Friday, December 30, 2011

Best Musings of 2011

In taking inspiration from Dr. Branstetter over at Notes from the School Psychologist, I decided to debut my first "best of" showcase. 2011 was a big year for me: my first full year as an employed school psychologist. There was tons on learning and laughs, of which there will continue to be many more of. Here are highlights of the year, as measured by most viewed, most comments, or my personal favorite:

January -- A post about The Semantics of Stigma associated with "mental retardation" vs. "intellectual disability."

February -- A case study about a kiddo who moved from an Integrated Co-Teaching classroom to a 6:1+1. (and a bonus update on how he settled in!)

March -- The Cross Country Team, a post about "runners," or kids who leave the classroom during instruction and roam/run the school building. This post gets a huge amount of hits for the graphic, not the content. Alas!

April/May/June -- A compilation of the 8-week anger management/social skills group that I co-facilitated during the spring in the 5th grade 6:1+1 class. All boys, all shenanigans.

July -- I didn't have any posts in July... :(

August -- E=mc... huh?, a case study about a kiddo with a nonverbal learning disability. And because I couldn't choose (and slacked in July), a playful reflection post linking my shoe collection to key events in my career.

September -- A post about Jamie Nabozny and the documentary "Bullied," which every one should order and use because it's FREE! I'll reiterate again: "Bullying: Confront it. Report it. End it."

October -- A post about interview questions I was asked when I was interviewing for positions after grad school. I'm so glad that this post has been helpful to those just starting out!

November -- An important post about the current New York mandate relief proposal to remove psychologists from the CSE. Speak up, advocate for yourself and your colleagues, and make everyone know the importance of psychologists in the schools.

December -- If you missed it the first time, a good laugh for the holidays, with inappropriate Christmas carols for those who work in mental health.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Multiply Disabled, Doubly Blessed

Earlier this month, we had a Committee on Special Education (CSE) meeting on a rather tough case. X, a kindergarten student, was referred by his foster mom/aunt and his doctor due to suspected developmental delays. I had to blog about X and his CSE referral, since cases like his don't come around very often. Here's a list of notable things in X's social history, shortened for brevity:

Facial features of children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
-heavily exposed to alcohol and marijuana in utero. Recently diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. (also exhibits facial features)
-traumatic brain injury at 6-months (suspected that biological mother dropped him, cracking his skull).
-no medical care after first well-visit after birth.
-significant history of malnutrition (often left to fend for himself to eat, which led to injuries as he attempted to cook for himself; currently, hoarding food and pica-like behaviors of eating inedible objects).
-not toilet trained (a requirement for attending kindergarten in my district--he was asked not to return to school until he was toilet trained, because he was having accidents throughout the day).
-much smaller than is typical for his age--looks about 3 years old when he's 5-years, 7-months.
-speech concerns (articulation, voice tone and quality, expressive and receptive language deficits).
-underdeveloped fine motor abilities (shoe tying, writing, cutting; also sensory concerns).
-removed from biological mom's care 6-months ago due to severe neglect; living with his aunt.
-no exposure to school or age-appropriate social interactions prior to entering kindergarten this year.

During testing with me, X exhibited no spontaneous conversation, and when he did speak, it was in a whisper (I must've driven him nuts asking him to repeat himself so much because I couldn't hear him!). His sentences were no more than three words and he would gesture or point rather than speak at times. Throughout our time together, he exhibited flat affect and appeared lethargic. He was slow to respond to many assessment tasks. He rarely smiled or responded appropriately when I tried to make him laugh (I probably am not funny).

Lots of assessments were done, to get a full picture of X's developmental levels. Speech/language and occupational therapy evaluations were indicative of significant delays, so he qualified to receive those related services. My cognitive testing was in the borderline intellectually disabled range, as was standardized academic testing (i.e. standard scores in the 70 range). Behavioral rating scales were also completed by X's teacher, which indicated high levels of atypical or "strange" behaviors and moderate hyperactivity and attention problems. Adaptive behavior was also delayed, with daily living skills (self-care skills) and socialization were the lowest areas.

Standard scores within the 70 range across all areas (cognitive, academic, adaptive behavior) would in most cases lead to a classification of Intellectually Disabled. However, I recommended a classification of Multiple Disabilities. What are the criteria for this disability, in New York State?
Multiple disabilities means concomitant impairments..., the combination of which cause such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in a special education program solely for one of the impairments. The term does not include deaf-blindness. [Part 200.1(zz 8)]
Due to his pervasive level of delays and needs, and concurrent head trauma and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Multiple Disabilities was a more appropriate classification for X. After the New Year, we are going to look into an agency self-contained classroom for him to be placed in. This setting will meet not only his educational needs, but also his daily living, self-care, and toileting.

So with all these hurdles to overcome, why is X "doubly blessed?" Because of his foster mother and aunt. She is working so hard to support him and provide him with the nurturing environment that he has lacked for the last five years. He is receiving routine medical care, nutritious food, an education, and most importantly, love and social interaction. She has advocated for him in ways that most people would find difficult, starting first by taking him in when she has other children of her own, and by initiating the special education referral that will get him the support he needs. I am confident that X will quickly catch up to where he needs to be with her care and appropriate educational services.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Wishes for Mental Health Professionals

Just got this in an email through my district's psychologist email group and I simply had to share. Happy holidays everyone! Expect a couple good case study posts next week from the comfort of my couch. :)

Christmas Carols for the Psychiatrically Challenged:
Schizophrenia--Do You Hear What I Hear?
Multiple Personality Disorder--We Three Queens Disoriented Are
Amnesia--I Don't Know if I'll Be Home for Christmas
Narcissistic--Hark The Herald Angels Sing About Me
Manic--Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees and Fire Hydrants and
Paranoid--Santa Claus is Coming to Get Me
Personality Disorder--You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, Maybe I'll Tell You Why
Borderline Personality Disorder--Thoughts of Roasting on an Open Fire
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder-- Jingle Bells,Jingle Bells,Jingle Bells,Jingle Bells,Jingle Bells,Jingle Bells,Jingle Bells,Jingle Bells,Jingle Bells,Jingle Bells,Jingle Bells,Jingle Bells,Jingle Bells,Jingle Bells
Agoraphobia--I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day But Wouldn't Leave My House
Autistic--Jingle Bell Rock and Rock and Rock
Senile Dementia--Walking in a Winter Wonderland Miles From My House in My Slippers and Robe
Oppositional Defiant Disorder--I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus So I Burned Down the House
Social Anxiety Disorder--Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas While I Sit Here and Hyperventilate

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Backpack! Backpack! Backpack! Backpack!

