Let's give a warm welcome to Jackie from Speech Sanity, who is guest posting today for the latest installment of, "Stepping Out of Your SLP Comfort Zone!"
 




Stepping Outside of Your SLP Comfort Zone: Guest Blog Post for Natalie Snyders
It was December of this school year and I was comfortable.  I was working for a charter school in in upper middle class neighborhood where I knew the staff and had amazing parent support.  I had my own little speech room with adorable ocean-themed bulletin boards, hot pink chevron borders, and a plush office chair.  I loved my students and was invested in their growth and progress.  Over the past two and a half years, this was my work home. 


The problem?   The school’s target population was “academically excelling” students.  Therefore, it did not draw many families of students with special needs.  My caseload consisted of primarily articulation students.  Now, I can fix an /r/ and /s/ like any respectable SLP, but does not capture all of my professional skills.  Also, if I’m being honest, artic is not my favorite type of therapy.  I wanted more.  I missed my SPED students like crazy!  I wanted to feel part of a SPED team again, working with Resource and Special Ed Teachers, Psychologists, OTs, Pts, etc.  (I realize some of you are rolling your eyes right now. I get it, believe me! But I really did miss it! Those are my people!) 
So, just as I was thinking about making a change for next school year, an opportunity came up through my contract company for a position beginning in January.  It was a part-time position working with two self-contained classrooms for children with intellectual disabilities.  The hours and pay were exactly right AND I would get to work with my SPED students again!  After a quick interview process with the new school, I was hired!  I took a few weeks to transition the new SLP, tie up any loose ends, and say my goodbyes at my old school.  Then that was that.  I was moving on.  For the first time in a while, I was genuinely excited for this new challenge. 

In January, I arrived for my first day at my new school, full of excitement and anticipation.  I met with the SLP I would be sharing an office with and she was wonderful!  She showed me around the school and introduced me to the staff.  I unpacked all my things and set up shop in our shared space.  I got down to business looking through all my student files and acquainting myself with my new caseload.  I walked down to the SPED classrooms to meet the two teachers I would be working closely with.  I greeted them with a smile and was really excited to get to know them.  They greeted me with what I can only describe as a “guarded” welcome.  Come to find out, I was the 4th SLP to work with these classes since the beginning of the school year! The kicker was that the last SLP, #3, had just stopped showing up.  

Needless to say, these two teachers did not have a high opinion of SLPs.  This was going to be an uphill battle for sure, but I felt up for the challenge!
So, while it has not been easy, I have made it work and had success.  Here are my suggestions for taking over a caseload in a position with such high turnover:

1.     You must let go of any sort of need to be accepted and liked right away.  I am by nature a people pleaser, so this was tough, but I knew I would have to be patient with these teachers and build their trust over time.  I think they have appreciated my patience.
2.     Meet with the teachers and make sure to listen to their needs and ideas.  While you may be the speech and language expert, they are the expert on their student’s personalities, likes, dislikes, family history, medical history, previous school experience, etc.  You need their help!
3.     Collaborate with the teachers about scheduling and be flexible.  While scheduling feels like a massive Tetris game at first, it ALWAYS works out in the end.  Also, be prepared for your schedule to change…possibly multiple times.  As you live the schedule, you will want to make changes and there will always be assemblies, parties, absences, etc. to work around.  Your perfect schedule will almost never come to be…and that’s okay!
4.     In my case, I was going to be using a Push-In model with both classes to meet their needs in the most functional setting.  So, I spent my first day with students just observing and helping out in their classrooms for most of the day.  I highly recommend doing this if you have the opportunity.  It will give you a wealth of information about how the classrooms run, which students work well together, and what kind of behaviors you will need to help manage.
5.     Try to hold off on giving too many suggestions too soon.  After my first day or two with these teachers and students, I had a million ideas about how to change things up to help these students be more successful.  However, I knew that if I came at these teachers with all my suggestions, they would be overwhelmed and probably offended.  Instead, I wrote down my ideas and have slowly shared them when the time was right. 
6.     Take the time to get to know your students and let them get to know you.   I have shared information about my family, my dog, and my favorite things to do.  I also like to share stories of what I did over the weekend and bring in pictures for them to see.  My students all LOVE to see pictures of my kids and what I have been up to lately.  I truly believe that you have to build a relationship with a child before you can make progress in therapy.  For students who have seen many SLP faces come and go during the year, it may be tough at first and may take longer than you are used to.  If you are patient and stay invested, it will come.  I can attest to that!

To my fellow SLPs out there in a similar situation, hang in there!  Have faith in yourself and your abilities and you can make great things happen!  I wish you all the best!

