Opening New Doors: Transitioning from a School to a Clinic

 I am not a fan of change. Honestly, I don't handle it the best. I thrive on routine. Sure I can handle small changes in my day, but big changes are hard for me, as I'm sure they are for everyone. I've heard that some of the biggest stressors caused by changes in life happen at the loss of a friend or family member, loss of a relationship, moving, or changing jobs. Tomorrow is the last day of the school year and it will be my last day working at my school of 3 years. For the four years after grad school, I've been working in the same district. Later this summer, I will be transitioning to working full time at a private clinic. 

I want to be clear, I have nothing against working in the schools. I love my school. I have the best special education team and wonderful administrators. It's just time for a change. I've been commuting across the metro for the last three years and it's wearing on me. Changing caseloads and regulations are wearing on me, but I honestly didn't have a real reason to quit my job. I would not have worked for another school.

During my undergraduate time, I had a pre-externship at an outpatient pediatric clinic and I loved it. This experience has always been a goal of mine to change at some point. Over the last year I have worked one evening a week and over breaks at the private clinic where I will be working and I loved it. It's also significantly closer to where I live.

Will there be challenges? Yes. Do I have more learning to do? Yes. Do I feel completely ready to make the switch? No, but it is exciting.

These last few days of school have been bittersweet. I am excited to start my new adventure, but I will miss my students and fellow teachers so much. Change is hard. Tears have been shed and I know it will take me a while to get used to the change. What I know is that I will still have a support system at home, at my school, and at my clinic. God has blessed me to have amazing opportunities in my past and my future. I know that he will lead me in the way of his path for me.

10 Therapy Materials I Can't Live Without

As speech language pathologists know, there are certain materials worth their weight in gold. Now, the materials might be different for each therapist. I primarily work with students grades k-5 who are in setting 1, 2, and 3 programs. There is a small shelf where I keep all my most frequently used supplies next to where I sit at the therapy group table. This keeps all my "go-to's" within reach during sessions. Many things are organized into binders, piles and some rubbermaid drawers.

So what's on my shelf?

1. Webber's Jumbo Articulation Drill Book An updated version is available, but I received this as a hand-me-down. This book has pictures, word lists, phrases, and sentences organized by sounds. If I had no other articulation materials, I could do my sessions with this book or copies of its pages.  This is made by Super Duper. Find it HERE
2. Social Thinking Books
Our special education department has both the Superflex and these "We Thinkers" (formerly The Incredible Flexible You) created by Socialthinking books provide a foundation to teach the basics of social thinking. These books make my teaching of social thinking much more organized. Find it HERE

3. Expanding Expression Tool
You may have seen these beads on Pinterest or other blogs. The EET was created by Sara L. Smith, an SLP Each bead corresponds to an attribute used for describing. It's a great way to work on descriptions, categorizing, and organizing oral and written presentation of material. Find it HERE

4. Supporting Knowledge in Language and Literacy (SKILL)
I mentioned this resource in a previous post on Narrative language. This program was created by Sandi and Ron Gilam, authors of the TNL. If you target narrative language skills in an elementary school, this is a fabulous way to target it in an organized way. The handbook and disc include lesson plans (and scripts for you!), worksheets, sample stories, and progress monitoring tools. Find it HERE

5. Artic Shuffle
"Are we playing a game today?" my student frequently ask. Artic Shuffle is made by Lingusystems When I pull out these cards, they are excited and I am happy because there is no prep involved and lots of practice. These cards come in a normal 52 card deck. Each deck is based on an articulation target. Each card, Ace through King has a picture of the target sound. You can play any normal card game with these. Find it HERE

6. 5-Minute Kids
This resource from 5-Minute Kids is perfect for short sessions, word lists, progress monitoring and more. If I don't have time to plan for an articulation session, I can pull this off the shelf and work at the word or sentence level for nearly every phoneme. Find it HERE

7. Magnetalk
I love Super Duper's Magnetalk match up for following directions. It includes many different scenes to use as barrier games. My favorite part is the magnetic white board easel that's included. I also use the magnets to sort categories, especially when working on animal vocabulary. This resource is also created by Super Duper and you can find it HERE

