Running Head: the role of school psychologists
Interview report of the role of school psychologists
The role of school psychologists—an interview with Ms. T
In the following interview, Ms. T discussed the role of school psychology in a school setting that put details into the framework obtained by first period of training. As a background introduce, Ms. T was a school counselor at P High School for two years in the first place, then she went back to school to re-specialize in school psychology. She worked as a school psychologist in P for ten years. For now, Ms. T is a special education supervisor within the P school district. As a school counselor, she worked with primarily high school students. After she became a school psychologist, she has worked with students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. However, she has primarily worked with elementary school population within the range from kindergarten to eighth grade.
Ms. T and I started off with an overview of the system behind a school psychologist. First of all, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) started the establishment and development of special education. Each district has a board of education which is in charge of establishing a child study team. A child study team comprises social workers, learning consultants, and school psychologists. Social workers are responsible for doing social history, such as meeting with parents and gathering family medical history. Learning consultants do education portion of assessment, while school psychologists do cognitive portion. However, many states do not maintain learning consultants in child study teams, so that both education and cognitive portions of assessment will be done by school psychologists.
Basically, most educational acts are done by the district such as establishing child study teams and assigning teams to school. However, as an international student, I also asked about the education system here because it is quite different from Chinese system. First of all, the size of district determines how many schools the district needs. Large districts, such as P, have numbers of schools, while small districts can share schools based on the population size. Students are assigned to school based on their location. However, they can take test in order to get in certain specialist school such as medicine and law. However, school psychologists go through normal procedures to get the position in one district. School psychologists can choose which district they want to apply. After being accepted, they will be assigned to schools. Therefore, larger districts need more school psychologists in term of more schools and students. Also, districts are in charge of opening programs. If there are students with special needs such as bilingual classes, the decision is made by the district instead of the school. Generally, the district will open a program if there are three or more students who have the same problem. The district wants to keep children in instead of sending them out because they want to provide the Least Restrict Environment (LRE) which refers to remain students with their general education peers. Also, even a child has self-contain classes which are opened for students with special needs, the child should attend other normal classes as more as he/she can so that he/she is able to be with general peers. This impresses me so much because in China, special students are rejected by normal classes. Most teachers are not willing to deal with problem students since they are overwhelming with daily tasks. Also, governmental education departments do not open special programs but special schools for these children. Thus, they are away from normal school setting and general peers. They are not able to access to equal education and develop social skills with general groups. On the other hand, there must be large numbers of children with a same special need in order to open a school for them. Therefore, China only has schools for deaf-mutes. Other children with special needs will not be taken care of, which can result in isolation.
Ms. T then discussed about the procedure when a student is sent to the child study team. First, in her case, a learning consultant and a school psychologist will evaluate student’s educationally handicapping condition in both academic and psychological perspectives. Then, social history needs to be done by social workers. Finally, set up Individual Education Plan (IEP) such as smaller class setting and special teachers after analyzing all the information. If the district does not have the program to fulfill the student’s needs, he/she can be sent to out-district teams hold by private schools, and the district is responsible for fees. However, if the school psychology does not consider himself/herself with competence to set up individual education plan after evaluation, the student should be referred out. Therefore, it is very important for school psychologists to know the resources within and around the district. Also, the student who is referred out need to be monitored by the primary school psychologist, because the school psychologist still has the ownership of the child. In my understanding, a school psychologist is responsible for children in his/her district. Referring out does not mean the end of the responsibility which is crucial for the consistency of services, because the primary school psychologist have a more comprehensive understanding about the student.
Ms. T also discussed ethical codes which were covered in my class. First, I asked about consent that whether all intervention with a student need a consent from guardians. She explained that a school psychologist can meet with students before getting a consent to a certain extent. It depends on how much further the school psychologist is heading to, because having a discussion and a intervention services are two totally different level. School psychologists need to follow ethical codes, and it is always better to have another stakeholder involved such as the principle even for a discussion with the student. School psychologists’ work in a school setting is more about team, which is different from seeing students outside the school. Decisions are always made by the whole team including social workers, learning consultants, teachers, parents, principles, and school psychologists. Therefore, the procedure is actually monitored by the team. However, communicating with children is really important. Sometimes, it is better to set up a meeting with the child alone instead of the whole team which would help school psychologists to gather more accurate information. Also, rules are made by the district. For example, some district do not allow school psychologists or child study teams to meet with children who have not been classified as children at risk. In these districts, if a student comes to the school psychologist, the student need to be referred to school-guidance consolers. Moreover, it is not necessary to offer all information the child give you to the team, because the child needs to be respected first, and the purpose of child study teams is to help the child instead of overlooking. In the terms of team working, there will be more challenges. Ms. T gave me an example: a student who does bad behaviors in class is sent to the child study team, and the school psychologists set up a complete behavioral plan. Then, the plan needs to be done by the teacher in class, but the teacher might mis-implement or even is not willing to apply the plan. All works done by the child study team will be undermined. In this condition, school psychologists should not blame teachers for messing up the plan, because teachers are overwhelming just like everybody is, but they need to make the plan works, in this case, make the teacher to do the behavioral plan appropriately.
Finally, Ms. T came back to the topic that what is the role of school psychologists. In her words, “the role of school psychologists is what you make it to be”. The field of school psychology contains children from 2 to 21 years old, and special education is for students from 3 to 21 years old. Individuals can develop career with any age group within 2 to 21. Also, it is not true that school psychologists just do assessments or reports. There are much more such as IEPs and consulting. Again, it is based on districts. Different districts have varied needs and priorities for school psychologists. Also, the role of school psychologists is much defined in larger districts. In smaller districts, there will be less school psychologists, so that school psychologists are not enough to be assigned to each particular type of work. One school psychologist may need to do both assessments and IEPs in a small district. Therefore, individuals should do their homework about districts in order to find the right place. Ms. T suggested that I should look up the district website before I apply for the job, because even though the district will post a job description, it is better to know more details. The district website introduces more information including groups, population, priorities which helps individuals to determine whether the district is suitable for them. For example, urban districts might have more economic disadvantaged students and a lower rate of guardian involvement.
The interview helps me a lot for applying in-class training into real school settings. There are two major aspects impress me the most. First, school based school psychologists work within a team, so that cooperation and communication are very important in addition to professional skills. There are not only children but also adults school psychologists need to face. Secondly, school psychologists are able to develop career for their own interests. School psychologists are not bounded within assessments, and do have options the same as other psychologists. There is a space for individuals to adjust the career direction within the field of school psychology.
After the interview, my occupational intent is more determined that I want to continue in the field of school psychology, which has a great space of further development and is able to be adapted by personal interests. I am very into working with children and psychology which brings me into the field of school psychology in the first place. Now, I find that I can many choices within the field such as assessments and consulting, and school psychology has a great occupational environment which encourage individuals to continue developing professional skills after graduating from universities.