When I was an undergraduate and then a graduate in the speech-language pathology program, the only work setting I ever wanted was public schools. I worked in the public schools for 24 years as an SLP and an administrator and loved it.
Fourteen years ago, I entered the next stage of my career, this time in higher education. I now have the pleasure of preparing—and sometimes, refreshing—more school-based professionals. I love that, too. It is from this vantage point that I offer these musings.
If I could be a school-based SLP today, what would I do? The following four questions would shape my thinking:
- What would really make a difference?
- What would make me happy?
- What would stretch me and make me better?
- What works?
I didn't even consider these questions at the beginning of my school career, but these words would certainly stop me in my tracks today. The answers to the four questions would shape my thinking, my services to students, and the way I would structure contributions to my school. Although we get our paychecks from school districts, we make our contributions at the school level. In today's world of school accountability, this is what matters. The SLP is a member of the school team, and I'd like to make a difference.
First, I would want to read, discuss, sift through, and then select appropriate evidence-based practices (EBP) within my profession. I'd likely conclude that I already use many of them, but there are certainly new ones to learn. According to the two federal laws that govern the delivery of education services, practitioners must use "scientifically based reading research" (NCLB, 2001) and/or "evidence-based practices to the extent possible" (IDEA, 2004). We have an excellent and ever-growing body of research in our field and it is my task to tap it and use it.
A current description of EBP offers three sources of these practices—the theory and literature in our field; the replicable research on typically developing and clinical populations; and the professional wisdom that comes from years of practice, observation, case studies, and action research in the work setting. I acknowledge that real or perceived barriers to accessing EBP are a part of practicing in this field (Zipoli & Kennedy, 2005). Despite a lack of time in the workday, I would commit to gathering more information in compressed forms, such as from one-page reviews of critically appraised topics, and high-caliber Web sites with well-researched information (Zipoli & Kennedy, 2005). I'd want to know what works.
Next, I would gradually convert from caseload to workload responsibilities. Administrators cannot do this for us. They do not understand how this reorganization vastly improves our work conditions, enhancing our contribution to our schools and increasing our productivity.
I would jump at the chance to work with a speech-language pathology assistant! We'd make a splendid team, increasing the number of sessions a student received in a set period of time. We'd incorporate many of the findings of the NOMS study (Mullen, 2002). I would track my yearly dismissal rate and inform my superiors. This would increase my accountability, change the way I write IEPs, and eventually enable my school to serve more students in Tier I and Tier II instruction, avoiding unnecessary special education paperwork and programs.
Another change would be to get aboard the response-to-intervention (RtI) train at my school. The RtI concept offers tremendous flexibility to serve students who may not qualify as having disabilities; however, they do have communication difficulties and are entitled to my knowledge and skills (ASHA, 2006). I'd find the best ways to intervene before seeking ways to find a child eligible for special education services. I'd support students struggling with language and reading (ASHA, 2001) by using intensive short-term interventions and progress monitoring. I'd run an articulation resource center (Taps, 2006) and three computers in my room to monitor speech homework assignments online. We would strive to normalize speech sound disorders (SSD) in 20 hours or less (Kamhi, 2006; Mullen, 2002). Oh yes, we'd be stylin'!
Finally, I'd maintain some of my "best stuff" from over the years. Some strategies and service delivery models are tried and true for me, and I would continue to perfect them. I'd continue to use the Turtle Club for my fluency students, and use narratives and children's literature to develop language skills. I'd use my special progress monitoring technique and continue my fifth-grade social studies collaboration. I need to assure my comfort level, after all. I'd want to be satisfied and happy each day. That matters, too.
If I were fortunate enough to enjoy a second time around, it would be a good ride. My colleagues would discover that new federal and state laws enable me to serve students with communication needs in both general and special education (NCLB, 2002; IDEA, 2004). I would charge myself to be not only effective, but also efficient, in working with children, their families, and my educational colleagues. I would strive to do "what works."