When I was a new SLP, I worked for an organization that emphasized a “Get In/Get Out” philosophy to therapy. Most of our effort was to go toward the treatment of the child, with little concern to guardian or teacher input. In this approach, once you had the standardized testing results, you had all the information you needed; outside input was relegated to other standardized measures, grades, and background medical information that might impact the possible outcome of therapy.
This model is not best practice. Our kiddos need support. We only have them for a tiny fraction of their lives. If we expect the hard work we put in helping them to last and generalize, it makes sense to involve the people who are bigger parts of their lives: their guardians, and their other educators. Teachers and guardians want to feel valued and valuable to the IEP process, just as we do. Engaged, appreciated individuals work harder and are more invested in the outcome. To this end, we have a responsibility to our kids to help the people who spend the most time with them feel this way. They are, after all, the experts on the individual child, far more so than we are. So, how do we get these individuals on our support team? We make them feel important, included, and heard. Sure! Absolutely! I already do that! That’s wonderful! It’s all about communication. Would you mind if I told you about what has worked well for me?
A successful way I do this is to ask about their goals for the child: functional, academic, social, etc.; what is it they would like the child to be able to accomplish? Sometimes these goals are not realistic, but just by asking, you show that what the guardian and/or teacher has to say and wants for the child is important. Remember to keep discussing goals throughout the time you have the child; they will grow and change and develop just as the child does. By continuing to discuss these goals, you show your commitment to the child, your value of the guardian’s and/or teacher’s input, and your determination to be a part of the change to make it happen. Sometimes, when we see children with the same deficits over and over again, it is easy to pull out a premade goal for that weakness. While this isn’t “wrong”, it isn’t individualized either. Having a conversation about wishes for that particular child also helps keep me focused on the individual rather than just another kid for the “descriptive vocabulary” group.
Keeping everyone up-to-date is also an important component in building these relationships. Check in with your teachers regularly to see how the child is doing in class, if there are new concerns, how you can support the teacher helping to “carry over” skills. Be willing to answer questions, explain processes, provide resources or mini-trainings if needed. Also, check in regularly with your guardians. Let them know how the child is doing in therapy, what you’re currently working on, how the guardian(s) can get involved in the process of carrying over skills, any concerns or special successes that come up, and again, be willing to answer (sometimes tedious) questions. Listen to concerns that both guardians and teachers bring to you. Don’t dismiss these concerns out of hand, even if they seem silly or unimportant. You wouldn’t have been approached if the individual hadn’t had a serious concern; we owe it to them, therefore, to recognize the sincerity of the concern, validate the concern with thanks for having brought it to us, and provide an answer/solution/proposal that is appropriate in a timely manner. If for some reason an answer/solution/proposal will take time to gather, stay in touch with updates until the time to present it. By keeping the teachers and guardians constantly up to date and in the loop, we affirm that we value them as a member of our team.
One final thing I’d like to share with you is the importance of educating our fellow IEP team members, including guardians, as to who we are and what we do. Roadblocks to the cooperative effort may include lack of knowledge of what our role is, preconceived notions about who we are, which is first and foremost an advocate for the child. If you need help explaining what it is we do or can provide for the children we serve in the schools, I highly recommend reading Emily Mayne’s piece “What is My Piece of the Pie? School-Based SLP Services in SCS”. As a new SLP, I really struggled with my role in the schools. I was a jack-of-all-trades, rather than a specialist. It was hard for me to know my place, hard to explain it to others, and hard to feel confident I knew what I was talking about. It made it easy to stay quiet during meetings, and not provide the quality input I wanted to add, because I was seen as, and made to feel, extraneous. We are advocates. We go to bat every day to ensure the children in our care get the range and intensity of services appropriate that they need in order to be as functionally successful in the world as they can; and yes, sometimes that means a decrease in services or intensity. Once our fellow team members know who we are and what we do, their ability to relate to us and view us as a valuable resource increases. They go from “So…you teach speech?” to “Glad to see you here! I need you to weigh in on this.” A clear understanding of your role makes you a more tangible person to the team, which makes everyone, including you, feel more comfortable and confident about your presence. A by-product of this is that when people know who you are, what you can offer, and see you advocating for that child, they continue building trust and rapport with you, and the communication I discussed above becomes easier, more automatic for them to come to you, and fosters a reciprocal relationship of effort, respect, empathy, support, and consideration.
This is not a cookie-cutter type solution. Every teacher, every guardian, every child, every SLP, every school, every district, every everything is different. Whether there are cultural blockades, policy inhibitors, or level of interest differences, no two situations are ever alike. The guidelines I outlined above are only a small and very generic sampling of how to communicate with and support your fellow IEP teammates; these are just the ones I have had exceptional success within my own career. However you choose to interact with your partners-in-success, remember that everyone deserves to be heard, to have their concerns addressed and validated, and to be assured of their important role in the child’s growth.
Author: Adele Dunkin, MCD, CCC-SLP