Archives for posts with tag: mental health in schools

01_Touchscreen_#infographic_for_school-psych_Page_1Movie director Ron Howard, in his film Parenthood, seats Steve Martin and Mary Steenbergen in front of a dour elementary school Principal.  She lands the first blow. “We don’t think Kevin should come back here next Fall.  I’m going to recommend that he be transferred to a school that offers special education classes.”

Dad risks a guess. “Because he’s so smart?” (Don’t rule it out.) “Well, actually, I mean a class for children with emotional problems,” the Principal continues.  (Seems Kevin’s been pretty anxious.)  In breezes an unwelcome surprise guest: one “Dr. Lucas” who should NOT be introducing himself at THIS stage. But here he is. Ron Howard is crafting very bad psychologist indeed. He has “been observing Kevin for the past couple of months.” (REALLY?)

CUT!    Who hired these Un-Professionals?  Yes, Hollywood DOES have license to show them as seen through these poor parents’ glazed eyes.  But Ron!

WHERE did you get such ethically bankrupt and autocratically insensitive educators?  (Not to mention, badly dressed.)

WHY are you trading on our anxieties about special ed, just for a bit of plot-thickening?

HOW can any psychologist, anywhere, get to observe and assess child without even asking the parents AND make a placement recommendation that looks pretty final?

MOREOVER:  On its own, anxiety is the LAST reason to make the little guy change schools, Ron.  It’s a great reason to keep him right where he is.  Special educators know this. Staff who are familiar to Kevin seek School Psychology consultation. They then support his school adjustment (storeys B & C at right). This in turn supports his achievement (Storey A at right).

Tough on Parents?  Needlessly, in this case. “Mr. Buckman, this is a public school” adds the Principal.  (Really? Why is it just now feeling like a back office of the Mob?)  At its best, but admittedly not everywhere, modern special education can be so inspiring that parents fight to get their kids into it.  Evidence-based teaching practices are the mainstay.  Assistive technologies such as laptops loaded with specialized software, SmartBoards (touch-screen whiteboards) and math apps that let you lay out equations textbook-style, edit and and graph them; are examples of cutting-edge accommodations that help level the playing field for students with unusual profiles.

Flexible, Powerful Teaching and Learning Strategies.  Ontario  students are among the more fortunate, participating in this deep cultural shift.  This movement began with UNESCO’s 1990 Declaration on Education for All.  Best practices are not always expensive.  Even developing countries get more for each education dollar

Look for a school culture that is strongly inclusive.

Two basics apply here.  First, instil in students the shared goal of success for all. Second, proactively build cohesion and problem-solving BEFORE the inevitable bullying emerges.  Restorative Practices, based on Native justice circles, is perhaps the best example.

Where does that leave competition in the classroom?  Lost in the past.  Sympathies to all parents who ever dreamed that their child would be clapped and cheered by classmates for beating them all.  Success is its own reward.   Rare is the teacher who is still stuck in the competition era.  They have long ago lost touch with the system’s growth in values.  Yes, there MUST always be scholarships and medals.  Healthy schools save for those triumphs for commencement; and Most Improved Student is among them.

What does special education really look like today? The answers are as diverse as students’ needs.  From sensitive and brilliant individual programming for the child with autism; to the high-octane stimulation and support offered by a best-practices Gifted teacher.  In every profession there are inequalities in expertise.  But specialist teachers are a highly motivated crew and their upgrading is continual.

So, why do many of us, as parents, still fear even something as mild as a diagnosis of Learning Disability or Attention Deficit Disorder?

We presume that labels limit our child’s academic future and career.  This is upside down, since rights and advocacy have taken hold.  Marks are all that the School Board can transmit to post-secondary institutions. But those institutions now have their own learning support systems.  You are admitted on your merits, THEN you send your diagnosis and apply for Accessibility (Learning Strategist; Assistive Technologies; accommodations).

