Jennifer W., CAGS, NCSP, grew up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She attended the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and went to graduate school at Northeastern University in Boston. She married and moved to Hawaii with her husband who was in the Navy. Jennifer worked in Hawaii for her internship year as a school psychologist.—she describes that as a great experience. She moved with her husband to Maryland, where she worked in a large suburban school district while he attended graduate school. After he graduated, they returned to Massachusetts where her husband started working as a teacher. They gave birth to their first daughter eight weeks prematurely, and she was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) shortly after birth. Jennifer stopped working full time when their second daughter was born—also with CF—to manage the girls’ health and minimize infections. They moved south to reduce their cost of living and they’ve been there now for 18 years. Both daughters are grown, and one is about to graduate from college. In her free time, Jennifer likes to walk, garden, play the violin, and spend time with family and friends.
What inspired you to become a school psychologist?
I took a high school class which sparked my interest. I always used to be the person people would talk to and confide in. I always liked talking to people and I was always interested in psychology. I went to college thinking I might pursue medical school but I was a psychology major from the beginning and I just stuck with it. I found it really interesting to learn about how the brain works and how to motivate, help, and encourage people.
Before branching into school psychology, I started out in a counseling program in graduate school. But I decided I didn’t just want to be doing counseling. I had a graduate assistantship and my advisor there was the director for the school psychology program and she pretty much convinced me to pursue school psychology. I’m glad I did!
What made you want to be a teletherapist with PL?
We have moved five times since I started working as a school psychologist due to my husband’s jobs. I heard of PresenceLearning, and thought it would be a great way for me to be able to continue to provide school psychological services without having to start over again with a move. In addition, it would allow me to work from home.
I’ve been in North Carolina the whole time I’ve been working for PL. My parents are aging, and I’ve known that I would want and need to help them out at times.I haven’t been able to see them for a year and a half due to the pandemic. I just got vaccinated recently, and I’m planning to go up there. I will visit and give them some help while still working.
Since our daughters were in college, I had been planning to spend more time in Massachusetts this year, but it didn’t work out that way because of the pandemic. It’s been great to be able to continue to work with students and be involved professionally through the virtual model which I wouldn’t have been able to do if it were in-person because of the health needs of my daughters who have been back living at home. So it has been wonderful for me.
What do you enjoy about being a provider with PL?
I appreciate being able to set my own schedule. I think the materials on the platform are excellent, and the support—tech, billing, navigating the platform—has been prompt and helpful. I love working with students through the platform, and they seem to enjoy it, as well. They are tech savvy and I have found it easy to establish rapport even though we are not in the same physical room.
What were you most surprised about when you made the transition to be a teletherapist?
Initially, I was surprised at how much I had to learn to be able to use the platform! Use of videos and digital tools during counseling sessions was not something I had done previously. There was a steep learning curve for me, but I quickly learned that I enjoy working with students through the platform. Colleagues share ideas and answer questions. So, I guess I was surprised at how smoothly teletherapy works and how much I enjoy it.
I went through every single module—I went through everything PL had on the platform, like how to convert to service, do billing, how to order assessment materials. I took notes and created a binder for myself. That really helped me a lot. Once it got to the point where I was going to begin working with students, it helped to practice with a couple other providers initially.
I also spent a lot of time in the Library looking at the different resources. I started out just doing counseling. I’ve been doing more assessment this year, but I was just doing counseling last spring. I wasn’t used to using computer activities with young children, having only interacted and played games in person. Because of the pandemic and the teletherapy model, it was all through the computer so that was different for me—I had to learn what tools were available. So I spent a lot of time in the Library and I thought the quality and diversity of resources available to me was amazing. And I know that resources have only increased since I started.
What do you find most challenging about being a teletherapist? How have you overcome these challenges?
The most challenging thing for me this past year has been that most of the students I’ve worked with have been at home. So, the Primary Support Person is not someone at their school, but is in fact, the parent. Coordinating stimulus book and document camera delivery/exchange and helping parents of the younger students understand their need to be quietly present from across the room and not prompt their child during testing are issues that have been difficult, but not insurmountable. Planning ahead and reviewing materials PresenceLearning has prepared for parent and PSP use have been helpful!
