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Communication Matters

Communicating Effectively to Obtain Supervision of Professional Practice

By Barbara A. Fischetti, Bradley Petry, & Jessica Kouvel Munch

School psychologists are expected by parents, students, and their profession to maintain their competency to ensure the appropriate delivery of psychological services. Supervision by a school psychologist is a prime method for maintaining skill levels and updating professional services. Unfortunately, many school districts do not understand the critical importance of such professional supervision, versus administrative supervision, and have school psychologists supervised by nonschool psychologists who cannot provide the level of guidance and support necessary. In fact, Chafouleas, Clonan, and Vanauken (2002) found that only 55% of school psychologists receive formal supervision and only 13% of school psychologists receive informal supervision. This indicates that school psychologists are likely not getting enough administrative or professional supervision, and they may not be accessing alternate methods of supervision to meet recommendations from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). School psychologists are responsible for seeking out and advocating for proper supervision when it isn't provided. This column highlights key information and effective strategies to communicate to supervisors and/or peers your supervision needs and the benefits to students.

Evidence-Based Practice and Standards

The NASP Model for Comprehensive and Integrated School Psychological Services (2010a) supports supervision and delineates six organizational principles that are ncessary for systems employing school psychologists. Organizational Principle 5: Supervision and Mentoring (NASP, 2010a) clearly outlines and defines the importance of supervision for both the school psychologist and school psychology unit. Additionally, the NASP Principles for Professional Ethics (2010b) frequently refers to supervision. According to the NASP professional ethics, clinicians should continuously receive supervision, seek it if they lack expertise or cultural competency, and consult with peers and supervisors in order to resolve ethical issues.

The NASP position statement on Supervision in School Psychology (2011) recommends supervision for all school psychologists regardless of experience with more intensive supervision at a minimum of 1 hour weekly for the entry-level school psychologist. The position statement defines professional supervision as

… an ongoing, positive, systematic, collaborative process between the school psychologist and school psychology supervisor. This process focuses on promoting professional growth and exemplary professional practice leading to improved performance by all, including the school psychologist, supervisor, students, and the entire school community. (p. 1)

Administrative supervision focuses more on job duties and the functioning of the school psychology unit. Professional supervision deals with ensuring professional growth and meeting standards specifically related to school psychology practice. NASP (2011) recommends professional supervision that matches the developmental level of the school psychologist and is available at the frequency necessary to meet the professional needs of the individual school psychologist and the school psychology services unit. The following communications model provides a structure for advocating for this level of supervision.

Tier 1: Before Employment

How does a school psychologist find a system that provides and meets supervision standards as outlined by the NASP principles? In a basic way, a school psychologist must be intimately familiar with the NASP principles and clearly interview the system prior to accepting an employment opportunity. The following questions may assist the school psychologist in this process:

  • Is there a coordinated school psychology services unit lead by a credentialed school psychologist?
  • Is the lead school psychologist available for professional supervision? Is there also time built into the school day for these activities? Is there available time devoted to supervision for complex, difficult cases?
  • Is professional development provided specific to the development of school psychology skills? Is there support financially to attend national and state conferences?
  • Does the school psychology services unit meet regularly and have opportunities for peer mentoring?
  • Is there a specific job description with an accompanying evaluation instrument?
  • Is there an opportunity to receive professional supervision at a level that would support additional licensing opportunities?
  • Are there future opportunities to supervise interns and practicum students?
  • Does the system have available materials and technological resources for school psychologists?
  • Are there additional career opportunities for school psychologists?
  • Does the unit have a mission and vision?

If the school system answers no to the above questions, a critical follow up should include:

  • Is the system supportive of providing opportunities to increase supervision in the system or will they provide time for the school psychologist to meet locally or regionally with other school psychologists? Is there an opportunity to develop a supervision plan that includes specific professional development activities?

Tier 2: Within Employment Led by a Credentialed School Psychologist

School psychologists as a unit need to share the importance and outcomes of quality professional supervision to school systems. Understanding what an effective model of supervision looks like is important to articulating to current supervisors or decision makers the steps and components needed to move toward an appropriate model.