8. Lids 'n Lizards
I love this game. It includes magnets of various categories. Sometimes I use the magnets with the gam, other times I use the magnets on a whiteboard or filing cabinet to sort vocabulary. My students love hiding the lizard. It's also a great way to work on asking questions and critical thinking. Many times a student will ask, "Is it under the sock? Is it under the cat? Is it under the car?" Instead I encourage them to look at the similarities and differences of the objects to create a better question. Another SuperDuper resource you can find HERE

 9. Pirate Talk
This Super Duper game includes a variety of stimulus cards focused on language skills such as following directions, comprehension questions, inferencing, and describing. But, as with many games, you can target any skill with the game pieces. Students love collecting gold coins as they make their way around the board. This is a frequent request from my students as a game to play during sessions. Find it HERE

10. Artic Tickle Stories
I have many students whose IEP goals for articulation focus on reading and conversation. Let's be honest though, some of our paragraphs heavy with specific phonemes are not interesting. These stories are created by students in a mad-lib format. There are word lists of target sounds by part of speech (nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc.). This is great for my older students who are "so over" therapy but still need lots of practice. A for sure winner that they will actually show their parents. Find it HERE from Super Duper.

What are your go-to therapy resources?

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Creating Opportunities

Speech language pathologist have dozens (if not hundreds) of tricks up their sleeves to elicit a variety of targets. Maybe we pull out our super duper fun deck, the magnetalk board, or a trusty Dr. Seuss book. But how can we create culturally responsive learning opportunities?

Culturally responsive teaching is not about tying content to a specific culture or mentioning a specific country. In my post about exploring your own cultural system, I talked about time, family, spiritual beliefs, and communication norms. For a long time, I assumed that because I was part of the dominant white culture in America, I wasn't really "cultural." Even if you have a classroom full of students of the same color skin, you will find a vast difference in their views and values. So, how do you create a classroom full of opportunities for all students? Here are a few tips that I have found successful within my classroom.

Make It Social
Make things social not just for social skills groups but for language, fluency, articulation, and yes, even voice. Have your students work together to solve a problem, plan an activity, or play a game. Not only are you probably making kids say an articulation target before they take their turn, you are also helping students learn how to interact with one another.

To make a lesson culturally relevant to a child, you first need to know the child. Observe how the student interacts with peers and adults. Are they reserved or more outspoken. Think of how you can use what you learn about them to play to their strengths and support them in future learning opportunities. Point out those strengths to the student, even in front of group members. Use those, "I like how so-and-so did this," statements to encourage those healthy interactions.

Challenge the Status Quo
Oooo this can be scary. Have you ever had a student say to another child, "That's weird," or "Why are you doing it that way?" Use these as learning opportunities. Ask the child why they accomplished a task or did something in a way that the other student did not expect. Then ask the student who made the observation what they learned about their group-mate. Not only will you make learning meaningful to the student who is doing things in an unexpected manner, you can also encourage the student who made the not so pleasant comment to think about why they think a certain way. My favorite question is, "Why did you think that way? How did you come up with your answer?" When students know you are genuinely interested in their thought process, you may end up learning a thing or two that will challenge your own way of thinking.

Has a student ever helped you think in a different way?

Wrapping It Up
Thank you so much for taking the time to read about my cultural and equity journey. I know that I still have much more to learn and areas for growth in my cultural competence. Keep in mind that your students and classroom will be different from mine. Use that difference as learning opportunities. As you reflect on your culturally responsive teaching journey ask yourself these questions:

What are your own cultural expectations and biases?
How can you grow your cultural diversity knowledge base?
How are you creating an environment for students to engage in cultural conversations?
What culturally responsive learning opportunities are you creating for your students?

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Cultural Conversations

Have you seen posts on blogs or pinterest on how to create the best classroom for your students? Every summer I browse photos and posts for new ideas to create a better learning environment for the children with whom I work. As a speech language pathologist, I work to balance visual aids with organization and limit visual stimuli. There are some amazing speech therapy rooms out there!

