School Psychologists as Change Agents: Advocating for Our Own Profession
In This Section
By: Meghan R. Silva, NASP GPR Committee Graduate Student Representative
When I hear the word advocacy, I often think about school psychologists' role as change agents. I have always identified with being a change agent and have felt it is an essential component of what it means to be a school psychologist. Whether by providing mental health services, supporting students 'ability to learn and teachers' ability to teach, or assisting families in navigating the educational landscape, I firmly believe school psychologists have the training and expertise to bring about positive change to the lives of our students, families, and communities.
It recently dawned on me, however, that being a change agent can also mean evoking change within our own profession. For example, there is currently a shortage of school psychologists, with two out of three current school psychologists predicted to retire by 2020. Coupled with the knowledge that 77% of school psychologists are women (Castillo et al., 2011) and 91% are Caucasian (NASP Membership Survey 2009-2010), there is a critical need for additional school psychologists who reflect the cultural and linguistic diversity of our country. One way to actively address this need is by advocating for our own profession. As school psychologists, we know what a great career choice school psychology is - with US News and World Report agreeing, naming school psychology as the second best social service job in the United States (2016). Yet, it is less clear to the extent that others know about our profession and see it as a viable career alternative.
As school psych awareness week (SPAW) rolled around this year, I felt I had the opportunity to raise awareness about our profession to a group of individuals, many who are still uncertain about the career path they will ultimately pursue - college students. I started simply by looking in my urban university's course catalog and compiling a list of all of the Psychology 101 classes being taught in the fall semester. From there, one of my fellow graduate students emailed all of the course instructors of the courses identified and asked if we could have 10 to 15 minutes of their class time to give a presentation on school psychology. Numerous professors were receptive to our proposal and invited us to their classes to give our presentation.
We were able to use a NASP PowerPoint presentation that we customized to our student body and geographical location, making the whole process incredibly simple. Once we finished the presentations we were often presently surprised to field numerous statements and questions such as, "I worked with a school psychologist when I was in school" and "what is the difference between school psychologists and guidance counselors?". Being able to discuss the different facets of what it means to be a school psychologist allowed the undergraduate students to see the breadth of competencies a school psychologist routinely practices. As we left, we provided all of the students with NASP brochures and our contact information in case any of the students had further questions.
Realistically, it will be difficult to discern the effects of these presentations and ones similar on the profession of school psychology. However, I like to believe that it has the possibility to make a difference - to catch the ear of a student who previously had never heard of school psychology or resonate with the student who is unsure of what they can do with a major in psychology. Further, I know many of my school psychologist colleagues did not know about the field of school psychology until late into their college careers. Spreading the word early and to a diverse student body may go a long way in raising awareness of our field and starting to address the shortage and lack of diversity in our profession. If you are interested in conducting a similar advocacy activity, here are some ideas:
- Contact the psi-chi or psychology club at your local university of alma mater. These groups are often eager to welcome professionals to their meetings to talk about career opportunities for psychology majors. Here is the link to the the national psi-chi website where you can find your local chapter: psi chi chapter search
- If you work in a school district, see if your school has an 'Intro to Psychology' or AP Psychology course available to high school students. Offer to speak to them about what it means to be a school psychologist.
- Relatedly, many high schools and universities offer college and career fairs, respectively. Ask permission to have your own booth where you talk about school psychology, and hand out brochures on school psychology and the local NASP approved graduate programs.
- Speaking to highly diverse student bodies will also be an essential component in moving the field of school psychology to better reflect the cultural and linguistic diversity of our country. Here are some resources NASP has compiled for recruiting CLD school psychologists: CLD Recruitment and Scholarships in School Psychology
For additional resources, please visit the NASP website: NASP - Promoting School Psychology. Advocating for our profession can take many forms (e.g., the coordinated efforts undertaken by NASP to advocate on behalf of all school psychologists legislatively - see ESEA). That's why, although my efforts were simple to coordinate and not time-intensive, I know I am advocating for our field in a small but meaningful way.