Association News

Published on June 4th, 2019


Professional Insights: Working as a School-Based S-LP (Michel)

The role of a school-based speech-language pathologist is broad and varies from school to school. However, there is one thing that everyone can agree upon: students benefit from speech-language pathology services!

S-LPs work with students to reach their full communication potential. This, in turn, helps students succeed throughout the day – from making friends, to engaging with their lessons, to growing as an individual.

To explore the work of school-based S-LPs, we asked some of our members to share their experiences working in a school setting.

Today, we hear from Michel Vallières.

To access all articles of this series, please click here.

Describe your work setting.

I work as a speech-language pathologist in Yukon’s public-school system (K-12). I am one of four speech-language pathologists covering the Territory’s 28 schools, half of which are located in rural communities, the other half being in Whitehorse’s urban area. Our main offices are situated in Whitehorse, within the Department of Education. Speech-language pathologists are part of the Student Support Services unit, which comprises specialized services to students such as educational psychology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and specialized behavioural supports.

Approximately how many students do you work with over the course of the school year?

Our active caseloads are typically between 100 and 200 students per year.

Can you tell us something unique about your position?

Yukon Education’s speech-language pathologists work as consultants. We spend the bulk of our time consulting with school staff about particular speech or language issues, doing in-class observations, conducting speech (articulation) and language (oral and written language) assessments, writing reports, writing and supervising programs that are implemented by communication assistants or educational assistants, participating in meetings with parents and school staff and providing professional training sessions. We do not provide direct intervention to students.

Because many rural schools are far away from Whitehorse – several hundred kilometers for most of them, one of them (Old Crow) being a fly-in community – we also spend a substantial amount of time travelling. We typically visit each one of our rural communities two or three times a year.

Our territorial population is comprised of a substantial proportion of First Nations students, with higher ratios in most rural communities. Other cultural-linguistic groups can also be found, mostly in Whitehorse. Among others, some Whitehorse schools have a fairly high proportion of students of Filipino origin. Whitehorse also has one elementary and one high school that operate entirely in French.

What does an average day look like?

Our daily routine varies extensively. Some days are spent entirely in schools, typically involving activities such as consultation with teachers or educational assistants, meetings with the school-based team, and conducting assessments. Other days can be spent entirely in the office, writing reports or programming, doing collaborative work with our close colleagues (educational psychologists, occupational therapists, behaviour specialists, etc.), doing research or attending meetings. When travelling, a large portion of a work day can be spent on the road or in airplanes, depending on the destination.

How does your role fit in the day of a student?

Students are seen during school time. Typically, a student receiving speech support will see me 3-5 times during a school year, more or less at regular intervals. These students work twice a week with the school’s communication assistant (urban areas) or a trained educational assistant (rural areas), who implement students’ speech programs under my supervision. A student receiving a language assessment will see me during in-class observations and during a few individual assessment sessions. Many of our recommendations regarding language development – either specific to a student, or universal – are implemented in the classroom by teachers and/or paraprofessionals.

What is the best part of your job?

Above all, I enjoy the time spent in direct contact with students. I also enjoy training sessions with teachers and paraprofessionals, some of whom are insatiably curious about topics in which I specialize. Travelling across Yukon is also profoundly gratifying, not only because of our gorgeous landscape, but also because it helps me broaden my perspective on the scope of our cultural diversity, which unavoidably prompts some deep reflection about the fundamental purpose of education.

What is one of the most challenging parts of your job?

A challenging part of my particular position is the lack of direct intervention with students. The scarcity of contact with students makes it hard to build a sustainable relationship with them and takes away the rewarding process of witnessing students’ progress in real time.

The Takeaway: What do you want people to know about your job as a school-based S-LP?

From my own experience, many people associate our profession with the remediation of articulation and stuttering issues. Much less known is the pivotal role we play in supporting the development of language and literacy, both of which are highly consequential academically and socially. Language – first in its oral modality, and soon after in its written modality – is the main cognitive tool used in the acquisition of most academic disciplines and to respond to the increasingly complex demands of social interaction. Consequentially, the negative impact of language difficulties tends to increase with time and to spread outwards to many domains, which cumulatively constrains students’ future life options. Speech-language pathologists, with their knowledge of the scientific literature on efficient practices and their specific training involving linguistics and child development, are uniquely qualified to help minimize the language difficulties experienced by vulnerable students, together with the social costs that such difficulties can entail.

About Michel Vallières

Michel Vallières is a certified speech-language pathologist who completed his professional Master’s degree at Université Laval in Québec City in 2013. He also holds a PhD in Music Theory from McGill University. He has been working as a speech-language pathologist with Yukon Education since August 2013.

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