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This Week’s Episode: Curriculum-Based Therapy Bootcamp – Teacher Communication
This week we’re going to keep on keeping on with curriculum-based therapy. This episode breaks down a Curriculum-Based Therapy framework for practice, plus some time saving tips on how to handle teacher communication and showcase your value as an SLP.
Let’s be honest — it can be daunting at times…but it doesn’t have to be!
Grab your favorite beverage and let’s get to it!
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Thanks so much!
Let's talk about a little bit of a framework to make this possible and implement this with our students. Because this can be very overwhelming to tackle, especially given some unique changes in service delivery this year. So we'll kind of chat through that and go through some different ideas.
So we've got three components that we'll go through. The first one is teacher communication, because we need to access the curriculum in some way. Then we'll talk about how to organize our materials and plan for therapy. And then, one very, very common concern is, "I'm not a tutor. How am I going to be therapeutic using the curriculum?" We'll talk about some strategies and some little frameworks that we can use to set ourselves up for success in those areas.
First step is teacher communication. I've actually gotten a hand in the face from an educator. So I just want to share that it's not always ... It is going to be a challenge. Some teachers are easier to communicate with and collaborate with than others. We're all very busy. We're all very stressed. We all have huge workloads. If something is unknown, it can be scary. Sometimes we just don't want to give it the time of day. That's not a reason to give up though, because like I said before, we are in this for our students and we want to do what's best for them. So even if a teacher puts a hand in our face, or whatever hurdles we come across, we are problem solvers, and we can figure this out. It's not a reason to give up. Our students deserve our best. It's also a good opportunity for us to grow and just develop, further develop as professionals. Yes, it can be challenging. I've experienced it myself, and I've heard a lot of other SLPs share experiences, but we've got this. Even if they say no, even if they're rude, we have lots of tools that we can use to figure out what we ... to work around it and to really show up for our students.
Some things that we can do, and I'm throwing out a bunch of different ideas here, you get to decide what feels most comfortable for you, what seems to doable, and just start in a place that feels just maybe a little bit scary, and just step a little bit out of your comfort zone and then just build on that over time. I just started out. I don't know, I just started out big. The first thing that I did was, I guess I had a of couple experiences, like I told you about the visuals and things like that. So I dabbled one-on-one with some teachers. But after diving into this research and realizing how big of an impact it could have on my students, I just wanted to go all in and I wanted to make this happen as quickly as possible for as many students on my caseload as possible.
So I decided to present at a staff meeting, because it was the fastest way for me to access all of the teachers, share a consistent message, and just address everyone at once, let them know where I stood, what I had to offer, and then go from there. But I definitely was scared. I was not comfortable with public speaking, especially as a CF. I did not feel like an expert, but I got to fake it until I made it. I just, I prepared to the best of my ability. Even though my hands were shaking, I showed up, I did it, I shared my message with the teachers. Some of them responded and some of them didn't. But it set that foundation for me to work off of.
What I did, some things that I ... you can present, or if you just want to start off sharing what a speech therapist does, that's an option. When I went, I, because I had already done a little bit of ... I introduced myself. I shared what I can help with. So at this meeting, I just shared a couple, the examples of things that I was able to do. I said that I really wanted to provide better services, the best possible services for students, and that I needed the teachers' support, and that I would really like to use materials from the classroom, and just requesting that they share. I did go up to each teacher afterwards to come up with a plan, but I just asked them to start thinking about areas that I could support.
After that meeting, I followed up with the teachers and I printed ... My IEP system, both districts that I worked in, they gave me the option to print an IEP-at-a-glance. This became my routine. At the beginning of every school year, I would print off all of the IEP-at-a-glance sheets for all of my students. I would put them in a red folder, and then just marked it confidential. I created a little sign out form. So I went to the teacher with the IEP-at-a-glance, so they could know which students in their class were, one, receiving services, and what the students were working on. Then I would just quickly go through that, and I would just have the teacher sign it to let me ... and I would just tell them that this is confidential paperwork. It's really important that they keep good track of it. I told them that I would come collect it again at the beginning of the school year.
I did this because well, one, it is confidential and they did need to keep it secure, keep that information secure. But then also, I just wanted teachers to take ownership of that. Then it happened a couple times where the teachers said they had no idea what we were working on, or that they had no idea my students were even being seen for speech therapy services. So by doing this at the beginning of the year or whenever, like we're almost halfway through the school year now. The first time I did this, it was probably around this time that I did, I started sharing that IEP-at-a-glance. But just having them sign and putting it in that like stand-out type of folder, made a really big difference. It just flagged something in their brains of like, "This is important. She's telling me about this. I need to make sure I keep track of this." It didn't work for every single teacher, but it definitely made a notable difference, going through that process.
So I shared the student's goals. I would just give them a quick update of where the students were. Then this would be, this could be an opportunity for the teachers to let me know what the students were struggling with in the classroom. And then we could use that to determine what we wanted to focus on. With one teacher, I had several students in her class. I brought the IEP-at-a-glance sheets, and we went over them. The grade's professional goal was to work on math word problems. That was something, they had set a professional learning goal or whatever the goal, whatever their goal is called. They had to set a goal as a group, and they wanted their students to work on that.
