Advocacy, Leadership and Legislation... "Are we there yet?"

By: Margaret A. Sedor, GPR Western Regional Coordinator

As the school year ends and we all head to the parking lot to begin our summer break, we look forward to relaxing with our family and loved ones. Remember looking forward to summer as a kid? I can't help but to reflect on summers gone by-the beach, the pool, bike riding, BBQ, and family trips across country from one coast to another. How many of you are jumping in a car this summer and heading across county with your families? I can remember those long trips with my parents and four siblings in a station wagon and a tent trailer traversing the landscape of our country. We loved meeting new people, the sites and quality family time together, yet, the drive always seemed to take forever. If any of you have had this experience as a child or parent, I'm sure you have that one infamous phrase stuck in your head ... "Are we there yet?"  

In reflecting on this past school year, I can't help but think of the importance of our work as school psychologists with crisis management and our role in advocacy and wonder, "Are we there yet?" We know the importance of advocacy, especially in terms of fostering learning environments that are both physically and psychologically safe for students and staff. Yet, do we recognize and honor the advocacy work we engage in daily on behalf of our students and communities, and do we ever get there? I've come to realize that advocacy is a journey, not a destination. Advocacy is like those road trips we have taken; it's not always where we end up but the experience along the way. The mantra and presidential theme of Dr. John Kelly comes to mind: "THE POWER of ONE". Often, advocacy is conceptualized as a visit to the Hill with our state organization or NASP, writing letters to our local legislators, or perhaps providing expert testimony. These advocacy activities are crucial to our collective voice, work, and services we provide for students, yet, they are not the only stop along the way. Advocacy is a practice each of us engages in each day within our schools, and it's important to recognize and honor this work. Each day in our practice we engage in advocacy efforts in our schools, we respond to a student in need, we consult with teachers about classroom strategies, we provide presentation at faculty meetings about mental health, and the list goes on and on. Yet, do we really recognize that each connection and relationship we build is advocacy?

For decades in our school district and community, we have been advocating for the importance of crisis management, building our teams and advancing our work in supporting students, educators, and communities in response to suicide and crisis events. Not only have we provided direct response support, but for several years we have provided professional development and created a system in terms of prevention, intervention, and postvention. It seemed each time a crisis occurred in our district or surrounding districts, a small group of us were called upon as responders. We had a dream to create a community of crisis responders working from one conceptual model. First stop of our advocacy efforts: We attended the NASP PREPaRE Training of Trainers at the NASP convention and became PREPaRE trainers. The PREPaRE model has been developed by educators for educators and provides a framework of crisis management, system development, assessment, and selection of crisis response in order to address both physical and psychological safety and facilitate returning the school to its pre-crisis state. Ok, now what? Next stop: We trained our district school psychologist and then the county office crisis team in NASP PREPaRE Workshop 2: Crisis Intervention and Recovery: The Roles of School-Based Mental Health Professionals. Over the past several years, the county office team has cast a net countywide by providing training and creating a universal framework within our county. And the most recent stop on this journey: Our district team has been able to bring school psychologists, school counselors, and school therapists together for the first time as a community of school-based mental health providers.  

Are we there yet? The real question is, do we every really get "there"? Advocacy is that something we each do every day to provide the best supports to our students, staff, parents, and community. It's important for each of us to embrace "I AM ADVOCACY". As you sit poolside with your favorite book and feel the warmth of the sun, or in the car between tourist sites, I ask you to reflect on your school year and celebrate the advocacy work you've done and the impact it has made on your community, and ask yourself what is your next stop in this journey?