(name the obscure children's TV show reference)

I just found Marie's blog over at the South Carolina Counselor Cafe as she posted on my Facebook page, and in looking back through her entries, I found a great reference for helping families faced with poverty and homelessness.

As I've mentioned many a time, my school is high poverty, low SES. We have about 99% of the students receiving free and reduced lunches. At the district level, we find that many of our students do not have enough to eat. As such, we have a breakfast program where every morning, the students are provided with a breakfast pack and milk. I always make sure to have extra breakfasts in my office. Why? Well, if there's a kid having a behavioral fit before 10:00am, there's a pretty good chance they haven't eaten breakfast (and in some cases, since lunch at school the previous day). The first thing I ask when kids are having meltdowns in the morning is whether or not they had breakfast--not "what did you do?" or "what happened?"

A tangential story for a moment. Last winter, we had a terrible snowy day (which never happens in Western NY, right? ha). All the surrounding districts were closed, but not ours. Why you may ask? It was a Friday, and the rumor was that the superintendent kept school open so that the students would get breakfast and lunch in school Friday, and wouldn't have to go three days without food over a long weekend.

This year, we have a new partnership with the local food bank. This was sought out through the community service providers that are housed in my building. Every Friday, the food bank provides backpacks full of nutritious food for our students to take home over the weekend. We have over 50 families participating! It's such a wonderful program and has so many great benefits. Aside from giving families food for the weekend, the backpack program is also designed to increase school attendance. There's nothing like seeing all the little munchkins tearing down the hallway on the way to the bus with their yellow backpacks bouncing on their backs. I'm so glad we have the opportunity to provide for these students!

If you work in a high poverty area, or have a student population that is significant for homelessness, contact your local food bank or soup kitchen and see if they also partner with schools to provide for students. You never know what you might find out.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

What Do Basketball and Social Skills Have in Common?

One of the big problems with working in an urban area is the lack of enrichment activities for the students. We have no music program aside from one semester per year of general music (although our new music teacher rocks and is trying to expose the kids to more), we have no clubs or activities aside from a fall cross-country team and a winter basketball team, and we have a very limited art class, which is also only for a semester. My principal is trying hard to get the kids out on field trips to local colleges, the theatre, and to see the city orchestra, and she's bringing in a lot of before and after school tutoring programs.

Our gym... go green team!
Today, I stayed after school not to write IEPs or reports (as is the norm lately with the program review I'm wading through), but to go to the boys' basketball game! Some of my 7th and 8th grade friends have been trying to get me to go, so since today was their last home game, I couldn't pass it up. It was a blast! The boys lost by 2 points, but they played hard and enjoyed themselves.

The benefits of extracurricular activities, especially sports, is so incredible for kids. Not only do they learn routines, expectations, rules, and how to follow directions, they increase their social skills. Kids learn about turn-taking and sharing, good sportsmanship, how to deal with upsets and challenging situations, friendship skills, leadership, and problem-solving skills. Research has also shown a positive correlation between participation in sports and academic achievement. Hmm... sounds like all of the "desired behaviors" I write on my Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs)!

Watching the boys working together, congratulating one another, and cheering each other on was fantastic. The majority of the team is self-contained special ed. students from the 15:1 classes in junior high, who need some social skills training, so this is an excellent opportunity for them. I wish that we had more sports teams for our school. Maybe it would keep me from having to write so many BIPs! ;)

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Integrating our Teachers

Previously, I wrote about our self-contained classes, and today I'm going to give you a peek at the other special education program housed in my building: Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT). ICT goes beyond the typical consultant teacher or resource room programming, where students with disabilities are removed ("pulled out") from the classroom to receive special education services. The ICT model has two teachers in the classroom full-time, one general education and one special education, to service the needs of all students. Both teachers equally teach lessons and curriculum, and both teachers help to differentiate instruction. The special education teacher is not viewed as an aide or helper only for "those kids," but as a teacher of all students.
Integrated Co-Teaching has a huge amount of potential. I highly recommend Dr. Marilyn Friend's DVD The Power of 2, which gives a great overview of the benefits of ICT and provides training on six different models of how two teachers can work together to instruct their class. It also has a lot of testimonials of co-teachers who love the model (a great plug for the system, eh?).

In my building, we have one Integrated Co-Teaching classroom each in third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. This is our first year with this many classes in a full ICT model. At any given time in our ICT classes, you can see either teacher doing a lesson, one teacher with a group of students (while the other teaches the rest of the class) reinforcing skills, pre- or re-teaching materials, providing advanced work, or giving curriculum based assessments, or both teachers teaching together. In our seventh and eighth grades, the ICT teacher travels with the students from subject to subject, teaching lessons, reinforcing concepts, and working alongside students or in small groups. In eighth grade, we also have a resource room period at the end of the day, where the ICT teacher can go over skills, assist with assignment completion, and do post-secondary preparation work (filling out job and practice college applications and do transition planning).

Do you have Integrated Co-Teaching in your building? How is it working? What benefits or challenges are your teachers reporting?

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Being a Citizen

Well, the coins are counted and the tallies are in! Last week was my Veteran's Day community service project to support our local Honor Flight hub, an organization that flies World War II vets to Washington, DC free of charge to visit the memorials. A quick refresher: my fundraiser was a competitive change drive where the kiddos put money into a milk jug for their grade level during lunch periods, and the grade level that raised the most in a week won a pizza party.

Over the summer, I accompanied a group of students on a field trip to the local naval park in the harbour to tour the WWII warships and submarine docked there. Two seventh grade boys, N and P, enjoyed the trip and the history behind the ships so much that I asked them to help me with the project. They were responsible for collecting the jugs full of change and bringing them to my office after lunch periods, and they helped me count the money Friday afternoon. N also made a generous donation for his grade level.

