Tuesday, November 7, 2017

On balancing it all...

When I started writing on this blog, and creating things for websites about these things 2 years ago, my career was my life.  Which was totally awesome at the time, and the "season of life" that I was in. I got to work an hour before I had to be there, and stayed late every day.  As a new career psychologist, I was passionate about creating things that I could use in my practice.  I loved my job.

Then, I became a Mom.  I was still, of course, a school psychologist, but now I was a wife, Mom, sister, friend, etc. and a school psychologist, and Momming takes up a lot of time.  My priority quickly changed from my career to my child.  On maternity leave, I was able to check out of the office easier than I thought I would.  When I went back to work, I was able to leave at the end of the school day (not hours later), with less guilt than I would have thought.

My happy place

I still love being a school psychologist.  I think it is the best job, and especially the best job for a working Mom.  But the truth is, my family has grown even more now, and I'm choosing to dedicate less of my free time to school psychology right now, and that also means this blog.

So maybe I will still share some of my school psychology experience, maybe I'll shift to more of a working Mom perspective, but I just wanted to give an update.  I hope you continue to use the resources here!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Work/Life Balance as a school psychologist

Before I was a school psychologist, I worked in social work with an intense population, so working in a stressful position was not new to me.  I remember the day that I first broke down during my first year as a school psych.  Luckily, I had an amazing special education support team there, and I remember one of the special ed teachers telling it was alright-I was doing a great job, and this showed it.  I've learned through the years that being a school psychologist isn't an easy job-but honestly, very few people I know are not stressed by their job at one or another.  There are ebbs and flows, but in the end, this is a great career.  So, let's talk about work/life balance as school psychologists today.

Obviously, I am not an expert in this area, I'm still learning, and with another baby on the way, I'm about to drop all my balls and try to juggle them again.  I wanted to share today though, how I've become more positive about my work life balance, and especially, hear from other people-you guys!  What works for you?

1.  Make some definitive limits for yourself between home and school. (Turn off your email on your phone & Set time limits for yourself)

In the first district I worked in, it was common to have your work email on your phone and iPad.  It was especially helpful for me because I wasn't often in my office, but I could carry my calendar and email with me around the school.  I would answer frantic parent emails at 10 pm.  I remember one of my coworkers telling me she never checked her email at home, or responded to a parent after 5 and thinking I could never do that.  Then one year, I had a really tough case.  The parents weren't happy, the child was having a lot of issues at school, and there were lots of people from the district involved.  Email was the parents main form of complaint, and I would get emails during dinner and right before bedtime.  I was already stressed coming home from the day, and then this just continued it into my personal life.  That's when I took stopped my email from pushing to my iPhone.

A year later, I had a baby to come home to.  I was busting my behind at work all day long to get everything done, and often only looked at my phone once a day to check in on my daughter.  When I got home, I didn't want to spend time on work, and that's when I stopped checking work emails at home.  It's been rough, but it's been the best.

I also find that it's helpful (and necessary) to set hours for myself at work. Even before I had kids, I had a long commute home, and the later I stayed at school, the longer it would take me to get home.  So, I picked one or two days where I could stay late, and that was it.

2.  Give yourself grace when the above doesn't work out.

Sure, it's easy to say pack up at 4:15 and head home everyday, and I can do this 80% of the time.  But, sometimes, I have a parent coming in to review a report the next day, and I've only written the background section when the day before is ending.  On those days, I say "oops, quick dinner tonight!", I go home, feed my family, and break out my laptop, and I remind myself that these days are fleeting, and this will not be my life everyday.

3.  Prioritize.

One of our administrators once had the psychs in my district write down all of our responsibilities-every little thing we were responsible for-and then we picked out those were the most important.  You guys, there was a lot on that paper.  We often want to do it all, but you need to prioritize in order to do your best.  In this season of my career, I prioritize my testing and IEP counseling students.  If I'm testing a student, I turn off my walkie talkie, and put up a testing sign on my door.  If a student needs someone to talk to during that time, the secretary knows I'm not available.  What you need to dedicate your time to will vary over the year, but make sure you know what that is.

4.  Work hard when you are at work.

This sounds silly, but here me out.  If you want to balance work and life, you have to go full-force when you are at work.  When I first started out and had the time, I would get to work an hour before school started, and often sit and chat with one of my coworkers over our morning coffee.  It was distressful for me and a nice way to start the day.  Now, things are a little different.  I arrive to school 30 minutes before I'm required to, immediately open up my email, and go go go. If I know I need to leave right after the kids do one day, I work through lunch.  I know this isn't ideal, but it's just to say, think about how you are spending your work days, and how you can better manage your time.

