Thursday, April 28, 2011

Team-Building: 11-Year Old Boys + Marshmallows = Sticky Awesome!

We had our first group session today with the class of 6:1+1 boys who have dubbed themselves "C's Crew" after their teacher (precious). Ms. B, my co-leader, began the group by having the students choose their group name and go over some ground rules. Then, we got down to our activity, something we'll be doing a lot of. The boys are very active, so we're planning less talking and teaching and more activities and hands-on learning. We're going to start with social skills and team-building activities, and move on to things that will be targeting anger management and effective conflict resolution.

Today, I ran our activity. I broke the students into two groups based on when their birthday in the year (we're going to do many groupings to make sure that everyone gets to work together) and filled the boys in on The Spaghetti Tower. To anyone who has done this ice-breaker, you know that it can go well or horribly awry. The purpose of the boys doing the activity today was to discuss, plan, and implement their collective ideas to make the tallest spaghetti/marshmallow tower they could. They had to work together as a team and consider their peers ideas in order to succeed. This is no easy feat for six 11-year old boys with impulsivity and less than stellar social skills.

If only their towers were so neat.

The boys did well working together. B and T's team definitely had the upper-hand, as they are two of the higher functioning kids in the class socially, so they were able to bounce ideas back and forth and delegate tasks well. Their tower was the tallest. A was in their group, a boy who needs the most social skill work as he has symptoms of Asperger's Disorder. He was unable to contribute to the group tower without a lot of coaching and prompting from Mrs. C, their teacher. V and W's tower was the sturdiest, and also the stickiest! They worked with Ms. B on turn-taking, sharing, and clear communication. G was absent today, so we'll get him in the mix next week!

When the activity was done and the boys mouths were stuffed with marshmallow-y goodness, we did a bit of processing of the session. The boys talked about what made the activity work, and while Ms. B and I had to do some prying, we got "teamwork," "being nice," and "talking" out of them. We also gave our feedback and told the boys specific things we observed that helped the activity, and complimented them. We didn't get to chat as much as we would've liked since the dismissal announcements interrupted us, unfortunately. But all in all, a very enjoyable first session!

To the poor maintenance worker who had to clean the sticky and oozy mess left behind after 3:35pm... perhaps I can repay you with the leftover marshmallows?

Shiny New Group Intervention!

I'm starting up a weekly group in my "favorite" 6:1+1 classroom with one of my colleagues, who is a counselor from an outside mental health agency. This is the class that that my buddies T and B are in, so I'm quite excited. We're going to be focusing on appropriate social skills to increase self-esteem and promote effective conflict resolution and anger management. We plan on collecting pre- and post-group information from their teacher, to see how well the students are using the skills taught in group within the classroom.

I thought it would be useful to outline the goals and activities in our sessions, in case other folks out in cyberland may want to replicate them in their own settings. It'll also be a good "processing" after the group, to collect my thoughts on how things went and what could be improved.

Take that and recap it back!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Time to Recharge

My apologies for the lack of marvelous blog posts lately.

Life as a first year school psychologist has really been wearing me down lately. A lot of building-related nonsense has been getting under my skin, most of which I unfortunately have no control over. I hate not having control of things in my work environment, especially when it affects how I am able to help the kiddos. It's all about the kiddos! Thus, I have been spending my Spring Break recharging my proverbial batteries. Lunching with graduate cohort friends, happy hour with my office mates, dancing around my humble abode to iTunes, celebrating my birthday with Boyfriend, and traveling to my dad's house to have Easter with the family will hopefully help me regain my focus.

Spring is on it's way!
Hyacinth - my favorite flowers!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Keep Your Hands, Feet, and Dart Guns to Yourself

Another one of my big challenges is the culture of violence that students bring into the school building with them. One of our universal rules housed under our Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS) program is keeping one's hands and feet to one's self. Yet, all day I hear about kids who try to solve their problems with their hands instead of their heads. Fourth grade students bring in dart guns and BB guns to school. The police get called to take a student home after he throws a table in the lunch room. Middle school girls fight each other on the bus loop. Kids Hulk out and fling chairs across my office. What gives?

