Responding to crisis

Gayle Cicero, Ed.D., shares how her course prepares future school counselors to better support students and their families in today's world

Gayle Cicero, Ed.D., clinical faculty member in the School Counseling program in Loyola’s School of Education, teaches Professional Issues & Ethics and Helping Students Manage Crisis.

Cicero earned her M.Ed. in School Counseling and completed her administration certification requirements from Loyola; she holds her Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership from Northcentral University.

Loyola magazine invited her to answer a few questions about her experience as an educator and what inspired her to develop this course, Helping Students Manage Crisis.

How did you develop an interest in this field?

I was serving as director of student services for Anne Arundel County Public Schools. In that role I worked with school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, and pupil services to respond to crisis events such as a death of a student.

I believe that schools are positioned well to make sure children and their families are well-supported during difficult times, and that includes crisis intervention. Outcomes are very good for children when competent and caring adults support their response to trauma and crisis. I also believe school counselors are key in prevention efforts, which are critical to minimize school crisis events.

Why is it important for students pursuing a degree in School Counseling to take this course?

In both current literature and world affairs, crisis and trauma is a huge theme. New research about trauma continues to be published. There’s been a lot of attention on crisis, whether it be natural disasters, shootings, and social justice issues, like the 2015 unrest in Baltimore [and the events since that have sparked the Black Lives Matter movement]. Our students who will be school counselors have to be prepared to support children, their families, and school communities when these types of events occur. These students need specific training for that to happen in addition to a deep understanding of what crisis and trauma is.

Does the course evolve over time?

The course has evolved, as I’m not the first instructor of it. I have shifted the focus of the course for a couple of reasons. One reason is a fairly recent Maryland State law called Lauryn’s Law, which says that all school counselors must have a certain amount of training in areas like depression, substance use, violence, and suicide prevention. These components have been added to correspond with Maryland’s law.

The course will in the future be tweaked to make sure that school counselors are ready to support wellness and strong mental health for youth. In this class we focus on many different types of crises. One in particular is school shootings, and we do a book study for that topic. We also delve into what it’s like for people to experience a natural disaster by studying the narratives and scripts of people impacted by Hurricane Katrina. We do this to learn about how people process natural events and how that’s different or alike compared to school-related traumas that occur. Finally, we discuss how school counselors integrate and work together with other agencies to support children and families.

What is your educational background?

I have a bachelor’s degree in Music Education and a master’s in School Counseling, from Loyola. I also have a private practice license in Maryland and my doctorate in organizational leadership. I’ve worked for more than three decades in public education; I started my career as a teacher then became a school counselor. I’ve also worked as a pupil personnel worker, school administrator, and central office administrator for counseling and all of student services.

My whole career has been devoted to working with children in the K-12 system in different capacities. My diverse educational background has contributed to my systemic and creative approach to teaching graduate students. I enjoy a blended format for my class, with many experiential face-to-face activities to support deep learning.

What made you start teaching university courses?

I taught at George Mason University while on sabbatical working on my doctorate. I also teach in the doctorate program online for Northcentral University where I got my degree. I love teaching and I have a passion for mentoring others, so when I had the opportunity to take on teaching at the university level, I decided to take it. I am a graduate of Loyola’s School Counseling program and am now teaching in that same program. I attribute my career success to the foundation I got at Loyola.

What do you hope your students will take from this courseand how do you think it will improve counseling for trauma?

From this course, I hope students gain a foundational understanding of how trauma affects young people. I also hope students will gain practical resources that will support them when they’re working in the field with people affected by traumatic events. I think students of this course should also consider continuing their education after their master’s to further develop skills over time.

How does teaching at a Jesuit institution like Loyola benefit this course?

The backbone of the course is compassion, which is a big component at a Jesuit institution. I think that willingness to be compassionate to the human experienceto take risks and join people in their journeyis what being a part of a Jesuit university is all about. I also believe that education should be transformational, and the Jesuit experience supports challenging thinking patterns and also places a strong focus on creating meaning.