I am apparently developing a theme this week in my posts.
It's Behavior Week!
Perhaps it is because many of my students are experiencing termination issues, or maybe because horrible behavior plans are just plain funny, but I’m on a roll, people. For your reading pleasure, here is a random musing on behavior and contracts:
I am moving. I didn’t realize I was a document hoarder until now. You don’t realize how much stuff you have until you try to put it in a box and lift it. Document hoarding is about anxiety. We keep stuff because we fear that we will a) need it someday or b) forget the memory if we release ourselves of it. I have concluded, after 2 weeks of shredding my old dissertation stuff, applications for licensure, paystubs from 2002, and the last 10 years of student loan statements that: a) Shredded docs make for great packing material, b) my dissertation was ridiculously long and many, many trees died for me, c) I will probably pay off my student loans just in time for my future children to go to college and d) I am a document hoarder.
But back to behavior. I asked myself, with each document, “Is this useful or beautiful?” and if the answer was no, it got shredded. I probably kept more than I even should have, but I have bureaucratic OCD. I still fear that UC Berkeley will come back and request further documentation that I completed my dissertation, or that there will be a random audit of all my paystubs and benefits from when I worked in a previous district. That latter one is not paranoia, given where I worked. I still get requests to update my TB test results and I haven’t worked there in four years.
The best part of revisiting documents of yore is the memories that can come up. I came across all my students’ letters to Obama. Useful AND beautiful! Keep! It was so fun reading them again. Then I came across a behavior contract between me and my ex-boyfriend. WHAT???? I do not even recall drafting or signing this document, but here it was, in black and white, filed in with my student loan payment stubs. You will never guess my luck. It was a contract from 1999 stating that he would pay off all my unsubsidized student loans “no matter what our relationship was, unless she cheats on me.” So many questions.
a) Why only unsubsidized?
b) Why can’t I remember this contract?!?
c) How did I have the foresight to know that I needed this in writing?
d) How organized am I to file it in the appropriate spot?
e) Why did he feel he needed a contract to ensure that I wouldn’t cheat on him? As if he needed to provide a financial inducement for me to be loyal?!? And I agreed in writing like it was a perfectly normal thing to do?
f) OMG, how did this conversation even come up in the first place??? (see point b)
For a nanosecond, I imagined having the conversation:
Um, hi, this is your ex-girlfriend from 10 years ago. We need to talk about my student loans and my fidelity to our relationship in the 90s…
Clearly, I'm not holding him to this contract.* I'm not that loan SHARK-y! (pun intended, insert reader's groaning). The whole thing is so weird on so many levels. Plus, I didn’t think to get it notarized. Shoot.
There is no deeper lesson on behavior contracts here. It’s just plain funny. Now, back to shredding…
* [Aaaaannnnnd....Cut to all of my ex-boyfriends' fearing they signed this after a night out at the bar sighing a collective sigh of relief]
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Monday, May 24, 2010
Ones of tens of you spoke. I listened. Brought to you by the Facey Face fans, here are the behavior plans I have written that have fallen, well, flat on their facey faces. And just because I’m feel benevolent, I’ll throw in the learning point in a bold type, so if you are slammed with end of the year assessments like I am, you can get the tips and come back later in the summer for the deets when you have your Mai Tai and Calypso music playing in the background of your glorious, glorious summer off.
1) The Cat that Trained the Bounty Hunter
This is a tale I literally could not make up, so you know it is a true story. I had a teacher once ask me to make a behavior plan for “Doug.” She went on and on about how Doug’s behavior was escalating and she didn’t know what to do for him. Every morning: “Can we talk about Doug’s behavior plan?” One day, she had her hand all bandaged up and she pleaded for me to write the plan. The only problem? Doug was her FRIGGIN’ CAT. Yes, that’s right, she was harassing someone with a 1:2500 psychologist to student ratio to help her with her cat.
Doug was scratching and biting her all the time and she didn’t know what to do. I finally gave in and asked what was the antecedent to Doug scratching her (seriously, was I really using my Ph.D. for feline behavior plans?). And it went a li'l something like this:
Crazy Person: Well, every day I put Doug in his cat carrier and then I reach in to pet him and he scratches me. Even my vet said not put him in a carrier and don't to try to pet him in there. Then this morning, I reached in his cat carrier to pet him, and he mangled my arm.”
CP: So what should I do?
Me: Um, don’t put him in a carrier and don’t reach in to pet him?
And this part isn’t related to the behavior plan, but this woman was a BOUNTY HUNTER before she was teacher. I shudder.
