Monday, June 9, 2014

Education's Eight Blunders of the World

As a personal guidepost, I’ve always referred to Ghandi’s Eight Blunders of the World in order to guide my life and decisions.  The blunders came out of a context of civil rights and revolution in India, but are particularly relevant in today’s world.  Ghandi’s Eight Blunders of the World are as follows:

Wealth without Work
Pleasure without Conscience
Knowledge without Character
Commerce without Morality
Science without Humanity
Worship without Sacrifice
Politics without Principals
Rights without Responsibilities

I’ve recently thought about how these guiding words can be applied to the world of education.  On a certain level, every one of these principles does apply, but I thought I’d take a shot at trying to adapt their meaning to specifically working in schools.  Here’s my offer:

Learning without Sharing 

As educators it is our responsibility to learn as much as possible about our field.  Good educators are always engaging in continual professional development in order to further that knowledge in order to use that knowledge to help others.  Thus, it is not just important that we GAIN knowledge, as we go a step further to share that knowledge with as many people as possible in the education world.  That includes sharing with students, parents, staff, and with your Personal Learning Network.  It is in the sharing where the real value of learning happens.

Collaborating without Listening 

We often take on roles in education to collaborate with others in order to broaden what we have to offer to students, families and schools.  However, as much as I have learned over the years through formal education, attending conferences, reading, and modeling others, I know I only have a limited piece to offer compared to what the entire educational community has to offer as well.  Thus, it is incumbent on me, and on educators to do their best listening to others.  Listen to ideas and suggestions, incorporate others creativity and best practices, listen to how your approach positively (or negatively) impacts others.  Collaboration is a two-way street, and that happens through actively being mindful about engaging in reflective listening. 

Expertise without Relationships 

Plenty of professionals in the education world bring a vast world of expertise to the table to help staff and students learn.  Oftentimes, however, having this expertise is a necessary but not sufficient condition to advice being acted on in a real and invested way.  In order for this to happen, the leader, or teacher, needs to develop strong working relationships.  These relationships set a foundation of trust, and with trust, people are more likely to open their ears to taking risks and trying new things.

Recommendations without Empathy 

As educators, we make recommendations every day to students and families, that often have vast impacts on lives outside of the school’s walls.  When we make these recommendations, we should always step into another’s shoes and evaluate impact.  We want to leave students and families in a better place in the future and should be guided by the medical Hippocratic Oath – First do no harm.

Teaching without Guiding 

There is plenty of important information in this world that needs to be communicated to our students every day.  It is our responsibility to not just give information to students, however, but to guide them in how to use new found knowledge to empower their lives.  Teachers don’t want to be just the providers of information (Google is a provider), but to be a guide to walk students towards a better future fostering analytic reasoning, and creativity on their chosen path.

Working without Giving Back 

We all must realize that we are fortunate to work in communities that have taken us in as leaders to guide the community’s children and educate them.  The community has put trust in us to do this and has provided the resources for us to do so.  We should recognize that we are now an important part of these communities, and we should make efforts to give back in ways that leave them in a better place than we found them.

Decision Making without Vision 

Very often we make decisions impulsively, yet we should never act on impulse.  There should be a guiding vision that serves as a foundation for decisions for students, families, and schools.  Without a guiding vision, we too often list back and forth without a clear plan, and we begin to become disorganized, and lack cohesion in our efforts.

Rights without Responsibilities 

This blunder I left the same, as it continues to apply as stated.  We have rights as teachers, staff members, and community members.  The rights, however, do not come without the responsibility of doing what is in the best interest of students.  Student benefit should be at the center of all of our plans and actions, and we must always reflect and consider our actions in relation to this goal.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

School Psychologists - Bringing Value to the Table

This weekend I attended #Edcampphilly, a great un-conference which included many outstanding connected educators. We had just come from a conversation about school crisis prevention and intervention, and I was thinking along those lines, and more broadly about the role of school psychologists in schools.   I sat down to lunch with a great principal I've gotten to know over the past year who works in a different state not to far off from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  The role of the school psychologist was brought up, and the principal began to talk about how he did not have the best experience with his psychologist.  I told him that this annoyed me (not knowing the school psychologist) because, in my mind, when that perception occurs, it sends the message that we as psychs don't bring value to the table.  It is not good advertising for the role of the school psychologist.

