About Tali Aziza
Tali is a Registered Social Worker who works at a Modern Orthodox Jewish Day School in Thornhill Ontario. She works specifically with students in Pre-Nursery through to Grade Three providing one on one counselling, consultative services and social-emotional learning program development and implementation.
Tali earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree at IDC in Herzliya, Israel. She then completed her certification in holistic nutrition through The Institute of Holistic Nutrition in Toronto and then her Master of Social Work at Wurzweiler School of Social Work in New York.
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:01):
Tali welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to the work you’re doing today with young people?
Tali Aziza (00:13):
First of all, thank you so much for having me on I’m so excited to be talking to you today. So I am a registered social worker. I sort of came to my work now in schools through it, wasn’t always my, my path to end up in the school system. Really, I started, I did my undergraduate degree in psychology. I always knew I wanted to work with children. But more specifically at the time I wanted to work with children with eating disorders. So after my undergrad degree I went and did my degree in holistic nutrition. So I became a certified holistic nutritionist with the goal of combining the two together and working in eating disorders. I started my masters of social work and did my placements my first one in the school system and my second one really specializing in eating disorders.
Tali Aziza (01:07):
And then after graduating, I really, I tried out a little bit of different things, but I really found that I loved working in schools. And the reason being is that you get the opportunity to work with such a wide variety of different presentations and, and different kids dealing with different things. And what’s really neat about being in the school system is you really get to be on the front lines and really have a very strong impact. I find on the kids that you’re working with. So I didn’t land working specialized with eating disorders. I sort of work from a more holistic perspective. But I do feel that the work ties in because we get to work from a preventative model. And, and even in the work that I do, I try and interweave making sure that we’re doing all the protective factors to ensure that people have healthy, strong relationships with food moving forward, but also are, you know, protective from anxiety and things like, like that as they grow older.
Sam Demma (02:06):
Can you take us back to your first experience working in a school setting and explain kind of how you fell in love with working in a school?
Tali Aziza (02:17):
So what’s interesting about my, my position in the work that I do is I work really with very young kids. And so from a social work perspective, it, it almost seems like a little counterintuitive. The youngest age group I work with are kids who are, you know, 18 months almost. And I work with the kids up until grade three. So when I started, I, I, in hindsight, like I was completely sort of out of my comfort zone working with kids who are so young is not really something that you get a lot of experience with in, in social work school. But immediately I saw how we had the opportunity or I had the, to become part of the framework of the school. So right immediately, like first day you’re, you’re not locked up in your office as this like very fancy formal school social worker. You’re really in the hallways, in the classrooms out on recess duty, welcoming the kids as they come into will. And so you get the ability to like sort of infuse some of this social and emotional support into the school day in so many different ways. And then the added bonus is it’s, it’s wonderful working with kids who are, who are younger, you get to it’s so gratifying and it’s, so they’re so sweet and, and welcoming of any sort of interventions or anything like that. So that’s been really positive too.
Sam Demma (03:44):
And tell me more about your journey into social work as a profession. Did you know, growing up that you wanted to be a social worker or what led you down that path?
Tali Aziza (03:54):
So it’s an interesting question. I always knew I wanted to work with children. I, and after finishing my degree in psychology, I was looking into a master’s in psychology, but really with a master’s in psychology, you almost sort of need to go down the road of a PhD to be able to really do the work that I wanted to do. And then my dad actually said to me, one day, he said, like, I think you’re over complicating things here. What’s the end goal. And let’s think about up the most direct route you can take to get there. And so my end goal was I wanna work with children. I wanna support children, social and emotional wellbeing. And the most direct route was through a master’s in social work. Because that really allows you to be on the ground, working with kids, doing the work. And you know, maybe some of the other things are, you know, come into play later down the road, but that was like the most direct route to get me to my end goal. So it really, it really never had to do with social work per se. It was always more about working with children.
Sam Demma (04:53):
Cool. And what do you find are some of the challenges that students are faced with? I mean, you probably see them before most people do. You might even be the first adult in a young child’s life to hear a challenge before they even tell a parent or a family member, what are some of the common challenges that you’re seeing in young kids and how do you as a caring adult support those challenges and those young, those young learners and human beings?
Tali Aziza (05:20):
So it differs, I mean, you, you see different things at different age groups. So really when you’re talking about really, really young kids a lot of the times you’ll see more of the behavioral or the social side of things. So you’ll be, might, you might be seeing more tangible, like outbursts tantrum, like behavior some social, some signs like that. But as you work with children and as they get older, you start to see different things coming out. So I work with up to grade three. So as you approach the grades you start, you do start to see a lot more of the anxiety, be it social anxiety generalized anxiety things like that. More, more social issues coming out. Self-Esteem issues, things like that. And this has all been of course, really complicated by the pandemic also.