But how can we as speech therapists create a classroom that encourages students to engage in conversations related to culture?

The answer is not simply "buy these materials" or "use this bulletin board." No, we need to work to create an environment that engages students not just in looks but also in building relationships. I have to frequently ask myself, how am I encouraging students of all backgrounds to learn within my classroom? I have learned that it's not just the layout of my room or the book I choose, but also creating a classroom community that is welcoming and warm to all students. While I do not have the perfect classroom, here are a few things I've learned to encourage cultural conversations.

Ask Questions
Not just WH-questions about a story. Ask about your students' home life. What are they celebrating this month? Who do they live with? Family dynamics vary so much and while I may start by wanting to learn about a student's culture, I end up leaving a conversation about their home life with a much better idea of who they are and how I can adjust my teaching.

Don't just ask students questions, also ask the family questions. I have learned that some cultures separate home and school while others rely on relationships. Figure out what the families you work with prefer and build a relationship on that. If you can relate to them and show interest in their family, I've found that it is more likely they will get on board with a plan.

Make Connections to Background Knowledge
I will be honest. This has been a struggle for me. I look at my daily schedule and notice that I see students for 10, 20 or 30 minutes a couple times a week. Then I look at their IEP goals. To qualify for a speech/language disorder in Minnesota, students have to be in the 2nd percentile  or lower. That is a standard score of 70. Because I work with students at this level, they often have significant language delays and a lot of IEP goals. Many days I fall into the trap of grabbing a worksheet or bingo game to address goals.

This year I have tried to focus more on checking in with students before delving into the lesson to see what background knowledge they possess. Some of the most meaningful sessions for my students have been when I actually start the conversation broadly and find out what a topic means to them. For example, when talking about stories, I asked one of my 4th grade English language learners about her favorite story. I didn't quite understand the whole story (we're working on sequencing), but I was able to get the gist of it - and it was a story I had never heard, but one that I later found out was a Nepali folk tale! My student was able to relate to the concept of characters from telling me this story because he could identify who was in his story. We had been working on answering "who" questions about stories for a very long time and still are, but this connection has definitely improved his ability to identify characters within stories.

Making a connection by asking questions and using background knowledge are two simple ways I have worked to improve my small corner of a classroom to be more culturally responsive.

How do you make your classroom culturally responsive?

Cultural Responsive Teaching: Grow Your Knowledge Base

As an educator, I understand the importance for continuing education. Some workshops provided by the district are not directly related to my professional practice as a speech language pathologist. I do my best to draw what I can from these workshops and adapt it for my own practice. But, how can SLPs grow their cultural knowledge base even without a workshop? Here are some ways:

Check Your Community Calendar
Look around your community for events. I live in a largely diverse and populated area which allows me the opportunities to experience events within the community. Take a look and try something outside of your comfort zone. Visit an art exhibit, film festival, or local market and try some things. It doesn't need to be professionally related, just choose something to expand your own experience.

Discover New Holidays
This summer I became slightly peeved with some neighbors who where generally very quiet, because they suddenly started setting off fireworks in their driveway every night. Honestly, the noise didn't bother me much, but it scared my cat. Then I discovered that it was the Indian celebration of Diwali. Diwali is the festival of lights. Once I realized this, I no longer had negative thoughts about my neighbors. This experience helped me reflect on aspects in my own culture that might annoy my neighbors.

Chat with a Teacher
I have learned so much from my colleagues in the school system. When I assess a student, if they speak another language I will research in depth the aspects that might affect their assessment. But, remember that culture is not only related to language, ethnicity, or race. Some of the most enlightening conversations have surrounded students who have experienced a different home life that I didn't know about. Chatting with their teacher revealed that their family is struggling or that their older sibling is gifted and talented and their parents expect them to achieve the same. Have you ever gone to an IEP meeting and the parents are not at all what you expect? I have avoided many awkward encounters because I talked with the teacher prior to the meeting.

There are many more ways to expand your knowledge base through cultural experience. I have been surprised on how I have learned to be more culturally responsive with my students. How have you grown your cultural knowledge base?