Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The One with All the Great Advice From You!

With my giveaway for "The School Psychologist's Survival Guide" concluded, I want to thank everyone who posted fantastic, thoughtful, and meaningful advice that they would include in their own survival guide for the profession. I was so pleased and overwhelmed with the response! You're all rather marvelous, you know that?
Without further ado, I bring you: 
"Musings on Survival from School Psychologists"

Musings on Positive Relationships with Children

...When questioning whether or not you can make a difference in a child's life, remember that at the very least, you can always provide the child with a positive experience with a mental health professional. That way, they will be more likely to seek help again in the future. School psychologists can "plant that seed". - AmberNicole

Make sure your office has both tissues and food at all times. Sweet and simple. - Jill Snyder 

My advice would be to never underestimate the power of modeling respect to students. I model how to be respectful to my kids and it has led to many important conversations. - Amanda Myers 

We get caught up in focusing what is "wrong" with the child, or how to "fix" them that many times the team forgets that everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE, has strengths. I find if you start with the strengths, you indicate to parents those positive aspects - then you can return to those strengths when you get to the recs to demonstrate how those skills can be used to compensate for whatever weaknesses were found. I have found in working with older kiddos that sometimes adults have never spoken to them about those strengths and have only focused on the difficulties. To see their faces light up when I tell them that they are smart and do great work - that is what keeps me coming back to work each day. :) - Tonya Gscheidle 

Sometimes, you may be the only person who cares about "that kid". Do not let them down. Show them that they can trust adults by believing in them no matter what. - Colleen Allen

You may be the only advocate a child has... - Susan Hatcher

I think the most important thing I have learned this year is to follow through on promises made. Either giving parents information or meeting with student, demonstrating to others that they can rely on you is important to building relationships. – Becky

Do not let administrators or others with control issues, mental health concerns or just plain bad energy zap your own. Too much time in schools is wasted focusing on "bad" staff members rather than on the children. Eventually, they will move on or improve. You have no control over how they act and behave, even if it's hurtful to others. All you can do is conduct yourself with respect and focus on the students. They are what matters. Humor helps, too! - Colleen Allen

Always remember confidentiality. You may have a group of girlfriends at a school you work at, but it doesn't mean it gives them special permission to hear about confidential issues. Vent to your pet! :) - Ashley Marie 

Bring and show love in all that you do! We all have strengths--find ways to help others showcase theirs. - Colleen Allen

Musings on Taking Care of YOU

...Don't forget to sanitize your WISC blocks so you dont get the funk that all the kids have :) - Heather Klingensmith Hill

A great piece of advice I received and want to share is to keep a "Favorites File," a file of thank you notes, pictures, and drawings that have made me happy at work. They are great therapy. - Beverly Whalen-Schmeller 

You can't help others until you've first helped yourself. Self-care is just as important as everything else. - Colleen Allen

My supervisor always told me that I needed to take care of myself so I could take care of others. So important to set boundaries and practice self-care. Going to spend spring break starting Monday relaxing and having some fun so I can come back refreshed and energetic! Seems like there is always more that I could do, but if I do too much I won't be any good for anyone. So it's not being selfish or failing to leave the work at school and go home at the end of the day! – Jen

Hang in there. Summer's coming! Just kidding, I love my job. But the time off is a nice perk. Lol - Kim Nichol Rich 

There will always be more work to be done, more kids to be tested, more reports to write, more staff to assist, etc., etc., etc. There are deadlines that must be met, but once you have met those, remember there will always be more to do tomorrow. Go home. :-) Take care of yourself. Take care of your family. Without doing those things, you don't stand a chance of helping your schools. - Amy Cannava 

Keep work at work, and when you are home be there completely. Sometimes it is healthy to walk away from the laptop! - Julie Dwyer 

What may seem like one incredibly stressful day, week, month or year will pass. You may not see the forest through the trees until you have a higher view. Remember to enjoy calmer days so you can stock up for rocky ones. - Colleen Allen

Remember that although frustration and anger may be directed toward you it is not personal. - Sharin Palladino Green 

Humor, humor, humor...using it at work to get through tough situations is key. So much of what we do can be mentally and emotionally taxing. Finding the humor in these situations or just being able to laugh when things get rough is what helps me survive. So, find some fellow psychs to yuk things up with, watch lots of Seinfeld, read the Onion, or plaster your office with Far Side cartoons - whatever works to keep you smiling. If you're smiling, others will too. - Kim Tungate 

My advice after 32 years as a school psychologist is "Tomorrow will be a better day!" - Marcia Krell Dimetrosky 

