Friday, December 28, 2018

I'm Just Not Where I'm Supposed to Be

In 2016, I blogged about how I made an impulsive decision to change jobs (Click here).  I went from my dream of working at a school for the Deaf to working in a K-8 New York City public school for special education students.  It's been an adjustment, and I've been thinking lately about this transition and how it's affected my life/how I feel about it (as most people usually do as NYE approaches). It's had me recalling a conversation I had with one of my girlfriends a few months after making the change.  She asked me how the job was going, if I missed her (obviously, yes), and if I felt it had been the right decision for me.  I launched into my standard, rehearsed answer about the perks of my newly acquired dental and vision insurance, pension, and opportunity for tax-deferred annuity.  Then, remembering it was a close friend I was talking to and not some old acquaintance I had bumped into at the mall, I paused, frowned, and said

"But I feel like I'm just not where I'm supposed to be." 

She nodded, instantly understanding what I meant, as best friends tend to do.  The job benefits could be stellar, the speech department could be welcoming, the supervisor could be supportive, and the students could be wonderful, but my heart was still screaming for the Deaf and hard of hearing population that was my passion.

I struggled with it for more months than I'd like to admit.  There are days where I still struggle with it.  When I enter my building, muscle memory wants my arm to sign "good morning" to the school safety guard.  When I tell a student to wait, my hand automatically forms a fist to say "hold on."

While reflecting pre-NYE however, I realized I've been rewarded for my struggles by way of personal growth.  I never expected to gain the confidence I now have working with students with moderate-severe autism, students with emotional disturbances, or students with down syndrome.  I am often surprised by my newly acquired knowledge of behavior management and my collection of visual supports that I have created.  I've developed compassion for students and families of cultures different than my own. I've learned some Bengali, and my Spanish has greatly improved.  I can give sound advice to teachers and friends about students that are having challenges.  Most importantly, I've realized that it's important to hold steady when in new, frightening, trying experiences.  Stagnant living doesn't bring about growth.  I think that's what I'd like to bring with me into this upcoming new year, and I hope you do as well.  I've realized that I'm now exactly where I'm supposed to be, and if you aren't, I hope you make changes to get there. 

Sending you peace and love in the new year!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Top 5 Strategies for Surviving the First Month Back to School

September is here already, and I'm having some pretty strong feelings about it.  If you're an established SLP or a brand new CFY September can be rough.  I'm in my seventh year now and have come up with a few ways to make it to October with a bit less stress.  Here are the top five strategies that I use:

1. Be realistic with your parent engagement. In the past, I bought a notebook for each of my students with the idea that I would write home or tape in an activity completed in speech on a daily basis.  This was insane and put so much unnecessary stress on me at the beginning of the year.  Instead, talk to your students' teachers and find out what system they have in place, then piggyback off of it. They probably have their own communication notebook or folder that goes home with the students every day.  Whenever you want to send something home, add it to the teacher's system.  Don't expect to send something home so often.  Set the bar low with an introduction note at the beginning of September and then one other note or activity during the month.  Make your goal be to touch base with the parents twice a month in some form.  It's realistic and will be appreciated by the parents.

2. Meal plan.  On Sundays sit down with a piece of paper (or an app, whatever, I'm old school), and write down your planned dinners for the week.  By doing this, you can then go grocery shopping on Sunday and you'll avoid having to run to the stores during the week because you'll have everything you need already in the house.  You also will avoid the dreaded "what should I make for dinner tonight" conversation with yourself on your commute home, because you'll have a set plan.  I also try to make two meals on Sunday, one for Sunday and then the second we eat on Monday.  Mondays are my long days at work so by already having a dinner made, my Monday nights are a little less hectic.  I also plan for at least one crockpot meal during the week to ease up on the after-school stress as well. There are actually a bunch of hashtags on instagram that you can use to find easy crockpot meals if you're looking for some inspiration: #CrockPotRecipes #CrockPotMeals #EducatorEats

3. Self Care.  You know what's worse than having to go to work in September? Having to go to work in September sick.  Take precautions before this happens.  Stock up on purell, clorox wipes, wipes that are safe for children's skin, tissues, and paper towels.  Make sure you use all of these things frequently.  Your hands may be dry but your nose will thank you.  I purell after every session, and have my students use it at the beginning.  I also use a clorox wipe over my desk before I eat lunch and again at the end of the day, in addition to any time there is an obvious need for it (think bodily fluids). This is also the time of year to make sure you are taking your daily vitamins and drinking enough water.  A lot of stores have cute water bottles out right now, so pick one you like as a motivator.

