Ngā mihi o te tau hou. Happy New Year to you all. I hope 2020 is a wonderful year full of great learning and development opportunities. I thought for this first blog of the year I’d talk about my role as an educational psychologist and how I work to support parents and young people along with other professionals to ensure education is accessible and enjoyable.
My work as an educational psychologist includes identifying, assessing and supporting children and young people with additional needs. I work across education, social services and health sectors. Educational psychology training is based in human development, applied behaviour analysis, psychological assessment and research, counselling theory and practice and we work to support the learning and wellbeing of young people, whanau, communities and wider society.
Anyone calling themselves a psychologist in New Zealand must be registered by the New Zealand Psychologist’s board. If you would like to work with a psychologist, educational or other you can find their registration details here http://www.psychologistsboard.org.nz/search-the-register. For consumers of our services it can be quite confusing to make a decision on who is the best person to see. There are many people offering support services to children and their families who are in fact not suitably qualified. The annual registration process provides some reassurance that the person is well qualified and they are keeping up to date with the latest thinking in psychology. This is very similar to the registration process for teachers.
I routinely see private clients for assessments of learning and behaviour, I provide support to other professionals including other psychologists, counsellors, and school leadership regarding students who may have additional needs. I also write a regular blog on my website https://www.edpsych.co.nz/helpful-ideas with the aim of providing free support to parents and students/young people who may need some help with either behaviour or learning difficulties.
Growth and fixed mindsets seem to be buzz words of the moment. From business to education conversations about mindsets seem to be popular. Carol Dweck is the researcher credited with bringing this new way of thinking about success to our attention. She literally wrote the book on it, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Carol Dweck first published this book in 2006 and updated and republished in 2016. I spent some time this past summer reading Carol’s book and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in finding out more about mindsets. Mindsets are either growth or fixed and most people are a mixture of both growth and fixed mindsets depending on circumstances. A person with a growth mindset is much more likely, according to the research, to be successful and resilient in the long term than a person with a fixed mindset. A person with a growth mindset believes that if they engage with learning and work hard, they can be successful. A person with a growth mindset views mistakes as an opportunity to learn and develop while a fixed mindset person believes that they were born talented and therefore don’t need to work hard to learn.
Some key ideas are:
Check out the link below to view Carol herself speaking about mindsets in a Ted Talk. https://www.ted.com/speakers/carol_dweck
Just a short post today answering a frequently asked question. Can I see you for just a chat?Yes, absolutely. I am happy to talk about situations occurring at home or school and take a problem-solving approach with ideas about how to make things go better. Sometimes an hour appointment can help parents to clarify things in their minds and they are able to manage the situation on their own from that point onwards. Other times, if the situation is more complex, I can meet for a series of sessions to unpack complex problems and provide support. I’m always mindful of the cost of visiting a psychologist in terms of money but also of people’s time. I encourage people to call or email me as I’m happy to spend 15 minutes discussing a situation free of charge. If I think I can help I’ll suggest an appointment, but it may well be that I can quickly re direct you to the person who can help.
I don’t provide talk therapy such as psychotherapy or on-going counselling. I can provide referrals on to psychologists or therapists who do provide this kind of support if that is what you require.
Hopefully this has provided some useful answers but please feel free to ask more questions. You can post questions on my FB page, on the blog page or email me directly.
As someone who has worked in special education for many years classroom observations are a familiar routine for me. I have realised since moving into private practice that it’s a bit of a foreign concept for most parents. I thought I’d write about the process of a classroom observation to de mystify it.
Sometimes it is helpful for me to see a child’s behaviour in the context that it happens. If the leadership team of the school and the class teacher have given their consent for me to observe I can come into a classroom or other school setting to see what is occurring.
I usually observe for a maximum of 20-30 minutes although I may book a longer appointment. This gives me time to get settled into the room and to chat with staff if there is an opportunity to do so. I ask teachers to introduce me (if they wish to do so) as someone who is there to observe in the school to see how things work in that class or school. I ask them not to identify me as there to observe a student. Generally, I tuck myself in an out of the way spot in the room and take notes of what I am seeing. Sometimes children ask me what I’m doing so I usually have a general response prepared. My aim is to be as unobtrusive as possible whilst acknowledging that just by being there I’m changing the dynamic of the classroom somewhat.
Teachers are used to someone observing in their classrooms as this is often part of professional development. It can be very difficult when the teacher is focused on teaching a lesson to see the very small details of an individual child’s behaviour. Quite often what I can see as an outside observer isn’t possible for even the perfect teacher to see.
Usually observations are part of a wider assessment and I will provide a written report including my conclusions about what I’ve observed. The report will also include some recommendations about how to help the student engage better with learning.
Last week I left off my day with setting up the paperwork for report writing. The photo above is of my home office which is where I typically write my reports. You may be able to see that I’m fueled by cups of tea - on this particular day I had two on the go, my reference books are on the shelf next to me and all the paraphernalia of office work is at hand. My son’s laugh at my temporary laptop stand which is a couple of huge psychology textbooks. I have a lovely view out the window to my garden and sometimes if I’m lucky a Tui sits in the trees opposite and keeps me entertained. If I’m not meeting with a student or my intern I often start my day with report writing. To do this I reread the results from the assessments and the reports from teachers and parents and then think about how this all helps to make sense of what is happening for this particular student. I often get a blank piece of paper and hand write my thoughts and try to group insights on paper first before I start writing the report. My intention is to deliver a report that is easy to understand for parents and educators and that the recommendations I make are the right ones which can help make education work for this student. On this blog I’m going to try to provide the more general ideas and recommendations for supporting students so what you see in your individual report is very much targeted for the individual I’ve been working with. It usually takes me at least 3 hours to write a report although it can take longer if the situation is complex. Once I’ve spent time writing I may head out to an appointment at a school to observe a student.
