5 Things You Didn’t Know About Mental Health and School Psychologists

By Kristen Cain, M.A., LSSP

WHAT DO SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGISTS DO?

According to the National Association of School Psychology (NASP), “school psychologists provide direct support and interventions to students, consult with teachers, families, and other school-employed mental health professionals (i.e., school counselors, school social workers) to improve support strategies; work with school administrators to improve school wide practices and policies; and collaborate with community providers to coordinate needed services”.

WHAT ROLE DO SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGISTS PLAY IN SCHOOLS?

School psychologists play an important role by helping schools to successfully promote positive behavior and mental health. Here are 5 ways that school psychologists help to promote positive behavior and mental health:

  • Improving student’s communication and social skills:
    • School psychologists work to improve communication and social skills by providing teachers and students with strategies and resources they need to be successful in the school and community settings. Research has shown that children’s developmental competence is integral to their academic competence (Masten et al., 2005).
  • Assessing student’s emotional and behavioral needs:
    • According to the Department of Health and Human Services an estimated 15 million of our nation’s young people can currently be diagnosed with a mental health disorder. There is a great need for these student’s to be assessed and provided with the best social-emotional services in the education setting based on their needs. School psychologists work with students and their families to identify and address learning and behavior problems that interfere with school success. School-based behavioral consultation has been shown to yield positive results such as remediating academic and behavior problems for children and reducing referrals for psychoeducational assessments (MacLeod, Jones, Somer, & Havey, 2001).
  • Promoting problem solving anger management, and conflict resolution:
    • School psychologists work with students in individual and group settings to help provide emotional/behavior services to help improve student’s outcomes.
  • Reinforce positive coping skills and resilience:
    • School psychologists work with students and their families to support students’ social, emotional, and behavioral health and research has shown that students who receive this type of support achieve better academically in school (Bierman et al., 2010; Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011; Fleming et al., 2005).
  • Make referrals and coordinate services with community-based providers:
    • School psychologists work with parents and administrators to respond to crises by providing leadership, direct services, and coordination with needed community services and research has revealed that school staff rate the crisis intervention services provided by school psychologists as very important (Watkins, Crosby, & Pearson, 2007). These referrals are often made to community services agencies, related to mental health needs.

School psychologists have extensive training in assessment, progress monitoring, instruction, child development and psychology, consultation, counseling, crisis response, program evaluation, and data collection and analysis. Their training is specific to applying this expertise within the school context, both general education and special education, and includes extensive knowledge in school systems and law (NASP 2010a, 2010b).

Learn how Rethink Ed supports School Psychologists at www.rethinked.com.

Empowering Paraprofessionals in the Classroom

The first few weeks after Labor Day usually indicates a return to school and the end of summer for families nationwide. Those first few weeks of school are usually dedicated to setting expectations, drilling down routines, and planning curriculum for the current cohort of students. While this is certainly an important part of school culture, do schools spend enough time building relationships amongst staff members?

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Education stated that 91% of schools employ instructional paraprofessionals and half of those paraprofessionals work in special education. Over the decades, the surge of paraprofessionals in schools allowed for greater 1:1 support for teachers and students. However, often the paraprofessional/teacher relationship becomes hierarchical and the paraprofessionals are assigned menial tasks. This is often to the detriment of students and teachers. Here are three simple ways teachers can better include paraprofessionals throughout the day:

  • Receive feedback:

Paraprofessionals are a great avenue for self-reflection. They are an extra set of eyes, hands, and sanity! Make a point to ask for feedback daily. Listen to their thoughts on methods for teaching a lesson, addressing behavior, or arranging the classroom.  Remember they are a part of the classroom culture and it is important to make them feel seen and heard.

  • Assign roles:

It is essential to assign roles and create a plan of action for each paraprofessional. By creating a schedule, paraprofessionals understand their roles and expectations and can better prepare for each day. Be courteous and do not have a paraprofessional complete a task that you would not do yourself. They are an important part of the classroom and deserve to be treated with respect.

  • Share teaching opportunities:

Paraprofessionals are qualified educators so allow them to take ownership during academic time. Allow paraprofessionals to lead calendar time, an academic station, or a fun cooking activity. It is important that students see paraprofessionals as academic leaders in the classroom so give them the space to take on that role.  While students are working in independent stations, during PLC time, or after school, sit with the paraprofessional and provide any additional training and support.  Show teaching videos, provide resources, or discuss research-based practices and create a paraprofessional toolkit that empowers independence. Then, allow the paraprofessional to practice the skill in the classroom and provide follow up support.

We know that relationships are an important component of learning for our students but let’s not forget our staff members as well. The Council for Exceptional Children (2012) found that the relationship between paraprofessionals and teachers is an essential component to classroom culture and the success of students. So, empower your paraprofessional, share the teaching space, and watch your students flourish over the year!

