Thursday, August 27, 2015

Pinterest-5 ideas I've used and loved

I bet every teacher, counselor, school psych out there has explored pinterest for ideas at one time or another. It's great for group ideas, tips, etc.   The only problem?  I often pin things that I completely forget about!  I know I'm not the only one either!

I thought I'd share some ideas that I got from Pinterest that I have used and have been helpful in my practice.  Here's to all of the pins that have been lost!

If you haven't seen this chart  around, you should skip the pinning and print it now.  It's SO helpful for explaining test results and standardized scores.  I keep a copy in my office, and one in the conference room where we have our meetings.  

Let's face it, even with a sign as bright as this on your door, there will still be those one or two people who barge in just as you are administering a timed subtest.  However, this sign does deter most.  I've made an laminated a bunch for my team.  And it's free!

This activity is super easy to put together and is great for the start of the school year.  It addresses friendship, and pragmatics in one.

I do an Enemy Pie group session at least 5 times a year every year, because let's face it, friendship problems happen.  I have a ton of copies of these worksheets already printed out to use.

This pin isn't on an educational website, but a great idea from a mom.   I  used the exact format for teaching one of my students about feelings and facial expressions, and she loved it!  So fun and easy.

Now that I've used these, I have only 100,000 more pins to get to!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

In the Beginning: Advice for the New School Psychologist

This year will be my fourth year in my school (I can't believe it!), and it seems like just yesterday I was nervously setting up my office and having no idea what to expect but excited to take on the world.

I read The School Psychologist's Survival Guide the summer before, which helped me a little bit, but as any School Psych will tell you, neither graduate school nor any books will prepare you for the real thing.

Here are some suggestions I have for you first years starting out.

Put Yourself Out There
My mother, who has been a teacher since I was in grade school, gave me some small words of advice that were perfect when I first started out.  The first, was to have a bowl of candy in my office to share.  The second, was to offer a hand to others to help.                        

The first day the staff arrived, I put aside setting up my own office to help move around furniture in several others.  It helped me get to know them, and bonded us within the first few days.

Walk The Halls
We are School Psychologists.  Which, for my position in my school, means lots of interactions with students and teachers.  And there is no better way to get to know  students and teachers than to walk the halls and be present in your school.  When I didn't have anything to do my first year (or rather, I didn't know I should be doing anything), I would pop into a classroom or walk around and see what was going on.  It helped, a lot.  I also spent (and still do spend!) a lot of time at lunch and recess.  It helps the kiddos to get to know me, and me to get to know the kiddos.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Student Observation Checklist

This checklist is my most downloaded document on TpT.  My Observation Checklist has evolved over the past 3 years, and this is the first year I don't plan on making any changes to it for the upcoming year (so far!)

If you are a psychologist, social worker or counselor, chances are, you are always being asked to observe students in their classroom.  Sometimes it's teachers, sometimes parents, sometimes others in the school who ask you "Can you take a look at....?"

My first year, I loved getting into the classrooms to observe students, but I was SO disorganized with what to do with my observations when I finished with them.  I've developed this form over the years, and I use it all the time.

I use it for my observations for reports every time I do one, but also anytime an observation is requested.   I copy the form on some colored paper so it's easy to find, and when I'm done with it,  it gives me something physical to remind me to email or chat with the teacher, and file it away in the students' file.

There are several different sections:

  • Genreal info. (name, time, date, area of concern & more)
  • General behavioral observations
  • Activity level/Classroom behaviors
  • Affect/Mood
  • Classroom relationships
  • Observation notes (a version with lined notes, and blank one for time stamps)
  • A wrap up section including areas of strength, barriers to success and suggestions/strategies (I write these down as I'm in the observation-isn't so easy to forget things a few hours later??)

This form is a definite time saver and helper in my school psych. life.  What do you use for observation?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Calming Down Boxes

This past year, my focus and goal throughout the year was our school climate program.  I really tried to put a lot into getting it going, and getting the entire school involved.

I really wanted our program to be a positive one, focusing on recognizing the positive that students were doing, and teaching appropriate coping skills.  Teaching 400+ kiddos coping skills is no joke though.  We had lots of assemblies to celebrate their work and teach them some, but we wanted something for them to be using everyday.

Throughout the few years teaching kids, I began to collect lots of Calming Down Tools that I kept in my office.  They were things from the dollar bin at target, some I ordered online, and some we had crafted in group.  Throughout the years, I began to notice that my supply quickly dissipated because I was always giving them out to teachers and kiddos in need.

Wrapping it up: End of the Year checklist

At the end of the year, I try to do as much as possible to prep for the upcoming year before running for the door and yelling "school's out for the summmmmmmerrrr!!!"

