Austin Tucker, MSW, Middle School Counselor

Addressing Anxiety

Anxiety gets a bad rap, but the truth is it’s a natural part of the human experience. In fact, in small doses, it can even be a good thing, keeping us focused and engaged. Too often, however—and especially among children who are highly sensitive or dealing with other learning challenges—anxiety looms large, interfering with the educational experience and preventing students from making progress. At McLean School, we recognize that anxiety takes various forms and have developed many proven, targeted programs and strategies to address it, providing our students with effective skills for school and for life.

Here are some of the many ways McLean supports students with higher levels of anxiety:

Mindfulness. We are a national leader in mindfulness education, a scientific and skills-based program proven to calm the nervous system and make space for learning. All of us at McLean benefit from this work and put our training and tools to use every day. 

Positive relationships. At McLean, we develop and prioritize positive connections with teachers and peers, as well as areas of interest. When a student feels connected and cared for, it builds trust as well as a greater capacity for dealing with disappointment, frustration, and uncertainty . . . all of which feed anxiety.  

Small differentiated academic groups. Being able to work in a more intimate setting, with close attention from a teacher, alleviates the stress that comes with feeling out of sync or behind. 

Full time counselors in each division. Students as well as teachers benefit from having this resource dedicated to creating opportunities for connection and support at every grade level through small groups, lunch bunches, advisory, and a full-scope of programs to ensure the well-being of everyone.

Reviewing and previewing. Clarity and consistency are fundamental to successful learning, creating a supportive space and sense of safety and alleviating the anxiety that comes with feeling unsure about content and expectations.

Test preparation and planning. Reviewing and previewing is critical when it comes to assessments, and at McLean we work to demystify the test taking process that can be a source of great anxiety for almost all of us! This includes providing students with extra time as needed to eliminate any unnecessary pressure.

Communication and transparency. Anxiety likes to attach to life’s unknowns, which is why strong, open communication is critical among faculty, with students and their families, and also outside professionals as appropriate.   

Community building. A sense of belonging is the bedrock of emotional safety and to this end we put a big emphasis on community building with activities and programs including Responsive Classroom Curriculum in the Lower School, PRIDE Program (Positive Interaction, Respect/Responsibility, Individual and Community Safety, Decision Making and Empathy) in the Middle School, and Honor Code of Conduct in the Upper School.

Culture of empathy. It comes back to safety: when you feel seen, supported, and understood, anxiety is less likely to take on a life of its own. And even when it does, students at McLean are surrounded by support and compassion as they work through it.

Meeting students “where they are.” At McLean, we make space for students to be who and where they are while at the same time working to move them forward in ways that feel better to them and bring out their best. Part of this is tailoring our approach to meet the needs of a given moment, and our expert educators and low teacher-student ratio allows us to do this with intention and creativity.

We know we will never eliminate anxiety completely—and we wouldn’t want to, given its positive traits as a motivator and tool for self regulation—but at McLean we see its power and work to help our students recognize it, put it into perspective, and develop lasting and effective strategies for managing it in school and beyond.

Austin Tucker, MSW, Middle School Counselor