- Jackie

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I don’t know about you, but I always like to give my students a small gift at the end of the school year.  This isn’t anything big or fancy - usually things like pencils, crayons, small notebooks, small toys, or erasers.  (I try to stay away from candy or food items due to health issues of several students.)

I hand these out during my last therapy session with each student, and let them choose a game or two to play as a reward for their hard work over the past school year.  (I also send home this free parent handout on good apps and games for speech and language development.) 

Here’s a peek at some of the gifts I am giving out this year:







I usually tend to pick up these items when they are on sale at random times during the year.  I found the cute bubbles on sale at Target in their post-Valentine’s Day clearance, for example.  My students love mechanical pencils, so I picked up extras at the beginning of the school year when they were on special.  I found the tops and mazes in the birthday party section of Target.  I’ve often had luck finding similar items at the dollar store or Oriental Trading Company online.


In my six years as an SLP, I have been very fortunate to work in good conditions with supportive administration.  I am also fortunate to live and work in a state that has a caseload cap for school SLPs.  However, I have repeatedly heard of unfortunate and upsetting situations from my fellow school SLPs.
Here are some examples:
  • Being told to add more students to a caseload that is already too large.   
  • Being forced work in an environment that is not conducive to therapy.  I’ve had my share of random spaces and closets to work in, and I totally understand that space can be at a premium in our school buildings.  But there are some situations and spaces that are not appropriate.
  • Being told to take on more evaluations at the end of the year, and that you must get them done before the school year ends, even though with your state-required timelines, you have 60 days.  
  • Taking on more than your share of responsibilities and work without assistance.  
  • Using untrained staff in place of hiring fully qualified SLPs.  There is a reason why speech-language pathology requires a masters degree to practice.  It is a very complicated field, and proper training and experience is needed to adequately provide evaluations and treatment for often-times very complex cases.  
  • Being told to do your job with insufficient or outdated materials.  
  • Being told hiring a bilingual therapist is out of the question when a bilingual student is being assessed or treated.   
  • Being told to make unethical decisions.  Ultimately, it is your license and professionalism on the line, not your employers’.  You are the one who needs to abide by the Code of Ethics.  Say no when you have to, and mean it.

Why do we let this happen?

I think there are a variety of reasons.  Most SLPs don't want to rock the boat or be seen as a "problem" employee.  Maybe it feels like your job might be at risk if you speak up.  Maybe the situation feels hopeless, and like there's nothing that can be done, so why bother trying?  Maybe you have tried to effect change before, and been shot down.  Maybe you are just so overwhelmed you don't even know where to start!


What can you do?


First of all, make your concerns known - especially before you get past the “crisis” point - and offer some possible solutions to your situation.  (If all you are doing is complaining to yourself, things will never change!  An important part of our job is advocating for the needs of our students - and yet, if we can’t even advocate for ourselves, how good of a job can we do for them?)
  • Does your workplace need to hire more SLPs?  Offer to help with recruiting or interviewing new SLPs.   Contact a local university graduate program - maybe you will find some graduate students who would love to get some extra supervised hours that can help you with preschool/kindergarten screenings, or who might be looking for a job for next year.  See who on your staff might be willing to put in some paid summer hours to help catch up on the backlog of evaluations.
  • Do some of your SLPs need to be shifted around to help lighten the load across the board?  Offer to help analyze the overall workload and figure out some possible solutions.  Be flexible and open to change from "the way things have always been done."
  • Do your SLPs need more tests/materials?  Start looking for grants or other ways (like Donors Choose) to help fund this, or look for lower cost materials where possible (hint: TeachersPayTeachers.com is a great place to start!).  Offer to start a lending library of materials for all of your SLPs to share.  Start making a list of what tests will likely need to be updated and when, so your budget people will be able to plan accordingly.
  • Do you need a different space to work in?  Walk around your entire building, and find some possible spaces, even if they’re only available one day or morning a week.  Talk to other staff in your building to see if they know of any solutions.
Support your fellow SLPs.  If you see something going on, offer your support and present a united front.  It’s much easier to ignore one employee than all of them.

Advocate on a local, state, and national level.  Join your state SLP organization or ASHA, and work on advocating for yourself and other SLPs.  Do laws need to change in your state?  Help start a lobbying campaign!

If there is truly no way the situation will change, find a way out.  Dust off your resume and start searching for new job.  With the shortage of SLPs in this country, there has to be somewhere else for you to work.  It’s not worth the stress and compromising your ethics - not to mention your students’ future - to continue in a work environment like this.

One thing I know, though, is situations like these will not change unless you stand up for yourself.  If you are in one of these situations, I hope this post will give you the courage you need to do something about it!
Today's guest post in the Stepping Outside Your SLP Comfort Zone is my friend Jessica Solari from Consonantly Speaking!



