June 19, 2007 Feature

"Be-Attitudes" for Managing Change in School-Based Practice

Last in a Four-Part Series on Educational Leadership

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Although many questions remain, there is no doubt that the role of today's school-based SLP requires attention to language and communication abilities across modalities, language levels, and contexts. Working across modalities means addressing language development in reading and writing as well as in listening and speaking (ASHA, 2001). It also means doing so in a way that promotes integration and use of knowledge in one modality to support learning in another. Working across language levels means giving attention to sounds, words, sentences, and discourse-level units of communication.

Working across contexts means that clinicians need to seek opportunities to work with students in their classrooms when that seems appropriate (e.g., Nelson, Bahr, & Van Meter, 2004), and also to bring curricular tasks and materials into the treatment room or to target social interaction goals on the playground or in social groups. New contexts—beyond the twice-per-week-until-corrected model—also are being developed to deliver traditional services, such as articulation therapy, more efficiently (Montgomery, 2007). Well-designed studies are needed to gather evidence about their ability to do so.

My own efforts in recent years have concentrated on finding the best methods to promote curriculum-relevant language and literacy competencies for increasing academic success. The "Be-Attitudes" are intended to conceptualize the nature of the SLP's role (the "be" component) and how to make choices based on values about what is important (the "attitudes" component). The goal is not only to prepare for change but to facilitate it, and as a result, to reap the benefits of a more satisfying and effective career.


Be able to recognize the need to learn from others—and be seen as a true member of the system. Enhance effectiveness by viewing your role as an SLP in contributing to systemic change. This requires understanding that changing lives is about more than changing language systems. A good way to engage others in the change process is to ask teachers, parents—and students—about their goals and values related to student needs. A powerful question to ask is, "If you could change just one thing, what would that be?"


Be willing to give up aspects of old roles while preparing to assume new ones—so that your workdays will not run into the night and onto the weekend. Earlier in this series, Ehren addressed the need to give up the "speech teacher" identity. Expanding one's identity as a consultant and clinician for spoken and written communication does not mean simply adding to existing activities. School-based SLPs need to move from "fixing" problems and doing it all to defining themselves as members of a team. Guidance about coordinating an integrated approach to disorders of speech, language (spoken and written), and communication can be found in a number of sources (e.g., ASHA documents on reading and writing, 2001; Catts & Kamhi, 2005).


Be vigilant for ways to do things "right" without getting mired in paperwork—and maintain your sanity. Paperwork is more than a minor irritant. Caesar (2007) found it to be a major source of work-related stress for school-based SLPs. How can school clinicians cope with the reams of paperwork that are unlikely to disappear any time soon? This Be-Attitude suggests that SLPs may find it easier to cope if they remember the reasons for the rules in the context of earlier times, when students with disabilities did not have even the right to education. It is also critical to remember that data collection and advocacy can guide change and keep it relevant. Looking for creative, technological supports for meeting accountability mandates may help. New sources also are available on evidence-based practice (e.g., McCauley & Fey, 2006; Ukrainetz, 2006).


Be willing to give up some of the control of the treatment room—and gain the benefits of classroom-based service delivery models. This principle led us to collaborate with teachers in designing the writing lab approach (Nelson et al., 2004). The key was to find a curriculum-based context in which teachers could welcome SLPs into their classrooms. One teacher shared her relief in finding her initial workload concerns—"Oh no, here comes another add-on"—unfounded. When teachers develop confidence in scaffolding students with special needs, students' opportunities for language growth are expanded beyond what any clinician could accomplish alone.


Be guided by questions about what students need to be able to do to be successful in school—and increase your relevance. This Be-Attitude targets the "keep it simple" principle, a part of the BACKDROP principles for the writing lab approach—balance, authentic, audience, constructive, keep it simple, dynamic, research and reflective, ownership, patience (Nelson et al., 2004). School-based SLPs may be viewed as key members of collaborative teams if they grasp a "simple model" for assessing and targeting language-literacy modalities and levels (Catts & Kamhi, 2005; Gough & Tunmer, 1986), especially if they also can help the team focus on a student's needs for social communication and self-regulation.


Be willing to take risks for students in trouble even if the system initially seems unfriendly to change—and know you're doing the right thing. Sometimes the right road is not the easy road. Clinicians who listen carefully to what others want and need have cues for knowing when to risk disagreement for a child's benefit. When differences of opinion arise, one approach is to suggest that the group "experiment" with the alternative approaches and gather evidence in order to reach a mutual decision (Nelson et al., 2004). One must be ready, of course, to base decisions on the evidence even if the results differ from one's expectation.


Be skilled at turning competitive or independent goals into cooperative ones—and gain collaborative partners. The key to cooperative goal-setting is to enter problem-solving sessions with more questions than answers. SLPs must be open to the others' views in order to achieve mutual goals and to be viewed as essential members of intervention teams. A focus on literacy is a particularly powerful way to reconceptualize the language intervention process consistent with broader goals.


Be ready to forgive yourself and others for not being perfect—and lighten your load. Everyone has memories of professional events we wish we could "do over." Accepting personal limitations can lead to patience with imperfection in one's self, students, and collaborative partners. Patience puts the "P" in the BACKDROP acronym. The following quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson captures this Be-Attitude best:

Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt, crept in. Forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. This new day is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on the yesterdays.

Nickola Wolf Nelson, is a speech-language pathologist and the Charles Van Riper Professor in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology at Western Michigan University. She also directs WMU's PhD program in interdisciplinary health studies. Contact her at nickola.nelson@wmich.edu.

cite as: Wolf Nelson, N. (2007, June 19). "Be-Attitudes" for Managing Change in School-Based Practice : Last in a Four-Part Series on Educational Leadership. The ASHA Leader.


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Caesar, L. G. (2007). Work Stress and Mental Health among School-Based Speech-Language Pathologists: Effects of Social Support. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University.

Catts, H. W., & Kamhi, A. G. (Eds.). (2005a). Language and reading disabilities. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Catts, H. W., & Kamhi, A. G. (Eds.). (2005b). The connections between language and reading disabilities. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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McCauley, R. J., & Fey, M. E. (Eds.). (2006). Treatment of language disorders in children. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Montgomery, J. (2007, April 17). Vision and values: Imagining a "second time around" in school-based practice. The ASHA Leader, 12(5), 10–11.

Nelson, N. W. (1981). An eclectic model of language intervention for disorders of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Topics in Language Disorders, 1(2), 1–23.

Nelson, N. W. (1998). Childhood language disorders in context: Infancy through adolescence (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Nelson, N. W. (in press). Childhood language and literacy disorders in context: Infancy through adolescence (new edition). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Nelson, N. W., Bahr, C. M., & Van Meter, A. M. (2004). The writing lab approach to language instruction and intervention. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Roberts, J. A., & Scott, K. A. (2006). The simple view of reading: Assessment and intervention. Topics in Language Disorders, 26(3), 127–143.

Snowling, M. J., & Hayiou-Thomas, M. E. (2006). The dyslexia spectrum: Continuities between reading, speech, and language impairments. Topics in Language Disorders, 26(3), 110–126.

Ukrainetz, T. A. (Ed.). (2006). Contextualized language intervention: Scaffolding PreK-12 literacy achievement. Eau Claire, WI: Thinking Publications (now Super Duper). 


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