SEL Champion of the Month: Michelle Koay

September SEL Champion of the Month, Michelle Koay

Michelle Koay started her professional journey not as a counselor but as an engineer! Through her work at the Air Force, Michelle got her first taste of counseling as she interacted with technicians, other engineers, and people of all kinds. Inspired by the power of these conversations, Michelle expanded her professional career and became a paracounsellor with the Singapore Armed Forces in 2003. In this role, she directly counseled military personnel. In 2019, Michelle completed a Master of Science course with King’s College London, specializing in Psychology & Neuroscience of Mental Health.

If you’d like to learn more about Michelle Koay and her journey into the mental health and SEL sphere, please continue reading, or if you’re a visual learner, please watch the full length interview between Michelle and our VP of Education Sales, Dr. Amber Gunner.


Below, we’ve included some of the highlights from their conversation. 

Michelle started the conversation by addressing some of the common misconceptions we face when discussing mental health in children/students. She pointed out that most of the time, schools tend to only focus on the students, leaving a large portion of the story out of the conversation. Engaging the parents alongside the children is more difficult and time consuming, but it’s important. In order to make meaningful change, it’s helpful to address these problems upstream. In other words, so often we try to address specific problems without acknowledging the entire system that is at play. 

MichelleKoayQuoteMichelle also believes that oftentimes, when we address a child's needs as a problem to solve with a solution, we fail to change the most important part of the entire process, our mindset. 

Through the inclusion of the parents, and by shifting from problem solving to a change in mindset, we are doing what Michelle calls, preventative work. 

Preventative work can be as robust as changing your entire belief system or as simple as focusing on the bright side of problems, and realizing children’s strengths. 

Dr. Amber Gunner from iMPACTFUL asked Michelle, “How do you suggest we ask the parents to shift their mindsets when talking about mental health or behavior in general with their kids?” Michelle said that through the generation of hope, we can begin to focus on what’s good instead of the bad. From here, we can all work together to build up. 

Shifting the focus from dwelling on the negative to the good of the situation, is one suggestion to parents on how to shift their mindsets. 

To show this in action, Michelle brought up one of our movies here at iMPACTFUL, LIKE.  LIKE is a film about social media addiction. After Michelle brought our film to her community, Michelle realized the true importance of mindset changing. If everyone were to sit around a screen and watch a movie that discussed how bad technology was and how deeply it is affecting our world, people might be scared or turned off, maybe even shut down from having a conversation. Because LIKE was able to mix the good and the bad of social media/technology, the content is more easily digestible and approachable for all audiences. 

To end the conversation, Dr. Amber Gunner asked Michelle Koay what her “why” is? More specifically, how does she continue to do this work with such passion and dedication for children and families? Her response was amazing. 

Michelle said that “I wish that I can change the world… changing it one heart at a time” (Koay. She later went on to describe the ripple effect, saying “I am not able to work with everyone but I do have the opportunity to engage and change the heart of one person or a family. I hope they will interact with other people, change their hearts in terms of the relationships they have and then we can propagate that thinking from that initial one person or family” (Koay). 

To watch the entire interview, see below and please check out Michelle Koay’s website linked here to learn more about her amazing efforts in the mental health and counseling sphere. We’ll see you next month.

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