[Editor’s note: This is the first part of a three-part interview conducted by Miriam Ruff with Dr. Kim Hastings, a nationally certified school psychologist. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.]
MR: In general terms, what is a school psychologist? What role do they play in the school setting?
KH: From the National Association of School Psychologists’ website: “School psychologists are uniquely qualified members of school teams that support students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach. They apply expertise in mental health, learning, and behavior, to help children and youth succeed academically, socially, behaviorally, and emotionally. School psychologists partner with families, teachers, school administrators, and other professionals to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments that strengthen connections between home, school, and the community.”
MR: Are there subspecialties in the profession, or are most generalists?
KH: There aren’t subspecialities in the form as degrees, but many seek additional certifications (e.g. Nationally Certified School Psychologist, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, or Licensed Psychologist).
MR: What kind of training do school psychologists receive?
KH: School psychologists receive specific training within advanced graduate work, focusing on coursework within education, learning, psychoeducational assessment, mental health support, behavior, and practicum work. To be a nationally certified school psychologist, one either needs a specialist degree (60 semester hours) or a PhD (at least 90 semester hours) with a 1200-hour supervised internship.
MR: Which area of school psychology is of particular interest to you?
KH: My particular area of interest is within Academic and Behavior Tiers of Support, or MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support). I found my passion to be in first understanding data and then building the systems of intervention to support students academically or behaviorally before their levels reached an intense deficit. I learned the need to instruct students and quickly remediate problems before the school team was considering [classifying the student with] a disability.
MR: Has COVID changed the role of school psychologists? Have you seen an increase and/or decrease in specific needs?
KH: Yes, unfortunately there are some hurdles in our way. As many in education had to, we all had to pivot to a virtual world. In some ways, it enhanced efficiency; in others, it made it difficult to gather valid information. The number of referrals from parents and teachers has greatly increased. Whether that’s in regard to missing academics or mental health, we’ve found the school psychologists incredibly exhausted given the amount of need.
MR: How did you connect with teachers and students during remote learning? Has that affected the way you approach your job moving forward?
KH: Teachers: I was able to easily meet given our virtual platforms — Google Meet or Zoom. I feel like we all adapted just fine to this need. Students: this became more difficult. In 20-21, my district decided to offer a complete virtual school to allow families to have the choice to choose a blended in-person instruction model or completely virtual. In my role, I work very heavily with the virtual teachers, principals, and students to develop intervention plans and watch progress monitoring data.
MR: What is your most in-demand service now? Why?
KH: Because I’m the lead for the Elementary School Psychologist, I often hear about the sheer workload. The amount of high-priority cases is heavy right now.
MR: What do you most want students, parents, and teachers to know about your profession?
KH: School psychologists are a vital part of the school team. We bring a unique set of training and perspectives that others may not see. School psychologists are often an advocate for students and families and can help navigate the special education world.
MR: Take us through an average school day — what do you do?
KH: As a school psychologist, no day is ever the same. It is common to have staffings (pre-meeting to the IEP) [Editor’s note: Individual Education Plan] to brainstorm ideas and solutions for cases, to train a teacher on an intervention, to investigate screening/progress monitoring data, to observe or formally assess a student, to write a report, and to meet with parents. The role includes consultation with teachers and families.
MR: What services do you think all students need? Do you think the school system as it’s currently operating provides that for them? What, if anything, would you change about the process?
KH: All students need a quality academic and social-emotional education. I think there is always room for improvement. In my current role as the district MTSS specialist, I find that we often find ourselves responding to legislative action. While I appreciate the advocates and legislators for quality education, it can be hard at times to improve what you already have going when there are mandates from the state.
Next week: Struggling Students and the School Psychologist
Kim Hastings, PhD is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist, in practice as a school psychologist since 2010 and in the district (Edmond School District, Oklahoma) MTSS Specialist role since 2014. Her current role is to lead the district through a multi-tiered system of support for academics and behavior while also serving as the lead elementary school psychologist.