Guest Blog: My Ideal Classroom (Emma Savino, School Psychologist)

I want to welcome back guest blogger Emma Savino! Savino is a school psychologist and today she will share about the importance of social development in school, and how to effectively utilize support staff (ex: school psychologists, social workers, etc.) to bring these skills into the classroom. In her piece, she proposes two models for collaboration.

My Ideal Classroom

by, Emma Savino, M.A., C.A.S.

Being relatively new in this field, I find myself struggling with the traditional set-up of public schools. I initially got into the field of school psychology because I wanted to work with children. I loved that I could conduct evaluations AND counsel students. Now that I’m actually in the field, I find myself doing mostly testing for special education placement and state mandated re-evaluations. The job does vary depending on the district, however, testing is often prevalent, leaving little time for counseling and staff support. I find that the school psychologist can be underutilized due to the caseload of assessments

Because such a heavy emphasis is placed on test preparation and academic performance, there is little time to teach students how to be happy, productive individuals. Children often miss out on important skill building opportunities like social problem solving, learning how to develop strong relationships and building coping skills. It is important to remember that just as we have to work hard to do well in school, we have to work hard to be happy and well balanced.  Strategies to develop this way of life can and should be taught in the classroom.

Classrooms need to be therapeutic because kids need help solving problems and managing their behavior. When a child breaks his leg, we bring him to the doctor. We don’t expect him to mold a cast or build some crutches independently; we go straight to a professional. Providing tools and seeking help from mental health professionals is important too.  This shows children that they do not have to handle their problems and worries alone.  Creating a supportive environment will allow for trust and shared understanding. The best part is, these professionals have years of training and are there to support you. In fact, they live and breathe in your own school!

How do we make classrooms and schools more therapeutic? I’ll propose two models: the ideal and the realistic. As a caveat, my ideal classroom could only exist with adequate funding, staffing and in the absence of high stakes standardized testing (hence the word ideal).

My ideal classroom would be similar to the CTT (collaborative team teaching) model that is currently a staple in many special education settings. A school psychologist or social worker would co-teach with a classroom teacher (either part time or full time, depending on the needs of the class.) While this proposed model would help all students, this set-up may be most appropriate for students with behavioral and emotional challenges.  However, teachers can pick and choose techniques that fit their classroom demographic best. This model would allow for:

  • Behavior modification and intervention to occur in the moment.
  • Instruction and behavioral interventions to exist simultaneously.
  • Psychologists to plan, manage and collect data for individual behavior plans.  This way, the psychologist can target and address specific behaviors, rather than blindly implementing interventions that do not zone in on the real problem and are unsupported by data.
  • Daily whole or small group counseling to address issues in the classroom allows for a free flow of discussion and a team approach to problem solving.

The first model is unrealistic for most schools at this point in time. Here are some ways teachers can self implement or utilize support staff in a traditional classroom setting:

  • If you are experiencing behavior problems in the class, determine what time they occur most.  Ask a support staff member to push-in and intervene during these times.
  • Collaborate with your psychologist for behavior management strategies.
  • Take suggestions from others. Simple changes to the classroom environment (i.e seating, lighting, use of positive language) may improve behavior more than you think!
  • Incorporate weekly social skills lessons into your teaching and include support staff in the planning process. Take it a step further and invite your school psychologist/social worker into the classroom. This will help students identify staff they can seek out if problems arise during the school year. Having weekly sessions also allows for rapport building to start immediately.

Final Reflections by, Marisa (Your Resident EdGeek): 

A special thanks to Emma Savino for this thoughtful guest post! Last year, I taught sixth grade at a school with two incredible social workers. They were constantly in the classroom supporting our students. While the state was busy testing our students in reading and math, our social workers and teachers were busy collaborating to support students in becoming thoughtful, caring members of our school community. Sadly, there is little importance placed on social growth in schools, and no test that measures it…but I could not agree more with Emma that school environments need to be more therapeutic.

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