Leadership Psychology vlog

Leadership Psychology has been around for a long time, but never the less, thoughts and theories in this fascinating field are as exciting today as they have ever been. I will start a series of video blogs beginning today, with a conversation with one the most renown and respected individuals in the field; Dr. Barbara Kellerman. Dr. Kellerman is an expert on Leadership, Followership and the dynamics of change. She has authored many books on the topic, they including: The End of Leadership, Followership: How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders, Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters, Women Leaders in American Politic, All the Presidents Kin: Their Political Roles

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Last night I unintentionally paid tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., by watching The Butler – a film released last year, directed by Lee Daniels. The charm of this movie, I found, was in its generational scope; it told the story of a Black butler on the White House staff, and marked the years through the changes of his life in connection to the changes in U.S. presidency. The film was loosely based on the story of Eugene Allen, who did live to see President Obama sworn into office. The protagonist in the film, Cecil Gaines (played by Forrest Whittaker), has a son who is friends with Dr. King and is active in the Civil Rights movement. Though (in my opinion) not as profound or moving a film as either Malcolm X or 12 Years a Slave, The Butler is well worth watching for a glimpse back in time at the struggle for equality that was so intense in the 60s.

I’m choosing to write about Martin Luther King Jr. for the emphasis days like today place on our history and the changes society and individuals have undergone over the past few decades. Regardless of the states of racism, prejudices, and equality we live with today, regardless of where in the world we come from, we all carry the weight of our histories; they make up parts of our identities and define how we connect with and relate to others. In our Clinical Seminar course, we have all had to create genograms that tell a story of family and connectedness, and to further write about what it all says about the strengths and weaknesses we carry as practitioners. I’m glad we take the time to reflect in these ways, to understand ourselves better and discover what that means about the way we interact with others.

As a Black, international student – a minority in this country – my background and my roots have always been elements that I’ve held to because they define a part of me. My values and view of the world are all tied up in who I am and where I come from, and knowing these helps me to value the individuality that each new client will bring, whether it is visible or not.

I’m experiencing the vast importance of this as I facilitate a team-building, communications and social skills group at my placement site. There are 25 students in the group and our first task, before we can get anywhere or get anything done, is to find out what makes each of us unique, what do we consider to be need-to-know information about ourselves, and how do we connect to others. Luckily, there are tons of fun ways to do this and make learning about relative strangers less of a challenge.

I’ve also been wanting to touch on the passing of the great leader and inspiration, Madiba (Nelson Mandela). My heart is warmed by all the coverage and talk that has centered around his life and his teachings, and by seeing how many people aspire to understand and carry with them the values he promoted. I’ll leave with you a sweet little clip of a South African girl who pays tribute to Madiba through spoken word.



~ N


Dust Off Your Suit

Last year during interview season, I made a significant commitment, one that may or may not end up being one of the longest in my life. I bought a suit. Yep, a lady-suit, meaning I bought a suit jacket, pants and a skirt (to increase versatility). I remember walking into the store, muttering to myself, “This is ridiculous. Why buy an outfit that I’ll only wear a few times a year – at best?” You see, I’m much more of a corduroy/khaki person myself. This whole “business” attire seemed foreign to me. Remember, I was an elementary and middle school teacher, which is code for “I used to climb on/under/around desks to help students understand prepositions.”

A year ago, I was interviewing for graduate programs. I was pitching myself while simultaneously scrutinizing programs to see if they would be a good fit for me. It was an odd experience. What I learned from this experience, and what I continue to learn through interviewing for practicum sites, is the following:

  1. Preparation is key. Learn as much as you can, whether it’s from an inquiry to someone who may already be there (practicum, intern, or program student) or from other information sources. Always go into an interview with a few questions in mind. Sure, they may actually be answered during the course of the interview, but it’s a good idea to have them at the ready. For some people, it’s helpful to role-play interview questions in the mirror or with a friend.
  2. Interviewing is a conversation. I think my stronger interview experiences were when the interviewer and I seemed to sustain a good conversational flow.
  3. Interviewing is a little bit like a first date. It’s an exploratory introduction. I’m learning about them, and they’re learning about me. Hopefully, we identify some professional passions we share and there’s a spark. Also, see the point above.
  4. The most important (and sometimes most challenging) point: be yourself. Even in the fancy lady suit, I often take a minute to reflect on why I’m doing what I’m doing at that interview site, grounding myself in the purpose of being there.