If stigma makes us maroon the students’ broader abilities by not meeting specific functional learning needs, then we DO limit their futures.  Even school behaviour issues, a parent’s worst nightmare, respond to sophisticated best practices.  So how do we get our heads around the key issues, ask the right questions and make the right moves on our kids’ behalf?

Ask for the big picture.  Educators and administrators are often careful to not overwhelm us with information beyond the immediate scenario.  If you give them permission to explain the broader prospects and options, often you will usually get an enthusiastic response.  “Response to Intervention” (RTI) is now the first-line approach.  In early grades, we have better and better remedial methods that serve a preventative role.  (A best-case example is the Empower Reading program developed at Hospital for Sick Children.)  RTI is special education, writ-small. If it helps, but not enough, then we look at more formal psychological assessment; toward identification as an Exceptional Learner.

Listen to your child without bias.  Their school experience will come across differently to you, as parent, versus what they say to an educator.  Don’t expect them to be necessarily consistent.  Most kids don’t know how to express inner conflict until adolescence or close-on. In time, they will to learn to say, “Part of me thinks essay conferencing is working; and part of me just thinks it’s too confusing.”  (Maybe the’re not said to the same person, either.)  Don’t confront them with their inconsistencies when they are first learning to resolve conflicting views even adults can struggle with.

Understand the Four Levels of Growth.  One way to quickly grasp a child’s needs for special education is to ask questions based on the four-level graphic alongside this article.

Achievement;

Behaviour;

Clinical concerns versus emotional health; and

Development (physical, motoric, cognitive, language . . . )

form a necessary self-supporting structure, similar to the fancifully tall four-storey school building pictured above. (The image here is of very limited resolution. A fully detailed version is available from the author: psychologyisgrowth@live.ca .)  Practitioners of school psychology can tell you which levels are involved; and what the next steps are, at each storey.

Get involved.  Anything you can do for your child’s school tends to be received with true gratitude; and helps build collaboration.  Parent involvement is such a priority that it is one focus of recent amendments to the Education Act (Bill 177; Sept. 2010).

Support your child’s self-concept.  We may come to laugh at stigma but for adolescents it is rarely a laughing matter.  All bets are off, for how teen peer groups will respond to a student’s Identified status. Your teen’s self- advocacy may just have to wait until post-secondary years.  Privacy of his or her identification is impossible to maintain. Ironically,  attempts at privacy would just fuel stigma. Celebrate strengths and recognize needs.  Everyone else can ‘get over it.’

Know your rights.  Educators in general are highly respectful of them.  While it is possible to approve some parts of a recommended programming but not others, DO be careful that you don’t block your child’s broader options by disagreeing with one essential piece.   Be aware that special education ‘labels’ (identification categories) often sound worse than they are.  “Communication; Learning Disabled” is often a sought-after category.  In it, the child is understood to have Average potential or better; but MUST have special education to fulfill it, without undue agony.

In some boards, “Autism” is the only administrative label under which complex multiple needs get help; even if it is not the actual diagnosis.

Look farther afield.  Interventions and supports from agencies like Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario, JVS Toronto, Canadian Attention Deficit Disorder Resource Alliance and private psychological services can each make a substantial difference.  Special educators, psychologists and some psychology-savvy physicians can guide you to them.

Be aware:

Public educators can’t actually recommend private assessment–That creates an impression that the system is broken.  Of course, the system is more cash-strapped than outright ‘broken.’

Like all public resources, it has to priorities the most urgent needs.  Usually the most they can do is respond clearly, when you finally do ask about private psychology.

Include “Psychological Associates” when you search for private services.  Many PA’s have extensive school board experience.  They are fully independent practitioners and diagnosticians, with an MA rather than PhD.  The College of Psychologists certifies and regulates both at the exact same level.

