What is the Profession of School Psychology?
Historically, School Psychologists have been associated with children's schooling for most of this century, though the past 25 years has seen phenomenal growth in their numbers. Today, there is barely a school district in the country that does not have access to a School Psychologist.
Wisconsin boasts one of the most progressive school psychology service delivery systems in the country, with seven high quality university training programs and hundreds of licensed School Psychologists serving our schools and families. Graduates of the UW-Whitewater School Psychology Program are eligible for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction License as a School Psychologist as well as the prestigious Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) designation.
The day-to-day role of a School Psychologist differs dramatically from district to district and person to person, but some commonalities exist:
One of the most important (and growing) roles of the School Psychologist is that of consultant to teachers, professional staff, and parents. In this role, the School Psychologist works individually or in collaborative teams to help address the learning and behavioral needs of all students in the school. Using consultation strategies and techniques, the School Psychologist helps other staff members gain insight and skill so as to work more effectively with the children. As an example, a fourth grade teacher may be having difficulty with the behavior of one of her students and, after all of her own efforts do not seem to help, she may turn to the School Psychologist. The School Psychologist brings a new set of eyes to the problem as well as training in behavior theory and management, child development, and instructional design. Together, the teacher and the School Psychologist map out an intervention for the teacher to implement with the child. The School Psychologist stays involved the whole time, monitoring the intervention and providing support for the teacher. Students in the UW-Whitewater School Psychology Program take course work in consultation methods and have opportunities to work on their skills with practicing teachers.
School Psychologists are responsible for providing data-based, non-biased psychological assessment for children referred for this service. Assessment for School Psychologists takes many forms, including: Individual, standardized assessment of intellectual functioning, personality and behavior, academic achievement, sensory-motor development, and adaptive functioning. In addition, School Psychologists are also skilled at assessing how the child is achieving relative to his or her own curriculum (called "curriculum-based assessment") and at observing and interpreting behavior in the natural setting. One of the most important skills School Psychologists need to have is the ability to communicate the results of their assessment efforts so that the data are useful to the adults who will work with the child. Consequently, written and interpersonal communication skills are very important. Students in the UW-Whitewater School Psychology Program take course work in all of these skill areas and have abundant one-on-one instruction and guidance from program faculty.
School Psychologists are skilled in providing therapy/counseling services to all ages of children and youth, in both individual and small group formats. Teachers and parents will often refer students for concerns such as attention problems, aggression, mild depression, anxiety, social skills difficulties, and numerous other concerns, particularly as they are exhibited in the school setting. After assessing the particular needs of the child, the School Psychologist may elect to provide services following any number of established therapy models. At UW-Whitewater, we train our students in the "cognitive-behavioral" model, a system of therapy that helps the child use his or her own thinking patterns to address the difficulty. Students first practice on one another and then later with actual students in the school setting.
An important and growing role for School Psychologists is that of program evaluation. Using skills learned in such classes as UW-Whitewater's Research Methods and Program Assessment, School Psychologists help administrators and teachers assess the effectiveness and usefulness of in-school efforts such as drug and alcohol prevention programs, school violence prevention programs, protective behaviors programs, academic improvement programs, and many others.
This is one of the most favored roles for many School Psychologists. Teachers, parents, administrators, and community members have ongoing needs to be informed about the latest research, insights, and skills for working with children. School Psychologists are skilled at providing inservice education and skill development workshops in areas of their own expertise.
As you can see, the role of the School Psychologist is quite varied, and the above only scratches the surface! At UW-Whitewater, our goal is to prepare students to embark upon the "career that you want." This means providing students with a broad array of skills and competencies that can be further refined as the student moves ahead in the profession, defining and creating his or her own service delivery model over time.