I think thanks in part to N and P's dedication, our seventh grade classes had a pizza party today! They raised the most money, but it was a close race between them and our fourth and first grades. In total, $145 was raised, which will pay for almost half of one veteran's trip to Washington. It doesn't seem like much, but I was very pleased with the outcome and know that Honor Flight benefits from any contribution. The students in my school come from high poverty backgrounds and don't have much to give monetarily. Community service and volunteering is so important to me, and I hope a project like this shows them that even the smallest gift, whether it's a dollar, a thank-you card, or a handshake, can make a difference to those in the community, especially those who serve so selflessly for our freedom and futures. It was also a great way to commemorate November's character trait of the month, "citizenship."

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

8, 12, 15, 6, Our Self-Contained Classes Need a Fix

So you've often heard me talk about self-contained classrooms, where I toss around numbers like 6:1+1, 15:1, and other seemingly simple math equations. As part of our compliance review, one of the things we looked at was to see if there was a similar of profile of needs among the kiddos in our self-contained classes, and if there were kids that did not match the profile, then we found a more appropriate placement for them. So what do these classrooms look like in my district?

15:1 (15 students, 1 teacher) - colloquially, 15:1 classrooms are reserved for the "low" kiddos. Students who are appropriate for this classroom are students with low IQ who are slow processors and need a lot of assistance to complete work. The small classroom size affords them with the more individualized help they wouldn't get in a classroom of 25+ kiddos. Students in 15:1 classes are typically classified as Learning Disabled and/or Intellectually Disabled (the new Mental Retardation classification). Students in 15:1 classes should have no behavior problems.

12:1+1 (12 students, 1 teacher, 1 teacher aide) - students in this classroom type have a similar academic needs profile as those in a 15:1, but these students also have mild to moderate behavior problems. Students in this class might exhibit hyperactivity or impulsivity, have trouble with complying with classroom rules and teacher directives, or have some difficulty interacting appropriately with peers. The extra adult ensures that these students have the opportunity for more consistent behavior management (many will have BIPs) than a general education classroom and more small group work. Students are typically classified Learning Disabled, Other Health Impairment (such as for a diagnosis of ADHD or ODD), and/or Emotional Disturbance. There are also 12:1+2 classrooms for students who are Multiply Disabled and/or have severe medical needs.

8:1+1 (8 students, 1 teacher, 1 teacher aide) - students in this classroom are typically on grade level in all academic areas, but their behavioral needs keeps them from being instructed effectively in a general education classroom. Often, these kiddos have more extreme impulsivity issues, aggression, and opposition/defiance. The extra adult in this room helps greatly with behavior management, since students in this room need lots of redirection, monitoring, and will likely have BIPs. Students in an 8:1+1 are typically classified Other Health Impaired and/or Emotional Disturbance.

6:1+1 (6 students, 1 teacher, 1 teacher aide) - the most common 6:1+1 is a classroom for students with severe behavioral and academic needs, those that have trouble floating in a 12:1+1. Their needs are a combination of the high academic needs of those in a 15:1 and the intense social/emotion concerns of those in an 8:1+1. 6:1+1 classrooms for academic/behavior concerns can be in a typical public school or at an agency placement, and are typically reserved for students with Emotional Disturbances, though we do have a few Other Health Impaired students in them too. There are also 6:1+1 classes for students classified with Autism, students who are Multiply Disabled with severe health/medical needs, and students who have severe Intellectual Disabilities (such as Down Syndrome).

What self-contained classes do you have in your buildings? Do the profile of needs at your buildings match the description of the classes at mine?

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Under the Microscope

As some of you might've seen on my Facebook page, I had a slight meltdown about my workload that involved a possible future of flipping burgers. While I was on vacation in Cancun with Fiance, a special ed. supervisor came in to make sure that we were in compliance with state expectations and that all of our kiddos were getting the appropriate services. Long story short, I'll be doing 55+ amendments/revisions, reevaluations, and program reviews for students in our building. The best part of the whole shebang? The substitute we had in for MB, my colleague going through chemo treatment, quit without explanation on Monday. Since our secretary has been MIA since May, I'm now doing the jobs of three people, trying to deal with daily issues, managing Check-in, Check-out and other PBIS initiatives, trying to deal with our typical CSE caseload, and picking up odds and ends as they come. Suffice to say, I'm a tid bit busy! :)

Ultimately, I am glad that the supervisor came in. As much as I will likely complain about the extra work and day-to-day super insanity, there were a lot of problems with IEPs in our building that are now going to be solved. Kiddos will be going to more appropriate placements, being declassified, or having services switched to meet their needs. If my CSE team was making the decisions in the absence of a supervisor's intervention, these changes might take a little longer and be a little harder to get going, but since we're responding to compliance concerns, we're going to move quickly to get things solved. Reviews like this are uber stressful, but I'm hoping I will be able to make small accomplishments (I scored four behavior rating scales and finished a report today--this was a big deal), and remember that when I'm drowning in paperwork and report writing, that at the end of the tunnel, a kiddo will be getting what they need to succeed.

Let the FBA writing, psychological testing, hair pulling, teacher consulting, report typing, student observing, sitting in meetings, diet pop chugging, and assessment scoring begin!

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Trouble with a Capital "T" and that Stands for Removing Psychs from the CSE

If you're from New York and are a member of the New York Association of School Psychologists (NYASP), your email has been all abuzz lately regarding mandate relief. Earlier this year, the NYS Educational Dept (NYSED) was asked to make "mandate relief and flexibility" recommendations to the Governor's Office to see where they could find money in the budget. Preliminary recommendations included a proposal to remove the mandate for school psychologists to be part of the Committee on Special Education (CSE) and other recommendations related to psychological assessments.

NYASP has been working throughout the year with legislators in NYS to not allow such proposals to be accepted by the Board of Regents. Local and statewide legislators advocated heavily for NYASP and school psychologists across the state, citing the vast mental health knowledge and expertise of school psychologists in making determinations regarding the welfare of students. Over the summer, there was a public comment period, where psychologists, parents, legislators, school staff, and other supporters could comment on the proposals. The support for school psychologists was huge, coming from organizations such as NYSUT, the UFT, NYS PTA, and the NYS Psychological Association and everywhere in between.

At the Board of Regents meeting this month, they voted to remove the school psychologist as a mandated member of the CSE with the exception of initial eligibility determination meetings. They also voted to remove the additional parent member and physician/school nurse. Finally, they voted to repeal the psychologist's ability to determine the need for additional data during reevaluations. This is a huge, degrading blow to the profession. School psychologists, parents, teachers, administrators, and related services personnel are outraged. Thankfully, no changes will be made immediately. Any change like this requires a change in the law, which could take a long time due to the need for action of the NYS Legislature. NYASP is planning an all-out  assault (of the email, rally, phone call, and visits with legislators variety) to try and deter these decisions from become law.