Attend all the meetings.  There are three levels.  (1) A SERT conference explains learning needs and offers options. You may want other professionals there, too.  (2) IEP or Individual Education Plan.  Rubber meets road. This document specifies concrete steps.  Even your homework support can be more effective with IEP guidance. If diagnostics are recommended, results go to a Board committee called (3) IPRC. This provides legally binding  recognition of  rights to special education.

Focus on what’s possible.  Funding levels and staff training spaces are not what administrators and specialists would wish.  If you get frustrated, you can bet they are too.  A dose of reality has to be swallowed every time an IPRC committee weighs a child’s needs against available placements and resources.

Take the long view until your child can. Even our teens have mostly minimal mind share for ‘the future.”  Tossing around the possibilities for program choices briefly but often is a growth experience for them.  School Guidance is really only the second level, built on top of the thoughtfulness that parents instil about this, from day to day.

Be politically aware.  Many Canadian provinces pushe the special-education envelope, whenever they can.  American legislation may be ahead of ours on paper, but our overall resources-in-place are probably ahead of most U.S. jurisdictions.  Some urban areas such as Toronto face special challenges due to complex demands on their education systems.

Finding out more: 

The Ministry’s book-length PDF, Education for All, lays out recent best practices for core math and reading.  Though written for educators in grades K-6, contains overview segments useful to parents.  The follow-up, Learning for All addresses grades K-12.  Autism publications include Effective Educational Practices for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. For attentional disorders and executive function, we are just at the outset of special education rights.  CADDRA and CADDAC are twin organizations which seek to improve treatment and education for students with these highly workable conditions.  While attentional disorders are not recognized by the Ministry as a cognitive learning disorder, they are the next frontier.

© 2012 Ken McCallion, Registered, MA CPsych Assoc

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Mental health in schools is kind of like mental health anywhere else. Building and maintaining it both depend on a great many things ‘going  right.’ So how can a parent, or for thDSL for Parents 2013at matter even a hard working teacher, even get the big picture of a student’s school day? Of what they are going through?  One place to start is to piece together all available professional input and to organize it in ways that make sense to the average person. Luckily, stacking things in a bio-psychological way (symbolized by the ridiculously tall school house here) makes sense of a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s also consistent with newer ways of looking at mental health. But this approach is going to be the subject of a workshop at Canadian Mental Health Association in June, by me, so respecting the limits of not double-publishing material now promised to the CPA, I’ll have to ask folks to wait at least until mid June before  say more. (The concept map shown here was previously web-published.) In the meantime, this is the active team approach already in use at Psychology is Growth.

WHAT, WE’RE MAKING BUZZWORDS AGAIN?

Chimp bottle-nurses tiger cub RTR2VPTI_RTR2PG91_640

[TORONTO] We are right to be leery of each and every new psychological term that tries to invade our lives.  We’re not about to fall for a repackaging of something we already bought.  Nor do we need to live up to some diabolical new yardstick for job performance, school progress or (worst of all) self-worth. And in truth, emotional intelligence (EI) is not new. It is simply a neglected part of ‘intelligence’ itself, even as IQ test-builder David Wechsler defined it, back in 1940.   He meant this concept to include all abilities we need, to develop and to achieve, on our own terms.  But he never presumed to pack all that into one handy test kit. Others began filling gaps. Today, measures of emotional self awareness, other-awareness and problem-solving are much stronger predictors of school success, career success and social satisfaction than any cognitive test you name. Now, the ‘testing’ of EI is in its infancy, but the work thus far by Mayer, Salovey and Caruso on their measure dubbed the MSCEIT at least demonstrates proof of concept and seems to have some actual problem-solving usefulness in adults’s lives. (Building child and adolescent versions of any whole new type of test tends to be trickier and can take longer.) The MSCEIT ahs not yet reached the status of an ‘evidence-based intervention’ to which your clinician should conscientiously turn, every time you or your friend or your adult child comes in feeling tortured by interpersonal emotional miscommunication or just realizing they can barely name their feelings after living with them for 40 years.