Tali Aziza (06:14):
And one of the things that I spent a lot out of time worrying about when we first transitioned to being in lockdown and being online is that for a lot of these kids, these are really pivotal years and nobody has eyes on these children. So be it from, you know, whatever perspective, but sometimes when you’re living with your kid day in and day out, you don’t know necessarily notice some of the things that might be going on for them. It’s important for them to be in a school setting, to have different people with different perspectives, looking out for your kids. So that’s, that’s a big thing. And, and now we are seeing, I mean, I do, I do find that we do see more anxiety kids struggling more socially, definitely struggling more academically, which plays into all of the social and emotional stuff as well.
Tali Aziza (07:01):
So where I come in and you ask, like, what do we do about it? It of course differs from kid to kid, but really I think that the most powerful work that, that I do in that the department does is really being an advocate and a cheerleader for these kids. I think going into school every, every day. And knowing that you have someone in the building who is on your team, no matter what they want you to do. Well, you know, I, I have kids come in and they’ll sit in my office for a few minutes and even just color and talk. There’s not any huge social work intervention happening, but just knowing that there’s somebody there who cares about you, you have a space to go. If you, you know, if you’re feeling really overwhelmed or you have a fight with a friend, or you’re just not feeling great that day I think really makes a huge difference. And I don’t think it needs to be big or fancy or, you know, super well researched interventions, I think. And even, you know, for, for you and I like growing up in a different time, we didn’t necessarily have that. And so having someone that, you know, is there for you in the building, like just that in and of itself, I think is really impactful.
Sam Demma (08:11):
It’s not like you have some grade one walking into your office and you hand them this white sheet of paper with check boxes on it. And you’re like, put you diagnose yourself and that’s correct. Check off your problem, or right. It sounds like you’re more focused on building relationships. Mm-Hmm and really showing that these students, that you care about them as human beings. Mm-Hmm how do you think you build that relationship? Obviously, accessibility is a big thing, like being accessible and having this space open, but once they enter the space, how do you go about building their relationships and ensuring these young kids know you are on their team?
Tali Aziza (08:47):
Right. So it really starts so much even before they come into the office. Mm-Hmm , and what’s really neat about being able to be in a school system. And, and the school that I work in is that there really is no stigma around going to see the social worker. We call, call ourselves the school counselor to make it a little bit more friendly. But like I mentioned before, you know, I’m outside on the playground every day, when the kids come in, I agree, read them outside. I’m outside on recess duty. I’m very visible within built into the framework of the school. So they don’t see me as like someone you go to when you have a quote unquote problem or something like that. And, and we often joke that we sometimes have the opposite issue that like, after recess, everyone wants to come speak to the school counselor cuz you know, someone took my ball or this or that.
Tali Aziza (09:38):
Which is amazing because there’s really no stigma around it. So it starts in the hallways. It starts in creating that rapport in, in the safe spaces that the kids are comfortable in. And then the other important piece of it, which can get sometimes a little tricky in a school based setting is I’m really careful to really distinguish between discipline and social work. Mm. Which can be tricky because sometimes the kids that you’re dealing with, you know, can struggle from both angles. Right. And so they, there might be a discipline component and there’s a social and emotional component, but it’s really important that I’m not the, the discipline in person. Because then the kids will shut down and won’t wanna relate or talk to me. So it’s really important that I stay neutral from that perspective. And then once the kid comes in the room and, and you know, you don’t have any negative association from anything else beyond that point.
Tali Aziza (10:36):
It really, at first from kid to kid, I like to find out what the kids like to do. And, and you know, the first few sessions, I really just focus on building a relationship because if there’s no relationship there, then the rest of the work won’t land, it won’t work. So depending on the kid and what their interests are, we do different sort of things to ensure that we’re building that relationship. And from there that like sort of lays the foundation for all the other things, to be able to permeate so much better.
Sam Demma (11:04):
I love that. And there’s definitely an educator listening right now who loves the ideas you’re sharing, but does not have a social worker in their school currently. Mm-Hmm how would you apply these same mindsets for an educator or a classroom teacher? Or do you have any tips for like a, just a classroom teacher on how they could use some of these same ideas to help their own students if they don’t have a social worker in their school and not, not that they can be the teacher and the social worker that’s not possible, but maybe there’s some mindsets or some ideas that they could use in their, in their classrooms when situ arise.
