Just as we do when the calendar year turns, we enter each new school year with reflections on last year and resolutions for the year ahead. But three months later the hectic pace and amount of work overwhelm us. We already start thinking, "Maybe next year?"
Just as is true with traditional New Year's resolutions, the best bet for transforming your school-based program is to try to change just one or two things each September, commit them to paper, monitor your progress and then renew your commitment.
Do you have fresh ideas or program changes you would like to try, but don't know where to begin? Want to transform the way you monitor and document student progress? Align your intervention goals with the Common Core State Standards? Use our Program Transformation Planning Guide [PDF] to formulate your goals, priorities and benchmarks. The guide helps you monitor your progress and where you may need to modify your strategies. But first you need to come up with a resolution or two. We offer eight suggestions here.
1. Embrace and Explain Your SLP Role
SLPs have become increasingly responsible for aiding our students' educational achievement. The ultimate task of the SLP and education teammates is to identify and intervene with students whose communication problems interfere significantly with academics. With growing caseloads, this level of responsibility may seem overwhelming. Still, it is exciting to consider how our expanded role affects our students. As members of education teams, we must have an in-depth understanding of each student's educational goals, the Common Core State Standards, instructional methods and the school's organization and culture.
Likewise, educators, parents and teachers must understand the goals of speech-language services and the link between communication disabilities and classroom performance (See "Communicating with Key Groups" [PDF]). ASHA's Roles and Responsibilities of Speech-Language Pathologists in Schools document is a helpful resource to help others understand our roles. Also, this reflection tool [PDF] may help you determine your strengths and areas of challenge in our ever-evolving roles in school-based services.
2. Expand Service Options
When it comes to service delivery, every child is different. It is critical to match each student with the right services and the right evidence-based intervention approach and classroom instruction. It's also critical that the services be provided by the right person at the right time. The goals, intensity, locations and responsibilities of significant communication partners can and should vary at different stages of the treatment program.
Getting it right involves cooperation as well as attention to important points such as: referral processes, assessment procedures, eligibility decisions, dosage recommendations (amount, frequency, duration), and agreement on progress monitoring protocols and service completion decisions. Take small steps. Offer and explain options available for service delivery such as pull-out, classroom-based, or response-to-intervention (see "Service Delivery Options" [PDF]) models. Illustrate situations when a combination of options may make good sense. Help teachers understand the benefits of integrating speech-language intervention techniques into their instruction to reinforce the student's use of new communication skills in a more natural and demanding context. Demonstrate two or three key techniques you have used to successfully elicit, modify, or reinforce improved communication skills.
3.Make Time Count
Just as in other areas of our lives, there is never enough time at work. We have to manage time efficiently and effectively to accomplish all we need to do and still provide quality services. Create a manageable, organized workload schedule and start by paying close attention to how you spend your time. Use tools such as Caselitesoftware.com or ASHA's Implementation Guide: A Workload Analysis Approach for Establishing Speech-Language Caseload Standards in the Schools and Examples and Worksheets for the Workload Analysis Approach to organize your workload, caseload, and schedule. Rethink "productive time." Regularly scheduled brief meetings with your education team partners help you establish solid relationships and ensure that you are coordinating your efforts. You'll save time in the long run. Engage in meaningful conversations related specifically to your student's performance. For example, replace asking "How is Jack doing?" with "Be sure to get Jack's full attention before giving him directions. Stand closer to him, draw his visual attention to the worksheet, and give him only two or three step directions at a time." Then, follow up with the teacher to see if she noted improvement or needs another strategy to try. Don't forget to include time to actually eat lunch, contact parents, get to know your fellow educators, and participate in school community activities.
4. Get a Handle on Your School's Culture
Our school community's cultural values affect how quickly, effectively and efficiently we can work with our education team members to improve student achievement. As we know, partnership requires cooperation, respect, trust, developing similar goals, learning others' perspectives and communication styles, and a lot of patience. Did we mention a lot of patience?
Know your school's culture. Is it positive and supportive of children with disabilities and the work you do? And what can you do if it isn't? Reach out to others first. Ask questions about team members' experiences, ideas, and methods and invite joint problem solving. Demonstrate your expertise by following discussions with tip sheets, web links, and information. As word leaks out about your interest, interactions, and collaboration with others, new doors will open and the foundation for positive change in your school's culture will be laid.
Your view of your school culture is based on your personal experiences and perspective. The School Culture Profile [PDF] will help you describe your school's culture on seven aspects that are indicative of highly supportive school cultures. By understanding the current state of your school's culture, you can capitalize on your school's positive characteristics, acknowledge its deficits, and identify opportunities to work with teammates to improve the culture.
5. Help Build Some Bridges
Create a ripple effect. Make every effort to establish a mutual partnership with your education colleagues. As collaborators, share and develop ideas to create an education plan. Building that initial relationship can create a ripple through the whole school. Begin by reaching out to a colleague who seems open to collaboration but remember collaboration is an evolutionary process. You need a firm foundation before you can expect teachers to follow your recommendations. Start your ripple by collaborating at the right level to provide the right information to the right educators at the time they are most receptive. Here are eight steps for effective collaboration. Here's how the approach was implemented for Asa, a third-grade student with a language impairment.
