How to Work for Change in School Settings: FAQs
I'd like to make improvements in my school setting. Where do I begin?
The best way to make a difference in your school system is to get involved! As ASHA members, it is our ethical right and responsibility to advocate for our profession and for quality services for students with communication disorders.
Find out who the principal decision makers in your school district are and where the decisions are made (e.g., building/site, district/central office, state level). If you are represented by a union/association, become actively involved in your union/association or contract negotiation process at the building/site and district/central office level.
Additional information about collective bargaining is contained in the ASHA publication Working for Change: A Guide for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists in Schools [PDF].
How can I help to make changes at my local district level?
Changes at the local level can be made by following a step-by-step approach:
- Decide on your priority issue and discuss your idea with your colleagues.
- Choose a leader and organize your group.
- Research the issue and prepare and present your case to the appropriate decision maker in a professional and organized fashion.
- Be ready to support your case with facts. Develop a succinct and clear message as well as talking points that you can use to present your issue.
- Be ready to answer tough questions, and suggest solutions that can benefit the school and the students.
- Develop a chronological plan of action, detailing what has to be done, who is going to do it, and when it will be done.
Additional tips on local advocacy strategies and examples of successful efforts can be found in the ASHA web-based publication, Advocating for Higher Salaries and Extra Benefits from Your Local School District.
How do I affect change in my state?
A successful advocacy campaign at the state level requires certain key components including support from your state association, a careful analysis of factors affecting change in your state, an organized plan of action for your state, a coordinator and committee of people willing to dedicate time and effort to the issue, grassroots involvement and support from the speech-language pathologists and audiologists in the state, visibility for the issue, and an effective communication system for reaching your constituents.
What information/resources are available to help influence decision makers?
ASHA has a number of resources that can help you organize and present your case for change on issues that members frequently address in school settings. Key resources that are available free to members include:
Many additional advocacy resources are available and listed on the ASHA website.
What other information do I need?
Presenting data about your issue is a powerful tool that can help bolster your case. Data that outline the impact of the problem on the school, the professionals, and the students, as well as cost/benefit statistics or comparative data from neighboring districts or states, can help to objectively demonstrate your concerns. Anecdotal information from speech-language pathologists, parents, or other professionals describing the impact of the issue on the services, students, or professionals involved can also convey an important message and should be used when possible. ASHA has a number of resources containing data that may help support your issue:
- Schools Survey, Executive Summary and Special Reports. Contains reports on caseloads, service delivery, roles and responsibilities, working conditions, and union membership. Includes listing of caseload size by state, service delivery models used, time spent by speech-language pathologists carrying out their roles and responsibilities, work issues such as postponing/cancelling services, and involvement in union and collective bargaining units.
- National Data/Surveys; NOMS K-6 Schools Fact Sheets. (2001). This series of three fact sheets highlights the findings from NOMS data collection for the school-aged population. Download the fact sheets.
- Additional surveys, reports and other sources for data can be found in the Research section of the ASHA website.
How long should it take to achieve success?
Most advocacy efforts will take time, dedication, and patience. Local district level efforts can be successful within the first year, but most local and state-wide legislative and regulatory efforts require at least a 2- to 3-year sustained commitment. The wheels of change turn slowly, especially within a challenging budget climate, but change can occur if the people involved are willing to maintain focus, establish priorities, and devote time and resources to the effort.
ASHA has many examples of speech-language pathologists who have had success negotiating for changes in their workload, salaries, or benefits. Examples of successful efforts can be found in the ASHA web-based publication, Advocating for Higher Salaries and Extra Benefits from Your Local School District.
Are there other groups that can help?
Gaining support from other professionals and consumers can be a powerful tool in helping to present your message and achieve change in your school setting. Some key groups are your union/association, parents, school board members, teachers, and related professionals.
What can I do if my decision makers are not supportive?
Most decision makers are interested in providing the best services possible for their students. It is helpful to consider the competing factors that might be impacting their support of your issue. Being well prepared, having facts to support your case, and delivering a convincing argument that provides information about how and why your issue is of major importance to the education of the children in your community should help persuade your decision makers. You may need to be prepared to negotiate a compromise or decide if you are willing to initiate more drastic measures such as a work slowdown or change in your employment setting. There are many resources available on negotiation strategies. Some negotiation tips are contained in the ASHA resource Working for Change: A Guide for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists in Schools.
If I'm successful, how do I spread the word?
Working with the media through available communication vehicles (e.g., local or state newspapers, TV, radio, newsletters, website) can provide important visibility for your issue and enhance your advocacy effort. Reach out to the media by contacting reporters covering education or health issues and offer to be a resource, write articles in your local or state association publications publicizing your issue and progress with your effort, or conduct a presentation on the topic at a local, regional, or state conference. To gain national attention through The ASHA Leader, contact Susan Karr (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Janet Deppe (email@example.com) with information about your effort.
Who can I contact at ASHA for help?