 I think the problem exists at two levels. First, students are told at home and on the streets to defend themselves. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard a student say, "My [mom, dad, brother, uncle, etc. etc. ad. nauseum] told me that if someone hits me, I hit them back," Boyfriend and I would be touring the UK this summer. Students learn from their families, the media, and their communities that it's okay to use violence to solve your problems. Did you ever see the Coyote trying to talk out his differences with the Roadrunner? Negative, and look where it got him.

Second, my students lack the necessary coping and problem-solving skills to resolve conflicts more effectively. These kids are reactive and rely on instinct because their culture has made them. They act without thinking nine times out of ten, which usually ends them up in hot water. We'd be adding Germany to our summer vacation if I had a dollar for every time I recite the following mantra with a student: "If he puts his hands on you and you don't hit back, who's going to get in trouble? But if you put your hands back on him, then who will get in trouble?" (Seriously. I can say with complete surety that I have said this at least one 95% of the days we've been in school. The other 5% is when I'm sitting in CSE meetings).

So what to do? Do I open up a School Psychologist Meditation Center where we can all be in peaceful bliss, poised in yoga asanas, chanting my mantra? Not likely, though that would be quite relaxing (I would nap). You have to start small, by encouraging and rewarding instances of positive conflict resolution and teaching the skills needed to make appropriate decisions. Easier said than done, however. You can teach and model and roleplay for 30 minutes every day, but Ronnie might still walk out of the building and jump someone on the way home. We can't change how they react outside the school building, but we have to do our best to reinvent how they behave inside it.

Any suggestions, tips, etc that have worked for others on this topic would be greatly appreciated!

Friday, April 8, 2011


I've spent all day in mind-numbing CSE meetings, which have totally worn me out. Come Monday, there will still be a pile of paperwork to finish in order to set up all these students' Individualize Education Plans (IEPs). Note to self: never schedule a full day of CSE meetings for a Friday!

I plan on writing another blog post about one of today's cases later, since it was an interesting one, but I have to share this gem. Normally, I share cute/amusing things kids have said or done, but today, I come bearing a nugget of amusement from teachers.

One of the students we classified today is behind academically because she has never attended school before this year and has SEVERE speech difficulties (like, I could only understand 45% of what she said during the evaluation). The student is functioning at a kindergarten level (which makes sense, since she never attended kindergarten and is now muddling through 1st grade), cannot recite numbers to 100, and does not have the sound-symbol knowledge to make words. When my colleague was discussing her achievement testing and showing her teachers and speech therapist that the child wrote down random letters when attempting to make a sentence, there were gasps from the three educators. While I thought they were blown away by how poor her writing was, I was mistaken...

"Oh my goodness, look at that! Those are actual letters!"
"She wrote in a straight line! The spacing is so much better!"
"Her writing is so neat! Look at how small and well-formed her letters are!"

Sometimes, you have to take the small miracles, even when you're looking at something that makes no sense.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tell Me How You Really Feel

I was called to respond to a runner who we deal with frequently. S is in first grade and is having a hard time emotionally adjusting to the demands of the class (although since it's April, he should be over this by now, right?). S tantrums, leaves the room, and scream-cries when things don't go his way or he doesn't have someone with him constantly in the classroom, despite being very capable academically. In one such instance, this real conversation from the trenches took place:

S-- "[sniffle, sob] Miss ____ ... [sniff] can I [snuffle, choke] tell you [sob, sniff] something? [sob, swipe hand over snotty nose]"
Me--"[sigh] Sure, S. What is it?"
S-- "[stone faced, clear-voiced, eyes narrowed] I HATE YOU!"
Me-- "[trying to keep a Serious Face] I'm sorry to hear that. Maybe we can talk about it when you're calm and sitting in your seat."
S-- [epic pouting face, more crocodile tears]

Is it wrong that I found the whole thing utterly hilarious?

Note: This is not S. This is munchkin whose picture I stole off The Googs.