don’t want to be in that class. I’m not smart enough.” I fought back and replied with an affirmation and stated my belief that she had everything she needed to succeed and that we would support her. She lifted her head filled with fuzzy corn rolls, and I noticed the ash from the tears she had been hiding on her coffee brown face, “Mr., I’m not good enough.”

What currently endures most in my continued learning of organizational theory is the idea of ways of knowing and the development of epistemologies connected to ways of knowing (Tabron, 2017). Our critical dialogues in the classroom coupled with Capper’s text have expanded my thinking about organizational theory. My newer understandings include the ideas of lived experiences, underpinning assumptions, systems, values, and the structural functionalism it is connected to in relation to the creation, crafting, and continued shaping of the status quo (or Null Hypothesis!) that exist within educational spaces, policies, and practices. (Tabron)

“Educators taking structural functional epistemologies strive toward efficiency and effectiveness via regulation, and directly apply the principles of natural science to social science (Foster, 1986a; Ritzer, 1980; Skrtic, 1991). Burrell and Morgan (2003) explain: ‘The functionalist approach to social science tends to assume that the social world is composed of relatively concrete empirical artifacts and relationships which can be identified, studied, and measured through approaches derived from the natural sciences’ (p. 26, cited in Capper, 1993, p. 11). These educators believe the world to be measurable, quantifiable, and predictable, as their unitary view of reality posits a steady baseline against which behavior may be compared (Capper & Jamison, 1993a; Popkewitz, 1984).”

(Capper, 37)

This exploration of organizational theory has sharpened my clarity as to the extent in which these elements expand and impact the work of improving outcomes for all stakeholders. My own sense of deep failure, hesitation, and inherent flawed-ness in relation to my Statistics course took me back to the children in the classroom seats, the little Black boys who are often kicked out, removed, and remediated within Math classroom spaces. In my heart I still felt just like the young student who approached me in my principal role years later, and inside I may have replied to the young lady that I am not good enough either.

Return for Part 2 of this article on November 13.


References


A leader and catalyst for change in the current educational reform efforts, Nick Dawkin’s two decades of experience in working in schools and communities has given him a deep insight, inspiration, and commitment to the youth in our cities. As an educator and school leader, he has tirelessly worked to close achievement gaps and increase access and equity to experiences that create significant impacts in the lives of our students from various cultures and regions throughout our country. Nick is currently working on his Ed.D. at the University of Denver.

Reimagining Education in a Pandemic: A call to action | Megan Storey Hallam, Ed.S

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As educators, we must not permit the educational gap to widen so significantly during this pandemic, especially considering the recent injustices and promises of social reform in our country.

Part 1 of this article presented the results of an educator survey conducted at the beginning of the pandemic and highlighted critical areas of consideration for school leaders. Most pressing is the thorny issue of equity. In late August, researchers at the Center on Reinventing Public Education reviewed a nationally representative sample of school district reopening plans and found that an average of 26% of schools across the nation planned to start the year with a fully remote program (Gross et al. 2020). However, this figure rose to 41% in districts serving high poverty populations. Although some schools are providing laptops and internet, this practice is not universal and also does not address the availability of adult support at home. Participants in a panel discussion at the National Principals Conference in August placed considerable emphasis on the learning equity issues present between students whose parents are available to stay at home and facilitate instruction relative to those with parents who must work outside the home (Provenzano et al. 2020). Panelists also noted that many areas had limited broadband access and that the provision of devices alone would not meet the educational support needs of students. Unfortunately, these are only a few factors contributing to the deepening equity divide once we consider that families with more resources are organizing pandemic pods (Blum & Miller, 2020) or deciding to transfer their children to private schools that offer in-person instruction (Reilly, 2020). 