Mainly, this consists of the following:

  • Getting my office cleaned up and organized as much as possible (aka finding tiny families of spiders in corners, collecting all the little lego pieces hiding under furniture).
  • Organizing all of my computer files:
    • You never know what can happen over the summer, and I always make sure that before I leave, I have all my student files organized on my drive, as well as folders that contain activities, etc.
  •  Making our SPED chart for next year:
    • The beginning of the year is always a crazy time, and I like to make sure that I'm prepared going in with a list of kids we have, and what evaluations and meetings we need to start prepping for immediately.  I feel one step ahead every Fall for doing this, and it's completely worth it.
  • Prepping my 504 Plans for the next year:
    • It seems like there are so many 504 plans now, and at the beginning of the year, I like to check in with my teachers about students with 504's before the year starts.  Since there are only like 3 days to do this, I don't know how I would get it done beforehand without doing this ahead of time.  Every June, I print out all of the plans and a cover sheet for the  next years teachers.  I also print out a copy of each one for our specialists.  In August, I just have to do through and update them with any easy changes that happened over the summer.  This has been SUCH a timesaver.
What do you do to prepare?

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Mindfulness is becoming more and more popular these days.  Whenever someone starts talking about it, and I share with them some tools I am already using, they are always surprised.

Like anything, I don't stick strictly to one tool or philosophy to teach my students skills.  I often use mindfulness in conjunction with self-regulation skills, or coping skills for anxiety.  I have to say, more than often, my kids love these tools.  The #1 tool is probably the mindfulness bell.

So what is mindfulness?  It's a state of being active, open and attentive to the present

In kid terms?  It's a way of paying attention to what is happening right now in our mind and bodies

So how do I use it?

First off, I don't think, personally, it's one of those programs you can use 'on the fly'.  You really have to prep and practice.  I find that this book:

A Still Quiet Place by Amy Saltzman, and Kids Relaxation (a blog) are my most used and valuable tools.

When I introduce this concept to kids, I find it's one you have to practice to understand.  For my older students, I show them this video:

And then we practice.  Working on one of the suggestions from the book, we start with this simple activity:

  • I ask all students to close their eyes for one minute
  • After the minute, they write down all of the sounds they heard
  • We share them
  • We repeat that (listening, writing) for another minute
  • We talk about how mindfulness is like a muscle in our body, it takes practice, and the more we practice, the better we get
  • We talk about how we felt during the activity.  Almost all students immediately feel calmer

There are SO MANY great mindfulness activities out there.

1.  Probably the most loved by my kids is the glitter jar.  To keep it kid-friendly, I use plastic water bottles (those chubby little round sports ones are the best!)

2.  Any sort of body calming activities are great for incorporating into these groups.  The plumtree website has my favorites.  I have used Spaghetti Body with whole classes!

3.  The mindfulness bell.  Sometimes teachers don't believe me when I tell them how calm glitter jars and the mindfulness bell can make those kiddos who can't stop moving.  This is just one example of a bell.  I use an app on my phone/ipad and kids love it.

I would encourage anyone to do some research and try some mindfulness with one of your students!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Check-In

Preparing for, and running small groups is something I am continuing to improve.  They are ever changing, constantly rescheduled, and I'm always trying to find a way to improve them.  I'm found a few things I do help them to be successful:

1.  Planning ahead (I always strive for it)
2.  Making a "plan" and writing it on my whiteboard for students
3.  Check-ins

I start every single group with a "check-in".  It's something my kids have come to expect, and some of them will even fire off their number when they walk in!  If I need the number for data, or when I'm starting to teach this skill, I use a paper form, but after a while, a poster visual is all my kiddos need.

It's super simple to use:  Ask your students to think for a minute and circle (or just keep in their mind) how their day is going so far.  Give them a minute.  Go around in a circle and have them say which number they picked and why.  The why is really the most important part.  It's how I find out things that are going on at the playground, at home, or at school, that my students otherwise might not mention when I ask them "How's it going?"

You can click on the image above, or visit my TpT store for this download.

What do you find effective for check-ins?

Friday, February 13, 2015

RAK week

Every year, I plan to do something for Random Acts of Kindness week.  Then, January comes, and I can barely survive the new referrals and evaluations, I forget all about it.  This still happened this year, but because of the school climate program I recently rolled out at my school, I was more motivated to get it done.  I recruited my social worker and a parent volunteer to do a pretty easy activity school wide.

RAK week
At the beginning of RAK week (February 9th), I went home a letter to parents about a school-wide project.  I asked every student, teacher and family to complete an "act of kindness", and write it on a heart.  I sent 2 hearts home with every student, and started collecting them the net day, and displaying them throughout the school.

I also sent some ideas to teachers; a quick youtube video and some ideas for discussion about kindness in their classrooms.
Sculpy clay hearts we made to make people smile

A little chocolate makes everyone smile!

I love reading the acts and hanging them up!  I'm going to choose one from each grade to read at our upcoming climate assembly.

