In reality, being an SLP in the schools is a bit of a numbers game: There are “all of them” and one of you. Regarding teachers and administrators, that means being a significant presence for “the school,” and a collaborator (and sometimes a discrete confidante) for individuals. It can be tiring to meet “everyone’s” needs as well as your kids’ and your own. That adds up to burnout. (Been there; done that.)
You may already be doing the following. If so, way to go—great minds think alike! If not, you might consider them. They initially take very little time but yield big benefits in the long run.
#1 - Identity and Perception--and Perception is EVERYTHING
Since teachers and non-SLP administrators will probably never fully know what we do, let’s shoot for a global, overall perception. Our role is as much dependent on what we do, as to how we are perceived. Let’s face it, I do not have a complete understanding of exactly what teachers do—but I do have a perception of them.
When I was an SLP in the schools, I wanted to be perceived as an important part of the team, a leader-type, approachable, a person who enjoys and covets my time with my kids, an innovator, an information resource, and highly competent in my field, etc. Truth be told, in my early years, I’m sure I was perceived as a very efficient, hard-working wall-flower and follower. Now, I can’t tell you if all of the above came to fruition or not (I hope they did!), but keep in mind, even a partial change doesn’t happen overnight.
To be direct, deliberately decide how YOU want to be perceived, then incrementally figure out and implement how to do that. Everyone is different, and that’s a wonderful thing. But, take time to make your identity-decision (do it when you’re lying in bed and can’t sleep), then gradually create and fulfill your desired professional-identify. This doesn’t mean changing your personality, in fact, it usually means bringing it forward.
Think about it. Then do one thing to begin the process TODAY. Only you know what that is. Items #2 and #3 may get you started. Or, for example, talk to a teacher and share an activity that you did in therapy that may be helpful in her class, or ask her a how-to question; compliment several teachers; walk straighter and more deliberately down the hall while smiling and saying hello to everyone. Do something—anything—deliberately that you normally wouldn’t do. Gradually and consistently project those qualities and change will happen.
#2 - “Communication Class” More Closely Aligns to “Education”
As previously stated, teachers have low-to-no clues as to what we do. Some perceive us as working with a handful of kids (while they have 25 to 30); and we just work with easy artic kids, (while they teach an entire curriculum), etc. All mis-perceptions (see? perception is everything!)
I’m convinced that language therapy is often mis-interpreted as language arts. It’s understandable, it’s what teachers know and what teachers teach. Many do not grasp oral language importance, and its critical connection to print language, and life. It’s just plain confusing to them.
Therefore, here’s a suggestion and a place to start: Re-label your instruction, i.e., what you do; your speech and language therapy (+stuttering, +voice, etc.). Re-label your instruction to more closely align with school instruction. After all, we are in the schools. My suggestion is “Communication Class.” Everyone understands the importance of communication, oral communication is implied, and the term “class” is more readily understood than “therapy.”
Your title—speech-language therapist/clinician/pathologist, or whatever—remains the same. It’s who you are legally on IEP forms and in your written communications. However, I’m talking about changing perceptions of what we do. (As a side note, I once tried to change my title to Communication Specialist—it didn’t stick.)
No doubt, to the kids you will always be the “speech teacher.” Actually, I have no problem with that. After about 10 years of it, I got used to it! At first, it ruffled my feathers. Then I realized, I am in a school, and the kids view me as another teacher. And I am.
If you decide to have a “communication class”, you may want to start planting seeds this year in preparation for next year. Talk with your principal, etc., make sure it’s all okay, then send out an email to your teachers announcing your new role for next year. Plant seeds.
#3 - Email is Our Friend
We typically think of email as something we send person to person. However, if you’re not sending at least one GROUP/MASS email (to all teachers and administrators) each week, you are missing a great opportunity.
Send short emails that reflect your identify (or the one you want to build). Be a leader in their eyes and confirm that via your emails. (A true “leader” inspires, guides, and appreciates; it’s a “manager” who tells people “what to do.”)
Cultivate great emails. When they receive yours, they’ll know they’re worth reading. Write them so they’re newsy, informative, thoughtful, and appreciative (or a combination of all). Make them conversational and use language that reflects your personality; use humor, humor tends to capture and endear us. Occasionally include a cartoon!
Here are some email suggestions:
Here’s one I sent out when I was in the schools: “Little by little, IEP by IEP, we’re getting closer to sanity. Thanks for ALL YOUR HELP!” (Share your winning personality.)
Send a beginning-of-the-school-year email that contains the usual “hope you had a great summer” but also NEWS AND INFORMATION about your program: number of kids on your caseload, number of IEPs for the month of September, the date you’ll start communication class, how you want them to make referrals, when your special ed meetings will be and you’ll be gone those mornings, etc., etc. Lay the groundwork, give them organizational information, and SET YOUR TONE for the rest of the year.
Here’s one I sent out a few years back: “When you see Brianna Jones (5th grade), please congratulate her on her accomplishment. She’s graduating from Communication Class on Friday, December 8 at lunch with a pizza and ice cream party. She’s bringing a couple friends to room #19 to celebrate with her. Way to go Brianna!” Let’s them know kids are improving and you’re a good therapist. It also involves them in some way.
Then, “Wow! You guys are amazing! Brianna told me she had FOUR teachers come up and compliment her on her speech—thanks so much for the teamwork!
Send even if there were a few snags: “I want to thank you all for a great month! All the IEPs went smoothly and you offered excellent input. Thank you for your support and great suggestions!”
“Attached is the new/revised Communication Class schedule. PLEASE PROOF! Please let me know if it’s accurate, or not. (Printing is encouraged!)” Urge them to look at it and help you—hopefully they will.
“Went to a great seminar last week—can’t wait to share some of the strategies I learned with you. Here’s my favorite….” Then share a couple more in a few days. Set yourself up as a knowledgeable resource-type professional.
“Worked with some third graders today on a great book, “The Dot.” Love it! Came up with some ideas, but if you have some, I’d love to hear them. Thanks!” You may or may not get takers, that’s okay. It lets them know you work with print-language, as well as artic. This is a nice entre to sharing what we do in our language therapy.
Have fun with your emails and your new-and-improved identify!
Next week we’ll do three more. Feel free to write me--I love to hear what you think!
Go get ‘em!