Wednesday, August 21, 2013

You're a New School Psychologist! Now What?

Waaay back in June, Erika over at Finding the Thyme asked my Facebook page for ideas about "...where/how to get started when you enter a new school/1st job." I blame HGTV, Food Network, and The Murph-inator for the incredible delay in posting a blog entry with all the fantastic advice!

One big, huge theme was definitely on relationship building
  • "Bring yummy snacks for lounge with a card introducing yourself."
  • "...get to know the students, teachers and how the building works."
  • "Get to know [your] office and custodial staff. They truly run the school!"
  • "...make a point of introducing [yourself] or "checking in" individually with all the teachers/staff prior to the start of the new school year." 
  • "...don't forget to smile. For a lot of kids we work with, yours may the only smiling face they see."
  • "Immerse yourself into your new school community. Attend school and community sponsored events (open house, ice cream socials, PTA meetings, etc). Get to know your students, teachers, and parents. Most importantly, make sure they know who you are."
I think getting the lay of the land, figuring out whose office is where, and the general climate of a building is paramount, and also one of the most challenging things for a new professional. It took me a year to feel like I "belonged" to my current building when I was first hired. I was learning new software, new assessments, new procedures, and more, all of top of keeping in line with state timelines, managing the daily apocalypse, and of course, typing reports like a crazy woman. 

One of my cohort mates was telling me about a new psychologist hired at her preschool program who came in guns blazing, in-your-face, the ultimate resource and problem solver... and everyone hated her. She spent no time getting to know people or the system, did not consult with teachers regarding plans she was putting in place, and had an attitude that she was an all-knowing island. Not gonna fly. Remember that you can really accomplish nothing without the understanding and support of your staff, special education teachers, administration, and students. Spend time just chatting with people, learning their needs and expectations, asking questions, and listening! Introduce yourself at a faculty meeting or with a note in everyone's mailbox/email explaining who you are personally and professionally and what the school psychologist does to help the school ("What Is A School Psychologist?" from NASP might be good for this). Come March Madness, you're going to have a lot more support... and you'll need it. :)

People also toted the importance of organization and time management.
  • "...set up some times to meet with the special ed teachers you will be working with to get an idea of what triennials are due this year and what initials they may know are coming up... Find out what kiddos they may need your support with and review their files and observe."
  • " need to set up your office, get your resources in order, get at least a primer on your district's procedures. Get phone lists for each of your buildings, get all the passwords you need for student data systems etc., get your e-mail set up, request your business cards, set up your e-mail, and download all your testing software if that's not already done."
  • "Meet with your principal and ask what his/her expectations are for you, what would they really like to see done/ etc."
  • "...coordinate [your] schedule with the special ed teachers and related service each school to be sure there is some overlap so you all can be available for meetings...check-in with the admin asst at the main office to see where your space will be, if you are sharing a space with anyone else, file cabinet space, etc...Try and get a map of the school or at least a list of teachers/classrooms."

You'll need a bigger Post-It.
They hit the nail on the head--you can't do your job without the essential resources. I know from my experience after getting hired that it took me over a month to have my business cards, log-ins, email account, and laptop straightened away. Without a solid organizational and resource base, you'll be scrambling. It would seem that it comes back to relationship building: it can help you figure out the right people to get important items like a schedule, phone list, etc from, will let you consult with your new staffy friends on cases and upcoming meetings, and will allow you to meet with students to get to know them and their needs.

To all of you who have just embarked upon a new position and/or new school year, or who are about to do so, good luck! I have two weeks left of summer... so I'll be over here on the couch, sitting in my sweat pants covered in puppy hair, watching Pioneer Woman. :)

PS: Check out this stellar compilation of "Musings on Survival from School Psychologists." It has a wealth of great advice from school psychologists like you! Also, consider purchasing Dr. Rebecca Branstetter's The School Psychologist's Survival Guide, because it's rather awesome.

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