Gloria Rodriguez: Every child is unique

Gloria Rodríguez Ben, Psychologist specialising in Clinical and Health Psychology, with an MA in Clinical, Legal and Forensic Psychology, MA in Clinical and Educational Psychopedagogy, MA in Psychomotor Education, Re-education and Therapy and MA in Clinical and Educational Speech Therapy, is part of the Psychopedagogical and Guidance Department at Agora International School Madrid.

Gloria Rodríguez has always been drawn to special education. She began working with children from the day she graduated. She wanted to teach them strategies to be happier and face life with enthusiasm and security, so started working in a centre helping children with both personal and learning difficulties. “It was a very rewarding job, seeing how the children were managing, with your support, to overcome those barriers that were making them suffer.” Over time, she became aware of the importance of the school, family and therapist being coordinated, and this was how she came to focus on the figure of the school counsellor and psychologist, as this is the person who acts as the link between teachers, parents and the students themselves. Since then, she has supported and guided pupils through their academic journey, helping parents, teachers and children, the most important person in the chain. Being with the pupils day in, day out enables her to more successfully guide them on their way. Today, Gloria Rodríguez will be talking to us about her job in the Psychopedagogical and Guidance Department at Agora International School Madrid.

Q: What is the main objective of the Psychopedagogical and Guidance Department at Agora International School Madrid?
The department’s main objective is to ensure the provision of individualised and specific education for every pupil.

Q: How do you achieve this objective?
To achieve the goal set out within the Department we perform a variety of roles, both in guidance and support for teachers, and meetings with parents or individual students.

With the teachers, we start before the beginning of the academic year. This involves holding meetings in which we talk about the new students they are going to work with, and what guidelines have been followed and have worked in the previous year. Over the course of the academic year we meet regularly, and support is given for parent-teacher meetings.

With the pupils, we give individual intervention and evaluation sessions, depending on the needs of the student. We also hold meetings with parents, either on an individual basis or with the support of the teaching staff.

Q: How do you detect when a pupil needs the support of your department?
The difficulties which can be seen in a pupil can be detected either at home or in class, for which reason, parents, teachers and the Department must be coordinated in order to help the student.

If the teachers notice a difficulty they should fill in a form in which they describe the main problems they have observed. The Department will meet with the teachers and the parents to obtain more information about the difficulty and assess the need for an individual evaluation or direct intervention.

If it’s the parents who consider that their child could be having some kind of difficulty, they have the option to have an individual meeting with the Department, or through the teaching staff. Any pupil assessment or intervention must first be authorised by the child’s parents, and for this reason we need this support and coordination between the two pillars of education (home and school).

Q: What are some of the most frequent cases that you work with over the course of the school year?
In general, we observe different learning difficulties which must be assessed in order to work more specifically on each one. Normally, what we want to achieve with these evaluations is an understanding of the aspects in which the pupils stand out, in order to work, through these, on those in which a deficit is observed.

Q: Do you work with groups of pupils or with individuals?
In the Department we are committed to inclusive education and supporting the student in the classroom, so individual adaptations are made which must be carried out by the teacher in the classroom, always with the support of the Department, so that students do not feel discriminated against. The support given outside the classroom is more specific and takes place either in groups or individually, depending on the observed difficulty.

Over the 2014-2015 academic year, for example, we carried out both group and individual support:

    • Group support:
    • Literacy support for pupils with dyslexia.
    • Speech and language therapy: different support groups at Infant level to support the correct production of specific phonemes.
    • Orthography
    • General learning difficulties: support in and organisation of their studies.
    • Study skills
    • Logical and mathematical reasoning
    • Work group at Infant level for pupils with delayed gross and fine motor skills and spatial and temporal orientation, as well as difficulties in accepting concepts.
    • Individual support: pupils with attention deficit, difficulties with visual-motor skills, dysgraphia, difficulties with spatiotemporal orientation, difficulties with reading and writing, difficulties on a personal or family level, etc.

Q: What resources and tools do you use in evaluation?
In the Department we have numerous batteries of objective tests to assess the different difficulties with which we may find ourselves. In every complete evaluation, as well as the assessment which we carry out individually with the pupil, it is necessary to acquire as much information as possible from the parents and teachers. In addition to the interviews we carry out with them, we have tests and structured interviews which help us to complete this information: (BASC, EDAH).

