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Seeing the School Psychologist: What Does it Mean?

Seeing the School Psychologist: What Does it Mean?

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Updated on Aug 27, 2013

Though a school's main function is to teach academic skills, the reality is that kids don't turn off their emotions when they get to school. Sometimes issues come up in the classroom and on the playground that affect a child's ability to learn. As a result, schools need highly trained and educated staff members to help students excel. Enter the school psychologist.

“We’re here,” explains Stacy Skalski, PhD., Director of Public Policy for the National Association of School Psychologists, to help every child “engage in classrooms, engage socially, engage in the central mission and purpose of the schools, which is student achievement and success.”

John Desrochers, Connecticut school psychologist and NASP School Psychologist of the Year in 2007, puts it this way: “I’ve always thought that as a school psychologist I wanted to help kids enjoy and do well in school, and help teachers and administrators create schools that encouraged students to grow and reach their full potential.”

As a matter of fact, school psychologists are considered so important that every public school has one on call, if not on the premises at all times. Your teacher may invite you to speak with one about your child, or you may have a friend working with one. At a minimum, they hold a master’s degree and a special state credential; often, they may also have a PhD. As Desrochers explains, “School psychologists are generally the most well-trained mental health professionals in the school.”

So what, exactly, do they do all day? If you’re worried, explains Skalski, that “we probe every little conversation or developmental nuance,” think again. “It’s not really like that at all.” Instead, she explains, school psychologists focus on “solution-focused counseling”, which is very brief and practical. “We want all kids to be engaged in learning,” she says, “We know, though, that they can’t do that if there’s an emotional issue right in front, in the way.”

Because of their extensive training in child development, school psychologists will also be called in when a child does not seem to be thriving academically in a particular classroom. School psychologists are able to conduct expert observations, as well as to administer tests to determine if a child may need special services. They are key leaders in the development of all Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) on campus, and they often help both parents and staff understand how to sequence these plans, gather data for them, and analyze it effectively.

Of course, school psychologists are not the only people on campus looking out for all kids’ success. Education is always a team effort. Along with caring teachers, aides, and administrators, your school may also have guidance counselors and sometimes even a social worker as well. What’s the difference? All three, explains Skalski, may address issues such as bullying, character education, or social skills training, but each will play a slightly different role.

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