Jointly reported by:
Lew Yuen Teng 15070 Sr3ComA
Ng Yan Wen 17188 Sr1ScF
Kuen Cheng High School held the first-ever In-Class Counsellors Training Camp on Saturday, 29 February 2020. This special event was organised by the Counselling Department, purpose is to equip In-Class Counsellors with the knowledge and appropriate skills to help students in need. Helpful Counselling Club members and dutiful St. John Ambulance members were also present in case anything went awry.
The first segment started at 8 a.m., after everyone’s attendance was taken. Mr Chong Swee Hern, one of our beloved counselling teachers went up onstage to hype everyone up for the day. His calls to the audience were met with lacklustre responses, but the icebreakers hosted by Mr Tan Yong Chin, Head of the school Counselling Department remedied the attendees’ sleepiness quickly enough.
The first segment of the day was dedicated to icebreakers. The first activity was a game called Sparrows and Trees. It was played as so: two students would form a Tree, and a third would play as a Sparrow. Mr Tan would call out ‘drizzle’, ‘storm’, or ‘forest fire’, and depending on which the players would have to run around to find their match. It worked wonders to liven up the atmosphere and get everyone moving. Next, students formed groups according to the colour of the In-Class Counsellor Training Camp event pass they had received in the morning. Each group had to elect a leader, come up with a group name, flag and a motto which incorporated the colour of their event pass. Group names and mottos were creative, and team spirits were high. This opened the stage for the next event perfectly: the first team versus team game for the day, Penguin March. Group members had to move in a horizontal line, while keeping either a balloon or volleyball sandwiched between one another’s shoulders. At the end of the game, everyone was feeling active and pumped up for the next segment.
The students then went to the school’s music room for a short briefing on the next activity which was called “Attacking the Heart”, which was also the theme of the station games. There were five stations in total at different locations, each with a different name and hidden meaning related to counselling. The groups had to challenge each station in order to gain marks. At each station, there would be two different groups competing with each other. When the megaphone blares, the groups had to quickly switch to their next station. And the games begin…
The first station was called “Infiltrating the Heart”. In this station, the students’ ability to understand and empathize with others’ feelings was tested. The game was played in the volleyball court, where students had to cross from one side of the court to the other by placing egg cartons on the floor and using them as stepping stones. One student from each group had to sacrifice a pair of school shoes to be used as stepping stones as well. After reaching the end, the two groups earned more points by answering the questions about dialogue scenarios related to empathy. The second station was called “Listen Closely, It Meows”. In this game, the students take turns being blindfolded while the other students direct them to the whiteboard through animal sounds. When each student reaches the board, they have to draw a facial feature, which will combine to make a face. This game was fun and enjoyable for the students as loud animal noises could be heard from this station during every session.
The third station was called “Blind Spot”, in which students had to spot the difference in classrooms before and after it had been changed by Counselling Club members. There were twenty differences in total and it turned out to be quite the challenge finding the last five or so differences. One difference that most groups missed was the highlighter marks on the Counselling Club members’ wrists which were supposed to be signs of self-harm. The fourth station was called “Looking for the Secret”; in this game, students in each group were split into two smaller groups. One group had to act while the other small group had to guess the spy of the competing group. Each acting member of the group was given a note containing either the topic or blank which meant they were the spy. Throughout the two rounds, the topic was never revealed, the motive of this was told by the teacher as secrets were meant to be kept secret. The fifth and last station was called “Mystery and Rumors”, in which a story is made up through the students. The first student had to look at a photo and describe it to the second student, and then the second student had to memorize the description and add another using the keyword given before telling the third student and so on. In the end, two very different stories were revealed even though it turns out that the photos in the beginning were exactly the same.
After every group had visited each of the five stations, the students gathered in the music room once again for the main talk of the day. Each In-class Counsellor was pleasantly surprised to find a limited edition Kuen Cheng Folder inserted with detailed counselling notes on each of their seats. The talk was called “Deciphering the Code of the Heart” presented by the Head of the Counselling Department, Mr Tan Yong Chin. It was revealed that the five stations were closely related to five techniques of comforting someone. The first technique was Empathy and Caring which was related to Step into My Heart. The key was to literally “Put one into other people’s shoes”. Empathy is important as it lets us understand the other person’s point of view and their feelings.
The second technique is Listening which was related to the activity Listen Closely, It Meows. Listening is the key to accompanying someone as it lets the other person feel that you value them. The best way to listen is through SOLER: Sit squarely, Open posture, and Lean forward, Eye contact and Relax. The true value of listening is to let the other person know his/her importance as they are your first priority. The third technique is Observation and Information which is related to Blind Spot. “With our own eyes, we’ll look through them and into their hearts”. By observing carefully and collecting information, you are able to notice a problem and help anyone in need before it worsens. This technique is also applicable in other parts of life.
The fourth technique is Keeping a Secret as a Sign of Respect, which is related to Looking for the Secret. “Keeping a Secret is the basic factor of Trust”. If a secret isn’t harmful to him/her and others, you are not allowed to betray the secret to others. However, in dangerous situations such as self-abuse, self-harm, bullying etc., revealing the secret to adults like class teachers, counselling teachers or the Disciplinary Department is beneficial and necessary. Last but not least, the fifth technique is Judgement which is related to Mystery and Rumors. We must think logically and be impartial when we are finding out the truth of what happened. We must analyse the situation from all angles before making our judgement. The accuracy of the judgement is based on our experiences as well. The students all made detailed notes on the paper for later reference.
The second part of the talk was about handling dangerous situations. This is because In-Class Counsellors are the front lines of the Counselling Department. In order to provide better help, Mr Tan hoped that the students are equipped with the basics in crisis management. In-Class Counsellors should be prepared for unexpected situations in class such as students losing control of the emotions, self-harm and even extreme disagreements between students and teachers. During the crisis, the In-Class Counsellor should notify respective departments at once by telling them the situation (5W1H, namely who, what, where, when, why, how) so that they are prepared to handle the situation. After this informative talk, the students went to the hostel canteen for lunch.