4. Don't Compare. You have instagram right? You go on pinterest and maybe facebook also?  I bet your feeds are full of pictures of teachers and SLPs showing off their gorgeous, clean, spacious therapy rooms right now.  Everything is color coordinated and brand new and that feeling starts growing in your stomach.  You know the feeling.  It's a mixture of anxiety and envy and uncertainty that you're good enough. X OUT OF THOSE PAGES.  As soon as you start having those emotions it's time to close your computer, take a breath, and remember that the way your room looks doesn't matter.  Your students don't come off the bus in September excited for a colorful classroom.  They don't learn because the room has a giant window in it.  You are all they need.  I bet if you stop and think back to when you were in school, you can't remember a single classroom or what it looked like.  I bet, though, that you can remember the names and faces of teachers who made an impact in your life.  Don't compare yourself to others, just be the best version of yourself.

5. Lesson Plans.  Shhh want to know a secret? I don't really lesson plan for September.  *gasp*  Want to know why?  Besides the insanity that is the first month of school, I feel like there is just so much more important than having structured lessons in those first few days of therapy.  I see most of my students only two or three times a week, and they are usually new kids to me.  I spend September getting to know my kids, following their leads and their interests, building rapport, taking a language sample, and informally assessing their skills.  It means more fun for them, less prep for me, and an overall more successful year because I know where they are in terms of their speech/language, and I also have a good idea of what motivates them.

Happy September everyone! (And for those days when you want to give up, check out this post -> I'm Just Not Where I'm Supposed to Be

To figure out what you should be doing for October, read here! -> SLP To-Do List for October

Monday, March 12, 2018

5 things I Learned from a Parent Crying in my Room - Speech-Language Pathologist Style

A parent cried in my office today.  It was awful.

It's triennial season.  For a speech-language pathologist, this means tests to administer, then score, then reports to write, and then actually attend and participate in the IEP meetings.  A few weeks ago, I had an intense IEP meeting.  It consisted of a parent in my office, crying, past the end of the school day, and a language barrier.

A lot went wrong, not much went right, so I came home to reflect on how I could have improved it.

Let me share with you what I gained from this mess of a learning experience.

1. If possible, don't schedule a meeting for Friday afternoons.  If the parent has a lot to say, or is upset like in this case, it is easy for the meeting to run late and then staff members may have to leave.  It will seem like you're squeezing them in, the parent might not feel like their feelings are important or valid, and you may not speak about everything that you need to.

2.  If you expect there to be a language barrier, try to line up a staff member, who you know, to interpret.  At my school, there are many staff members who speak the language of the mom who I met with.  In hindsight, we should have requested one of them to interpret rather than using an interpreter phone service, because face to face interpreting makes it easier to convey a message with the same tone, facial expressions, and body language intended. Additionally, a staff member would have known the student being discussed on a personal level, which always adds a level of compassion to the conversation.

3.  Have a tissue box in the room.  I literally had to leave the room for about two minutes while the parent cried, trying to locate a tissue.  In the end the best I could find was a paper towel.

4.  Have resources available for situations where a parent expresses feelings of loneliness or depression - or know who to reach out to to obtain those resources as quickly as possible.  It would be helpful to have some cards pre-made that have the school psychologist or counselor's contact information on them to give out.

5.  Don't make blanket statements.  At the beginning of the meeting, before it was truly my turn to speak, I made the statement of "(student name) is doing So well lately! She has made a lot of progress!" Before I could elaborate, mom looked up hopefully and said, "(student name) is talking?!" to which I then had to say "well no, that's not exactly what I meant."  I didn't exactly set the best tone for the meeting, which didn't set up the other team members for success either.

Followup - I've invited the same parent to come in and sit with their child's team again tomorrow.  I've prepared better this time and have taken all five of my own suggestions into consideration and hopefully it goes significantly better.  Wish me luck!