Remember that although you may want to be superman, you can't do everything in one day. Your "to do" list will always be there, so be mindful of the things about your job that make it worthwhile. - Denise Butterfield 

Musings on Being Type-A

My key to survival is two-fold. First, an organization system that would make the OCD population swoon keeps me on top of every eval, counseling case, and "to do" item in my crazy world. Second, I don't take it home on the weekends. And when I do, I end up negotiating with myself to get it done during the week anyway. Almost impossible, but if there's a will to find time during the week then there is a way. You will make your deadlines... – Erika

When scheduling evals, be flexible...always have more than one back-up plan ;) - Ronda Norman 

Bring you calendar to every meeting. It seems that there is always another meeting that needs to be scheduled or changed and this will save you having to go back to your office and begin the email tag game. - Sirenna Brown Palici 

...one thing that I have learned to be most important is organization and time management. If you are not organized and can't manage your time then you're in big trouble when it comes to this job! - Kari Na 

...you have to be organized, have excellent time management, practice good self-care, because you can't help others if you're not helping yourself, and you need to find balance between your work life and your non-work life! - Samantha Bailey 

Be organized. Sounds simple but can make or break you. Being organized with your time by setting daily and weekly goals for yourself will make a huge difference in your productivity and may lessen the amount you have to take home. -  Tiffany Miller Powell

...I've learned to be flexible and that there are many ways to address the same problem..I've also learned the usefulness of a planner and organization skills! - LaShante Smith

Musings on Meaningful Relationships with Parents and Families

I have learned how to break bad news/evaluation data to parents. After a couple of years, of talking with parents, I have learned that a majority of them are nervous of what I may have to say to them about evaluation data. They are afraid I am going to tell them their child is incapable of learning or not average. I try to give evaluation data with a mix of funny things their child may have done while working with them, and an outline of their strengths and weaknesses. - Kim K.

It sounds super corny, but the most important piece of advice I can think of is to remember when you are writing a report about a child, you are talking about somebody's BABY. - Eliane Hack 

I quickly learned that this field is about making relationships and making people feel comfortable. The more approachable and down to earth I appear to parents the better I can communicate during a meeting. It's very important to make the effort to meet with parents before hand and talks to them about their fears and worries. That initial meeting always seems to open doors when delivering not so positive news. It always makes me feel happy when I've met a parent before a meeting and they walk into a room full of school staff, they look around the table and look directly at the people they are already familiar with. There's a sense of comfort and relief I appreciate. I always try and put myself in their shoes and validate their concerns. – pmendez1

Well, there are many! I'd have to say that forming a relationship with parents is perhaps one of the most helpful things I can do. – Andrea

When talking with parents, always remember that for them, this is new. Even if they've had other children go through special education, or you're meeting for a triennial, it's still new for them even if I have done it 1000 times. It's important to take the time, build the relationship, and always put myself in the parent's place before ever opening my mouth. – Pam

I've found it very helpful to establish a good rapport with parents. It's important to make them feel comfortable, reassuring them that you will answer their questions and concerns. This will be very beneficial during the assessment process. Conflict can be avoided when parents feel their child is important to the psych. - Norma Diaz 

…parent communication is probably the biggest thing I've learned. The more you can relate to the parent, the more comfortable they will feel. Meeting with parents before meetings is so helpful, and seems to put them more at ease, especially with initial referrals. – bt

The best advice that I learned was to focus on services when sharing news with families. The news can be hard for families to hear for the first time, so you have to be understanding and gentle. But getting everyone on the same page when talking about how to service the student goes a very long way to help put the family (and yourself) at ease. – Rob

My advice would be to put yourself in the parent's shoes and pretend you have to hear this information about your child and present in a tactful and respectful way. - Ashleigh Edwards 

Musings on Personal vs. Professional Lives

The best advice I've ever received was: don't let this job take over your life. While it can be very rewarding, this line of work can quickly become overwhelming. There is so much to do & never enough time to get everything done. If you aren't careful, you can get burned out. This is a hard thing for me to remember sometimes but over the years I've gotten better. :-) – Jenskaroo

For me the most important thing has been to learn how to balance work and personal life. We are much more effective when we take care of ourselves and not let our stress level get too high. Our job is never ending so don't ever expect to be "done". Learn to ask for help when you need it. A decade later and I still need to ask for help :) - Estella Castro 

Musings on Advocating for our Profession

There are so many things that come to mind, but I think the most important is make sure others know what it is that we do!! We do so many things on a day-to-day basis, beyond testing and attending meetings, and it is important that students, families, and school staff know what are training is and what we are able to provide to a school. I know that marketing ourselves might not seem to be an important job responsibility, but in these budgetary times... it is our MOST IMPORTANT TASK :) – Angie

