Member Spotlight: Rob Spence

Rob has worked for more than 45 years as a school counsellor, psychologist, and educational consultant. His first HSC class still meet with him each Christmas after all those years to stay connected. Each Tuesday before Christmas they meet at the same pub — no invites needed. A person that wants to make a difference does it through turning up. 

To this day, Rob is surprised how his approaches have had long-term positive impacts on his community. A keen gardener, Rob was recently visiting a nursery when he was stopped with the question, “How’s Mawson?”

Rob responded, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry to tell you [that] Mawson passed away.”

“But that’s so sad, I’ve told my kids about Mawson!”

You see, Rob’s students were all familiar with Mawson, the puppet that seemed to run the counselling room at Rob’s twenty-two schools when he visited. Mawson was, Rob believes, the key to creating meaningful memories and establishing relationships fast. It’s remarkable to see the longevity of such a simple approach to building connection.

Rob Spence

Seeing people make changes and become happy because of the outcome is a key driver of Rob’s actions. He explains, “This cannot be measured in key performance indicators (KPIs) that are fashionable these days. Often recognition and feedback has come years later when a person says, ‘Did you used to work at such and such school?’ On saying yes, they'd tell a story of what we worked through and how it has stayed with them.”

At a funeral for a retired primary school teacher a few years ago, a mother approached Rob, joined by her teenage daughter. She wanted the daughter to meet Rob because she had talked to her daughter about her troubled teenage years and how the school counsellor had helped her. This mother had remembered many of the strategies worked through and was using them with her own daughter. Rob reflects, “Our three-way chat was very moving and one of those KPI moments that you can never document.” The time taken with each student is never lost, but more often gains in value over time. Such is the value of school counselling.

The landscape of the NSW education system was fertile ground for a solution-focused thinker when Rob began working as a teacher at Narrabeen Boys High School in the late 70s. Supported by other student-centred educators around him, Rob was able to identify the need for what we now know as 'work experience' — and to instigate it as a program for students at the end of Year 10. He was passionately committed to supporting those students making decisions about their future with no real knowledge of post-school options and what working for a living would be like. 'If there is a problem, there is a solution. It just may not be easy to find.'  This mantra continued to drive Rob's efforts to create change in individuals, schools, and systems over his entire career.

Following his successes as a school counsellor, district guidance officer, and student welfare consultant, Rob received a Director General Scholarship to travel to Canada and the United States to review mediation processes in school settings. He lectured Ethics at Sydney University as well as Counselling Practices at Wollongong University. These experiences have kept him energised whilst confirming his belief in the value of building relationships and being available within the school setting.

Students may present with issues of concern, referrals by teachers may state specific concerns that need be addressed, but before change can occur Rob firmly believes that you need to ensure the person and the system they exist within (class, school, family) are ready to make and accept change.  Too often, Rob believes we expect change from people without giving them a chance to come to their own conclusion and drive their own change.  Rob’s interest in Reality Therapy and Choice Theory was sparked early on in his career. He remembers training when he first joined the AGCA (Australian Guidance Counsellors Association) back in the 1980s with Judy Hatswell, behavioural specialist and founding AGCA member. Together they created the 'Safer Schools' document. Though this document has not had production runs recently, you may still find it on your office shelves. Look for it, I dare you.

Having ‘retired’ a few times now, Rob is edging closer to the age at which he could consider spending more time with grandchildren, bush walking, cycling, and skiing. Most people see him as the relaxed easy-going type. That is, until heights are involved. Rob was gifted a Sydney Harbour Bridge Walk for his 70th birthday. When working with clients, Rob explains there is often a need for them to make changes and he will say to them, “What is the worst thing that could happen if you tried…?” Rob took his own advice and nervously completed the Walk (though only days before the voucher expired). An exhilarating experience, and proof that Rob is still leading and living by example. Rob’s hopes for the future? More changes, please.

Terri Jackson
Committee Member

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Recommended reading

If you are looking for a few more CPD hours in the lead up to renewing your PsyBA registration we have identified four articles which may be relevant to your professional practice. The articles are available for free to you as SCPA NSW members through our organisational subscription to EBSCO's psychology and social sciences collection of 450 journals.