I'd love to hear what my gentle readers think about the decision to remove school psychologists from the CSE and limit their say in evaluations. Like most others, I am outraged, nervous, and offended by the decision made by a few people not in the profession over budgetary concerns, which will affect thousands of psychologists and tens of thousands of children. Is this an issue that has come up in other states? Are psychologists mandated members of the CSE where you work? Are there limitations on your job responsibilities and how you conduct your evaluations?

School psychologists who would like to contact our legislators regarding mandate relief are encouraged to check out The New York State Assembly website and The New York State Senate website. Heck, even if you're not a New Yorker, we could use your support!

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Celebrating Connections with Kids, One Tasty Lego Block at a Time

Here it is, my School Psychology Awareness Week (SPAW) project! In order to go along with the theme of "Every Link Matters, Make the Connection," here's what I got up to this evening to celebrate.
I bought Lego candy blocks to represent the links that we make with our students (okay, reaching, but you know you love it). They were surprisingly tasty--lime, banana, blue raspberry, and fruit punch of some kind.
Each little baggie got a tag to commemorate the momentous week of SPAW.
I filled each baggie with 1/4 cup of Lego blocks. Here are 67 baggies waiting to be tied with ribbon! They're all anxiously awaiting their appearance on my blog in the background.
Here's the final product. A big thank you to Fiance to buying me ribbon when I realized we had none at home, and for helping tie the baggies.
Hopefully this will be a little pick-me-up for the staff and me after the crazy two weeks I've been having! What did you do for School Psychology Awareness Week? Did you invite your principal to lunch?

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veteran's Day!

Not only is next week School Psychology Awareness Week, it's my Veteran's Day community service project! Here's the jugs, all ready to go to school Monday.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Easy Behavior Management Tool!

Just found a spectacular behavior tracking tool! So often, I see teachers get overwhelmed and bogged down by trying to monitor BIPs or establish effective, yet simple, classroom management plans. Their behavioral data gathering becomes too complex and time consuming, and it really doesn't have to be. Someday, I'm going to post some easy behavior tracking ideas, but until then, check this out!

Mrs. Patton, at Mrs. Patton's Patch, posted about ClassDojo, a real-time online system that lets you track points for positive and negative behaviors students exhibit during the day. This would be a great program for those who love to use technology in the classroom. Pass it on to your teacher friends!

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Invite Your Principal to Lunch

With School Psychology Awareness Week (SPAW) starting on Monday, November 14th, I'm curious to see what other professionals out there are doing! Last year, I told mini-stories that went along with each of the areas children are encouraged to "SHINE." This year, I'm doing a little something in the building... more to come. :)

What are you doing in your building to commemorate this momentous week (ha)? If you don't have an idea yet, I would like to pass along one from the New York Association of School Psychologists (NYASP), of which I'm a board member. NYASP is encouraging psychologists around the state to "Invite Your Principal to Lunch." Here's a memo regarding the event:

Make the Connection
In concert with National School Psychology Awareness Week, school psychologists in New York will be inviting their educational leaders to lunch. NYASP President, Peter Faustino, says, "What better way to share our mutual vision than for student achievement than to share a meal together?" During the week of November 14th, school psychologists are encouraged to do the following:
  1. Schedule a time to meet with your building principal.
  2. Order in, bring something to share, or simply eat together in your office.
  3. During lunch, take the opportunity to highlight the variety of domains of your practice (outlined in the NASP Practice Model) and consider how particular domains may be applicable to the building's success.
  4. Thank your principal for his/her leadership.
  5. Report to NYASP [or your own state's organization] and tell them how it went.
Please share your stories of what you did for SPAW, and how it went! Look for an upcoming post regarding my activities.
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Monday, October 31, 2011

So You Wanted Some Interview Questions

A recent discussion about interviewing for school psychologist positions brought about this blog post. A reader of the Notes from the School Psychologist blog posted on Dr. Branstetter's Facebook page for advice for an upcoming interview. I offered to send interview questions that I was asked to anyone interested, so here is the list! This is compiled from three different interviews.
  • Tell us about your background and why you would like to work in this district.
  • How do you view the role of the school psychologist? Why do you want to work in this profession?
  • What did you like and dislike from your internship?
  • What role does the school psychologist have in counseling, in a district that has a school counselor?
  • What has been your most difficult experience thus far? How did you handle it? What do you wish you could have done differently?
  • What is the role of a school psychologist in RTI? Describe your experience with RTI.
  • How does the role of the school psychologist change at the elementary, middle, and high school level?
  • Is there anything else about your experiences or personal attributes you want to share?
  •  Describe your counseling experience, both group and individual.
  • Describe your experience with students with severe emotional and/or behavioral problems.
  • What is the role of the school psychologist in conducting and implementing FBAs and BIPs?
  • What battery would you use to classify a student with a suspected learning disability?
  • How would you classify a student as emotionally disturbed?
  • Describe your organizational skills.
  • Why should we hire you?   
  • Describe your assessment skills, specifically how they relate to high schoolers. How does assessment differ between elementary and high school students?
  • What is your experience with Brief Solution Focused Therapy? 
  • What do you believe the role of the psychologist on a child study team is?
  • How you would utilize RTI at the high school level. 
  • What would you do to advocate for and support special education and self-contained students within general education?
  • Describe any student crisis cases you have been involved in, and how you handled them.
  • You are doing a reevaluation for a student who is classified LD, but who tests in the MR range. Previous testing results are congruent with an MR classification. In talking with the psychologist who conducted the previous evaluation, he reveals that the parent resisted an MR classification. How would you proceed?
  • A parent calls you with concerns that their child’s testing modifications are not being implemented properly, and that their special education teacher is not adhering to their IEP. How would you proceed?
  • When conducting an initial referral on a student with a suspected learning disability, your testing shows that the student does not qualify. Testing done at an outside agency reveals the same scores, and the psychologist there says the student does qualify. How do you proceed?
  • A teacher comes to you with a referral for a student who has not received any RTI. How to you respond to the teacher?
  • Writing Sample: Write a letter to parents at the high school. Describe your background and experiences. Tell them what you can offer them and their children and how you can be useful.   
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011


One of my favorite parts about the Halloween season (seeing as every holiday is becoming it's own 2-month ordeal, these days) is all the scary stuff on TV. Fiance and I spend our Wednesdays watching Ghost Hunters and American Horror Story on FX. I remember being younger and watching Michael Jackson's "Thriller" music video on MTV with my dad around Halloween.