For the next 24 hours I reflected on this, and on the thought of the role of school psychologist.  What do we bring to the table?  Too often I believe school psychologists get stuck in roles of testing for special education.  Granted, that has been a primary role in most places I've come across that employ school psychs, but I believe that both through my own schooling, internships, experience, and teaching, that we can bring a vast degree of expertise to schools that too often goes untapped.  Part of the problem may be our own fault.  Have we advertised our skills?  Have we volunteered and contributed to all areas of education?  

Psychologists are well trained in the area of assessment, but we also offer broad and diverse skills in behavioral consultation, crisis intervention, individual and group counseling, systems consultation, and academic skills consultation.  Our training is based in a scientist practitioner model, and we use a research base to guide our practice. We get involved at an individual level, with classrooms, with families.  We can contribute on a macro level, with district wide change or sit on county or state committees.  Psychologists can use the power of social media to learn and to advertise what we can do, and spread the word through our Personal Learning Networks, through conferences and collaborations.

Cognizant of the idea that we need to advertise our role, and bring value to schools, I'm always looking to expand my role.  Psychologists should look to volunteer their services, on district and school wide committees, to help with difficult cases and problems, or to offer a different perspective on how to handle particular situations.  I generally try to check in with the administrators of my buildings to offer support and services, volunteer for initiatives, and to try to keep a pulse on student and building needs.  I view myself as an advocate for how services can be improved in schools, and how we can make stronger connections for students and families.  I like to think that I'm constantly on the lookout to remove roadblocks to help support students to improve their academic and emotional well-being. Most psychologists do this, we are trained to do it, and it's instinctual.  What we need to do, is a better job of not waiting for people to walk through our door to ask for help, but to go out of our way to walk through other people's doors to offer it.  I hope to continue to improve in this area, and hope that other psychologists are doing the same thing around the country, so principals are having conversations with statements like:  "That psychologist brings a lot of value to the table!"

Friday, March 7, 2014

Perseverance - By Jim Moczydlowski

I asked Permission from Jim Moczydlowski (@JMoczydlowski), Principal at Trumbauersville Elementary in the Quakertown Community School District (Quakertown, PA) to share this message. Jim is a great writer, and likely future blogger, who was a former school psychologist prior to becoming a principal. He shares a great deal of wisdom every week, and here is another great example with his thoughts on perseverance. Thanks Jim!


One of the most memorable thoughts on perseverance witnessed in school today came from a first grader in who made the connection between perseverance and commitment, when she said that she wants to improve her reading fluency, and thus practices her reading at home using Raz Kids.

Recently we defined perseverance not as a want, but as a commitment. Perseverance is not about wanting to get better or improving, it is about making a commitment to take action to improve. We said perseverance is not this big overwhelming commitment, but it is a series of small repetitive decisions that we commit to immediately. For example, if I want to become a better basketball player, then I can start today by practicing my dribbling when I get home from school. Sitting around and wanting to be a Michael Jordan isn’t going to make it happen.

Perseverance is about the here and now. It requires action that is within my reach and action I can take immediately. We have to convince kids perseverance is a habit they can develop… Just remind them of how they persevere when they play video games, and they will probably tell you, “Yeah, that’s because we’re motivated!” and then remind them they are motivated because of the success to failure ratio every video game has programmed into it. They are motivated because as they persevere they eventually experience success. The Goldilocks Effect… not too soft not too hard, but just right!

During our meetings I asked the students to think of something they wanted to get better at, and then I asked them the hard question, “What are you willing to do today when you get home to help yourself get better?”   I say this with all due respect, “Let’s stop preaching about perseverance and start to show them how to persevere.” Our job is to help them develop a structure/framework that they can realistically work within to experience success. This is more than a philosophy, it is a habit of repeated action that leads to improved performance regardless of the content or skill that one is focusing on. As teachers, let’s teach our kids how to persevere.

A starting point is to help the child create a system to self-monitor/track the trials of effort in relationship to the noticeable improvements. Like the first grader, the more time spent practicing reading, the higher the fluency rate goes up. Share your personal stories with your students, of how you have persevered over time. Bring this habit to life through your example. With our most challenging students, let us persevere in teaching them the habit of perseverance.

