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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