One of my first grade friends, and former blog star, H has been having some trouble in the classroom. H is diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and has great difficulty in loud, chaotic environments. Almost daily she has crying breakdowns because her classroom can be so overwhelming and overstimulating. Our school increased class sizes significantly this year, so H went from a kindergarten classroom of about 20 kiddos to a first grade classroom with about 28 (and some are rather... rambunctious). H has a lot of difficulty with yelling and lots of noise, so we decided to try having her wear headphones during instruction to help block out some of the noise.

(I swear I'm about to make the connection, hang on!)

H walked into my office this afternoon to have lunch with one of the mental health graduate interns, wearing her headphones, which for some reason have a microphone attached to them (not sure why it wasn't removed). H was holding the microphone to her mouth and stopped to say, in her adorable, rote, robotic voice tone, "Hi, it's me, H. Wait, I'm not H, I'm Michael Jackson!"

I almost want to bring in a sparkly glove for her. Too much?

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Cuteness of the Day: Pictures from Kids

Who doesn't love getting pictures drawn by kiddos? I decorate the front and side of my desk and file cabinet with gifties like these... they make me smile.
From right: me, kiddo, and kiddo's dad, perhaps wearing a poncho carrying a rake. FYI I am not eating a cloud, I erased his name. I would also like you to take note of my superior sense of style: yellow and orange are in this year.
Kiddo's second giftie. His printing is excellent for a first grader, no OT issues here! He also colors in the lines better than I do. Sad face.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Question from a Student Reader

I got a question at my Facebook page, and I wanted to share my response for any other undergraduate students considering graduate school and a career in school psychology. Please share your own experiences as those who survived graduate school and found a successful career!

May I ask what it is that initially drew you to the field as an undergraduate student and how you went about securing yourself a place in a grad program? - Monica
My response:

I majored in psychology and sociology as an undergraduate and I always knew I wanted to work with children. My godmother is a school psychologist, so she made me aware of the field (because God knows no one really knows what we do unless they know a school psych). I knew I didn't have the patience to be a teacher, and didn't want to be a school counselor and do counseling/career involvement, so school psychology sounded like a great way to put my enjoyment of working with children and my love of psychology and the field of education together.

During my undergrad, I was a "psychology scholar" (honor given to 2 freshman every year, who then help professors with research and receive a small stipend for the duration of undergrad), secretary of Psi Chi, and a TA for three years for the statistics & research methods class. Any kind of stuff like that shows an involvement in and appreciation for the field will be great for a resume. I also did two semester long internships. My first one was with a social worker at an alternative school, for students who either had dropped out or who couldn't make it at the public high school and were there to get a GED. There, I did academic tutoring, individual counseling, and group social skills/life planning work. My second internship was with a school psychologist at a middle & high school. I got to do academic Response to Intervention (RTI) work with kindergarten classes using the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), do screening tests for incoming students to the school, sit in on CSE meetings, observe students and gather behavioral data for intervention planning, and do a small group intervention on academic/organizational skills. Between the two of them, I got a great taste of the work that professionals can do to help students struggling in the classroom. I graduated a semester early from my undergrad program, and during the semester in between my graduation and when I started grad school, I continued working with kids at the local library, particularly with preschoolers.

I interviewed at a handful of graduate programs in the area, and I think that the fact that I had experience working with kids, had done research, understood the demands and expectations of a teacher (from my time as a TA, which was even discussed at my internship interviews), and understood the field all were factors that helped me get in. As a graduate student, I was on the interview panel in my 2nd and 3rd years to help choose the incoming 1st year graduate students. I can't remember exactly what our criteria were, but I know we looked at some of the following things in our candidates: experience with children, research experience/interests, why they want to be a school psychologist, knowledge about the field, and knowledge about education.

What drew you to the field of school psychology? How did you get into a graduate program? What advice do you have for students considering the field?

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Attendance Counts at the CSE Table

The new mantra and push in my district this year is "Attendance Counts." Last year, my principal organized an "attendance team" to combat chronic absenteeism at my building, but we were understaffed and overbooked with other responsibilities to be effective (plus I think only two of us were actually doing the work). Everyone at the district level realized the HUGE problem attendance is, but like our building, the district was not adequately staffed and prepared to deal with the problem. I referred a slew of attendance problem kids to the attendance office downtown, and little was done about it because one woman was trying to deal with the attendance problems of thousands of students. Sounds quite effective! (/saracasm)

Over the summer, the district hired some Attendance Teachers and developed a relationship with Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, who has worked extensively to improve attendance in schools in New York City. She will be the keynote at our district's "Attendance Counts Summit" in November. I will likely be attending the summit and will have more information to share then about the district's new attendance initiatives as they come into fruition.

As educators, we know attendance counts. Kids that don't come to school aren't exposed to curriculum, fall behind, get retained, drop out of school, etc. Not to mention what some of them get into when they're not in school (if mischief gets made in the hour after school ends, think about what happens when all the non-attenders are roaming around all day).

Attendance has important meaning to members of the CSE team, in particular school psychologists, who are making special education eligibility determinations for kids. Over the summer, I mentioned that I was assigned over a dozen cases to evaluate by one of the associate superintendents, because the students were all having varying levels of difficulty, had been retained several times, and were much older than they should be for the grade they were in (and were at risk of not finishing school by 21). The more I reviewed the records of these cases, the more I realized that many of them had been retained in the first place due to chronic attendance issues. Here's where an uncomfortable wrench gets thrown in: can we say that an underachieving student has an educational disability requiring special education services when they are not in school to have access to the curriculum? The NY State Part 200 regulations tell us:

A student shall not be determined eligible for special education if the determinant factor is:
      (i) lack of appropriate instruction in reading, including explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency (including oral reading skills) and reading comprehension strategies;
     (ii) lack of appropriate instruction in math; or
     (iii) limited English proficiency.
[Part 200.4(c)(2); emphasis mine]
A lack of appropriate instruction basically means anything that has kept a student from getting a good education, poor attendance included. In short, if a kid is struggling in school but has a chronic attendance problem, we cannot call that student educationally disabled and eligible for special education services because they have not been exposed to appropriate instruction.

