5 Relationships that are IMPORTANT for School Psychologists

School Psychologists

The motto for my school district is “Relationships Matter.” This is very true for school psychologists. Our job is difficult and relies on building trust and respect from others. Your tittle, alone, will not give you this trust and respect at your school sites. It is your efforts in building relationships with a variety of people at your schools that will enable you to have a successful school year. Here are the five types of people at your schools that I have found to be very important with navigating the choppy waters of public education.

Your Principal and other Administrators

Principals

While your actual Special Education bosses require lots of respect and good communication, the reality is that they do not impact your day to day work. Having a good relationship with your principal, or principals in my case, will help you have a smooth school year. Let me be clear, there are many types of principals out there. There is the tough-guy or gal types, the micro managers, the ADHD type, the clueless or uninterested in Special Education type, the pleasers, and the pretty well-balanced type (a rare breed of administrator). 

With all principals, it is your job to build trust, respect, and a positive working relationship. I have switched schools a handful of times in my current school district and I have also had principals change in schools that I have been with for a few years. In all cases, it is really the principal who sets the tone and the culture of the school year.

Here are a few things that I do to earn the trust and respect from my principals:

  1. The first is show off my organization and knowledge. I will start each school year with having the entire Special Education department get together to schedule all triennial IEP meetings. 
  2. I also will start the year with really helping out with students with behavioral issues. I do this throughout the year, but there are often TK or Kindergarteners who need a little love the first few weeks of school to help them adjust.
  3. I have good communication and show it off. Often I will Cc my principals on some of my parent communications or emails to other Specialists, so that they are aware of the information that I am providing to parents and are in the loop with students I am evaluating or counseling. 
  4. I educate them on the process of Special Education, rules, or laws that they do not know. By being the main source of information and knowledge on Special Education, I put myself in a position where they will not say things or make promises to parents or staff that are not correct. Most administrators were general education teachers. So, you, not them, are the experts on Special Education.
  5. I say “Yes” to some things, but “No” to others. Learning to say “No” is hard, but if you can, say “No” on occasion, especially when appropriate. For example, one of my principals wanted me to also be the note taker for the IEPs that I attend. This a hard “no”, as I am the one presenting, and she is the one sitting there as a participant…taking the notes. I also don’t do supervision or carry a walkie talkie. But, if those are things that will help your principal like you a little bit, they aren’t too time consuming I suppose.   

Your Special Education Teachers

Love up your special education teachers! They are your colleagues, essentially more than your fellow school psychs (They are awesome too, of course). That is because you see them daily, you invade their classrooms and interrupt them on occasion, you rely on them to send you their reports on time, and you want them to implement your behavioral systems. I try my best to build good rapport with my Special Education teachers, but some are definitely more challenging than others. Like principals, everybody’s got a personality. Similarly to the principals, I build my relationships with the SPED (Special Education Department) teachers at my schools by providing good communication and also by coming in to support them and their students on a frequent, particularly students with behaviors.

It’s important to not appear above people if you want your teachers to be pleasant with you and do a good job. Show them that you appreciate them and come into their classrooms as a support on occasion, so that they will like and trust you when you later bug them for their academic reports. 

Other Specialists (SLP, OT, APE, PT, Etc.)

Love those acronyms, right? These SPED friends are not to be forgotten, as they are poor nomads, who visit several schools within their week for the most part. Most schools have a Speech Pathologist, so similarly to the SPED teachers, build rapport through consultation, good communication, and by showing that you trust them. Most OTs, APEs, and/or PTs are visitors on school campuses, but getting to know them and saying hello, so that they have a face to a name (or email) can help build relationships with them. Remember, you need their reports. Being approachable for consultation and giving them the respect that you want when an initial referral comes in can go a long way. For example, when a teacher or parent requests an OT evaluation, I will often give the Occupational Therapist a heads up and see if she can take a look before agreeing to adding her on the assessment plan. I let the teacher and parent know that she will do a screening, so that they understand that there is a process. 

Therapy for students with disability

General Education Teachers

When you are new to a school, it may take a while, or even years, to get to know who every teacher is on your campuses. But…let them know who you are and what you look like. I always dress purposefully a little less casual than teachers, but not so fancy that I am not approachable. I also smile a lot, wave and say “hello/good morning” when I pass by them, let them go before me at the copy machine, and ask them their opinions to show them that I value their input when evaluating their students.

Yes, I also need them for their teacher questionnaires and rating scales. By getting to know them a little and showing them that you value their time and input, you can build trust and respect from your general education teachers. 

On a side note, I really also build good relationships with the Special Education aides. I will sometimes buy them treats around the holidays and show my appreciation because they are often the ones that support my counseling students and work with very challenging students by giving them breaks and helping the teacher implement behavior plans. 

Custodians

You may call them the custodian, plant manager, or janitor, but these guys are the key to a good school. They clean up after messy, self-involved children who leave their trash, sweatshirts, and lunchboxes everywhere around campus. They move heavy things, like school psychologists desks or file cabinets, and take out my trash.

I know when a school is, let’s say “unpleasant” or has low morale, when it is dirty and my trash isn’t emptied daily, let alone weekly. So, I show my appreciation by cleaning out my things from the fridge, saying hello and having a conversation with them, and saying “thank you” of course, if I am still working and they pop in to empty my trash can or even vacuum my carpet in one of my offices. That’s why it’s a good idea to show appreciation for the people behind the scenes who take care of us. 

The motto for my school district is “Relationships Matter.” This is very true for school psychologists. Our job is difficult and relies on building trust and respect from others. Your tittle, alone, will not give you this trust and respect at your school sites. It is your efforts in building relationships with a variety of…

The motto for my school district is “Relationships Matter.” This is very true for school psychologists. Our job is difficult and relies on building trust and respect from others. Your tittle, alone, will not give you this trust and respect at your school sites. It is your efforts in building relationships with a variety of…