The Advocacy Seeds We Plant

By: Paul Baker, NASP GPR Member from Kentucky

When my family and I moved into our current house, my brother gave me three lilac bushes that weren't much more than a few twigs. The first few years after I planted them at the end of my driveway, they were not much to look at. All of a sudden last year they begin to produce the blooms that the bush is famous for. It was only a few at first, but now they continue to grow. I find this is a great analogy for how I came to be an advocate for our profession. 

The seed of my advocacy journey began with my first job out of graduate school (also my current job). I was the first true school psychologist that my district hired, which meant that they didn't really know what a school psychologist could do beyond an assessment and report role for special education eligibility. 

I had to constantly communicate what my role could/should be and the array of services I was trained to deliver. All of this communicating with different stakeholders in the school community prepared me for advocacy. Additionally, at this time states were developing and rolling out there plans for the reauthorization of IDEA, the new special education law. Its requirement that students be provided with scientifically researched-based interventions prior to an evaluation promised to fundamentally change how schools provide supports to their vulnerable students.

As a "wet behind the ears" intern, who was already trying to communicate my role, I found the idea of trying to prepare my school district for the changes this law would bring a daunting one. This crucible proved to be fertile ground that cultivated in me a since of fearlessness and "can do" attitude when it comes to advocating for school psychology and addressing legislative and regulatory changes.

As a new advocate and leader for our profession at the state level, I attended NASP's Public Policy Institute (PPI) in 2011 to experience advocacy at the national level. Anyone who has attended PPI knows that the last day is the Capitol Hill day. During our meeting in Senator Rand Paul's office, the staffer we met with asked us what we thought of the NCLB Waiver that Senator Paul cosigned with our then Governor. My Kentucky colleague and I were at first taken aback because we didn't know about the waiver, but we recovered quickly and asked if the staff person would be willing to share it with us. As I read the conditions of the waiver on my flight home, one of them required the establishment of a common statewide staff evaluation system that include teachers, principals, and even support personnel like school psychologists. 

In the weeks and months after I returned home, I focused on advocating with individuals in my state association about this coming change. I also reached out to my state education department to find out how they would include school psychologist in the development of this system. This led to me being named as one of two school psychologists to a state steering committee charged with developing this system for "Other Professionals." Right away, my colleague and I saw an inherent problem in trying to create a "one size fits all" rating system for a field as diverse as ours.

To make a long story short, because we were on this committee and because we effectively advocated to our members, it was ultimately determined that school psychologist should be exempt from this system for this reason. In the current climate of political uncertainty, we are all faced with what seems a daunting challenge, but try to remember that this is new fertile ground for advocacy and that the seeds we plant now will bear fruit someday.