Monday, May 6, 2013

Guest Post! - Confessions from a Former School Psychologist

It's that time again... a guest post! This guest blogger gives unique insight into leaving the field for bigger pursuits--namely, school administration. Trained as as a school psychologist at Temple University, Dr. Ari Yares is currently the Upper School Principal at the Schechter School of Long Island. He has previously worked as Head of Middle School at Krieger Schechter Day School and as a school psychologist for the Anne Arundel County Public Schools. Visit his blog Not Reinventing the Wheel!


Confessions from a Former School Psychologist

It has been five years since I last touched a WISC or any other testing kit.

No, this is not my introduction to a school psychologists’ anonymous meeting, but rather a reflection on the biggest change that I have undergone since handing in my testing kits and becoming a school administrator.  Otherwise, so many of my skills and training as a school psychologist have transferred directly to my new role.

As a school psychologist, I was very fortunate. I worked in a school district with an excellent student to school psychologist ratio and our leadership in student services pushed us to support our students through more than just the refer-test-place process. I actively consulted with teachers, had ample time for counseling, and was heavily involved in the implementation of my schools’ Positive Behavior and Intervention Support (PBIS) programs. I helped develop student support teams in my schools while working to make sure that the more restrictive special education placements that I supported worked successfully. All of this existed in a collegial atmosphere of our psychological services office which encouraged us to grow and collaborate as practitioners.

Somehow, in the midst of this, I came to a conclusion that I was feeling limited by my role. As I worked to support PBIS and other programs, I was restricted, not because of anyone’s conscious desire, but because as a school psychologist, I often functioned parallel to the educational system that I supported. While I could consult, advise, and plan, I was unable to supervise or mandate and certainly did not have direct access to a budget to support my efforts. Perhaps most importantly, I wanted to have a different kind of impact on changing the school environment that I saw as a factor in my students’ difficulties.

It was at this point that I decided to pursue additional training as a school administrator. Since that initial certification as a school administrator, I have continuously marveled at the overlap between my two chosen fields. While I am now in a position to supervise teachers, I get my best results when I apply my skills as a teacher consultant. The line of students and teachers who just want a few moments to chat and get something off their chests has not changed-- I’m just in a different place to address them. Likewise, I still support our intervention teams as we work collaboratively to eliminate student problems.

There are differences, of course. As an administrator, I worry about the budget that I once longed for. Sometimes, what had been a supportive consultation with a teacher needs to move to being a directed conversation where my authority as the principal is used. Mundane issues, like the boiler or trash in the cafeteria, can fill my days and sometimes I feel a greater distance from the students that I went into both of my careers to help.

At the end of the day, though, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have crossed the bridge between school psychologist and school administrator. Most of my colleagues in administration are former teachers. Very few share my background as a school psychologist. Yet, it is this background that I feel has made me a more effective instructional leader and helps me navigate the murky waters of school administration.


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