I had this scenario happen to me recently with two of those summer cases, and it's a tough situation to be put into. One case, Y, was a chronic attendance problem last year and received direct instruction in reading and math due to deficits. She was at least two grade levels behind and wasn't showing improvement through "intensive" interventions in a small group setting. When I tested her, she had a super significant discrepancy between her verbal and nonverbal reasoning, suggesting a verbal learning disability. Although her poor attendance was still concerning to us, we classified her as Learning Disabled (although mom refused to sign for services, which is another story).

The second case, P, was more sticky. P was absent for 50 days in 5th grade and 55 days last year in 6th. His history of absenteeism was significant throughout his school career, and he repeated 3rd and 5th grades. He actually started this year repeating 6th, but my principal moved him onto 7th due to his age (he's almost 15--good call). P teeter-tottered in the "strategic" range of academics, about one year behind, and he didn't receive any interventions. He scored within the low average range on standardized achievement and IQ measures. We didn't feel confident classifying him even though he was behind, because his achievement and IQ were commensurate and his poor attendance suggesting he hadn't had appropriate instruction. What a hard decision to make, especially for a kid who is having some trouble.

Have you had a CSE case like Y or P? How does your school or district deal with attendance concerns?

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Increasing Parent Involvement

Working in a large, low socioeconomic status, urban district, we have very low parent participation at my building, both at CSE meetings and at other school functions. What's a super psychologist to do? We know (or hope) that parents care about their kids and how they're being educated, but what can we do to get parents involved in our school community?

Parent involvement in our CSE process is poor. I think it's for a number of reasons: lack of understanding of special education, apathy about the educational system, and general involvement. We constantly come up against disconnected phones, wrong addresses/transient families, and have to fight to get consents signed to do evaluations. Our social worker makes many home visits to obtain signatures and social history reports. Most parents do not attend our CSE meetings (though we had FOUR parents attend this week, I think it was a record!). In order to meet their needs and hopefully get them to school, we will try and schedule a meeting time according to what the parent wants (i.e. an afternoon meeting for the parent that works mornings). We've had our guidance counselor pick up parents and bring them to school if they do not have a means of transportation. We also do phone conferences if the parent can take a longer phone call while at work. Otherwise, we go ahead with CSE meetings without the parent, notes that in our meeting minutes, then call them afterwards to go over the results and committee decision. Our social worker has also made home visits to go over meeting findings. 

Two brothers at our math & literacy night last year.
In terms of other school functions, I can recommend two things whole-heartedly that will get parents to school: food and gifts! We ALWAYS feed our families when they come to school for functions. For a lot of inner city families, having a meal served is really important for them, plus the school gets the added bonus of having parents in. Last year, we had a spaghetti dinner during our math & literacy night, we served pizza and cupcakes at parent/teacher conference night last year, and to start this school year, we had a BBQ in our courtyard. We also offer incentives for if parents decide to come to school functions, like educational games (Monopoly, Uno, Checkers, Chess, Sorry, Battleship, etc), books, and door prizes. We also usually have a bounce house set up in our gym, which is a big hit. I usually have to stop myself from kicking off my leopard print shoes and jumping in.

How do you involve parents in your building? What strategies work for you to help parents get invested in your school community? What suggestions do you have to schools that struggle with parent involvement?

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Helpful Resource on How to Give Parents "Bad" News

Angela over at The Cornerstone for Teachers posted an excellent blog entry today about how to give parents bad news at parent meetings. There's a great list of tips and suggestions on how to have productive conferences, or in the case of the school psychologist, perhaps how to facilitate them. How often do we struggle with this, or see others struggling? I know I've sat in on a few parent meetings where it's an all out offensive from the teacher at the parent, which is utterly unproductive. What parent wants to come into school to talk to a teacher that's on high alert and hear how horrible their child is?

I always talk about positives first, whether in parent meetings or at the CSE table. What can the child do? What is positive about their work habits, personality, behavior, etc? What skills to they have? Then, I discuss any deficits, concerns, or problems. Going in guns blazing on what’s “wrong” only serves to put the parent on the defensive. If that's the case, no one's working to help the child.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Community Service That's Close to My Heart

"We can't all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by." - Will Rogers

I'm SO excited, over the moon, thrilled, etc! If you're asking yourself if I'm still high on my recent engagement, yes, this is true (ring so shiny), but I have another reason to be giddy today, too. My principal approved my proposal for a Veteran's Day community service fundraiser. Why so important? The project will support an organization very near and dear to me, Honor Flight.

Grandpa K
Grandpa H
Both of my grandfathers served in World War II. One enlisted, the other was drafted. My Grandpa K, after being rejected numerous times, was allowed to enlist and served in Calcutta, India, and the Mariana Islands as an engineer in the Army Air Forces. My Grandpa H, the one who was drafted, served in the Army in the European Theatre, survived the Battle of the Bulge, and was a member of Patton's Army. Both men survived and are still living today.

In October 2009, I was an intern finishing my last year of my graduate program. My Grandpa H got the call that he was getting the opportunity to go on an Honor Flight. What's that, you ask?
Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America's veterans for all their sacrifices. We transport our heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials. Top priority is given to the senior veterans – World War II survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill. Of all of the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation—and as a culturally diverse, free society. Now, with over one thousand World War II veterans dying each day, our time to express our thanks to these brave men and women is running out.
Honor Flight flies veterans to D.C. free of charge along with a "guardian," who accompanies them and meets their needs on the trip. Grandpa H lived five minutes from me for my entire life (until I moved) and we are extremely close, so as his only grandchild, I was the obvious guardian, and I was thrilled. History has always been one of my favorites, so experiencing history with my grandfather and honoring his service to our country at the same time as a no-brainer. It was such a satisfying and emotional trip.

World War II Memorial
Grandpa H at the WWII Memorial, all bundled up.
We flew out before dawn on a rainy, cold Saturday morning and from the moment we arrived in Washington, the 40+ vets were treated like kings. They were welcomed by servicemen and women at the airport gate, and as our bus left the airport, we were saluted by an honor guard of at least 20 uniformed soldiers on the curb. Everywhere we went, strangers stopped to thank them for their service. It was overwhelming, especially for vets, many of whom never thought what they did was "heroic," when in reality, they were all ordinary people who saved the world.

