Complexities in the Field of School Psychology

The field of school psychology is defined through a series of roles and functions that are carried out with a range of stakeholders and across systems with a goal of promoting positive outcomes for students (National Association of School Psychologists [NASP], 2010). To improve outcomes for students, proximal changes must occur in adult behavior and environmental supports (Cutkin, 2012). The emphasis on various school psychologist roles and functions, with the need to apply those roles and functions with a range of stakeholders across systems, positions the field of school psychology as a complex discipline. Those complexities can be addressed, and the implementation process can be enhanced, through leveraging theoretical approaches across content areas, such as education and mental health. In the following subsections, we review the multiple roles and functions of school psychologists, work with multiple stakeholders, the complex systems within which school psychologists work, and theoretical approaches to clarify roles and enhance delivery.

Multiple Roles and Functions

The field of school psychology is defined, in part, by the NASP practice model (NASP, 2010), which aligns roles and functions across delivery systems with direct and indirect services, with support from school psychology foundations (e. g., diversity in development and learning). Roles and functions are organized through indirect and direct services, along with specific practices that permeate across service delivery (NASP, 2010). In the following sections an overview of direct and indirect services with consideration of how services permeate across service delivery systems will provide a framework for capturing the role of theory in promoting school psychological services.

Direct and Indirect Services

Direct services involve school psychologists working with students or groups of students to design, implement, and evaluate academic, social behavior, and social-emotional interventions. Indirect services still involve students as the client but focus direct support on adults. Through working with adults, such as parents and teachers, school psychologists emphasize implementing systems-level supports, such as classroom and home enhancements, to support student academic performance and social-emotional competencies. In addition, school psychologists work directly with adults as they implement interventions to support specific students or groups of students with targeted and intensive support needs. In this way, school psychologists address existing concerns through early intervention and reduce the risk of concerns from arising in the future. Thus, the field of school psychology emphasizes direct services to students, as well as indirect services through adults to build and enhance systems-level services across settings to create effective, safe, positive, predictable, and congruent systems of support where all children can thrive (Garbacz et al., 2016; Homer & Sugai, 2015).

Practices that Permeate Service Delivery

School psychologists engage in data-based decision making and use consultation and collaboration across direct and indirect services. The problem-solving framework provides an organizing approach to align and integrate assessment with intervention and evaluation to promote sustained student success (Bergan, 1977). In addition, school psychologists collect and use data to inform decisions about factors such as appropriate supports for students. Consultation accompanies problem-solving approaches to align and integrate assessment and intervention across a series of stages (i.e., identification, analysis, implementation, evaluation; Kra-tochwill & Bergan, 1990). Collaboration underlies all aspects of service delivery and each encounter. Parents and educators are co-equal stakeholders who support student success across time and contexts (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001). Through collaborating with parents and teachers, school psychologists work towards environmental congruence in effective and congruent systems of support (Garbacz, 2019).

School Psychologist Roles with Multiple Stakeholders

Sheridan and Gutkin (2000) described the “paradox of school psychology” by noting that, to effectively support students, school psychologists must collaborate with key adults in their lives. School psychologists’ work with multiple stakeholders involves collaborating with a range of individuals who have important roles in children’s lives, such as parents, educators, school administrators, physicians, speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, and mental health professionals. Often, school psychologists lead multidisciplinar}' teams that oversee assessment, intervention planning and implementation, and evaluation.

Within a school-based prevention framework (Walker et al., 1996), school psychologists guide school teams to adopt, implement, and sustain evidence-based practices that permeate school, home, and community settings (McIntyre & Garbacz, 2014). Thus, school teams often include educators, parents, and community stakeholders (e.g., county social workers). Practices are implemented through advancing systems, such as data management and behavior support. Systems and practices are designed and implemented in collaboration with key stakeholders in a child’s life to promote clear transitions, embed culture, and integrate identity development, along with intersections of student identities (Grenshaw, 1989). These approaches are aligned within a continuum of support intensity that includes universal, targeted, and intensive tiered supports (Sugai & Homer, 2009). At each tier, school psychologists collaborate with stakeholders in different ways. For example, whereas universal supports include collaborating with stakeholders to design effective systems and environments that all students experience, intensive supports are individualized assessment, intervention, and ongoing monitoring to support students with intensive support needs.

Systems of Care

Children and youth live, work, and socialize across many settings, including school, home, community centers, neighborhoods, and in peer groups. Bronfen-brenner (1979) articulated a set of interconnected systems that encompass child development. The broad uptake and use of Bronfenbrenner’s conceptualization of child development in school psychology is likely due to its relevance for school psychology as a field that is defined by implementing and sustaining supports for children across all relevant environments. Home and school are key microsystems that school psychologists often target, but medical systems and community organizations are often also necessary to engage, particularly for youth with complex medical needs and mental health needs. Through targeting these microsystems, school psychologists engage key adults in those settings in the mesosystem. Despite the proximal influence of microsystems on child development, school psychologists are impacted by the neighborhoods, communities, and cities within which schools are situated. Local policies, crime, neighborhood alliances, and cultural traditions impact schools and supports for children who are located in those settings. Similarly, the socio-political context at state and federal levels influences school psychology practice. NASP and other state and federal organizations have rightly identified advocacy through education policy as a key avenue to improve services for children and families (NASP, 2019). Indeed, school psychologists can serve as key agents in systems and policy change that can improve services for children (Eklund, Meyer, Way, & McLean, 2017).

Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theoretical model provides a useful conceptualization to understanding child development. Ecological systems theory also shows that by engaging key stakeholders and aligning and integrating school psychology services within and across systems, school psychologists can actually change the ecology of youth development (Dishion & Stormshak, 2007). Ecological systems theory provides a useful organizing framework to depict how changes in ecological systems can enhance the course of development. Additional theories are needed to capture the unique properties of school psychology services, as well as the influence of culture and organizations that are central to the science and practice of school psychology.

Integration of Theory

Throughout this book is reflected the need for a range of theories, frameworks, and models to define, connect, and implement school psychological services.

Across the chapters, 35 distinct theories are described. Some theories are useful in defining academic systems and practices, such as the information processing theory and the learning hierarchy. Other theories are useful in defining social-emotional and behavior systems and practices, such as behaviorism and social learning. In addition, other theories promote school psychology as a field focused on systems change; altering environments in schools with a commitment to the full range of student needs, such as the transtheoretical model and the social/health ecological model. Then there are theories that cross academic, social-emotional, and behavior domains to capture issues such as child development (e.g., developmental cascades) and cultural diversity and intersectionality (e.g., Multiple Worlds typology, phenomenological variant of ecological systems theory, critical theories).

School psychology is a diverse field. School psychological services require a concurrent focus on content (e.g., academic behavior through the simple view of writing) and process (e.g., engaging stakeholders through the theory of planned behavior). In addition, the content and process of interventions must be applied within and across tiers of support intensity, as well as across ecological systems and for multiple stakeholders. School psychologists effectively navigate these complexities through scoped and sequenced plans that are grounded in theoretical frameworks, which can guide school psychologists and teams towards increased efficiencies and effectiveness. For example, the Active Implementation Frameworks embed a focus on ecological systems and implementation science to advance a set of interconnected frameworks that demonstrate how to put innovations into practice (Blanchard et al., 2017). Interconnecting theories in a way that leverages their collective strengths, integrates evidence-based practices, and provides practical guidance may provide the greatest opportunity for populationlevel impacts on wellness, academic achievement, and outcome disparities so that children experience success.

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