Number of Icebreakers: 7,000
Number of Schools Assigned to Me: 3
Number of Days in Working Public School Per Week: 3
Ratio of School Psychologist (Me!) to Students: 1:350
Number of Dead Rodents Discovered at School: 1
Number of Janitors Available to Help Clean Up Dead Rodent: 0
Number of Times I Gagged Trying to Dispose of Carcass: 47*
Number of 7th Graders Who Are Now Taller Than Me: 35
Number of Crying Children Sent to My Office: 2
Number of Times I Couldn’t Communicate Effectively in Spanish: Cinco
Number of Times I Could: Cinco
Number of Students Asking to be in The Talent Group Again: All of Them
Ratio of School Psychologist to Ants in Office: 1:350
Number of Ants Squished: 50
Number of Kids that Make it All Worth It: Infinite
*48. Just gagged again thinking about it.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Number of Icebreakers: 7,000
Thursday, August 21, 2008
If there’s one thing educators love even more than reflection, it’s ice breakers. The first week back is full of "getting to know you activities" and clever ways to personalize otherwise mundane policy reviews, cleverly disguised as “Professional Development.” I have participated in 6, maybe 7,000 ice breakers in my day. I can’t stand them, mostly because I have had two traumatic ice-breaker experiences:
1) In college, some freaks from the Psi Chi Honors’ Society* had us all share our “favorite scab or scar” and how we got it. It was a disgusting over-sharing situation.
2) In another ice-breaking trauma, in a conference, I was asked to go first and say something unique about me. I went for my standard reply of “I own a greyhound dog.” (group: murmer… murmer…they’re fast…murmer…racing dogs…murmer). Then, one by one, people shared the most heart-wrenching facts about what makes them unique (e.g. I have cancer, I escaped communist Cambodia), making me sound guarded and shallow. I almost changed my answer to “What’s unique about me is that I have appropriate boundaries when sharing to a group of strangers.”
In any event, every agenda this week has right on top “Ice-Breaker!” and I curse myself for showing up on time. Today, we had an ice-breaker in which we were all to write things that we appreciated about each other and put them in an envelope for the person to read at the end of the day. I thought this activity would be the equivalent of the “Snap Cup” from Legally Blonde 2**, in which Elle Woods tries to cheer up the nerds in her Washington legal office with a cup filled with saccharine affirmations from her coworkers. I thought at any moment we would all join hands and sing the Snap Cup song:
It’s Snap Cup time; it’s Snap Cup time, Gather ye round, Friends and foes together, United and bound, Pass it to your neighbor, Instead of blowing up, And we’ll find harmony and love in the- *snap * SNAP CUP!!
At the end of the day, I grabbed my envelope, and once I got to my car, read the positive affirmations that my co-workers put in my envelope. I have to admit, I got a little choked up. They were so sweet and genuine. A few teachers wrote what they appreciated about me from last year and a few wrote about tiny things I had done in the week that they thought were great.
Much to my chagrin, the ice is (somewhat) broken on my feelings on ice-breakers.
*Of which I was a member (nerd alert!), until said icebreaker incident
**What? Like you didn’t secretly want to see it.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Class List? Check.
Office Max trip? Check.
New lunchbox? Check.
Systematic Classroom Management Plan designed to set the stage for the whole year? Um…..
I have been in the urban public school world long enough to see bright-eyed new teachers quit by Halloween. I have handed out Kleenex during consultations like nobody’s business. I have great respect for teachers, especially since I have not ever been a teacher, nor have I had to manage a class. I get the kids one-on-one or in a small group for a short period of time. The one-on-one setting is a beautiful setting to learn a child’s potential, and form a positive relationship with a student. It is the best part about being a school psychologist. Teachers often do not have the luxury of such a relationship in a classroom of 30 kids.
I am no expert in classroom management, but I know what I’ve seen work. Here are some gems for general and special education alike. The bias is towards a large, urban classroom, but the general principles apply to all kids. A fantastic teacher/friend of mine composed this list for helping teachers with difficult classrooms, which I have added to, based on my observations:
1) Call each student’s parent/guardian at the start of the year and introduce yourself. Make frequent positive calls in the first few weeks. Sure, that sounds like a lot of work, but if the first few calls are positive, then the first discipline call will be a lot easier.
2) Post the rules in several places. Keep them simple. Try three: Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible, then have the students give real examples, in the positive direction (e.g. Use nice language, keep hands and feet to yourself, ask for help when you are having a hard time, eat only in the cafeteria). It’s better to write what you expect (use nice language) instead of what you don’t expect (no cussing). It’s easier to redirect the child in the moment.
3) Create a point system that combines academic and behavioral expectations that is broken into short intervals. The interval length (15 mins, 30 mins, 1 hour, math time, morning) will depend on the age and the class composition. In general, during the first few weeks, the more frequent, the better. Then it can fade to longer intervals or intermittently (e.g. set a timer for random intervals and when it dings, those on task get a reward). The students should have some role in tallying their daily and weekly points so they are bought-in. They should be able to see their success. Also, the positive behavior plan helps teachers from falling in to the trap of the Scarlet P.
4) Inappropriate language is the antecedent to many more disruptive behaviors. They say alcohol is the gateway drug; inappropriate language is the gateway for more disruptive behaviors. To start, if a student cusses in class, give everyone else a point for using nice language. The second the student who just cussed says something appropriate, give him/her a point.