- Establish a foundation of understanding about each person's role and responsibilityExample: Ask Asa's teacher her grade/subject level, focus and instructional approach (small groups, experiential, traditional or open classroom, etc.).
- Explain the goals of the speech-language program in relation to curriculum standards.Example: Offer to attend a grade level or language arts team meeting or even provide an in-service to all first year teachers.
- Jointly identify classroom communication demands and expectations, including communications used by teacher during instruction.Example: Visit Asa's class during a language arts lesson. Note the class environment, Asa's reactions, and the teacher's communication style and manner during the lesson. Discuss characteristics that may help or hinder Asa's performance.
- Build educators' understanding of the impact of communication impairments on learning. Example: Explain to the teacher that after a story reading activity, Asa may not be able to respond appropriately if called upon due to her difficulty with organizing and expressing her thoughts and ideas. Suggest other ways to discuss the story with Asa.
- Identify modifications and accommodations that will help students succeed in the classroom.Example: You may provide the teacher with the following suggestions: "Position yourself closely to Asa when lecturing or giving instructions. Emphasize key words with voice inflections. Pause frequently. Provide support materials, enhanced with pictures or word highlights. Allow time for her to formulate her response."
- Establish simple ways to coach and mentor others to implement intervention strategies.Example: "I'd like to show you a few techniques for eliciting a better response from Asa based on what I've learned from working with her in therapy. I can demonstrate while reading a short story to her."
- Share the responsibility for intervention.Example: Provide examples of techniques and specify when to implement.
- Build collaborative partners' independence.Example: Follow up on a regularly scheduled basis to monitor progress (the teacher's use of techniques and the student's improvement).
6. Engage Families
Families are key partners in your students' success. Developing rapport and trust with your student's family is an important first step. Keep the lines of communication open by welcoming calls, emails, and/or notes (see "Communicating with Key Groups" [PDF]). Make sure parents know how they can most easily reach you and when. Ask them how they prefer to communicate. Establish a simple SLP Program website. Clarify your role and services so that they are comfortable asking questions, making comments, or sharing their ideas and struggles. Parents need to know that you respect them and the value they bring to the team. They appreciate knowing that their input and feedback is important and that they can really make a big difference to their child's progress. You are a "safe" person to consult with who will listen, but not judge. You can help them understand the IEP process and how all the team members work together to ensure their child has the appropriate educational plan. Engaging parents in the team process to develop, prioritize and set realistic goals is essential to ensure you have the whole picture of your student. Parents know the student most intimately and shed light on the barriers and challenges that may affect the student's growth. Parents can provide information about events in their child's life outside of school that can positively or negatively affect communication behaviors. Parents should be given the opportunity to reinforce the target skills. Prepare them by explaining one or two speech-language intervention techniques. Use a simple postcard type survey method to seek their feedback, need for assistance, insights, and suggestions that can help build new strategies to motivate and reinforce your student.
7. Become Tech Savvy
Technology can improve and even transform a program. With technology we can cut down on the greatest of all time thieves-paperwork. Technology can help us not only to become more systematic in our program management, but also to extend our services beyond the doors of our speech-language treatment rooms. Still, we may feel confused by too much technology and too little understanding of how to use different devices and features. Slow down! Tech-savvy professionals master only one or two devices at a time but use them for multiple purposes. Focus on getting beyond using your computer for reports, your iPad for motivating students, and your cell phone for staying in touch with friends and family and develop a greater understanding of the capabilities of each device. Pick one or two devices and really learn what they can do.
Becoming tech savvy starts with determining how you want technology to help you. Here are some sample goals:
- Organize, manage and streamline
- Reach underserved populations
- Collect and analyze data
- Expand and strengthen intervention
- Communicate more efficiently
- Expand knowledge
- Access new resources
8. Track And Report Outcomes
Have you ever wondered, "Does the intervention I provide really make a difference? Are teachers seeing changes in the classroom? Is telepractice as effective as face-to-face treatment? Why don't my school administrators understand the value of my services?" For decades, our professional community and education leaders have called for proof of our services' high quality and positive outcomes. Collecting outcome data in the school setting enables SLPs to engage in systematic, consistent and thoughtful decision making, planning and service delivery.
Put systems in place to track and report outcomes and provide indicators of your students' and your program's success. Focus your efforts on obtaining positive outcomes in three key areas of service delivery:
- Improved functional communication.
- Improved educational performance.
Measures: Change in functional communication skills, students' test performance and grades, and comments from progress monitoring and teachers' reports.
- Improved relationships with education partners and families.
- Teachers' and families' increased understanding of impairments and the impact on performance.
- Increased team cooperation and competency.
Measures: Teacher feedback, surveys, ratings of teacher and/or parent engagement.
Program and System Outcomes
- Changes and improvements within the speech-language program or education organization that result in greater efficiency, effectiveness and services.
- Improved school climate and culture that support students.
Measures: Unique survey design or retrospective data review.
Modify your treatment, collaborative efforts and program design based on the data you obtain.
Any one of these ideas will help you bring your school program to a new level. Remember that you can't do everything at once-it's important to set realistic goals. The mere act of writing down a goal increases the chance that you will make progress. Don't be surprised when you see and experience a more positive culture.