“Perseverance is not a long race: It is many short races, one after another.”
Walter Elliot

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Three Stress Tolerance Techniques I Use in Schools

I’m excited to be back this school year to re-establish long held relationships with students, families, faculty and staff.  I’m also excited that through my work as a psychologist, I can assist families and students to access needed resources for their emotional and academic learning.  With this excitement also comes stress, a great deal of it.  In the education business, we all feel this stress, and the most insidious kinds come from things that impact our lives that are out of our direct control.  In the broad education world, we have the implementation of the common core, standardized testing, politically based teacher evaluations, school improvement plans, and other so-called “accountability” measures from the ed reform movement.  More locally, we see budget cuts, limited staffing, special education legal requirements, locally based school board controversies, and so forth.  On a personal note, it is special education deadlines, large caseloads, and striking a balance between strong advocacy of a students and family’s needs with increasingly limited resources available.    What all this boils down to is stress.  Now as a psychologist, I often think, ok, my job is to help others manage stress; it may not be a good sign if I’m not managing my own particularly well.  I do try to do so, with varying degrees of success, and this current blog post is meant, in reality, to clarify in my mind what it is that I do to alleviate this stress.  If I can figure that out, I’m much more likely to be able to help students and staff with theirs.

My first stress tolerance technique is mindfulness. There are a lot of stressors out there.  Again, they are not under our direct control.  We can, however, control our own reaction to our environment.  A great way to direct my focus is the use of mindfulness.  This in short is maintaining yourself in the present moment.  Focus on every aspect of what you are doing to bring you into sharp focus.  Many take this a step further and practice meditation techniques to sharpen focus in a quiet setting.  They focus on breathing, or on things that are out of our usual present awareness, to bring them in.   Mindfulness can also be a daily work technique, some psychologists may refer to it as “flow.”  Focusing on writing without multitasking, the conversation in front of you without checking your phone, focusing on student observation without having your mind drift to what needs to be done later.  This focus in the present moment gives you the pleasure of enjoying what you are doing with your full attention.  Then other larger stressors stay off in the background.

The second technique is a simple reminder, which I try to do often, of why I’m in this business. --Focus on the students.  Many stressors invariably come to impact our daily work, and we have to address and deal with them to the best of our ability.  However, we need to keep our eye on the ball of focusing on kids and families regardless of how these other factors are playing out.  This means focusing on our day in and day out interactions with children and families, making sure they are positive.  It means making sure that we are, in our daily efforts,  in some way contributing to students and families, whether it is through our teaching and counseling interactions, or in my case, to get students needed supports.  I have lately been turning to Twitter for these reminders, as there is daily support there, from my PLN, about keeping the focus on kids.

Finally, take some time to enjoy activities that you are passionate about.  This is certainly true of focusing on our passions outside of the work setting (for me sports, art, music, reading, comedy).  What’s even better is if you can bring those passions into your work setting, especially as a teacher, AKA “Teach Like a Pirate” – (Dave Burgess) style.  Most professions have a certain drudgery component to them, in my case, special education paperwork, which is a necessary condition of doing business.  However, on a day in and day out basis we need to enjoy what we do in order to be successful.  This means spending time cultivating what you are good at, and the joys of your job. 

Everyone has different stress tolerance techniques that are their “go-to’s” to keep them sharp.  Mindfulness, keeping the focus on the kids, and cultivating my own interests and passions are the stress tolerance techniques that keep me relatively sane.  I often need daily reminders of these techniques to reset my own scale, to make sure I’m on the right path.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Back in the Game

It's funny what comes down the pike when you are forced into situations to make yourself more relevant.  I'm reflecting on this idea after reading Tony Sinasis' recent blog post about how his PLN saved his career -- It's a great post, please read it!  I identified with his notion of things sort of settling in to a situation where you do the same things every day.  Where you are stuck in routines and not growing.  I've had thoughts recently that I can't bear to give another IQ test, even though I probably have 150 ahead of me this year, with questionable value to student learning on top of it.  I've been caught up with the politics of fiscal conservatism vs. advocating for what kids need.  I had been in a long rut. The fact is though, I desperately don't want to be in one.