PS. If you're looking for more reminders of the influence a parent can have on their child, check out this post -> What A Mother and Her Daughter Reminded Me

Monday, February 26, 2018

5 Activities for Teaching your Students about Emotions

The number of students coming to us in elementary school who have autism, emotional disturbances, or have been exposed to drugs in utero, continues to grow.  These populations have an unbelievably difficult time with social skills and emotion regulation as they become school-age.  One of the foundational necessities of these two skills is being able to identify emotions based on facial expression or body language and to understand what causes us to feel these different emotions.

Last year I graciously accepted the role of guest blogger on HoJo's Teaching Adventure's blog, and today I wanted to share it with you, in case you missed it!  These are my 5 favorite activities for teaching emotions.

1. Reflections! 
First, find pictures on the computer of your students' favorite cartoon characters making different faces and print out the pictures. You'll be surprised at how many options you get if you type something in such as "Peppa Pig Sad!" After printing out the pictures, I suggest laminating them for durability.  Next, give your students a mirror to hold in front of themselves and try to match the facial expressions of their favorite characters!  Make sure that after they copy the face that they also name what emotion matches the face they are making.  Each student should get to take a turn with the mirror.  To make sure that your students are getting a wide variety of emotions to try to emulate, have them select a card that is face-down, so it is truly random.  This will stop them from always choosing a picture of someone happy.  We want our students learning what facial expressions look like for many emotions, rather than just one or two.

Special Note -> I find that mirrors with handles work best for small hands.  If you are concerned about students dropping the mirror, or if you work with students who are physically challenged, you may choose to do this activity in a mirror that is already hanging on the wall, such as in the bathroom or on the back of a closet door.  

2. Real Life Photos! 
Use a camera to take pictures of your students making facial expressions depicting different emotions, or if your students are responsible enough, they can take the pictures of their classmates themselves! To begin, I like to have students make happy faces, sad faces, angry faces and surprised faces.  It helps to use an even number of students for each emotion, if possible.  You can then print, laminate, and cut out your students’ pictures in the size of playing cards.  These cards can be used in an incredible number of ways.  You can use them to play matching (match emotions) or go fish.  This is why it is helpful to have an even number of students making the same kind of face.  You can spread the childrens' faces out all over the floor and have them toss a beanbag.  Whichever card the beanbag lands on, students can name the emotion and also think of a time they may feel that way, or have them imitate the facial expression.   You can have each student select one card, imitate the expression they see on the card, and have their classmates guess how they are pretending to feel.  This activity of using real life photo is only limited by imagination and creativity!

*Special Note -> Don’t forget to get photo permission from parents and guardians in advance!

3. Role play – Reader’s Theater!
Have you heard of Reader’s Theater?  I only recently learned about it in an online course about dyslexia and dysgraphia.  The idea behind Reader’s Theater is that your students play out a script in front of their class.  It’s wonderful for struggling readers because emphasis is placed on body language and facial expressions, rather than literacy skills.  This is perfect also for our students who are trying to learn more about how facial expressions and body language reflects feelings.  Find (or create your own) scripts that have a lot of emotions in them!  For students who are struggling with these, pair them up with a partner who needs to portray the same emotion as them (the script calls for both students to have the same emotion).  Having a peer to model and remind your struggling student of what their face should look like is a strategy that allows the student to feel more independent since you aren't directly prompting them.

4. Freeze dance!
Remember playing Freeze Dance during recess or gym as a child?  Someone would play music from a boom box (I'm aging myself now) and everyone would dance.  When the music stopped, everybody would have to freeze.  Play this game the exact same way, except have your students freeze in a posture and with a facial expression that matches an emotion.  You can give them an example of having a huge smile on your face, arms raised, to show the expression of excited or proud.  For some contrast, show your students they could freeze with their hands on their hips and a scowl on their face to show anger or annoyance.  There are so many different ways to shape our bodies and faces to match an emotion! 

5. Movie: Inside Out!
Have you seen this Pixar movie yet?  It features characters based on 5 common emotions, living inside of a girl's mind as she grows into her teenage years.  The characters are: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger.  First, let your students watch the movie (it's only an hour and a half).  Next, have your students separate into five groups, and assign each group one of the characters/emotions.  Explain to them that they are going to make a collage based on their assigned emotion.  They can use their own creative ideas on a poster board, to display things that make them feel that emotion.  They can clip pictures from newspapers or magazines, print images from the computer, draw images, or write the images in bold, colorful fonts.  Once completed, the groups will stand in front of the class and present their collaborative collages to their peers, explaining what emotion they had and what makes them feel that way.