 SO, CLEAR SELF-EXPRESSION IS IMPORTANT. NOT NEW!

True, but reptiles can do that.

panther chameleonWhat our cold-blooded cousins are not so good at is managing the complex interplay of each other’s emotions, in ways that lead to supporting child development and later, to achieving shared goals.  That’s a triumph of the mammalian mind. We can take the most unlikely,unpromising situations and turn them to the benefit of all parties—or not.

ASK ANY  SEASONED PROJECT MANAGER,

much-loved parent or happy classroom teacher.  In fact, ask the U.S. military. Using EQ-i testing to select recruiters saved the Air Force nearly 3 million dollars.  (Maybe you thought an idea that sounds so warm and cozy just had to be a feel-good campaign; a consultant’s boondoggle.)

HAVEN’T WE GOT RELIGION, FOR THIS?

religions_symbolsm

Good point. In fact, Daniel Goleman, a key author in the field, has heard from faith leaders across a broad range of traditions, that EI looks like one way to measure the human qualities

that their faith teachings and community inspire. Sadly, the EI of self-defense is just as important as community. So don’t blink.

WHAT IF MY ADMINISTRATION WON’T BUY THIS, MY CHILD’S TEACHERS CAN’T GET TRAINING AND I’M NOT FEELING SO AMAZINGLY ‘EI’ MYSELF? 

Then you would  be in good company with a lot of folks. But there is much you can do, on your own. If you already practice traditional, Indian yoga, traditional martial arts (such as Tae Kwon Do) or mindfulness meditation, then you’re probably already good at recognizing and managing many of your own emotions.  If you’ve gained ground in a psychological therapy that promotes recognizing of others’ emotions, and emotional problem-solving (such as emotion-focused therapy, child-parent attachment work or interpersonal therapy) then you have also increased your skills in perception of others’ emotions; your reach and depth of reflective thought; and your total range of responses from which you can wisely choose before speaking or acting.

talking mouth thCA981SLW

Book-clubbing a major EI author or two (see below) or reading-up with a trusted friend or your partner, then discussing how EI skills play out in your daily lives, can help. Journaling about situations at work or home, predicting outcomes of your response options, is invaluable. And remember:

SCHOOLS NEED VOLUNTEERS AS MUCH AS PARENTS NEED KIDS TO HELP AROUND HOME.

kindergarten hard at work - clipboardThoughtful, adult team-work in a ‘safe’ place where you are not being constantly evaluated, and don’t have to focus on parenting, is a great proving-ground for new EI skills. Most parent volun-

teers feel appreciated—hugely. And you may find an educator on a similar journey of growth.  And by the way:

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING (SEL)

is just school talk for teaching EI skills in the classroom. SEL programs improve student behaviour, reduce peer-on-peer aggression and raise academic achievement levels.  And EI level itself better predicts the student’s career trajectory than top marks.

THIS SOUNDS LIKE A LOT OF WORK.

psycho-babble muscle_brain colour adjustedIt can be, especially if one had a parent (or two) who had their own trouble cult-ivating EI skills of any kind. And some of us are just plain born with greater challeng-es around developing EI.  So-called ‘trait’ EI does not come naturally to all.  The great news is that over time, ‘skill EI’ can be learned by pretty much anyone. It can go a long way in compensating for lack of trait EI.  People who make progress in skill EI report stronger self-esteem, trusting bonds and work effectiveness.

POSITIVE LEADERSHIP =  LOADS OF EI

School TeamIf you’re struggling in a leadership role, bring forward, in your reporting relationship, the track record of corporate EI training. There’s no down-side; just a startling upside.

 

Business Case for Emotional Intelligence  http://www.eiconsortium.org/reports

Women in Leadership http://t.co/PgiBRNSPD3

EI predicted success levels in nursing school  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23660239

Social-Emotional Learning in Schools  http://www.edutopia.org/social-emotional-learning