Archive for the ‘School Psychology’ Category

Shine On

In the brave new Web 2.0 world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a million other social networks, blogs can feel downright old-fashioned at times; so much so that I wonder how many people actually read them (or this one).  My fellow blogging school psychologist Mo evidently does, as she tagged me in her latest post, in which she nominated me for a “Lighthouse Award”.


I haven’t done a good old-fashioned (there’s that phrase again) blog meme in a long time, so here goes.  The rules:

  1. Display the Award certificate on your blog.
  2. Write a post and link back to the blogger that nominated you.
  3. Inform your nominees of their award nominations
  4. Share three ways that you like to help other people.
  5. There is no limit to the number of people that you can nominate.

Anyone with a career in education helps people constantly, but to narrow it down a bit, these are my top three ways in which I try to help:

  1. I provide assistance, guidance, advice, and options in a rational and non-judgmental way.
  2. I empower teachers to grow as practitioners in my role as a professional development consultant.
  3. I listen more than I speak (at least I try to).

I read blogs daily from people in a wide variety of educational roles, but in the interest of professional visibility, I’m nominating a handful of school psychologists.  I believe we are seriously underrepresented in the educational blogosphere, so I want to round up a few that I know of and hopefully create some new connections for any school psychs in the audience. Thank you all for your contributions to my learning:

I know it’s a short list, but a) I didn’t want to double-dip on Mo’s list (check them all out as well!) and b) didn’t I tell you there’s just not that many of us?

Shine on.

Habits of Mind: Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision

Quick programming note: I am on the cusp of finishing the coursework in my doctoral program, which means that from here on out, my dissertation is the last thing between me and a funny hat and three more letters after my name.  That project will be taking up the majority of my free time for the foreseeable future, so I will likely only be blogging once per month (as opposed to my regular twice) for a while.  


This post is part of a series on sixteen “Habits of Mind” put forth by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick as being “necessary for success in school, work, and life” (Costa & Kallick, 2010, p. 212).

Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision: Be clear!  Striving for accurate communication in both written and oral form; avoiding overgeneralizations, distortions, and deletions.

I think anyone who works in the special education field long enough develops fluency in a second language comprised entirely of acronyms.  Between IEP, FAPE, PLAAFP, LRE, ICS, SLD, ADHD, ODD, BIP, FBA, CBA, WISC, BASC, and countless others, I’m convinced I could hold a conversation in public with another special educator that would absolutely confound eavesdroppers.

I’m a longtime reader (and big fan) of Jim Gerl’s Special Education Law Blog, and last year he posted a footnote from a court decision that read, in part:

One suspects that regulators and bureaucrats love such jargon because it makes even simple matters cognizable only to the cognoscenti and thus enhances their power at the expense of people who only know English. Nevertheless, acronyms have so invaded IDEA practice that this judge, like others before him, is pretty much stuck with having to use them.

Jim then posed the question of whether the use (or overuse) of acronyms is an ethical issue in special education.  I absolutely believe it is, and I am absolutely guilty of being on the wrong side of it at times.

Every profession has jargon; it’s a shorthand that people who know the ecosystem use with others “in the know”.  I don’t ask my behavior specialist to conduct a functional behavior analysis; I ask her for an FBA, and it’s fine because we both know exactly what we mean when we use that term.  But that use of jargon can also be exclusionary, and while I believe it’s OK to use in that professional shorthand capacity, we must be doubly aware of our language choices when working with folks who do not live in “our bubble” in order to create an inclusive, welcoming environment.

Like I said, I’m hardly innocent.  I’ve become so accustomed to using that shorthand that I may use it when speaking with parents in IEP meetings, for example, when referring to ICS (In-Class Support) vs. OCR (Out-of-Class Replacement) classes.  I’ve been stopped and asked to clarify or explain myself, and while I’m happy to, I am disappointed in myself that I had to put someone in a position where I was so unclear they needed to stop me and ask for an explanation.  I’m sure it makes them feel excluded to some degree, which is never my intention, but is nevertheless the result.

Language should facilitate communication, not hinder it.  Jargon is OK to use when we are communicating with people who know the language.  When we are not, however, it is imperative that we shift linguistic gears and stop using acronyms unless we are 100% sure that everybody in the conversation knows what they mean.  If we can’t be sure, use plain English.  I try to be a self-aware, reflective professional, and this is an area I can improve upon.  At the very least, “forthright explanation of services” is an explicitly stated part of NASP’s professional ethics code for school psychologists, but you don’t need to see it in a formal document to know that you can’t have inclusive, team-oriented interactions unless everybody is speaking the same language.


Costa, A.L. & Kallick, B.  (2010).   It takes some getting used to: rethinking curriculum for the 21st century.  In H. H. Jacobs (Ed.), Curriculum 21: essential education for a changing world (pp. 210-226).  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

New Blog on the Block

In an effort to both a) document the work we do at our school to support character education and social-emotional growth and b) publicize that information to our district’s community, the guidance counselors and Child Study Team at my school have started a blog!