After lunch, everyone gathered in the Music Room. In this segment, everyone received a secret slip, detailing their ‘roles’ in the next activity. Everyone was puzzled, but did as told to not reveal what they had been assigned to do. After everyone received their missions, the next event began. Groups hurried to their next location. What they experienced next was life-changing.
Within the classroom the groups arrived at, an interactive, real life moral scenario unfolded before their eyes. Students (Counselling Club members) sat in the middle of the classroom, talking and working amongst themselves as if on a normal school day. Some ate and played around in class, scoffing at the low test scores they had gotten when their eccentric and lazy teacher handed their test papers back to them. The rest of the students had low marks but one of the students had scored full marks. As soon as the teacher left the classroom, the troublemakers began their trouble-making. A gang of four girls teamed up to bully the girl who scored full marks and her friend, tearing at her notes and surrounding her. They flipped tables and chairs, threw her belongings to the ground and screamed insults at her. The scene was horrific, and the camp participants stepped into their roles quickly. Those who had been assigned the roles of mediators and class counsellors stepped in to break up the chaos to no avail. Other roles include those who add fuel to the fire by supporting the troublemakers as well as silent onlookers. Anger was met with anger, force with force. This served to teach everyone the reality of the situation: that an instance of bullying was not as simply stopped as modern media would like to portray. The scenario did not end until the bullying was reported to the teacher. After such a shaking experience, the students, feeling mixed emotions, were sat down to analyse and discuss the actions they had taken, and what should be done when met with real instances of bullying. For example, getting the victim to a safe place was often a course of action ignored in highly dramatised movies. Thus, that was one of the many lessons learnt from this scenario.
There were two other scenarios that played out, one of which was teacher-student conflict. Likewise, when the camp participants entered the room, there were actors present and another scene that played out before them. A teacher had threatened two troublemaking students who disrupted class to be brought to the Disciplinary Department. When the threat had no effect on them, the teacher stormed out of the classroom. After the teacher left, the troublemakers started to pick fights with the class monitor and a girl who showed signs of depression. Afterwards, the troublemaker who was threatened with a trip to the Disciplinary Department showed signs of anxiety towards being expelled as well. Amongst the chaos, students who urged the teacher to take action were met with rejection. He said he had given up on his class. The scene went on for quite a while, no one knowing how to adequately resolve the issue. In the end, the Counselling Teachers sat everyone down for a reflection and analysis session again. Students were reminded that the teachers’ feelings are valid too, and should at least be empathised in a way. The fact that no one had tried to reason with the troublemaker who had shown signs of anxiety towards being expelled was also brought up. In the end, it was once again a very realistic and truthful portrayal of how real life issues are much more complicated and require finer touches than shown in movies.
The third scenario was sexual harassment and insults in class. In this case, a teacher wasn’t present at all. The class monitor came into the class informing the students of the homework given, when two boys started insulting the class monitor. The troublemakers in this scenario were two boys and two girls who took turns insulting and making jokes about four other classmates’ appearances and figures. This time the students participating were quick to notice the discomfort of the victims and quickly moved them away from the bullies. However, the bullies just kept changing their target. In the end, a big argument was happening in the center of the classroom before the teachers ended the scene. When the scenario ended once again, the students went back into their groups to analyse the situation and how to prevent it from happening. An In-Class Counsellor reflected her helplessness due to the number of victims and the stubbornness of the troublemakers. She had been one of the first to hug and comfort the victims before leaving them in capable hands as she went to the next victim. Besides that, the Counselling Club member acting as the monitor told us her true feelings because as a monitor, she wanted to maintain the order of her class.
In short, the students who participated in this activity learnt how it truly felt to be in such a situation because even though it was just an enactment, the emotions and the actions taken by the players were real. The students learned that they had to get the victims to safety while at the same time maintaining their own safety and preventing the situation from escalating further. However, they also learned that they were not alone as there are always willing classmates ready to help. The observation skills of the students were also tested when they had to analyse the cause, expression and feelings of the victims and the severity of the situation.
At the end of the day, one last talk was given by Mr Tan referring to the earlier scenarios. As he said, the scenarios today were fabricated, but the interactions between students participating and the Counselling Club members were real. His last question was How to be a good In-Class Counsellor? The answer was to be the best you can be, a good enough In-Class Counsellor, as there is no such thing as a perfect In-Class Counsellor. In their position, all they can do is what they should. As they are not professional counsellors, the most they need to do is to listen, empathize and accompany a student in need, not to counsel them. The main role as an In-Class Counsellor is to accompany students and act as a communication bridge between counselling teachers and students in need, “a bridge with warmth”, to quote.
In conclusion, all the students involved in the event had had a wonderful and educational time. This experience will definitely help them to be a better In-Class Counsellor in the future. They had learnt a lot and gained unforgettable memories which will stick with them throughout their school years. In a short interview with Mr Tan, he revealed that the reason the In-Class Counsellor Training Camp 2020 was held was in order to help the students become better In-Class Counsellors with new knowledge and techniques, and to be “a bridge with warmth”. It could be truly seen that the In-Class Counsellors have become more acquainted with their roles. He hopes that this camp is able to be held every year, although it is not certain yet as this particular camp took more than two months of preparations and hard work from the teachers of the Counselling Department as well as students from the Counselling Club. He hopes that if possible, there should be a two-day camp in which In-Class Counsellors are able to learn even more. The In-Class Counsellors Training Camp 2020 had finally come to an end, and it could be seen as a meaningful experience to all the students who participated.