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School Psychology

School psychologists are uniquely qualified professionals who act as members of the school team. Their role revolves around supporting the ability of teachers to teach, and students to learn. They have various elements of expertise, such as learning, mental health or behavior. They use this in order to make sure students can have academic success and improve their social, emotional and behavioral standings. School psychologists work together with teachers, families, school administrators and various other professionals. They do this in order to create healthy, safe and supportive environments in which connections between school, home and communities can be strengthened.

What We Do

School psychologists have a very varied role. They deliver interventions and direct support to students while working hand in hand with families, teachers, mental health professionals and others. Additionally, they work on policies and practices in the school to improve mental health. Furthermore, they also work with community providers in order to ensure needed services are in place. Specifically, they:

1. Improve overall academic achievement by:

  • Promoting motivation and engagement in students
  • Managing behavior of individual students and classrooms as a whole
  • Individualizing interventions and instruction
  • Collecting data from students and classrooms and making interpretations
  • Monitoring progress of students
  • Ensuring any referrals made to special education professionals are appropriate

2. Promote good mental health and positive behavior by:

  • Assessing what the behavioral and emotional needs of students are
  • Improving social and communication skills in students
  • Promoting anger management, problem solving and conflict resolution skills
  • Providing counseling in group and individual formats
  • Promoting positive relationships with peers by teaching skills in social problem solving
  • Reinforcing resilience and positive coping skills
  • Making referrals to community services in schools and helping to coordinate these.

3. Support diverse learners by:

  • Providing services that are culturally responsive to families from a variety of diverse backgrounds
  • Assessing the different types of learning needs
  • Modifying and changing instruction and curricula
  • Planning IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) for students who have a disability and ensuring the IEPs are appropriate
  • Monitoring student progress and communicating about this with the relevant people
  • Adjusting classroom routines and facilities to ensure students can engage properly and learn

4. Create positive, safe climates in schools by:

  • Supporting social and emotional learning
  • Preventing all types of violence, including bullying
  • Promoting and implementing restorative justice and positive discipline
  • Assessing the climate of the school and ensuring their connectedness is improved
  • Identifying students who are at risk, and pinpointing vulnerabilities within the school
  • Implementing support for positive behavior across the school
  • Providing intervention and crisis prevention services

5. Strengthen partnerships between schools and families by:

  • Assisting those who need special educational processes
  • Helping families in understanding what the mental health and learning needs of their child are
  • Helping to engage families and school staff, including teachers, in an effective manner
  • Connecting families with providers of different services if needed
  • Helping students who are going through a period of transition between schools and other types of learning environments, including juvenile justice programs and residential treatment
  • Enhancing the understanding and responsiveness of school staff so that they can better serve diverse backgrounds and cultures

6. Improve assessment and accountability by:

  • Monitoring student progress in their behavior and academic achievement
  • Collecting and analyzing pieces of data that demonstrate both risks and positive factors that can be linked to outcomes for students
  • Generating as well as interpreting data on student and school outcomes
  • Planning services across the breadth of educational services, from federal policy to individual outcomes

Why It's Hot

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has a category for Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists and they found that their national average salary was $74,030 as of May 2014. They have also reported that the field of psychology is set to grow by 12%, which is the overall national average for all professions, but it is much higher for school psychologists. This is due to a variety of reasons:

  • There is a huge increase in demand for school psychologists who are educated to doctoral level. Indeed, it was in the top 5 of doctoral professions in 2012.
  • Insufficient professionals are currently available to fill the demand for school psychologists, which means you are almost guaranteed to find work.
  • More school aged children are now diagnosed with various special educational needs, and schools recognize that these problems are real and want to ensure students are properly supported.
  • It is nationally recognized that more school professionals are required, particularly since the Report of the Surgeon General's Conference on Children's Mental Health was published in 2000.
  • Parents and other community services as calling on schools to improve their mental health provision and to gain a greater understanding of the link between mental health and educational achievement.
  • The current workforce of school psychologists is approaching retirement age, which means demand will grow even more.

Work Environment

Most school psychologists will find employment in K-12 public schools. However, they can also work in different settings performing different types of roles. These include:

  • Assessment
  • Data collection and analysis
  • Promoting learning across schools
  • Monitoring progress
  • Identifying risk factors and resilience
  • Consulting and collaborating
  • Creating interventions on an academic level
  • Creating interventions on behavior
  • Creating interventions on general mental health

How to Do It

School psychologists are one of the few types of psychologists who do not have to complete a doctorate degree. Instead, they have to start with a four year undergraduate program in psychology, followed by a specialist degree, which usually takes three years to complete. Some do choose to pursue a doctorate as well, but this tends to be more suitable for those who want to start a private practice, rather than working as a member of the school team.

School psychology graduate programs are different from other psychology programs. The degrees tend to focus on supervision, program evaluation, learning, testing, assessment and development. Additionally, it is generally required to complete a dissertation as well. Some students choose to take part in additional training, learning about things such as advanced treatment, diagnosis and consultation. More in depth practice knowledge can also be developed through focused practica. It is very important to make sure the program is accredited through the American Psychological Association (APA) or another recognized body.

Some psychologists retrain in school psychology at a later stage. Most states only require minimal training in order to achieve this. For instance, they are unlikely to have to complete a school internship. A few states do require this however, which includes New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut and Kentucky. State by state requirements and regulations can be obtained through the APA.

Pros & Cons

There are various clear benefits to becoming a school psychologist. These include:

  • Working in a highly flexible field. Generally speaking, you will only work during school opening times, which is around 190 days. You will generally be able to enjoy time off during all the school holidays, in the same way as teachers.
  • Almost all states have the same school psychology training requirements. This means that you should have no difficulty if you were to ever move state.
  • Demand is very high and growing.
  • You have the opportunity to really help students improve their academic achievement.

At the same time, however, there are some clear disadvantages as well:

  • You may have a specialization in mental health, yet find that the school system is not designed to give you this focus. The goal of a school is firstly to increase educational achievement, whereas the goal of a school psychologist is to first improve mental health. This can lead to conflict.
  • You must be able to handle the fact that you cannot help everybody and that some students will not improve, no matter how hard you try.

Career Path

As a school psychologist, a number of different roles are available to you in various places. These include:

  • School settings
  • Mental health centers
  • Clinics
  • Universities, for instance as a counselor to help students manage their time better.
  • Hospitals
  • Private practices, whereby you can help individual students who struggle with new social settings for instance.
  • Computer and technology organizations, where you could be involved in developing gaming options that encourage learning.

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