Learning Point 1: Don’t do the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome. You must change your behavior if you want the behavior of another to change (cat or otherwise).
Learning Point 2: Back awaaaaaay from the crazy person and try not to get too depressed that this woman is teaching children.*
2) Careful What You Wish For…
A few years back, I worked with this delightful 4th grade girl who had, shall we say, excellent verbal expression. However, it was much too colorful for prime time school hours and it was often expressed at inappropriate times and for very seemingly minor events. She was a girl who had a keen sense of justice and I think fancied herself a bit of an expert in…um…everything. True, she was a gifted little poppet, so she did know a lot. But she was the first to point out the teacher’s mistakes or classmates’ lack of understanding, and not in a polite way. She called kids names if they disagreed with her, and often insisted that she be heard by getting on her chair and screaming.
We decided to harness her desire for verbal expression and attention (the presumed function of her behavior) into another behavior that could meet the same need, but not disrupt, oh, EVERYTHING. We gave this little Poppet her very own Expression Journal and when she had a point that she wanted to make, she was to write it down and share it with her teacher during recess. This teacher was a secret psychologist at heart, because she sat down every recess with her and validated her thoughts while giving her an alternative (e.g. “You wrote, “Henry is a f***ing idiot.” How about we revise that by writing, “Henry has ideas I disagree with!”)
Well one fine day, this teacher conducted an experiment that required a little deception to illustrate her point. The rest of the class got it and thought it was funny. Well, Poppet FLIPPED OUT when she found out her teacher had "lied." She stormed off to the back of the class, in a corner, and wrote a five paragraph persuasive essay about why the teacher should be fired. It had great structure, with supporting evidence, and a friggin’ conclusion. “In summary, Mrs. X should be terminated because a) b) and c)...” And I heart this teacher because after reading a manifesto on how terrible she was, I heard her say to the girl, “Excellent use of your expression journal!”**
Lesson #3: Sometimes you have to settle for the next least inappropriate behavior before you get to the appropriate one. Celebrate small victories in the right direction instead of holding out for perfection.
3) Double Stuff THIS
I have read 8 hojillion behavior plans and behavior goals in my day. That’s a scientific fact. Some are excellent, specific, measurable, attainable, and revised frequently to sustain efficacy and I shed a tear of joy. Most I come across are mediocre, but not harmful. They tend to be too general (“Diego will do his work”), negatively worded “Anna will not curse”), or non measurable (“Curtis will improve his classroom behavior.”) They are easily fixable. Then, there are the ones I read that make me think the Cat Bounty Hunter was reemployed and got a job writing behavior plans.
I kid you not, I came across a behavior plan that had a goal for an Autistic child to eat the middle of an Oreo cookie to address his issues with sensory sensitivities. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! On so many levels:
a) Not heart healthy
b) Not educationally relevant
c) Not cost effective
d) Not a functional adaptive skill
e) What’s next year’s goal: ability to tolerate frustration of Oreo crumbling when he dunks it in milk?
Lesson #4: Make the goal educationally relevant or at least teaching a life skill that is useful outside of the classroom, and
Lesson #5: For the love of Pete, consult with your school psychologist for help with writing behavior plans!
*Thankfully, she did not come back a second year to teach. Hopefully, she never taught again. She asked me for a letter of reference a few years later and I respectfully declined. Actually, she also didn’t really ask me, but rather sent me an email demanding I write one. I declined to answer the email.
**Follow up story: Poppet took it one step further. The next day, Mrs. X got a note from the "superintendent" approving her request and she put it in Mrs. X’s mailbox. The writing was suspiciously like Poppet's. Gotta give her props for her creativity. Luckily, Mrs. X was a secret psychologist and didn’t take it personally.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
I love when peeps write me with their burning school psychologist questions. (Insert curmudgeon voice): In MY day, we didn’t HAVE bloggers to write burning questions to. We had to CALL them or have a gypsy explain what school psychology was in a chance meeting in a restaurant in Reno, Nevada. Ahem. I digress.
I do love getting inquiries about our fine profession. As my BFF teacher blogger friend, Mrs. Mimi says, getting an education degree is the biggest purchase she has made. It’s good to know if working in education is a good match for you. AGREED. I accidentally looked at my student loan balance the other day, saw the 2034 payoff date, and shed a little tear. It’s best to know if school psychology is right for you before you throw down years of your life and heaps of cash. So, without further ado, here you go:
1) Is it true that school psychologists mostly do only assessment, writing reports, and doing paperwork?
