Over and Out
By Kathleen M. Minke
This is my last president’s column. It is clichéd, I know, but in many ways it does feel like just yesterday that I wrote the first one. And I have some serious writer’s block on this; I’ve never been very good at ending things. But the deadline is already 2 days past and it is time to put this column to bed! Although it will take time for me to gain a full perspective, I’ll share a few observations about what I’ve learned this year.
Probably the foremost lesson is the critical importance of advocacy at all levels of our work. It can be hard to see the value of responding to the NASP Action Alerts that you receive. It is easy to think that your response won’t matter because what happens at the federal level seems so remote from the needs of the kid whose glasses have been broken for months or the teacher who is struggling with class reading levels that cover six grade levels or the principal who is discovering the limitations of rigid zero-tolerance policies. But each of these challenges is touched in direct ways by federal policies. And, it turns out that these policies are crafted by individuals ... smart, dedicated, overworked individuals who cannot be experts in everything and who respond to the information they are provided. Yes, the legislative process is torturous. No, we don’t get everything we want. But if we do not participate, we surely cannot complain about what happens.
I also had some serious misconceptions about advocacy, placing it primarily in the box of "guild issues." That is, when we advocate, we are talking mainly about how to protect our jobs and get more of us hired. These are significant concerns, especially in the current economic climate. But I learned that the most powerful tool we have for advancing our profession is to advocate for children, families, teachers, and schools. We are seeing greater job threats in areas where we practice in a narrow, gate-keeping role, and fewer where we deliver comprehensive services. When we utilize our broad array of skills for supporting effective instruction, developing positive learning environments, preventing and responding to crises, and promoting greater connections between families and schools, we become indispensable members of the school improvement team. In places where we struggle with a narrowly defined testing role and highly unfavorable ratios, this task is very challenging. It may feel impossible to fulfill our current duties, let alone consider adding broader activities. But we know that small changes introduced into a system can produce large results over time. Starting small, with one activity in one school aimed at helping a principal see our capacity to contribute in broader ways can pay big dividends over time. Provided, of course, that key decision-makers know about these activities and our contributions to student learning. We have to be a tiny bit less modest as a profession! Building relationships with principals and helping them recognize our capacity to participate in effective school reform is essential.
Which brings me full circle, I guess, to this year’s theme, "Positive Relationships – School Success." I have only become more convinced as the year has progressed that our strength as a profession lies in our ability to bring people, who may have diverse perspectives and competing goals, together to collaborate and problem-solve. As illustrated in our standards and the NASP Practice Model, our collaboration and consultation skills, along with our commitment to utilizing data, permeate all aspects of our practice and allow us to make a distinctive contribution to the school team. I will share one other thing I’ve learned this year that should encourage us all. I used to think that the school psychology program at the University of Delaware had the brightest, most hard-working, and most enthusiastic students in the world. And we do. But everywhere I went this year, I met dozens of professionals-intraining just like them. Incredibly smart and highly motivated, they are pushing their faculty to prepare them thoroughly and they are ready to work hard to move our profession forward. I feel confident that this next generation of school psychologists will make outstanding contributions to our field. I’ve thought a lot about how one can measure success in this role of NASP president. The work of the association is accomplished by an incredible cast of dedicated and tireless volunteers and staff.
I’ve felt guilty at times receiving thanks from our members for work I had little hand in. However, I will share one experience that made me proud, because I hope it will encourage you to consider greater involvement in NASP. One of the workgroup chairs that I appointed, who has had a pretty hefty workload and a steep learning curve this year, said, "I’m so glad you got me into this!" And, in a nutshell, that reflects my experience as NASP president. I am so glad you let me do this! I know that I have gained far more than I have contributed.
Gilbert K. Chesterton once wrote that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. I can’t begin to express my gratitude to my family and friends, Delaware colleagues and students, NASP staff and leaders, and all of the wonderful school psychologists I have met along this journey who have been so supportive. I leave my post with great optimism, despite the challenges we face. Our profession is strong; NASP is strong; and we have the knowledge, drive, and skills to continue improving the lives of children. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Kathleen M. Minke, PhD, NCSP, is a professor of education at the University of Delaware.