When I was in graduate school, my two favorite areas of study were fluency disorders and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). I definitely was more interested in the technology side of AAC, as I am a very techy person. We had a device lending library at college, where I spent a lot of time. I actually took the AAC course twice, once at my undergrad college as an undergrad credit (I could have chosen to get undergrad/grad credits) and once at my graduate college as a graduate credit. This was the smartest thing I could have done because the two courses were taught slightly differently. With one professor, I felt like I got a lot more time with devices, device types, how to program the devices, and even wrote an entire comparison-type manual about the devices. With the other professor, I felt like I learned and created and used a lot more low-tech AAC and really felt comfortable about evaluating someone for AAC. The second professor even would come in each class period pretending to be a different client for us to evaluate and we sat in on a couple occupational therapy classes to learn about positioning.

Fast forward four years later, and I had not used an AAC device or much low-tech AAC in the schools. For four years, all of my clients were verbal and a few needed visuals from time to time for vocabulary and word-finding skills. I would not feel comfortable assessing someone for a device today. After leaving my first long-term school position, I decided to cover another speech-language pathologist’s (SLP) maternity leave. When I read the goals of some of my students and met them, I was nervous. I had not used an entire AAC system of communication since graduate school and there were multiple non-verbal/2-3 MLU children in the ECSE classroom I was working in. However, I am always up for a challenge and to learn new things/refresh previous skills.

The best thing that an SLP with a new caseload can do is read through goals, IEPs, and recent evaluations/medical history as well as meet the students/observe the previous SLP prior to working with the students. I went in two-weeks prior to starting to do exactly this and I am positive that it helped immensely. The ECSE classroom used a communication book called the Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display (PODD). The special education staff went to a training on how to use the PODD the previous year. They had just started using the PODD 100% of the time just before I started working there, but the special education teacher of the ECSE classroom used the PODD so much throughout the day, as well as her parapros, that they seemed like masters!  I was definitely intimidated.

The second best thing that I did was taking home one of their extra PODD communication books to practice using it, because I didn’t have training. I practiced using the PODD on my husband. I practiced two different lesson plans, written out word for word, action for action, multiple times with the PODD. I desperately looked for professional development, especially webinars, on the PODD online and could not find much of anything.



By the third day of using the PODD, to my surprise, I had many compliments of how fast I learned how to use it. Within the first month, the occupational therapist and speech-language pathologist team who were evaluating one of my students for a more technical AAC device thought I was a pro at it. The best two things about the PODD, that helped me learn how to use it without training, were the P and the O. P – Pragmatic means that you use the communication book throughout the day in socially appropriate situations. In addition, there are a lot of pragmatically appropriate phrases within the book as well as in the way you move through the pages during conversations. O – Organised means that everything is organized in categories with tabs. Everything you need to talk about bubbles (one of the most used pages for us) is on the bubbles page. To get to the bubbles page, it is in the toys or play category and its image shows which numbered tab (also labeled “Bubbles”) to flip to in the corner. The first two pages contain phrases to start conversation as well as the most commonly used pages. What I also love about the organization of the pages is that you can copy a page for an activity to be used at home or post it in pragmatically appropriate locations in the classroom. For example, the sandbox page was photocopied and placed above the sandbox in the classroom. So, although we all carried a PODD at our hip, the child or adult could point to the words/pictures immediately related to the activity he or she was participating in without us having to flip through pages.



Other than learning to use the PODD, I had to think about communication using activities not included in the communication book. Since the ECSE did not have a high tech device for any of the students at the time, I used the PODD in conjunction with communication boards that I made myself a lot of the time. Luckily, since I did not have a copy of Boardmaker (the special education teacher did, but didn’t have a computer to use it at home), I used a website called Lesson Pix to create communication boards. For example, I would use the PODD to tell the students that we would be looking at a book and leave the book page open so that they could say phrases like “turn the page”, but have a communication board that I created with specific characters in the book to the side in the same style as the PODD pages. Another way that I used a communication board was in preparing one child for using a high-tech communication device. The occupational therapist and speech-language pathologist evaluation team for AAC were there multiple times, so I got to observe some of their evaluations. This really helped refresh my memory on AAC evaluation. They decided to start this child using the Dynavox application for the iPad/Android with a key overlay. They weren’t going to start with too many buttons, but start using semantic compaction so that the student would be able to use core words that would always stay in the same spot on the device as the students’ vocabulary grew. There was a device at home that the student used, but it did not travel to school as placement for this child was being determined as well within a month. However, the speech-language pathologist laminated a board of what the screen would look like so that we could use it along with the PODD. I wasn’t there long enough to see much progress for this particular student, but what I did get to do was collaborate with other team members, review appropriate communication goals for the child’s upcoming IEP, view an AAC evaluation, and use multiple forms of AAC at a time to meet students’ communication needs. For many of the other students I heard first words, saw them carry around their own PODD to communicate, become more intelligible, and expand their utterances. Who knew so much could be learned in the course of 3-4 months; but it was all thanks to the consistency of the staff!

