Prioritizing Wellbeing through Empathy Interviews - A Conversation with PIC Alum, Dr. Quanda Collins
Photos courtesy of Principal Impact Collaborative (PIC) at UNT Dallas annual Leadership Collaboration event.
By Rachel Chewakin and Steven Santoyo
Dr. Quanda Collins, PIC 2020 Cohort Alumna, and PIC Alumni Council member, is currently the Principal at Tarrant County College (TCC) South Campus - Collegiate College in The Fort Worth Independent School District (Fort Worth ISD). Looking back on the previous school year, Dr. Collins redesigned a wellness program at TCC South to help ensure all students have access to resources that prioritize their mental, physical, and emotional health. While it’s currently in its early developmental stages, Dr. Collins credits her time designing it all as part of the Principal Impact Collaborative (PIC), at the onset of the pandemic in 2020, as the primary reason she has been able to effectuate positive change for the students on her campus with fidelity.
“My staff and I noticed our students were suffering,” Dr. Collins said. “Another teacher and I began talking about how we could connect our kids. We started the Wellness Club on campus with 15 students and five student officers who met with me often to organize what we would do.”
Dr. Collins created this program primarily because she saw the need for wellness firsthand as a focus area needing to be addressed at the onset of the pandemic. Having gone through two school years of rearranging campus procedures and expectations, Dr. Collins has found a way to impact students in need directly. TCC South is a unique campus in that the students are currently in high school at her campus and dual enrolled in TCC. Read more here: https://www.fwisd.org/domain/306. Regardless of age, students have come together through this Wellness Club to learn about healthier ways to cope with life.
“In our sessions, we’d practice yoga and mindfulness,” Dr. Collins stated. “We later applied for and were awarded two grants to expand our work. I got the team together and the students and said, ‘we need to be innovative.’ So my kids got involved, and through the design process, we made a video presentation for the grant proposal. We were ultimately awarded ‘The Blue Zones Project Grant’ for $2,000 and the University of North Texas Health Science Wellness Grant for $10,000.”
For Dr. Collins, PIC’s session on “empathy interviews” helped keep her students an integral role in the human-centered approach Dr. Collins’ career has always centered around. In these empathy interviews, Dr. Collins and her team created interview questions, and intentions and captured takeaways from eye-opening conversations about the health and wellness levels of the students being interviewed. Giving a judgment-free space to ask students questions about all they have experienced as a result of their pandemic experiences sheds light on not only their academic high school experience but the needs that could continue to be met regarding their mental health.
“I can truly say I had an approach that was human and student-centered,” Dr. Collins said. “The kind of social-emotional issues or concerns our kids had for us were important. It’s been an amazing journey of seeing students and staff come together in a way that was non-threatening and incorporated their voice, whether it was one-on-one with our empathy interviews or when I asked others to sit with me to talk further.”
Dr. Collins’s Wellness Club offers a safe space for students to collaborate throughout the school year. Just as Dr. Collins would collaborate with other principals in her time in the PIC cohort, her students similarly share their feelings, work on teams, and unpack the challenges they each have navigating their new learning. In addition to the mental well-being the wellness club serves students, the club also offers outlets for students to prioritize their physical well-being. Through sporting meetups where students got to play soccer, basketball, and tennis, students were able to lessen their stress levels by staying active with each other.
“Students must have a way to blow off steam,” Dr. Collins said, “Some of the students are drinking more water and walking together in a walking club.”
Looking to the future, Dr. Collins looks forward to diving deeper into her student survey responses. Seeing how introverted students have come out of their comfort zones in a safe space has gotten her thinking about how she can foster a campus climate that allows more students to feel a strong sense of belonging and community while at school. Incorporating community stakeholders to partner with her students, she believes, is the next best way to do more good for her student's overall wellness.
“There are more students who need to get out of their school and neighborhoods,” Dr. Collins said. “It got me thinking about how we could partner with Fort Worth organizations like at the Fort Worth Zoo to allow students to interact with support animals and the ways other organizations work in general.”
Dr. Collins thanks those who made her PIC experience worthwhile, a learning opportunity that prioritized her mental health and character development.
To stay connected with Dr. Collins and the wellness club at her school, visit her school website at https://www.fwisd.org/Domain/21. We also encourage you to follow PIC’s work @PICatUNTD on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
“Through PIC, I learned all of these different strategies centered around taking care of myself and my wellbeing,” Dr. Collins said. “One of the greatest aspects of PIC was having a process to go through with other principals that were facing similar challenges and similar stresses. We gain wisdom when we learn how to process our emotions. As principals, we must have calculated behavior. We are risk-takers, but we are aware of who we are and can take the temperature of a situation right before we start trying to move mountains.”