Leaders and Brand New Endings
By Amy R. Smith
Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending—Carl Bard
In writing this final president's message, there is a temptation to reflect and revisit the events that have occurred throughout the year. While that is not a bad idea, and there are stories to tell, I would prefer to spend my last column on the idea of being a leader and creating brand new endings.
In my first column, I shared a favorite quote, “Decisions are made by those who show up,” in an effort to illustrate the need for school psychologists to be more visible in leadership roles at the local, state, and national levels. Of course, just showing up is not the point; it is only the first step, a beginning. Once we assume a leadership role, the real work is in what we do to choose a direction, shape the future, and create a new ending.
There are many obstacles to change: lack of skill, desire, or resources; lack of power or political will. The obstacle I have seen most frequently in my work in schools is the lack of meaningful implementation of improvement plans. Too often, potentially successful plans are developed but meaningful follow-through is lacking, and a significant change in practice doesn't occur. We know the ending for those stories: more of the same inadequate performance, dismissal of the plan as unsuccessful, and frustration in the staff over wasted resources and effort. Those are the scenarios that need leaders who can facilitate new endings.
As we work to be leaders in our buildings and districts and to facilitate successful improvement plans, it is critical that school psychologists be involved in policy and planning discussions to direct the focus toward research and best practices. When there are discussions on how to improve our schools, we must share our unique knowledge and skills to facilitate decisions that will result in meaningful change in practice and ultimately positive results for students and families. We are in a position to raise awareness, challenge the status quo, and promote best practice.
For example, when there are discussions within buildings and districts surrounding school safety, school psychologists are able to bring a broad perspective to the conversation. We know there is no one thing that will make our schools safer places. We need to help those making policy decisions and the families who send their children to us every day understand that there are numerous pieces to the puzzle. School psychologists understand that the most effective way of addressing the issue of school safety is to promote a comprehensive plan that encompasses building security measures, mental health services, and effective instruction.
Creating a safe, secure, and welcoming environment is necessary for our students to maximize their learning potential. One aspect of creating that environment includes ensuring that adequate mental health services are available. School psychologists can advocate for a wide range of services, from prevention activities like promoting good mental health to providing interventions to the students who need them along the way. Research shows that, of the students that need mental health services, the majority receive those services in school. Ensuring those supports are available will allow students an opportunity to fully participate in school. Other aspects of creating environments conducive to success include promoting effective instruction and strengthening family–school relationships. Both are also valuable ways for school psychologists to influence changes in practice that will lead to optimal opportunities for students to rise to their full potential.
Throughout this year, the Building Leaders theme has been our focus. We have examined how school psychologists can fill leadership roles in their buildings as well as how NASP can seek to promote and build leaders within our field. After spending this year interacting with school psychologists across the country, I have no doubt that both NASP and our profession are fundamentally sound and poised to be leaders in the field of education for the foreseeable future.
I would be remiss if I were to end this final president's message without properly acknowledging and thanking the volunteer and staff leaders of NASP that I have had the pleasure to know and work with. This association is driven by extraordinary people, as evidenced by the quality of work they consistently produce. It is their dedication and selfless service that keeps this well-oiled machine running. It's been an honor to be counted among them and I'm thankful for all their support.
The past year has been a remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. It has been a privilege to serve as NASP president, and I'm grateful for the opportunity. I look forward to the future when, as a profession and an association, we expand our focus on building leaders.
Amy R. Smith is the president of the National Association of School Psychologists.