3 Tips for Increasing Parental Engagement This School Year

It’s September and schools are back in session!  For educators, it is that magical time of year when anything seems possible.  You’re refreshed and ready to make this year the best ever.  You want all your students to have a successful year!  And you know that a key component to any educational program is parental engagement, especially for children with special needs.  But with the demands of today’s parents, getting appropriate parental engagement can be a challenge, and this is compounded for the parents of children with special needs.

Before we discuss ways to encourage parental engagement, let’s first look at what we mean by parental engagement. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines parental engagement in schools as parents and school staff working together to support and improve the learning, development, and health of children and adolescents. Schools and parents have the responsibility for educating our children (retrieved from CDC)

There are many benefits to parental engagement across the board, but particularly for students with special needs including:

  • Increased parental involvement and collaboration in the development of their child’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP)
  • Greater confidence and ability on the part of the parent to educate their own child
  • Better understanding on the part of the educator as to the special needs of each student
  • Higher student success due to the generalization of skills and consistency between home and school

Unfortunately, barriers to parental engagement do exist.  Some of these barriers are due to: cultural or language differences, special education law that can be difficult to understand, lack of time, past negative experiences, and lack of training on the part of the educator to effectively facilitate engagement.

What can you do to eliminate the barriers and make it easier for parents to engage? Here are three keys to increasing parental engagement.

Treat Parents as Partners.

Do you respect the role the parent has in the education of their child with special needs?  Do you actively invite parents to meet ahead of the IEP to set goals together?  Do you accommodate their schedules and consider their cultural contributions or differences?  Do you think about how to improve parent participation in the decision-making process?  These are just a few questions that can help you think about parents as partners in their child’s education.

Here are a few ways to help your parents’ partner with you:

  • Consider your message before the IEP happens. Did you invite them to listen to you and others tell them about their child or did you invite them to participatein the meeting and share their knowledge of their child?
  • Wait for the parents outside the meeting room prior to the IEP and walk in together as a team. That will be much less intimidating for the parents than walking into a room full of “experts” sitting and staring.
  • Understand that some cultures interact with educators and other school professionals differently. A parent may be agreeing with the proposed goals because they want to be polite and respectful.
  • Invite parents to ask questions and give them a platform to suggest goals they have for their child.
  • Take time toeducate the parents. Explain any special education jargon, provide them with resources, and connect them with other support programs such as translation services, if needed.
  • Let the parents know you are genuinely interested in what they have to say.
  • Create tool kits that provide parents with activities and resources to extend the learning into the home. The tool kits may also include tips and strategies for teaching their child or websites they can go to for additional activities or information.
  • Work with the parents to set realistic parent participation goals. They are the parent, not the teacher. Remember, the goal is quality, not quantity of involvement.

Create an Effective Communication System.

The goal of an effective communication system is to bridge the gap between home and school by providing a way to share concerns, successes, behavioral challenges, stressors, and changes.

There are many ways to implement such a system.  Choose the method that is simple and works best for you and the parent. The easier the system, the more it will be used.  And again, remember, quality of communication is more important than the quantity of communication.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Connect at the beginning of the year and ask parents what information they want. Perhaps you can come up with a checklist together, that’s easy to use and sends home meaningful information. The same goes the other way too. For example, create a checklist for things you want to know from home such as changes in sleep patterns, nutrition, or family relations.
  • Use a notebook that goes back and forth from home to school in the child’s backpack. You can report IEP progress or write anecdotes about the child’s day, etc. and the parent can write back questions or concerns. This can happen on a daily basis.
  • Many teachers use texts or email to communicate (check with the parents first for the most preferred method). They may find this less intrusive and intimidating than a phone call and allows the parents to think and respond on their schedule. If a phone call is necessary, perhaps send a text to say, “Can we set up a time to chat on the phone?”  This allows the parent to choose a time that works for them.
  • Schedule home visits, if appropriate.  This may help parents who lack transportation or have other circumstances that keep them from coming to school.

Create a Welcoming Climate.

Welcome your parents into your classroom in many ways and for many purposes.  The more you know your parents, the easier it is to work with them as partners.  Inviting parents into your classroom also provides an opportunity for family networking, bringing families together with other parents to share resources, empathy, and support.

Some ways to help parents to feel welcome in the classroom include:

  • Volunteering for special events and holiday parties, field trips, family and friends’ breakfasts, guest speakers, photo shares, parent presentations, etc.
  • Providing ways for parents to volunteer without having to come into the classroom, such as organizing and preparing materials that require cutting, collating, or stapling.
  • Volunteering to read to or with students or provide one-on-one assistance to students in the library or media center.
  • Inviting parents to attend presentations or view displays by the students or to school assemblies when appropriate.

So, as you set up for another successful school year, I encourage you to think about your parents as partners. You are the educator! You’re good at it! But reaching out to your students’ parents as partners will help you help your students and make your job a little bit easier!