Here's the thing, however... Twitter refreshed my career too!  I'm back to being excited to learning again, and I have my wife @bekcikelly and @thomascmurray to thank for that.  It was they who introduced me to Twitter, despite many initial reservations.  Because of their encouragement and my change of mindset, I can now get online everyday and talk freely and openly about being a school psychologist, and what a school psychologist should be doing --working every day to help students learn, both academically and emotionally.   Or, I can have grander conversations about being an educator, and what that means in a 21st century world.  In addition, I can protest the grounding of education from the standardized test movement. Even better, I can advocate for increased mental health services in schools and increased social/emotional learning.  Honestly, I feel like I have a voice again!

Twitter has also helped me become less isolated.  Being a school psychologist can be an isolating position at times.  I have three schools, and although I work at it all the time, I'm often not fully integrated into any one of them.  Despite that fact that I get along very well with the staff there, and have gotten to know students and parents well, I still feel at times like a psychological gypsy, so to speak.  If I want to have professional conversations, they come and go, either in the hallway, or through professional meetings that are set up to talk about such things.  Those are good avenues, but are just not strong enough, and not completely what I'm looking for intellectually. My PLN however, has become a 24/7 go to for professional development and ongoing exciting conversations in the world of education!  The resources I have come across, have been game-changers, and the collaborations I've developed with people with like minded excitement and interests have been a career changers as well. Twitter really makes me feel like I'm back in the game, doing what I love to do. I'm incredibly appreciative of that! So thank you, everyone in my PLN, like Tony said, you may have saved my career too!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Inspiration Personified -- The Lessons of my Mentor

Typically on Saturday mornings I aim to join #satchat on Twitter, but my family life intercedes and instead I catch the end of the discussion.  Nothing being new about this process, I caught the tail end of #satchat and discovered a post by @pammoran about the meaningful contributions of her mentor.  This is a beautifully articulated piece; I encourage you to read it.  It got me thinking about the influence of my own mentor and inspired me to put those thoughts down in writing.

My mentor, who in his career was an itinerant teacher for the blind, a supervisor of special education, a pupil personal director, and assistant superintendent, is the type of human being who inspires you, an individual you would aspire to emulate.   The first attribute that struck me when I met him was his ability to listen.  He is a powerful listener who has the ability to reflect thought, and the emotions behind those thoughts, and redirect his communications back to you to sharpen your own mind.   Ironically, as a psychologist, this ability is a tenet of my training, but here was an individual who possessed this ability naturally, and intrinsically understood the importance of listening, who instead was training me

He listened to parents in the most difficult circumstances during contentious special education meetings, framed exactly where they were coming from, and without having yet addressed the solutions to their concerns, gained their trust.  One of the primary reasons for this, other than his extraordinary listening ability, was his deep capacity for empathy.  My mentor knew instinctively how to step into another’s shoes and view the world from another’s point of view.  He cared deeply for every member of the community, and wanted everyone who lived there to have a strong bond with their families, the school district, and institutions within the community.  He actively worked to achieve this goal.  If people were struggling, he felt it, and he took active solutions to alleviate their suffering.  I may be the fortunate beneficiary of this empathy, as he hired me, two crisis guidance counselors and a social worker after it was determined the district needed more social services to assist families.  He started a community charity that was meant to assist families during difficult times.  He was active during the holiday season, making sure every child and family in the community would have what they needed.  This empathy carried over into everything he did, and filtered into our school district, where families knew that their child would be well cared for.

My mentor was one who valued the whole child, and was always active in making certain our community did as well.  He was a champion of the arts and always put aside time and resources to bring the arts to our community, particularly to our children.  He started an artist in residency program that brought in writers, visual artists, and musicians who would spend time with our kids teaching lessons from their careers.  He championed our local arts world, including actively supporting our strong music program.  He was a leading member of an educational foundation to bring leading speakers from their fields to kids to help mentor them.  He also left us with the best public arts display I’ve seen at a high school, a public display of Walter Baum impressionist paintings that had been gathering dust in closets or offices of administrators, that stand side by side with student art displays. 

