24. Trust Your Journey with Indra Owens
Episode 2430th August 2023 • Counselor Chat Podcast • Carol Miller, School Counselor
00:00:00 00:35:10

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As counselors, we support several different grade levels, students with various learning abilities, and families with diverse backgrounds. It’s rewarding work, but it’s also challenging to meet the needs of so many students. For many of us, it feels even more challenging in this post-COVID climate.

Our guest and seasoned counselor, Indra Owens, focuses on empowering families to navigate the challenges of the post-COVID era. Indra believes in combining theory and practice to make a meaningful impact on the lives of children and families, and she's here to share her insights on how school counselors can build resilience and create authentic relationships with their students.

Indra is the curator of the Trust Your Journey Project. The premise is to redefine Mental Health & Mindfulness awareness, advocacy & support in Urban communities, and building resilient families. Using the conceptual framework to: engage, educate, empower & equip & providing easy to use strategies, tools and resources to navigate in today's virtually charged climate. Indra is a School Counselor in Atlantic CIty, NJ and was the 2020 NJ School Counselor of the Year.  

Topics Covered:

  • The story behind the Trust Your Journey Project
  • Advice for counselors who want to help redefine mental health and mindfulness awareness
  • How you can teach kids to reframe their thoughts
  • Infusing theory and practice to best support our students, especially post-COVID
  • Indra’s best tip for new school counselors
  • Why you should be invested in your own professional development

Connect with Indra:

Grab the Show Notes: Counselingessentials.org/podcast

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Connect with Carol:

Mentioned in this episode:

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Carol: You're listening to the Counselor Chat podcast, a show for school counselors looking for easy to implement strategies, how to tips, collaboration, and a little spark of joy. I'm Carol Miller, your host. I'm a full time school counselor and the face behind counseling essentials. I'm all about creating simplified systems, data driven practices, and using creative approaches to age students. If you're looking for a little inspiration to help you make a big impact on student growth and success, you're in the right place, because we're better together. Ready to chat? Let's dive in.

City, New Jersey. She was the:

Indra: Thank you so much, Carol. I am so excited. I can't wait for us to truly connect.

Carol: Yeah, it'll be great. So I am really excited to talk with you of like, I listened to some other podcasts that you were on, and I just fell in love with the stories that you were telling, and I felt like we were like, kindred spirits. Oh, my goodness.

Indra: Listen, but, you know, as counselors, we have a billion stories.

Carol: Oh, I know.

Indra: We're like the best storytellers. They don't know. That's one of our superpowers.

Carol: It definitely is. Oh, the things I could tell you. But anyway, why don't you start by kind of introducing yourself and tell people a little bit about who you are and what you do and anything else that you want to share with them.

een in education since, like,:

Carol: That is awesome. So how much time are you still devoting to?

Indra: It?

Carol: Sounds like quite a bit.

Indra: Oh man. Every single day. Every single day. Because you know what, Carol, the real deal is that as mental health professionals or be, whatever we preach should be a lifestyle, right? It just makes it easier to preach. And so every single day Journey and I are just doing different things to keep our resilient tanks full and keep our relationship thriving. Because you and I were just talking before we even started. You have three children of your own and parenthood did not come with a manual. No, it did know, even as we continue to develop and discover new ways where we're not kind of going at each other's throats and keeping our home a safe space. I'm sharing. So, yeah, almost every single day is dedicated to the Treasure Journey project.

Carol: Well, that is incredible. And I am sure that your community just appreciates you and loves you for all the work that you are putting in. What are some as we're talking about, like, mindfulness and strategies. What kind of advice would you give like a counselor to incorporate some of these strategies into their practice to help kids, to maybe help redefine mental health and mindfulness awareness?

