Pinning Down How to Change Lives

With limited funding for schools, school psychologist Dawn Sheen goes to Pinterest for help.

Dawn Sheen loves helping others--it’s what she does in her free time--but as a school psychologist it’s also her job. She works with teachers and students to help them work together in harmony.

“When a child is struggling, we can help the teachers know how to interact with the child in non-threatening ways to help them access their education [as well] as possible,” Sheen said.

Dawn Sheen graduated from BYU’s McKay School of Education in 2006 with an education specialist degree in school psychology. After graduation she worked in the Provo School District for a year and then moved north to the Davis District.

Originally Sheen wanted to be a guidance counselor, but as she studied the program material, she found she enjoyed the school psychology part more. “I’ve always had an interest in the mental health side of education,” Sheen said. “Being a school psychologist gives you the opportunity to help change the world one person at a time,” she continued.

What sets Sheen apart from other school psychologists is that she uses Pinterest. “Sometimes its tricky to find resources that are affordable,” she said. “When you get resources from professional publishers, it can cost a lot of money. But on Pinterest activities and ideas are often free. The most I’ve spent on something I found on Pinterest is around seven dollars. It’s way more affordable.”

What Sheen loves about Pinterest is that it’s searchable, and she can find things quickly. If she knows the topic that she will discuss with a student or teacher, she can find resources that will help her prepare for the meeting. Although she works at two different schools, she doesn’t have to worry about leaving papers behind or having a program on one computer and not the other; all she needs is a computer with Internet access.

“I frequently work with children who struggle behaviorally,” Sheen said. “When working with them, I try to figure out how to motivate them to do what they are supposed to.” One of the resources she uses is the Mystery Motivator, which allows students to earn a prize--but they don’t know what the prize is. She also uses scratch cards in her behavior intervention plans, which she has found successful.

Sheen helps students learn to control behavioral reactions to frustrating situations using Michelle Garcia Winner’s curriculum Social Thinking, which helps them learn how to react in a healthier way. Together they watch different YouTube videos, discussing the problem and considering possible outcomes. “The kids love this,” Sheen said about this approach. Sheen also uses resources from Pinterest to help her students open up and share their feelings with her.

Being a school psychologist has many rewarding opportunities. Sheen recalls a recent event. “Just the other day I had a little boy come sit next to me. This little boy is struggling with school, he has a lot going on at home and has a hard time focusing when he’s at school. The other day during lunch this little boy came to my office and sat by me. He put his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘You remind me of my grandma . . . you’re just so nice and make me feel so good.’ I was glad to know that he felt safe with me. It’s those times that make me really enjoy my job.”

Sheen remembers how her professors at BYU always expected excellence then provided support so she could achieve it. She strives to follow that example when working with students and teachers in her current position.