Good luck!


Dr. Susan Powell

Hey blog readers! Sorry I’ve been MIA for a while, the end of the semester was super busy! I’ll be adding a few of the blogs I’ve been working on over the break, but I’ll start first with a couple of interviews I did in the last month or two. First is the interview I had with one of MSPP’s most celebrated professors, Susan Powell, PhD, with whom I took Diversity and Difference this last semester.

So let’s start early. What made you decide to pursue your PhD in Counseling Psychology?

A: When I was in junior high and high shool, people used to come to me with problems and in my naïve way, I felt that I wanted to help people. I feel very fortunate to end up where I did. I went to college because a few teachers told me I should and during college, I had a few professors suggest graduate school. I don’t think I knew what I was getting into!

What do you think led to you teaching at MSPP?

A: I trained in a traditional PhD program which is very different. In four years of graduate training, I was never asked to look at myself. Maybe it’s different today, but I doubt it. I think most traditional PhD programs have a very different focus. After school, I worked as a staff psychologist for a few years and I burned out and started working for the Illinois School of Professional Psychology. I eventually ran their Master’s program in counseling, and it was there that I was exposed to the different model of professional psychology schools. I loved the focus on clinical development and the use of self in therapy. I moved to Boston and found out about MSPP. I found they were hiring and applied! I taught at professional psychology schools for the better part of seven years before finding MSPP.

What is your favorite part of teaching?

A: Gosh… I love the engagement with students, I literally have fun coming in and teaching. I love being part of somebody’s development. It’s a real privilege being part of someone’s growth, and I grow as a result! Then, the other part of teaching about diversity and difference, I  like helping see things from a different perspective.

If you weren’t in teaching or psychology, what would you do?

A: Professionally, I really like zoology and marine biology. Maybe it’s my love of dolphins, but I think that would be rewarding and I love the ocean and marine wildlife would likely be my direction. Either that or an environmentalist or a cake decorator.

What kind of music do you listen to?

A: I listen to a range of music, I heard you mention Led Zeppelin in class. I love classic rock. My mp3 player ranges from Aerosmith to a bluegrass-hip hop band called Gangstagrass. I like all kinds of music.

Who is your favorite music artist?

A: Oh, that’s hard. I love Niel Young. I’ve seen him two or three times, he’s political and smart and still does some hard stuff, so he’s probably my favorite.

Here’s a really heavy one: What do you think counseling as a field most needs to work on?

A: That’s a really interesting one. I think it’s really about self-reflection. I think MSPP does a great job of this, but I think a lot of programs don’t focus on the subject enough. Especially regarding microaggressions (a form of communication which disempowers people), a lot of therapists don’t always recognize their own biases and how subtle they can be. Through self-exploration, people become much better therapists!

What do you do on your free time?

A: I exercise, I spend time outside, I spend time with friends, and I used to bake a lot. I also like to watch TV too. I can watch Seinfeld every day and laugh every single time. I just saw some friends who I hadn’t seen in a few weeks, and I realize that I need laughter to keep me happy and healthy.

What’s your favorite book ever?

A: That’s a good question, I’m generally biased to the stuff I’ve read recently. I really like an author named Richard Russo, and I’m about to finish another one of his books. He did books called “Straight Man,” which is very based in academia, as well as “The Bridge of Sighs,” and “Empire Falls,” which won a Pulitzer prize.


The School Psychology Department’s Annual Holiday Party

Everybody likes free food, especially when it’s pizza. What makes it even better, however, is the company you find yourself in. Year 1s, Year 2s, Year 3s, alumni, and PsyD students mingling with the forces who have shaped our program and are our resources in the field. There are hugs and handshakes, discussions of the School Psychology Softball team mascot (I vote for the Platy…. platypuses? Platypi?). The panel, representing a spectrum of experiences in “the job” speaks to the crowd about their satisfaction on the job and seems to repeat in so many different ways that the one thing that makes our job great and that makes us great at our jobs is that we go out and get what we want. We can make this job our own.
As School Psychologists, even a neophyte like myself (and yes, that was my position on the panel!) recognizes that above all else we are flexible. We wear so many different hats, provide support to a myriad of clients that can take on so many different forms, that we are like the undeniably cool platypus: hard to categorize, at first glance a heady combination of many different skills and pieces, and yet one complete and efficiently evolved being. Also, we are undeniably cool, too.
As such creatures, it is important that we stay ahead of the curve on many different fronts. Sometimes it feels like everything can affect our day to day experiences, from the clear impact of the tragedy at Sandy Hook to the less obvious downturns in the stock market causing an increase in the stress level of home lives of our kids.
How do we possibly stay abreast of all of these items, let alone distill the information into manageable and applicable pieces of information? Well, we help each other, of course. Resources are vital. The Communique, various blogs and news outlets, and of course, our own Out In Front.

