What’s an ed psychologist’s role?

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Educational psychologists in the US evaluate how well schools serve their populations and identify areas for improvement, while in the UK they can also work as school counselors. They may observe students and administer tests to determine areas of support needed, and recommend changes to teaching methods or curricula. A master’s degree in psychology is sufficient, but an Ed.D or PhD is preferred.

What an educational psychologist does depends a lot on where that psychologist lives as there are two potential definitions for the term. In the United States, the educational psychologist is concerned, usually at the institutional level (school, college, district), about how existing learning programs serve the various school populations and what can be done to improve them. In the UK, this definition can also apply, but the term can also mean school adviser, which is more generally understood in the US as a person who advises individuals in a school.

This difference in definition is important, and in the United States, part of the major job may be to evaluate how well a school is responding to the needs of a total school population. This could be monitored in many ways. These psychologists might test a variety of students for factors such as IQ, language learning ability, and other issues, or they might study standardized tests administered by a school. They can also identify populations (racial groups, language learners, gifted students, children with learning disabilities) in a school that do not appear to be served by current learning strategies.

Given the theories studied on education and the most accredited ones, the educational psychologist can therefore look for ways to improve school performance at the service of all populations. They make recommendations on implementing new teaching styles, curricula, or ways a school or school district could provide greater support to underserved populations. If a school accepts the recommendations of the educational psychologist, the aim will be to develop materials to be provided to teachers to create changes in teaching methods or to actively instruct teachers and other staff on how to implement the suggested changes. It should be noted that not all suggestions are accepted, although most schools that hire an educational psychologist do so because they want to improve learning strategies.

There are also instances where an educational psychologist will carry out this work on an individual basis, particularly in conjunction with students with learning disabilities. They might work by observing students and administering tests to determine in which areas a student needs the most support. Such information could be presented in a parent-head teacher meeting along with recommendations on ways in which the student could be helped to improve. This would still not be a traditional consultation because the meetings with the student would be short-lived and would be more observational.

In the UK, educational psychologist can mean school counselor, in which case these psychologists would meet with students and may work for several months or more with people to help them with specific issues such as academic performance, behavioral problems at school or other problems. Usually in the United States this is called a school counselor and the two roles are seen as very different, although with permission, a school counselor could assist in meetings arranged to determine individual education plans (IEPs).

There are several degrees a person might need to become an educational psychologist. This is one case where people can get a master’s degree in psychology, although they are typically best served if they have an Ed.D or PhD in psychology. Bachelor-level work is good preparation for this field, but usually not enough to justify employment.

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