*Special Note -> Inside Out is a PG movie.  Use your judgement on if your students are mature enough to watch the move before showing it.  Getting parent permission may be a good idea, if you have any concerns.

Monday, February 12, 2018

10 Ways to Prepare for Parent-Teacher Night (Speech-Language Pathologist Style)

Parent-teacher night is on the horizon over at my school.  We always have one in the fall and then one again in the winter/spring.  It can be super nerve-wracking to have parents coming in and out of your office, so to try and make it a little less stressful for myself, I prepare in advance.

Here is what I do...

1. Send home a reminder to the parents of when parent-teacher night is and where they can find you.  Include on the note an RSVP slip, so that you have a heads up of which parents are going to try to come.  Obviously this doesn't mean there won't be a few surprises, but you'll at least have a little more insight into how the night will go.  It will also prevent any parents from wandering around the building, asking random people where to find Speech.

2. Place your student files/folders in alphabetical order for easy and quick access.  When a parent comes in who you don't recognize, just ask them their child's name and then pull out the folder.  Side note, be sure not to assume that this person shares the last name of the child or that it is their son/daughter.  Some people look a lot younger or older than they really are, and you don't want to call somebody the grandpa when they're actually the father.

3. Prep your folders.  Go through all of them carefully.  Here's what I think is best practice for inside:
  • student's most recent IEP goals
  • current mandate
  • date of their upcoming IEP
  • Any parent/guardian correspondences (print all emails)
  • Student sample work
  • Data/benchmarking/progress monitoring
  • Language Sample
4. A lot of parents say that they wish they had more communication with their child's SLP.  I suggest having little cards to hand out with your name, title, school phone number, and your school email address on them.  I usually just type it up and print out a bunch on card stock.

5. Make sure you have a sign-in sheet.  Administration may ask who came to speak with you, and instead of racking your brain, you'll be able to just make a copy of the sheet and hand it in.  Also, if you ever have a reason to need to confirm the amount of communication you had with a particular family, you will have documentation of the family coming to meet with you (or not coming).

6. Have a few toys within reach in case the parent brings the student with them or a sibling.  You don't want the child to take attention away from the sparse time you have directly speaking with a parent.  Prep something super engaging (think iPad) and make sure it's not an item they get so often that it isn't exciting for them.

7. Come up with a phrase, in advance, that you can use if a meeting is taking longer than it should, and you have a line of parents starting to accumulate.  I like to say "I've so enjoyed speaking with you.  It seems that I'm starting to gather a line, but would love to continue this conversation.  How about we set up an appointment time where we can speak in person or over the phone?"

8. Think about your most challenging student.  Maybe it's the one who screams, the one who bites, the one who spits, curses, or drops to the floor like dead weight.  Now think about their parent.  Who maybe has years of parent-teacher nights in their memory, where they have had to hear about all these behaviors they are all too familiar with.  These meetings are hardest on them.  Find something positive to say about every single student.  Anything.   Start the conversation with that thing, and then repeat it at the end of the conversation.  Here are a few ideas that may apply to your students:

  • Johnny is always smiling.
  • Mia has been making such nice eye contact lately.
  • I've noticed that Benji is more aware of the other students in his class recently.
  • Alysha turned towards me the other day when I called her name.
  • Transitions have been getting better.  Instead of needing full physical prompts, now Jackson only needs his hand to be held.
  • Nora kept her hearing aids in for five extra minutes last week.
  • Zach looks so handsome with his new haircut.
  • Everyone is always talking about how beautiful Kia is dressed every day.
  • Yu has been benefiting so much from visual cues, such as this picture of Hands Down.
  • Winter has been carrying her speech book while walking, without dropping it.

9.  Have pen and paper right near your desk, so that you can keep track of which parents request what from you. It might seem simple at first to remember that Tonya's mom wants a new PECS symbol for "homework," but after seeing 8 more parents, you'll probably forget that. A list will keep you organized and also hold you responsible for providing your students with what the need for success and carryover at home.