This equity divide is especially evident when comparing my own private school setting to our neighboring public schools in New York City. When we closed in March, we had the resources to provide laptops to students in need, while many public school students waited months for devices. Our leadership team immediately formed subcommittees not only to enhance the virtual learning in progress but also to plan in earnest for reopening. When the state finally released school reopening guidance in July and provided mere days for schools to submit their plans, we found that we not only met but also exceeded requirements. We were able to open school on schedule in early September while the NYC public schools faced ongoing delays, pushing back the start date to October 1st for some students (NYC Department of Education, n.d.). The majority of our lower school learners engage in five full days of in-person instruction each week, whereas the reopening plan published on the NYC Department of Education website indicates that elementary students currently participate in only one to three days per week. In our setting, middle and upper school students attend school on a hybrid schedule and alternate between full days of in-person and live virtual instruction. In contrast, the corresponding schedule for public school students in grades 6-12 provides only one to two days of in-person instruction per week. Even more concerning, when NYC public school students are learning at home, they have access to limited live instruction. Students in kindergarten through second grade are provided with only 65-95 minutes of synchronous instruction per day, and high school students are allocated a total of 100-120 minutes each day. Research suggests that the combination of a delayed start, limited opportunities to attend school in-person, and minimal live instruction while at home places these students at risk for missing the equivalent of months of learning (Garcia and Weiss, 2020).

It is clear that many other concerns initially highlighted by the educators surveyed in March continue to impact students negatively. The emotional and physical well-being and safety of students remain top considerations for educators, especially for the 26% of students across the nation who are learning remotely and the additional 12% participating in a hybrid model of instruction (Gross et al. 2020). Social-emotional concerns are also loudly echoed by parents. A recent survey conducted in September by Hart Research Associates for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, League of United Latin American Citizens and NAACP found that 47% of participating parents associated remote learning with a significant negative impact on their child’s social and emotional health and well-being (Hart Research Associates, 2020). At-risk students are also likely to have limited access to vital nutrition programs, special education, ESOL services, and counseling support so these services must be a top priority for school reopening plans (Garcia & Weiss, 2020).

A third of the March educator survey participants referenced in Part 1 of this article indicated that they did not feel well prepared to teach online, and comments further revealed that teachers were feeling overwhelmed with trying to juggle their personal and professional demands. As highlighted during the panel discussion at the National Principals Conference, and in other policy forums, schools are now noting alarming levels of educator attrition and shortages (Educational Policy Institute, 2020; Kini, 2020; Provenzano et al. 2020). In addition, the recent survey conducted by Hart Research Associates revealed that 33% of the educators polled reported feeling more likely to leave teaching or retire early (Hart Research Associates, 2020). Teachers also overwhelmingly reported that both hybrid or full remote models resulted in more work for them and 36% further indicated that remote instruction has worked much less well for students relative to traditional instruction. Garcia and Weiss (2020) conducted a review of pandemic relevant research and succinctly captured the intersectionality of these issues in one of their key lessons, stating that “research regarding online learning and teaching shows that they are effective only if students have consistent access to the internet and computers and if teachers have received targeted training and supports for online instruction” (p.2). In this context, educational leaders face the challenge of supporting teachers and providing essential professional development to build online teaching skills while operating within reduced budgets that must prioritize safety measures. 

As educators, we must not permit the educational gap to widen so significantly during this pandemic, especially considering the recent injustices and promises of social reform in our country. Although daunting, our response to the challenges created by COVID-19 presents an opportunity for schools to reconsider current practices and emerge stronger and more equitable, with enhanced skills to leverage technology and a continuum of supports to meet community needs. We are powerful agents of change and must respond to this call to action, for our students, our colleagues, ourselves, and our society. 


References


Megan Storey Hallam is a school psychologist employed as the Director of Student Support Services at Leman Manhattan. She completed her Ed.S in School Psychology at William & Mary and is currently a doctoral student in the Educational Policy, Planning & Leadership program.

