“You Are A Pair of Fresh Eyes”
Dear New School Mental Health Practitioner,
Welcome to Education! Being a school mental health professional is one of the most unique roles to play in the field of education. If you are like me, you have been trained for years as a social worker or other mental health professional, you’ve found identity in that title and profession, and now you have been dropped into a world of CVC words, standardized testing, IEPs, BIPs, FAPE, IDEA, BASC-3, and a million other acronyms and concepts that you may have never heard before.
Even though I attended graduate school with a dual focus in clinical and school social work, I still felt like a fish out of water in my role as a School Social Worker. I thought I had known about behavior plans – but the reality of what that looked like in a real classroom was another lesson to be learned. Different benchmark and grade level expectations were not concepts I knew off the top of my head, like it seemed like so many of my colleagues did. I attended meetings with so many acronyms I left unsure what had even been spoken about.
And then, too, is the question of how to fit within the system and with colleagues. It’s totally normal that my supervisor doesn’t recognize or realize Social Work Month all month, right? Can I go into the teacher’s lounge and get a donut on National Teacher Day? How do I schedule a lunch or a prep (if you’re like me, you may be three years in and STILL trying to figure this out!) Where do I set my limits and boundaries – how much is too much work to be taking home? Do I give out my cell phone number? There are so many quirky things about being a social worker or mental health professional in a school – especially if you are a part of a small team or if it’s only you. Your supervisor probably has never been a mental health professional. You don’t have the training or the background to have fluent conversations in education as soon as you start. But, you know what? That can be great!
You are a pair of fresh eyes. A different perspective. A unique outlook. You have been trained and hired to do a very specific job, made for someone just like you. You are needed. Do not ever feel inadequate or like you are an imposter. I know that is easier said than done – the great thing is, even if you do feel inadequate at times – no one but you will know. You know so much more than you think you do, and you have so much to offer. While you may feel miles away from your colleagues, what makes you different does not make you opposing forces – it makes you a more well-rounded team. Rely on your team – all of them. The administrations, teachers, educational assistants, student services team, janitorial staff, secretaries, kitchen staff, bus drivers – all of them. Just like you, their unique outlook helps make for a well-rounded team.
Best of luck,