Edward Gaughan, PhD, is on a mission to improve K-12 education by bolstering psychology's scientific contribution to learning and teacher quality. It's a big task, but one he's devoted to in his newly created position--and recent appointment--as the Lea Powell and Arthur Powell Endowed Chair in Psychology and Schooling at Alfred University (AU) in Alfred, N.Y.
The endowed chair position grew out of donations from Lea R. Powell and her husband Arthur L. Powell, former chairman of the AU board of trustees. Their donations created the Powell Institute, which coordinates research and funding initiatives for AU's Division of School Psychology and helps to provide community psychological and educational services.
Gaughan's tasks with his new position complement the goals of APA's Education Directorate and APA's annual Education Leadership Conference, which urge psychologists to boost collaboration and bring psychological research on child development, testing, assessment and effective teaching to K-12 schools.
With that in mind, Gaughan sees his new position as an opportunity to implement APA's national initiatives on a local level.
"It is important to build interdisciplinary collaborations," Gaughan says. "Psychologists bring the knowledge base of psychological science, and the teachers bring the knowledge base of pedagogy and of the particular environment, and together they solve problems by shaping the knowledge base to that human and physical ecology."
And that's exactly what Gaughan has done since beginning his new role last fall. As endowed chair, he pursues grants for research and training related to school reform and fosters collaboration among teachers, school psychologists, counselors, administrators and graduate students.
For example, he and faculty members seek joint education grants to team up the school psychology and education departments for training programs in local schools. The training will help to prepare students to better collaborate with one another, as well as change how in-service school professionals work together collaboratively.
The program would expand on a model of training already used in the school psychology department, in which school psychology graduate students work collaboratively with teachers, special education teachers and administrators in four local schools. The students learn to do collaborative problem-solving based on psychology's knowledge base in consultation, problem-solving models and organizational psychology, Gaughan says. The students then stay linked to these schools for their practicum and for a full-year internship.
These training programs allow students to team up on classroom assessments and interventions too, Gaughan says. For example, usually a school psychologist would receive a referral about a child's learning or behavior problem and then work alone to do the psychological evaluation, make the diagnosis and recommend an alternative placement. But in this new collaborative model, a team consisting of a teacher, counselor, literacy or numeracy specialist, school psychologist and administrator, handles the referral and seeks ways to reduce such referrals in the future, such as by changing the classroom or school environment.
A team player himself, Gaughan also facilitates a university-wide schooling collegium at AU, in which administrators and chairs in AU departments meet throughout the year to set objectives and initiate new curriculum and degree options.
And to further solidify bonds across disciplines, Gaughan teaches an experimental course for graduate students in teaching, counseling and school psychology programs. For example, students discuss turf issues between psychologists and educators in the schools, with a view toward cooperation rather than competition.
"This way they will be ready to collaborate and complement each others' expertise when they hit the schools," Gaughan says. "There are so many disciplines with complementary expertise but who don't even know how to talk to each other in schools."
A clear choice
Gaughan has spent much of his career collaborating within and outside of the field of psychology to improve K-12 schools. He first joined the AU faculty in 1989 and became chair of the university's Division of School Psychology in 1996. In that position, he spearheaded the division's efforts to secure several research grants and to obtain initial APA accreditation for AU's doctoral psychology program.
This experience made him a clear choice to head up the schooling and psychology initiatives for the Powell Institute, says AU provost David Szczerbacki, PhD.
"Ed has a very good grasp of contemporary trends--not only in school psychology but the point of interface among education and psychology, counseling and school psychology," Szczerbacki says. "This chair position is all about that interface in defining and redefining what impacts schools."
The creation of a university-endowed chair to advance the application of psychology to education clearly recognizes this mission's importance, says Cynthia Belar, PhD, executive director of APA's Education Directorate.
"I hope we will see more endowed chairs in psychology in the future across all areas of the discipline," she says.