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Inside Job: What It’s Like to Be a School Psychologist

Rachel Bachrach

Student misbehaving regularly? The school psychologist is usually the first stop. Three school psychologists discuss what it’s like working in your kids’ schools

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

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LISTEN UP Sometimes, giving a child a platform to express herself and validating her feelings is all she needs

Reena Rabovsky, 29, is a school psychologist at Rabbi Alexander S.Gross Hebrew AcademyinMiami Beach, Florida. She’s been working for five years.

My first meeting with a student is usually triggered by…

a teacher referral because of difficulty focusing, school anxiety, peer conflicts, or achievement and motivational concerns. Parents might request that I see their child for something specific — family-related issues that are having an impact at school, bullying incidents, or a peer conflict. But students often come see me on their own when they need support or if they’re having a hard time in school.

The issues I see most frequently are…

anxiety, attention deficits, and social-skills concerns.

What most children want more than anything is…

to be heard! Sometimes, giving a child a platform to express herself and validating her feelings is all she needs.

You can lead a horse to water… I deal with a resistant client by…

keeping games, toys, and activities in my office. And they go to good use! Students love visiting because it’s an exciting place to be. One popular activity is Mr. Face, a giant face with Velcro, upon which the kids can put different facial features to change his emotions. I also have stress balls and fidget toys, and I’m fully stocked with crayons, markers, stickers, and crafts.

With resistant students, I try finding a topic the child connects with, and I’ll begin our conversations that way. I remember one student who loved football more than anything — every time he came into my office, I asked how his team was doing, and that would get him started. Once he opened up about that, it was easier for him to share more personal things.

For children struggling socially, it’s crucial…

that parents, teachers, and the school psychologist work together to create a cohesive plan — home-school collaboration is key. There was one student who was having a hard time relating to his peers, and the parents, teachers, and therapists put a plan into place that included playdates with specific students, school-based social skills groups, and new seating in the classroom. We all met several times throughout the year, and by the end, he’d made significant progress — the next year, he barely needed intervention.

Even a brief walk around the block alone with a parent provides the feeling of “specialness” that each child needs

If I could give all parents one piece of advice, I’d tell them…

let your child fail. Grit is such an important quality, and trying and failing helps instill it.

The most out-of-the-box intervention I ever tried was… 

when one class was having a particularly hard time getting along, a colleague and I created a full-day interactive workshop that focused on friendship skills, how to apologize, and effective communication. They used these skills to work through their issues in a circle of trust, and almost every student was able to effectively navigate some of their challenges.

A big buzzword now is bullying. During my first year at Hebrew Academy, we collaborated with a program called Words Count, which focuses on empowering students to be upstanders instead of bystanders, to take action to make something wrong right: to comfort the student being bullied or distract the student being unkind or tell an adult. One parent was particularly inspired by the concept; she’d tell her kids bedtime stories about upstander superheroes. We wrote a children’s book about it, which we then used to reinforce the topic in the classrooms. 

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