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.

Keep Your Door Open
My first year, my office was located in our main office, so I got a LOT of traffic.   I always kept my door open when I could, which encouraged people to say hi, to stop in and chat about a student, or to vent.                                              

 Don't Expect to Know Everything-Make Mistakes!
Repeat after me:  "It's my first year, and I'm not supposed to know it all."   It's so true!  I embraced this my first year, and you should too!  We went through lots of schooling that gave us background on the work we are doing. We did an internship where we shadowed a school psych, but we didn't really get to see the inner workings.  Now, we have a whole new position to learn!  Embrace the fact that you are making mistakes because it means you are learning.

Don't Act Like You Know Everything Either 
Let's be real-no one likes a know it all.  Especially when they are a newbie.  Do a good job, and people will notice and appreciate it.  No reason like you need to act like you know everything (because you probably don't-but you're not supposed to!)                                                                            

Reach  Out To Your Colleagues
When you think about the position, being a School Psych can be a lonely job-there's usually only one of us at every school!  But, you are not alone.  You have your special education team, your leadership team, and other psychs in your district to reach out to, and you should.  I have a few psychs who I  started off with, and they are still my go-to gals when I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing.

Make Yourself A Report Template
Let's face it, writing reports is a big part of our job.  And you will, undoubtedly, write a lot of reports. Save yourself a lot of time, and within the first few months, get set up with a report template that you can use.  You can (and should) change it over time.  I update mine throughout the year and a big one at the beginning of the year, but having a go-to is a lifesaver.

Get Yourself A Useful Calendar & A To-Do List
Everyone has their own style-I used to be a paper girl all the way when I was in graduate school and in my previous jobs, but I have found that over the years, electronic is the way to go for me.  For a calendar, I use outlook on my computer/phone and iPad, and I plug EVERYTHING in.  I also use the app Wunderlist and it is a lifesaver.  My first year, I lost track of so many things because they were post-it notes lost in the abyss.  If paper and color coded meetings is your thing though,  go with it.  Just have a system that works for you.

Make Friends
There are certain people you will want to get to know right away-the people that know everything about the building-the front office staff!  Mine are lovely people, and they are always in the know about what's going on.  Reaching out and introducing yourself to the custodian is another one.  You'll need all of their help down the line.

Set A Goal
Every year, I set a goal for myself.  And I am not embarrassed to say that my first year, my goal was: Survive.  There are lots of school-wide programs to implement, new tests to become an expert in, etc. but there are future years for that.  Make your first year goal realistic and attainable.  And if it's just to survive, I'm right along there with you~

Work Hard, But Have Fun!
There were plenty of days I was the last person in the office my first year-and I expected that.  There were tons of days I ate lunch in my office in 5 minutes.  But, I also made sure to head out on Friday afternoons with coworkers when they were going, attend the holiday party, and bring in cookies       every once in a while.  Enjoy!

What advice do you have for someone starting out?

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