Yes. Doh! I bet you did not see that coming. My blog is mostly about the non-assessment times—the counseling, the teachable moments, the funny interactions and the curious ways I navigate Bureaucracy Monsters. That is because no one would read a blog about me writing psychoeducational assessments. “Hey gang! I just thought of a new way to describe the phonological segmentation subtest!” Zzzzzz.
That being said, I have two points.
First, psychoeducational assessment is fun. I enjoy it. I like figuring out the puzzle of how a kid learns best, having the one-on-one interaction with kids, helping them see their strengths, and weaving in sneaky social-emotional assessment along the way. I think the way kids approach tasks, how they react to success and failure, what they do when tasks become hard, and what they say during testing is more important than the score. Sure, giving the same test a zillion times can be boring, but each kid approaches it in a different way, so it makes it okay. It is an opportunity to have therapeutic moments in the context of kids’ most important job—learning and doing well in school.
Second, report writing can be fun. Okay, fun is a strong word. It is certainly time consuming and can be redundant. I would rather be with kids than writing about kids, but I see the report as a way to communicate all the gems of information I found out about a student with the teachers, parents, support staff, and even the student. If my report changes someone’s view on the student, then they are more likely to change how they interact or teach the student. It’s one of those subtle ways to make a difference in a kid’s life. It doesn’t make for good Hollywood movies or blog posts, but it can be powerful stuff.
Third, (fine, so I have more than two points—quelle surprise) I have a unique situation that I have crafted for myself so I don’t do just testing and report writing. I am in a fairly progressive district in that they have funding structures set up for increased counseling time at school sites. An even more progressive district would have Response to Intervention and there would be even less testing, more intervention. Also, I am part time in the school district and part time in private practice (see question 4 below) so I get a mix.
2) What are the things you like the most about your job?
The yoots! Obviously. That answer is way too easy. Some of the other things I enjoy: the variety, the action/drama, the collaboration with others, the school schedule (como se dice SPRING BREAK and summers off?), the challenge, seeing inspirational teaching, and talking with tons of different people every day. I’m an ENFJ, I thrive in social chaos.
3) What do you dislike?
Knock knock. Who’s there? The Bureaucracy MONSTER.
It’s always there. It always knocks on my door and has me fill out a piece of paper I already filled out 4 times. Like the little Weight Watchers Monster, it is lurking everywhere. Only instead of donuts (yum) it lurks with paperwork that I have to do. It steals away my time with the kids. It keeps me from having a working plug in my office which creates a trip wire situation when I plug in my laptop or baby space heater since there's no heat. It prevents a nice quiet space to work in with a working phone and voicemail. Oh, my kingdom to have voicemail…Boo on the Bureaucracy Monster.
Another hazard of our profession is that it’s a job that is very hard to employ traditional time management skills, even if you are a super organized nerdy nerd like myself. ** When you have a never-ending to-do list and no real way to prioritize one kid over another, you end up being frantically paralyzed on some days. And unlike a corporate job, the result of not getting to your action item has an effect not on a bottom line, but on kids lives. Not to get all hero complex on you, that’s just a perspective I have when I don’t get to all my students in a day. Truth is, they survive, but I find myself wanting to do more, Every. Single. Day. If you like a sense of completion, you will not like this job. Sorry, but there are few nice and neat therapy boxes. You do your best, plant the seeds, and hope they grow.
4)What is the difference between a masters/specialist-level and a Ph.D-level school psychologist? What are the advantages of having a Ph.D.?
We have established that I loved school so much I played it on the weekends. I get giddy when I see Target’s back to school ads. A Ph.D. was a clear choice for a school nerd like me. Now, if you are deciding between a Masters level or Ph.D. level program, here’s some things to consider:
Lemmie break it down, and people, do correct me if there are situations in your states that are different. In California, you do not need a Ph.D. to be a school psychologist, but some school psychologists have Ph.Ds. You DO need a Ph.D. to be a clinical psychologist (or commonly referred to just as “psychologist”). I realize this doesn’t make sense, semantically, that a psychologist is different from a school psychologist. But it is. I will put them in a hierarchy from least training/time to most training/time. More is not always better, mind you there are FAB masters level school psychologists, and Ph.D. level psychologists that I wonder if their license came out of a lucky cracker jack box.
a) Masters Level/Specialist School Psychologist: As the name implies, it requires a Masters degree. Usually it takes about 2 years coursework and 1 year internship. You are ready to go work in a school district.
