One rather subjective, but very important way to evaluate a school is to take a walk through the halls, observe what is happening and get a feel for the place. Is the atmosphere pleasant? Are children engaged in purposeful activity? Or are several of them sitting outside classrooms or the principal's office because they have been disruptive? Are the teachers pleasant to each other and to the children? Do they seem available and ready to help children and each other? Or do they escape to some isolated refuge at every opportunity? In other words, is the feeling one of community and relaxation and joy? Or is it one of tension, unhappiness and a wish to be elsewhere. If the latter, something is drastically wrong, and all members of the school community need to share the responsibility for changing things to make the school a place where joyful learning is possible.
The school psychologist should be a counselor, a mediator and an advocate for the child.
The school psychologist, more than the other members of the school community, bears much of this responsibility because he or she should be knowledgeable about human behavior and mental health. The psychologist can fulfill this responsibility most effectively in those forward-looking school districts which do not restrict his or her activities to a medical model of functioning. In this model, when a child is disruptive or not successful in school, it is assumed the site of difficulty is primarily in the child. The child is therefore referred to the psychologist who gives him or her tests which are expected to reveal, almost by magic, not only what is wrong with the child, but also how to cure the child. This model has the psychologist, much like the doctor, devising a remedy (which may or may not be carried out) on how this child should be cured or, in some way, changed. This model of the psychologist's role may provide help for some children with very real, intrinsic problems, but they represent only a restricted class of a broad spectrum of complex human behavior which affect schools.
In actual fact, when a child is not successful, this may only be a symptom of some quite serious difficulty in the child's environment and personal relationships -- peers, family, individual teachers or the school system in general. While the solution to the problem may rest with the child, it is unwise to ignore the many other possibilities.
The psychologist is most successful if he or she can help the school to function in such a way so that situations never come to a crisis point. This can only be accomplished by an effective program of prevention. The best strategies for this are those that help adults working with children to be alert to mental health issues and to understand child development and behavior.
The school psychologist should be a counselor, a mediator and an advocate for the child. He or she can help adults who work with children to understand that misbehavior is very often a cry for help. The solution is not found in harsh discipline but rather in the use of good problem-solving techniques.
The school psychologist is in a pivotal position to use his or her expertise to marshal the resources of the school and home to create a positive emotional climate in which children can work and grow. Along with good teachers, a capable school psychologist may be the school's most valuable asset.
First published in 1996