Indra: I think my biggest piece of advice for school counselors would be I oftentimes really find myself in the realm of always teaching and really modeling for the students who I serve how to positively reframe things. I don't necessarily know if that's a skill that's really being taught at home or utilized at home. And I say that I don't necessarily think that it's really being utilized at home because, of course, we know the attitudes, we know the mindsets of our children, and our children often come at times already feeling very defeated with a really negative and narrow mindset or perspective or view on things. And most of that kind of comes with adolescence, but the other part of it just really comes from learned behavior. So it's kind of like if I was always a complainer around my house, journey would be a complainer. You know what I mean? And so if I always looked at the cup as half empty versus half full, journey would also look at her cup as half empty versus half full. And so when my students come into the office and whether it's a student conflict or whether it's something at home, whether it's something about the teacher student relationship, whether it's something that happened in the cafeteria, I always say to them, especially because I want them to know that they still have a voice. So whatever you're feeling is real, but let's just reframe it. And I'm like, what Ms. Owens? And I'm trying to tell you, by the time we reframe, like, we're laughing. I didn't just beat them in, like, two hands of Uno. It's like magic.

Carol: Yeah, I think I agree with you. That whole reframing thing is so important.

Indra: It absolutely is. And the thing, too, is that I hope that the strategies that I share with students throughout the day, that it starts to become a part of their mental health literacy. Like, they really start using the language so then they can go home and use it. See what I'm saying? Yeah.

Carol: So it carries through.

Indra: Yeah. So then it's transformational.

Carol: How do you teach a kid to really reframe their thoughts?

Indra: The easiest way to do it is when they come in with an issue after I allow them to vent, because I do believe that they should feel safe in a space that we as adults aren't really kind of shooting down how they feel. I think that we should always really validate how they feel and then respectfully redirect them in the feelings, especially if they don't really kind of if the feelings don't have any source of empowerment. I always respectfully redirect because at the end of the day, I just always want the students to feel different leaving my office than however they came in. And a lot of time they come in feeling disempowered or defeated. And so the easiest way to really teach or train a student to positively reframe things is to let them know. And I never really call them negative feelings either. I say we have good moments and not so good moments and that's life. So if you're feeling that way now at twelve, you could possibly still in a different situation, feel that way at 21. These feelings, this whole emotional barometer thing goes with us until the day we die. I say we have times where we feel good and times that we don't feel so good or not so good, and that's okay, but let's reframe it. So for example, let's see what was like one of the last situations we had. Okay, so we had a boy group in third grade that they were at each other's throats for most of the year, honestly. And I mean, we had the parent teacher conference, we had tons of group mediations with the boys, we had group mediations with parents. So everybody just was on the same page. We had groups with the parents and the boys in the room at the same time. And I think that we came to an agreement because the parents would get upset because you have one student coming home saying this, another student coming home saying that. And we had to really explain to the parents that, moms, dads, we have a frenemy type of cohort going on here. So a lot of times you may think that the school isn't responding to oh, well, so and so came home and said, this one did this to him, and they had a fight on the playground. Or he took his food off his plate in the you know, we spent a lot of time with them as school personnel, and so this core group in the third grade of boys oftentimes were friends. But you know those carol, you know those frenemy relationships oh, very well. And so they had the boys really start to manage their own frenemy or friendship. What we had them do is we had them ask themselves before the day even started, while they were having morning meeting, while they were having breakfast, how are you feeling today? From one to five. Now, if they were maybe a little older, we'd do one to ten, but because they were still in the third grade, we said one to five. Five meaning I feel amazing today. We can horse play we can joke with each other. We can do all that. Or one is, yeah, I didn't get a lot of sleep last night, or I'm just not feeling it today. And once we had the boys being more actively involved in managing how they all felt in their own friendship group, they didn't have any more issues, really, or it subsided. The issues weren't as severe. The parents kind of understood the dynamic of the relationship, and it really helped everybody that was involved. But that's a reframe.

Carol: Yeah. You were, I think, teaching true empathy, understanding, like, how are they feeling? If you're coming in with a one and you're coming in with the five, well, you can't be joking with them.

Indra: Okay. Give them his space. Okay. This is old fashioned character education. Our industry now has called it we've framed it into, like, an SEL framework, but it don't matter as long as it all worked and we use it.

