What is the Role of a School Psychologist?
School psychologists use their advanced training in human development, behavior, and mental health to help students excel in the school environment. These professionals work to improve their students’ lives across a number of areas, including helping with academic achievement and performance, boosting social skills and functioning, working to resolve behavioral issues, and supporting emotional health. School psychologists may have either a master’s or doctoral degree, and in California must have their Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) Credential in School Psychology.
While the above description provides a general explanation of the role of a school psychologist, many students who are interested in this career path want a more specific answer. That is, what exactly does a school psychologist do on a daily basis?
What will a typical work week look like as a school psychologist?
Put simply, there is no “typical workday” for a school psychologist. The responsibilities of this professional may vary from school to school, and may even change periodically based on student/staff needs. Still, there are some conditions and duties that overlap among school psychologists across settings.
Some school psychologists may be assigned to one specific school, while others may offer their services to several schools within a district or a given area. Regardless, they all must fulfill the licensure requirements before landing on any school psychologist job.
The primary client of a school psychologist is the student. However, to effectively assist students, the school psychologist may also work hand-in-hand with teachers, school staff, administrators, parents, and other health professionals, such as speech-language pathologists or pediatricians.
So what do school psychologists do? While the responsibilities of a school psychologist are vast, their duties may include the following:
1) Conduct psychological tests and evaluations.
School psychologists may evaluate students based on referrals by teachers and school administrators. This may be done for students struggling in a certain area as well as for those who are gifted. They obtain a thorough history of a student’s educational, social, and medical history in addition to testing them across numerous areas of functioning. To flesh out their evaluations, school psychologists may interview students and observe them in the normal school setting. The school psychologist compiles this data into a report and assessment that is included in the student’s official school record.
2) Support each student’s IEP by working with a multidisciplinary team.
One of the primary objectives of a school psychologist is to help develop and meet the goals of each child’s Individualized Education Program, or IEP. They share findings from psychological tests and observations. They also monitor student progress to ensure they are on track with the IEP.
3) Teach pro-social behaviors to students within the school environment.
School psychologists have special knowledge about adaptive behaviors that predict student success. Therefore, they teach and enforce pro-social behaviors that help students do their best. They may do this using positive reinforcement, goal-setting, modeling, and role-playing appropriate behaviors.
4) Counsel students individually or in groups.
They may meet with students one-on-one or in groups to discuss specific academic, social, or emotional issues. Counseling sessions usually require the psychologist to write up a note about the content of the session and develop interventions that address students’ needs (such as for anxiety or attention problems or learning disability).
5) Develop intervention plans for teaching staff.
As the body of research on human development and learning grows, the school psychologist helps ensure that the school system is following proper protocols in its teaching practices, disciplinary actions, and other school-wide practices and procedures. They may monitor teacher effectiveness, offer feedback, track changes in student performance over time, and be ready to conduct crisis intervention when needed.
6) Meet with parents.
To provide regular updates on child development and student progress, the school psychologists must meet with parents through face-to-face visits or telephone conferencing. They may also reach out to parents to discuss issues occurring at home (e.g. parent divorce) that influence the behavior or emotional functioning of students.
7) Facilitates workshops and training for parents and teachers.
Depending on the unique needs of the school, a school psychologist may host trainings to help parents and school personnel address common issues affecting students, such as bullying.
8) Acts as a liaison to the community.
The school psychologist is often the point-of-reference for other members of the multidisciplinary team—professionals who may work at the school or out in the community. The school psychologist may contact pediatricians, therapists, and social workers to keep them updated on the student’s progress or to obtain additional information for evaluations.
9) Facilitates peer mediation sessions.
If two or more students disrupt class or are involved in conflict, the school psychologist works with them to resolve behavioral issues and settle disputes. They help the students learn effective ways of dealing with conflict and managing stressors in the school setting.
10) Offers grief or emergency counseling services.
In response to crises or tragedies affecting the school community, the school psychologist may counsel students and staff as needed.
Working as a school counselor or a school psychologist means making a lasting impact in the lives of students as well as the overall effectiveness of schools and school districts. It’s a demanding yet thoroughly rewarding career.
What distinguishes school psychologists from school counselors?
There are distinct differences between the two in terms of their roles and scope of practice.
School psychologists primarily focus on supporting individual students who are dealing with developmental or mental health issues, assessing and testing those who may require additional services, and providing school counseling when needed.
On the other hand, school counselors work with the entire student population, including crisis intervention, and preparing students for future educational and professional experiences. Both professions involve developing intervention plans and collaborating with parents and teachers.
One key difference is that school psychologists are more focused on addressing students' mental health concerns. They also educate parents about their child's learning process and any obstacles that may be hindering their academic achievement, as well as determine if a student requires special education services.
What skills are required to become a school psychologist?
School psychologists must have the ability to:
- Manage scheduling and administrative tasks effectively
- Educate, support, and provide school health services to students in a compassionate and informative manner
- Understand mental health conditions and therapies to address them
- Diagnose, treat, and care for disorders and behavioral problems related to mental health
- Collaborate and communicate information clearly and concisely
- Write reports and other written materials
- Use critical thinking and problem-solving skills
- Special education techniques and practices
- Diagnosing, treating, and caring for individuals with autism
- Telehealth services for remote counseling and therapy
- Staff training and development programs
- Crisis intervention services in high-pressure situations
How do I become a school psychologist?
Earning an undergraduate degree is the first step of becoming a school psychologist. If you are interested in the educational psychology or school psychology program, and getting the training you need to become a school psychologist at the master’s or doctoral level, contact Alliant International University to learn more about how we can help you make your dream a reality. Students may enroll in school psychology degree and credential programs through a combination of online and on-the-ground classes at various California campuses.