How I’d Practice School Psychology

Thoughts from a former school psychologist.

Posted Apr 24, 2019

Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, Public Domain

It’s been a long time since I’ve been a school psychologist, and my conversations with current ones indicate that the field has changed some, but I sense that school psychologists still might benefit from my view of the profession from fresh eyes.

Here are some thoughts on how I’d practice school psychology. They embed principles for how others might choose to practice, and dare I say, even offer some lessons on the life well-led.

Perhaps most importantly, I’d adjust my job description to fit my strengths and what I believe will make the biggest difference. Usually, I’ll be required to do some special education testing and participate in developing each student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), but I feel I’d make a bigger difference if, when I have discretion, I did less of that and more one-on-one mentoring, being a confidant/coach of the principal and other administrators, leading parent, teacher, and student workshops on study skills, conflict resolution, parenting, sexuality, bullying, unwanted touching, substance abuse, stress management, time management, and for gifted students, for example, being a high-ability person in a mixed-ability world. I'd also leave some time for getting involved in school activities that have nothing to do with my work as a school psychologist, so the kids and adults see me as a human being, less intimidating. For example, I know a school psychologist who does cameo roles in school plays. That's exactly the sort of thing I'd do for the kids' benefit and my own—I'd find that fun.

I have been a classroom teacher, so I’d also do some coaching of the teachers. But many school psychologists haven’t been effective teachers in the past. If this is true for you, even if consulting with teachers is in your job description or you were trained on the importance of being a consultant to teachers, you might want to minimize time on that in favor of one or more of the activities mentioned above or some other activity that leverages your strengths and your judgment of what activities will make the biggest difference.

As mentioned, typically, a core activity of the school psychologist is testing children for eligibility for special education, then working with regular and special education teachers and others to develop the child’s IEP. Here, my guiding principle would be, “What is the wisest allocation of school resources?” The law mandates that every special ed child is entitled to a “free and appropriate public education.” But there’s a big difference between “appropriate” and “ideal.” My job is as an advocate not just for that child but for all the children in my purview. The budget is fixed. So, while of course I’d make all efforts to ensure the child gets an appropriate education, I’d ever be asking myself, “Is this expenditure of money or effort wise stewardship of the money and school personnel time?" I’d be doing that thinking as I contemplate, for example, recommending daily speech therapy, a private aide on the school bus, a private school placement at the school-district expense, or demanding that the regular or special ed teachers provide time-consuming individualization that would diminish other students’ education.

That focus on creating the most benefit within the budget would also extend to my time. For example, I’d be asking myself whether developing a from-scratch, detailed IEP will sufficiently benefit the child versus check-the-boxes software. Also, I’d spend more discretionary time working on behalf of children I believed would derive greater benefits from my efforts rather than—as is tempting—on those with the greatest deficit.

The takeaway

I hope this outside perspective might help school psychologists make a bigger difference in the lives of kids, teachers, administrators, and parents. Hindsight may or may not be 20/20, but perhaps even my 20/40 might have some value.