Carol: Yeah, very good. I think that's so important for our younger counselors, the ones that are just beginning that are going to incorporate the whole frenemy thing, because let's face it, we do. And I can remember as a first year counselor not knowing what I was going to do, because this is the stuff they don't teach you in school, right? They just say, figured it out. Have at it.

Indra: Have at it. Yeah. They just expected us to figure it out. You're absolutely right. You know what? And that's a shame, too.

Carol: We definitely, I think, need more training on how to deal with the everyday issues. Sometimes we're so involved in the theories and maybe some of the reasons why that we forget to really talk about what do you do in this situation?

Indra: Yeah. And I think that the best part about the whole Trust Your Journey Project is that I've tried to authentically infuse theory and practice, because I think that between the folks that are like us, who are seasoned educators and counselors, and those who are like, Budding, still in grad school, they really don't have the practice. So that's what they're missing. So you're right. They don't have the practice, they don't have the experience, they don't have the stories. And so when you get a framework that has and the trustee journey project does have a curriculum and a framework that I'm working on trying to get trademarked and really trying to infuse and get into schools and communities, in all type of stakeholders who work with children and families. Because I believe that we need a framework that makes sense and that doesn't make everybody feel like, am I dumb? Is a fifth grader smarter than me? We need frameworks, and we need certain curriculum that we can actually understand and implement. And so I hope that theory and practice really come together, like you said, where it's not just theory, where it's not a bunch of book stuff, and we really get more into practice so we can really understand how to really implement and be influential. Like, our kids need it, especially after COVID. Our kids need it. Our families need it.

Carol: That's so true. I almost hate to admit this, but I am because I believe in being authentic, transparency works. But right after COVID, I was like in my own little bubble and I.

Indra: Just wanted listen, you and I both were in a bubble, just our own.

Carol: And I just wanted to go back to the way things were. And I think I had that framework in my mind that, no, it's just going to go back to the way it was. This is the way it is, okay? Things were good. Things are going to be you know, I do have all these Facebook groups and I hear stories from counselors, like all over the world all the time, and they're struggling. And I have to admit, my kids in school were struggling too, but sometimes I was still wearing those blinders like, nope, it's going to be good, everything is fine. We're going back to the way it was. That I had to do some soul searching to say no, we got to really admit that things are different, things have changed. We might need a new way to do things.

Indra: Yeah, I agree. And you know what? And I think that exactly what you just said. That light bulb went off for a lot of us at different times throughout that whole phase, even now in this post COVID climate. The sadder part is that light bulb didn't go off for a lot of people. Yeah, some people are still in that space where it's like they're still expecting us to go back to normal, where we've already gotten into a new normal. Normalcy is different.

Carol: It is different.

Indra: Yeah. So that light bulb went off for different people at different times. And hopefully the people who haven't really kind of had that AHA moment yet, they have it.

Carol: I will say, and I've said this on the podcast before, a couple of times. I was listening to a speaker one time and he was saying, and this was definitely post COVID, that kids are not different these days. Our society is different. When everybody's complaining about how different the kids are, how different the kids are. And I just see that as so true. I've been in education for more than 30 years now, and kids really aren't different. They're coming in with their friendship issues and their family problems and whatever other problem under the sun. It's not the kids that are different. It really is our society that is different.

Indra: I agree. I agree. Listen, people ask me all the time now in my district, I've been transferred quite a lot, and I've reframed that because people, when they try to come to me, excuse me, I have post Beyonce Horse voice from concert last night. But when people come to me trying to negatively define that. I reframe that. I say, I am Beyonce. I'm taking a district tour. It's a pleasure, it's an honor. And I'm not going to say it's not uncomfortable sometimes, because then you have to re acclimate yourself to a new staff and new students and new families. But the honor in that is that I can say that I've almost served almost every single student on this island and their families. I want to be able to touch and create a safe space for as many students and families as I can. That's really what we do. Now, is there a comfort in me and committed to one building in one community for 17 years? Absolutely. Or I can say, oh, man, I'm Beyonce. I'm taking a district tour. And I've been here and I've been there and I've been to this school. But what I will say in that, just to piggyback on what you said, is that all the needs are the same. Kids are kids.