So I was like, "Awesome. Let me support that." Because that's something that they were very motivated to work on. And the students that I was seeing were the ones that were most likely to bring down like their averages or whatever. So when I offered to help, they were like, all of the teachers were like, "Oh, okay. We're going to share these with you, and we're going to come up with a strategy to work on this together." So that's one tip that I have to share, is figure out if they have any personal or, well, professional goals, whether they're officially stated, like to the principal or whatnot, or if there's just something that they want to work on. Really tapping into what's important to them can make it a lot easier to set up that collaboration, because they have some skin in the game. If I'm just requesting materials and they don't have a good understanding of why, or if they don't feel like it'll benefit them, it's much more likely to get ... they just will not share it then.
So I think, I mean, they obviously care about the students. They want their students to be set up for success, and that's oftentimes enough. But if it's something that they're actively working for, and these teachers had to submit evidence showing that they collaborated and did things to work towards this goal. So I was helping them with that. Every week on the dot, they shared their word problems and we did send back and forth. We got to work on vocabulary, we got to work on, the board problems had W-H- questions in them. We got to work on that. It was very, very language-heavy. They had to explain their thinking. So it was, it happened to be the perfect activity to work on the student's goals.
Sometimes it just, it won't be a fit. Like if the student is working on idioms, that's their main goal, and they want us to do a math problem, that might not be a great fit. But a lot of times, these activities are very language-rich and we can, whether we're working on grammar, vocabulary, whatever it may be, we can make it fit the student's goal. Especially if it's something that they're struggling with, there is a way to make that link. So that's what I did.
So sharing that IEP-at-a-glance, asking the teachers for input, you can start that with just one teacher. If we're, like with teletherapy, we might not be presenting. Or with just the current state of things, we might not be presenting at an in-person staff meeting. But maybe they have Zoom meetings that we can borrow a couple of minutes from and talk to all the teachers there. Or, we can record a quick video and send it out, or just send out a quick email. Or, we can just ask to schedule a chat with one teacher and start that way. Whatever seems like a good first step, use your clinical judgment. Decide what you think feels doable, and maybe just a little out of your comfort zone, and then go from there.
Then one thing that's super important is just to maintain logs of all of the communication, so you can, one, remember what the teachers want, like what you decided to work on together. I just made a little sheet. I think I just made a copy of the sign-out log, or maybe even on the sign-out log, I made a comment. But I would just make notes of what we talked about and what I wanted to make sure I did. Then that's what I did then. Now, I use my own FLP Now web application and I document. I just pull out my phone and document in there, so I can just keep track of everything.
So that's what we've got in terms of opportunities and what we can do. With one of the schools that I was at, it was very challenging. Yeah. It was just a really challenging situation. I really had to convince the principal that it was worth ... that I wouldn't be wasting her time or the teachers' time. So I felt especially scared going into that meeting. I just brought some treats, because at least then the teachers would be happy. Even if I, like worst-case scenario, if I couldn't talk, at least they had a good treat. Yeah, I think they always appreciate that. So, those are kinds of strategies that I would use to start navigating that.
So here's a breakdown of what we could potentially do. So if you decided you wanted to start working on this next week, what I would suggest is, first, well, talk to the principals. See if you can schedule some time at a staff meeting and then go speak there. So if that's the route you want to go, just go all in. Speak at the staff meeting and then schedule a time to follow up with the teachers. The plan that I laid out in the slides is more of a beginning of the year kind of set-up, where I'd speak at the staff meeting, I'd set up my schedule and I grouped students by teacher. I know it's not possible, or it is possible, but probably not realistic or feasible or smart to totally change your schedule now.
But I found that when using this approach, it really benefited me to create a schedule and group students, at least by a grade, by teacher, if possible. Then I would just go through and make sure that I had baseline data for all of my students, so that I had a little bit of information to share. So then, when I do share the goal sheets with the teachers, I can come up with a good ... I can give a good update and be informed on how the student is doing and have my perspective on where the deficit is, or where they need support. Then I would work with the teacher to figure out which area we want to focus on. That was particularly helpful because then they wouldn't have that decision fatigue.
Because when I asked for materials from the classroom, some would send nothing. Some would send something super random that I had no idea what to do with. So by talking to the teacher, like with my second grade teacher, we did the math word problems. So she knew, every week she just got into the routine. She would make the copies for the class and she would give me, she would put a copy in my box, and that's what she did.
Another teacher, we decided to support the vocabulary, and I would pre-teach some of the vocabulary. It worked really well with my students' goals. And she just shared the vocabulary sheet that she copied for the students. She would just share that ahead of time with me. That was also a copy machine thing. The mailboxes were right there, and just share that.
With teletherapy, it's probably even easier if they can just share access to however they're sharing materials with the students, just loop you in on whatever you decide to share. But it was nice, because if for some reason the teacher forgot to share the vocabulary list, I could be like, "Hey Sandy, do you have this month's vocabulary list? I'd love to use it with our students," or whatever.
So by having a very specific request, like if I were to send them an email, like, "Please send me some materials from the classroom." You'd be like, "What in the world do I send?" So if we have that specific request, they're much more likely to follow through and it just makes it a lot easier for them to follow up with that. So, that's a recommendation that we have. Then as the teachers start sharing the materials, I upload them to the tool that I use to manage my caseload so that I have easy access to them. I just keep everything organized there. And then that just makes it really easy. I have easy access to everything. When I'm planning my therapy, I can just easily link that to my sessions, and I'm good to go.
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