INTERNATIONAL GUIDELINES FOR THE PREPARATION OF SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGISTS
Guidelines for the preparation of school psychologists are needed. The initiative to develop international guidelines for the preparation of school psychologists began 40 years ago with a specially convened conference of UNESCO (Wall, 1956). More recently, Catterall (1977-9), Oakland and Saigh (1989), Oakland and Cunningham (1992), Burden (1994), Farrell (1993), Guillemard (1994), among others, furthered the UNESCO initiative by identifying concrete goals for guiding the provisions of school psychological services. Thus, this document extends and contributes to long-standing efforts to properly prepare school psychologists by proposing educational objectives for promoting cohesive practices of school psychology as it broadens and deepens its scope of application within many countries.
Guidelines of this nature should reflect and be based on goals held in common by the international school psychology community. Goals which have been suggested (e. g., Oakland & Cunningham, 1992; Burden, 1994; Farrell, 1993; Guillemard, 1994) include the acquisition of core psychological knowledge; professional decision-making abilities; interpersonal, clinical, and research skills; knowledge of ethics and the establishment of professional values. These goals include yet extend beyond a focus on general information students in school psychology need to acquire. The goals focus on developing the analytical and motivational skills needed to engage in disciplined inquiry across cultures and national boundaries and seek to facilitate the development of reflective problem solving skills needed for competent professional practice.
The goals can form the framework for developing generic school psychology curricula. An example of one is presented in the Appendix. Other curricula also can be developed based on the following framework.
The Need for International Guidelines
Preparation in psychology, including school psychology, is influenced, in part, by a country’s unique history, culture, nature of education, and economy. Given the diversities in these and other qualities that exist among countries, preparation for delivering psychological services should reflect, in part, important qualities unique to the country in which services are rendered. Thus, school psychological services can be expected to display considerable differences internationally. However, preparation of professional psychologists also occurs within a broader framework, one influenced by the humanities, technology, values, and academic and professional qualities that are somewhat universal among countries. In addition, the knowledge base of psychology that provides the foundation for preparation and service is international in nature, thus creating a literature potentially available to all countries. School psychology is a profession that aspires to provide high quality services to those it serves irrespective of national boundaries. Thus, both national and international conditions should be considered when establishing guidelines for professional preparation and practice. Current efforts to establish standards for professional practice within European Union member countries reflect this orientation.
A number of countries have established national guidelines governing the preparation of school psychologists, and the preparation of their students is strongly guided by them. However, international guidelines governing preparation are lacking. As a result, countries interested in incorporating international perspectives and viewpoints in their professional preparation programs are limited in their effort. International guidelines are needed within professions to assure their viability through international communication which is constructive and open-ended (Nixon, 1991). They are not intended to constrain practices.
Guidelines Need to Reflect Common Goals
The establishment of international guidelines for the preparation of school psychologists is not easily accomplished. Some believe the diversity among nations is greater than their similarities. However, a close inspection of information on school psychology internationally does not support this view. Two major surveys of school psychology in developed and developing countries, the first conducted in 1948 (UNESCO/IBE) and a second one (Oakland & Cunningham, 1992) conducted 44 years later found similar conceptions of the roles and functions of school psychologists exist throughout the world.
International guidelines for preparation necessarily balance the needs for sufficient consistency in curricula and supervised field experiences along with flexibility so as to provide for and honor national differences. Therefore, a substantial challenge is posed in determining how best to balance degrees of uniformity and diversity.
One productive solution to this challenge is found by defining common goals that may serve as the basis for study rather than attempting to create a universally prescribed course of study. Accordingly, we are proposing the preparation of school psychologists be discussed in terms of the common goals which have been identified as important for preparation in general psychology (e. g., McGovern, Furumoto, Halpem, Kimble, & McKeachie, 1991), in professional psychology (e.g., Nixon, in press), as well as in school psychology nationally (Conoley, 1993) and internationally (Oakland & Cunningham, 1992; Burden, 1994; Farrell, 1993; Guillemard, 1994).
These common goals relate to (1) the acquisition of core psychological knowledge, (2) development of professional decision-making abilities, (3) acquisition of research and statistical skills, (4) enhancement of interpersonal skills, (5) knowledge of ethics, and (6) establishment of professional values. Furthermore, these guidelines constitute a living document, one that needs review and possible revision from time to time. Such involvement is expected to reflect the creativity and flexibility which Nixon (1990, 1991) and others envision for constructing viable guidelines internationally.