If we’ve agreed that I need to observe at school the following is what will happen. I usually like to visit school on different days and at different times of the day for about 20-30 minutes each. If I do come to observe your child, please be assured that I usually tuck myself into an out of the way corner of the room and I ask teachers not to identify me as a particular child’s psychologist. Usually if a teacher wants to introduce me I ask them to tell the class that I’m a teacher (true) who is there to see some great learning happening (also true). If the child knows me it’s OK to say hi but I won’t initiate the contact. I certainly don’t want to embarrass anyone.
Quite often I’m asked about what to do if a child knows I’m there to observe them. This is a tricky question. If we were working in a laboratory situation it would be possible to control all the variables but we are working in the real world. Whenever a different person shows up in a classroom the situation changes and the children may behave differently. I assume that when I walk into the room and sometimes the school that I’m only going to see what is going on when I’m in the room. I can’t predict or know what impact my being there is having. This is why I gather all the other information about the situation. I like to listen to the teacher, parents and child describe what happens. I add in all the formal assessment I’ve done and when I combine all this information I get a clearer picture of what is happening. When I’m observing, I am looking for how your child is responding to the teaching that is going on in the room. I look at how they interact with their peers. I also look at the general environment. I consider where your child sits, how the classroom is organised and what kind of furniture is being used. I look at whether there are clear expectations of behaviour posted around the room and confirm if teachers and children refer to the expectations. I look to see if there are clear guidelines about how to behave in this class and observe teachers reinforce the positive behaviour of the students. After observing, if I’m lucky, I may have a chance to chat about what I’ve seen with a class teacher, principal or SENCo (Special Needs Coordinator at the school). After all this I’ll return to home base and read through my notes to organise thoughts and insights.
The following is an idealised day which has omitted the boring and mundane stuff.
My day might start with a meeting with my intern who is studying at Victoria University to become a registered psychologist. We might discuss his case work and the requirements of his university course. Once he’s headed off for a full day of work, I might call some parents to set up appointments. At that time, I clarify why they might have asked for the support of an educational psychologist. Usually during this phone call we make the outline of a plan for my support. We agree about what I will focus on and what work I will carry out. Sometimes as we work through the assessments we need to make changes so I try to remain flexible and will always be in touch to discuss any additional work that may need to be done. Immediately after this first phone call I will send out an appointment confirmation and information gathering sheets for both parents and teachers. These help me to get a better understanding of the situation.
If I’m seeing students I will then head off to my office at wonderful Auckland Normal Intermediate. Parents and children come to the office where we have a brief chat about what’s going on and we talk about what the assessment will be like for them. After about 15 minutes of chatting parents leave us to get to work. Often I might start with a Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (Fifth edition, Australian and New Zealand). This test involves the child or young person working through a number of different activities which help me develop a thorough understanding of their thinking abilities. The activities while related to learning are very different from what is done in school. Typically students enjoy this assessment and have fun with the activities. When this is done, we both usually need a break for a drink and something to eat. Since we are at a school we usually go outside for a bit of fresh air and a play on some of the equipment for the student, if they wish. After our break we head back to look at what has been learned at school. I usually use the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (Third edition, Australian and New Zealand). This test helps me to understand what a student has learned. I often add other tests such as a handwriting test or a reading test, I make my selection based on what the student, parents and teachers have told me and what I am observing as I’m working with the student. If there are concerns about behaviour I might ask the student, teachers and parents to complete a standardised assessment to help me understand more about their behaviour. I might also pop in to your child’s school to observe or watch what is happening at school. After all this assessment has finished everyone will be ready for a break. Parents come to pick their child up and I’ll give you a brief rundown on how things have gone and might have a couple of follow up questions. I usually go back to my office, organise my findings and set up my paperwork for writing the report. By the time I’ve done this I’m usually ready for the end of my day so head home for the mundane stuff.
Look out for part 2 next week.
The idea comes from the British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald W. Winnicott who was born in 1896. In his book Playing and Reality, (London: Tavistock, 1971) Winnicott proposed the idea of the good enough mother. As might be expected for a man of his time, he saw active parenting, particularly of infants, as the domain of mothers. If we shift the concept into current times, and consider that the idea of good enough applies to the people/person who is actively parenting rather than gender, it is a useful way of thinking for all of us involved in parenting or working with children and young people.
In essence, Winnicott is suggesting that initially parents provide everything an infant needs. At times parents even anticipate what they might need. For example, mums and dads swaddle their babies and lie them down soon after a feed knowing that their baby often needs to sleep after eating. As parents settle into the routines of the new baby they may momentarily delay providing what is needed. A baby may be left to cry for a moment before mum or dad comes to get them up from a sleep because the caregiver may be playing with a sibling or completing a household or work task. As children grow and develop this becomes a familiar pattern in that the early total devotion to an infant isn’t possible to sustain in the real world of siblings, work and household commitments. Often parents feel guilty about this split of roles and responsibilities. The good enough parenting concept helps us to make sense of the realities of parenting. The delays in delivering what an infant and child want are actually a good thing. They help our infant begin to develop their idea of self-concept, that they are separate from their caregivers and helps them to feel secure in their relationships with their caregivers. They learn that when their needs are not satisfied immediately there is no cause for concern.
So next time your child demands your attention for entertainment or food or other and you have to say ‘in a minute’ or ‘not right now’ instead of feeling guilty pat yourself on the back and tell yourself that you are being a good enough parent and that is in fact being an excellent parent!
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.