Reimagining Education in a Pandemic: Reflections from the field | Megan Storey Hallam, Ed.S

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Six months ago, COVID-19 shuttered schools overnight and led to unprecedented challenges and opportunities in both the classroom and the field of education. Now, faced with the expectation to reopen schools in alignment with the traditional school calendar, we must consider whether we are on the right path to provide an excellent and equitable education for our students. 

Last March I was tasked with providing guidance to my Manhattan-based school during the initial transition to online learning. In searching for answers that would inform me and benefit colleagues in a similar position, I created a survey with items that reflected the questions that appeared most frequently on various educator forums. Next, in collaboration with my co-worker, Daniel Cruz, I distributed the survey to multiple groups, including a Teaching During COVID-19 Facebook group with over 139,000 members.

Over a one week period, 1145 educators completed the survey, with 90% located in the United States and reporting an average of 11.5 years of experience. Seventy-seven percent of educators were employed in public schools, 15% worked in private schools, 6% were employed at charter schools and the remaining educators were employed in other settings. School district size within the United States sample ranged from a few hundred to 271,000.

A majority (81%) of respondents reported that they were expected to teach online during school closures, with 97% working from home. Equity concerns were the primary reason cited for the 19% of educators who indicated that they would not provide online instruction. Just over half (55%) of teachers indicated that they were responsible for caring for family members while also leading online instruction.

Most educators (88%) reported that they did not have any experience teaching online. Prior to initiating online instruction, 63% received an average of 4.5 hours of training. Around half of educators (48%) rated this training as moderately effective, 25% rated their training as slightly effective, and 15% reported training that was highly effective. Close to half (45%) of the teachers surveyed indicated that they felt somewhat prepared to teach online, and an additional 16% reported feeling very well prepared. The remaining educators reported feeling somewhat unprepared (21%), not at all prepared (16%) or unable to determine.

Ultimately, the focus of the survey was to understand how to best support educators and continue learning for students during the school closures. Over 900 teachers responded to an open-ended prompt asking them to share their greatest concerns as educators during the current situation. Equity overwhelmingly emerged as the leading theme, with concerns raised about access to devices and the internet as well as online instruction for students with disabilities. Comments indicated that many students were sharing devices with other family members and had not received adequate instruction on how to utilize online platforms. Repeated concerns were raised about students who did not have an adult available to support learning at home, with one teacher stating, “I am so worried about my students whose parents work all day and can’t help with schoolwork, and those whose parents do not speak English or are illiterate. Who is going to help them? How are they going to learn at home?”. 

Another major area highlighted in responses related to the emotional and physical well-being of students, including mental health supports, availability of food, and students’ physical safety. Many school nutrition programs were continuing, and most of the surveyed counselors indicated that counseling services would transition online. However, it remained unclear whether those supports would reach the students with the greatest need, especially if it required families to provide the technology or transportation necessary for access. 

Many educators reported a lack of clarity related to virtual teaching expectations along with limited support from administrators for implementation. Responses further reflected concerns regarding student engagement and the quality and rigor of online instruction. Personal concerns also emerged, with educators citing fatigue and the burdens associated with the additional time and preparation required to deliver online instruction, trying to care for family members while working, and apprehension about their job security. One teacher remarked, “This is the most overwhelming thing I have ever experienced in either my personal or professional life. I don’t know how I am going to do this!”

Responses to this survey back in March highlighted critical areas that warrant immediate attention from school leaders, as well as important considerations for the long-term sustainability of online instruction. However, an examination of current school reopenings suggests that national, local, and school leaders missed critical opportunities to address these areas of concern, further exacerbating the crisis. 

Return for Part 2 of this article on October 16th, which will feature a reflection of these survey results in the context of the urgent and ongoing issues facing educators.


Megan Storey Hallam is a school psychologist employed as the Director of Student Support Services at Leman Manhattan. She completed her Ed.S in School Psychology at William & Mary and is currently a doctoral student in the Educational Policy, Planning & Leadership program.

A Conversation with Dean Knoeppel | Part 2

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Connection and Virtual Education

Read Part I of the exclusive Wren’s Nest conversation with Dean Knoeppel here.


