Selected Essays

By Steve Warner

It is my belief that school districts that value the role and expertise of School Psychologists have minimal difficulty recruiting and retaining qualified professionals. It is the school districts who limit the duties of their School Psychologists and allow minimal involvement in activities outside of testing and placing students who will find it difficult to maintain qualified staff.

Having said that, there are still many things that our profession can do to better recruit and retain School Psychologists. Our recruiting efforts must begin early. It is essential to educate high school students about the profession of school psychology. Speaking to high school students in their general psychology classes and working with the High School Counselors with career exploration activities are important. In addition, we cannot neglect the under-graduate college students. Promoting the profession by speaking to general psychology classes and to Psychology Clubs is another way to spread the word. Offering these students the opportunity to "shadow" a practicing School Psychologist is another way to excite them about this profession. Often times, under-graduates in psychology who are in their junior and senior years in college are looking for career ideas. I have had several university students perform internships with me for a semester. In every case, these students went on to graduate school for School Psychology.

In addition, state School Psychology organizations can support graduate students by offering scholarships to traditional graduate students, older returning students, and minority students.

With regard to retaining school psychologists, our state School Psychology associations need to provide better support to those who are new to the field. Including student seminars and presentations geared for the student populations at state conferences is essential. In addition, developing mentoring programs for newer School Psychologists is urged. Those with less than three years in the field are often over-whelmed by the demands of the job. Having another person who has been through the fires to bounce ideas off is helpful.

Attracting new professionals to the state school psychology organizations is essential. Again, beginning early is essential. Leaders in state School Psychology associations need to form relationships with professors in training programs to promote student membership in the state associations. Once the newer professionals are involved in the associations, the next step is to provide opportunities for them to have a voice on the governing Boards.

Meeting the demand for service in the face of diminishing numbers is a difficult task - and made even more difficult when the School Psychologist: Student ratio is more than 1:1000. When the ratio grows, the amount of time spent with pre-referral intervention efforts is limited and this leads to increased numbers of special education referrals. Obtaining support for our unique and diverse role from the leaders of the School Board and district administrators is essential.

School Psychologists typically have a unique perspective of a school district since we work directly in individual buildings, but also can see a larger perspective. School Psychologists should be involved more in district-level initiatives and systems-level intervention. For example, in the past years NASP has encouraged School Psychologists to become involved in the establishment of Crisis Response Teams and Pre-referral Intervention Teams. In addition, School Psychologists can share their expertise in other areas as well. Some might include: creation and evaluation of reading intervention programs, involvement in asset-building, at-risk services, and helping create district policies for important issues like retention, Zero-tolerance for weapons, alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, and high-stakes testing.

I am fortunate that the School Psychologist: Student ratio in my district is 1:1000. This allows opportunities for involvement in meaningful intervention efforts. I have been involved in the establishment of a mentoring program at my elementary school. We have targeted between 30 - 35 students and assign them to a caring adult. Many of these are teachers, but I have worked hard to secure support staff including custodians, clerical staff, kitchen staff, and playground supervisors. They are asked to spend time with their "Special Friend" each week throughout the year. As the relationship grows, the children feel more comfortable and bonded to school. This keeps many "at-risk" students from giving up on school and out of the referral process for special education.

Another way to meet the demands for service is to utilize others within the school district. The last several years, we have worked with the teachers at the High School and have asked for National Honor Society students and other interested students to exchange their study hall times for tutoring elementary students. Since our buildings are in close proximity, this has worked extremely well. This serves another purpose by exposing these talented students to the field of School Psychology.

Perhaps involving staff from the state departments of public instruction in helping to educate school districts about the varied skills of a School Psychologist would be beneficial. I know that in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin School Psychologists Association joined forces with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and produced a series of newsletters entitled, Changing Times, Changing Lives. The purpose of this publication was to help educate district administrators about the diverse skills and talents of School Psychologists and to encourage School Psychologists themselves to become involved in innovative and effective intervention practices within their districts.

Since I'm not a trainer, I don't have a great deal of ideas with regard to how the nature of School Psychology training should change to deal with shortages of School Psychologists. However, I feel that with increased emphasis across the country on accountability, School Psychologists need to have knowledge of program evaluation and applied research. It is likely that increased federal funding will be available to hire those who can assist with these efforts.

In addition, I believe that professors should encourage their students to give more presentations so they can improve their public speaking skills and feel more comfortable speaking in front of others. Once in the field, School Psychologists are frequently sought after to give presentations about any number of topics including parenting, ADHD, behavior management techniques, and even how to respond in the event of a crisis. This increased awareness can, in turn, lead more people to the field of School Psychology.

In summary, the projected shortage of School Psychologists across the country will primarily affect school districts that don't value the diversified role and unique training of their School Psychologists. Even so, there are many ways to address these shortages including informing high school students about our profession, reaching out to under-graduate college and university students, and offering scholarships to graduate students. Once in the profession, retention efforts must increase so that professionals don't prematurely leave the field. To address the demands for service, School Psychologists need to reach out and involve others with early intervention efforts in order to free up time from testing and placing. Changes in training programs should be made so School Psychologists are knowledgeable with program evaluation and applied research.

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Last updated at August 30, 2002 by Xiaojing Kou