5.  De-stress and treat yo' self!

We preach calming tools all day long, but how often do we use them ourselves?  This past year, I made an effort to use the mindfulness techniques I was teaching my students more often in my life-both personal and professional, and I find myself 5-finger breathing on a regular basis now!  Do yoga, go out to dinner, sing loudly in the car on the ride home, grab an irrationally expensive latte when you know you are doing to have a long day.  Don't forget to spoil yourself!

So, what are some of your secrets for balancing it all?  I'd love to know!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Back to School Shopping

This year, I am in no way ready to go back to school in a few weeks.  I figure I will ease my way into things by starting off with some back to school shopping.  What's on your list??  Here's mine!

1.  A calendar:  I use my computer/phone/ipad for daily scheduling in life and in work, but every year I treat myself to a brand-spankin'-new calendar to hang in my office, where I write down the general school calendar.  I'm pretty particular about my calendars, and pretty much only find ones I love at Target.  This year I'm eyeing this one and this one.  Tip:  Get one early, they are usually gone by the beginning of the school year.

2. Restocking some old games/activities:  My Don't Break the Ice has broken beyond repair, and I have a few others who are on their last leg, so I need to restock on a couple.

3.  Folders:  A few years ago, I started keeping all my kids' activities for group in these plastic folders.  I have one for each student that I write their name on, and these things are pretty much kid proof.  I keep them for each student from year to year, but need to stock up for new students.

4.  Prizes:  The pickings from my prize box were looking pretty slim at the end of the year, so it's time to restock those too.  My favorite places to shop for prizes are the Target dollar bins, and favors section at the party store!

5.  A new coffee mug:  Silly, but every year I like to get the year off to a fresh start by spoiling myself with a new travel coffee mug.  It gets cold fast here in New England!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Calming Down Boxes

A note:  Hey guys!  One of the posts here I get the most questions on is my post of the classroom (really, school wide!!) Calming Down Boxes I created 2 years ago, so I wanted to share it again today, with some updates and tips at the end (also, my beloved Office Playground online store closed down, so I updated some links as well.  This post now contains some affiliate links) Enjoy!

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.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

5 of the best things about being a School Psychologist (and 5 things that are difficult, too!)

I've gotten a few questions lately from those starting out a career in school psychology, or contemplating starting a graduate school program.  The question I get asked most is one that I asked myself not too too long ago- Is school psychology the right career for me?

My answer is that I'm a believer that there is no "perfect" job out there.  Being a school psychologist is by no means easy, but it is  so worth it.

Today I thought I'd share 5 of the best things about being a School Psych, and 5 things that are tough for me, personally. In the end, I think it is a GREAT career, especially for a working mom.  Always feel free to reach out with any questions you might have!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Interviewing for School Psychologist Positions

Last month I talked about how I became a School Psychologist.  I know that there are a bunch of fresh new school psychs out there, fresh out of school (Congratulations!!!!), so I wanted to share a bit about my experience interviewing, and some tips I have.

Some background:  I'm a School Psychologist in New England.  I interviewed for my first job 5 years ago, and started in a new district this past year, due to too long of a commute, and a growing family.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Maternity Leave/ Substitute Notes

I realize this topic isn't relevant for everyone, but when I was putting together information for my first maternity leave, I couldn't find much in the area of Psychologist/Counseling staff leave notes.

I'm expecting my second baby this Fall, but it seems like I was just preparing for my first!  Before I went out on my first maternity leave, like everything else in my career, I overplanned.  I left a detailed binder of notes and information.  I reviewed it with my closest staff, and my scheduled substitute before I went out.  And then, my sub left after a few weeks, a second came sparingly, and then, in the end, I don't think anyone opened the binder.  Oh well.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Using Google Drive for session notes, contact logs and more!

A while back I wrote a post on using Google Drive to track student data and more.  I've just wrapped up my third year of keeping track of things this day.  Documentation is still no fun, and I'm not perfect, but Google Drive is my favorite way to do so.  I figured I would share the documents I use now for all to benefit from!

Some of the top reasons I love it?