  1. Bitsika, V., Heyne, D. A., & Sharpley, C. F. (2021). Is Bullying Associated with Emerging School Refusal in Autistic Boys? Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders51(4), 1081–1092. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-020-04610-4 
  2. Evans, S. C., Bonadio, F. T., Bearman, S. K., Ugueto, A. M., Chorpita, B. F., & Weisz, J. R. (2020). Assessing the Irritable and Defiant Dimensions of Youth Oppositional Behavior Using CBCL and YSR Items. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology49(6), 804–819. https://doi.org/10.1080/15374416.2019.1622119 
  3. Sanders, J., Munford, R., & Boden, J. (2018). Improving educational outcomes for at‐risk students. British Educational Research Journal44(5), 763–780. https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3462 
  4. Scrimin, S., Moscardino, U., Altoè, G., & Mason, L. (2016). Effects of perceived school well-being and negative emotionality on students’ attentional bias for academic stressors. British Journal of Educational Psychology86(2), 278–295. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjep.12104

Brian Moore
Tertiary Representative


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Collaborations with other organisations

SCPA NSW is pleased to be partnering with a number of organisations to advance the interests of school counsellors and school psychologists in NSW. 

We have recently engaged with The Ethics Centre around ways to collaborate and support the work of the school counselling service in NSW. Ethi-call is a free helpline offering support to anyone struggling to resolve difficult decisions. Calls can be booked via appointment with trained volunteer ethics counsellors. The counsellors won’t provide you with an answer but will support you to work through a dilemma itself.

We continue to work closely with the Australian Association of Psychologists Inc (AAPi) and have recently co-written a letter of thanks to all school psychologists and school counsellors in NSW schools. If you missed it, read the full letter here.

Kevin Thoms
President

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Other news

Member submissions to the committee

SCPA NSW believes that our members are an important source of information about the kind of support most needed by counsellors and psychologists in NSW schools. As part of our continuing mission of openness and consultation, we have established a pathway for you to lodge submissions to the management committee for consideration within our strategic plan. We are seeking submissions on anything that you believe is relevant to supporting the mission of SCPA NSW and our profession. For more information, log into the members portal and click on “Submission to Management Committee”.

Kevin Thoms
President

Website updates

SCPA NSW has been working hard with our partner, SchoolZine, on both our front-facing and ‘members only’ areas of our website. There have been many hiccups along the way, particularly with the transition from the new to old website. We thank all of our members for their understanding and patience.

We’re now starting to move into our second phase of website development (and behind the scene infrastructure). You may have noticed a specific Members Areas when you log in as well as a History page, Resources page and general improvements overall. Stay tuned for more member benefits (including a CPD logbook feature). If there are any ‘members only’ features you’d like to see, let us know via the “Submission to Management Committee” function. 

Michael Fajardo
IT Coordinator

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2022 Webinar series

Gunter Swoboda

Next year’s webinar series will be FREE for all members. We kick off with Gunter Swoboda, who will be presenting The School Community as an Attachment Village on Monday 28th February 6:30pm to 8:00pm. 

Gunter Swoboda is a psychologist, speaker, author, mentor, coach and facilitator who has over three-and-a-half decades of counselling and organisational development experience. Over time, much of his work has taken place with boys and men, focusing on the issues males are dealing with. Through growing evidence that men collectively are in a state of social and psychological crisis, he responded to a growing need for men to learn to be more emotionally responsive, behaviourally flexible and therefore emotionally resilient. This interest in men’s issues has led Gunter to develop the project ‘Making Good Men Great’, a project that aims at helping men to rethink masculinity, provide a way to help men shape their lives to be aligned to thrive, and finally to become an inspiration to others. Gunter also has extensive experience in the design and delivery of wellness and health education programmes, and is involved in the education and support of health and education professionals. To find out more about Gunther’s work, check out his podcast Inspire Change with Gunter (available on all podcast platforms) and his website: www.gunterswoboda.com.

Next year’s offerings also include webinars about young people with autism in mainstream classroom settings (presented by Emma Spencer), the impacts of understanding moods as permanent traits (presented by Dr Judith Locke), and brief interventions for young people who self-injure (presented by Garry King).

Click here to book!  

