All Children Can Learn
- Last Updated: 09 October 2015
All Children Can Learn: The Premise of Effective Education
By Lisa York, NCSP, Communications Chair & Kathy Cowan, Director of Marketing and Communications
The phrase “All Children Can Learn” is central to effective education. The idea underlies the goals of both No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). So too does the expectation that schools will create the requisite circumstances to promote student well-being and successful learning. The problem—and frequent disconnect between policy slogans and effective practice—is defining and building consensus around what it takes to create schools in which all children truly can learn (i.e., no child is “left behind”), regardless of their challenges.
School Psychologists: Supporting the Whole Child
Educators and child development experts today know a great deal about how to foster school success. We know that all children can achieve healthy development and academic success when provided with the learning environment and supports necessary to meet their individual needs. In other words, schools need to educate the whole child. This means supporting their social/emotional as well as academic learning and creating a seamless school/home/community support system. Essential to such a system is a focus on prevention and early intervention, which are not only more effective than remediation, but also less costly in the long run. School psychologists work with parents, teachers, and other educators to address virtually every aspect of this process: promoting personal security, connectedness, and health; providing individualized support, affirmation, and instruction; advocating for prevention and early intervention; and facilitating collaboration.
What Does It Take for All Children to Learn?
A safe, caring learning environment. Feeling safe and connected to others is essential to learning. In fact, learning cannot occur when children feel at-risk or alienated. Caring, supportive schools prevent and stop aggressive behavior of any kind (including bullying), foster trust between students and adults, and create a climate in which all students feel welcome and understood. Federal and state policies that target school safety make improved school climate a top priority. School psychologists help implement school-wide prevention programs; recommend targeted strategies to reduce risk factors and increase protective factors for higher risk students; provide more intensive interventions and mental health supports for individual students; and serve on school crisis and problem solving teams.
Support for their individual needs. No two children are the same and no single child remains constant on the path of learning and development. Effective education is not “one size fits all” because children succeed best when schools meet their individual learning, emotional and psychological needs. Individualized assessment, instruction and support services reinforce the accountability and performance measures mandated in NCLB, as well as improve interventions in the general education classroom that help reduce inappropriate special education referrals. School psychologists are assessment and intervention experts. They help determine students’ specific social, behavioral, and academic needs, and then recommend evidence-based strategies that will most effectively address those issues. School psychologists also evaluate program effectiveness and student progress to ensure improved outcomes.
Ability to build on their strengths. Fostering children’s self-esteem and competence requires reinforcing their inherent strengths. Identifying risks, performance deficits, or negative behaviors is not enough. Schools that emphasize students’ natural abilities and resources, and teach them new skills help students to achieve independence, self-confidence, and resiliency. Positive skill-building programs improve academic outcomes, discipline and behavior management, and students’ ability to cope with crisis. Safe and Drug-Free Schools Programs within NCLB, as well as discipline provisions within the current IDEA law, provide opportunities to strengthen positive behavioral supports at the building and classroom levels. (Please note, though, that proposed changes in IDEA discipline provisions threaten to limit this ability. For further information and an easy way to contact your members of Congress, visit the Advocacy Action Center at http://capwiz.com/naspweb/). School psychologists help students build on their strengths. They provide training in social skills, problem-solving and conflict resolution as well as self-monitoring/control skills, strategies for test taking, stress management, and crisis coping skills.
Respect and affirmation of their differences. Increasing diversity is the hallmark of student populations today. Minority students face unique challenges in terms of learning and social integration. Inclusive schools understand and affirm differences in race, culture, language, ethnicity, sexual orientation and learning styles. Provisions in NCLB and IDEA target improvement in achievement for minority students and those with special needs. School psychologists help lower barriers to learning for these students. They promote and employ culturally competent practice; advocate and develop programs/curriculum that teach tolerance; provide services, such as assessment and academic/behavioral interventions, that are culturally and linguistically appropriate; help create and maintain inclusive classrooms; and provide interventions and supports for at-risk minority and special needs students.
Healthy minds and bodies. Health problems of any kind can impede a child’s learning and development. Mental health issues that can affect school range from stress, anxiety, and fear of violence or terrorism to depression, alcohol and substance abuse, and serious disorders. Schools are increasingly recognized as important settings for the provision of mental health services because of the significant time children and youth spend there under the oversight of trained, caring professionals. Funding for counseling services was increased in NCLB; provision of psychological services is specifically articulated in IDEA ’97 and is likely to remain in the new law; and the final July 2003 report of President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health recommends that “schools must work to remove the emotional, behavioral and academic barriers that interfere with students’ success in school.” School psychologists provide mental health services that promote students’ resiliency and reduce the immediate and long-term consequences of mental health problems, such as academic failure, behavior and social problems, or even suicide. Their services include prevention and early intervention strategies, treatment and counseling, assessment and diagnosis, case management, and consultation.
Strong home/school connections. Collaboration between parents, teachers and other school personnel is critical. Whether addressing a child-specific concern or a school-wide initiative such as bullying prevention, adults best serve children when working together to provide consistent expectations and support. NCLB promotes parent involvement and choice in their child’s school experience, which are mandated by IDEA through the IEP process. School psychologists facilitate collaboration by fostering a common understanding of issues and goals, providing useful information and training, connecting families to needed community services, and helping to coordinate school and community resources. They help parents, teachers, and related professionals to work together to implement and evaluate evidence-based interventions that produce meaningful outcomes.
Trained professionals and research-based programs. School psychologists have extensive—and unique—training in both education and psychology that entails a minimum of a 30 semester hours (about a year!) beyond a master’s degree. Also, best practices in school psychology require adherence to research-based programs and strategies; school psychologists are often the professionals within the building who can best link current research to practice. The profession supports the highest standard in practice through numerous programs, including the Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential. School psychologists also work with other key stakeholder groups to continue to identify and meet challenges in education so that the today’s vision that “all children can learn” becomes the reality for schools tomorrow. The School Psychology Futures Conference website at www.indiana.edu/~futures/home.html is an excellent resource for recommendations regarding this effort.