b) Licensed Educational Psychologist: This exists only in California, as far as I know. This is a school psychologist (M.A. or Ph.D.) who has 3 or more years experience and can pass a state test to do private practice. They can do psychoeducational assessments and therapy as long as the therapy is for a school related issue.
c) Ph.D. Level School Psychologist: Ph.D. programs in school psychology usually take 5-7 years on average. You typically get your M.A. and credential along the way to getting your Ph.D. When you finish, you are ready to go to work in a school district with fancier business cards and possible a slightly higher pay scale. You can thrown down, “Um, that’s DOCTOR Branstetter, Ms. Annoying Advocate who doesn’t really understand how these things work.” Other advantages: You can teach at the University level to train future school psychologists, some districts may be more likely to hire you because you have more training.
d) Licensed Psychologist: This requires a Ph.D. and TONS of post-doctoral supervised clinical hours of experience. You also have to take a state and national test and pay a hojillion dollars for the privilege of taking them. Oh, did I say that outloud? I’m still a little bitter. Anyhoo, a licensed psychologist can do private practice, which includes psychoeducational assessment and counseling. They are not limited to only kids and school-related issues.
What’s important for people considering school psychology is that the job is exactly the same if you are employed by a school district, regardless if you have a M.A. or Ph.D. I do the same work as my friends without Ph.Ds. If you are content to work in the school in this role, no need to get a Ph.D.
Advantages of the Ph.D. include more training (usually in the area of research and clinical/counseling training), fancier business cards, and the ability to go on and do private practice. This is what I did. I got my school psychology M.A. and credential, began working in the schools and simultaneously did my dissertation while working part-time (oh! The painful memories!) A dissertation is no easy feat, my friends, especially while working in your first few years as a school psychologist. But I survived, and then did additional post-doctoral work to be a psychologist (again, a licensed psychologist credential is a whole new set of training, tests, and supervised professional experience).
Oh, and I don't know how Ed.Ds or PsyDs fit into all this. If anyone does, do explain.
5) Why are you so awesome?
Okay, fine, no one has ever asked me that.
* Of course, it wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t offer a disclaimer. My advice is based (and biased toward) my own experiences. It’s probably pretty Californiocentric as well. Don’t go makin’ life changes on my word only. I don’t want to get hate Email down the road: You said you loved your job and I hate mine!
**What? You don’t use a label maker to label all your spice jars and put them in alphabetical order too? Huh.
Monday, May 17, 2010
I have this fantasy every year that my students I counsel in the schools all suddenly become self-actualized on June 15th or so. On the last day of school, they all finally "get it" and together, we magically get to tie the bow on the therapy box together. Off they go, with their newly developed coping skills in their therapy box, always readily accessible for their summer plans and the next school year.
This is a fantasy.
Last year, I thought I made a breakthrough with a girl who was cutting herself. We had a beautiful session together in May in which she proudly admitted she didn't need to cut anymore. I started imagining her perfect therapy box tied up with a neat little ribbon. Oh, and then she ran away from home and I never saw or heard from her again. Around that same time, I had a boy leave a beautiful reflective session with me at the end of the year only to hear he punched out a kid the same day.
This year, around January, I had a breakthrough with one of my boys I'm trying to keep out of a gang, and then lo and behold, today, he was back to the mentality he had when I met him.
My final hope for a tidy end to therapy is a girl I work with who has basically refused to talk to me about anything remotely related to feelings all year. As in:
Me: How was your weekend?
Me: How would you like to spend our time together today?
Me: Perhaps you would like to pick something from this menu of activities?
Me: We can sit here in silence if you would prefer. I'm okay with that too.
AAAAAAAAAARRG. She finally opened up around February and we have been getting into some pretty serious conversations together. Ah, I can envision the therapy bow neatly wrapping up the....screeeeeeeeeeech...(record scratches). And we're back to square one today and she is radio silent again.
Fortunately, I have enough experience to know that the resurgence of the issues that originally brought the student to counseling at the end of the school year is a common process. As kids anticipate the "end" or "termination" of the school year and the therapeutic relationship, they begin to present the original symptoms. It's as if to say, "See? I still need you." Then there are others who have difficulties with transitions and goodbyes, and want to be in control of the situation, so they push back against my efforts. It's as if to say, "Hey! You can't fire me, I quit you!"
These "termination issues" are challenging if you don't realize they are coming. They happen sometimes on the classroom level as well. And not to be a Me-Monster, but check out this article about how to help kids with the last days of school.
And for the record, yes, therapists can experience termination issues too. I am already missing my students. But I won't be acting out...I promise.
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