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Is It Time to Diversify Your Collaborative Portfolio?

Written by our wonderful SLP, Truvine Walker, M.Ed.,CCC-SLP/L
and shared from Successful Practices blog.

As SLPs many of us know the importance of diversity and inclusion when working with students; however, we probably don’t think about it as much when working with other professionals. I will admit that for years, my professional collaborative portfolio was the same. The ethnic breakup of my preferred collaborative group is fairly diverse in terms of race and ethnicity; however, the members had not changed in years. Until last year, my group consisted of SLPs who had the same amount of experience, give or take 3-4 years. I won’t name them individually, but I have one colleague who loves all things Autism, one who loves preschool, one who loves to
research and learn about the unusual disabilities we might encounter, and so on. Most of these SLPs are people with whom I graduated and/or met within the first 5 years of professional employment.

Last year, I had the privilege of meeting and working with a team of four other SLPs. One SLP had just completed her Clinical Fellowship Year the previous year. I knew her professionally because I had served as her CF supervisor; however, I didn’t know a lot about her personally. As her CFY supervisor, I learned that she had great ideas, asked excellent questions, and did a lot of “thinking outside the box.” While this SLP with whom I’d worked the year before is younger than me, she had entered the exciting 30s. The other three SLPs who were beginning their clinical fellowship year are all in their 20s ranging from early to mid – 20s. Oh, I forgot, I’m in my mid-40s. As excited and friendly as this group of ladies was, they were visibly overwhelmed by the lack of structure and guidance provided in the district in which we were providing services. Fortunately, for all of us, they were not afraid to make it known or to ask for help.

The Breakdown of the Group
I am an SLP of color. Some might say African American or black. The youngest member of our Fantabulous Five is Asian American, and the other three are Caucasian or white. Some people get caught up in the words, however, I pay attention to the people (their words and actions). Atany rate, our group consists of a wide variety of ages and cultural differences and we LOVE it. Each of us are from different parts of the United States (Alaska, California, Iowa, New York, and Georgia). Thankfully, we all understand the importance of learning and respecting cultural differences. In our quest to provide our students with the best possible services, we shared materials, questions, perspectives and so on.

We initially started to meet because someone had a difficult case or situation. Some of us had plenty of materials and a nice office, while others didn’t. Some of us were treated with respect, while others had to nicely demand it. At the end of the day, regardless of our knowledge, skills, etc., we all had a few situations that challenged us. Needless to say our meetings became more and more frequent. The more we “collaborated”, the more we learned about each other. Today, I’m proud to call all of these intelligent, beautiful young ladies my friends.

The Difference it Makes
Even if you take special time to try to learn about other cultures and to be culturally sensitive, there are just some things you won’t consider. It’s impossible. One challenge for all of us was dealing with the challenges students face due to lack of exposure. Even though I have dealt with it for years, every year I encounter a student who for whatever reason seems to have more challenges than the year before because of lack of exposure, socioeconomic status, societal customs, etc. Because of our differences in ethnicity, age, and experiences, we were all able to look at situations from similar and varying perspectives. Since most of our students were of Hispanic origin, it really helped having a bilingual SLP who had actually lived in a spanish speaking country. Our brainstorming sessions were AMAZING. Although it started with 1-2 of us being sounding boards to answer questions or help figure out solutions, we learned quite a bit from them as well. Professionally, it wasn’t much of a challenge. Personally, it forced me to put aside my introverted, standoffish ways; although, I must admit, the other four of the Fantabulous Five became aware of my idiosyncratic ways and respected my peculiar differences.

One refreshing outcome for me personally was actually having to verbally explain the “why” behind some of my practices. In my mind, I always have a reason; however, I think it helped me grow professionally to have to actually explain “why”. I don’t know about you, but often times I still have to spend so much time explaining the “language” component of our profession that I never really have to explain the “why” behind my decisions.

Ways to Expand Your Collaborative Circle

  1. Sit by someone different during Professional Workshops or invite the new SLP to your group.
  2. Consult someone different for an opinion. You’re not bound to use the recommendation.
  3. Present your challenging case to a group (not your typical group). Call or email SLPs with whom you do not normally work and ask for fresh perspectives.
  4. Meet with a different group to discuss an article or new trends.
  5. After you attend a workshop, seminar, offer to share your knowledge in small group settings.
  6. Introduce yourself to an SLP in a different district, state, country, etc. on social media and start an exchange to discuss ideas. Remember try to diversify the ethnicity and age.

It’s just as important to update your professional resources/colleagues as it is your materials. Your current collaborative circle is probably AWESOME; but, who knows what jewels you may be missing out on by collaborating as a creature of habit.

As an introverted person, I will admit some of the recommendations I made are challenging for me; however, after accidentally learning the benefits of diversity in collaboration last year, I assure you that I will continue to update and diversify my collaborative circle. The benefits far outweigh the discomfort of that first awkward conversation. I’m happy to say the the new additions to my collaborative circles are not just colleagues, they’re friends.

group shots sep2017