Awareness, Communication, Relationships, and Timely Response: Values for Successful Advocacy
By Philip J. Lazarus
Marian Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children's Defense Fund, noted that “the greatest threat to America's national security comes from no enemy without but from our failure to protect, invest in, and educate all our children who make up all our futures.”
As NASP President, I have crisscrossed the country this year and asked fellow school psychologists, “Please raise your hand if you believe that we as a society are doing a good job in nurturing the emotional well-being of our children.” In state after state, I have surveyed the room and not one hand has been raised. We know that we must do a better job in advocating for our children's emotional well-being. If we, as experts in the social–emotional development of children, do not, then who else will?
During my travels I have advocated for a number of priorities related to children's mental health. These include:
- Support the NASP Model for Comprehensive and Integrated School Psychological Services.
- Teach our children to value character first, then knowledge, and lastly academic facts.
- Ensure that our schools are safe, supportive, and nurturing.
- Teach our students the skills they need to develop their emotional intelligence.
- Stop retaining so many children that by the time some youngsters are 8 years old they already feel like failures.
- Increase access to mental health services in the schools by hiring additional school psychologists, school social workers, and school counselors. In our NASP Practice Model, we recommend a ratio of one school psychologist for every 500 to 700 students.
- Provide universal prevention services that teach children resiliency, problem solving skills, and coping strategies necessary for the 21st century.
- Ensure that all children are connected in a meaningful way to at least one adult at school.
- Implement bullying prevention and other violence prevention programs, including suicide prevention, so that our students do not have to worry about their physical or emotional safety.
- Provide highly effective preschool programs for all our youngsters so that every child enters kindergarten ready and able to learn.
Practitioners are recognizing that they must be better advocates and are taking this responsibility most seriously. School psychologists have told me about their advocacy success in implementing RTI services for preschool youngsters, providing better early identification programs for children with autism, implementing bullying prevention efforts that are student led, integrating social–emotional learning into the classrooms, and transforming schools using school-wide positive behavioral supports.
Engaging in advocacy on behalf of children, their families, and the profession of school psychology is the responsibility of the association as well as every NASP member and leader. For the purpose of increasing knowledge and skills, I am sharing four values that are integral to success not only for advocacy, but also for life.
Awareness is essential. We must be aware of the issues and the facts. We must know our own strengths and weaknesses and the backgrounds and motivations of others whom we wish to influence. NASP provides a wealth of support. Please go to our website and access Advocacy /Public Policy (http://nasponline.org/advocacy/index.aspx). Also visit our most recent Congressional Briefing (http://nasponline.org/advocacy/news/2011/November/Congressional-Briefing.aspx) for information on “Safe, Supportive Conditions for Learning: Making Connections for Student Success.”
Communication is vital. It is important in today's interconnected world to ensure that communication is reciprocal and that all individuals believe that they are listened to and understood, and their input has been respected and considered.
Relationships that are nurtured over time and that are based on mutual trust and understanding form the best basis for creating acceptable and effective solutions.
Timely response is often the critical value that determines the eventual success or failure of any venture.
If we pay attention to each value, the probability of success is greatly increased. However, if one value is overlooked, the chances of failure increase dramatically. This is true in both our professional and personal lives. If we undertake a self-assessment and evaluate instances where we succeeded or failed, we will appreciate the wisdom of following these four values; moreover, we will be better equipped to serve as effective advocates.
As we head toward Philadelphia for our NASP convention, I will share with you the words of Ben Franklin, a founding father, an icon of the city of Brotherly Love, and a strong supporter for the education of our nation's youth: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” See you in Philadelphia.
Philip J. Lazarus, PhD, is president of the National Association of School Psychologists