In just the first two weeks of its existence, the blog already has five posts by three different authors (there are eight staff members between the two departments).  It is also interesting to see how it has started to evolve from the original intent – simply documenting and publicizing the character ed activities in our school and how they align to our Six Pillars of Character – to also sharing resources with readers (see Dr. Todd’s and Ms. Kabo’s posts on relaxed performances and the impact of irregular sleep habits on behavior, respectively).

I have to admit, I’m very curious to see how this blog develops over the course of the school year.  I’ve been blogging here for over six years now, but have never been part of a group blog before (save for two posts I wrote for a parenting blog back in 2008).  I can’t wait to see how the group effort gels once we’ve all had a chance to bring our perspective to it.

In the meantime, if your school’s Guidance Dept. and/or Child Study Team has their own blog or Facebook page, please leave a link in the comments – we would appreciate any models we can get our hands on!

Seeking Special Educators

Last summer, I had the opportunity to teach my first graduate course at Delaware Valley College, Developmental Disabilities.  Aside from professional development workshops, this was the first teaching I’d done since leaving my high school English position to become a school psychologist.  I had a fantastic time guiding future teachers as they learned about developmental disabilities and the legal and ethical issues surrounding special education, and I managed to not screw up too badly do well enough that I was invited back to teach again this summer.  That’s where you come in!

I would like to bring the vast experiences of my PLN into this class.  One of my assignments will require my students to interview a special educator.  Since many of my students have limited, if any, connections to schools and teachers, I would like to provide them with a list of special education teachers (current or former) who would be willing to answer some questions, likely over Skype or telephone.  I am also seeking guest speakers (professionals, parents, etc.) who would be willing to Skype in to our class one Tuesday or Thursday evening for a discussion with the class.

Last year, I had several more volunteers than I had students, which was an awesome problem to have, and I hope to have a similar response this year.  If you would like to be part of this experience, please add your name, contact info, and level of interest to this Google Doc.  Thank you all for your consideration, and I hope either I or my students will be speaking with you soon!

My Road to School Psychology

I am told that being a school psychologist with a teaching background is an unusual thing.  It’s true, I don’t know many other school psychs who were previously teachers, but I don’t know how common or uncommon that is.

For a recent graduate school assignment, we had to write a reflection piece about an important professional decision we had to make.  I chose to write about my journey from teaching to school psychology.  Here it is, only slightly edited:


Perhaps one of the most important professional decisions I have faced was in 2008, when I decided to leave my position as a classroom teacher.  While people leave the teaching profession every day, and at an alarming rate overall, my decision was slightly more nuanced than that.  I was not chucking it all in and leaving education behind forever in order to start my own business or enter the world of private industry.  Rather, I was looking to make what amounted to a lateral move professionally and financially, but one I felt would lead to quality of life improvements for me personally, as well as for my family.

From 2000 until 2008, I taught English at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, NJ.  It is a large suburban high school (3,200 students in grades 9-12) with a fairly progressive approach to both academics and technology.  I was one of about 30 teachers in the English department, and despite some typical cliquishness that one finds in any work situation, we were all a pretty collegial bunch.  As a new teacher, I found that my English department colleagues were all only too happy to share materials, lesson plan ideas, constructive criticism, and the occasional shoulder to cry on.  After a rocky first year of teaching, I began to establish myself as what most folks considered to be a good teacher – my performance reviews were good, most students and parents seemed to like me, and of course I loved working with my students. In 2002, I began a Master’s program in English literature at my undergraduate alma mater, but dropped out of the program after the first two classes (not courses; class sessions, which is very unlike me).  After my class spent six hours torturously explicating the first four lines of an Emily Dickinson poem, I decided that my academic interests lay elsewhere.

A week or so later, I came across an advertisement for coursework at Rider University that would lead to a teaching certification in special education.  At that point I had no career aspirations to be a special education teacher, but as I reflected on my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, I realized that working with kids with special needs was probably the part of my job about which I knew the least.  Nothing in my undergraduate teacher training program covered special education, so what little (very little) I knew, I learned on the job co-teaching inclusion English classes with a special education teacher.  It seemed to me that undertaking this course of study would be most beneficial not only for me as a professional, but also for the students I taught, so that fall I enrolled in my first of six courses in the certification cycle, “Psychology of Exceptionality”.

This course was taught by an adjunct instructor from Rider, a school psychologist named Tom Barnes.  Tom had a very easygoing demeanor and a dry sense of humor that matched my own, so I felt very comfortable in his class learning about all manner of physical and cognitive disabilities to which I was previously oblivious.  In addition to teaching us the factual basis of the course material, he also often editorialized from his professional perspective as a school psychologist, which I found interesting.  By the time I finished the course I had exhausted my employer’s tuition reimbursement for that academic year, so I had to wait until summer to take the next two courses in the sequence, “Psychology of Learning Disabilities” and “Positive Behavior Support”.

