"I feel strongly that future school psychologists should be prepared to be child advocates. The reason school psychologists do what they do is to facilitate the success of all kids."

Just as children learn to ride a bicycle by hopping on and giving it a go, future school psychologists learn their trade best by practicing what they learn in the classroom. That's the approach that education professor Amy Golightly takes. For the past several years, her school psychology students have prepared and provided a one-hour, interactive in-service training to the current student teachers. Both groups leave the program better prepared for the working world: The future teachers learn techniques and skills they'll need in the classroom and the future school psychologists learn how to provide that sort of training.

"They get their feet wet doing something they will probably be called on to do in the future as systems-change agents in schools," Golightly says. The model of school psychologists as agents of system-wide change is a relatively new one, but it's where Golightly sees the future of the field.

School psychologists will continue to consult with teachers on concerns with individual students, but they will also address problems or opportunities for improvement that permeate an entire school or system. For instance, if bullying is a problem not just with one individual child, but on a school-wide level, the school psychologist is in a good position to see that need and work with all the people involved to address it.

Golightly is interested in determining what the most important factors are in effective systems-level consulting. First and foremost, it's critical to involve the right people in making decisions. "It's really, really important for individual or systems-level consultation to take into account the needs and perspectives of the people that are going to be doing what you'd like to have happen," she says. "That's a major reason that systems-level change efforts can fail - there is not enough buy-in, not enough real dialogue between different groups."

Her school psychology students practice this lesson firsthand - they ask the student teachers what topic would be most useful to them, rather than select a training topic for them.

Golightly's belief in the ability of every child to learn drives her work. "I feel strongly that future school psychologists should be prepared to be child advocates," she says. "The reason school psychologists do what they do is to facilitate the success of all kids."

Posted Sept. 20, 2010

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