I was asked by a Twitter follower (Nick: @TheNextFreud) to comment on how my school psychology training links to practice as I am on-the-job.
I'm not exactly on-the-job yet, but I am pretty darn close. During both my first and second years of graduate school I have been able to jump head first thanks to two great placements. Last year I was at an urban charter school in Boston. During my first year I had an opportunity to get my feet wet. I did a lot of observations in different classrooms, meetings, counseling and group sessions, and assessments. I also was the Site Coordinator of Primary Project, a child-centered play intervention for children identified as being at risk. I had my own case load of four students and worked as a liason between my placement, child associates, and my graduate program.
In the classroom, all of my studies were matching up with what I was being exposed to. My first year classes laid the groundwork for what I was, and would be, doing on-site. I was taking an introduction to special needs course which was a BIG help when sitting in IEP meetings. A behavior and classroom management course informed my observations in classrooms and prepared me for consulting with teachers. I also took assessment courses in both academic and cognitive abilities. The academic achievement course prepared me to help with progress monitoring kindergarten students' reading skills throughout the year and provided a lens through which I could read (and understand) and academic evaluation. My psychoeducational/cognitive abilities course really put me in charge of my work at my placement. I was to conduct observations (of meaning, not just to do it) and prepare to complete my first evaluation. I spent time learning two assessment measures, took my competency checks, and did small pieces of the evaluation until it was time to do the whole thing on my own (under supervision of course!). Other courses also integrated nicely into my practicum placement, providing me with opportunities to get basic experience in some of the areas I will be spending most of my time, like consultation. Finally, a major culminating project was my research. I was able to design a project based on something of interest at my site (Recess) and collect and analyze the data. I presented this poster at the National Association of School Psychologists Conference this past February.
Sidenote: I HIGHLY reccommend the presenting experience to graduate students at some point during their education. It not only looks great on a resume, but is a nice way to network and really take in another aspect of the field (i.e., research) that can easily be overlooked in the day-to-day shuffle. This is not to say research isn't relevant in the daily life of a school psychologist. I use it more days than not. Looking up articles, collecting observational data, designing interventions, progress monitoring, etc. The list goes on and on...
During my second year, I hit the ground running! I am placed at a middle school in a suburb of Boston. The need for the entering sixth graders was quite high, so my supervisors were quite thankful to have two students (one 3rd year intern and myself). The first week I was already assigned a case to begin working on, conducting observations, and writing a functional behavioral analysis. I was also given a few counseling cases; one of which I managed to 'cure' (go me!). This year was similar to last where my courses integrated into my practicum site, though not as much as I would have liked. I also took courses in social-emotional assessment, ethics, and school & family systems that required projects on-site. I took a counseling course and wrote a treatment manual during throughout the semester. Though this is not neccessarily related to my present caseload, it is definitely something I will hold onto (and another professor asked for a copy for their own professional use).
In addition to integrated coursework I also completed six evaluations (and counting). My supervisors are quite knowledgable in various assessment tools and I was able to expand my repertoire. I was given cases with varying referral questions (ADHD, SLD, Autism, Communication, etc) and have been able to present at three meetings. My second year experiences has been one of learning, growing, and bringing it all together as I prepare for my internship.
Internship is an intense experience complete with three case studies (evaluation, academic intervention, mental health intervention). I have high hopes for what I want to accomplish in my internship and hope to use it as a chance to both hone and expand my skills, develop tools for future practice, and organize myself. I also hope to land a great job thanks to all of the experiences I have been exposed to thus far.
I do have some advice for you. At times, when you're sitting in class, it can feel like "when will I ever use this?" or "how is this going to help me?" In response I challenge you to ask questions. Ask your professors, second/third year students, and/or your supervisor(s). Ask how you can apply what they are talking about in the field. Depending on the program you attend, your professors could be a little "out of touch" with the realistic application of course content. I would suggest asking your supervisors during supervision to get an honest response. I'd also say get in touch with other school psychologists to find out how they might approach it (way to set an example Nick!). Graduate programs prepare you for best practice, but we all know that isn't always feasible, possible, or an option.
Hope this helps my readers see how training can apply to your field work.
Until next thyme,