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Faculty Q&A: Christine Schimmel
Christine Schimmel is an associate professor and associate chair in the Department of Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling and Counseling Psychology. She is also the coordinator of the School Counseling Program. In recent years, Schimmel has studied trauma and sought to help schools in West Virginia to be better prepared to help students who struggle with trauma.
Q: How does trauma correlate to school counseling?
A: As school teachers and school counselors, we were seeing a lot more problematic behaviors in the classrooms and within schools. Simultaneously, we started learning about some of the causes of opioid problems that we were seeing in our communities and the word that started hitting everyone's radar was trauma. So, I started looking into that and paying really close attention. Now it’s really become a center point for what a lot of school systems around here are doing in terms of helping children and adolescents.
Q: How have you gotten involved in the community to address trauma within the school system?
A: I’ve tried to jump on board from a school counseling perspective and support schools in their work to become trauma-informed, and to help teachers and school counselors to understand the impact of trauma on kids and families in our region. Recently, I’ve just started working very closely with Upshur County Schools, where they’re taking trauma-informed to a whole new level in our region. Everybody in the Upshur County School System is getting information and training on trauma-informed approaches. My role is to facilitate discussions about what we can do for kids who are the product of generational trauma. My focus is really on helping them understand growth mindsets and the protective factors that help buffer kids against the impact of trauma in their lives.
Q: What is a growth mindset?
A: A growth mindset is a meaning-making system that we want kids to learn and understand. It’s in opposition to something we call a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset sounds like, “I can’t do this. I’m not good at this. I’m never going to get this material. I’m never going to understand this. Nothing's ever going to change or get better.” A lot of kids who have been affected by trauma have a fixed mindset. A growth mindset, on the other hand. sounds more like, “This is hard and I haven’t learned it yet, but my brain is growing and I can always learn new things and new behaviors. Even though I didn’t do well on this spelling test, I can relearn the material and do better next time.”
Q: What are the benefits to having a growth mindset?
A: There’s a lot of research that is showing that children who are taught – intentionally taught – a growth mindset, even in the face of poverty and trauma, can perform as well as, if not better than, their counterparts who only have a fixed mindset. So that’s one of the things that can help at-risk kids overcome the effects of trauma.
Q: Can you tell us about the textbook you've recently worked on and how it relates to the work you're doing?
A: A major textbook project that I spent all of 2018 working on is titled “Counseling Children and Adolescents.” Dr. Monica Leppma, a colleague of mine in this department, and I penned one particular chapter about working with children and adolescents from a growth mindset. My mind has really been focused on this topic for the last 18 months, not only from my work in Upshur County, but also from my work on the chapter. It’s been a really cool combination, the work that I’ve been doing in terms of writing, and the work I’ve been doing in terms of serving and supporting the local counties.
Q: Why is this so important?
A: School employees are with students five days a week. That means everybody at that school - from the bus driver, to the teacher, to the person working the lunch room, to the custodian – plays a part in that child's growth, development and overall well-being. We want everybody to know the language, speak the same language and understand the potentially positive impact that they have on every student in a school.