Selected Essays

By Susan Sheridan

To meet the increasing demands for service, it is evident that school psychologists must operate from systems-ecological perspectives, conceptualizing roles and responsibilities as permeating the multiple contexts and systems within which children and families function. School psychologists should be substantially less concerned with identifying what is wrong with a child, measuring problems, and delivering remedial services and substantially more concerned with prevention and promoting wellness -- that is, engaging in and conducting research on services that allow students to succeed in life. Changing the ecological systems that pervade the lives of children (e.g., schools, families, communities) provides us with the only meaningful route to prevention and thus must be among our very highest priorities as a field. Based on both clinical experience and meta-analyses, there is every reason to believe that school psychologists can be at the forefront in establishing primary and secondary prevention programs.

Services attempting to address the complex educational, societal and familial issues that we currently face cannot be conceptualized, designed, or delivered while ignoring the interacting ecological systems in which they are embedded and maintained. To realize its full professional potential, school psychology services must be tied very closely to the broad-based environmental systems that surround the children we serve. If we hope to be successful at either remediation or prevention, services will have to be linked directly to the various ecosystems within which we and our clients function. Specifically, school psychologists must develop strong working linkages with schools, families, and communities. School psychologists cannot bring about substantive and positive improvements in the lives of children unless we find ways to work successfully with educators, parents, and other community-based professionals at every systemic level. Fortunately, school psychologists are situated strategically in positions that provide almost unlimited opportunities to forge such connections. This should be the cornerstone of our work for and with children.

The importance of school-based connections with other professionals at both individual and systems levels is going to accelerate. The roles of school psychologists will likely include increasing emphases on system support, prereferral intervention, the implementation of empirically supported interventions and methods of effective teaching, health and mental health services, school-based prevention, program evaluation, organizational change and education reform, and service delivery for all children.

School psychologists can serve important functions as a liaison between education, health, and mental health; a coordinator of systems and services; and an agent for promoting healthy social and educational contexts for children and youth. The breadth and scope of the field of school psychology will be supported and enhanced to the extent that leaders in the field recognize and embrace the influence of psychology, education, health, mental health, and other essential systems in the lives of children and families. Dialogue and meaningful, collaborative interaction must occur within the field and with other related professions (e.g., social work, pediatrics, justice, community psychology) to best meet the overarching goals of school psychology: optimal and effective services for children, youth, and families.

To accomplish these various linkages, effective collaboration and problem solving skills must be present. Consultation and collaboration beyond that which occurs with individual teachers or parents are also necessary. Within the context of collaboration, school psychologists are in a position to bring psychoeducational, developmental, and educational knowledge bases to the table. Furthermore, we are in a strong position to take a leadership role in conceptualizing and conducting research to determine what works for which families and schools under what conditions. Thus, school psychologists in the future may be instrumental in (a) developing collaborative, problem solving processes, (b) providing structure to the strategies to be implemented within coordinated programs, and (c) framing a research agenda around the needs, strategies, and outcomes for children and families for whom integrated services are developed. This will require school psychologists to go beyond the walls of a school building and the immediate micro- and meso-systems within which children function. It requires us also to consider ways by which we can interface openly and constructively with a multitude of individuals, agencies, and systems that bear some level of responsibility for the children and families we serve.

Why hasn't school psychology as a field moved beyond traditional, reactive approaches? What about schools and school psychology have thwarted the efforts of previous visionaries? School psychologists must change the "ecology of school psychology" and begin redirecting our energies toward the multiple conditions that influence both children's lives, and our own professional lives as school psychologists. Internally, school psychologists have often embraced self-concepts that are antithetical to new and different paradigms. School psychologists' role conceptions have been limited to services provided to children and staff in individual buildings, and have failed to include macro-systemic issues as within the purview of practice. That is, we have role constructions that look inward to individual children and school buildings as our primary clientele. This micro-level perception will always yield micro-level results.

School psychologists must become effective advocates with those who work at macro-systemic levels, such as legislators, policy makers, administrators, parent groups, and others who define current practices. We must broaden our client base. Likewise, we must advocate for services that are congruent with ecological perspectives. We must change the structure of traditional school psychological services. Each of these has significant training issues that must be addressed in any and all "futures" work upon which we embark. As we refine our field, we must always be reconsidering the manner in which pre-professionals are prepared, and the nature and direction of our research efforts. Importantly, but not easily, we must be proactive in revisiting the defining characteristics of the field and identifying those that are essential in shaping our identity and in directing our practice, training, and research. Concomitantly, we must both have a sound conceptual vision for our future and be willing as a profession to advocate for forfeiting practices that are unnecessary for, if not impeding, our continued growth and viability.

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Last updated at August 30, 2002 by Xiaojing Kou