Tali Aziza (11:40):
Oh, sorry. I just cut out for a second. That’s okay. Absolutely. I think first of all, it doesn’t need to be a social worker. I think the biggest gift that the students have coming into the building is the teachers themselves. They have the most impact on the children. And the biggest thing the teachers can do is ensure that each and every child feels seen and recognized by the teachers. So something that I know that within my school, but in general teachers have been more cognizant of in recent years is, is how we greet students. Ah so for example, instead of the kids rushing into the classroom and the teacher standing at the front of the room and saying, okay, things away, take out your books. You know, we have the teachers, a lot of teachers standing outside the classroom and looking at each kid as they come in and saying their name and saying, hi, how are you or giving them a smile or even giving the kids the opportunity to do that to each other, just creating that like one small moment in a day where the kid is looked at and feels seen and recognized and genuinely cared about.
Tali Aziza (12:42):
We never know what’s going on for these kids at home. And so that one small moment could be huge. That could be all they’re getting in their day. So not to underestimate the power that you have. And, and I know that isn’t time, there, there is no time as a teacher it’s, you can’t make it appear from nowhere, but in those transitions, in those moments and then something that we’ve created that, that my school has taken on is something where we carve out time every day to address the social and emotional needs of our student. So there’s 15 minutes, there’s supposed to be 15 minutes with each teacher we’re dual curriculum school. So in the morning and in the afternoon where they take time to check in and find out how the kids are doing either, or they, you know, something as simple as talking about recessing kids, giving a thumbs up or thumbs down some sort of a reflect or carving out time just to do some sort of social and emotional learning anything like that, but even in just creating that space and opening that door to talking about feelings and things like that for some kid that could signal to them, okay, this is someone that I can open up to.
Tali Aziza (13:53):
And it doesn’t need to be big ways or in, you know, in fancy ways or in taking time to meet with every student, you can’t do that as a teacher. But there all are small things. Something else that I’ve done in the past that I think is, is really amazing to do if you have the time or the resources is journaling with students. So it it’s amazing because it gets students also working on their writing working on their thought and idea formation. But it is also a really nice way to build relationships with students. So you can give a prompt, give a question and then have students write their response and you don’t need to answer every single student every single time, but each time you can go through and write a response to some of the students and, you know, maybe ask them a little bit more. And then through this journaling exercise, which can become part of the framework and the structure of your class you’re, you’re first of all, tackling so many things you’re tackling, you know, you’re giving space to gratitude. You’re giving space to mindfulness, you’re giving space to relationship formation, but through all of those things, you can also be opening the door for kids to be able to confide in you or share with you if they need to.
Sam Demma (15:06):
It sounds like all these activities lend themselves like creating a safe space or a space where there’s more communication mm-hmm . Do you have any tools, resources, fun games that you’ve leveraged or used when it comes to mindfulness, social, emotional learning or even things that have helped you learn more about the topic that you think teachers or other social workers might find helpful?
Tali Aziza (15:30):
Mm-Hmm yeah, so there’s, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There’s really great, well research programs out there for all of these things. So for example, the zones of regulation program is a great program. It was developed by an OT and it’s a great program that’s aimed at teaching children, how to identify their feelings, label their feelings and what to do to maneuver through their feelings in a comfortable and expected, appropriate way. So there’s a whole program that exists around that it’s very well researched, very well founded, and the, it, it’s not complicated or hugely costly. You buy the book, it comes with the CD and there’s a lot of information about it widely available online as well. Another program similar to that is the social thinking program that has books and, and all sorts of follow up activities that can really guide you in, in relating this conversation and bringing it in there’s something similar called the ruler program.
Tali Aziza (16:29):
Some of these are more expensive and, and more complicated to, to take off than others. But the zones is a really easy one to start with. The other thing is, is that there’s a lot of really great literature out there. And by literature, I mean like books for the kids themselves. Cool. So, and, and what’s really great now is you don’t need to go out and necessarily buy all of these books. They have so many read alouds on YouTube. So just even knowing some of the books that are really great for bringing up that conversation, teaching kids about their emotions. And, and that’s the important piece is we have to teach them. We can’t just assume that they know, right. So a lot of kids feel anger, but they don’t know that that’s to anger. They just know it’s a really uncomfortable feeling in their body.
