Thursday, January 26, 2012

Managing Stress and Crazy Days

When dealing with challenging situations, kids, and meetings, we have to find ways to prevent burnout and "leave it at work." During my graduate work, this was a big topic (thought really we should be talking about how to prevent burnout from grad school).

Fans of my Facebook page were asked, "How do you "leave it at work" after having a rough day, working on a difficult case, interacting with a tough or needy child, responding to a crisis, etc? Do you have a ritual, phrase, or certain thing you do to leave it at the office and not bring it home?" Here's what some folks had to say...
  • "Immediately engross yourself in your personal life: call people to chat or run errands, listen to music or audiobooks on your way home (my personal fave). Just simply make a mental switch to all things non work! Don't dwell!"
  • "Funny enough, on particularly rough days, I do the progressive muscle relaxation exercises that I teach kiddos with anxiety to do! I got them from the appendix of "Treatments that Work with Children" by Christopherson & Mortweet....I close my door and do them before I leave [or] I do them in my car driving home. Sometimes, on a really awful day (like a death of a student or teacher), I take a "me" night to myself and take a hot bath, light candles, and allow myself to just let go of it all. I try to acknowledge and move on."
  • "On my drive home I pass a certain landmark that signifies the time I must stop thinking about work and move on to my personal life." 
What great ideas! I often will make phone calls on my drive home, just to say hi or check in with someone. I can always be found rocking out to the radio in my car, so that's not something specific I do to clear my mind. "Me" nights are a fantastic thought, and always start for me with sweat pants! I've also heard of people having a significant landmark or road sign. One of my professors told a story that upon arriving home every day, she would touch a tree by her front door, and that was where she left her day at work. In the morning, she'd touch the tree again, and it would tell her to begin her next work day.

This website has excellent tips on how to manage stress at work, like taking care of yourself, prioritizing and organizing, breaking bad habits, and improving communication. Give it a read, because it's useful for school psychologists as well as just about anyone else having a rough day, week, month!

There is also an excellent chapter from Best Practices in School Psychology IV from Heubner, Gilligan, & Cobb that I found on the National Association of School Psychologists' (NASP) website. I also remember reading this back in the grad school days.

Any other tips or suggestions that help you manage stress and burnout? Hopefully some of these resources will help you through the mid-school year slump!

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

No, You Can't Have a Piece of Candy, GO BACK TO CLASS!

One thing that every person who works in a high demand field needs to know is their own personal limits. Although we all aspire to be Super Psychologists, test every kid, solve every problem, respond to every crisis, and consult with every teacher, I have news for you: we can't. We are limited in our time, resources, and support, and we need to prioritize and learning what to say "no" to. I had, and continue to have, difficulty not jumping up to respond to every situation or crisis (though with the testing and evaluations piling up, it's becoming easier). The hardest part is we all have a big drive to help and make things better, but getting everything done isn't possible. Knowing your limits with what you can feasibly accomplish will make professional life so much easier.

That's one kind of "knowing your limits," and there's another kind that's equally important: knowing what populations you have difficulty working with. We are not effective when our buttons are pushed or we are dealing with personal reactions to children in our buildings. Some people have trouble working with abuse cases, others have reactions to students who curse at them, others have difficulty working with aggressive children, etc. Me? My limit is... well, we'll call them "self-directed" girls, Grades 2-4 (and by self-directed, it's my nice way of saying bratty and noncompliant).

There are four little girls in my school that I have a really hard time interacting with when they are having behavioral difficulties because of their attitude and defiance. There's just something about it that really gets under my skin and turns me into yelling, crazy eyes, Mean Psychologist. For those that know me in person, or from what you've gleaned from my blogging, that is not me at all. I strive to be positive, problem-solving, and child-centered at all times, but these ladies turn me into a hot hot mess.

One of them was in my office yesterday and was completely disregarding all gentle directions and reminders I was giving her. I was trying to work with another student, and she was constantly disrupting me, getting out of her seat, going on my desk, and asking to draw a picture or for a piece of candy. Eventually, I snapped and started yelling at her, much to the surprise of the other young gentleman (who later said, "Miss __, you got really mad..." and I gave him a little pat to comfort him). Another colleague returned to the office, and I gave her my best set of pleading eyes, and she helped me out with the girl.

See? Totally unproductive. Not only did my tirade interfere with my ability to effectively deal with why she was sent out of the room, but it also impacted the little guy I was working with.

God help Fiance and I if we someday have a daughter...

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Non-tangible reinforcement ideas!

Since many of us are sadly aware that a sticker for good behavior does not excite 8th grade boys (don't know why, stickers excite me and I'm much older), here is a list of reinforcement ideas to use with older kids (I'd say 6th grade and up). Hopefully some of these ideas will be helpful not only to other psychologists when behavior planning, but also for teachers. Many are simple, easy things to do, and all of them are "non-tangible," meaning that it's a special reward or privilege, not a specific item (snack, candy, etc). You can even give this as a reinforcement menu to kids, where they can tick off things they would like to receive for reinforcement.
  •  Lunch with a peer of your choice in a private room (e.g., not in cafeteria).
  • Lunch with a teacher of your choice
  • Sit in the teacher’s chair for the day
  • Choose to sit where you want in a class for 1 period (this class only) or until there is a disturbance
  • No homework pass
  • 30 mins. computer time at the end of the day/period
  • Help teacher with an activity
  • Pass out materials/collect papers
  • Tutor younger students in a subject area of your choice
  • 20 minutes free time to _________   at the end of the day
  • Listen to iPod for ___ minutes at the end of the class/school day
  • Have my grade in ___ curved up ___ point(s)
  • Certificate of merit  
  • Morning announcement indicating student of the week
  • Attend an additional gym class this week
  • Help younger peers in gym class, reading or math group
  • Help engineer or custodian for a given period in the day
  • Two free items on the next quiz in a subject area of your choice
  • Permission to do every other item on quiz or homework assignment
  • Reserving table in the cafeteria for a select group of friends
  • Special seat on the school bus for the week
  • Opportunity to help with morning announcements
  • Positive phone call home from your favorite teacher
  • Positive phone call home from your favorite administrator
  • Participate as a teacher assistant     
What other ideas of reinforcement do you have to share? Any good non-tangible ideas? What works in your building or with your students? Do you have a particular "go to" reinforcer that your students go nuts for?

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