  • As School Psychologists, we are never in one place, so I love this method because it's convenient.  I can enter data from my desktop right after a phone call, on my iPad during a meeting or right after a session, or from home.  
  • I can't lose it.  How many times do you write notes down from a meeting and then can't find them afterwards?  Ooomph.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Writing Psychoeducational Reports

I like doing evaluations are reports.  There, I said it.  I'm nerdy that way.  In fact, one of the reasons that I love school psychology so much is because my job allows me to have the perfect balance of working with kids and getting to help them in a constructive way.  Every once in a while, I enjoy closing my office door and (trying to) getting some good 'ol reports out.  I previously shared how I prepare and organize assessments, but wanted to share how I go about writing them.  What do you include in your reports?  Any tips?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Calming Tool: DIY Glitter Jar

With the trend of fidget spinners sweeping across the nation, it's a great time to teach adults and kids about calming tools:  what they are, and why we need them.  Being able to calm down when we need it is so important for self regulation, and we can start this with even our little kiddos!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Ways to get kids talking about their day

One of the concerns from parents that I hear year after year is, "I never know what is going on in school!  My child never tells me about their day!" As a parent, I can understand their concern-why aren't they talking?  Do they hate school?  Are things too hard?  Are they not happy?

As a school psychologist, I've been there.  There is nothing like a "so how's your day going?" at the beginning of my session to elicit a "horrible" or "I don't know" response, that can affect the rest of our session.  So, I try to pass along this wisdom to those parents, and remind myself in these instances, that there are lots of ways to find out about your child and student's day, without really asking them.  What are your favorites?

Here are mine:

  1. What's the best thing that happened today?  The worst?
  2. What did you play at recess?
  3. Tell me about something funny that happened today.
  4. If you could design the perfect school day, what would I look like?
  5. If you got to be the teacher/principal tomorrow, what would you change in class/school?
  6. Tell me one book you read (or your teacher)
  7. How was lunch?
  8. Tell me one thing that made you feel happy/sad/mad today.
  9. Was anything at school really hard today?
  10. What do you hope to do in school tomorrow?
Other things I like to tell parents:
  • Model sharing about their day around the dinner table.  Take turns talking about the best part of their day, something silly that happened, etc.  Even if the child can' think of anything at first, hearing examples from others is a valuable tool.
  • The Rose and Thorn:  One of my coworkers told me this analogy and it stuck.  I always tell my kids we all have a million things that happen throughout the day, so we can always think of some small good and bad thing that happened.  Sharing these and modeling is also a great conversation starter...This morning, I spilled my coffee, but I got to leave work on time and play with the babe for a little longer!
  • Relate it to what they know.  Do I spend my free time playing Minecraft?  No, but I know what a creeper is.  Have I ever sat down to watch any of the Star Wars movies in full?  No, but I do "Yoda" meditation with one of my students every week.  Use what kids are passion about to get them talking, and let the conversation flow from there!  Anytime a kid is talking, you are doing good.
What are your favorite ways to get conversation flowing?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

How I became a school psychologist

I love chatting with people who are interested in becoming school psychologists, who are eager to know exactly how I became a school psychologist, so I thought I would share my experience here!  I'd love to chat more with anyone thinking about becoming a school psych in the future.

My Undergraduate Years:  What to study?
I went into college with a completely different area of study:  pre-law!  I liked it, but ended up taking my first psychology course as a core course (an introductory course), and I just loved learning about it.  I definitely believe, first and foremost, that you need to have a passion about psychology, education and children to do this work

During my time in college, I enjoyed almost every single psychology class I took.  I was fortunate to be able to participate in number of activities in the field.  My first was a developmental psychology course, where we volunteered for a number of weeks in a Head Start program.  Later, there was a course on aging where we volunteered in a convalescent home.  My first experience with a school psychologist was shadowing one for a day.  It was an inner city school, and for the first time, had a taste that this might just be something I would like to do.  

During my senior year in college, I thought that I was moving toward the clinical side of psychology.  My first semester, I interned at a partical day hospitalization program at a mental health hospital near my school.  It was challenging, to say the least, but I knew it was important work.  As it ended, I learned that there was a therapeutic day school on campus, and spent my last semester there.  The head of the program was a school psychologist, who was amazingly inspiring, and was so great with the students.  I enjoyed the balance of her role in education and mental health.  When it was time to graduate, my primary goal was to find a job, and I ended up working in the field of social worker, as a Therapeutic Foster Care case manager.