“When we finally come back together, we are going to be different, and the world is going to be different.  The goal shouldn’t be to go back to the way it always was. The goal should be to learn, grow, adapt, and change.” 

Continuing our conversation, we asked Dean Knoeppel about his leadership philosophy and experiences…

How would you describe your leadership over the School of Education? Are there certain aspects of leadership you’ve taken as your own style over the years?

This might be my biggest area of growth… I’ve always thought people were really important.  I’ve always thought relationships were really important.  I always thought that was at the core of education, and it is.  No question that it is.  When I made the transition to leadership, I really still came in from that perspective…but my notion of what relationships are and how they matter has changed.  Education foundationally is relational.  I really thought, ‘Okay, if I have relationships with people, they are going to trust me and maybe they’ll take a risk, and they’ll grow, and they’ll change,’ like a student would in your classroom or in a counseling session.  And that does work, but there’s more to it.  It really is about inspiring and empowering creativity.  I do think that’s how I’ve changed as a leader over time.  

I really think that good leaders have relationships with the people in their organization, but it’s maybe a little different.  The goal is to interact with as many people as possible, because in my job, what I need to do is share information, and it needs to travel widely and broadly.  And the facility need to have that information so that they can be creative about how they attack the job, how they problem-solve.

I am a ‘go out into the world’ person.  I think that education is an applied field.  The stuff that we do has to matter out in the world.  So you want to train great educators, whether it’s a teacher or a school psychologist or a principal or a counselor, and you want them to go out into their schools or their communities, and you want them to make a difference.  You want them to transform communities.  At a school like William & Mary, the faculty are also expected to do ground-breaking research.  We want that to trickle down into the field.  We want that to trickle down into how kids learn.  We want that to trickle down into how we train teachers.  We want that to inform policy.  And in order to accomplish that mission, we have to do both of those things: We have to be here in the classroom and be scholars here on campus, but then we have to go out.

If you wanted students/alumni to know one thing about you or your position, what would it be?

I strongly believe that education is an applied field. As a School of Education, we want to train great educators while conducting rigorous research.  In doing this, we impact families and communities and provide input on policy.  I plan to be visible in my role.  I want to be in the field and in schools.  I want to visit our graduates and to find ways to partner with and serve the community.  I want to affirm our relationships with educators, human services professionals, policy makers, and the business community to build a broad coalition to support education.


Dean Knoeppel shared his love for getting immersed in the community, including visiting public schools and the educational camps held at William & Mary—something he was not able to do this summer. This prompted us to ask about the future of education in a pandemic:

Considering the effects of virtual learning on our ability to go out into the world, do you have any thoughts on how to build community or how we might go about getting involved while physically distant?

I think that what we have to do is get better at how to use technology to be interactive. We can do that in a lot of different ways. At the USF one of the things we did that I was really proud of was we created groups for every single major, and for elementary education we had four hundred students, so we had them broken into cohorts. We had in-house advising in the College of Education there, and the advisors created a forum, a space for them. It could be social. It could be advising. One of the things that they did that was hilarious was they were doing a focus on physical health during the pandemic. One of the advisors had the kids work out, and they invited me. So picture me in a Zoom meeting with 24 elementary education majors, and we’re working out online.  I think there are ways we can learn to interact and communicate. 

