Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Contextualizing School Psychology Practice: Introducing Featured Research Commentaries

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Contextualizing School Psychology Practice: Introducing Featured Research Commentaries

Article excerpt

What is the essential attribute of school psychology? That question does not ask about the characteristics of an effective school psychologists, it asks about what it is that makes the field unique from other related school-based mental health fields. I asked this question when I began my term as Editor (Burns, 2011) and concluded that although there are likely multiple attributes that make the field unique, including data-based decision making and expertise in both mental health and instructional issues, it is the application of an ecological perspective to school-based problems that makes us unique in K-12 schools.

Bronfenbrenner (1977) defined ecological-systems theory (EST) as the study of the multiple interconnected environmental systems that influence individual development. To understand the child, psychologists must fully examine the environment in which the child lives including the home, school, community, and culture (Bronfenbrenner, 1986). Many of the recent calls for reforming school psychology practice emphasized the need to shape practice to more closely align with EST (e.g., Gutkin, 2012; Reschly & Ysseldyke, 2002; Sheridan & Gutkin, 2000). Moreover, school psychologists should frequently examine and understand the local, regional, and national context in which their schools operate in order to better serve the students.

I served on the task force that authored the most recent edition of School Psychology: A Blueprint for Training and Practice (Ysseldyke et al., 2006). Jim Ysseldyke chaired the task force and selected its members. He purposefully brought together researchers and highly skilled practitioners who represented markedly different perspectives. Although there were many topics about which members of the group strongly disagreed, all concurred that school psychological services are best delivered through a three-tiered model because it would operationalize EST to prevent and treat student learning and behavioral difficulties. We also hoped that presenting a tiered model to school psychological services would be the impetus for school psychologists to become more involved in Tiers 1 and 2.

Most school psychologists are heavily involved in Tier 3 activities for individual students, such as special education disability identification assessments, writing individualized education programs, delivering intensive individual academic interventions, and engaging in one-on-one counseling. School psychologists will always be advocates for the most vulnerable students in our schools. I am not arguing that we should stop focusing on individual students with the most severe needs. Instead, I am saying that school psychologists could help more students than what may currently be the case if they focus more on Tiers 1 and 2. With effective Tier 1 and 2 services, fewer students will experience severe problems and, among those who do need intensive services, much will have been learned about the type of intervention that is needed for that student and the environmental and student variables that cause or contribute to the learning or behavior problem.

Problem-solving teams are common among various multitiered systems of support and provide an excellent example of how EST can be used to help more students while benefiting individual students with intense needs. Most problem-solving teams meet on a weekly basis to discuss individual students with intense academic and behavioral needs. Research has found that problem-solving teams can be quite successful, but the effectiveness of teams in practice can be highly variable (Burns & Symington, 2002). It is not unusual for a school to attempt a problem-solving team model for a period of time, but then to abandon it because of less-than-desired outcomes. The reason for the problem-solving teams' lack of success is often because the school personnel did not contextualize the effort within the broader system. Imagine an elementary school with 650 students. …

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