Core Knowledge in Psychology
An international survey (Oakland & Cunningham, 1992) of leaders in school psychology identified the basic knowledge core for school psychologists to encompass the following content in general psychology (listed in rank order of importance): developmental psychology, psychology of leaning and cognition, educational psychology, psychology of personality, social psychology, statistics and research design, experimental psychology and biological psychology. Thus, broad international agreement exists about the major areas of psychological to be included in professional preparation programs. The finding is supported in work by Nixon in her survey of 28 countries (in press). These forms of international agreement on the core content in psychology which needs to be taught lend credibility to our quest for international guidelines and standards.
Professional Practice Preparation
Information as to the importance of various assessment and intervention areas in the specialized preparation of school psychologists also was acquired (Oakland & Cunningham, 1992). In reference to assessment, cognitive, academic, and affective were judged to be most important. In reference to interventions, behavioral, affective, educational, and social systems, along with consultation, were seen as being most important. In addition, the prevention of problems and the promotion of health also were identified as important to school psychological practice (Zins, Johnson, & Thomas, 1995).
The core knowledge areas in general psychology as well as these specialized content domains are similar to those identified elsewhere as comprising definitions and descriptions of practice in school psychology (Conoley, 1993). In sum, these content areas relate to preparing psychologists who do what other professionals often do (i.e., assess, diagnose and intervene). In addition, school psychologists maintain a special focus on children and youth within the context of schools, families, and other systems.
Professional Skills in Decision-making, Reflection, and Inquiry
The diagnostic and intervention activities of school psychologists need to be based on well-developed reflective, inquiring, problem-solving and decision-making skills. The goal of teaching problem-solving skills within a generic curriculum has been proposed by educators in school psychology, including Burden (1994), Farrell (1993), and Guillemard (1994). Responsibilities for diagnosis and intervention demand much more than cookbook approaches to making decisions. Knowledge of the discipline of psychology, including its clinical literature, together with professional experience often enable school psychologists to select interventions best suited to individual needs. In addition, flexibility in thinking is needed to enable professionals to consider alternative approaches to traditional practices (Burden, 1994). Disagreements as to the appropriateness of approaches to providing psychological services are resolved through practitioners’ capacities for making decisions. Their decisions-making should be informed by research and motivated by a problem-solving outlook on the merit of alternative courses of action (Schon, 1987).
Reflective decision-making skills also can serve to prevent stereotyping persons from diverse backgrounds and misusing psychological and educational approaches to assessment, prevention and treatment. For example, conditions of poverty, bilingualism, recent immigration status, or other personal conditions may be insufficiently examined, may bias judgments, and lead to uncritical acceptance of unwarranted conclusions. In addition, in many countries, tests used with children may be translated versions of those developed elsewhere and lack sufficient local norms as well as estimates of reliability and validity (Hu & Oakland, 1991). This finding suggests difficulties also may exist when other forms of knowledge or technology transfer occur. Decision-making that is reflective and problem-solving in nature may serve to lessen stereotyping and the misuse of technology.
When preparing school psychologists, educators and supervisors need to model professional decision-making skills in practica and field-based coursework. Such skills are acquired, in part, from professional experiences, applying psychological knowledge, using assessment strategies, and developing a disciplined approach to reflecting upon human behavior and one’s own professional experiences. More specifically, problem-solving and analytical skills need to be taught when examining behavioral antecedents and consequences as well as implementing individual and group interventions for students, teachers, parents, and others.
Moreover, skills in planning and sustaining interventions may be enhanced by intervening at a broader systems level. In such cases, decision-making skills are facilitated by attempting to understand how gender, race, ethnicity, culture, and class can bias judgments and impact the success of various intervention strategies.
By developing decision-making skills, the preparation carries school psychologists beyond a common core of psychological knowledge. Although such knowledge is indispensable to practice, its scope is limited. Moreover, its availability also may be limited. Decision-making skills allow professionals to view psychological knowledge as evolving rather than fixed and facilitates open-ended approaches to disciplined inquiry when they are faced with complexity and unclear guidelines in new and diverse situations and when existing knowledge does not address issues adequately. In addition, a consideration of contextual conditions that influence child growth and development requires reflective approaches to decision-making.
The basic services and interventions offered by school psychologists (Oakland & Cunningham, 1992; Zins, Johnson & Thomas, 1995) are similar to those offered by other professional psychologists ( i.e., assessment, diagnosis, and treatment, both preventive and remedial).