Carol: Yeah, it is definitely true. And I will tell you right now, indra, I am doing the Beyonce tour myself because I spent 20 years in one district, and then after 20 years, now I'm hopping around. So I've been in three schools in the last six years, and there's nothing wrong with that. It does. It gives you a chance to see other perspectives and to I think everywhere I go, it's like, all right, now I have another experience to draw from. I have another way to make things even better.

Indra: Yeah. And again, like, the kids are the same. We really adjust to the school culture and the adults. We work with our colleagues, not the kids.

Carol: That's true. So if you were to give maybe a new counselor some advice, what advice would you give them?

Indra: Don't hang in a teacher's lounge. Yeah, let's not do that. Yeah, I think that because for one thing, what hasn't worked for me, again, because people don't quite understand our role. It's like we're on the teacher scale, so they almost kind of look at us like a peer, but then they always see us hanging with administration. So we're like pseudo administrators because we're a vital part of the administrative team.

Carol: Right.

Indra: And so there isn't really any boundary. And so the teachers lounge is like that space where our teachers vent. But a lot of times those conversations aren't necessarily positive. Right. But if we are like the neutralizers of the building as school counselors, if we're like the neutralizers of the building, we're the people who are looked at as being responsible for the culture and the climate, the social and emotional climate of the school. We're like the gatekeepers. The teachers lounge isn't really the best.

Carol: Place for us to be unless you can incorporate. We're not talking about kid policy while you're in there.

Indra: Exactly. But that's hard. Look, universally, the culture of the teacher's lounge is just the opposite. You go in there and you think, like, yo, this is your break room. Why are you still talking about the kids? Why are you talking about work? Take a break from it, unplug from it. Now, that would be the healthier thing to do. But they don't. And so instead of trying to change that culture, because if that's the safe space that the teachers need at the time, maybe they do that because they don't want to take it home. But I'm pretty sure most teachers still take it home, but it's like, okay. Yeah. So if I had to give any new school counselor a piece of advice, I would say, don't hang in a teacher's lounge. Like, most of the staff at every single school that I have worked at and had the pleasure of working at, if they caught me in a teacher's lounge, it was because in most of our buildings, that's where the mailboxes are. And two, when I go into the teacher's lounge as school counselors, we deserve a break, too, which we rarely get. And see, teachers don't see that I've gone days without sometimes even going to the bathroom or taking a certified lunch break. And I know you can agree. So it's like as soon as we insert ourselves in the teacher's lounge thinking that we're getting a break, it's really not that at all. So, yeah, don't hang in the teacher's lounge.

Carol: It's funny because the one district that I worked at, the one for 20 years, they actually didn't have a teacher's lounge.

Indra: Wow.

Carol: So there was no place for the teachers to go, so they would just go to other teachers classrooms, which worked fine, because if they wanted to complain, then, well, I wasn't there with them. I had this really beautiful office space, and I had my office, and then we had, like, a suite room with this huge table. So I would get teachers who would come down to eat lunch every once in a while, and they just knew it was an open space. It was open to if there was kids eating lunch, the kids could come down and eat lunch. Teachers wanted to join, the teachers could join in. So it was a completely different atmosphere.

Indra: Nice. Now, did you intentionally create that shared space, or is that what it kind of turned into because you think the space you created, like, just in your space?

Carol: It was definitely my philosophy that it was going to be an open space.

Indra: Nice.

Carol: I think people just felt good there. I think that's important. You have to create a space that people just feel welcome.

Indra: Yeah. That's when the magic happens. Yeah, I agree.

Carol: Yeah. Keep out of the teacher's room and have a welcome space. Now, what do you think can help a counselor find success? That's a tricky question, isn't it?

