In This Issue

Triarchic conceptualization of advocacy: The confluence of science, practice and policy

Division 16 President Shane Jimerson reflects on advocacy and other topics as they relate to school psychology

By Shane R. Jimerson

It continues to be an honor and a pleasure to serve as Division 16 President during 2012. During the past few months, through my numerous communications and interactions with school psychology faculty, professionals, and students across the country and throughout the world, I am consistently reminded of the incredible talents, skills, knowledge, and contributions that school psychologists offer to the lives of children, to the educational context, to advancingknowledge, and to making things better. Indeed, I believe that many school psychologists already do and all should strive to: “Be the change you wish to see in the world!”

As the recipient of the 2012 Ronda C. Talley Distinguished Lecturer Award for exemplary leadership, advocacy, and contributions to evidence-based practice in school psychology, I recently had the good fortune of presenting at Indiana University. Dr. Ronda C. Talley has previously provided many leadership contributions to Division 16, the American Psychological Association, and the profession of school psychology throughout her career, and she recently contributed a generous endowment to Indiana University to support ongoing excellence in leadership and advocacy. Dr. Talley’s leadership, advocacy, and generosity, provide the catalyst and inspiration for this particular article. With the encouragement of Dr. Jack Cummings (Indiana University Professor of School Psychology and previous President of Division 16), I prepared a presentationhighlighting the importance of advocacy in school psychology (video available online at the 2012 School Psychology Futures Conference Website). As the inaugural recipient of this distinguished award, Dr. Cummings encouraged me to share my experiences related to advocacy. I found this to be a tremendous opportunity to reflect on what, how, why, and assorted activities I had engaged in throughout my career related to advocacy. In the weeks since the presentation, many students and colleagues across the country and around the world have communicated with me to share their appreciation for the ideas that I articulated in the presentation. Thus, in an effort to facilitate further discussion about this important topic, the following includes some of my reflections related to advocacy, science, practice and policy relevant to school psychology.

My experiences as an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley and my experiences in graduate school at the University of Minnesota very much influenced my ideas about the importance of advocacy in my career. Throughout my university experiences, the importance of advocacy and leadership were emphasized. At the University of Minnesota, I quickly came to understand and embrace the role of the school psychologist as an advocate for children.

Across the breadth of knowledge (e.g., social, emotional, cognitive, academic, family, systems, consultation, assessment), advocacy was consistently revealed as a critical contribution of school psychologists. In addition, there was also an emphasis on Problem-Solving Processes, Data-Based Decision making, and being a catalyst for change, and each has provided the core foundations of my understanding of advocacy and my advocacy efforts. In my various leadership roles with state, national, and international school psychology groups (e.g., Division 16 of the American Psychological Association, the National Association ofSchool Psychologists, the International School Psychology Association, the California Association of School Psychologists, the Society for the Study of School Psychology, the International Institute of School Psychology), I have continued to embrace and emphasize the importance of science, practice, and policy in advancing the well-being of children throughout the country and around the world.

Advocacy has been defined as “The act or process of advocating or supporting a cause or proposal.”(Merriam-webster.com). In reflecting on my experiences with advocacy, I embrace that it is a process; however, it also seems as though this succinct  definition of advocacy does not provide sufficient information to facilitate professional efforts to advocate for children.  Wallack and colleagues (1993) state that advocacy is a “catch-all word” for the set of skills used to create a shift in public  opinion and mobilize the necessary resources and forces to support an issue, policy, or constituency. Furthermore, Wallack (1993)  highlights that advocacy attempts to enlarge the range of choices that people can have by increasing their power to define problems, solutions, and participate in the broader social and policy arena. The School Psychology Futures Conference website indicates:  “Advocacy is a critical skill to influence and create change for the future of our nation’s children. School psychology and school psychologists need to further develop effective advocacy strategies to support our children and youth, to enhance the profession, and to incorporate evidence-based assessment and treatment in schools”. These  ideas begin to identify the scope complexity, and importance of advocacy.

Advocacy and school psychology

In particular, I am highlighting the importance of advocacy as related to the profession and field of school psychology. The first component of this exploration is to consider for whom or what do school psychologists advocate? Through my reflections on this topic, followed by discussions with graduate students and colleagues in school psychology programs, it became clear that there are many diverse topics and populations that school psychologists advocate (See Table 1).

Table 1: Examples of topics for which, and populations for whom, school psychologists advocate.

Table 1: Examples of topics for which, and populations for whom, school psychologists advocate

An additional topic of initial reflection and discussion was to consider with whom school psychologists collaborate to advocate (examples include:colleagues, schools, local associations and government, state associations and government, federal associations and government, international association and organizations, community organizations and other relevant institutions with power  and influence). Considering the assorted topics and populations school psychologists may engage in advocacy efforts and the diverse  groups whom school psychologists may collaborate, it is evident that advocacy is multi-faceted and warrants for consideration of  advocacy as a process.

Upon further reflection, it was evident that for me, advocacy represents the confluence of science, practice, and policy. That is, throughout my professional efforts, my advocacy efforts have been built upon the foundation  of scientific knowledge that informed the particular issue, considering the importance of the daily practices  influencing the particular issue and what would be considered best practices, as well as considering the various  policies that influenced or may influence such practices (See Figure 1). In my experiences, I have consistently been focused on the science, practices, and policies that inform and influence how to optimally facilitate and promote the  social, cognitive, social, emotional, and academic development of students at school.

