A school psychologist plays an important role in the school; he/she provides psychological help to students who are having problems both academically or in their personal lives. To be a psychologist requires a number of skills and techniques that can be learned in college but the honing of one’s philosophy happens in the actual counseling experience. Most of the problems in school are behavioral and hence the most used technique in this field is behavior modification. I was able to interview Miss Jennifer Tucker, School Psychologist, CMS of (name of school) last October 4, 2006.
I asked her questions on what techniques she use daily in dealing with her clients, when does she gets involved, how she gets their background, how she establishes rapport with student-clients, the techniques she use in drawing out the student to discuss their problems with her, how she goes about developing plan or strategy to change the problem behavior, how she evaluates her job and a sample of a strategy she designed. The school psychologist said that she uses positive reinforcement and solution focused counseling.
Positive reinforcement is applicable to students who have exhibited positive behavior as a response to a presenting problem or issue. She reinforces positive behavior or thoughts by praising and affirming the actions that the student has done, reinforcement is often given after there have been some improvements in the behavior, this would strengthen the learning of the desired behavior. Solution-focused counseling is used with students who have greater problems and difficulties both in school and personally.
In this method, the student and the counselor work together to define the present problem and the goals of the student in answering problem, after which the problem is then divided into the problem and the exception wherein the problem would cease to exist. The problem is resolved when the student believes that he/she is no longer experiencing the problem. The school psychologist is called to help when teachers have observed and feel that the particular student is disrupting others or the classroom in the course of their daily lessons or classes and when teacher are at a loss on how to handle a difficult student.
Usually, the teachers refer the students to the school psychologist, and either the student is sent to the psychologist or she calls the student only in extreme situations. When a child is referred to her prior to the actual session she looks over their cumulative record to get to know their family background, ordinal position, academic performance and even their deportment grades. She also gets information from their present and previous teachers and takes note of any inconsistencies and or patterns in their behavior.
Finally when she meets the student, she also ask him questions about his family life, how he is doing in school, any difficulties he has encountered etc. She also let them draw a picture of their family in order to get an idea of how he/she sees and feels about his/her family. She also plays games at the start of the session in order to build rapport. If the problem warrants the presence of the parents, she may also call and talk to them. To be non – threatening to the student she use projective techniques to help the child describe his/her problems.
She usually asks them to draw a picture of their family doing something and engage them in a dialogue in order to explain why he/she draw that picture. At other times, when appropriate she engage them in play therapy and sometimes their issues come out during the play. For older children, she use the “I know a girl/boy who…”, she first tells them a story about a particular child and asks them to share something about a girl/boy they know, at times children share their own problems but does not want to say that it is their problems.
Sometimes she usually ask direct questions if the case is a referral and the presenting problem is a recent offense or disruptive behavior which is probably known to everybody, she also do this in cases when the teachers report abuse and marks are evident on the child. Before deciding or planning what strategy to use the school psychologist first meet with the teacher, get his/her observations and then proceed to observe the student in his/her classroom. Then she meets with the student and determines his/her problems and what to do with it and then plan a course of action.
She then meet with the teachers and present to them the strategy that would meet the teachers concerns and the students needs. A designed strategy to change behavior will be given three weeks to see if it is working for the student, if after three weeks no change is observed then a new plan will be devised with a new strategy. In designing a plan, the school psychologist first identifies the problem and then design a plan that would help the student resolves his/her problem. She involves the teacher in designing a plan of action for the child to ensure that the plan is reasonable and helpful to the student.
Follow-up is done almost daily because of the small number of students in the school. To track the progress of the child, the school psychologist asks the teachers to observe the behavior of the child after the implementation of the plan; they use a form that records the progress of the child on a daily basis. She also believe that parents should be involved because there is only so much that they can do during the school day and if it is not being reinforced at home then the desired behavior may not be learned at all.
There is no formal evaluation tool used, she based her effectiveness if students are making progress and getting control of their behaviors and there are less behavior referrals. A sample of her strategy to change behavior: “The behavior problem was always being late for school, the student was chronically tardy everyday and he missed out on many lessons hence his grades suffered. I found out through the sessions that this student lived only with his mother who works during the night and comes home at 7 in the morning.
We drew up a schedule of daily activities that would get him to bed at 10 in the evening and to set the alarm at 6 in the morning since he lived near the school. The night before, he was to prepare the things he need for school the following day, his clothes, shoes, books and notes. He was to follow the schedule for the first week and every time he came to class on time, his teacher would reward him by lessening his detention for an hour. At the end of the week, his progress was evaluated and another session was schedule”.
The methods and approaches used by this school psychologist seem to be effective in bringing about changes in her clients. She has well versed in the strategies used in behavior modification that it’s as if her main function in the school is to correct behavior. She is very much focused on positive reinforcement, behavior contracts and solution focused counseling. All in all she is very directive in her approach, but since she works in the school, it is probably appropriate.
However, she seems to use these techniques all through out the school population, not taking account that older students may not have much use for behavior contracts and or positive reinforcement. She also works closely with the teachers which is a good thing because teachers generally have first had experiences with students and they are more able to observe their behavior. Parents have limited involvement in the school, and I believe that the school psychologist should be able to engage the cooperation of the parents in order to maximize the change in behavior of the students.
She also does not evaluate her job or the process at which she conducts counseling. Although counseling sessions are difficult to evaluate she could at least have conducted a performance evaluation of counseling services at the end of the year in order to improve herself and the process that she employs. The sample she gave on correcting tardiness, seemed to be direct and simple, it gave the student specific things to do in order to stop being late, however she attributed the tardiness to the mother’s working hours and failed to delve deeper if there was any underlying problems that the tardiness was covering.
She also included the teacher in the plan as one who reinforces punctuality by lessening detention hours, although it is a positive reinforcement that would increase the likelihood of coming to class on time, she does not consider that the student may only come to class on time because of the reward and not see the value of being punctual.