These two courses were also taught by school psychologists who were also the co-chairs of Rider’s graduate program in school psychology at the time, Stefan Dombrowski and Kathy McQuillan.  I found myself becoming very interested in the subject matter, especially the coursework that revolved around behavior analysis and behavior support later in the summer.  While I was taking these courses with the ostensible goal of earning a special education teacher certification, I learned at some point over the summer that they were also courses in the Ed.S. in School Psychology program, which was significantly longer (60 credits in coursework and practica, plus a 1,200-hour, 6 credit internship), but led to an Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) degree as well as K-12 certification as a school psychologist.  At that time, I was drawn to the degree program primarily due to the intellectual stimulation it provided, but also with the idea that I could have another option if I decided at some point in the future I no longer wanted to teach English.  I spoke several times with Dr. McQuillan, completed some paperwork and an interview, and that following fall, I matriculated into the Ed.S. program in school psychology on a part-time basis.

Over the next five years, I took all my courses at what felt to be a very slow rate – one in the fall, one in the spring, and two in the summer.  Full-time students could expect to complete the program, including internship, in three years.  From the time I enrolled in my first course, it took me twice that time to complete my degree, during which I got engaged, got married, bought a house, sold it, and bought another one, and had two kids.  I did this all while teaching high school English full time, which also carries with it a substantial amount of time spent outside of school planning, grading, and the most time-consuming part, reading and commenting on student writing.  As one might expect, graduate school became a major time commitment for me when my time was sorely needed elsewhere, most significantly with helping with our firstborn when he was an infant.  There were several times, especially between 2005 and 2007, when I had to ask myself if continuing the degree program was worth the monumental amount of time it was taking, in terms of both the extended length of the program as well as time away from my wife and child.  When I was home, I was either doing coursework for grad school or doing prep work or grading for my day job.  At that point, however, I decided that I was more than halfway through the program, and quitting at that point would probably make any tensions at home even worse, since all the time previously spent would have been for nothing.

My daughter was born in early 2008, by which time I had started my last class and was three months away from graduation.  At that point we had been through the “new baby” routine once already, and were better prepared for the time budgeting demands that baby, work, and grad school would put on the family.  I had also evolved in terms of my professional life.  I was in my eighth year of teaching, was one of the more senior members of my department, and was respected at my school as a good teacher and an innovator in the curricular integration of technology.  After I graduated with my degree and certification in May 2008, I had to face the big decision: do I stay in teaching, or do I leave to become a school psychologist full time?

Lots of factors came into play in this decision. I had to compare what I would be giving up to what I would gain.  Leaving to take a new position would entail losing tenure, seniority, and the social capital gained by my established reputation.  I stood to make significantly more money, but because of the way our contractual pay scale was structured, I would get that anyway simply by virtue of the fact that I had attained a degree plus X amount of credits.  I did not have to leave teaching in order to get that financial reward, since school psychologists and teachers are paid on the same pay scale in most NJ districts.  Finally, I would lose the daily interactions and relationships I had with students.  Beside the professional aspects, there was also the personal: my wife and I met working at Hunterdon Central together, and we had both worked there for the entirety of our relationship, from colleagues to boyfriend/girlfriend to married couple.  How would things change if I left?

Of course, I did finally decide to seek employment as a school psychologist for the following school year, but it was not without a lot of soul-searching and hand-wringing.  I think the deciding factor came down to the out-of-school commitment teachers make.  It is no secret that teachers spend hours upon hours after school and on weekends grading and preparing lesson plans, and I was no different.  Moving to school psychology would remove that component, allowing me to spend more quality time after school and on weekends with my family.  No more rushing home to fret about ungraded work or foregoing the occasional evening event because I needed to tweak tomorrow’s lesson plans.  While my new career path is not without its own stressors, it is also not without its own special brand of rewards.  After eight years of sacrificing a lot of personal, “off the clock” time to my job, I feel that the professional decision I made four years ago was the right one, not only for me, but for my family as well.

Throughout my previous graduate school experience, there were so many factors that played into the decisions I made.  As I described, my gut reaction to the traditional English M.A. program, my intellectual interest in the field of school psychology, the genesis and growth of my own family, and the professional hurdles I faced all played into my decision making process at one point or another.  In reflection, I often wonder if I could or should have done things differently.  I do not regret leaving teaching to become a school psychologist.  Yes, there are days when I miss the regular teacher-student interaction and the relationships I formed with many young adults over the years, but I’ve since found new ways to make a difference in young people’s lives.  Perhaps the only thing I wish I had done differently was to tone down the intensity of the coursework during some of those summers, especially after the birth of our first child.  I think that my singular focus on getting the degree done was probably to the detriment of my wife, if not my son, and I probably unfairly burdened her (also a full-time teacher) with the brunt of the childcare responsibilities for a period of time.  Although I was glad to finish the degree when I did, I perhaps could have stretched it out another year and made my wife’s life a bit easier, as well as spent more time with my infant son.  I hope, however, that I am making up for that lost time, both now as well as in the future.