Lauren Brincat
Professional Learning Coordinator

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Professional learning with SCPA NSW

The members of SCPA NSW’s committee — and SCPA NSW’s membership in general — have a great depth of professional experience and expertise in all areas of counselling, psychology, and working in schools. If you have a question, one of your fellow SCPA NSW members will more than likely have an answer.

We are planning to facilitate greater collaboration and consultation between members through two professional learning initiatives.

Talk to SCPA NSW

In the near future, we will be providing you with the opportunity to book a time with a committee member to discuss a professional matter of concern (e.g. choosing assessments or interventions, brainstorming work challenges) or a matter you believe should be considered by the committee for action. Appointments will be available Monday to Thursday, during school time, after school and evenings. Requests for an appointment will be via a web form on the SCPA NSW website.

Rob Spence
Assistant Secretary

Peer supervision

In 2022, we will be offering you the opportunity to undertake peer consultation with other members. A survey was sent out on 11th October 2021. The information from this survey will inform the committee about the types of peer consultation you may be interested in and determine what will be offered in 2022. As part of this initiative, SCPA NSW will offer 5 scholarships to complete AHPRA approved supervisor training in 2022. Scholarship recipients will support the peer consultation program developed by SCPA NSW after their training is complete.

I am really excited to be involved with this project. I completed the AHPRA approved supervisor training in 2020 and have really enjoyed peer consultation this year putting into practice what I had learnt. I believe that peer consultation protects us against burnout and provides a community to promote ethical practice. It is hoped that undertaking peer consultation outside of the workplace will allow greater freedom in issues discussed. 

Melissa Moss
Committee Member

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Annual Awards Night

At the beginning of this year, we embarked on preparation and planning for our Inaugural Annual Awards Night 2021, scheduled for Saturday 27th November at West HQ. The occasion was designed to celebrate and acknowledge School Counsellors and Psychologists working in schools in NSW. However, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty around restrictions, we realised our actual event would need to be postponed until next year. 

Determined to not let a pandemic get in the way, we transformed the event into a virtual one. Members nominated colleagues to receive recognition for being an outstanding New Practitioner of the Year, Practitioner of the Year, or Innovator of the Year. Nominations closed last week. Voting commenced yesterday. 

We’re excited to be hosting this virtual event, but we’re eagerly anticipating the day we can announce the date of an in-person celebration! Keep an eye out for a 2022 date.

Ally Robinson
Committee Member

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School Counsellor and School Psychologist Recognition Day

The last two years have been difficult ones for our members and our colleagues across the state. Navigating the increased levels of distress associated with the pandemic, adjusting to telehealth delivery of counselling/psychology services in schools, working from home while supporting wellbeing at the school level — school counsellors and school psychologists have risen to these challenges (and many others).

While those who are also teachers are recognised on World Teacher Day (29th October 2021), and those employed under the Public Service Act (PSA) are recognised during SASS Week (6th-10th September 2021), we felt that we needed an occasion to recognise all in school counselling and school psychology in NSW, regardless of employment status or school sector. School Counsellor and School Psychologist Recognition Day is just that occasion. The day, set to take place on Wednesday 10th November, is also an opportunity for us to take pride in our hard work, professionalism and resilience.  

For more information, visit our page about School Counsellor and School Psychologist Recognition Day.

Lauren Brincat
Secretary

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From the President

Welcome to the first edition of the SCPA NSW Quarterly. From everyone on the committee, we hope that the start of Term 4 has been successful, and that you are all safe and well.

On 18th August 2021, APACS NSW held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) where the decision was made to change our name to the School Counselling and Psychology Association NSW (SCPA NSW). This signifies the final step in our journey to independence after incorporating the previous year. The minutes of the meeting are available in the members portal if you would like further information.

At the AGM, we also said goodbye to several committee members including Brian Bazzo, Denise Hardingham and Claire Drake. We have thanked each person individually but would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the significant contributions Brian, Denise and Claire have made to our organisation over several years.

