Dear Rookie School Psychologist,
Congratulations! You made it through graduate school and now it is time for you to use all your knowledge to help children, school staff, and families. Bravo! However, despite all your new found professional skills, you still have so much more to learn! In fact, here is a secret – there is “stuff” that they didn’t teach you in graduate school that I like to call the “inside scoop” of this profession. Curious? Well, keep on reading…
I am a seasoned School Psychologist. I graduated way back with the dinosaurs in 1984 from Penn State. The program was arduous and the competition to get in and stay in was fierce. But, I managed and here I am nearly 40 years later still working with students, teachers, administrators, and families.
My journey hasn’t been a direct path – in fact, I have jumped off and on this trail many times. But, I truly wish there was a course offered among all the other requisites that provided insight and advice that could have made my rookie journey a bit smoother.
So, with that in mind, I offer to you my pearls of wisdom – the good, the bad, and hopefully the funny.
- In the digital age don’t forget about good old-fashioned paper. I know many of my colleagues keep their records all digitally. They also use record forms (protocols) that are electronic. I was toying with this idea and then I lost a bunch of emails due to a “glitch” with my Gmail. That convinced me – I am sticking to paper and pen! This means I have both a digital calendar and a real daytime book for appointments. We call it “organizers” in educational terms.
- Communicate not once, not twice, but three times with parents and staff. When I make appointments I am super diligent with setting and keeping appointments. I also expect my students and their families to do the same. So, I write notes and send emails up to three times for each meeting. And of course, my online calendars will pester me with reminders. That makes me happy.
- Create a ton of different templates for reports. Yes, I am a big fan of the template for writing those very long, boring, and often tedious psychoeducational reports. I found a few I liked from the Teachers Paying Teachers website, but mainly I create my own. Canva helps with graphics (who doesn’t appreciate a well-constructed bell curve graph or chart!?)
- Check those numbers! I use a system for tabulating the number of correct ( or incorrect) responses on my record forms. It is the THREE✓ check system. Check one means I added all the numbers of correct/incorrect responses for the first time. The second pass – through for recalculating the numbers to make sure the first and second times match will result in a second check. A third check is placed on the cover of the record booklet which means I checked one last time when I input the numbers into an online scoring system or obtained the results from a scoring manual myself. Regardless of how I score three checks mean I reviewed the results and added them THREE times! Why so redundant? I live in fear of making math errors and even more in fear of having to rescind or explain something I did wrong. Three checks = reduce stress. See the image I mocked up below.
5. This is important. Perhaps the most important thing I will share with you today. Know that your results are being received on many levels by the parent / guardian receiving the news. There is a level of understanding about intervention, assessment, and/ or therapy that you have that they don’t. No one handed this parent(s) who may be new to special education a booklet that told them about how they will feel.
Sure, these fine folks received a ton of documents about their rights, but nothing prepped them for the feeling of a dagger slicing their heart to shreds. As a School Psychologist, you need to learn how to deliver the news – whatever it is – with grace, compassion, and professionalism. Period. Remember that your roles could easily be reversed with you as the recipient of the information. I know. I have sat at ‘both sides of the table’.
Don’t make promises. You don’t have a crystal ball. After you deliver “the news” be sure to wait. Give the parents/ guardians a minute to process. Ask them if they have questions. Offer to review parts again or to meet again after they had a day or two to let “the news” sink in. Remember – the people across from you at this table are trying to listen while possibly their simultaneously experiencing a broken heart. They may have just experienced their dreams for this child bursting.
6. When I attended Penn State’s School Psych graduate program I had a great professor who mentored me, Dr. Jim Murphy. Gosh he was amazing and so wise! During my second year of graduate school he was my “clinical supervisor”. That’s the guy who watches you “learn” and then critiques you. One day he gave me great advice when he saw that I was struggling with talking to parents about the results of the evaluation I recently had completed. He said, “Louise – you don’t need to have all the answers. When you talk to parents or staff, it is OK to say- “I don’t know”. But, then follow-up and let them know that you will try your best to get some information to answer their questions. But, never make promises as some questions never can get answered.” Let me tell you – that was solid advice that has stuck with me for decades. Simply know – you are not a walking Google search engine. You don’t and can’t know all the answers. And that is OK.
7. I easily could add much more than seven entries on this list. But, I will close with these last three that are “related”. Keep learning, keep healthy, and keep safe.
Sure you need continuing education credits and you will fulfill this obligation every few years – but in reality, you need to keep learning beyond the world of special education and psychology. Learn about the world beyond your community. Travel. Paint. Go learn to salsa dance. Watch cartoons so you can relate to the first graders in your school. Just keep learning.
And remember to take time to take care of YOU. Turn off the digital world and go enjoy the outdoors. Practice self-care on a daily basis while you are practicing as a psychologist. Reduce your stress in a healthy way that makes sense to you.
Lastly, be personally safe. Learn the layout of each of the schools you visit. Be vigilant with your own safety. Take a self-defense class to protect yourself.
Here are two links to safety tips that we all can use (and I am sure there are many more!)
Adapt this list to your local and personal needs