Start with Strengths (in Education) Part 2

Author: Karen Copeland

In my previous post, I alluded to a number of things happening within the education world that give me hope and provide me with encouragement on our family journey with our child. I would like to highlight some of these initiatives today. I have tried to categorize them for easier reference. If you know of an initiative happening in your district, I invite you to share in the comments.


Anxiety appears to be one of the predominant mental health challenge that is impacting children, youth and families today. Traditionally (and even according to some research statistics), it was thought anxiety did not develop until children reached the ages of 11 or 12, but many, many people would dispute this thought today. Our own child demonstrated significant anxiety responses at a very young age. I am hearing from parents and educators who have children and students who are struggling with this. The good news is there is a lot of curiousity out there about anxiety, and how to support our children and students who are experiencing this.

Ian Landy, a Principal at Sorrento Elementary School in the Sorrento BC has compiled a list of resources related to anxiety, as well as written several powerful blog posts about supporting students who have anxiety in the classroom. A must read is his post “A blunt approach to anxiety” here:

A group of educators have started a twitter handle called @anxietyined where they are compiling resources and strategies to incorporate into their practice with students who have anxiety. They have created a google plus page where the resources and articles are listed. You can find it here:

Many elementary schools have access to educators who have been trained to teach the Friends for Life (grade 4/5) and Fun Friends (grade K/1) program, an anxiety reduction and resiliency building program. Did you know there is a parent program available to compliment each of these programs? You can find the Friends and Fun Friends Parent Programs online here:

The Power of Connection and Relationship Development

I truly believe there are a number of educators who are promoting the power of connection and the importance of relationship development across our country. Many of them are writing about this on blogs; about their learning, their ideas around how to connect, and sharing different ways they are doing this.

I highly recommend reading Chris Wejr’s blog: The Wejr Board. Chris has posted multiple entries about how he strives to build connection and relationships not only with the students in his school, but also the parents of those students, his staff, as well as the larger community.

Bev Ogilvie, a District Counsellor in Burnaby BC has written a book titled ConnectZone. In this book she shares her wisdom on the importance of connection and compiles stories from a variety of staff within the education system on how they have been able to develop connections with their most vulnerable students. You can visit Bev’s website here:

I recall having an opportunity to speak with a youth about a school program he was attending, and his response to the question “what means the most to you at school?”. His answer was “morning check in”, because he felt like he was important and that the people asking were interested in him. His comment resonated with me. You can bet I was pleased when I learned that an elementary school educator, Karen Lirenman, is using technology to do a check in with her students every morning. You can learn more about that on Ms Lirenman’s blog here: What’s Your Mood? Giving Students Voice Through Google Forms.

Never underestimate The Power of the Positive Call Home. I came across this blog post by Elena Aguilar earlier in the summer and really appreciated the idea and experiences she was sharing. As parents of kids who learn differently know, we don’t often receive phone calls with positive news. Not long after I read this blog, I connected with a parent who was worried about the upcoming start to the school year, as she had received numerous phone calls home about her child’s behavior the previous year. I shared this article with her and we agreed it would be wonderful to have this happen for our families. The cool thing is that it IS happening with some educators. I mentioned #goodcallshome on twitter, here you will find all kinds of educators who are exploring and trying this very idea.

Rethinking Behavior

How many times have we observed challenging behavior in our own children or other children and immediately assigned a negative judgement of “manipulation”, “annoyance”, “willful”, etc? One of my biggest challenges as a parent was shifting from that negative view of my child’s behavior and trying to understand what my child was trying to communicate to me. One of my key learnings that assisted me to make that shift was the theory of Dr. Ross Greene, as I wrote about in my post Change is Never Easy.

A number of educators have written about how they have incorporated the wisdom of Dr. Ross Greene in their practice. Dr. Greene promotes Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (formerly known as Collaborative Problem Solving) and believes “kids do well if they can” meaning if they are having a hard time, it means there is a skill that is needing to be taught. You can read more from Tammy Dewar: Kids Do Well When They Can; Joe Bower has written a number of posts here, here and here; and Chris Wejr has posted about his thoughts on student discipline here.

There is currently a movement across the country towards recognizing the importance of self-regulation. Dr. Stuart Shanker is spearheading the Canadian Self-Regulation Initiative that explores the underlying causes and reasons behind a child’s behavior, and taking steps to address these versus focusing strictly on a behavior management (reward/punishment) approach. Mike McKay writes about the importance of the Self-Regulation approach as it relates to youth and family mental health here: Youth Mental Health – Todays Challenge.

Rethinking Mental Health – Challenging Stigma Through Authentic Dialogue

When I first learned of this initiative, I was truly excited. I have long believed we need to be coming together as a larger group, with all stakeholders, to begin having conversations about mental health challenges and how they are impacting our children, youth, families, schools, and communities. Colleen Clark, a Parent in Residence with the F.O.R.C.E. Society for Kids’ Mental Health partnered with the Campbell River School District to host a six week learning series on mental health in our school communities. Parents, educators and community members were invited to attend these sessions. Why was this important? From Colleen:

“Not only did we learn together about various mental health topics, we created the space and time during each session for open conversations about mental health in our kids, our families, and in ourselves.  Because each group conversation was led by a person with lived experience, we were able to have very honest, open conversations with parents and youth sharing their difficulties they face in school settings, and many educators did the same.  The majority of the feedback we received from educators was how much they learned from the people in the room who spoke about their lived experience with mental health challenges, most particularly the stories from the youth which highlighted the significant roles their teachers & counsellors in the schools played or could have played in helping them recover from their mental illness.  One of the biggest messages the youth and parents sent was “Don’t assume. Ask questions and get to know us.”

My hope is for Colleen and the Campbell River School District to guest post on my blog about their initiative and what they learned.

Moving Forward

These are just a small sampling of some of the many great things I have been seeing happening in the world of education. I hope you will be as inspired by these as I am!

I encourage you to share your initiatives/practices in the comments.





  1. Thanks for sharing these resources. In the Surrey school district, there has absolutely been a shift in the last few years, and a new understanding that supporting students’ emotional health is essential to their overall well being and growth. Traditionally schools have focussed solely on academic “success” with little regard for the larger context that students bring into our schools. I address this in my blog post “Learning Their Stories”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An amazing post Karen! Filled with many links and so much info! I will definitely be sharing this post with my friends in the educational profession (and others too!). Keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic article thanks for sharing these sources. In the aspect school district, there has completely been a shift in the last few years, and a new understanding that supporting students’ relating to a person’s emotions-health is necessary to their overall well-being and growth. Old schools have got detail only on academic “Gain” with little viewed for the larger framework that students bring into our schools.


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