When we went into the pandemic, what I decided to do was to become more active on social media.  I started following current periodicals in education.  What I really wanted to know was what are people thinking about, what are they wondering about, what do they wish they knew more about?  And how do we support that?  One of the things was integration of technology into education.  If we can become more adept at using technology, it could be a better way to personalize learning.  When you think about children, in K-12 schools, you go based on where you live.  Unfortunately, sometimes kids get sent to schools and the quality of the education they get is contingent on the zip code where they live, which is not okay.  Technology, if it’s used correctly, can be the new frontier on educational equity and educational opportunity.  So in education we talk about words like ‘differentiation’ —how do I change the instruction to meet a student’s need?  We also use the word ‘individualization’ or ‘individuation’ to talk about how do you tailor learning to a student.  But you’re still doing that in a room with 32 people.  In a technology environment, between synchronous and asynchronous modalities, what you really can do is deliver instruction in terms of content, but then have a much more one-on-one interaction that’s based on what the student’s learning needs and learning style is, and allow them in interact with content and then bring in partners, like parents or tutors or volunteers, into that process too. So it becomes a much more one-on-one interaction with the student.  That could really be a huge break-through for equity.  As we think about schools of the future and how we train teachers, teaching them how to do these things, to embed it into their instruction and their instructional delivery, is a great way to meet the learning goals of kids. 

[Concerning virtual learning], I think we are looking at it the wrong way.  We are saying, ‘We have to use technology.’  Well that’s not actually the right way to look at it.  The way to look at it is, what did you want the student to learn?  What did you want them to know and be able to do?  What’s the lesson you were going to teach?  And what is a technological tool that would support that?  It changes the order of it.  Instead of technology being the locomotive, it’s really one of the other cars on the train because you start out with, ‘What do I want kids to know and be able to do?’  We can learn how to design interactive environments for them around that.  We aren’t talking about online delivery anymore.  We’re talking about online learning.  I think that has to be a part of how you train teachers too. 

When I was dean at USF, I always used to say to the faculty, ‘I have two questions for you.’  The first question is, ‘What are the schools of the future going to look like?’  And the second question is, ‘What skills do educators need that are going to work in those schools?’  When we finally come back together, we are going to be different, and the world is going to be different.  The goal shouldn’t be to go back to the way it always was. The goal should be to learn, grow, adapt, and change.  I do think that this is an equity opportunity for us, how we rethink how we deliver instruction.  There’s always an opportunity.  It really just depends on how you look at things.  You can look at it as a major challenge and a major problem—and it is a major challenge and a major problem—but this is going to force us to shake the etch-a-sketch and not alter the picture, but draw a new one. 


Devon Boyers is the Associate Editor with Wren’s Nest. She is currently a master’s student, studying Clinical Mental Health Counseling at William & Mary.

A Conversation with Dean Knoeppel | Part 1

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“The most important disposition in education is the disposition of dignity of all people.”

Continuing with our tradition of interviewing leaders at William & Mary, the Wren’s Nest spoke with Dr. Robert Knoeppel, incoming dean at the School of Education, in an exclusive virtual conversation.  From at his home office, Dean Knoeppel shared his career path and vision for leadership in the School of Education, as well as his own maturation as a leader.  We ended our time with his musings on community and equity in learning in a virtual education landscape.  His conviction that connection is possible despite physical distance was hopeful and keenly felt—all the more so for being shared virtually.  We hope you enjoy this conversation as much as we did. 

Dr. Robert Knoeppel

When asked about his start in education, Dean Knoeppel described his route as “circuitous.”  He earned a bachelors degree in economics, spending his summers teaching swimming and working with children.  He also taught swimming at the Chapel Hill YMCA, which affirmed his enjoyment in working with youth.  Although his first job was working on the floor of the American Stock Exchange and later in Congress, he relied on a mentor and the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to decide ultimately to pursue a degree in education. 

What was one of most impactful experiences you had with education before you became an administrator?

I feel very lucky that I’ve had a 28-year career in education – I’ve been a school counselor, I’ve been a faculty member, and a varsity coach.  I’ve worked with people across a broad spectrum of ages – aged 3 to 70s.  Understanding the developmental issues of children, working with families in crisis, teaching adults have all shaped my thoughts on education, education policy, forming partnerships and relationships, and communicating.  

When you were younger, what was your dream job?

