Saturday, May 5, 2018

Tales from the Crate: Motivational Interviewing for School Counselors

I love to read...non-fiction mostly. I especially love to read non-fiction that relates to my love of school counseling and connecting with students. As many of my friends know, I have a crate of books that lives in my bedroom and at times is overflowing with books, because I just can't seem to  stop myself from buying more! 
So I am sharing with you all some of the amazing books I've read that relate to connecting with students and what I love about them in a series called "Tales from the Crate"

At the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) Conference in 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana, I attended a session about motivational interviewing presented by Reagan North, a high school counselor from Seattle, and I immediately became interested in motivational interviewing. I bought two other books on motivational interviewing that I will go back and read now that I have a better understanding of it all, but Reagan North's book, Motivational Interviewing for School Counselors, has been the best place for me to start, so I want to highlight for you parts of the book that resonated with me. 

1 -  I loved hearing from a practicing school counselor about what was working for him in daily practice.   
2 - I love that MI is based in the counseling theory I practice which is a Rogerian person-centered approach. MI is grounded in empathy and as North quotes Miller and Rollnick in his introduction, MI "is about arranging conversations so that people (students) talk themselves into change, based on their own values and interests." (William R Miller and Stephen Rollnick helped develop the motivational interviewing approach).
3 - MI is about the student. It gives the student voice and control in their own lives and their own change. Many of my middle school students don't feel they have their voice heard and that they don't have control over what is going on their lives. Using MI is all about the student's voice and their own choices. In Chapter 1: Simple Reflections & Open-Ended Questions, North highlights that "people listen to themselves." And most of us who work with students and have made the mistake of launching into a lecture about what we think a student needs to do knows that this statement is true. Students listen to themselves and MI is a great way to help students do so.
4 -  The techniques and questions used in MI are simple and easy for anyone to use. I often look back on a reminder list of questions I have made from North's book and the more I use them the more natural it becomes in my conversations with students. 

There are certain techniques and questions that I have used from North's book that  have changed the way I have connected with my students instantly! I LOVE anything that helps me create connections with students and MI definitely does and it does so quickly!
 Here are a just 3 pieces of magic from MI....

1. Open Ended Questions. Of course school counselors know that open-ended questions are important to use in talking with students, but I love the way North describes open-ended vs. closed-ended questions..."closed-ended questions make a person feel less understood."  "open-ended questions give them the space to explore..."  Several of the questions/techniques from MI do exactly that. Magically students begin talking and exploring their situation themselves and start to make their own decisions and conclusions about what they understand and what next steps they will take.

2. Give Away Power. Phrases and questions in MI that give power to the student and ask permission from the student are the beginning of the MAGIC of MI! I use  them all the time now and it has made all the difference in how open students are in our conversations. Chapter 3 in North's book, Autonomy & Asking Permission, breaks down how to use questions and phrases such as "I called you down because I have something I'd like to talk to you about, but I want to know what is on your mind first. How have you been? How's life?" or "Hey, thanks for coming down to my office. Your Algebra teacher asked me to check in about how you're doing in her class. Before we get to that, though, what's new with you?"or "Would it be ok if we talk about that for a few minutes?" These questions are simple. but powerful. Magical even! They empower the student and make them feel heard.

3. Change Talk. A large part of MI is growing the change talk students use and decreasing the sustain talk they use. Using questions like "How important is it for you to make this change?" and "What do you think you'll do?" among other questions listed in Chapter 5: Fun with Change Talk are simple and magical ways to help students continue their focus on their own change in their own ways. In North's book, Chapter 6  gives strategies and techniques for Responding to Sustain Talk. In MI, decreasing sustain talk can be even more important than growing change talk. As North notes in this chapter, "the goal is essentially to turn Sustain Talk into a dead end while growing Change Talk into a vast adventure." 

I could go on and on about the incredibly "magical" approach of motivational interviewing but instead I just recommend you pick up Reagan North's book, Motivational Interviewing for School Counselors (link below), and experience for yourself how these questions and techniques work with your students.
My focus is connecting with students so I can connect them to their education and motivational interviewing definitely has helped me in this endeavor. My conversations are more real for the students. They feel more connected to what we discuss and they are more connected to their education because they are motivated and making changes that they have chosen are invested in.

Order Motivational Interviewing for School Counselors by Reagan North Here:

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