A Year of Resilience
By Rhonda J. Armistead, NCSP
When I return to my position at Eastover Elementary School in August, I expect that I will be asked by the faculty and staff at my school about my 16 months as NASP President. The answer to questions about what I did during my year-long absence could highlight the 20 or so state associations I visited, the many brief connections I made with other school psychologists, the number of keynotes on resilience I presented, the many hours I spent traveling and away from home, the infinite number of e mails I answered, the fabulous places large and small that I visited to represent NASP, and the conventions in New York and New Orleans I had the privilege of presiding over. One of the benefits of being NASP President is having the privilege of meeting school psychologists from many states, sitting in on state association board meetings, and sampling the offerings of many state conferences. As I contemplate my return to school psychology practice, the question I ask myself is, what impressed me most about the state of our profession during my year as NASP President?
First, I’ve been impressed that school psychology is so professionally resilient. I witnessed a strong, vibrant professional community. A hallmark of resilience is adapting to changing events in a positive manner. As a profession, we are sorting out our professional roles and contemplating the range of professional opportunities available to us. High degrees of energy and determination are being focused in almost every state upon obtaining the necessary knowledge and skills to plan and implement multitiered services for students—services not just for academics, but also for social behavior and mental health. Where school psychologists have been a part of the planning and policy development process, there seems to be greater levels of confidence and satisfaction with the change process. In California, school psychology trainers have partnered with administrators to develop and deliver presentations on RTI, helping change attitudes about the value of early intervention and increasingly intensive interventions. The Georgia association has published a brochure that promotes the many roles school psychologists can have within an RTI model of services. In Pennsylvania, Florida, Nebraska, and elsewhere, school psychologists are change agents involved at the policy level. Even where state education agencies are not taking a lead role, school psychologists are involved in local initiatives designed to implement public health systems of response, including school-wide positive behavioral supports and to expand mental health options in schools, including prevention programs for bullying, suicide, depression, and other problems.
Now, I am not suggesting that as individuals we’re not stressed by the magnitude of the current changes or those to come. But, I’ve been impressed with the individual professional resilience of school psychologists. In many areas, it seems as if there aren’t enough of us to cope with the current workload let alone take on new responsibilities. I’ve found that school psychologists are relying upon resilience protective factors to deal with change and sustain professional growth. Peer support, mentoring, and learning communities are more prevalent within school psychology now than ever before. From San Diego to New Jersey, school psychologists are setting up systems of peer supervision, organizing their own book clubs, and insisting upon their own learning communities. School psychology graduate students, including those I met in Wisconsin and Nebraska, are forming student organizations and learning the value of ongoing professional support. Our need for professional connectedness is high and we are availing ourselves of it at every opportunity. In groups, school psychologists everywhere are caring, creative, and darn fun to be around. From New York to Washington state, school psychologists know how to relax, enjoy a favorite beverage, and share stories about their work, their families, and their collegial relationships. Association birthday celebrations in Kentucky (30th), South Carolina (40th), Florida (50th), and Minnesota (50th) were all marked by funny retrospectives, celebrations of achievement, and history lessons that Tom Fagan especially would have enjoyed.
Finally, I’ve been reflecting on how responsive NASP members have been to the year-long emphasis on resilience. Hundreds of you took the opportunity to recognize “Resilience Builders” on the NASP website by nominating people you know in schools who promote resilience in children. Scores of you told me about how you are incorporating concepts of resilience, positive psychology, and wellness into your daily practices. One particular resilient school psychologist in Georgia made a lasting impression on me. Last spring, she e-mailed to tell me that her niece had died at Virginia Tech. Still grieving from the loss, she shared her determination to establish a better system of social/emotional interventions for students in her district so that this tragedy would not be repeated. This spring, when I met this colleague at the Georgia state conference, she gave me a graphic of the social/emotional interventions now available in her district. It’s my hope that every one of you continues to take care of yourself and your students in this way. Thank you for the privilege of serving as your President for the 2007–2008 year.