When I was younger, I do not know that I had a dream job.  I always enjoyed coursework in social sciences – history, political science, humanities, and economics.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with people.  I wanted to do something that I enjoyed, where I could contribute and learn.  I have always sought out jobs that allow you to give and grow. After working on Wall Street and the US House of Representatives, I became much more focused on working in the field of education broadly defined – my focus became on working in a ‘helping profession.’  Throughout my career in education, I have maintained that focus on give and grow – beginning as a school counselor, and then a director of guidance.  I worked as an adjunct at UVA and George Mason before becoming a professor, then program coordinator, department chair and then a dean.  At first, it was hard to leave positions with direct contact with children and students, but I realized that you continue to give and grow in leadership roles – you can impact the learning experiences for students in leadership jobs and ultimately impact more students.

How did your career path lead you to William & Mary?

My strong interest as both a practitioner and as a researcher has been on equity of educational opportunity.  I strongly agree with the values of equity, social justice, and the transformational nature of education.  I was drawn to William & Mary because of the mission of the School of Education – it aligned strongly with my values and I felt that the institution was a good match.

What mindsets are important for current students to consider as they develop into professionals in the educational field?

I think that the most important disposition in education is the disposition of dignity of all people.  As educators, we must be aware of our bias – we all have bias.  However, we have to create welcoming environments that recognize the value of all people – that celebrates the value of all people – that appreciates all cultures and maximizes the social capital that is found in a diverse community.  In so doing, we create critical relationships with the communities that we serve and maximize student achievement.

Where do these convictions come from for you?

I’ve learned through experience.  Working in student services gives an educator the unique opportunity to interact with families in a different way than a classroom teacher.  Perhaps my greatest learning in these areas has been in supervising dissertations on how we prepare and mentor new teachers in cultural competence and culturally responsive pedagogy and educational leaders in social justice and culturally responsive leadership.

You’ve had quite a lot of leadership and education experience. Are there changes you have led that you are proud of or that have positively impacted students?

At Clemson, I was proud to be part of a team that developed a new degree program – an Education Doctorate (EdD) in Educational Systems and Improvement Science.  The program was designed to focus on systematic education improvement for district level leaders.  The three themes of race, rurality, and poverty were chosen to contextualize the degree program for leaders in South Carolina’s schools.  Finally, we focused on using Improvement Science as a way to research programs of whole school reform.

As USF, I was very proud to establish and empower the Office of Field and Clinical Education.  We realized that we needed to improve the partnerships that we had with the local school districts and to rethink the experiences that our student teachers had in the field.  USF is the second largest producer of teachers in the state of Florida (2200 students) and we knew that the opportunity to apply knowledge and to develop pedagogical skill was critically important as part of our teacher prep programs.

Part 1 of 2. (Read: Part 2: Connection and Virtual Education)


Devon Boyers is the Associate Editor with Wren’s Nest. She is currently a master’s student, studying Clinical Mental Health Counseling at William & Mary.

A Trip Inside D.C.’s Education System | Aidan Gossett

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“Urban education has many complex layers and systems, which on top of operating differently throughout the country, makes it difficult to apply broad problem solving strategies.”

As an undergraduate student at William & Mary, I have been able to take multiple courses within the School of Education as I explored different majors. I have stumbled into a lot of great opportunities through these courses and have met incredibly passionate professors who have helped guide me towards different areas of education. This past school year, I was an undergraduate researcher for Dr. Meredith Kier on the ongoing EAGER project, which studies the minority gap in STEM. Although I have enjoyed researching, my favorite education focused experience so far was taking a course titled “Urban Education: Policy, Practice, and Leadership” this past January through the W&M Washington Center. The course was taught by Drew Stelljes and it confirmed for me that when I had signed up for my first School of Education course that it was no accident; education is something I am deeply passionate about.