Indra: That is.

Carol: I just made that up, too.

Indra: Okay. I like it. I would say being invested in their own professional development. So not connecting to a district or an organization and being hopeful that they are going to plant you in the right direction as professional development, as it's concerned with your own growth, your own personal and professional philosophy. I think that as new counselors, they have to be committed to always wanting to learn and grow. And I would say the one other thing is you got to treat the students like they were your own, even if you don't have any. You have to treat these students how you would want somebody to treat your own kids. Like, we have to live and operate personally and professionally by the Golden Rule. And I say that to our students all the time, because if they don't see us actually living that and modeling that, we're not going to be able to really even preach kindness and how to treat others in empathy, like you said, when we have those student conflict mediations. Right. So we got to get into the habit of really treating these kids, and that's just really talking about cultural relevance, too. And so we got to be culturally relevant. We have to be sympathetic and empathetic. We have to be authentic. Like you and I were just talking about just being on the authenticity and the transparency. But I would say two things. New counselors, please invest in your own professional development and really be intentional about creating active, caring, authentic relationships with these kids, treating these kids how you would want somebody to treat your own.

Carol: I totally agree with that. That just made me think, too. To just add one little piece to that is sometimes as counselors, we mess up, or maybe we think we're saying the right thing and we don't, or we want to give advice and we give it when we probably shouldn't. And I think we also have to be willing to say I'm sorry absolutely to our kids. And I have met some individuals, some teachers or whoever who do not believe in ever apologizing to a child. And I think that is so important to model that that goes along with what you just said, that you have to treat them like your own kid.

Indra: Yeah. Listen, I mean, I might not be saying it too much around here because I'm trying to be more intentional about the way that I move, but if Journey deserves a sorry, she's getting it. Yeah. As a parent, I'm saying sorry to Journey. I agree with that.

Carol: I do. To my kids.

Indra: Yeah.

Carol: Sometimes I want to kill them.

Indra: Okay, now that's not going anywhere.

Carol: There are times that I've messed up, and I'm like, I got to fix this. It's like, hey, bud, I'm sorry.

Indra: Yeah, sorry goes a long way.

Carol: It does. One other thing that I want to just say, too, about something that you said early in our conversation about when you were talking about the Trusting My Journey project and how you said there's two ways of looking at things. You could see the glass as half full or you could see the glass as half empty. Well, then you also have so you have the optimist who sees it as half full and you have the pessimist who sees it as half empty. But then you also have the giver. And the giver is the one who sees that glass of water and then turns around and says, you look thirsty, would you like to have a drink? I think not only do we have to be optimistic, but we also have to be the giver and really indra. It sounds like you are such a giver.

Indra: Oh, thank you so much. But you know what? And you know what and I would say mean even in the Trust Your Journey project because were really big on resilience too. And so because we are givers if I had to because I know that you are definitely just cultivating so many good strategies for new counselors if I had to even give them another tip we got to make sure that because we are givers intrinsically. Most of us were in this profession because we are givers that we can't since look, since we're using the cup in the water, we can't give from an empty cup either. So that's why we got to keep our resilient tanks full. We got to keep our cups full. And so the self care and the mindfulness and the mental health, it's like, again, we have to practice what we preach because we're not going to be effective. To ourselves, to our families, to the students we serve, to their families, to the administrators we support, to all the colleagues we support, to the community we support. If we are trying to give from an empty cup, right?

Carol: That is right.

Indra: We got to keep our cups full. And that's not easy. I'm not saying it's easy, but I am saying that it's urgent. We have to keep our cups full.

Carol: For our new counselors. It is also possible you might not feel that way in your first year or two or five, but it is possible.

Indra: Yes, I would agree with that too. Yeah.

Carol: So this has been just beautiful.

Indra: It has. I'm looking at the recording, I'm like, I can't even believe that we've already been chatting for almost 45 minutes. Where in the world?

Carol: I know. All right, so before you leave, I have another couple of questions for you.