I love that our students are thinking about others and kindness!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Social Skills: Whole Body Listening

I use Whole Body Listening (WBL) language every single day.  "Listen with your eyes", "Whole Body Listening Check!".  It's also a great beginning of the year classroom introduction lesson.

I usually begin the lesson by asking what kids know already about WBL, and then read Whole Body Listening Larry at School.  I usually stop after each part and either talk about an example or we practice using that skill to listen.

After reading the book, we review all the parts of the body we use to listen as a group using a visual, and then talk about this activity (you can find on my TPT store) that is simple and easy to use.

I go over the directions:  draw the parts of your body you use to listen and send the kids back to complete it individually.  I use heart cutouts to make things fun.  Depending on the group/age level, you can remove the words at the bottom.

Fun, easy activity.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Organization: Special Education Evaluations

Head on over to my TPT store for this FREE download that is one form I cannot test without.

This Testing Planning Form is the first thing I do when I get a new evaluation, or when I have an upcoming trieenial.  I print off this form, and staple it to the front of a brightly colored file folder.  I open the folder, and to the back, staple the Consent to test form.  I fill out the info. and viola!  A one stop shop for all of the info. you need-what tests you are doing, when they are due, and who you gave rating scales to and when.

It's a lifesaver!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Documentation woes: Google Drive to the Rescue

Happy New year!  Just like a New Year resolution, every school year, I have an overarching goal for myself.   My first year, it was to survive (no joke!!).  My second year, it was to solidify the parts of my job I didn't realize I had to do until after I hadn't done them.  This year, my goal was to tackle documentation.

I had been working on this from day one, and never found a solution.  I needed a way of documenting my "regular" kids I see, but also, all the other kids, and parent phone calls and meetings.  I had tried notebooks for everything, binders for each kid, marking a time for it on my calendar, folders, creating my own forms, and a spreadsheet on my computer, but nothing was successful.  The main reason?  It wasn't accessible when I needed it.  Truth be told, as much as I would love to get all my paperwork done at school, sometimes I just can't.  And by the time I returned, I had something else to do and had forgotten about it.

This year, I came across an article online about Google Drive, and this form of documentation has changed my career and saved so.much.time!!!!  At a recent PD, my district also talked about it, which make me feel even better about using it.  

Here is how I do it:  I created 2 documents to start this out at the beginning of the year
Non-Routine Student Counseling:  I use this to track every student I see that I don't track on already through an IEP, 504 or other venue
Meeting/Phone Call Notes:  I use this for notes every time I talk to a parent/outside provider/anyone  on the phone, and then also when I am at meetings

Here is how to create your own:
Log into your google drive account, or start one for yourself (I actually created one just for school, so I could keep things separate).  Click on the "Create" button in the left hand corner, and choose "form".
This will bring you to a brand spankin' new form template where you can name your form.  For this example, I'll change the Untitled form name to "Times I See my students" by clicking on the words and typing over them.

Then you are free to go on and start creating questions.  I always start my forms with the date/time.  It just makes things easier and ensures I don't forget.  In the box "Question Title" you type the words you want to appear on your form.  In this case, still just "date".  I don't use the "help text" box, because I'm only using these forms for myself.  The "Question Type" is one of my favorite features.  You can choose anything that pertains to that question.  Here are the ones I use:

Date:  when, of course, I need to mark the date.  I also check the box that says "time".  
Text:  a short text box.  Helpful for the name of a student, or a "follow up" box
Paragraph Text:  for summaries of interaction with students, phone calls, etc.  Any time I will be using a lot of text.
Multiple Choice:  when you only need the option to choose one thing (ex: or individual).  Make sure to check the "add other" feature here, in case there are those times that none of the choices quite fit!
Checkboxes:  when you need to make multiple choices (ex:  for my phone call/meeting form, I have parent, student, teacher, etc. on there).  

After you are finished with your question, click the "add item" to add to the next question.

You can completely customize the questions to your needs.  Here is what I include in some samples of my 3 main types of docs I use:
Non-IEP student:  Date, Student Name, Setting, Reason for Referral, Summary of Incident, Follow-up Required
Meeting Notes:  Date, Student, People spoken to, Summary of call/meeting, follow up needed
Student Data:  Date, Summary, setting, a question for each goal/objective I have.

Once you are done, scroll to the top of the page and click "view live form".

This will take you to your very own form (you can also change the theme and make it colorful and pretty if you'd like).  Save the link to this document!  You can always go back to it, but saving this link on my computer favorites and iPad allows me to quickly bring it up anytime I need it.

Enter data whenever you see fit and submit.  Viola!  There it is!  All your data is then saved securely in google drive, where you can access it when you need it.  To create a spreadsheet of your responses, go back to your editable form and click "view responses", where you will be taken to a Google Doc spreadsheet of your responses.

And that's it!  Although it takes a few minutes to set up, I have found that this system is well worth it for the time that it saves me in documentation.  I can access these documents from any computer and save the links to the forms anywhere.

What is your system that works?