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Jessica Minahan Joins NHA Educators to Offer Anxiety-Reducing Strategies for Students

Kelsey Pardue  |  September 04, 2020

With up to one in three children struggling with anxiety in this country, educators, school leaders, and adults everywhere require a new approach as well as practical and easy-to-implement strategies that work when reducing anxiety in students.

In the time of COVID-19, and the subsequent societal changes, anxiety has become ever-present in students of all ages. It is likely that during a pandemic, which heavily impacts everyday life, levels of anxiety in children and teens are even higher, and the possibility of trauma greater.

National Heritage Academies (NHA) brought in Jessica Minahan, MEd, BCBA, for a virtual professional development opportunity focused on practical strategies for reducing anxiety and challenging behavior in students. Through the use of case studies, stories, and examples of everyday challenging situations, participants learned easy to implement preventive tools, strategies, and interventions for reducing anxiety, increasing self-regulation, accurate thinking, and self-monitoring in students. Strategies for virtual and traditional classrooms were shared to best support schools no matter the learning scenario they are in.
 

Minahan is a licensed and board-certified behavior analyst, special educator, as well as a consultant to schools internationally. Minahan has over 17 years of experience supporting students who exhibit challenging behavior in urban public school systems. She is the co-author of “The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students” and author of “The Behavior Code Companion: Strategies, Tools, and Interventions for Supporting Students with Anxiety-Related or Oppositional Behaviors.”

“We know that in even the most typical of times that social and emotional support is critical to the academic and emotional success of our students,” said Jack DeLeeuw, director of school quality at NHA. “At NHA, one of the most important factors for a successful classroom is to provide a high level of positive culture in every classroom.”

The training included information on the impact of anxiety on behavior and learning, incentives that may not be working, and how to support students emotionally and mentally from a distance, to name a few. Educators also participated in activities including case studies to put their newly learned skills to the practice.

The goal of the professional development with Minahan was to offer West Michigan schools and staff a greater level of support in offering staff and students strategies to address trauma and significant behavioral challenges, such as anxiety, attention-deficit disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, etc.

Rukshana Ilahi, director of special education at NHA, shared that addressing the social and emotional needs of students is a foundation for student learning, and focusing only on the academic needs of students without developing their moral character leaves a hole in a child's education.

Ilahi went on to explain how we do not expect a child to read a book the first time it is given to them; rather, we break down the components of reading and allow them to learn those skills to be able to eventually read the book. The same is true for behavioral skills. “We must break down and explicitly teach the skills a student must learn to be able to navigate the social and emotional components of being a good learner and developing into a good citizen of their classroom and community,” she said.
 

During the training, Minahan offered educators a variety of tools and resources that will enhance current trends and practices that may be happening in schools at this time. She provided relevant, practical strategies for schools to support students before, during, and after challenging behaviors.

Her presentation outlined strategies for virtual and remote learning to improve culture, connections, and behavior. Minahan provided resources throughout her presentation including tools to communicate with students from a distance, re-establishing a sense of control, cognitive distractions, self-regulation applications, online social-emotional learning resources, anti-racist resources, and remote counseling tools for families, among others.

This July NHA held its fifth annual Leadership Summit, virtually of course. The purpose of the Leadership Summit is to bring together school leaders from all NHA schools for a week-long professional development opportunity. Ilahi shared there was an emphasis on addressing the social and emotional needs of students, as well as a follow-up session focusing on the need to build relationships and establish safety.

“Relationships are key to understanding each other and thus providing a safe environment for students to feel secure,” shared Ilahi. “During this time, where anxiety is running constantly high, it will be important to provide predictability in routines and behaviors. NHA will be providing a monthly town hall to discuss this very topic as well as a newsletter highlighting practices to address the social and emotional needs of staff and students. We must have staff that are comfortable addressing and modeling these skills if we expect our students are going to be able to do the same.”