We toured the WWII Memorial, Korean Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Arlington and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Iwo Jima/Marine Memorial, and did drive-bys of other hot spots. It was a whirlwind trip! It was wonderful to see the sights, but what was even better was being with my grandpa, hearing his stories and watching him relive something that changed his life. There were lots of memories, smiles, and laughs, but also some tough moments and quiet time. It was a long day for sure, but Grandpa H was a trooper! Unlike most of the vets, he walked the entire trip and despite the miserable weather, he got off the bus at every stop but the last.

When we arrived home the following day, we were welcomed by an unexpected sight: a crowd of HUNDREDS of cheering servicemen and women, friends, family members, and community supporters had assembled at the airport to welcome the vets home. It was so incredible! There were school children waving flags, military personnel saluting, and people holding signs. So overwhelming and unexpected! The vets processed through the crowd and were welcomed into a reception where a high school band played patriotic music, elementary students (who had written the vets "thank you" letters that they received on a mail call on the flight to D.C.) sang a song, and local elected officials spoke. It was hard to go home because we didn't the incredible weekend to end.

I recently began volunteering with the Honor Flight hub in my city and recently sent 27 vets off on their Honor Flight. Because the vets fly for free, the organization relies totally on donations from the community. These WWII vets need recognition now, because soon there won't be any still living to thank. I drafted a proposal for a Veteran's Day project for my school to raise money to support Honor Flight, a spare change drive I called "Jar Wars."  

Jar Wars is going to run throughout the week after Veteran's Day (November 14-18). Each grade level at my school is going to have an empty milk jug to put spare change into during their lunch periods. I'm going to have student volunteers help me count the change every day (hey math skill practice), so that on the morning announcements, I can announce who's leading the donations, to create some competition. At the end of the week, the grade level with the most money is getting a pizza party.

I want to try and link the fundraiser to curriculum, too. Some possible ideas I'm tossing around are having students write letters/cards to send with veterans on their flight, thanking them for their service. This "mail call" was one of my grandpa's favorite parts when he went. I also would to talk to the local Honor Flight gurus about having a vet who has flown already come to speak to our school about his/her service and Honor Flight experience, to provide a link to American History in the Social Studies curriculum.

I'll be blogging about this program as it develops, as I've only just started putting the pieces together. Time to Fiance and I to start sucking down the milk. Suggestions welcome! I'm looking forward to doing some other community service efforts this year too (in between my massive CSE caseload and other responsibilities).

"If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a WWII veteran."

Does your school do any community service projects? What organizations does your school support?

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Monday, October 3, 2011

School Picture Day

As the blog title would make you guess, today was school picture day. As I waited for the students to arrive, with my Check-in, Check-out clipboard in hand, I saw gads of kiddos streaming in, looking sharp in their uniforms, hair done and/or combed. One little fella, the one who correctly identified me as the "sad lady," stopped and said, "I've been practicing my smile for my school picture, see!" then proceeded to flash me some pearly whites.

Awesome start to the day, if I do say so myself!

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Friday, September 30, 2011

Five Fabulous Facts

In an effort to appreciate the positive things in my day-to-day work and personal life, in order to not let bigger issues and things out of my control weigh me down. I realize that I already blog about the little positive things, because only I could find kids screaming their hate in my face, having The Hulk destroy my office, and doing food-related ice breakers with emotionally disturbed 11-year old boys endearing.

Regardless, here's five fabulous things about today...
  1. Getting some awesome loose tea samples from one of my special ed teachers, whose having a Tealightful party that I am unable to attend (she gave me Carrot Cake Rooibos and Tealightful Sangria... yummers) 
  2. Getting to announce and take pictures of all of my students of the month, plus the three homerooms of the month.
  3. Collaborating on and finishing an FBA/BIP for a kid that is in desperate need of some behavior modification.
  4. Going into a first grade classroom and having a little boy say, "You're the lady that people go to when they're sad." <3
  5. Having a pair of young ladies drop off a cupcake for me at the very end of the day. Ain't nothing like elementary school birthdays.
Have a great weekend, folks!

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I Said Yes!

For those who did not see my Facebook post, Boyfriend is now Fiance. Yes, it's true, we got engaged over the weekend! So giddy, excited, cloud 9-ish, etc!

One of the kiddos said to me Monday, "You mean you won't be Miss ___ anymore?" No... instead of Miss Last-Name-You-Can't-Pronounce, I'll be Mrs. New-Last-Name-You-Still-Can't-Pronounce. :)

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Checking In, Hopefully Not Checking Out

After blogging about a universal Tier I PBIS support our school has, our Tiger Ticket program, I wanted to share another initiative new this year in our building. Check-in, Check-out is an evidenced-based Tier II intervention program promoted by the gods at the OSEP Center on Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports. Tier II are secondary prevention measures designed for 10-15% of the school population, or those who do not respond to the universal measures enacted for the whole school at Tier I. Behavioral Tier II typically looks like small group interventions and mentoring in my district.

Check-in, Check-out (hereafter referred to as CICO, because I'm too lazy to type it out every time) is a simple, individualized mentoring program. A mentor is given a case load of approximately 10 students to meet with individually during the first 15 minutes of the school day. Students were chosen for CICO by examining data from last year. If a student had 10+ office discipline referrals during the 2010-2011 school year, or if they have a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), they were put into CICO. From this data, we started the year with 55 students on CICO. Yeah... we've got some behavior problems.

Every day in the morning the mentor "checks in" in the classroom during breakfast and gives CICO students a daily report card. There are three goals they are working on in our building: be safe, be kind, and be responsible. The student then goes through their day and teachers rate their behavior on a 0-2 point scale in every subject area. During the 15 minutes before dismissal, the mentor returns to "check out" and see how the student did for the day. They record the number of points they earned on their daily report card, make sure they're ready to go home, and praise them for (hopefully) great behavior. Here are our daily report cards:
This is the card for our PreK-5th graders.
This is the card for our 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.
Due to a staff shortage and my principal's preference, I took on a CICO caseload. I have seven 6th grade boys, all in self-contained classrooms, two of whom were part of my social skills/anger management group last year. I also have one 8th grade girl who is new to our school this year who has already proven to be an interestingly behaved young lady. I shall have my hands full.