However, school psychologists frequently differ from other clinically-oriented psychologists in their concerns about the effects of the environment and contextual issues (e.g., classroom, family , teacher, and culture conditions) on the behaviors, attitudes, and emotions of their clients ( Conoley, 1993). The need to intervene at a systems level (e.g., classroom, family, school, and community) makes indirect approaches to intervention highly relevant to school psychological practices.
The relevance of indirect, systems-level interventions was supported in results of the authors’ survey. When experts in school psychology rated the importance of skills and knowledge areas which are associated with school psychological services, consultation was rated among the most important, at least in countries in which school psychology is favorably developed. Other areas representing indirect services at a systems level of intervention which were rated favorably were parent education and school / community relations. In contrast, a number of direct systems-level interventions were seen as less important. These included supervision, group therapy, marital therapy, and family therapy. These results on the relevance of indirect and systems-level interventions indicate that the leadership and collaboration skills needed to work with others need to form a special focus of preparation in school psychology.
Leadership and collaboration skills are particularly relevant to the assessment role for which school psychologists are frequently responsible. Assessment methods are needed that utilize information from various sources (e.g., students, teachers, parents), acquired through the use of various assessment methods (e.g., tests, observations, interviews) so as to understand various traits that may be impacting behavior. In addition, environmental and other contextual qualities also should be considered. Accordingly, an important role of the school psychologist with regard to the assessment process is to monitor and help integrate data which are acquired by other professionals (e.g., speech and language therapy, special education, social work). The comprehensive preparation of school psychologists allows them to assume leadership with regard to integrating these data for presentation to multidisciplinary treatment planning teams.
Furthermore, their role on such teams requires various and complex social interaction skills, including conflict mediation and the ability to promote positive working relationships among the school, parents, and the community.
Because social interaction skills are critical to the provision of school psychological services, such skills should be specifically addressed in preparation programs. The need for education in this area underscores the importance of supervised practica and field experiences for monitoring the development of interpersonal, in addition to theoretical and technical, competence.
Research Methods and Statistical Skills
Experts in school psychology rated the importance of 94 professional topics which are frequently associated with the field (Oakland & Cunningham, 1992). Topics which emphasized measurement and other forms of empiricism were seen as very important (Cunningham, 1994). Therefore, another common goal for the preparation of school psychologists is to develop skills in using descriptive and experimental methods, statistics, together with qualitative models of inquiry in order to become reflective consumers of and contributors to the empirical literature. Such skills are particularly important from an accountability standpoint in terms of assuming responsibility for evaluating school psychology and other school-related services. In addition to content in research design and statistics, theories and application of program evaluation and psychological measurement often are taught in the quantitative domain in school psychology programs. Skills in the quantitative domain are acquired in specialized courses, developed in laboratory work, and reinforced through the use of critical discussion with teachers and supervisors on the appropriateness and limitations of various research strategies.
The international community strongly agrees on the importance of preparing school psychologists who are skilled in research methods. This has important implications for upholding the merit of the scientist-practitioner model of preparation for professional practice and the socialization of students with regard to the value of empirical research.
Knowledge of Ethics and Establishment of Professional Values
The international school psychology survey (Oakland & Cunningham, 1992) also found that knowledge of legal, ethical and professional issues is important at least in countries in which school psychology is favorably developed. This finding corroborates others in the survey that indicate that the international community upholds the value of continuing involvement with generic issues with which school psychologists everywhere need to be familiar.
An important issue relates to cultural diversity. When respondents were asked to identify the most critical research issues in school psychology, the most frequently mentioned areas related to cross-cultural issues, in addition to those relating to school-based interventions, educational and psychological tests and assessment, child development, and professional preparation in school psychology. The centrality of these topics indicates that the international community values empirically-based understanding of cross-cultural factors in psychological theory, research, and practice. The basic moral values of a professional group are represented in its standards of ethics for research and practice (Oakland, 1986): these values generally parallel those highest within a society. In our increasingly diverse world, school psychologists’ beliefs in the importance of understanding cross-cultural issues in the practice of their profession appear to resemble the highest values of people everywhere. These values need to be incorporated into ethical standards which will form part of the socialization of students preparing to be school psychologists.
The establishments of professional values can be fostered by the existence of a national code of ethics for the practice of school psychology. The ISPA Code of Ethics (Oakland, Goldman, & Bischoff, 1991) can serve as a useful and informative guide for this purpose.
