What Do School Psychologists Do? Promoting Our Value and Ensuring Our Essential Roles
By Patti L. Harrison
School psychologists engage in numerous activities that enhance children's learning and mental health. However, many school administrators, teachers, parents, and students have a limited understanding of school psychology and few direct experiences with school psychologists. Do our stakeholders know who we are, what we do, and why we are important resources for them? In an age of state education budget cuts, reductions in school district staff and programs, school accountability demands, family financial crises, three-tiered service delivery, expanded provision of school mental health services, and numerous other impacts, it is important that school psychologists promote that we are essential and valued personnel within schools.
A priority initiative for NASP in 2009–2010 is to support school psychologists' efforts with regard to changing roles and services within schools. NASP activities for 2009–2010 reflect the importance of maintaining effective services for children, proactively defining our roles, preserving school psychologists' positions and practices, and responding to threats that could influence our field at state and local levels. NASP's coordinated activities are critical at the national level as well, given a new U.S. Department of Education, the upcoming Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, and related bills.
During 2009–2010, NASP will continue a comprehensive public awareness campaign at local, state, and national levels to promote and protect the roles of school psychologists. In 2008, our research with key stakeholder groups found that administrators, principals, and school board members, who set budget and service priorities during these tough economic times, often have limited knowledge and differing perceptions about school psychologists' areas of expertise. Thus, they were targeted as the recipients of key messages about school psychologists' unique and essential contributions, as illustrated in the document, "What You Need to Know About School Psychologists" (NASP, 2009a). During 2009–2010, national partnerships with principals and administrators will continue to connect the work of school psychologists with school improvement efforts. For example, during summer 2009, NASP's education policy platform, "Ready to Learn, Empowered to Teach" was aligned with the National Association of Secondary School Principals' document, "Breaking Ranks II: Strategies for Leading High School Reform" (NASP, 2009b). Plans are underway for the next phase of the public awareness campaign, which includes collaborating with school administrators to develop topic briefs that showcase school psychologists' areas of expertise and preparing additional tools and resources for use by school psychologists at the local level.
Each individual school psychologist plays an important role in communicating his or her professional identity and promoting the contributions of school psychology services, school by school. NASP has numerous resources to assist your individual efforts in increasing your visibility with stakeholders and advocating for the value of your work. For example, materials developed for School Psychology Awareness Week, November 9–13, 2009 (NASP, 2009c) include a sample resolution that may be submitted for adoption by local policy makers and suggestions for other activities in schools that recognize our profession. Certificates for NASP Possibilities in Action Partners acknowledge adults, such as teachers and parents, who make extraordinary contributions to the lives of children, and NASP Student POWER Awards applaud children who work hard to make progress. The certificates may be presented by NASP members during School Psychology Week and throughout the year.
I believe that school psychologists are indispensible school professionals who are uniquely qualified to assist with solutions for many issues related to children's learning and mental health. However, stakeholders may not know what we can do for them unless we tell them. I am reminded of an experienced high school principal who acknowledged that she had few interactions with and seldom requested assistance from the school psychologist until the school psychologist made direct efforts to talk with her and describe school psychologists as resources to help solve problems. The principal emphasized that simply proactively communicating with administrators would be an effective first step for any school psychologist to ensure a more influential role. Please tell others who we are and what we do and join me in promoting school psychologists' value as essential personnel in schools.
National Association of School Psychologists. (2009a). What you need to know about school psychologists. Retrieved September 22, 2009, from http://www.nasponline.org/resources/economic/NASP_Core_Messages_2009_FINAL.pdf
National Association of School Psychologists. (2009b). Alignment of NASP's "Ready to Learn, Empowered to Teach" with the National Association of Secondary School Principals' document, "Breaking Ranks II." Retrieved September 22, 2009, from http://www.nasponline.org/advocacy/Ready_to_learn_Breaking_Ranks.pdf
National Association of School Psychologists. (2009c). School psych awareness week resources. Retrieved September 22, 2009, from http://www.nasponline.org/communications/spawareness/index.aspx
Patti L. Harrison, PhD, NCSP, is a faculty member in the University of Alabama's school psychology program and an Alabama certified school psychologist.