Presidential Perspective

Leading by Convening

Dear ISPA Members,

It is a privilege and an honor to represent the Illinois School Psychologists Association (ISPA) as president for the 2020-2021 term. To borrow a term from NASP President Leslie Paige, I consider myself an "accidental leader" in reaching the role of your president. My service with ISPA leadership began over six years ago purely based on my interests of technology use in our profession after speaking with a colleague who was involved on the board. I soon found myself in the role of a committee chair to help guide the association through significant revisions of our website and backend systems. I am continually impressed by the work of our Governing Board to help support school psychology students, interns, and practitioners all across the state of Illinois. I look forward to leading our association in its 42nd year and to continue our work of service to the field of school psychology in Illinois, especially as we look to the unprecedented start of the 2020-2021 school year.

The start of this school year will be like no other, as our country and state are still under emergency declarations for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Our school communities ended last year in an unexpected state of remote-learning with suspension of in-person instruction and a stay-at-home order. In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, we are also witnessing a massive push for social justice to change systemic racism that disproportionately impacts the black community. Our work to foster both physical and psychological safety in our school communities will be more critical than ever to address these challenges.

We can attribute many remarkable firsts as we face these challenges together. Personally, as a rural school psychologist serving multiple districts, I got to enjoy less time on the road and more time with my family even while juggling the new normal of remote work. I am certain many of you improved your video conferencing skills to meet with students and clients and support your school communities in remote learning, just as I did.

As an association, thanks to our representation on the Illinois Terrorism Task Force, we leveraged stakeholders to have resources from NASP pushed out at the onset of school closures. The ISPA Governing Board conducted its first all digital board meeting, first digital transition of elected officers, and leadership appointees. To meet the needs of our members,  our leadership rapidly secured and deployed free professional development webinars with great success. This is a capability we did not have previously and we will continue to refine as we plan our first virtual fall conference.

We have a responsibility to engage in social justice to confront racism, prejudice, and implicit bias and provide safe and supportive learning environments. In response, ISPA has signed on to the School Psychology Unified Anti-Racism Statement and Call to Action, we have drafted and released our Call to Action for Social and Racial Justice, and formed a Social Justice Work Group under our Child and Professional Diversity Committee to continue the discussion and work.  I expect we will continue to experience more firsts as our school year begins and we will continue to work to determine what shared activities can help unite us and deepen our connections with stakeholders to best address the challenges ahead.

That brings me to this year's presidential theme: Leading by Convening, which borrows its name from the Leading by Convening (LbC) blueprint that can be used to build relationships with stakeholders to reach our goals together. LbC was originally created to help improve results for individuals with disabilities, however it has application to improve the leadership skills of any school psychologist. I originally learned about the blueprint by participating in the first NASP Leadership Institute, which provides great information on how to build your leadership skills as a school psychologist. We are well suited to be leaders with our professional training, expertise and participation in so many decision making teams. LbC gives a clear structure to move from simply sharing information with each other, to networking, to engaging in collaboration, and to finally reaching transformative outcomes.

Even when we were forced into a virtual environment, we still maintained relationships and convened with our teams to reach goals. I encourage each and every one of you to consider the blueprint and make use of its rubrics to continue leading by convening. Follow your interests and passions to build relationships with others. If you do, you will discover more opportunities for leadership, because if you do not have a seat at the table, you are often on the menu.  Reach out and join one of our committees. Just think, you too may end up an "accidental leader" as I have.

I wish you all a healthy and safe start to the school year.

Michael Grenda, NCSP
Illinois School Psychologists Association