ERIC Identifier: ED366879
Publication Date: 1994-04-00
Author: Kelly, Carol
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
School Psychologists: Leaders for Change Building a Secure
Future for Children. ERIC/CASS Digest.
Today's conditions for children and challenges faced by public school
education require that we use our skills as leaders to assume a greater role in
improving educational opportunities for children.
Our society is experiencing radical changes.
Conditions for children are worse than ever. Social class differences are
widening. More and more children are living in poverty -- currently one child in
every four. In the past 15 years we have seen a substantial increase in national
income; unfortunately the increase has been confined exclusively to the upper 50
to 60 percent of the population while people in the lower income brackets have
no more to spend than they did 15 years ago. The cost, however, of maintaining
the same standard of living has risen, leaving the population in far more dire
straits than they were before. More and more children are coming to school
unready to learn and are leaving school unprepared to successfully compete in
the work force.
Changing value systems, family disintegration, and economics are forces that
place quality of life and education for children far down on the list of
priorities. Communities are finding it increasingly difficult to pass school
bond elections. We see a lack of support from the government to serve children
and families in need. Widespread neglect of young people at the federal, state,
and community level lowers quality of education and of society itself.
Lack of financial support for education was rated as the number one issue
facing schools by the American public on the recent Phi Delta Kappa Gallup poll.
Our schools are more separate and unequal than ever. Education is in trouble
financially throughout the nation -- community residents and taxpayers are
unwilling to adjust their priorities and divert more money into providing a
quality education for our children. We spend more on prisons and defense than on
schools. Health care costs continue to escalate.
Pervasive violence in neighborhoods, schools, and media makes every child a
victim. In some neighborhoods many children are so fearful that they stay home
from school, falling further behind in their academics. Many young people lack
the positive relationships with adults so necessary for development.
Demands of public education are increasing while our ability to meet those
demands seems to be decreasing. Societal changes have changed expectations for
schools and children who attend them. What our society needs to stay competitive
is different than what it was in the past. It is essential to incorporate
problem solving, communication, and human relation skills into the basic skills
Today's children are compared to counterparts around the world. World class
standards determine winners and losers.
The fate of our country depends on our ability
to successfully educate young people. Education is the key to reversing many
Changes in our education systems are necessary to catalyze this reversal. By
the very nature of educational training and position in the school system,
school psychologists are natural leaders. The literature reveals that effective
leaders have good communication skills, ability to listen to others, human
relation skills, conflict resolution skills, and decision making skills;
effective leaders continue professional growth, and work with community
resources. These characteristics also describe school psychologists.
As school psychologists, we help people change behavior, deal with loss, and
develop courage to face new situations. These skills are transferable to a more
global application as we help systems change to better meet the needs of
Positive relationships. To improve education, we
need to find ways to involve more adults in the lives of children. Too many
children are starved for healthy adult contact. We must make efforts to connect
more adults with children and design our services so that we reach more children
ourselves, thereby providing a wider support system for children.
Critical to children's success is parent involvement. The research clearly
shows that achievement improves as parent involvement increases. Many parents
desperately want their children to do well in school but don't know how to help
them. School psychologists can facilitate this by providing such services as
helping communities support parent involvement, working with teachers to improve
relationships with parents, offering staff meetings on effective parent
conferences, and presenting workshops for student teachers on parent
Research. Many schools have found ways to boost achievement, yet too often,
educators have not taken advantage of this knowledge. School psychologists must
contribute to reform efforts by helping schools use knowledge and research so
that schools do what works. This is a unique area where we can make strong
contributions. Many reform effort simply ignore research. Help schools look for
what works and give up on what doesn't.
Policy development. Quite often school psychologists are sufficiently
engrossed in day to day operations that they are unaware of the impact that
legislation can have on school services. At the national, state and local
levels, we must make sure our country invests in children. We must build
coalitions with other groups and develop strategies to influence policies that
support children and education.
Getting involved. One of the best ways to exert positive leadership is by
getting involved in the system. Establishing relationships with key
decision-makers and opinion leaders allows us to more easily exert influence. To
make a difference for greater numbers of children, it is essential that school
psychologists begin volunteering to serve on reform and accountability
committees and work closely with school leaders to develop goals and implement
programs. Our services must be tied to overall district plans to improve
Change process. What schools lack is a process for accommodating change. A
critical function school psychologists can serve is to work with teachers and
principals in managing and acclimating the schools to change. Educators often
focus on short-term solutions or feel overwhelmed and powerless during change.
Many "shut the classroom door" and do nothing. As psychologists, we can educate
our school communities about the change process. We can help them plan and know
what to anticipate. We can help design strategies to reduce tensions, help
people recognize success, encourage risk-taking, and help people have feelings
of control. As schools move to site-based management, our skills in facilitating
teamwork and training school faculty and staff in team concepts can be
invaluable. Teams become more effective when they learn to apply group problem
solving, conflict resolution, and decision making skills.
Special services. We must reexamine special education. We know there are too
many children not getting the services they need. Effectiveness of "pull out"
programs for many children has come into question as well as the time-consuming
process of diagnosing and placing students. As with health reform, we need to
preserve what's right and fix what's wrong. We now have profound opportunities
to make positive changes. By keeping data on alternative services, working with
our state departments of education in developing plans, and keeping up with the
professional literature, we have the ability to find solutions for increasing
numbers of children.
Visibility. If we are going to be leaders, we must make ourselves both
valuable and visible. Unfortunately, adding value to children and to our schools
is not enough. In the process, we must make ourselves known as a valuable part
of the school faculty team. There is a tendency, in times of strained budgets,
to reduce staff -- and typically, those staff whose positions are eliminated are
those whose contributions are least known to the system and to the community.
Building relationships with superintendents, school board members and community
leaders, and helping them understand how we support their goals is an essential
part of our role.
Leadership requires a plan. In addition to developing plans to make a
difference in our own buildings we must link with colleagues to develop district
and state association plans. Many of today's issues are ones we can address and
that will make us more valuable to the schools and to the children.
There are major shifts in our society. Our
children face unprecedented challenges. Leadership is desperately needed that
can provide strategies to address issues and remove barriers that are preventing
far too many children from achieving all that they can.
School psychologists are urged to use their skills to help our country and
school communities shift their priorities and build a secure future for