Tali Aziza (17:17):
Mm-Hmm so there’s an education piece that has to come into play here too. And there’s a lot of great books that do just that. So for example, the color monster is an amazing book that can be adopted to different ages and teaches about that. And there’s for sure many read, read aloud for that on the you to yeah. So that’s the great, those are great things to do. The other thing that I like to tell teachers to do is we like to, we like to tell students that, you know, at times they need to be calm or they need to, they need a break or to calm down, but we can’t just assume that kids know what it looks like and what it feels like to calm down. We have to practice that with them. Mm. So even just taking five minutes in a day and having like five minutes of mindfulness time, you can put on some relaxing music, you can have some mindfulness come coloring sheets. You can have time to take a book. You can have time to write in a journal, but all of these things, they need practice with getting into that state to be able to then access it when they need it. We can’t just go about the hustle and bust of our day all the time, and then expect that kids know how to calm down when they’re told to calm down.
Sam Demma (18:27):
Yeah. That’s such a good, that’s such a good piece of advice, even for parents. Like, because I know that like teachers, a parent often tells their child calm down or stop doing this or do that. And like, yeah, a kid might be totally confused as to what that looks like. And you know, they’re not gonna sometimes listen to your words, but they’re gonna follow what you are doing. And if you’re screaming at them to calm down, kinda goes against the whole thing you’re asking them to do.
Tali Aziza (18:55):
Right. And then if they don’t know what to do, then that’s frustrating and that can further contribute to whatever behavior you’re already seeing. So I like to tell parents very often I tell parents to like model calm and to practice calm. So take five minute. It and, and sometimes even just as you come in the door after school is a great time and it’s important for whatever their calming activity is to be something they can access independently. Mm-Hmm , if it’s something that they need a lot of support with, it’s less likely that that’s gonna be effective in the moment that it’s needed. But if you have a space that’s, and it doesn’t need to be, be designated to calm as in nothing else happens there, that’s not feasible for most people, but a space that’s associated with a calming activity. You practice that calming activity, they get comfortable with accessing it independently. It’s gonna be much more effective in the moment.
Sam Demma (19:45):
That’s awesome. And examples, you mentioned, if you journaling mind for, with some music, there’s also so many great apps. There’s an app literally called calm mm-hmm, , there’s an app called the Headspace or insight timer. If you wanted to introduce your students to meditation or some form of mindfulness, mm-hmm, , the list just goes on and on. I’m sure you could find videos and even guided meditations or guided mindfulness act activities on YouTube. Mm-hmm . Uthese are all very cool things to implement. What do you think is one or a few of the opportunities that exist in education today, or, I, I know there’s a bunch of challenges that have come along with COVID that’s very clear and obvious, but on the other side, what do you think some of the opportunities are?
Tali Aziza (20:30):
Hmm. I think that’s a, that’s an interesting question. I think we spend so much time talking about yeah. What, you know, how it set us back in so many ways. I think in, in some ways, access to resources is, is changing. And for some people it’s, it’s easier. And for some people it’s harder. So for example, you know, there’s therapists now who are meeting with kids online, so that might make therapy more accessible to some kids OT, more accessible to some kids. It also hinders the process in a lot of ways too. So that’s a whole, whole Def different conversation. I think that the time at home has really allowed parents to get to know their children. Mm-Hmm . And so I think that as educators and I’m sure a lot of educators would feel this way. A lot of times we’re trying to help parents see some of the things that we’re seeing at school and what’s come as a result of the time at home is that a lot of parents, you know, are really seeing it.
Tali Aziza (21:28):
And I know specifically that year where we transitioned from being totally in school to being fully blindsided by all of this and then being at home, I, I know, and I suspect that globally, a lot of parents were calling teachers and saying, oh my goodness, I, I see it now. Like I get what you were telling me. I didn’t know it before. So I think there is this awareness and there’s partnership that comes from parents re really being part of the classroom, you know, be really being the ones who are, are spearheading it in a lot of ways. So there’s, first of all, an added appreciate that I think always needed to be there for the incredible work that teachers are doing. And that with that has come greater partnership and greater awareness from the parent perspective. So I think that that allows us to go so much further in how we can support and help children,
Sam Demma (22:24):
Speaking of gratitude and appreciation, not only educators, but everyone that works with young people, including yourself and other social workers. If you haven’t heard it recently, thank you so much for the work that you have done and continue to do. If parents aren’t telling you our students it’s making a massive impact. And I appreciate it. Because I know when I was in school, I could have definitely used a teacher that I could celebrate my wins with. Also share my challenges in a very safe environment. Thank you so much. This has been an awesome conversation. If someone is listening and wants to reach out, ask a question or share some feedback, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?
Tali Aziza (23:05):
Yeah, absolutely. And I’m always happy if anyone sort of wants to come up with some ideas or is maybe struggling with something please feel free to reach out. I’m happy to brainstorm together. I can be reached by email and it is firstname.lastname@example.org
Sam Demma (23:25):
Awesome. Tally, thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.
Tali Aziza (23:30):
Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
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