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School Psychologists, Juggling & Systems-Level Change


school psychologist addresses student

There are two things about me that you may not know: (1) I can juggle; (2) I am a certified school psychologist. And I think that there is a connection between these seemingly random facts. Let me explain…


First, the juggling: when I was in high school, I discovered that my very talented younger sister had learned to juggle. I immediately believed that if she could do it, well, of course so could I. So, I embarked on a tortured process of self-instruction (conducted in an era before YouTube) marked by numerous setbacks that at last culminated in the modest accomplishment of being able to keep 3 balls in the air for a reasonable span of time. (In my later work as a school consultant, I found that I could empathize with the plight of students struggling with complex reading or math demands by recalling my own frustrations in trying to acquire the far simpler skill of juggling!)

School Psychology

My decision to enter the field of school psychology 29 years ago was a bit more roundabout. I was at loose ends after graduate school, wondering how to monetize my masters in English literature. My uncle was a guidance counselor who clearly enjoyed his job, so, I decided to enroll in a school counseling program at a local college. We counselors-in-training shared some of our courses with students from the college’s school psychology program — and I couldn’t help noticing that the school psychologists appeared to be having a lot more fun than we were! Within a semester, I had switched my major to school psychology.

Once in the psychology program, I had the misimpression that the primary role of school psychologists was to evaluate children for special-education services. But my first school psychology job in an urban school district quickly exploded that notion. The needs of my elementary school were great, and staff were very receptive to new ideas and initiatives. From day one, I was sharing ideas with teachers about how to provide effective classroom academic and behavioral support, counseling students, collaborating with building administrators to strengthen the school-wide behavioral climate, and connecting with outside agencies to bring services into my school. I was forced to juggle a range of duties — from providing direct service to students and teachers, to helping to reshape the larger building-wide system of student supports — and found the work exhilarating.

While I now work full-time privately as a trainer and consultant to schools, I still think of myself primarily as a school psychologist. And my experience of wearing many hats when serving as psychologist was not at all unique. As this year’s School Psychology Awareness Week approaches (November 13-17), there are over 30,000 school psychologists across the nation providing essential and varied services to promote student success. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP, 2014) defines the knowledge base and skillset of the typical school psychologist as including data collection and analysis; academic, mental health, and behavioral interventions; special education services; assessment; consultation; and much more.

The school psychologist is the educator equivalent of the Swiss army knife, a professional able to strategically apply a diverse range of tools to help solve a multitude of school challenges.

School Psychologists & Systems-Level Change

The school psychologist is particularly well-suited to assist schools to achieve system-wide change — one example is RTI/MTSS. This 3-Tier model of academic and behavioral support depends upon ‘RTI/MTSS ambassadors’ who can move seamlessly across the Tiers and collaborate effectively with administrators, classroom teachers, parents and other RTI/MTSS stakeholders. When properly deployed, the school psychologist becomes a catalyst to focus, harness and direct the RTI/MTSS efforts of the entire school community.

This School Psychology Awareness Week

My own ability to keep 3 balls airborne for any length of time is modest. However, if allowed to fully apply more of their professional skills, school psychologists have a real (figurative) talent for juggling. Schools that seek the maximum benefit from RTI/MTSS implementation can make proper use of School Psychology Awareness Week by reflecting on how they can make the fullest use of these talented professionals.

NASP: National Association of School Psychologists. (2014). Who are school psychologists? Bethesda, MD: Author. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/JIm/Downloads/who_are_school_psychologists_flyer.pdf

Does your organization have a scalable workflow that supports high-quality data capture and analysis for struggling learners? Take a look at how Frontline RTI & MTSS Program Management software can help you identify and support each student.

Jim Wright

Jim Wright is a highly-acclaimed national presenter, trainer and author on topics that cover the essentials and beyond of Response to Intervention and Multi-Tiered System of Supports. He has worked for 17 years in public education as a school psychologist and school administrator. Jim has published "The RTI Toolkit: A Practical Guide for Schools" and is the creator of the website.

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