10.  Unnecessary, but nice, extra things to have prepped:
  • Snacks (goldfish, pretzel sticks, etc)
  • Mini water bottles
  • Small notebooks (like the kind you can buy ten in a pack from Party City)
  • Pens (to let the parents jot notes down in the notebooks)
  • Tissues (in case you have an emotional conversation)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

5 Reasons to Laminate your SLP Materials

Some SLPs love flair pens, magnetic tape, teiks, or Erin Condren planners.  Me? I love my laminator.  I've used a Scotch laminator since grad school, and it's still going strong.  I pretty much laminate any materials that I print out, unless I plan on sending something home with a student.  Often people will ask me why I'm laminating so much, so, I thought I would share my top five reasons.

5 Reasons I Laminate

1. To save paper-  Instead of printing something, using it, losing it, re-printing it, using it, losing it, and repeat, I only have to print it once.  I can't crumble it up and shove it somewhere, because now it is laminated and stiff.  I also don't have to waste money on paper or ink needed to re-print things.  Additionally, I'm just naturally more careful with materials that are laminated because they look all shiny and sturdy.

2. Cleanliness - Laminated materials are so much easier to clean.  You can't wipe spit, boogers, or french fry grease off of regular paper.  With laminated papers though, you can take a clorox wipe and clean them right off!  Goodbye germs, hello the peace of mind of knowing that your activity is clean for the next child (and for you!)

3.  Durability - I work with students with severe disabilities, some of which include poor fine motor skills.  Through no fault of their own, things just don't hold up in my speech room.  Things get broken, dropped, ripped, licked, you get the idea.  It's really difficult to ruin something that is laminated, and if it does get ruined, chances are I'd be more impressed than upset.

4. Options - Laminating papers gives me the option of adding either velcro, magnetic tape, or regular tape to the back of it.  Kids can get bored easily,  especially if they are coming to your room multiple times a week, so switching up the method you are using to teach a topic is always helpful.  It might not seem like it, but magnetically sticking a laminated picture of a hamburger to a metal baking pan is a lot more fun than just laying a flat paper picture of a hamburger on the desk.

5. Confidence - Nothing shoots down a child's self esteem more than telling them they have to scrub a piece of paper with a subpar pencil eraser, then ripping the paper accidentally, before writing down a new answer.  You know what doesn't make a student feel bad about themselves? Quickly wiping their answer away with a dry eraser, tissue, or even their finger!  Erasing is fun on things that are laminated because your students can use dry erase markers.

Why do YOU laminate?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Making a Snowman - Collaborative Speech/SPED Lesson!

These past few Fridays, we (the teacher that I collaborate with and myself) changed up our routine! Usually we having a life skills cooking class with her 6:1:1 class, but we decided to do more of a craft activity instead.  Consistency in routine is good, but so is teaching flexibility - so changing it up once in awhile can be beneficial for our students with autism.

To add a literacy component to the activity, I've been using my Building a Snowman Interactive Book to expose my students to the vocabulary they will be hearing/seeing during the craft.  My kids take turns matching picture to picture for words such as: hat, scarf, mittens, snowball, etc.  Once we finished the book, it was time to make our big paper snowman.

Okay, so this craft had a lot of steps! I used board maker to create these visual sentence strips and broke the directions down to:

1.  Put medium snowball on top of big snowball
2. Put small snowball on top of medium snowball
3. Put hat on top of snowman
4. Put two eyes on snowman
5. Put carrot nose on snowman
6. Put scarf on snowman
7. Put coal mouth on snowman
8. Put two stick arms on snowman
9. Put mittens on stick arms
10. Put coal buttons on snowman

We made our snowman jumbo size, and added magnet tape onto the back of each piece thinking it would stick to the teacher's magnet board.  Maybe because her board is covered with paper, or possibly the magnet tape wasn't strong enough, but the magnets just weren't holding.  The pieces kept falling, which became frustrating for the students.  We quickly rolled up tape and stuck that on top of the magnet tape and that was more successful.  Once our students were done, we finished up the lesson by playing the Frosty the Snowman song/video on the smart board!  By using a book, hands-on craft activity, and a song, all on the same topic, we increase the chances of our students retaining the vocabulary they are being exposed to.  

Fun fact - the following week instead of having the kids make one large snowman, they each made a small one to bring home and show their parents!  Same vocabulary, different activity.

Happy winter!