Ray Valek Publishes Article in School Psychology in Illinois newsletter, March 2008

Take A School Mental Health Day: Classic PR, In A Good Way

By Ray Valek, President, Valek and Co. Communications

In its purest form, the practice of public relations can be equated to the relationship of two good friends or to partners in a healthy marriage.

In a healthy relationship, there is mutual interest, good communication, respect and admiration. The two individuals share a regard for each other’s welfare.

Your success as a school psychologist depends greatly on your ability to form and foster good relationships with school colleagues, parents and students. For this reason, whether you realize it or not, you must practice public relations every day on your job. In many cases, you are the sole embodiment of the school psychology profession, as well as of ISPA, in your school.

Take A School Mental Health Day was designed to help you – and thereby the school psychology profession – to enhance relationships while boosting professional visibility and credibility.

Program follows classic PR model of relationship building

Having been formally trained in public relations at an accredited journalism school, I first learned about the classic PR model in college. This model emphasizes the importance of establishing and maintaining good relationships with key constituencies, or publics, through clear, thorough and honest communication. The goal in this model is “good relationships,” with communication being a primary strategy toward achieving the goal.

Unfortunately, we have seen many organizations and governments subvert this classic model through the use of “spin,” which is using deceptive communication to create the illusion that good relationships exist, when they do not. For example, many corporations tout their work/life balance programs in the media, which is usually an indicator that these places are not very worker-friendly and that a poor relationship exists between employees and management. If a good relationship existed, why would the company need to institute a program to restore work/life balance? It also has been very common for governments to spin data or information selectively to change or justify policy rather than to present a clear, honest picture of a situation.

Take A School Mental Health Day, however, does not rely on spin. The program is an honest attempt to help you enhance your relationships with your school colleagues, as well as with parents and students, through clear and thorough communication about a topic – mental health – common in its importance to everyone associated with the school.

Addressing SEL head-on

Take A School Mental Health Day addresses head-on the challenge of communicating important concepts about mental health and social and emotional learning (SEL) to a broad school audience. For this reason, it will ultimately be a fulfilling program for ISPA, as well as somewhat challenging to pull off. As I’m sure some of you realize, gaining support and buy-in from school leadership and peers and then scheduling and implementing Take A School Mental Health Day will take a good deal of time and effort. However, once that is accomplished, you will have made a substantive contribution to better mental health in your school.

It would be much easier for ISPA to rely on spin – to just say it is significantly contributing to SEL in schools than to actually do something about it. We can just put out a press release touting ourselves rather than implementing a grassroots program that will make an impact. Yes, it’s true that there are other ways to contribute to SEL than by implementing Take A School Mental Health Day. However, there’s no other way that allows you also to promote ISPA and the school psychology profession and to be part of a shared initiative with fellow ISPA members.

School psychologists commonly perceived as test experts

As we addressed in the introductory communication for Take A School Mental Health Day, the school psychology profession needs to better communicate the value it provides in schools.

A recent study – Teachers’ Perceptions of School Psychology: A Comparison of Regular and Special Education Teacher Ratings – reports that regular education teachers, compared to special education teachers, have less knowledge of school psychology, perceive school psychologists as less helpful to teachers, make less requests of school psychology services, and report lower satisfaction with school psychology services.

This study is consistent with past studies that show teachers casting school psychologists in the role of a test expert or having low satisfaction with psychological services. These perceptions are seen as possibly undermining efforts to expand the role of the school psychologist through an active alliance with teachers.

Perceptions due to infrequent contact, lack of collaboration

In the study’s discussion of findings, the authors say that teachers’ less-than-optimal perceptions of school psychologists may be based partly on their infrequent contact with school psychologists and also due partly to the kinds of contacts they have with school psychologists. For example, teachers may not view themselves as active collaborators with school psychologists but rather as obligatory participants.

Also, both regular education teachers and special education teachers most often request services such as assessment, behavioral consultation and academic consultation services from school psychologists while making fewer requests for services such as individual counseling, group counseling and curriculum development. This tendency may contribute to teachers viewing school psychologists primarily as test experts.

The main implication of the study’s findings is that any future role-reform strategies for school psychologists must begin by first apprising both regular education and special education teachers of the entire breadth of school psychology services. School psychologists must do more to encourage teachers to seek their support for nonassessment activities.

The study recommends activities such as providing teachers with written materials that describe the services school psychologists are capable of providing and making efforts to meet with teachers either formally or informally to explain these services.

School psychologists must take a leading role in mental health education

While these efforts will help, school psychologists must go beyond simply presenting what they do and make efforts to lead major initiatives within the school relating to mental health and learning.

That’s what Take A School Mental Health Day is designed to do. The program can help school psychologists to present their expertise and knowledge within the context of a collaborative effort with teachers to educate students and parents. In this way, Take A School Mental Health Day can help to open the door wider to even more collaboration with teachers and a broader role for school psychologists within the school.

When that happens, Take A School Mental Health Day will have achieved the purpose of a classic PR program. It will have strengthened relationships with school leaders, teachers and parents for the betterment of students. That’s the bottom line, and I encourage all ISPA members to start taking the steps to implement this program in your schools. To learn more about Take A School Mental Health Day, visit the ISPA Web site

@ Valek & Company 2016