Every year, we are honoured to recognize members of the SMUS community as they retire and take on new adventures. Read the 2021 Retirees series to learn more about their outstanding contributions to the school. In this story, we recognize Junior School counsellor Tessa Lloyd.
With more than 30 years’ experience of counselling in schools, Tessa Lloyd admits that of all the ages she has worked with, her “heart is always with little ones.” Fortunately, she has been the Junior School counsellor for the last 11 years and retires as a much-loved member of the community.
When Tessa first joined the Junior School, there was less comfort around personal counselling; it was viewed as problem-oriented and students would sometimes feel uncomfortable about seeing a counsellor. Now, counselling is seen as a normal part of growth and development, and visits are embedded in the culture of the school.
“Counselling is an opportunity for students to understand themselves, their feelings, and get help to make wise choices,” Tessa says.
Whether working individually or in their classrooms, Tessa came to know and love every child at the Junior School and became familiar with each child’s family background.
Tessa was born in Mumbles, in the south of Wales. Her first foray into working in schools was in a residential setting for disabled children in Scotland, where she spent two years. The teaching was based on the Waldorf system, a child-centred approach that fosters the creative and inquisitive nature of the child, as well as their innate goodness. This aligned well with Tessa’s beliefs and values, and set the tone for her lifelong practice.
At the Junior School, teachers or parents were able to refer students to Tessa, or students would simply come knocking at her office door. If Tessa was not to be found, students wrote her notes (precious and often poignant, she says) and left them in the mailbox.
Learning to manage emotions is critical for Junior School-aged children. Tessa put together a collection of tools for working with children at the Junior School that she calls GEMS (Great Emotional Management Strategies). This includes using their WITS to handle conflict (Walk away; Ignore; Talk it out; Seek help), learning the difference between fly-bys and keepers (small and big problems), understanding how their brains work, and navigating Mount Emo, which teaches about emotions and the zones of regulation. Children learned how to put themselves in the “green zone” where they are calm, relaxed, and ready to learn.
Tessa found that using animal puppets was very effective when working with students. Turtle, one of her puppets, taught “green thinking” (growth mindset), and how to take a “meta-moment” to calm down (which Turtle demonstrated by tucking his head into his shell so that he was better able to make wise choices for his behaviour). Others, like Owl, dispensed creative insights, and Dragon taught how to handle anxious feelings.
Tessa connected well with the culture of the Junior School, finding it “so warm, engaging and child-centred. It was a great fit with what I believed about learning and teaching. I never had to explain myself.” She praised the integrated approach and continuity with teachers and is proud to have been part of such a “remarkable, gifted team.”
To support parents, Tessa hosted coffee mornings on a range of developmental issues. These monthly sessions were aimed at helping parents understand their child’s school experience, improving parent-child communication and relationships, and fostering children’s social and emotional well-being.
Outside of the school, Tessa has a small private counselling practice and is an avid photographer and published author. For her book, Forty Fathers, she photographed and interviewed well-known fathers, including Lawrence Hill, Rick Hansen, Roy Henry Vickers, Justin Trudeau and Trevor Linden, about the intergenerational experience of fatherhood.
Tessa planned to retire last school year but decided to stay for another year once the pandemic hit. She knew that students would have greater needs when they returned to in-person learning, and they certainly did. Tessa helped support the Junior School community and provided continuity for students, parents and staff through this upheaval.
Tessa’s retirement plans include continuing her private practice, spending time with her six grandchildren, travelling, photography and maybe some writing for children.
In her last days at the Junior School, she was touched when one of her “wee ones” visited her for a final time. “Ms. Lloyd,” the student said, “I feel like I’ve been Turtle, and you’ve been like my shell.”