Indra: Okay.

Carol: Would you rather be a dolphin or an eagle and why?

Indra: I love the water. Like, I already feel like I'm a mermaid, but I think that I would probably want to be an eagle. Yeah, because you know what? Eagles. I had a mentor and a professor at Temple University. His name was Dr. Reverend James, and he did a black culture, black families studies type of class. And he would always say to us, don't be a chicken, be an eagle. So. I think that I would want to be an eagle. Okay. Yeah, they're amazing. I would like to fly high and be like this mystical creature that nobody really wants to reach extinction. Like that kind of thing. Like, fly high, look low. Yeah, I would definitely want to be an eagle. All right.

Carol: Awesome. All right. And are there any TV shows that you are currently binging?

Indra: My daughter actually had me we were binging Abbot elementary, which is amazing, actually. For a couple of years now, folks were saying indra like the main character who was a teacher, a new teacher who kind of just wants to save the world. And urban education, the cast and the line itself is based on, I think, the educational system in Philadelphia, which we know isn't always in the best place, but urban education is struggling anyway. When we talk about funding and resources and all that kind of stuff. So we started watching Abbot elementary, and it is hilarious. Now my daughter has already, I think, probably finished it. I think it was three seasons. I'm not really a TV person. I'm like, put on a Disney movie for me and take a nap. I'm like that girl, right? I'm like but I would say we were intentionally watching Abbot elementary, and I think that it was funny. The satire sometimes is sad because education is real for us, especially as educators. I don't know, I guess I see it two different ways. We could either kind of find some humor in some of our everyday experiences and maybe that can be the catalyst for change. I don't necessarily always like to make light of extreme circumstances, though, especially when it comes to kids. So I felt like two different ways about Abbot elementary. But, I mean, overall, it's an amazing show, amazing cast and amazing plot. But I would say check it out, though. Check out a few of the episodes. It's hilarious. If you want to laugh, it's hilarious.

Carol: Yeah, I haven't watched it yet. It's on my watch list, but I haven't made it to that one yet.

Indra: Yeah, and we only really started because so many people I mean, we'd be out target here, there, and she'd be with me, and she'd hear people say, like, yeah, you know who you remind me of? And I'd be like, who? And when? They would say, but you know, Journey's laughing inside because she's knowing I don't know the actors by name, and I don't even watch. She's been later, like, in the car on the way home, like, mom, let me Google who they just said that you remind them of so you can have some context. I'm like, hey, Journey. Thank you. Support me. I was at Abbot elementary. Check that out.

Carol: Okay, I will. Well, this has been great. I have thoroughly enjoyed this. And so thank you so much for being a guest and yeah, I can't wait till this goes live and everyone can hear from you.

Indra: Yeah, I'm excited, too. Thank you for having me. And even in regards to your mission into continuing to just cultivate a safe space for counselors and just, like, just the professional development and the questions that a lot of times they may not necessarily have anyone to ask. So thank you for this platform. Like, yeah, Carol, you continue to trust your journey, too. This is amazing. Amazing work. Amazing work.

Carol: Thanks. I might have you back next year, and maybe I'll have you join our summer counselor conference.

Indra: Please, I'm here for you. Just tell me I'm an inbox away.

Carol: I know. Well, I got your number now.

Indra: Yes, we are besties. For real? Yes. Keep me in a loop. Keep me connected.

Carol: Oh, I love it. All right, well, for our listeners, thank you so much for joining us. And until next week, I hope you have a fantastic week. Until we chat again. See you later.

Carol: Thanks for listening to today's episode of Counselor Chat. All of the links I talked about can be found in the Show Notes and@counselingessentials.org Podcasts. Be sure to hit, follow or subscribe on your favorite podcast player. And if you would be so kind.

Carol: To leave a review, I'd really appreciate it. Want to connect?

Carol: Send me a DM on Facebook or Instagram at counseling essentials. Until next time. Can't wait till we chat. Bye for now.




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