A successful working relationship between a speech-language pathologist and a speech-language pathology assistant, according to one productive team, requires three vital components: communication, organization, and collaboration.
It's because of those ingredients that SLP Becki Grier and SLPA Norma Sanchez have forged an effective partnership providing services to the 230 students, grade 7 through age 22, at Hope High School in Buena Park, Calif. All of the students at Hope, part of the Anaheim Union High School District, have a range of medical, behavioral, communication, and developmental special needs.
Grier and Sanchez have worked together for four years. Their initial pairing, however, was by chance. A specialist in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), Grier chose to work at Hope because she enjoys working with students with special needs. "But because of the size of the caseload, I needed help," she said. "At the time, Norma was the only SLPA in the district, so she was assigned here. The students here are my population of choice, but Norma wasn't comfortable working with students with behavioral issues."
About three months later, the school district began hiring for Sanchez's replacement, knowing she preferred a different student population. Grier assumed Sanchez would be relieved to move on to another school and was amazed—and ecstatic—when Sanchez told her, "I think I want to stay."
Sanchez is certain about the reason for her change of heart. "I changed my mind because of our working relationship," she said. "I didn't feel alone. Becki is always available, always helping me out. She made me feel at ease, and I said to myself, 'I can do this.'"
Both agree on the importance of communication, organization, and collaboration. "Our personalities meshed," Grier said, "and that was a good starting point. But more importantly, I look at both of our strengths and listen to what Norma does and doesn't enjoy doing. We are colleagues, and I ask Norma for her input and opinion. And based on that, we break the caseload down by our strengths and our desires."
Collaboration is also vital. "I believe in a lot of push-in activities, and I show teachers how to increase communication opportunities in their classrooms," Grier said. "It's important that when we provide these services in a classroom in which we have developed a relationship with the teacher. It's my job to go in and support what the teacher is doing, not take over the class. I go in and ask 'How can we help you?' Once I have built that trust, then an SLPA can provide the services. I would never send Norma into a classroom without first establishing that relationship of trust with the classroom teacher."
And after that trust is established, Sanchez said, "Becki will come into the class with me for a bit and demonstrate what we need to do, until I feel totally comfortable going in on my own."
Both Sanchez and Grier readily admit that without organization, their successful partnership would crumble. "Becki is very organized," Sanchez said. "I know exactly what I'm doing all the time, what students I am seeing, and when I'm seeing them." Grier added that "Norma shouldn't have to ask me details all the time. It's my responsibility to make sure we both know what each of us is doing at all times."
Even with communication, collaboration, and organization, things don't always go as planned. "Becki could be anywhere on campus, or even off-campus, but she's always available and accessible to me," Sanchez said. "I can text her or call her and I am confident that she will help me out."
The pair are looking forward to ASHA's Associates Program for SLPAs and audiology assistants. "If there aren't a lot of SLPAs in a district or school, ASHA can provide a forum for connecting with other assistants," Sanchez said. "And I'm looking forward to attending ASHA conventions or conferences that offer special sessions for assistants."
Both also are looking forward to continuing to work as a team at Hope. As Grier said, "When Norma and I first started working together, this school was not her first choice. But now she loves the kids as much as I do."
Contact Becki Grier, MA, CCC-SLP, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Norma Sanchez at email@example.com.