This post is not to tell you to learn to use any form of AAC without researching it or attending a training course on it. As you can see above, I researched as much as I could. I even asked to go to a course, but since I was only there for 3-4 months and no spots were available, I couldn’t go. However, when a form of AAC has already been set in place for a child, you must adapt and learn as much as you can immediately to communicate with the child and grow their communication. If you get training before, that’s the best case scenario, but do your best to help them communicate until you can get the training. I know there are some programs, such as PECS, where it is not recommended to do communication therapy with that child without the training However, there are ways to use the system, such as the PECS symbols or a form of AAC on the side, that will not undo the program/do any harm. Do not begin using AAC without first consulting a licensed speech-language pathologist.

With AAC and with new research and techniques coming out all of the time, it is important to keep yourself up to date. You can do so by reading journal articles, the ASHA Leader, ASHAsphere, SLP blogs, keeping your CCC’s active through professional development, and by collaborating with other professionals. New territory can be frightening at first, but the way I see it is that it is a new adventure in which I get to be a lifetime student!

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Jessica Solari, M.A. CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist who writes articles on the blog Consonantly Speaking. She blogs about mobile applications, materials, techniques, therapy ideas, and topics related to speech-language pathology. Jessica also created and manages SpeechieFreebies, an award-winning blog where speech-language pathologists can find free materials to use in their therapy sessions. Be sure to follow her on social media!


I don’t know about you, but I certainly have a countdown going for days left of school!  Of course, this always keeps me focused on all of the tasks I have left to complete before I can officially “finish” the school year, which is always a little stress-inducing!

I’m one of those SLPs that sends homework with her students on a regular basis.  I know everyone has different opinions on speech-language homework, but I prefer to at least give my students and their families a chance to practice at home.  I must admit, this year has been busier than usual, so I haven’t sent home suggestions every week, but I am definitely preparing packets for over the summer!

For most of my students, I send home pages from my Summer Homework Packet.  While most of my monthly homework pages are designed to be for one-time-use, I have designed my Summer packet to provide multiple ways to practice over and over again.



For example, for the articulation pages, there is a one-page word list that students can add words with their target sounds to as they come across them over the summer.  There are also 3 pages of picture flashcards for each sound, with a blank page of flashcards for students to add words and pictures with their sound.  Then, there are suggestions of games and activities that parents can do with their children throughout the whole summer with these pages to practice articulation.



Similarly, for language, there are worksheets to target specific skills (such as describing, categorizing, and similarities/differences), but I also include “extension” activities so parents will know how to target these skills throughout the summer.



I generally send summer homework packets with my students in kindergarten through about fifth grade.  But what about older students?  I know my older students have ZERO interest in doing extra homework over the summer, to the point where they might "accidentally lose” any sort of packet I might try to send home with them.  However, I do want to make sure that their parents have some idea of what sort of activities would help build their speech and/or language skills over the summer.



My solution?  A one page handout with suggested games and apps to promote language development.  I plan on copying this onto brightly colored paper and stapling it to my students’ progress reports, which are sent home with their final report cards for the year.  You can find this freebie here.  As a bonus, it would be great to send home for Better Speech & Hearing Month or to hand out during an open-house type event!


Tell me, do you send home activities for summer practice with your students?


Did you hear?  There's a TeachersPayTeachers site wide sale coming up on Tuesday, May 5th and Wednesday, May 6th to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week!  I sure do love a good sale - and everything in my store - including bundles - will be 20% off.  You can get an additional 8% off with the code:  THANKYOU.

I am linking up with Jenna over at Speech Room News for her "What's in My Cart?" linky.  I love getting suggestions for great new products that I might have missed otherwise!



So, what should be in your cart?  Here's a few suggestions from my store:

My newly updated 95 page Summer Homework Packet is great for getting ready for the end of the year!  It has ideas for articulation, language, and grammar, and is perfect for the print-and-go approach!


        


My new High Stakes Testing Vocabulary Builder - Junior Edition is also a great option to get ready for the next school year!  Read more about it here.




What's in my cart?

Speaking and Writing Prompts for the CCSS by Nicole Allison.  I think these will go perfectly with my new High Stakes Vocab Builder!


Grammar Clips by Maureen (The Speech Bubble SLP).  These will be great for my younger students that need work on is/are, was/were, and has/have!


 Secret Messages for Main Idea by Teach Speech 365.  I'm always looking for new materials to target main idea!




Tell me, what's on your wishlist for this sale?
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