Aidan (back right) with other W&M students at a networking dinner with the Dream Project, a non-profit organization that supports immigrant students

My biggest take away from this course was that the education system in DC is incredibly complex and dominated by socio-economic status. PK-12 education in DC is split between 3 main types of schools: independent (commonly referred to as private), public, and charter. Each independent school in DC has a Board of Governors who oversee the school and together, and together these schools have a collaborative council that oversees their operations.  Public schools fall under both the Chancellor of DC Public Schools (DCPS), which handles personnel, and The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), which handles policies and curriculum for DCPS. Lastly, public charter schools are overseen by the DC Public Charter School Board, which grants new charters, monitors performance, and closes underperforming schools. Some charter schools are a part of a larger charter school network like the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and these schools often have their own regional Board of Directors.  

Personally, I had no idea how perplexing the education system in DC was, even though I grew up only an hour away. To gain a better understanding we visited many different schools on site visits, like Sidwell Friends School (independent), KIPP DC (charter), and a Literacy Lab site within Raymond Education Campus. Each school visit gave us a glimpse into their world, which we used to create a deeper class understanding of how they are compare with one another. While the site visits were informative, each school focused mainly on their achievements and other positive aspects, which meant we did not always get a full picture. To provide a broader district view, we had meetings with prominent DC education figures like Hansuel Kang, the State Superintendent of Education and Sharona Robinson, the Community Action Team Coordinator for Clusters 1, 9, and 10 of DCPS, who herself is a DCPS graduate. Both leaders provided valuable insight on the positives and negatives of the current education system in DC and how they are working to improve it. Something echoed by both Sharona Robinson and Hansuel Kang was that there is limited understanding of the entire education system in DC by parents and even by some professionals within. 

This limited understanding became a common theme throughout the course no matter where we went. Sharona Robinson told us that every year she is flooded with calls from parents, who do not know how the DC public education system functions, to help them understand how they can give their children the best opportunities possible. To acquire a spot within a DC charter school or a public school outside of where a student is zoned, you have to get lucky in the DC school lottery. Sharona explained how the lottery plays heavily into what makes the education system in DC so confusing, along with how it reinforces socio-economic separation. To help combat this, Sharona works tirelessly to help parents win at the lottery system, advising parents to not put all their marbles on a school that only has a few open slots, compared to one with over a hundred. What I found so heartbreaking about this was that these parents are fighting for their kids and yet continuously hit roadblocks because of their family means. This limited understanding sometimes extends to teachers as well, some of whom do not understand intricacy of the leadership structures. During a networking dinner, a DCPS teacher said that if he could ask Superintendent Kang one question it would be, “why they are not hiring more teachers?” When we met with Superintendent Kang the next day, her response to the question was, that was not her office’s role, instead the role of the Chancellor of DC Public Schools, the office which handles DCPS staff. For me, this highlighted the complexity and if even those within the education system do not understand it fully, how can families understand it?

“The most important lesson I took away from this course was that transparency and simplicity increase community understanding and districtwide equity.”

Urban education has many complex layers and systems that simply do not exist in suburban or rural area and makes it difficult to apply broad problem solving strategies. I grew up in a suburban area without charter schools, three private schools in a 30 miles radius, and the vast majority of students attended public school. Like many districts, some schools had better reputations than others and there were conflicts over proposed rezoning, but nothing compared to the complexity of DC’s education system. The most important lesson I took away from this course was that transparency and simplicity increase community understanding and districtwide equity. I urge anyone and everyone to take the time to research their local education system, because one day you may be a parent fighting for the best possible education for your child. 


About the Author: Aidan Gossett is a sophomore at W&M studying government and global education concentration and is set to graduate in May 2022. He is currently involved in research within W&M School of Education’s Center for Innovation in Learning Design and as a student advisor in the Conduct and Honor Advisor Program.

Practicing What We Preach | John Griffin, M.Ed. ’19

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“We dedicate time to promoting holistic and intentional practices, but in our efforts to champion this cause, we often forget to apply these lessons to our own daily actions. The processes, deadlines, and stress of our job responsibilities pull us all away from fully being there for our students in the ways that they truly need from us.”

