Articles Calling all schools based S-LPs

Published on October 15th, 2014


Calling All School-Based S-LPs: Tell Us About Your Role!

By Wenonah Campbell, PhD and Robin Gaines, PhD, S-LP(C), CCC-SLP

In SAC’s last membership survey, many respondents indicated that a better understanding of the role of speech-language pathologists (S-LPs) in school settings should be a priority for SAC.1 As SAC members who frequently carry out research in the school setting, we strongly identified with the sense that there is a lack of clarity regarding the role of S-LPs in Canadian schools. For example, informal discussions with our colleagues who work in schools suggested that many are concerned with how much (or little!) our educator colleagues understand about what we do. What is the scope of services that we offer? Who are the children that we support? What kind of unique expertise do S-LPs bring to the school setting? How can we best work with educators, parents and students to support learning and communication? The challenges that many school-based S-LPs grapple with every day — large caseloads, lengthy wait times for service, less-than-ideal work conditions, time lost due to travel and high demands for paperwork and documentation — further complicate concerns about our role.2,3 Given all of these challenges, it is certainly understandable why defining the S-LP’s role in the schools is fraught with difficulties.

To help bridge this gap between knowledge and practice, we have decided to conduct a survey of SAC members to take a “national pulse” on the role S-LPs play in Canadian schools.4 We know from a review of the literature that it’s been more than a decade since the last surveys on school-based S-LP services in Canada.2,5 At that time, S-LPs in Canada reported using mainly direct or consultative service delivery models, primarily due to their large caseloads.2 When S-LPs did work with teachers, they reported using approaches that involved less active collaboration — such as observing students or assisting them with their work — rather than those involving co-teaching or coaching in the classroom.5 These findings led us to wonder if the service delivery models that S-LPs use might, at least in part, be related to how educators view the S-LPs’ role and what they see as our contribution to students’ overall educational programs.6,7 Perhaps when S-LPs provide services outside the context of the classroom, it is difficult for teachers to relate those services to the child’s participation in the classroom and success in mastering the general education curriculum. Similarly, when S-LPs pull children out for direct therapy, it may be difficult to ensure that services are curriculum-relevant, enhance participation in the classroom and lead to changes in the teacher’s ability to successfully support those students.8

With that said, it is possible that much has changed in the 10 years since the last Canadian studies were conducted. We know that more and more provinces are moving towards policies of inclusive education9, and that this shift has implications for the way that health professionals provide services. Now, perhaps more than ever before, there is momentum for health professionals to more closely align their services with the broader goals of the education system.10 Indeed, several recent studies have demonstrated that inclusive, classroom-based S-LP interventions are effective.11,12,13,14 Collectively, these studies indicate that when S-LPs and teachers work collaboratively, teachers can and do learn specific strategies to support the communication, learning and academic performance of all students in the classroom, including those with speech, language and communication difficulties.

In light of these changes in policy and research evidence, we suggest that it is time to once again take stock of the role of S-LPs in Canadian schools. We hope that you agree and ask you to help us in this effort by completing our online survey. Once we have finished with the survey, we will share our findings through SAC’s publications as well as via the web and social media. If you would like to know more about our research, please contact Wenonah Campbell at or Robin Gaines at

Please stay tuned for our next column where we will share information about a new initiative in general education that can help you reach more students!

To go directly to the survey, please click on this link: 

1SAC (2011). Membership study executive summary: Speech-language pathologists. Retrieved on August 22, 2014 from
2CASLPA (2003). 2003 Caseload guidelines survey: Final report for speech-language pathologists. Retrieved on April 30, 2013 from
3SAC (2011). Working in educational settings survey report. Retrieved on August 22, 2014 from
4Speech-Language and Audiology Canada Clinical Research Grant. $2500 (2013-2015). Situating school-based speech-language pathology services within the context of inclusive education: A survey of Canadian speech-language pathologists. Gaines, R. Campbell, W., & Missiuna, C.
5Dohan, M., & Schulz, H. (1998). The speech-language pathologist's changing role: Collaboration within the classroom. Journal of Children's Communication Development, 20, 9-18.
6Ukrainetz, T.A., & Fresquez, E.F. (2003). “What isn’t language?”: A qualitative study of the role of the school speech-language pathologist. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 34, 284–298.
7Edgar, D.L., & Rosa-Lugo, L.I. (2007). The critical shortage of speech-language pathologists in the public school setting: Features of the work environment that affect recruitment and retention. Language Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 38, 31-46.
8Zurawski, L.P. (2014). Speech-language pathologists and inclusive service delivery: What are the first steps? ASHA SIG 16: Perspectives on School-Based Issues, 15, 5-14.
9Council of Ministers of Education in Canada. (2008). Report Two: Inclusive Education in Canada: The Way of the Future. Retrieved on August 22, 2014 from
10Campbell, W.N., Missiuna, C., Rivard, L., & Pollock, N. (2012). “Support for Everyone”: Experiences of occupational therapists delivering a new model of school-based service. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 79, 51-59.
11Crosskey, L. & Vance, M. (2011). Training teachers to support pupils’ listening in class: An evaluation using pupil questionnaires. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 27, 165-182.
12Leyden, J., Stackhouse, J., & Szczerbinski, M. (2011). Implementing a whole school approach to support speech, language and communication: Perceptions of key staff. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 27, 203-222.
13Starling, J.,Munro, N., Togher, L., & Arciuli, J. (2012). Training secondary school teachers in instructional language modification techniques to support adolescents with language impairment: A randomized controlled trial. Language Speech Hearing Services in Schools, 43, 474-95.
14Wellington, W., & Stackhouse, J. (2011). Using visual support for language and learning in children with SLCN: A training programme for teachers and teaching assistants. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 27, 183-201. 

About the authors:

Wenonah Campbell

Wenonah Campbell, PhD, is an assistant professor in the school of rehabilitation science at McMaster University and an associate with CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research. Her current research focuses on evaluating and implementing school-based models of collaborative service delivery as well as on enhancing the capacity of health professionals to engage in collaborative practice.

Robin Gaines_Portrait

Robin Gaines, PhD, S-LP(C), CCC-SLP, Reg. CASLPO, is a clinical researcher with the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, University of Ottawa and a clinical speech-language pathologist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Robin and her colleagues at the First Words Preschool Speech and Language Program present the Parent Education program as part of their clinical service to families.

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