Check it out: Out In Front



If you are anything like me, then you are either cursing the winter Gods or Canada for causing us to risk life and limb leaving our front door in the unbearable New England cold. While I may not be struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), I can certainly sympathize with those that do. As it looks, it should heat up around July, and while cursing our neighbors to the north might be one option for alleviating our disgruntlement, there are other options as well…

Research has found that the majority of those suffering from the SAD experienced relief solely from the regular use of light boxes. Light boxes emit high intensities of light of 2,500 to 10,000 lux (as compared to a normal light fixture that emits 250 to 500 lux) and produce similar effects to the sun’s natural rays. The high intensities of light improve the mood of those suffering from the winter blues because they restrict the secretion of melatonin in the brain.

Exercise has proven to help people combat feeling of the blues in the winter. Not only does exercise improve mood, but it also has been shown to reduce stress, which often exacerbates feelings of depression brought on by the winter blues. Studies had pointed out that one hour doing aerobic exercise outside (even with a cloudy skies overhead) had the same benefits as 2.5 hours of light treatment indoors.

Many people (like me) who suffer from the winter blues crave junk food and soft drinks as the days get shorter. The reason some people indulge in high-sugar foods is because carbohydrates are often effective in increasing energy levels in the brain. A better strategy for anyone with the winter blues would be to eat larger portions of complex carbohydrates, like pasta and rice, and healthy simple carbohydrates like fruits and fruit juices during meals.

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And so the Pendulum swings back…

Many of us are aware of the negative effects of suspension and expulsion on children. And yet, it happens anyways. I have often been referred to as “the softie” when I advocate for other means of consequences for a child’s actions by the adults who think that suspension is the only way to change a student’s behavior. Unfortunately, it is those adults who usually have the final say.
Zero tolerance policies have increased this behavior in adults, and we hear sensationalized stories of five year olds being suspended for having a rubber band on the bus. Rumor has begun, however, that indicates the pendulum to finally be swinging the other way. Hooray!

Zero Tolerance Reconsidered by the New York Times

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Thoughts on leadership

This has been a rough winter, and it’s barely started. But the climate is not the only storm we will be forced to endure in the coming weeks and months. Soon congress will kick the can down the curb on several important issues, such as raising the debt ceiling, immigration reform, and aspects of the affordable care act – specifically the planned rollout of state and federally funded insurance exchanges. There’s little doubt that these are critical issues that need to be addressed, but, I’m often left wondering whose best interest are served in the final decisions made by our leaders.

I spend two weeks over the winter with family in the south, and seen enough confederate lags, heard the term ‘fair and balanced news’, along earth shattering information that President Obama was in fact a foreign national – and not American, to last me a lifetime. On the flip side back in the northeast,  I’ve heard “W” was still to blame as he ruined the country by attacked two ‘innocent countries’, W’s inability to speak in complete sentences has ruined the U.S. reputation abroad, as have his attempts on spread democracy internationally – even though he barely ever left the country.

We blame Washington for gridlock, bickering, poor decision making…etc. However, we are entering troubled waters, as the polarization in our political system has already brought the country to the brink of fiscal ruin. So who is really to blame? We often view leadership as limited to those with authority and power, but the influx of technology, spread of new communication mediums has made that irrelevant. We are all leaders, and not only need to gain a thorough understanding of all sides of issues impacting us daily,  be aware of our own bias, and more importantly, be able to effectively debate and discuss points on which we disagree with our friends, communities, and elected leaders.

Check out the leadership doctorate program for more info…

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Information Processing and Technology

Edward Thorndike, a pioneer in learning theory once beliefs Psychology as being the science of the intellect, character and behaviors of animals including man. Considering the technological advancements of the twenty first century, Thorndike might be amazed by the way web architects have applied learning theories in their websites designed for educational purposes. A good example of how learning theory has been applied in technology is the popular kids site PBSKids.org.

