Questions for students & all: Complexity and the History of Psychology

Most years over the past decade, I have delivered a three-hour interactive workshop to doctoral students in school psychology. At times, I have worked with students in a class on community school psychology. At other times, I come in with a class on the history of psychology.

Next week, I will be working once again with students in the history of psychology class. Just as the field of psychology has experienced the evolution of ideas through Freud, Jung, Rogers, and beyond, so too has the field of complex adaptive systems evolved. When I began working with psychology graduate students over ten years ago, I was primarily influenced by the ideas and work of Margaret Wheatley, Ralph Stacey, James Gleick, and others. My conversation with the students was loosely structured around several core themes: the dominant paradigm about human system dynamics over the past centuries; how relatively recent discoveries in the natural and social sciences provided a “new lens” through which we can understand and view human systems dynamics; and how an understanding of complexity could serve practitioners in school psychology.

When I began these workshops, there was more theory than practical tools and methods, from the field of complexity. Today, we are fortunate to have several well-tested and mature models to learn and use. More are on the way. I am personally engaged in thinking about development of new complex capacity-building methods.

So in preparation for this semester’s workshop, I fully re-thought my outline, and my resources. There is now a greatly expanded bibliography, including many books and articles from the past couple of years. There are discussions of specific methods and tools that practitioners can, and I believe will, find valuable in theor own work.

For the first time, I wanted to utilize online media to initiate my discussion with the students. To that end, I am posting below a series of five questions. My hope is that my students-to-be will read, reflect, and respond. So too can anyone else. If you DO post a response, please note which Question or Questions you are addressing (use “Q1” or “Q3” references for example).

THANKS

Q1: what are the fundamental questions psychology seeks to answer?

Q2: What are the fundamental assumptions that drive K-12 school and teaching design?

Q3: Are there “limiting beliefs” in the domain of “known knowns” and “known unknowns” that we should seek to change in ourselves and others?

Q4: what is the biggest challenge you face in your work?

Q5: What is the one thing you wish you knew, or could do, to improve outcomes in your work?

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8 Responses to Questions for students & all: Complexity and the History of Psychology

  1. Minu says:

    Q4: what is the biggest challenge you face in your work?
    The biggest challenge I face in my work is trying to balance all the responsibilities that are expected of a school psychologist in a public school in NJ. In NJ, school psychologists are expected to play multiple roles including but not limited to case managers, crisis responders, clinicians, administrators, coordinators, and educators. I am finding that it is becoming challenging to balance all of these roles.

    Q5: What is the one thing you wish you knew, or could do, to improve outcomes in your work?
    One way to improve outcomes in my work for children and their families to have the school psychologists primarily function for the areas of assessment, counseling, crisis and consultation. I feel that this would really utilize our skills in the best manner.

    • Jason Mathison says:

      Q1: I believe that psychology as a field aims to answer a few fundamental questions:
      How can we best predict human behavior?
      How can we improve an individual or group’s success in adaptation to their environment (in school, relationships, and life depending on the discipline).

  2. Larissa says:

    Q2: What are the fundamental assumptions that drive K-12 school and teaching design?
    I believe that it is often assumed that students want to be in school and are motivated to learn and that that motivation is intrinsic in all students.
    I think too often only one teaching modality is used rather than having instruction be multi-modal to reach more students and possibly increase their motivation to learn.

    Q4: what is the biggest challenge you face in your work?
    Similar to Minu’s reply I find it very frustrating and challenging working in NJ. I feel that with all the hats I wear in my position I am not serving my students and teachers the best way possible. Paperwork, scheduling and putting out little fires from case management take up a considerable amount of my time which takes away from using the skills I was trained in as a school psychologist, to help the students, their families and the teachers that work with them.

  3. Erica says:

    Q4. What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?
    I’ve found that the most difficult challenge I face in my job is finding the time to engage in direct contact with the students. Balancing the multiple roles that I have been assigned, including coordinating state testing, collaborating with teachers and parents, consulting with outside agencies, and organizing meetings and schedules has limited the amount of time I can spend doing counseling, observations, and spending time in the classroom. I’ve also found that I spend too much time in administrative meetings and other meetings where that time could be better spent working with students.

    Q5: What is the one thing you wish you knew, or could do, to improve outcomes in your work?
    I wish that I knew what went on in the homes and outside lives of my students. I would like to be able to truly know whether or not parents follow through with recommendations and plans that are developed after hours of meetings during the school day. We as school psychologists spend so much time developing behavior plans and home/school collaboration plans, only to have the same difficulties time and time again with certain students. I believe this can be attributed to the lack of continuity from school to home. I wish there was a way to ensure that parents followed through with collaborative plans and with recommendations of school staff to support their children.

  4. Melissa says:

    Q1: what are the fundamental questions psychology seeks to answer?

    Psychology is the examination of the human mind/soul and how the individual interacts in the environment. I think one of the most fundamenta questions that psychology seeks to answer is one of motivation. What motivates individuals and more specifically what motivates children. This question is extremely relevant to school psychologists, teachers and staff in the school setting. Often, we, as school psychologists, hear that children are “lazy” or not motivated to perform or do well in school. Why is this? Is this really the case? I cannot believe that students are innately unmotivated or just plain lazy. There must be something underlying this behavior and I believe it is essential to determine this for each student. If we can understand what motivates a child and can increase his school performance and improve school behaviors, I think psychology will have played a life changing role in the life of the child. If we, as school staff, can motivate children to learn and perform well in school, we have provided them with opportunities and future growth that they would otherwise not have access.

  5. Jane says:

    Q1: From my perspective the fundamental question that psychology seeks to answer is what is the essence of existence? Why do people make sense of their lives and how do people do that? What differentiates humans from other mammals is the nature of their brains. We are capable of higher order thought and it is the capacities for complex thought and integration of ideas that propels people to make sense of their lives, to give it meaning, to resolve contradictions, and to provide direction for the future. I see this as a never ending process of being and growing and evolving.

  6. Jane says:

    Q2: From my perspective the fundamental assumptions that drive K-12 schools and teaching design are that the middle ground is the aim, conformity and rigidity are the best means for managing all those who are within the educational setting, that children progress developmentally in a linear, sequential manner, and that one size fits all. Consequences of these assumptions is that mediocrity abounds in education and instead of the use of collaboration to integrate thought and action as a way of elevating students and staff, turf battles occur and individuals remain isolated. I feel public education has to catch up to where the rest of society is, since education always seems so far behind the times.

  7. Bradley says:

    Q1: what are the fundamental questions psychology seeks to answer?
    Understanding and having the ability to modify the behaviors and thoughts that are paramount to existance at the individual and group level.

    Q2: What are the fundamental assumptions that drive K-12 school and teaching design? Current K-12 educational systems are unfixable (which is probably true), and un-fix-ability means that individual classrooms are doomed (which is not always true).

    Q3: Are there “limiting beliefs” in the domain of “known knowns” and “known unknowns” that we should seek to change in ourselves and others? I don’t know what this means.

    Q4: what is the biggest challenge you face in your work? Administrator, Teacher, Paraprofessional, and Parent automated thoughts and stereotype-based beliefs.

    Q5: What is the one thing you wish you knew, or could do, to improve outcomes in your work? To tap into the exuberance and excitement (which leads to engagement in the classroom) that preservice teachers have; which seems completely lost within the first month of school.

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