When I went through training so many years ago....many many years ago or at least sometimes it seems that way, a professor told us not to take ownership of problems that weren't ours to own. That has been really good advice for times like when you have told another school professional for the umteempth time not to order the power hungry child because that just starts the power fight and yet on it goes. It just helps to be very clear about what you as a school psychologist can control and what you can't and just always give a situation your best. - Nancy Gregg 

Musings on Active Listening

Sometimes, you may be the only person your staff can turn to for personal support. Most of us have not been trained in adult therapy. Listen anyway. You can seek guidance if needed on referring out later on. - Colleen Allen

I have learned to take seriously my responsibility as a listener. In many cases students, staff and parents are seeking my advice but also have a genuine concern which needs to be expressed and heard. Additionally, we are all a team, including parents and need to work together to help students reach their maximum potential. You cannot change a student, but you can change an environment. I'm also a newbie and navigating the system is a challenge but I know I don't have to do it alone. - Sara Star 

My supervisor always reminds me to ask as many questions as possible and to remember that the teachers are human too! When they complain about a child it's not because they are bad people, it's because they are looking for someone to help them. Teachers really do care about their students despite what society tells us! -Dorice Moise  

… The most important and helpful key to survival for me is that I have learned to be an active listener. Instead of always contributing to the conversation, I have found that if we just let parents/teachers talk out their problems and concerns without interruptions, they can usually work out issues on their own. Sometimes, all our parents and teachers really want is someone to talk to to, someone to understand them, and someone there to provide support when they need it. Just showing that you genuinely care about what others have to say and understanding their perspective can make a world of difference when it comes to building quality relationships. – Dana Sharp

Musings on Relationships with Game Changers

My advice for a survival guide would be to remember that relationships with classified staff (secretaries, custodial staff, transportation, etc.) are just as important as relationships with certified staff. In some cases it is even more important because these staff members often literally hold the keys to the doors you need opened. - Kyle Carlin (the giveaway winner!!)

Relationships are key to creating systemic change. You can have all the policies, paperwork, and procedures in place and people won't change unless you first show trust and value in them as members of an important team. - Colleen Allen

...One of the biggest things that I learnt in my first year is the value of being within a TEAM!! Ask question after question to those in the field around you as we never stop LEARNING! Remember we are psychs but we work heavily with social workers, speech pathologists, Occupational therapists, paediatricians etc as they each have their own perspective on how they deal with a case so it is imperative we utilize our teams and other professionals to bring other perspectives in order to assist the child as best as possible!! :) - Sarah Maree 

Approach each child and adult with an open mind and an open heart. We are good about doing this for most children, but not always for the adults with whom we work. Some principals are having bad days. Some parents just lost their job. Other parents are so overwhelmed with their child's behavioral needs that they take it out on you. Then they apologize. I always thank them, because at least they are engaged enough to care. - Colleen Allen

I would say make positive relationships with everyone from parents, teachers, principals, secretaries, even janitors (they usually have the important keys!!) and also don't make assumptions about anyone or anything because there is usually a lot more to the situation, story, or circumstances you had no idea about in the first place! Oh and take time out to laugh... because if you get too caught up in the other stuff you might forget to smile from time to time. - Laura Pahls 

Find allies. It can be tough doing a job where you are usually the only one in the building. Find people who have your same vision and passion for children. They will fill your cup when it is getting low. - Colleen Allen

Musings on Interventions, Meetings, Testing, and Data

Every once in a while, as annoyed as you may be at the time (namely March-June when spring becomes a disabling condition), it IS helpful to test a kid who is NOT eligible. We tend to work mostly with low achieving or struggling kids (and in some locales, gifted) but we don't want to lose sight of what normal is. Everyone has something they're not good at. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has room for improvement. But that doesn't mean everyone is disabled. - Amy Cannava 

Avoid jargon and psycho-babble! I get really excited when I see a parent or teacher "take notes" while I'm presenting testing results because it means the information I'm giving them is helpful. - Kelly Backues 

Celebrate small victories. Change for adults and students does not happen overnight. I have seen the power of believing in positive growth. Those 9th grade boys labeled as "the number one behavior problem" in the school learn to change, even a little, by 10th grade. The teacher with poor classroom management generally learns some new approaches with the support of colleagues. Find at least one positive change made each day by your "toughest" student (or teacher). - Colleen Allen

Most of the time decisions are made harmoniously or a compromise is reached. Sometimes the answer is "no" - and I have learned to not take another's unpleasant reaction personally. - Cathy Gayda Tomes 

The relationship of the various subtest scores will reveal relative strengths. Explain to the parents, teachers and student how the student can use that particular (or those particular) strengths to improve performance in the area of greatest difficulty. Be creative! When creativity runs dry...look back through your PRIM manual to spark an idea. - Laura Kelley Gleichauf 

The one piece of advice that has helped me the most is "Let it go." I tend to ruminate on tough meetings, advocates' remarks, and other stressful aspects of the job. Learning to let go of the tougher aspects of the job have helped me to enjoy my job even more. – Megan C.