PBSKids.org is a website designed for kids in which they can play games, watch web clips, and find activities such as coloring and music that enhance learning. PBS claims that its online programing and interactive games such as ‘Between the Lions’ and ‘Word World’ has a significant impact in children’s literacy skill development and math skills.  PBS may be correct that their website design and programing can make a positive impact for school age children, particular given recent studies done on the topic. For example, emerging research suggests that educational computer games and online activities, as well as linking online and offline content through cross-platform learning has a positive impact on learning.  MediaKidz an Indiana Based Research & Consulting company conducted a two year study funded by the National Science Foundation and focused on PBSkids.org, and some of its multiple-media mathematics content. Nearly seven hundred kids in nine public schools in Michigan and Indiana participated in the study as they moved from third to fourth grade. Researchers tracked children’s informal use of their online activities, and measured the degree to which children use media from PBSKids.org in the real world. Children were assigned to groups that used different combinations of offline and online programming, (TV, online games, hands-on activities) over a two-month period to assess their impact on mathematical problem solving and attitudes toward math an e-series and supporting web games.  The study targeted children ages 8 to 11, and measured their enthusiasm for math, model math reasoning abilities and problem-solving skills.  The study found that by telling compelling online stories and narrative which incorporate familiar characters that serve as role models to demonstrate effective skills, provide a powerful means to convey and organize information, can have positive impact on all measured criteria. The study also found that children who utilized PBSKids.org were likely to stay on the site longer than other educational sites, and showed significant improvements in their (math) problem solving skills than children who were not using the site.

Other research has uncovered similar results as the study conducted on PBSKids.org. In a 2000 paper titled Examining information processing on the World Wide Web using think aloud protocols, researchers William Eveland and Sharon Dunwoody  found that certain website designs can increasing meaningful learning by utilizing a node-link type construction, mimic human information storage, and encourages users to process information efficiently and effectively. Critics however argue that web navigation increases cognitive load and often produces disorientation which decreases processing devoted to meaningful learning .

Interesting information – which you can learn more about in MSPPs media psych program!

Happy New Year

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Setting Goals in the New Year

Happy New Year!

I look at the year in three phases, that is, three opportunities to refresh, start something new, or make a resolution (or revisit an old one). These three times of the year are: January (in keeping with the traditional calendar year), the nondescript spring-summer transition (sometime in May, typically; it’s a chance to reflect on the first half of the year and chuck the winter parka you may currently be sporting to the side), and the beginning of the traditional school year, late August/early September (probably because I’ve been involved in education on both sides of the teacher’s desk since the age of four). The idea of “resolutions” for the new year is helpful for some; however, I tend to identify areas of “growing edges,” in the MSPP jargon, throughout the year and attempt to make improvements in the moment rather than waiting for January 1st. That being said, these new phases provide a great time to embrace mindfulness and reconsider goals.

When setting goals for myself, I suggest considering the following:

  1. Achievable – what’s the point in making an unrealistic goal? Will I be fit to run a marathon in six weeks after not having hit the pavement for over eight months? Not a chance. If I want to make a goal, I want to be sure that I am not setting myself up for failure. It’s got to be attainable, and it’s even better when it’s framed positively (aka “Do this” instead of “Don’t do that”).
  2. Short- and long-term goals – while it’s useful to have long-term goals, sometimes it’s helpful to chunk a long-term goal into short-term steps. For example, a long-term goal of mine was to be a clinical psychologist. Over a year ago, the short-term goals associated with this were to submit applications to programs that would help me get there. I’m keeping the long-term in mind, but I’m checking off the boxes on the short-term goals that are more like steps on the journey to the long-term goals.
  3. Accountability – for some people, being accountable to themselves is enough; for others, external support is more helpful. Exhibit A: one of my goals for the year is to master cooking a whole duck (silly, perhaps). I know that by keeping this to myself, I will have little impetus to tackle this waterfowl culinarily. However, by sharing it with a few friends, they keep me on track by suggesting that we all get together for dinner on the night of the duck challenge.
  4. Flexibility – Sure, having goals is great, but being flexible in approaching them and, at times, restructuring the original goals is equally important.

There are  other nuanced aspects of goal setting, but this is the basic template I use when considering goals. Hopefully it’s helpful! What about you? What are some of your goals for this new year? Wishing you a good one!