I'm really looking forward to getting into the data. Every two weeks, CICO mentors will be turning in a data sheet with all the point totals from the daily report cards, which will be entered into an online behavioral database. From there, we'll be able to analyze the data at 6-week intervals to make decisions about what the students need. Are they meeting their goal of 80% of their points? Should we prepare to phase them off CICO? Are they holding steady just below their goal? Should we continue CICO or add more mentoring to the program (Check and Connect)? Are they not meeting their goal? Do we need to look into more individualized services at the Tier III level, like individual counseling or a BIP?

Check back in, hopefully I'll have some interesting info for you to check out! (oh word play, I am so witty)

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reminiscent of a Headless Chicken

So the start of the school year has been uber crazy for me. With my CSE chairperson being out on medical, not having a clerk since May, and my social worker only at our building 3 days out of 6, I've been wearing a lot of hats. I've been on the phone constantly with parents, placement, etc, running around helping teachers, making copies, emailing the upper up's about building issues, scheduling CSE meetings and testing munchkins, and meeting on/discussing kiddos. Normally, I take stress and a fast paced work environment super well. I love to be busy because I feel productive and like I'm making a difference. Today though, I had an experience that pretty much summed up my overwhelmed feelings lately.

There's a little boy who has never attended school before and was placed in first grade this year right off the bat. He is totally drowning--no understanding of structure, won't write his name or any words, won't follow routine, etc. Poor little munchkin. Anyway, he got moved down into kindergarten part way through today, and not long after, he got dropped off by his teacher in my office... screaming. At the top of his lungs.

He was utterly inconsolable and would scream in your face if you tried to calm him down. Didn't want a hug (which always works, uh hello), didn't want a tissue, didn't want to color or draw, didn't want anything except to scream. And scream. And cry. And then scream some more.

He screamed for virtually 30 minutes straight. Yeeeeppp...

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Too Important to Fail"

If you missed this PBS special when it aired, you totally need to check out School Counselor Blog's post about Too Important to Fail, a PBS special discussing how schools are failing African American youth, particularly boys. I haven't had time to watch the entire video yet, but I watched about 10 minutes and it was wonderful (not the issue, but the content). If you work in an urban district, it's a must watch.
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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Awesome Bullying Resource for Staff & Students

My building, like so many others, faces a big problem: bullying. Most of it is verbal, done online, or done on the sly during the day. Most of it doesn't get reported. When it does, action is taken, but is it ever enough? Can bullying ever truly be eradicated from a school building, or any other establishment or workspace? I could blog on this forever, it's a never-ending battle. Last year I attended a two day training on today's bullying, bullying theory, the district's anti-bullying policy, and the severe negative effects of bullying.

We watched a video that I HIGHLY recommend you both view and purchase for your school. The 40-minute documentary is called Bullied: A Student, a School, and a Case That Made History and it is absolutely free through the Teaching Tolerance website. Bullied tells the inspirational and eye-opening story of Jamie Nabozny, a young gay man who was severely bullied in school. From the website blurb:

"Bullied is designed to help administrators, teachers and counselors create a safer school environment for all students, not just those who are gay and lesbian. It is also intended to help all students understand the terrible toll bullying can take on its victims, and to encourage students to stand up for their classmates who are being harassed."
I can't speak highly enough about this excellent documentary. It is SO powerful. Aside from the fact that it is free to order (why haven't you ordered it yet, you've had a whole paragraph!), it comes with a great viewer's guide with lesson plans, quizzes, and facts for both staff development and student discussion. There are "school climate" surveys for both teachers and students, to gauge how safe invested parties view the school. There are talking points and activities to address empathy, discrimination, courage, and justice when showing Bullied to students (I would recommend it for the 7th grade+ crowd). There's also information specifically targeted towards bullying and LBGTQ youth.

Go now! Order it for your school! Use it for staff development or in classrooms and to start the discussion about bullying at your building. A "zero tolerance" policy is only as good as the universal enforcement behind it. To quote the sign on my door: "Bullying: Confront it. Report it. End it."

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011


My mother always said, "It never hurts to ask. The worst they can say is, 'no.'" She was a smart cookie.

As I discussed previously, I'm in charge of the Students of the Month and Homeroom of the Month initiatives at my building. Over the summer, my principal discussed a few changes to the way the students and homerooms are chosen with me, which I don't really agree with. I'm of the opinion that we should reward kids frequently, consistently, and for relatively simple and minute things. Build up the sense of self-esteem and self-worth in knowing that they can "do it," then increase the expectations and level of performance for a reward, otherwise you'll have no student buy-in. My principal has very high expectations for our students, which in theory is a great thing, but it's hard to expect high poverty, low performing students to have 95% attendance, 100% uniform use, etc. But I digress.

My principal did make some great suggestions though. She wanted to reward our star homerooms with a pizza or ice cream party every month and award repeat winners with a special class field trip at the end of the year. Our student winners get some neat things already--their picture taken and put on a bulletin board, their name announced over the loud speaker and put in the school newsletter, and a certificate--but, I suggested more meaningful incentives, like gift cards or "good for" coupons to local restaurants. My principal also suggested a special field trip for multiple student winners, to really recognize their substantial achievements. Bigger and better rewards for being a kick butt student? Sign me up.

Off I went to fundraise. I totally spammed the postal service asking local fast food chains, grocery stores, dollar stores, etc for donations and funds. Mind you, I'm absolutely prepared to shell money out of my pocket to reward my kiddos, but I knew this was going to be too big of a cost. We typically have 20 students and 1-2 homerooms crowned every month. At first, I had no bites and only rejections, and I was bummed. Then, I started playing phone tag with our local McDonald's corporate office, who wanted to donate coupons. When they asked me what I was looking for, I said that we expect to give out 25 coupons to kids a month, and left it up to them to determine their contribution. Well, they offered me 25/month for the ENTIRE YEAR, all personalized for "McStudents of the Month." Later that week, I received 10 certificates for a free pint of ice cream at a local frozen custard store, 100 coupons to Wendy's, and today, 50 coupons to Burger King, all personalized for my school. Woah.

I was so totally blown away by the generosity of the local business community. True, I understand that they have a commitment to donations and giving to causes in the area, but I never expected such a great response. I'm so thrilled and excited to shower my school with incentives and rewards!

Moral of the story: if you want something, ask for it, because you just might get 250 McDonald's hamburgers and fries out of it.
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