Ultimately, the expectation that professional values will guide the ability to promote human welfare and maintain academic integrity among nations which are increasingly interdependent underscores the quest for excellence in the teaching of school psychology.
These proposed guidelines describe common goals for the preparation of school psychologists. The guidelines summarize findings gathered from three international surveys and other sources that convey international perspectives. These goals can be utilized to prepare a comprehensive program for the preparation of school psychologists, one that provides a cohesive core of knowledge and fosters other needed professional qualities. Professional preparation includes supervised practicum and internship experiences which are consistent with general program approaches and objectives .
Curricula for school psychology programs can be derived from these example is provided below. While unified, this curriculum offers sufficient flexibility within its broad parameters to address various ways in which school psychologists strive to promote children’s development together with the strengthening of institutions that impact their development.
General Model: School Psychology Curriculum
A. Coursework in Core Knowledge of Psychology
1. Developmental Psychology including child, adolescent, and life-span development.
2. Psychology of Leaning and Cognition and Educational Psychology including the influences of motivation, reinforcement, memory, attention, and perception on learning academic and other school-related behaviors; learning styles and strategies; and development of critical thinking skills.
3. Social Psychology including contextual influences on behavior and development, attitude and value formation, group dynamics, cross-cultural psychology, parenting behavior, school-community relations, teacher-student relations, and issues of class, race, ethnicity, and gender.
4. Psychology of Personality including motivation and emotions, personal and social adjustment, child and adolescent psychopathology, vocational choice, and psychology of exceptional children ( e.g., mental retardation, learning disability, motor or sensory impairment, gifted).
5. Biological Bases of Behavior including biological bases of development, neuropsychology, as well as physiological psychology, elementary psychopharmacology, and health promotion.
B. Coursework in Measurement, Research Design, and Statistics including basic and advanced levels of measurement and evaluation, quantitative and qualitative methods, research and experimental design, and program evaluation; case studies; and action research.
C. Coursework on Professional Issues including the history, conceptions, and perceptions of school psychology as well as legal, ethical, and professional guidelines for services; and the organization and administration of school psychology services.
D. Coursework in Specialty Knowledge Domains
1. Educational and Psychological Assessment and Interventions including the use of various assessment methods that draw upon information from various sources to assess various traits; recognition that the identification of viable interventions is one goal of assessment; knowledge of instructional and remedial techniques including those for individual, small and large groups, and systems interventions; assessment of individual and contextual characteristics and recognition of possible reciprocal influences.
2. Consultation including that with parents and other family members; teachers and other school personnel; agency and other systems consultation.
3. Educational Foundations including the history of education; its political, organizational, and social structures.
4. Special Needs of Exceptional Learners including those with learning disabilities, mental retardation, neuropsychological impairments, emotional and social maladjustment, attention deficit disorders, and multiple disabilities.
5. School-based Interventions including behavioral, emotional and social interventions involving humanistic, behavioral, cognitive-behavioral, social learning and other interventions; primary and secondary prevention; crisis intervention; individual and family counseling; parent education; supervision; case management; stress management; in-service teacher training.
6. Organizational and Program Development including program planning, curriculum and instructional development an evaluation, program coordination.
E. Practica including field experience under school psychology faculty and on-site supervision to supplement and apply knowledge and skills acquired initially through coursework.
F. Internship including on-site supervised practical and didactic experiences designed to integrate understandings acquired in school psychology coursework and to develop professional qualities, including professional decision-making abilities as well as collaboration and leadership abilities.
G. Independent Research, including the collection, analysis, and interpretation of quantitative and qualitative data for purposes of correctly understanding as well as furthering the knowledge base of psychology and the specialty of school psychology.
Some Final Comments
Readers will note that comments made above are to coursework without specific reference to numbers of courses, their levels (e.g., undergraduate or graduate), numbers of credit hours, or other specific details of this nature. This was intentional in that further specificity cannot be determined at the generic level for which this proposed program is intended. These decisions must be made within the context of cultural and institutional conditions.
Whenever possible, the supervision of school psychology students should occur under the direction of school psychologists. In areas in which school psychology is newly developing or school psychologists are unavailable for other reasons, a supervisory relationship between the intern and another suitably proficient professional would be most appropriate provided this supervisory relationship was augmented by a consultative relationship with one or more school psychology faculty members.
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