Figure 1. Triarchic Conceptualization of Advocacy

Figure 1. Triarchic Conceptualization of Advocacy

During the past two decades I have been pursing topics that I am passionate about, and not necessarily following an a priori sequence in my advocacy efforts; however, in retrospect, I have deduced that there are some core elements that have consistently been underlying my advocacy efforts. These core elements include:

  • Purpose 

  • Knowledge 

  • Passion 

  • Persistence 

  • Action 

  • Values 

  • Collaboration 

  • Planning 

  • Process 

  • Data-based decisions

Based on my experiences, one of the most important core elements is relationships! In my experiences, relationships have been central to my advocacy efforts. Relationships with principals, teachers, parents, school psychologists, school counselors, special education professionals, superintendents, board members, government representatives, scholars and others have been the most important aspect of successful advocacy. I believe that it is fundamental to understand that ultimately successful advocacy is typically dependent upon relationships with others. In speaking with other colleagues who have engaged extensively in advocacy efforts throughout their careers, the importance of relationships is consistently reiterated as a quintessential component.

In my personal reflections to make sense of my experiences with advocacy throughout my career, I have attempted to extract a summary of five steps that I believe are important to consider in the advocacy efforts of school  psychologists. Those familiar with basic problem-solving steps will recognize the core elements, as it is apparent  that problem solving has been central in my personal experiences with advocacy. Thus, I offer the following five  steps as a heuristic of the advocacy process.

Five steps to consider in school psychology advocacy work:

  1. Clearly identify the issue 

  2. Collaborate 

  3. Plan 

  4. Action 

  5. Reflect and evaluate

The following is a very brief summary of each of these five steps.

Step 1. Clearly identify the issue

In clearly identifying the issue, it is critical to provide a simple description of the issue to help others understand the essential elements of the issue under consideration. At this initial step, it is important to obtain information  (e.g., data, evidence, stakeholder input) about the issue (i.e., encourage data-based decision making). Also, it is most  helpful to describe the issue in a way that helps to make change possible, not simply admiring the problem, but emphasizing  what may be better. Too often, professionals may admire a problem extensively, highlighting the many subtleties and deleterious effects, yet, fail to focus on strategies or solutions. Relatedly, at this initial step it is important to identify the key  objectives or goals associated with the advocacy efforts. Indeed, it is simple, data-based statement of the issue and empirically  informed way forward that is most salient first step in my experience with successfully advocating for children.

Step 2. Collaborate

Collaboration has been a important component in my advocacy experience. Partners and allies typically strengthen your advocacy efforts. For instance, collaborators can facilitate knowledge of and access to the process, they can also enhance knowledge of  the subject and help to get an issue on the agenda. Successful advocacy efforts often involve nurturing relationships and  developing professional networks, in order to access information, provide sufficient resources, contribute necessary skills,  and facilitate cooperation that is typically necessary to actualize the advocacy objectives. Recognizing that there are many dimensions in the advocacy process, in my experiences, collaboration has been key to successful advocacy efforts.

Step 3. Plan

Early on, it is important to engage in thoughtful planning efforts to consider how to accomplish the stated advocacy objectives. This includes determining the appropriate individual(s), group(s), and system(s) to target. Considering questions such as: Who is in charge of developing/implementing the policy/ program/service you’re concerned about?; Who has the power to make change?; Who does this decision maker listen to?; and, What decision processes are established? It is important to establish action plans  and timelines to facilitate change at the appropriate level(s). This often includes individual meetings, small group discussions, sharing information, and involving key stakeholders and decision-making persons. As the process continues, efforts may include public briefings, involving higher-level decision makers, larger group discussions, and public sharing of information. As the process further  evolves, efforts may include information distribution, letter writing, involving higher-level decision/ policy persons, and working  with the media. Initial plans should provide clear direction and also understanding that as the advocacy process progresses, there are typically further planning efforts that are necessitated by the unanticipated perturbations that emerge.

Step 4. Action

Actions will be informed by the aforementioned planning efforts. When you are implementing the advocacy strategies, it is important to specify in the plan who is going to do what and when to; a) prepare for the advocacy efforts, b) deliver the  actions, c) follow-up and, evaluate the actions.

Step 5. Reflect and evaluate

Reflection on and evaluation of your advocacy efforts is an important way to learn from your experience. There are many questions that may be considered in this process, for instance: Where did we start? Where are we now? What worked well  and helped us achieve our objectives? What actions were not helpful? What might we do differently next time, and why?  Engaging in reflection and evaluation throughout the advocacy process will serve to further refine and inform planning and reveal when further actions are warranted. Clearly, this is a succinct summary of advocacy as a process. There is not sufficient space to fully articulate the dynamic and reciprocal nature of science, practice, policy, and the five steps described herein. In my own experiences advocating for individual children in schools, for groups of children in schools or communities, and for school psychology professionals, the information succinctly described above has been invaluable.

Many school psychologists (e.g., scholars, students, practitioners) will continue to be advocates for children. Given  the importance of these professional activities, it is clear that graduate programs across the country and throughout  the world will further contribute to advocacy efforts by or enthusiastic to contribute further to the future of Division  16 and school psychology, please email me or other Division 16 Executive Committee members, as we welcome your further involvement in efforts to advance science, practice, and policy relevant to school psychology. Indeed, Be the change you wish to see in your world!

References

Wallack, L., Dorfman, L., Jernigan, D. & Themba, M. (1993). Media advocacy and public health: Power for prevention. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.