Fischetti and Lines (2003) described two school-based models that provided school psychology supervision to staff. The Westport (CT) Public Schools has a school psychology services unit lead by a credentialed school psychologist. The ratio of school psychologist to student is approximately 1:250. Supervision is provided as outlined in the NASP Practice Model (2010a). Individual, group, and peer supervision is available based on the developmental needs of the individual school psychologist. Professional development is also provided specific to the needs of the unit. Most recently, the department participated in a series of workshops on cognitive behavioral therapy. Additionally, the lead school psychologist provides supervision hours to meet state credentialing standards for licensure as a professional counselor or psychologist. The department also has a job description, evaluation instrument, and mission and vision statements. These documents are reviewed and updated. This school psychology services unit has worked tirelessly to provide outstanding services to children and families from prevention through responsive services.

Fischetti (2011) also described the Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools as an example of a system that is lead by a credentialed school psychologist. The school psychology services unit has school psychology standards and an evaluation process that is based on these standards. The school psychology supervisor is part of the evaluative process for staff. In point of fact, Maryland has a certification specifically for a supervisor of school psychologists (Code of Maryland Regulations (13A.12.04.08 [2012]).

There are a number of strategies to use to advocate for implementation of this type of a professional supervision model:

  • Join your local school psychology organization, whether that organization is formal (such as Montgomery County School Psychologists' Association or as in Baltimore City Association of School Psychologists' in Maryland), or informal through Listservs where local school psychologists connect and discuss professional issues. Advocating as a unified group is almost always more successful than individually. In particular, you want to avoid school psychologists within district conveying conflicting or competing messages. Identifying leaders to act as spokespeople is helpful. Board members, if you have them, or selected school psychologists can meet with supervisors to share ideas for how to plan and implement an appropriate supervision plan. These school psychologists may also be helpful in planning local peer supervision opportunities. Bringing solutions as opposed to problems can be very effective in advocating for change. If a local organization is unavailable, consider developing a regional network of school psychologists.
  • Develop clear, consistent messages about the need and value of supervision and be sure that all school psychologists in the unit are familiar with and incorporating them into their communications on a regular basis.
  • Offer to help create resources that are associated with best practices in supervision, such as evaluation tools and rubrics, job descriptions, and mission/vision statements. As a NASP member, a school psychologist can utilize NASP position statements, Principles for Professional Ethics, and the NASP Practice Model to assist and guide the document process.
  • Join the NASP Supervision Interest Group Community in the NASP Online Communities. It is a great place to seek advice and request samples of resources related to supervision (http://communities.nasponline.org/nasponline/home).
  • Develop a needs assessment survey to be completed by school psychologists in your district and in your area. Using it as a basis for decision-making is in keeping with school psychology principles and can be very helpful in determining the level of need and types of content to be included in professional development and supervision practices.
  • Contact local policy makers and legislators (particularly during School Psychology Awareness Week) and inform them of the importance of supervision practices for school psychologists. Maryland's certification for supervisors of school psychologists is part of state law. This may be an excellent start when conversing with supervisors and state policy makers regarding the importance of supervision.
  • When discussing school psychology practice with parents, share with them the importance of appropriate supervision and professional development activities for school psychologists. PTAs may be especially helpful when seeking funding for professional development and for being supportive of supervision practices for school psychologists.
  • Develop a series of case vignettes, much like those used for ethics training, that illustrate the value of effective supervision. Colorful scenarios may help nonpractitioners, school administrators, and policy makers see the value of supervision and the potentially detrimental consequences of having ineffective or no supervision.
  • Work with your state school psychology association and state education department to advocate for supervision by a school psychologist. This can be especially helpful for managing school psychology practice issues. Connecticut school psychologists, working in conjunction with the state education department developed a publication, Guidelines for the Practice of School Psychology (2004). This publication described the range of services provided by school psychologists and the need for appropriate supervision and professional development. The Commissioner of Education sent a copy to every principal in Connecticut. School psychologists at a local level were able to have a conversation with their administrators regarding the publication, their supervision needs, and supervision's role in their employment.
  • Remain active on local, regional, state, and national levels. Participating on state and national committees that impact practice and delivery of services for children is critical to the profession.
  • If one is available, collaborate with your state consultant for school psychology. Often this person is aware of state committees or issues that may impact school psychology and can be a conduit to the state to represent the importance of supervision and professional development for the school psychologist.
  • Write articles and conduct research on school psychology supervision and professional development. Submit these to your state association, national association, or to journals.
  • When supervision by a school psychologist is unavailable, it is important to share with current administrators or supervisors what the school psychologist is doing to access supervision and professional development activities outside the district.

