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By: Barry Barbarasch, NASP GPR Northeast Regional Coordinator
Several months ago I was going through a stack of papers and came across a certificate I had received for attending a workshop at a New Jersey Association of School Psychologists conference. The title of the workshop was "Expanding the Role of the School Psychologist," and the date was January, 1986. Several things occurred to me as a result. One was obvious: That after all these years we continue to pursue expanding the role of the school psychologists. Certainly our advocacy efforts, nationally, as well as in New Jersey, have focused on expanding the role of the school psychologist. Our NJASP-GPR committee has been active promoting the role of the school psychologist beyond assessment and special education gatekeeper, with some success. When the New Jersey Department of Education formed a Stakeholders Focus Group to assist in planning the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, a member of the NJASP Executive Board was invited to participate and advocated for school psychologists to play a role in implementation. Similarly, as the NJDOE formed a committee to plan the implementation of an MTSS framework in New Jersey, three members of the NJASP Executive Board were invited to participate. We have also been invited by the NJ Principals and Supervisor's Association to present workshops as part of their professional development efforts.
So it appears that our advocacy efforts are bearing some fruit. However, it raises other issues. Most school psychologists I know work very long hours, often taking work home with them. Recently, a guest speaker in a class I teach asked my students, "What is the greatest challenge you face in your work?" One of my students answered in one word: "time." All the other students nodded in agreement. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of expand is, "to increase the extent, number, volume, or scope." If school psychologists barely have the time to complete their work as is, how are they supposed to expand their role?
This suggests that we should not be talking so much about expanding our role-we should be talking about transforming our role. This means not only taking on new roles, but perhaps shedding old ones. To me, therein lies the challenge. In many, if not most cases, the role of the school psychologist is determined by Federal/State law, and/or past practice. Most school psychologists cannot simply decide to do less of X (e.g., testing, IEP development) and more of Y (e.g., counseling, program development, prevention). I believe what is needed is not simply a plan for what the transformation will look like, but a plan for how the transformation be implemented. It would seem that these plans would differ from state to state and from district to district, since each state and district has its own laws and past practices-what works in one setting is likely to not work in another, or at least would need to be adapted.
This to me is the greatest challenge as we advocate to provide comprehensive school psychological services to all children. It is goal we should continue to strive for, as the beneficiaries will be children, schools, and families. However, these advocacy efforts need to include a plan to implement this transformation. This will likely not be easy and perhaps will be time-consuming, but it will no doubt be worth the effort.