5) Pick your battles. While unchecked behaviors can become big behaviors, the savvy teacher needs to know what to let go and what to crack down on. In general, when the motive behind the behavior is manipulation, crack down immediately. If not, then use your discretion. For example, it might be acceptable to ignore the tardiness of a student who lives across town, but not acceptable to ignore a negative comment toward a peer that starts a chain reaction of arguing that disrupts the class.
6) Read the children’s cumulative folders. Gold. Mines. The files can give you much insight into the patterns of behavior and learning that are already established. You can also see what interventions have already been done.
7) If you start out strict, you can ease up as the year goes on. If you start loose, it is much harder to get stricter.
8) The academic work must be at a level the children can do. This seems basic, but it is worth highlighting. If the work is too easy, they lose interest. If it is too hard, they might act out (better to look bad than dumb!). Find the optimal level of challenge. If students feel successful, it will eliminate a lot of behavioral problems.
9) Consult! Consult! Consult! If you have one child who is your nemesis, consult with your school psychologist and have her/him come observe the dynamic in the classroom and work with you and the student.
10) Have a life. Work on your own coping skills and schedule fun. I know teachers who give up everything to be the best teacher on the planet. That is noble until you are burned out. Ask for help when you are stressed out. Remember to put your oxygen mask on before helping others!
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
I have so many mixed emotions about returning to the school district next week. On the one hand, I will have to give up my “Lady of Leisure who Lunches” status, which is sad, because I’m SO good at it. No more “to do” lists that include “Wait for Mail Delivery” and “Obtain Cappuccino.” No more 4 hour hikes with dogs in the middle of the day. No more time to plan important wedding details: Pool Blue? Bluebird Blue? Tiffany Blue?
And yet, I always feel a fluttering excitement about going back to school, that usually begins the first time I see Target put out that delicious display of sharp pencils, perfect untouched rainbow crayons (with glitter), plasticy-smelling lunchboxes, and the holy grail of B2S shopping, a sea of new outfits! Excuse me, I just need a moment. Ahhhh.
As my tagline suggests, I have always LOVED school, so the B2S shopping experience always reminds me of those glory days of returning to school to see my friends, fresh calendar/organizer in hand, perfectly pointy pencils with untainted eraser, multi-colored pens and highlighters, ready to learn. But learning and making friends always came easy to me*, so of course I loved school. Many of the students I work with dread the return of school, and in some cases take drastic measures to avoid returning at all.
So, what can parents do to help their kids with a smooth back to school transition?
Here are some tips from the National Association of School Psychologists. They are aimed mostly at younger students, but some can be adapted to upper grades.
Before School Starts
1) Mark your calendar with important dates. Make copies of all your child’s health and emergency information for reference. Discuss any concerns you have over your child’s emotional, physical, or psychological development with your pediatrician. Your child will benefit if you can identify and begin addressing a potential issue before school starts. Schools appreciate the efforts of parents to remedy problems as soon as they are recognized.
2) Buy school supplies early. Try to fill the backpacks a week or two before school starts.
3) Reestablish the bedtime and mealtime routines at least one week before school starts. Prepare your child for this change by talking with your child about the benefits of school routines in terms of not becoming overtired or overwhelmed by school work and activities. Include pre-bedtime reading and household chores if these were suspended during the summer.
4) Turn off the TV. Encourage your child to play quiet games, do puzzles, color, or read as early morning activities instead of tv. This will help ease your child into the learning process and school routine. If possible, maintain this practice throughout the school year.
5) Visit school with your child in advance if your child is young or in a new school.
6) Designate a clear place to do homework.
Overcoming School Anxiety
1) Let your child know you care. If your child is anxious about school, send personal notes in the lunch box or book bag. Reinforce the ability to cope. Children absorb their parent’s anxiety, so model optimism and confidence for your child. Let your child know that it is natural to be a little nervous any time you start something new but that your child will be just fine once he or she becomes familiar with classmates, the teacher, and school routine.
2) Do not over react. If the first few days are a little rough, try not to over react. Young children in particular may experience separation anxiety or shyness initially, but teachers are trained to help them adjust. If you drop them off, try not to linger. Reassure them. Remain calm and positive.
3) Acknowledge anxiety over a bad experience the previous year (e.g. bullying, difficulty with academics or making friends). Contact the school to confirm that the problem has been or will be addressed. Reassure your child that you and the school are working together to prevent further issues. Reinforce your child’s ability to cope. Give your child a few strategies to manage a difficult situation on his own. Maintain open lines of communication with the school.
4) Arrange play dates or get-togethers with some of your child’s classmates before school starts and during the first weeks of school to help your child reestablish positive social relationships with peers.
5) If problems arise, you may want to contact the school to set up an appointment to meet with your child’s teacher and school psychologist. They may be able to offer support or suggest other resources. While children can display a variety of behaviors, it is generally wise not to over-interpret those behaviors. More often than not, time and a few intervention strategies will remedy the problem.
*Notable exception: Chemistry. Bleech. I hated it because I wasn’t good at it. I didn’t understand why anyone would care if an equation was balanced. I also didn’t like my teacher, for reasons beyond the obvious lack of deodorant situation. Shouldn't he be concerned about his pH balance if he was soooo smart? Fortunately, Mr. Sweaty also believed in group test grades (what?) so I compensated by weaseling myself into a group with the future valedictorian.
This technique was also key to getting through the Tennis portion of PE. I started dating the state tennis champ and opted for being on a doubles team. Here was every game: Him: I got this ball! (whack) Me: ok! Him: I got this one too! (whack) Me: (filing nails) You got that one too? Great.
- ► 2012 (20)
- ► 2011 (29)
- ► 2010 (39)
- ► 2009 (36)
- ▼ August (4)