Tri-State Mental Health Series

Managing Uncertainty:
Strategies for managing historic school reopening issues during times of turmoil and extreme uncertainty

Presented by Toya Jones, MSW, LCSW, Mary Margaret Kerr, Ed.D, Melissa Nelson, Ed.D., and Mark Lepore, Ed.D.

Cost: $400 for Tri-State Member Districts
Not open to non-member Districts or individuals
*you will be invoiced within two business days of registration

Registration includes access to all four workshops. All workshops will be presented asynchronously.
Contact us at tristate@pitt.edu with any questions.

Session Release Dates:
All sessions will be available until November 15

  • August 15: Workshop 1
    There’s nothing normal about my new normal!: Identifying and managing workplace stress during COVID-19
  • September 15: Workshop 2
    Are you really looking out for my child’s best interest?: Communication with families during a scary pandemic
  • September 30: Workshop 3
    How can I help students who are worried and anxious?:  Practical strategies for educators as schools reopen during COVID-19
  • September 30: Workshop 4
    I’ve never seen students act out like this!: Insights and strategies for educators during COVID-19

Managing Uncertainty: Strategies for managing historic school reopening issues during times of turmoil and extreme uncertainty

The uncertainty of COVID-19 and other tumultuous issues present multiple, unprecedented problems and challenges as schools reopen. Anticipating that, and recognizing the need for uniquely uncommon solutions, the Tristate School Study Council is pleased to offer a new seminar series.

The series builds upon last year’s successful trauma workshops  to provide educators with insights, tools, techniques, and strategies they’ll need this fall. The four virtual seminars will be hosted by leading experts in trauma and school mental health. Each 90-minute webinar focuses on a different specific challenge educators will face when they return to school.

Social work professor and trauma expert Toya Jones begins with a webinar about workplace stress and how to help educators contribute their best, most productive work. Dr. Mary Margaret Kerr’s webinar focuses on improving communications with families, especially those who are upset, angry, or confrontational. Mental health specialist and principal Dr. Melissa Nelson continues with a webinar on helping children manage their feelings in such a complicated and emotional time. The series concludes with a session on what to do when trauma manifests in the classroom and requires immediate attention from a teacher. That webinar will be presented by Dr. Mark Lepore, a counseling professor and former school social worker.


Workshop 1:

There’s nothing normal about my new normal!: Identifying and managing workplace stress during COVID-19

In the best of times, educators have some of the most challenging jobs, but they face unprecedented stressors during these uncertain times. Educators face workplace uncertainty and the difficulty of managing their lives and taking care of their own families. There is nothing normal about the stresses they are dealing with now. They want and need to be professionally equipped to manage that stress so that it doesn’t have an adverse effect in the workplace.

Physical distancing in classrooms, remote learning, hybrid schedules, and a constantly evolving situation add to the complexity of the workplace environment. Educators who attend this session will leave with invaluable tips, techniques, and insights to help lower stress and elevate productivity. They’ll have tools that will benefit everyone as schools move forward for a successful year ahead.

Toya Jones, MSW, LCSW, has over 20 years of experience providing crisis intervention, therapy, and community education programs to help manage such stress, even in extreme situations. Her presentation is tailored to the unique needs of educators as schools reopen, offering practical, easily implemented solutions.

Participants will learn:

  • Ways to identify how workplace stress affects the brain, body, mood, and behavior
  • Proven strategies for identifying, managing, and preventing stress
  • Tips for adapting to the “new normal” so they can perform their best work
  • How to use an innovative mobile app to manage stress through a customized, individual plan of action.

Workshop 2

Are you really looking out for my child’s best interest?: Communication with families during a scary pandemic

As families send students back to school, they will have frequent communications with educators regarding their children’s health and safety. Families also rely on educators to answer questions about their children’s academic performance and peer relations. These interactions with families, especially during the pandemic, can become emotionally charged and difficult. That can contribute to workplace stress, even for experienced educators. When these interactions escalate, they have the potential to damage relationships, sometimes permanently, with educators as well as the school system.

Whether communicating by phone, in person, or via email, educators can improve the tone and content of their messages in a way that prevents misinformation and reduces alarm. They can communicate to create calm and offer reassurance, while inspiring helpful cooperation benefitting families, children, educators, and school administrators.

Drawing on current research, this session offers practical, actionable, and time-saving strategies to help facilitate better communications with families during uncertain and challenging times.

Participants will learn:

  • How to use a more effective framework to improve communication with families during uncertain times
  • Ways to determine what exactly it is that families really want and need for themselves and their children
  • Tips and techniques for de-escalating conversations when families become aggressive, angry, or upset
  • Strategies for redirecting hostile or difficult communications to achieve a more mutually beneficial positive outcome

Workshop 3:

How can I help students who are worried and anxious?:  Practical strategies for educators as schools reopen during COVID-19

Educators returning to school in the fall, whether online or in-person, will be expected to assist students with their feelings around the pandemic. Unfortunately, they are navigating uncharted waters during a turbulent time fraught with uncertainty. However, Melissa Nelson, Ed.D. will equip educators with practical, easy-to-implement tips and strategies to support their students who are anxious.

Dr. Nelson is an Elementary Principal in Pennsylvania who previously spent 14 years as a mental health clinician, counselor, and advocate in various psychiatric, educational, and legal settings. Her doctoral work focused on gaining a greater understanding about how to provide exemplary mental health supports to students in K-12 public school settings. Her session is designed to provide actionable answers, foster more productive teacher-student connections, and promote healthy resilience in students facing unprecedented challenges.

All students, as well as educators, naturally experience some level of stress around the current changes and disruptions to their lives. The good news is that there are solid, simple, yet evidence-based strategies educators can implement to benefit students. That also relieves educators to do their best work. The result is beneficial to students and their families as well as the school system and the community at large.

Participants will learn:

  • How to recognize and understand typical social, emotional, and behavioral manifestations of stress and anxiety in K-12 students
  • Ways to actively support and reassure students who are experiencing anxiety and worries during COVID-19
  • Best practices to follow to help ensure the psychological well being of students, as well as what approaches to avoid
  • Where to find easy-to-use resources to support students’ mental well-being and help them succeed in school

Workshop 4:

I’ve never seen students act out like this!: Insights and strategies for educators during COVID-19

During the pandemic, students and their families are under unprecedented emotional, physical, social, and behavioral pressure. To understand and help diffuse that pressure, educators need special insights, tools, and strategies. Delivering those in informative, helpful, reassuring, and actionable ways is the expertise of Dr. Mark Lepore, LPC, LCSW, a nationally recognized trainer in trauma and counseling, who has also worked in K-12 schools.

During this session, educators will gain a deeper understanding of the roots of social, emotional, and behavioral manifestations of trauma that students may display, in person or online.  They will learn how trauma can disrupt the learning environment, as well as best practices for caring for and supporting students who experience it.

Trauma may be the underlying cause for perceived misbehavior, and educators should know how to approach it with an informed, research-based perspective and understanding. Potential manifestations of trauma include adverse effects on attitudes, achievement, and self-efficacy. By preparing for and knowing ways to manage these dynamics, educators can empower students to succeed, even under circumstances that interfere with successful learning.

Participants will learn:

  • How to identify trauma and know when to make referrals for additional help
  • Ways to foster positive relationships by recognizing the self-protective functions of student behaviors
  • Tips for appropriately modifying teaching strategies to enhance learning
  • The different ways that culture may affect students experiencing trauma