In addition to possessing these amazing human bonding and relationship building qualities, he had the innate ability to plan.   He taught me to never act impulsively, but to take time and reflect, always thinking about the best direction in which to take action.  This meant that every phone call, email and correspondence that was laced with emotion did not need to be immediately addressed.  He taught me to take time to reflect on the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of others, and use that time to plan a response taking those into consideration.  He taught me that when you start a building or a community initiative to take time to build capacity, gather resources and ideas, include others, and be thorough in your preparation.  This is why he was such an outstanding member of my dissertation committee; he had me be prepared, although it was he who asked the toughest questions at my defense! 

My mentor has now retired, however his teachings are never far from my thoughts.  I like to think he’s always there guiding my decisions – in the back of my mind he’s telling me, “Reflect, Be Patient, Plan, Be Empathetic.”  When I run into tough times, he always is there as a resource, and when I’m lost for a course of action, I often think back to what he would do, which helps me steer my path.  There is no greater value than one of a good mentor.  If you have the fortune to have a mentor that has these qualities, your work will be enriched, as will that of those around you.  Thank you so much, Jim.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Twitter as a Professional Development Tool for School Psychologists

New to Twitter?  A social media tool such as Twitter is an online resource that can’t be beat for daily professional development at your fingertips.  It can provide a vast resource of research information, which can be easily shared with individuals in your own created “Personal Learning Network,” where you can connect with other professionals in the field.

If psychologists don’t have a Twitter account, it’s easy to get online and make one.  School psychologists can then search out specific hashtags (#) related to the field where people post comments and specific resource of use in education.  Some popular hashtags in school psychology that have been posting information recently have included #psycchat, #schoolpsychology, and #schoolpsych.  If you find a school psychologist posting information that would be useful to you in the field you can follow them.  You now can have a daily feed of ideas and resources available at your fingertips if you choose to access it. 

Quick Learn of easy concepts:

A Hashtag (#), is basically an online “room” where people post related to a topic of interest.  There are tens of thousands of hashtags, some very useful, and some completely irrelevant for professional use.  Find professional hashtags related to #schoolpsychology, or other professional subjects of interest to post to.

Posting – When you post a Tweet, or a resource, it is only readable to your followers.  If you would like other professionals to read your post, post to a hashtag where professionals regularly visit for information.

Directing a Tweet at a specific user -The use of the @ symbol directs a tweet to a specific user, such as @emmauskevink, or @bekcikelly.  Postings then go right to them to read.

Direct Messaging – You can send a Direct Message (DM) to someone as well, but only if they are following you.  If you would like to communicate with someone who is not following you, use the @ symbol and their Twitter name. 

Choosing who to Follow --While obviously this is certainly up to you, I would recommend you follow individuals you know that will help you grow professionally.  Although Twitter certainly is used as a fun social tool, its vast professional value comes from learning from the connections you make.  The wiser you choose, the more you learn.  Remember, professionals are there to learn from you too, it’s a two-way vehicle, so be sure to regularly share your knowledge and resources with others!

Potential Follower Recommendations for School Psychologists:

School Psychologists

School Counselors

  Connected Educators to Follow

Twitter Chats:  The use of Twitter can be highly interactive as well, where a school psychologist can join in on live discussions that are happening in the field of education in general, and school psychology in particular.  Twitter chats occur generally weekly for 60 minutes, and moderators pose questions on a predetermined topic of interest.  Participants use a consistent hashtag to communicate.  For instance, at #edchat, (Tuesdays, Noon to 1 PM ET and 7-8 PM ET), Tom Whitby and colleagues have regular weekly conversations about topics related to broad education related topics. In addition to #edchat, there are a whole host of other education related chats that are state specific or topic specific (#edchatri (Rhode Island), #iaedchat (Iowa), #ptchat (parent teacher chat), #escchat (elementary school counselor's chat), #scchat (school counselor's chat), #satchat (broad based educational chats on Saturday Mornings, etc..).  These hashtags are also great places to meet professional colleagues or find resources.  A list of Twitter Chats can be found Here: Twitter Chats.

Posting Links: Links to newspaper articles, online documents, pictures, or research articles all can be posted and shared on Twitter as well, a feature I find of particular value, as the sharing can be endless!

Overall, the use of Twitter as an online resource is highly valuable, and can bring learning right into your living room,at any moment you’d like.  It is a great place to make professional connections and to have regular dynamic conversations about the field of psychology or education in general.  It may just jump-start your professional world!