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How Field Supervisors Can Encourage Advocacy Efforts Among Interns
Internship year is an exciting time for any school psychology graduate student. After 2 years of learning theoretical frameworks, special education law, counseling strategies, and the assessment process, students are able to generalize and apply their knowledge within the school setting. While their school psychology program provides them with a foundation, the students' field supervisors play a critical role in building their skills and knowledge as it applies to the real world. Reminiscing about my own internship experience, I learned a lot of valuable lessons; however, I cannot recall learning about the importance of advocacy in our field.
Of course, I remember hearing about our role in advocating for the education and mental health needs of our students, but not in a way that involved intentional communication and effort related to the advocacy of our profession. Perhaps a barrier to teaching the importance of advocacy is the negative connotation the word has in the field of education. As a school psychologist, when we hear the word "advocate" or "advocacy," we may think of a person sitting across the table from us demanding various services for their client; but, as an field supervisor, it is important to provide interns with the tools necessary to continue advocacy work for not only our students but also for the school psychology profession. This is especially important work since many individuals do not know the full scope and depth of our training and experience. And, given the national shortage of school psychologists and the growing mental health needs of our youth, it is more important than ever to strengthen our advocacy efforts and prepare the new generation of school psychologists.
As supervisors, we should be providing our interns with opportunities to see us engage in various grassroots advocacy work within our building or district, as well as encourage their involvement in local, state, and federal level advocacy. While NASP provides various Personal Advocacy Tips for school psychologists, an internship supervisor can provide a platform to encourage advocacy-related thinking among interns so that they are maximizing every opportunity. Having been an internship supervisor for the past three years and co-leading our district's internship program, I think it's important for us as supervisors to be intentional in our efforts to align NASPs advocacy recommendations with our supervision. Based on my experience as a practitioner, internship supervisor, and GPR committee member, here are some resources and supervision recommendations that you can implement with your intern:
1. Effective communications for school psychologists provides strategies for effectively communicating advocacy messages. As interns are learning how to navigate the mandates of our field, as well as their role within the school system, it is imperative that we help them develop their voice and support effective communication when it comes to advocacy. One of the main takeaways from this resource is the importance of concise and effective messages when engaging in advocacy. One can encourage their intern to reflect on the needs of their school site or district and support them in developing an elevator speech for a target audience, such as a committee or staff meeting.
2. Working with stakeholders also provides important consideration about understanding who we collaborate with and how we should tailor our communication based on their lens or scope. While interns may possess a basic understanding of various roles, every district has its own culture and dynamics. The supervisor may wish to take the time to explain how their district's culture impacts various stakeholders' roles and to what capacity collaboration exists. If, for instance, the intern does not have much contact with the director of your department, it may not be a good idea for them to send messages of advocacy for the field. However, if the intern regularly collaborates with counselors, they may wish to create a small presentation on the role of the psychologist and how to improve collaboration between both professions.
3. National School Psychology Week is another opportunity to have your intern engage in advocacy related to the field of school psychology. Since this is a time of year that is highly advertised by NASP and various graphics and resources are provided, supervisors can further collaborate with their interns on how they want to promote the field of school psychology that week. Perhaps you agree to make shirts or print and distribute NASP graphics. Or maybe you create a presentation or training and offer to present to the school or specific department within your district. The possibilities are endless. Last school year, my intern and I shared tidbits of information about what a school psychologist is trained to do or linked research with recommendations.
Again, these are just a few ideas of what internship supervisors can do to instill the importance of advocacy among their interns and demonstrate the power of intentional communication. It is also important to remember that interns are typically receiving training about the latest research and best practices at their program; so, engaging with them collaboratively so that they can contribute to the advocacy efforts may also provide you with a new sense of appreciation and diligence to advocacy for the field of school psychology.