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The School Psychologist Your Problem-Solving Partner

So your child’s report card was sent home last week, and they are experiencing some challenges at school.

Those challenges could include:

Academic: Weak reading, writing or math skills.
Social: Does not seem to be making friends.
Emotional: Worries about exams, low self-esteem.
Behavioral: Cannot sit still, uncooperative.

These are common challenges that many students will have to cope with at some point in their education experience. As a parent, it can be confusing and frustrating trying to navigate the school system, even more so when trying to access the services and supports that your child needs in a timely manner.

What to do? When a student is having difficulties in school, the first step is to make an appointment with the classroom teacher(s) to discuss concerns and develop a plan for success. When setting up this meeting, a parent may ask for additional school staff to attend, such as the Inclusive Education Teacher (formerly known as the Special Education Teacher) and/or school administrator. When meeting with school staff, parents will have an opportunity to talk about their child, so take a few minutes to think about and jot down some of your child’s strengths and areas of need. This information is essential as the newly created learning team (parents and school staff) develop a responsive plan to address the primary concerns. Typically, intervention plans will be implemented for four to six weeks and then evaluated for effectiveness. If your child continues to experience difficulties and/or your concerns have not diminished, parents may ask school staff to access the services of a specialist such as a school psychologist for additional support.

Who is a school psychologist? In Alberta, psychologists work in many areas of specialization; for example, clinical, counseling, health or school. A school psychologist is a registered psychologist who has expertise in both education and psychology.

School psychologists possess a unique set of skills and expertise as a result of training in:


  • mental health and educational interventions
  • program planning and implementation
  • social, emotional and behavioral functioning
  • learning and child development
  • consultation and collaboration
  • cognitive, academic, social, emotional and behavioral assessment

Traditionally in Alberta, school psychologists’ work has focused primarily on the process of assessing for identification and coding purposes. However, with Alberta Education’s recent shift to an Inclusive Education System (a system of education that focuses on all students having the opportunity to realize their potential in the most enabling environment), it is possible to access school psychologists’ services in a broader context. In terms of what school psychologists do, there is an opportunity to change focus from an Assessment Model to a broad School Psychology Services Model; thus allowing students, parents and school staff to take full advantage of the breadth and depth of expertise that school psychologists have to offer. Although school staff will make the final decision based on a number of factors, when requesting additional support, parents can clearly articulate that they want the services of a school psychologist.

How can a school psychologist help? In my work as a school psychologist, parents and school staff request my assistance for a variety of reasons. I find that the most common referral concern is reading challenges. I also assist with programming for students who are experiencing behavioral difficulties in the school (and sometimes the home and community) environments. I often find that a student’s presenting behavior is rooted in frustration resulting from academic skills, social skill deficits and/or emotional struggles – and I believe that it is important to focus on the root of the problem to help a student overcome their challenges. Additionally, I work closely with parents and school staff to develop comprehensive daily programming plans for students with complex needs. On occasion, my services have been accessed by both parents and school staff to assist with enhancing home-school collaboration. Essentially, my job is to help children and youth succeed academically, socially, behaviorally and emotionally in their learning environments.

I describe my work to parents and school staff as a professional service that can assist in problem-solving, most often with a focus on developing and implementing student learning programs. To do this, I typically do a number of things: review documents, observe the student in various environments – for example, classroom, playground – interview school staff and parents, and participate in collaborative meetings to plan programs. Assessment can be a part of my work; however, my services do not start and end with a formal assessment. I emphasize that the goal of school psychology services is to work with parents and school staff to develop an educational program that enables a student to function effectively in a school environment to help them reach their potential.

Both the Calgary Public School Board and Calgary Catholic School Board have school psychologists on staff. Some of the smaller, surrounding school boards contact school psychology services.

Dr. R. Coranne Johnson, R. Psych., has been working in the education field for 24 years as a teacher, administrator and school psychologist. She has also taught university courses in the areas of special education, psychology and program effectiveness. Through Dr. Johnson’s work in schools, she has developed a wealth of knowledge about learning, literacy and special education. Dr. Johnson can be contacted through her website,

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