With virtual school, this Colorado school psychologist witnessed a student’s transformation

Brittany Greiert, a school psychologist at Boston P-8 School in Aurora, references the school’s mascot in greeting students during remote learning. (Brittany Greiert)
How do teachers captivate their students? Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask great educators how they approach their jobs.

After coronavirus sidelined in-person learning this spring, school psychologist Brittany Greiert discovered a new side to a normally reserved boy she’d worked with for years.

He was open and funny during their online chats, quick to share his ideas and fill her in on his academic accomplishments. 

“I have learned a whole new way to connect with one of my students,” said Greiert, who works at Boston P-8 School in Aurora. 

Now, she plans to use such tech-based strategies even when face-to-face learning resumes. 

Greiert, who was recently named School Psychologist of the Year by the Colorado Society of School Psychologists, talked with Chalkbeat about her pivot to remote learning, her efforts to track down hard-to-reach students, and the advice she has for children and adults. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why did you become a school psychologist?

I always knew that I wanted to be a psychologist, but it wasn’t until I was volunteering at a suicide hotline that I knew that school psychology was the path for me. I spoke to a lot of youth callers, and I was always shocked to hear how many young people didn’t feel that they had anyone they could talk to during their dark moments. 

Tell us how you’re doing your job remotely since schools closed because of the pandemic.

I am a member of the administrative team, the mental health team, and the special education team. I have approximately 30 students on my special education caseload whom I provide mental health services to during the school year. Remotely, I am doing video chats, phone calls, or messages on Google Hangouts with my students, and also reaching out to their families weekly to see how everyone is doing. 

I have developed a specific home program for each of my students so that they can continue to work on their social emotional goals. I hold office hours daily so that anyone from our school community can reach out with mental health concerns. Additionally, I am on the district crisis team and have provided crisis counseling to students during the current school closure. 

Is there any student on your special education caseload that you’ve had a hard time reaching or not been able to reach at all? How did you handle this?

Yes, there have been challenges with a few students, but we continue to problem solve with those families. We’ve tried various methods of contact such as texting through platforms such as TalkingPoints, which provides translation from English to other languages, making phone calls via Google Hangouts, and sending emails. We also collaborate with other staff members in the building who may have had contact with families. We’ve reached almost all of our families at this point.

Tell us about a recent interaction with a student or fellow staff member that gave you hope that we’ll get through this turmoil.

There is one student I have worked with for five years who receives special education services for an autism spectrum disorder. This student has always been rather reserved and it has been difficult to get him to open up and talk when I have worked with him individually or in small groups. 

Since moving to remote learning, my check-ins with this student have been through the Google Hangouts chat function and I feel like I am talking with a whole new student. He is willing to share his thoughts, ideas, humor, and big personality through messaging. He messages me every day to tell me when he has finished his math or literacy lesson and tells me how proud he is of himself. I have had more in-depth conversations with this student remotely than I have ever had face-to-face. 

When I recently did a video chat with this student he froze up and did not want to respond or speak on the video. Once I told him that he could use the chat function to type his responses to me, we have been able to talk through his worries, things he is looking forward to, and things he is proud of. I have seen him work incredibly hard to reach out and form social connections using technology. I am so excited to use some of the new technological resources once we are back to face-to-face learning to help my students feel confident and successful. 

What advice would you give to students to help them cope during this period? What about parents? 

For my students, I would tell them there is no right or wrong way to feel. There might be days you feel happy, bored, angry, sad, or overwhelmed and all of those feelings are OK to have. Think about things that have helped you feel better in the past — listening to music, drawing, writing in a journal, playing with a pet — and try using those coping skills when you’re having a hard time. 

To parents I would say to give yourself grace, kindness, and love. There is a lot to navigate emotionally, physically, financially, educationally, and health-wise. Take everything one day at a time and know that we are all in this together. 

What is the hardest part of your job since schools have closed this spring?

Special education has been incredibly difficult to navigate through remote learning. There are so many federal and state laws and district policies that were not written with a national or state shutdown in mind. 

Questions are arising across Colorado and the nation about the validity of remote assessment when conducting special education evaluations, how timelines are impacted, how to provide equitable remote services to students with disabilities, how to provide compensatory services for missed services when school resumes. The list goes on and on.

You spend your days trying to help students and staff. How do you wind down after a stressful day — especially now? 

I do not try to set lofty expectations of myself. I don’t expect to come out of this with a brand new workout routine, having learned a new language, or having read 20 new books. I try to take each day as it comes and cherish the little moments — whether that is taking a quiet walk with my dog or laughing with my family. 

I have a 6-month-old daughter at home and I wasn’t expecting to get to spend so much time with her during her first year. I’ve been trying to pause and find ways to appreciate the rareness of a forced slowdown and to focus my energy and attention on parts of my life that I used to not notice, or let pass by in a whirlwind as I rushed to the next thing. 

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