New Roles for School Psychologists: Addressing the Social and Emotional Learning Needs of Students

By Ross, Margo R.; Powell, Sharon Rose et al. | School Psychology Review, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

New Roles for School Psychologists: Addressing the Social and Emotional Learning Needs of Students


Ross, Margo R., Powell, Sharon Rose, Elias, Maurice J., School Psychology Review


Abstract. The importance of addressing social and emotional skills for youth has been well documented within the literature. These skills are becoming increasingly critical as young people face difficult challenges at school and in their personal lives. Research also indicates that psychologically competent young people are more likely to avoid high-risk activities that can have dangerous consequences for their health and well-being. Schools have the potential to reach students with these important life lessons, and school psychologists can provide the leadership to enhance these educational experiences. This article reviews the literature on school-based social and emotional skill development and examines the relevance of this area to the work of the school psychologist. Suggestions are made for ways in which school psychologists can improve the social and emotional climates of their schools in areas such as prevention and health promotion, professional development, and collaboration with other professionals and organ izations. Recommendations are also made for ways in which school psychology preparation programs can better train students to take on these new roles.

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Role and function definitions for school psychologists have been debated for decades; the topic of role definition has even been described as an obsession by some (Reynolds, Gutkin, Elliott, & Witt, 1984). School psychologists have long cited feelings of frustration, discomfort, and impotence in their roles and have long called for a broad reconceptualization of the profession (Gutkin & Conoley, 1990). Recently, Sheridan and Gutkin (2000) listed important problems inherent in the traditional practice of school psychology, including the prevalence of a medical model paradigm, the structure of school psychological services, and the growing incidence of problems facing young people and their families. Some have taken a more alarming position, warning that practicing school psychologists might end up "exercising our culinary skills at a fast food restaurant if we don't act differently now" (Tapasak & Keller, 1995, p. 201).

These and other experts recognize that the needs of schools and school children are changing and that the field of school psychology must also change if it is to sustain and expand its relevance. The increasing recognition of a need to incorporate social and emotional learning/emotional intelligence (SEL) into the regular instructional program provides an exciting opportunity for school psychologists to redefine their roles. The purpose of this article is to explore the definition and relevance of SEL within the school system and make specific recommendations for enhancing school psychologists' roles to include attention to these important issues. Roles in areas such as prevention programming, teacher and administrator professional development, and collaboration with other educators and professional organizations are explored, as are recommendations for changes within professional training programs.

Emotional Intelligence and Social and Emotional Competence: Definitions and Relevance

The most serious health and social problems confronting the U.S. today are caused in large part by behavior patterns established during youth (Kolbe, Collins, & Cortese, 1997). These behaviors include alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use; sexual behaviors that put one at risk for unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV; and risk behaviors resulting in intentional or unintentional harm to self or others. Recent evidence suggests that at least half of American children and youth are extremely or moderately vulnerable to the consequences of concurrent, multiple, high-risk social and health behaviors (Zins & Wagner, 1997). Behaviors such as these not only contribute to a variety of serious health problems, but also to poor educational and social outcomes (Kolbe et al. …

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