The Real World Experience
You guys, if I could give one piece of advice to anyone thinking of graduate school, it would be to get   a few years of real world experience under your belt before going back to school.  Especially in a field where your job is to work with a challenging population, the more experiences you can bring in, the better.  I worked for 3 years (in Boston and Connecticut) in Therapeutic Foster Care before I decided on any career, and it was the best thing for me.  Working in the social work field gave me a glimpse into all kinds of careers I was considering:  therapy, education, social work, and ultimately, I really felt like the work that the school staff was doing impacted the kids I had in a positive way.  I did some research and found out that I could take up to 2 classes in a nearby school psychology program before matriculating, so I signed myself up!

Back to School
I love learning and education, and as a budding school psychologist, you probably should do.  After taking my first class in school psychology, during which we interviewed and shadowed various school psychs, I knew it was the career for me.  I applied, and was accepted!  The school psych program at my school was 3 years:  1 for your masters, and 2 for your 6th year, including a full time internship.  I continued to work full time in social work for the first 2 years.  It wasn't easy, but it was 100% worth it.  Because the programs in school psychology are small, I really enjoyed the other women in my cohort, and we still talk today!

An internship for a school psychologist is a big deal;  it's a huge learning experience, and helps set the tone of who you will become as a school psychologist.  When considering where to intern, I knew that there were a few chosen districts I had in mind, and I applied to intern in those.  I really considered the district over the school psych I was matched with.  In the end, my internship year was rough, as I don't think we matched personalities too well, but I learned SO MUCH, and it gave me great experience.

The Job Hunt
My classmates and I all had different goals when we were searching for our first jobs.  For some, they just wanted a job, so they applied to every school psychologist posting that came up in the state.  I took another approach, and really wanted to work in only a few certain districts.  There were probably about 8-10 towns I wanted to work in, and as a result, I waited and waited for positions in those to pop up.  Of course, as many postings do, they did right before the school year, and I was offered a position in the district I interned in!

Now in my 5th year of working, in my second district, I feel like my time in graduate school was so long ago!  To now be entering a position where I'm being as to take on an intern is crazy to me, but I can't wait to help someone else on this journey.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about my journey to becoming a school psychologist, and please, let me know any questions you might have!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Enemy Pie is delicious!

I use the book Enemy Pie several times throughout the school year, but about once a year, I use the worksheets provided on this blog to turn the book into several weekly lessons.  It's such a cute story and friendship problems are something all kids can related to in some capacity.

A few years ago, I made actual enemy pie with some of my social skills summer campers.  Okay okay, it wasn't actually enemy pie from the book, it was primarily chocolate, but it was delicious!

I did it recently again with a girls group I have to celebrate the end of our friendship unit and it was so much fun!

We started off crushing up some delicious Oreos,

We put some "mud" (aka Chocolate pudding), in our cups...

And topped them with with "dirt" (the Oreos) and worms (gummy ones!!).  I've also used rock candies in previous years.

Before we weren't allowed to really have "outside" snack parties in school, I would use this activity for my students to invite a friend to group for a fun activity.  It's still great though, and I think I have as much fun as the kids do!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Structuring counseling and social skills sessions...what works!

I do a LOT more sessions with students individually and in small groups this year than I ever have.  I often go for a few hours without a break in between to catch my breath.  I thought I'd start a resource to share ideas for small groups in schools. To start out, I thought I'd start with the basics, scheduling and structuring groups.  I have been following the same format for 4 years, and I have no plans to change it anytime soon!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A day in the life of a school psychologist

My daily work life is different this year at my new school than it has been in the past.  I counsel way more students, and find myself with less and less time to plan and prep, which is certainly an adjustment for me.  I have a lot less administrative duties however, which is nice for my time and stress level!  Here is how my day went on a recent Friday.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I AM: Self-Esteem Activity

You guys, I just love this activity.  I saw something similar to it on Pinterest (of course!), and thought that it would be perfect for one of my students that is struggling with self esteem, and very artistic.

The thing with art therapy is that it calms you and relaxes you, right?  I mean everyone I know is buying adult coloring books now!

So, the way I used this activity was that I presented the idea of self-esteem, and talked with my student about what that meant, and how we were going to talk about positive traits she had, and things she was good at.  Upon an initial, cold question of this, she couldn't come up with anything.  So, we got started painting.  And the great thing about art therapy and crafts like this are that the words just start to flow.

As she started painting, we began talking more about positive things, and what it meant to have "talents".  The whole project took about 3 weeks, between letting the paint dry, brainstorming the traits, designing the words, and then in the end, Mode Podging the whole thing.

In the end, it got the conversation going about positive traits, and allowed my student to be creative, but also be able to share things that she does well!