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.
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.