Taking time to speak with parents without students there has really helped me. I explain that this is a standardized administration and that they are welcome to sit and play an observer role only and they have responded well to this.
How do you build trust and rapport with parents?
I first reach out to parents by phone. If I get a voicemail message, I introduce myself and let them know that their child (not leaving the name, as I have had a couple of wrong numbers) has been referred to me for testing, and that I will be following up my call with an email. Then, I send an email of introduction, created in a template, that I can tweak, asking the parent to please call or email me. I explain how I am involved with the school district, as a provider for PresenceLearning, and how my testing is done remotely. Once they know who I am, and feel comfortable, I ask them about their child. I do have a parent questionnaire that one of the clinical account managers (CAMs) shared with me that I have been using to obtain more information about the student, as well.
Could you walk us through your daily routine? A “day in the life of a PL therapist” if you will?
I have breakfast with my husband, take our dog on a walk, and then have a little time with my daughters before they start their remote college learning and I start work. I usually am at my desk by 9 or 9:30. I try to schedule testing for the morning, if possible, for younger students. I usually work with older students in the afternoons. I make time for meetings as needed, and I try to plan a couple weeks ahead as much as possible. I take a quick break for lunch and let the dog out during that time, as well. On days when I am not seeing students directly, I work on my reports, and also review other referrals to make sure I have consent and other pieces needed to proceed. I reach out to the team chairs or school psychologists in the districts, and the teachers—every district handles communication differently so far, in the three districts where I have worked since starting with PL—and introduce myself and collaborate to do as thorough an assessment as possible. Because my husband and I also have a non-profit, I only work 20 hours for PresenceLearning. I try to work Monday through Thursday, taking Fridays for my other job.
My husband and I walk together in the evening with the dog. I’m in a monthly book club and I participate in a writing group as well. Otherwise I spend a lot of time with my daughters, especially the one who is getting ready to move. I contributed to a virtual music project this past spring, which was a lot of fun. I’m writing some poetry. I like to do different things—I don’t have a set routine. I also love to read. But I definitely like to move around since I’m sitting in front of the computer a lot during the day. Our non-profit provides bi-monthly workshops to other parents of kids with CF, and it is great to be able to provide a venue for information sharing.
How has the PL online platform enabled you to help your students and the schools you serve in new ways?
I have completed online modules through PL and had the opportunity to participate in training in how to use “Tiny Guides,” a resource available in the library for practitioners for student use. Also, I was able to participate in the Trauma-Informed group program, “Finding Your Power.” I really love working with the students and I think the trauma-informed work will allow me to help the students learn skills to deal with adversity. I look forward to facilitating groups with students through the platform and to using particular Tiny Guides to address students’ individual IEP goals.
It is wonderful to have these amazing tools in the arsenal for future use, along with testing and other counseling materials in the platform library. These resources have been awesome. It is also amazing to have the manuals for many tests available in the platform, with the test protocols also available. I did contract work previously, and I needed to purchase items if the school district could not let me borrow theirs.
Can you tell us a little about how you collaborate with teachers and other school staff members?
First, I use the Organizational Handbook to see how the school district prefers communication with PL providers. If the handbook is missing any information, I have reached out to the CAM for support. I introduce myself to the point of contact at the school for the referral. Those points of contact have been so helpful in providing information about grades, referral information, current IEP goals, etc., when I have not been able to access that information directly through the school district’s database. I reach out to the classroom teacher(s), introduce myself, and ask for feedback on the referred student to obtain their perspective. Finally, I reach out to the parent(s), with whom I spend the most time collaborating for students who are attending school remotely.
Can you describe an activity or two in the PL platform that you especially enjoy and tell us how you use them to engage students and achieve therapy goals with them?
There are so many different resources to use—Go Fish, Flash Cards, Getting to Know You games, seasonal activities. When I am getting to know a student, these allow me to see what they prefer and then I can put related items in my queue, see what works for that student, and find more of those. I used the Flash Cards as a memory game. I used Go Fish for taking turns. I did it with a few kindergarten students to help them follow directions and learn basic platform skills, and as a way of getting to know them too. It was their first time having counseling so it was a way to do something with them that they were familiar with.
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