Enhancing Education For Future Generations: Kiana Olafson’s Path to School Counselling
“Education is really about promoting and enhancing the next generation,” shares Kiana Olafson, a Métis woman from St. Louis, Saskatchewan who works as a high school counsellor in the city where she grew up, Chilliwack, BC. She has counselled in a middle school, worked as an Indigenous Education enhancement teacher and as a sixth grade teacher. With family members passionately working in education, it was always a career prospect in the back of her mind.
That spark of interest led her to the Indigenous teacher education program at UBC, something that felt like a good fit because of the way it incorporated Indigenous perspectives and education into mainstream classrooms. Becoming a teacher made sense because she’s passionate about Indigenous education and loves working with youth, even if she can only make a small difference in the work she does.
After high school, she went right to university and started taking more general classes to see what she liked. After speaking with an education advisor, she realized the teacher education program was what she wanted to do. The general courses she took transferred into the program and she carried on until she was done. These days she’s back in school working on her masters in education in school counselling to support her in her current role.
Finding the money to go to school was hard for her because she also had to relocate for her education. Costs were adding up but she found scholarships and bursaries to help her through. She suggests Indigenous youth apply for all available support. “Financial support is one of the huge reasons why I was able to be successful with getting my degree right away and not have to worry about working countless hours to try to pay for it,” she recalls.
Once she transitioned into the working world, Olafson’s always been one of the youngest people in her roles. Navigating the workplace has been daunting and she has struggled with self-doubt both in university and afterwards. She got through her imposter syndrome by believing in herself and trusting in her qualifications. Collaborating with other teachers, she has noticed that she has things to contribute also and is learning not to count herself out just because she’s younger and newer.
Her advice for Indigenous students thinking about going to post-secondary is to think about their goals and what they want their future to look like. University can feel intimidating, but sitting down with an advisor, even an Indigenous-specific advisor, can help address some of those lingering questions and concerns, breaking actions into tangible steps. Having their support made a big difference for Olafson as she navigated her education.
“We're all in this together. We all come from different walks of life, but we're all working towards a similar goal.”
Another source of support Olafson recommends is peer support, asking friends and classmates about their plans and learning from their approach. In her post-secondary program, she found a lot of support and community among her peers. Reflecting on her experience and the advice she can offer to Indigenous students, she would want them not to be afraid to ask questions and get support.
If she could give advice to her younger self it would be, “It's okay not to have it all planned out and not to have it all figured out.” As someone who loves planning, the unknown of university was scary. “Looking back, it obviously all worked out for me, and I think I'm at a place now where I'm happy with the field that I chose and with the path that I took, and it wasn't necessarily something that I had planned out years in advance. So, it's okay to not to not know. It's okay to just trust yourself and trust the process. You'll get to where you need to go if you ask around and if you stay open-minded,” she continues.
To balance her mental health and wellness, Olafson schedules breaks into her week so she doesn’t get caught up working all the time. “It's so easy to just fill up your time with everything you need to do,” she confides, and to address that she puts non-work activities into her planner and learned to leave her work at work.
“I hear a lot of difficult stuff throughout the day. It's easy to be thinking about that into the evening and processing all the stories and all the things that you take home with you. It was hard for me last year to have that distinction and have that separation. But this year, I've done a better job,” she reflects. The car ride home is how she decompresses and she uses that time as a transition period to move into her home life more smoothly.
Making time for the relationships that matter to her has made a difference in her wellness too. Her work can be isolating as she finds she is sometimes the only adult in the room but positive social time with other grownups can offset that experience. Olafson also makes time to be present for herself, through yoga, mindfulness and time away from her phone.
To keep moving every day, Olafson is inspired by the students she works with and the joy of seeing them learn through their interactions and leave with a smile on their faces. “All these youth are doing amazing things and are overcoming some big hurdles. I think that just inspires me to keep doing the work for them, and keep putting in the time,” she beams. The potential she has to make a difference helps her keep going.
Like Olafson says, education is really about promoting and enhancing the next generation and that’s what she does as a high school counsellor. Nudged onto this path by educators in her family, she’s hoping she can be a source of inspiration for others, too. She became a teacher supported by a community of peers in her classroom, and now she’s helping create safe places for students to thrive in their own educational journeys, paying it forward with kindness and compassion.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.