Creating Access: Lead
By Sally A. Baas
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
One of the greatest joys of being president of NASP this year has been the opportunity to be in the company of so many fine school psychologists. Truly, our nation is filled with dynamic, energetic, hardworking professionals who are focused on using the NASP Model for Comprehensive and Integrated School Psychological Services to enhance their profession and influence policies and procedures that will create greater access to mental health and other services for their students.
In an effort to bring forward a leadership model to enhance the Practice Model, this fall it has been my opportunity to challenge state and regional NASP leaders to examine the way they lead by using the Jim Kouzes and Barry Postner leadership model. That model includes demonstrating by example; creating a succinct, shared vision; challenging the way we do things; enabling others to participate in the work; and encouraging the individuals with whom we work. The model focuses on understanding the urgency for “doing leadership” differently by creating powerful coalitions, generating a shared commitment to meet students' needs, and making organizational changes based on a compelling vision and mission. Communication by those who have agreed to model the change effort is critical. All this is done by empowering our teams to act by reworking, modifying, or changing systems or structures that impede the change. An important component of this model is to celebrate the successes along the way.
When we begin a new year, perhaps the greatest and most unique of challenges we can contemplate as school psychologist leaders is to know our own culture as a basis from which to learn about someone else's. For example, some people who have accomplished successful change projects have not recognized themselves as change leaders; however, they have demonstrated courage, believed in their teams, and assumed responsibility while learning from their errors. It is that ability to manage complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity that makes for accomplishment. “You cannot force commitment; what you can do.… You nudge a little here, inspire a little there, and provide a role model. Your primary influence is the environment you create,” according to businessman Peter M. Senge.
School psychologists around the nation are acting as the change points in organizations. For example, Terry Molony, PsyD, NCSP, a school psychologist in New Jersey, is creating change in her school by using the tenets of positive psychology. The roots of positive psychology are found in philosophy, religion, and established psychological theories. Molony is applying these principles to raise the self-esteem and social– emotional strengths of students by helping them develop a high regard for their positive qualities. Her work with her students focuses on decatastrophizing situations, optimism activities, and building signature strengths including courage, justice, humanity, temperance, wisdom, and transcendence. The goal is to increase overall well-being by increasing positive emotions using the components of positive psychology: positive affect, flow, hope, optimism, gratitude, and using their signature strengths.
This is a radical transformational change for the students at her school, a “paradigm-breaking burst” altering the whole organization's way of viewing itself and changing the way staff members view students while building on the students' strengths and successes. For a cultural change like this one to emerge, the staff looks through a “positivity lens,” helping them benefit from working through their own mental models or the way they have previously approached ideas consciously or unconsciously. For example, some people look at students who have lots of tattoos or body piercings as fringe kids, and when they are gathered in groups, to be a crowd to be reckoned with, yet through a positivity lens, we may see these students as individuals who are willing to express themselves in distinctive, not negative ways. Molony's leadership in her school is helping her students and staff approach ideas in new ways.
As leaders in our school communities, we need to develop an understanding of the creative process that needs to take place in order to make changes like this happen. That process includes recognizing a problem or opportunity, gathering information, and thinking about or responding to the issues with or without consideration of school and district politics. When we are creative, we are more likely to be innovative in a time of change. Our work can never be more invigorating and challenging than when we are doing new things that will impact our students for the better.
I hope you will take these concepts to heart and come to the NASP convention, February 17–21, 2014, challenging yourself to thought-provoking conversations while you attend sessions and special events. Keep in mind this important idea: “Stepping onto a brand new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation which is not nurturing to all” (Maya Angelou).
Sally A. Baas, EdD, is on the faculty of Concordia University—St. Paul (MN) and is president of the National Association of School Psychologists.