Subsequently, we welcomed a new committee to SCPA NSW for 2021/2022. The energy levels are very high within the team and they are busily working towards bringing you a range of member benefits. Read on for information about some of the special events and initiatives we have already announced — as well as the many events and initiatives in the works:

  • School Counsellor and School Psychologist Recognition Day
  • Annual Awards Night
  • Free webinar series for members 
  • Fellowship opportunities to create a professional learning webinar for members
  • Peer consultation sessions between members
  • “Talk to SCPA NSW” initiative
  • Scholarships for supervisor training
  • Access to EBSCO’s psychology and social sciences collection

As always, if you have any questions or queries, please contact us on info@scpansw.org.au

Kevin Thoms
President

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Thank You, School Counsellors and School Psychologists

Dear Colleagues,

The last 18 months have been a really challenging period for psychologists. We are conscious that our school counsellors and psychologists have been keenly affected by having to work in isolation from the children, young people and school communities that are at the very heart of why you do your job.

We want you to know that we acknowledge the amazing work you are doing – we hear you; we see you; we value you!  Our school counsellors and school psychologists have done a phenomenal job pivoting to practice via telehealth and have shown remarkable courage and adaptability. Members have told us that engaging our very young students and students with a disability via online platforms has been especially challenging. You are dynamic and amazing.

We have heard from so many of you during this challenging period. We also work with other associations such as the School Counselling and Psychology Association NSW (formerly APACS NSW). SCPA NSW had this to say in support:

SCPA NSW would like to thank you for your everlasting commitment, professionalism and support for the mental health and wellbeing of students and the wider school system during these unprecedented times. SCPA NSW recognises and very much appreciates that you have all made opportunities out of the challenges, and consistently had the support of students at the forefront of all you are doing.

COVID-19 has thrown us many challenges but you have all met and exceeded these in the face of higher demands for our services. This has once again highlighted that school counsellors and school psychologists are leaders in providing quality, evidence-based and flexible psychological services for children and young people in Australia.

Please reach out to both AAPi or SCPA NSW if you would like assistance and let us know how we can support you best. We would love to hear from you. Perhaps you may be able to offer anecdotes or reflections for our member newsletter to raise awareness and insight into what life as a school counsellor or psychologist has been like in 2020-2021. We would also like to hear about new strategies you have developed to assist students and ideas that have assisted you to care for yourself.

From everyone at AAPi and SCPA NSW, thank you for helping our young people during these most challenging of times.

Tegan Carrison
Executive Director
Australian Association of Psychologists Inc. 

Kevin Thoms
President
School Counselling and Psychology Association NSW

www.aapi.org.au
admin@aapi.org.au 

www.scpansw.org.au 
info@scpansw.org.au 

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Dear Colleagues,

The last 18 months have been a really challenging period for psychologists. We are conscious that our school counsellors and psychologists have been keenly affected by having to work in isolation from the children, young people and school communities that are at the very heart of why you do your job.

We want you to know that we acknowledge the amazing work you are doing – we hear you; we see you; we value you!  Our school counsellors and school psychologists have done a phenomenal job pivoting to practice via telehealth and have shown remarkable courage and adaptability. Members have told us that engaging our very young students and students with a disability via online platforms has been especially challenging. You are dynamic and amazing.

We have heard from so many of you during this challenging period. We also work with other associations such as the School Counselling and Psychology Association NSW (formerly APACS NSW). SCPA NSW had this to say in support:

SCPA NSW would like to thank you for your everlasting commitment, professionalism and support for the mental health and wellbeing of students and the wider school system during these unprecedented times. SCPA NSW recognises and very much appreciates that you have all made opportunities out of the challenges, and consistently had the support of students at the forefront of all you are doing.

COVID-19 has thrown us many challenges but you have all met and exceeded these in the face of higher demands for our services. This has once again highlighted that school counsellors and school psychologists are leaders in providing quality, evidence-based and flexible psychological services for children and young people in Australia.

Please reach out to both AAPi or SCPA NSW if you would like assistance and let us know how we can support you best. We would love to hear from you. Perhaps you may be able to offer anecdotes or reflections for our member newsletter to raise awareness and insight into what life as a school counsellor or psychologist has been like in 2020-2021. We would also like to hear about new strategies you have developed to assist students and ideas that have assisted you to care for yourself.

From everyone at AAPi and SCPA NSW, thank you for helping our young people during these most challenging of times.

Tegan Carrison
Executive Director
Australian Association of Psychologists Inc. 

Kevin Thoms
President
School Counselling and Psychology Association NSW

www.aapi.org.au
admin@aapi.org.au 

www.scpansw.org.au 
info@scpansw.org.au 

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