As higher education professionals, our student affairs best practices rapidly evolve to meet today’s student and societal needs. Students face an increasing number of pressures during their college experience, and in response we have elevated our advocacy for wellness and mindful habits as the best tools for overburdened students. 

We encourage students to cultivate mindful and intentional practices, no matter how busy their life gets or how many projects they have on their schedule. We dedicate time to promoting holistic and intentional practices, but in our efforts to champion this cause, we often forget to apply these lessons to our own daily actions. The processes, deadlines, and stress of our job responsibilities pull us all away from fully being there for our students in the ways that they truly need from us.

Author John Griffin participating in VIMS new student orientation where they travel to their Eastern Shore lab and spend the day on the water

The stress and work requirements placed on higher education professionals increases with each year as the funding and support we receive dwindles. To stay viable, many institutions have adopted a results-oriented mindset that focuses on the quantifiable outcomes that we can produce. No matter our role on campus, we all have results and expectations that we feel pressured to achieve. These work outcomes that we now focus on are the low hanging fruits of our roles as they are the easiest achievements to express. For instance, when people check-in about the status of the current admissions season, they are asking about application numbers, GPAs, and test scores involved in the process and not the individual student stories or accomplishments. In admissions, these numbers and figures are the easiest results to express and our emphasizing their value pulls our attention away from getting to know individual applications closely. In contrast to the outcome focused mindset, the meaningful interactions we have with students are difficult to quantify. Paradoxically, the additional roles and responsibilities placed upon our work and the stress to prove our worth prevents us from achieving the most important part of our jobs: supporting students. We are asked to add value to our institution in a system that poorly measures the core components of our jobs.

These metrics we have adopted do not account for the times we check in on students and make sure they are doing okay, or when we sit and listen to a student talk about the anxieties they have about campus or their future. These are all things that we seek to accomplish each day, but these are not the things we are rewarded for or that consume most of our working hours. This mindset of achieving expressible outcomes shifts the focus of all student affairs administrators away from our most crucial responsibilities and it instead emphasizes the aspects of our roles that exhaust us.

Author John Griffin at a Marine Science conference highlighting VIMS along with other Virginia peer institutions

The work expectations in higher education that form our essential responsibilities have shifted away from student interactions and toward the number of emails we send, meetings we attend, and revenue generated. All that work is important for institutional success, but we cannot lose sight of engaging holistically with our students as we perform our jobs. We must consider students beyond the outcomes and numbers our job wants to frame them as. To do this we must disengage from the expectation of producing clearly defined outcomes as the purpose of our job and instead realign our focus on the intentional and impactful interactions we have with students as the top achievements of our day. 

As we advocate wellness and mindfulness practices to students, our best advice is to slow down and take experiences one at a time rather than get wrapped up in the stressors of student life. This mantra is the exact lesson that student affair administrators must embody in their work. My biggest piece of advice to all current and future higher education professionals is simply to place students at the heart of your daily work. You never know what small event will reverberate deeply in a student’s experience and we therefore must always be a catalyst for student engagement. This means that we must seek out regular student interactions and be present in their lives. Too often we get caught up in meeting our work expectations and spend our days hiding behind our computer monitors, eating lunch in our offices, and going the whole day only talking to work colleagues. If that is how we fill our time, then there is no difference between our jobs and a regular office job. Our roles are not meant to be simply office jobs though! We are in higher education because we sought out a career to support and develop students because that brings us joy and fulfillment. Therefore, if we center our work days around the actions of our jobs that give us purpose and energy, then we will be both practicing wellness and deepening the experience that students have with our campuses. There are many ways to practice wellness in our roles, but one of the easiest is to reallocate your daily energy back into the areas of your job that you love – engaging with students and being a presence on campus.


About the Author: John Griffin is a Colorado native who came to Virginia to earn his M.Ed. from William & Mary’s School of Education and graduated in 2019. He is currently the Assistant Director for Admissions & Student Affairs at William & Mary’s School of Marine Science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.