Tier 3: Within Employment Without a Lead Schol Psychologist

While advocating for direct professional supervision by a school psychologist is important, some school districts either won't or can't provide it, perhaps as a function of the district's size, finances, or possibly state policy. Practicing school psychologists may find themselves supervised by middle-level managers not versed in school psychology practice.

Without appropriate supervision, the school psychologist has a responsibility to look for this support through other venues. State and national school psychological associations provide venues for professional development and collegial support. Internet communities, like the NASP Supervision Interest Group community, and local Listservs among peers can be valuable resources to school psychologists seeking greater guidance, particularly with ethical decision-making and in skill enhancement. Peer supervision groups (PSG), including online peer supervision groups, are one method to achieve these supervisory needs, especially for school psychologists who may require more frequent supervision and consultation. PSGs are groups of related members who meet or are in touch regularly to discuss cases and other professional matters and provide mutual support (Counselman & Weber, 2004). Leaderless consultation or PSG formats offer the opportunity to reduce professional isolation, prevent burnout, and reduce shame about mistakes (Counselman & Weber, 2004). Cocol, Newman, Munch, and Shoemaker (2011) found that participants in an e-mail exchange community felt that their own skills increased in a variety of domains from both receiving assistance and providing feedback to peer questions. Other benefits included timely responses, a feeling of comfort when asking questions to the group rather than to a supervisor who evaluates, and being able to access a number of resources and a variety of perspectives efficiently. In this case, members were local, and the peer resource communication was used as a supplement to direct professional supervision. Novice practitioners may find a resource such as a peer Listserv to be particularly helpful if greater supervision needs cannot be met.

In addition to the Supervision Interest Group community, the NASP Member Exchange online community is available for NASP members to seek advice and collaborative guidance on wide-ranging professional issues. Like the local online group, this type of collaborative resource is not meant to replace regular, direct supervision from an experienced and qualified supervisor. However, if greater needs exist than can be filled by a school psychologist's current supervisory situation, the NASP online communities can be a valuable augmentation.

Summary

Professional supervision is a necessity to school psychology practice. School psychologists must advocate for this by clearly articulating to their school systems the reasons for such practice. NASP standards clearly define supervision standards, and it is incumbent on professionals to share these standards with their supervisors or prior to employment. Today's practicing school psychologist expects supervision and professional development consistent with the NASP standards. It is our responsibility to communicate this need to ensure appropriate delivery of psychological services for children and their families.

References

Chafoulas, S. M., Clonan, S. M., & Vanauken, T. L. (2002). A national survey of current supervision and evaluation practices of school psychologists. Psychology in the Schools, 39, 317–325.

Cocol, P. A., Newman, D. S., Munch, J. K., & Shoemaker, K. E. (2011, February). Embracing the learning curve: Supervision and the early career school psychologist. Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the National Association of School Psychologists, San Fransisco, CA.

Code of Maryland Regulations, 13A.12.04.08 (2012). Retrieved from http://www.dsd.state.md.us/comar/getfile.aspx?file=13a.12.04.08.htm

Connecticut State Department of Education. (2004). Guidelines for the practice of school psychology. Hartford, CT: Author.

Counselman, E. F., & Weber, R. L. (2004). Organizing and maintaining peer supervision groups. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 54, 125–143.

Fischetti, B. A. (2011). Managing your professional practice as a school psychologist. In T. Lionetti, E. Snyder, & R. Christner (Eds.). A practical guide to building professional competencies in school psychology (pp. 51–67). New York, NY: Springer.

Fischetti, B. A., & Lines, C. L. (2003). Views from the field: Models for school-based clinical supervision. The Clinical Supervisor, 22(1), 75–86.

National Association of School Psychologists. (2011). Supervision in school psychology [Position Statement]. Bethesda, MD: Author.

National Association of School Psychologists. (2010a). Model for comprehensive and integrated school psychological services. Bethseda, MD: Author.

National Association of School Psychologists. (2010b). Principles for professional ethics. Bethesda, MD: Author.


Barbara A. Fischetti DEd, is the recently retired coordinator of psychological services for the Westport (CT) Public Schools. She is currently an adjunct professor for Fairfield University and St. Joseph College in Connecticut. Bradley Petry is a school psychologist in the Baltimore City Public Schools school district. He is also a third-year doctoral candidate in the school psychology PsyD program at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Jessica Kouvel Munch is a school psychologist currently working as a trainer and consultant for Baltimore City Public Schools' FBA/BIP training team.