The Extra Mile Is Never Crowded
By Ralph E. “Gene” Cash
“I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” —Robert Frost
What can I do to make a difference in the world? How can I be the difference I wish to see in school psychology? There is only one of me. I’m not important. I don’t have a grand vision or boundless energy. I’m just an ordinary person.
These are some of the many thoughts that have been running through my mind as I have faced the prospect of leading NASP for a year. I believe that some of those same thoughts plague school psychologists around the country, at least from time to time. However, such thinking may interfere with the way in which one can truly accomplish something: by doing what one can with consistency. “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee” (Marian Wright Edelman). For example, there was once a wise old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. One day as he walked along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a young boy who was reaching down to the sand, picking up starfish, and very gently throwing them into ocean. “Good morning! What are you doing?” asked the wise man.
The boy paused, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The sun is rising, and the tide is out. And if I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”
“But, child, don’t you realize that there are miles of beach and thousands of starfish all along it? You can’t possibly make a difference.”
The young boy, listening politely, bent down and picked up another starfish, throwing it into the sea past the breaking waves. Turning to the old man, he modestly replied, “It made a difference for that one!”
Clearly all of us can make a difference in the life of a child, and all children are important, regardless of who and what they become. You may, however, believe that it’s more difficult to be a difference maker in the field of school psychology. How can an ordinary school psychologist change the field of school psychology in positive ways? I believe there are at least six productive avenues for making a mark. Those are supervising, mentoring, consulting, advocating, teaching, and generally doing whatever work you do with quality and diligence.
Because of the explosion of information in the fields of psychology and education, lifelong learning is essential, and graduate programs cannot possibly teach us all we need to know. As a result, supervision of interns and mentoring of young professionals is an essential part of ensuring that practitioners of school psychology grow through their on-the-job experiences to be the best that they can be.
Akin to mentoring, consulting involves sharing insights and expertise, usually with other professionals such as teachers, administrators, and other school psychologists. Sharing skills, ideas, and support helps one to become more accomplished and helps others to advance professionally as well. It never ceases to amaze me how much difference a few words of suggestion or encouragement can make to a stressed-out fellow professional!
Advocacy, of course, is not only speaking up for individual students in the course of your daily work. Advocacy also involves going the extra mile by attempting to influence policies on the local, state, and federal levels. Since public policy drives professional functioning, advocating for beneficial changes can really make a difference in how school psychology is practiced.
Teaching school psychology students opens up a world of opportunity to change the future of the field. Every graduate will make a difference in some ways. Many of those differences will stem from the attitudes and values they are taught in graduate school. Some of those graduates will be leaders in the field, school superintendents, or even public policy makers. Think of the difference that some of your professors made in you and you’ll understand what I mean.
Those who truly make a difference are those who make special efforts to ensure that every day their work is the best that it can be. Sometimes that may involve discovering, designing, or implementing just the right intervention for a struggling student. At other times, it could be comforting a distraught parent, supporting a frustrated teacher, or helping an administrator decide how to improve a poorly functioning school. It might be as simple as staying late to ensure that a frightened child gets on the right bus safely. That is the road less traveled. That extra mile is not crowded, and it can make all the difference!
Gene Cash, PhD, NCSP, is a Florida licensed psychologist and a faculty member at the Nova Southeastern University Center for Psychological Studies in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.