For the pupil evaluation we use diverse tests of both general (BAS-II, WISC-IV, etc…) and specific aptitudes:

    • Attention (CPT-II, EMAV (Magallanes visual attention scale), D2, CARAS, etc…).
    • Literacy (PROLEC, PROESC, ECL, etc…).
    • Executive Functions (CUMANES)
    • Creativity (CREA)
    • Evaluation of specific disorders: Dyslalia, DST-J (dyslexia), etc…
    • Personality (BASC, ESPQ., 16-PF-APQ, BAS-3, etc….)
    • Careers Guidance (IPP, KUDER-C, etc…)

Q: Do you offer any kind of guidance about pupils’ educational pathways so that they can choose the most appropriate route for their capabilities?
A: Yes, collective career guidance tests are administered, as well as an individual report and, for students who require it, the possibility of an individual interview with the guidance counsellor to assess the pupil’s interests, current realities and what their best option may be.

Q: What type of improvements do the pupils experience in these areas of support?
Depending on the extra help being given, the pupils have described improvements in their grades, in the ways in which they approach their studies, in their relationships with their family, teachers and classmates, as well as in their own self-concept.

Q: Do you have direct contact with the families?
The families have a phone number to get in touch with the Department directly, an email address, or individual interviews over the course of the school year.

Q: Could you tell us about some of the initiatives you have implemented from your department to support the pupils’ all-round development?
A: When I started this project two years ago, I assessed the difficulties that both pupils and teachers observe in their day-to-day life at school, and with their support, we began the improvements.

We have:

    • Implemented more complete and specific evaluations: these enable us to get to know the pupil better, as well as highlight their strengths and weaknesses for further work.
    • Created support groups by difficulty: the pupils not only improve this difficulty through fun, dynamic activities, but in being part of the group, they see themselves reflected in others, and feel supported, not excluded.
    • Implemented individual and specific adaptations in the classroom to enable those pupils who don’t want to leave the class to do an exam or understand a teacher’s explanation at their own pace, and therefore reach the same level as their classmates without anyone noticing their difficulty.
    • Implemented personalised attention for pupils to develop their cognitive abilities in activities and projects that go beyond the course curriculum, and individual intellectual enrichment for each particular pupil.

In addition to the changes made within the Department, we observed the need for more specific and individual support for students with greater needs. For this reason, parents have been given the possibility for this to be done at school, outside school hours – both in the middle of the day and in the evening – with specialist staff. As this support takes place within the school, it enables greater communication with teaching staff. In this way, parents do not have to seek outside support and at the end of the school day the child can go home having already benefited from this extra help.

Q: In what ways do you think NACE Schools differ from other conventional schools in terms of psychopedagogy?
Within the NACE Schools policy, a great deal of importance is given to personalised attention for each pupil. This is very important when we consider that no two people are the same, and therefore neither are children, and there is no reason why they should all learn in the same way or at the same pace.

For this reason, at NACE Schools the pupil is seen as an individual and is given the necessary strategies to achieve their goals at their own pace, whether this is a gifted pupil, a pupil with an attention deficit or one with more limited cognitive abilities. They can all learn the same things, but not in the same way nor at the same pace. Therefore, giving them this support allows them to learn in a more relaxed way, to enjoy it and as a result, learn better.

Q: What proposals and new ideas are you preparing in the Psychopedagogical and Guidance Department for the 2015-2016 academic year?
In the Department we want to continue with our policy of inclusion, and for this reason, on assessing the results obtained this year we observed that individualised attention is being given in the right way but that we need greater support for those students whose needs are above the average in their class.

At the moment, adaptations are made in the classroom where the children present projects, explain topics and take part in intellectual enrichment.

However, we have assessed the possibility of creating a work group in which those students whose needs are greater than others’ can work together through their interests in order to complete projects, take part in competitions, etc. This is a project that we want to implement with the coordination of the pupils’ parents as well as the teaching staff responsible for them.

Q: In your work, you also include guidance for teaching staff and management teams. How is this done?
A: Among the functions of the department, a very important one is to offer guidance to teaching staff because ultimately, it is they who are with the students each day, and who have to face any difficulties in the classroom. Therefore, apart from the regular meetings held with the teachers, the Department gives talks and workshops to explain different learning difficulties and how to deal with them. As part of the Management Team, constant guidance is given in cases in which it is necessary.

Q: Lastly, what are the most positive aspects for you of being an Educational Psychologist at Agora International School Madrid?
Being an Educational Psychologist at Agora International School Madrid, apart from offering me a great deal of experience, can be very rewarding. Experience, since every day we find ourselves with new situations, every child is a different world, and they and their difficulties help us to grow as professionals. Being able to help a pupil, their parents or teachers can be very rewarding, so much so, that it fills your daily life with happiness.