You'll always do better if you stop and think before you react to the "fires" people seek your assistance with. A calm well thought out reaction helps more than anything! Also, emphasize the positive!! - Jennifer Braden Kirkpatrick 

Musings on Making a Difference

Change does not occur overnight. Coming into a school district and creating effective change for students is a daunting task. When you are starting to feel like you are getting stuck, take a moment to reflect where things started. You will be surprised to realize how much has been accomplished-it just is a slow and gradual process! - Leigh Ann Weaver 

Persist - don't give up on the child, the teacher, the parent, the school or yourself. You can take things further, it might take years to make headway, the progress may not be what you expect... and then will take 2 steps back, but keep going. Come back and do it again, do it another way; persist. - Twin Beans 

Our work never ends and that can be overwhelming. My practicum supervisor once told me that we can never change the world in a day, but what is important is to spend every day trying to inspire those around us. This has definitely helped me to survive :) - Angela Mann 

Musings on Always Learning

Ask other colleagues when you are in doubt or need reassurance. Gather as much information as you can and then use common sense!! - Leigh Singleton Parmer 

…the one piece of advice that I have received and now share is to give yourself (new school psychologist) time and room to learn and grow. I've spent the first nine months of my job watching and listening, all the while I was treading water. ...I am already making plans of what I am going to do next year and how I am going to manage it. We often feel that after the many years of learning, training and preparation, we should drop into our new jobs and be able to function smoothly. Or at least I did. I've since learned this is not the case - it takes time to develop your own groove. For maybe the ONLY time in my working career, I am impatient for summer to come and go, because I am eager to start the new school year with all the great things that I've learned being on my own this year. – Mo

Steal! There are many, many gifted educators and clinicians in our field - don't reinvent the wheel but personalize the things others have created (always give credit, of course) and pass it on! - Amy Fortney Parks 

I'm still pretty new to the profession, but even if I wasn't, I have learned there will always be much more to learn, experience, and do. At first this was just overwhelming and at times made me feel incompetent even if I wasn't in others' views. I now try to look at it as Alzheimer's innoculation, constant opportunity to grow, never being bored, and a sign that I'm on the right track. I've also learned that I have to be willing to give others and myself a break-no one can be perfect and that should not be our goal… - Stephanie Strouse 

Something I've been learning for myself is just as we don’t expect our kiddos to get it perfect on their first try or every time we can have that same wiggle room for ourselves. Can't expect every behavior plan, intervention, meeting, etc to go on without a hitch. This has been especially important for my grad school learning curve and will help me in years to come :) - Erika Laura 

You absolutely cannot have all the answers. It's ok to say, "I'm not sure, let me look into that.” ...Melissa Roudis Potter 

Be confident. Finding the right balance of confidence (not arrogance) is crucial, especially in your first year. In order to be seen as a source of reliable information you need to approach situations confidently with both staff and parents. Of course this confidence should not be entered into blindly. If you don't know the answer to something, find someone who does. Always being prepared fosters the best type of confidence. - Tiffany Miller Powell

...the more a new professional/student learns about the profession and our best practices, the easier some of the large, seemingly daunting tasks will become. Right before starting internship and really getting out there to work, it can really feel overwhelming. It's common to feel unprepared, even if the graduate program you attended is well staffed and highly sought after. It's important for newbies to remember that the longer you work in the field, and develop your craft, the more refined and polished your professional skills will become. -Marcella Wright  

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  1. Kathleen Allen-HowardApril 18, 2012 at 10:37 PM

    Great compulation Colleen. Might we see you in the research arena soon. The field is still very much in need of female research results. (Still too slanted toward the male population).
    If you are continuing this as a blog vs a one time project, perhaps a nod about community partners (ie Autism Society) They can help with parent support groups and put on events that the schools have no money to support (these days).

  2. Thanks for your comment, Kathleen! Unfortunately, research is not for me at this time. I did enough in undergrad and grad school to last me a while. :) This post was mostly for a collaborative investigation of other psychologists and their best advice for those in the profession.



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