Ever been faced with any of these scenarios? "The parent called to complain about speech!" "I just received a subpoena!" "The principal wants to know what speech therapists do!" "The student bit me."
As a speech-language pathologist in the schools, especially if newly graduated, you may wonder where to find help with these situations. Although the job responsibilities of educational personnel often overlap, some guidelines may help you better navigate who to consult.
Supervisor or mentor?
Let's start by distinguishing between a supervisor and a mentor. Your supervisor is the person who oversees, evaluates and directs your work. More specifically, your supervisor:
- Conducts your performance evaluation each year through an established process that should be thoroughly explained and inclusive.
- Maintains responsibility for all staff members and is accountable for the skills, competencies, professional development and ethics of supervisees.
- Communicates the speech department and/or school's mission, goals and values, and specifies job responsibilities and expectations, organizational policies, procedures, regulations, standards, and resources.
- Recruits, assigns and disciplines staff.
So where does your mentor fit in? A mentor fills a vital role as an experienced advisor or coach. Your supervisor may assign you a mentor, or your mentor may emerge more naturally as someone who, over time, guides you and nurtures your confidence. Generally, interactions between you and your mentor are informal, and feedback is more frequent and casual. But keep in mind that if you are completing your clinical fellowship, you and your site must follow all ASHA procedures, which may lend a bit more structure to the mentoring relationship. Areas a mentor may help you with include:
- Interpreting test scores, student responses, or grade and class expectations.
- Attending individualized education program conferences and offering insight into typical or unusual situations.
- Answering questions and offering feedback about your work with students.
- Serving as a role model for learning and reflection, helping you hone skills and providing advice on learning styles.
- Connecting you with other professionals, to begin a network of trusted colleagues.
Call your supervisor
Compared to interactions with your mentor, the supervisory relationship is obviously more formal. You will likely need to reach out to the supervisor to begin a conversation and, for an in-person meeting, make an appointment. However, both supervisor and supervisee benefit greatly from sharing feedback and experiences. From your questions and comments, your supervisor learns where you may need more assistance. And a supervisor can serve, at times, as an advisor or mentor.
Because you report to this person, you are accountable to him or her for your job responsibilities, duties and actions. So be prepared, be on time and meet program deadlines. If you are meeting to discuss a problem, be specific, bring factual evidence and offer problem-solving ideas. This preparation will result in faster, more effective meeting outcomes.
Returning to the opening scenarios, which ones require the involvement of your supervisor? All of them. Report immediately to your supervisor any legal or health-related situations, such as receiving a subpoena, coworker harassment issues, or getting bitten or injured on the job. For more specific guidance on who to contact about which issues, check out this chart:
Contact your supervisor if ...
- You need more orientation to the organization, facilities or policies.
- You are due for a performance review or want to discuss your performance review.
- You have concerns about confidentiality or harassment at work.
- You have concerns about licensing, medical assistance billing or teacher certification.
- Parents are threatening to contact lawyers or a lawyer is scheduled to attend a meeting.
- You are unsure about mandated child reporting, a bullying episode or similar situations.
- You need additional time to write IEPs or meet state educational regulations due to particular caseload management needs.
- You are struggling with workload or an assignment.
- Your health/attendance (any situation) is interfering with your ability to do your job.
- You experience an ethical issue or dilemma.
- You must have contact with outside agencies, advocates, lawyers or the media.
- Parents e-mail or write to compliment your service.
- You are bitten, hit or in some way injured at work.
- You would like to discuss professional development opportunities: training, observing another SLP, or a new career path.
Contact your mentor if ...
- You have general questions about organizational procedures (such as how to fill out your mileage or other department form).
- You have questions about a particular treatment approach or assessment tool.
- You are unsure about something you overheard between teachers or students.
- You need general clarification about whom to contact in the organization (such as certification secretary) about billing or certification procedures.
- You have received general parent complaints or questions you are uncomfortable handling.
- You need clarification on procedures provided by your supervisor on reporting incidents.
- You need help editing your IEPs or need clarification of state education regulations.
- You have general questions about how to schedule students or divide up your assignments.
- You need help using the absence system (electronic reporting of self or student absence).
- You are unsure if something rises to the level of an ethical issue.
- You are unsure of policies regarding contact with agencies or outside providers.
- You need help formulating parent communications (for example, a first letter of introduction, progress reports).
- You need assistance handling student behaviors.
- You would like to discuss a particular communication disorder, tests, materials, or where to find resources or references.
There will always be an overlap of roles between supervisors and mentors, and gray areas may and do arise, so ask questions of either if you are unsure. Do not worry or stress over things when you can just ask. If you ask the wrong person, you will simply be directed to the right one. It is always best to approach your supervisor with questions or concerns rather than remain quiet and confused.
Your supervisor would far prefer to handle a small situation before it becomes a larger and more complicated one!