Today I would like to share with you a post about the main reason why SLPs don't get what we want, and some strategies on how to change that from guest blogger Dr, Karen Dudek-Brannan, Ed.D, CCC-SLP:
The #1 reason you don’t get what you want, and what you can do to get it. Raise your hand if you’ve experienced any of the following: Your groups of students start late because you have to spend an extra ten minutes rounding them up. Your coworkers forget to inform you when your students are going to miss speech sessions due to special events. You have a tiny cramped space for therapy, despite the fact that there are other rooms available for other professionals who spend less time in the building than you. No one bothers to invite you to collaboration sessions for students you are seeing, even when you are the case manager. You don’t get invited out to lunch with the grade level or department staff because you are your own little department and no one knows what to do with you. You bend over backwards to accommodate everyone else’s schedules and constantly switch things around to make people happy. You end up doing case manager duties for other teachers because they don’t know how to do it, so they just expect you’ll pick up the slack. Seriously, is the world out to get us?
It’s easy complain about the fact that we as SLPs are underutilized, unappreciated, and overworked. Sometimes you just want people to throw you a bone, remember to send their kids to speech, ask for your input while still pulling their own weight…and just think about including you in things! You may believe that the people you work with are just trying to make your life miserable, but there may be another reason. It may be because you simply haven’t asked for what you want. In their book, The Aladdin Factor, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen wrote about why we fail to do this without even realizing. We have become so out of touch with how we’re feeling we don’t know what we want. Or if we do, we don’t know how to ask. We’ve witnessed so many passive-aggressive behaviors we’ve learned to beat around the bush instead of coming out and asking for things. Sometimes we’re afraid that we will be rejected, so we don’t even bother putting ourselves out there. In our minds it’s better to avoid being vulnerable, even though it guarantees that our situation won’t change. There are other times when we’re just too proud to admit we need help or that we’re struggling. We chose this field because we like to take care of people. We like to feel needed and want to show everyone that we can tough it out. So much, in fact, that we take extra work on to help others, when instead we should be asking them to help or at least do their fair share. It’s time to change this. So rub the magic lamp, summon the genie, start asking for what you want…and maybe…just maybe…you will get it.
Let’s clear some common stumbling blocks and find some techniques to overcome them. Here’s what you can do:
1. Ask yourself what you really want. If you aren’t sure what you want, you won’t know what to ask, so get clear about this. Do you want the teachers to remember to tell your students to come to speech without you having to walk down to get them? Do you want the students to remember? Do you want your administrators to let other staff know they need to include you in collaborative discussions for academic concerns, or would you rather have teachers email you to see if you are needed? Do you just want people to invite you to social gatherings so you can feel like a part of the community? Knowing the answer to some of these questions will help you to determine who to ask, and what you will ask them.
2. Stop assuming people can read your mind. Chances are, few people realize that you are still fuming about being left off that last email. Nor do they realize how cramped your sessions are, or how difficult it is to run your schedule. They are too busy worrying about what they need to do. Think about it this way-how many times has someone close to you (e.g., spouse, sibling, parent, child, friend) done something that bothered you without realizing it. Or how many times have you been the perpetrator? So is it really fair to assume your coworkers, who aren’t as close to you, know exactly what bothers you? Chances are, people will be willing to help you if you just ask. Sure, there are some teachers who will forget about their students’ speech sessions no matter how many times you remind them, or others who don’t value what you do, but not as many as you think. There are others that would be happy to oblige, but just don’t realize it’s what you want (because they’re used to you just coming to get your students). Just having a couple teachers help you out may make your life a lot easier.
3. Determine the best and worst possible outcome of asking. Sometimes we don’t ask because we are afraid of what will happen if we do. It’s time to start challenging our assumptions about the possible outcomes and realize they aren’t so scary. One year, I was in the K-3 building all day five days a week in a cramped office. The occupational therapist was there one day a week for a couple hours, and she had an office twice the size. It was an oversite that had been overlooked, yet I would get angry every time I walked past that huge office not being used. At the end of the year, I just came out and asked my building administrator if I could move. The worst possible thing she could’ve said would’ve been, “No”, and nothing would have changed, which I could have handled because I was already dealing with it. The best case scenario would have been a “Yes”, and a bigger office. If the worst case scenario was the current situation, and the best possible outcome was an improvement, what did I have to lose? Especially when not asking almost guaranteed that nothing would change. Oh, by the way, I got the new office.
4. Ask the right person. This one seems obvious, yet we fail to do it. Like when you blame person at baggage claim for your missing luggage and demand they find it ASAP (when it’s in another state). This past year, I’ve had a student with a communication device on my caseload. After several sessions in a row, I noticed that his device was nowhere to be found. I asked one of the teaching assistants about it, and she said she had no idea where it was and hadn’t seen it all week. I resisted the urge to explode, but gave her a mini-lecture about why he needed to have with him all the time. Her response was, “They don’t tell me anything, I just do what I’m asked!” I should have been going to the case manager, so I planned a meeting for the teacher and all of the assistants so that I could train the right people and be specific about what they need to do (just telling the staff “He needs to use the device,” and shoving it at them wasn’t cutting it). Doing one training won’t guarantee a change overnight. It takes work and persistence. Even when we ask the right people, we still have to accept that they may not have the ability or willingness to do what we ask. But we can increase our odds by being mindful of who we ask for what.
5. Be specific. Failing to articulate your desired outcome is a recipe for disaster. You know how we tell teachers to stop using negative language with our students? We tell them to say, “Walk quietly in the halls,” instead of “Stop running!” Or when we tell our students that they are not using specific language to explain what they want? We need to practice what we preach! Ever had someone give you a laundry list of complaints, but no potential solutions? Or had someone mumble and groan, leaving you to guess why they’re upset? It’s really annoying, right? Don’t expect people to fill in the blanks. Do you want the IEP team to fill out their paperwork by a certain date so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute? Then don’t say, “Um, I think we need to start getting our paperwork done for that meeting…have you looked at it yet?” Instead say, “I would like to print those forms by Tuesday afternoon. Thank you in advance for completing your sections by then.” Want the IEP case manager to stop dumping their responsibilities on you? Don’t just pick up the slack and leave them subtle hints hoping they’ll catch on (I’ve tried nonchalantly printing out the IEP conference notice for them and putting it in their mailbox, and it doesn’t work). Instead, say “I see Billy’s IEP meeting is due in a few weeks. Here are some times I’m available, can you let me know when you’ve scheduled it?” And then stop doing their job for them. If needed, talk to your administrator about training case managers (see #4 “Ask the right person.”). Do you still feel uneasy about this? Are you still worried that you won’t know what to say, or think you aren’t confident enough to tackle some of your issues head-on? Don’t worry. Confidence is a skill. Asking is a skill. Communication is a skill. Because they are all skills, that means they can get better. And believe me, you already have what you need to succeed at this. Even if you’ve never been good at confrontation, now is the time to change that. Always remember, “Ask and it shall be given.”
Dr. Karen Dudek-Brannan, Ed.D. CCC-SLP, has been a practicing speech language pathologist over 10 years, and has worked in the schools and medical settings with adults and children, has supervised clinical students, and has taught college courses in Special Education and Communication Sciences and Disorders. She currently works in the school systems and runs Dr. Karen Speech and Language, a website with innovative resources for treating language disorders with an emphasis on metacognition. Find out more about how you can improve treatment outcomes by writing goals with a metalinguistic focus and get a free goal writing cheat sheet here.