Published on June 10th, 20190
Professional Insights: Working as a School-Based S-LP (Sharon)
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 Sharon Halldorson.
To access all articles of this series, please click here.
Describe your work setting.
I have worked in schools in Winnipeg, Manitoba for more than 35 years. During that time, I have seen many changes in service delivery and speech-language pathology scope of practice. Over the past 10 years, part of my position as a student services administrator in the Seven Oaks School Division (SOSD) has involved mentorship for six S-LPs. I also have a mentor-supervisor role part-time in the Louis Riel School Division (LRSD), where I work with three S-LPs.
Approximately how many students do you work with over the course of the school year?
Over the course of a school year, full-time school-based S-LPs in Manitoba are each responsible for providing services of various kinds for 80 to 100 students from kindergarten to grade 12. Our work covers a wide range of assessment, intervention, consultative and collaborative support to students, teachers and families. Capacity building for school staff plays an important role in the work we do, as our scope of practice in 2019 includes literacy and social communication, in addition to speech and language development.
Can you tell us something unique about your position?
As an S-LP in the SOSD for many years, I have provided collaborative, classroom-curriculum based services in schools as a primary service delivery model. Most of the S-LPs in SOSD support teachers and classrooms using this model, thus having influence on the communication of many students, not only the ones who are on their caseloads. In my current position in the Louis Riel School Division, I have the unique opportunity to support three S-LPs in their daily work, as I try to bring this collaborative model of service to their work.
What does an average day look like?
Traditional assessment (e.g., standardized testing) and intervention (e.g., pull-out individual and group) continue to be important, but two areas make my mentorship different. One is informal assessment and the other is classroom-curriculum based intervention.
In my own S-LP practice, I have always felt that language sampling and observation of students, as well as data-gathering of developmental information and background experience yields more information than any standardized test can provide. In order to truly understand a student’s communication profile, it is important to analyze the different ways they talk (or gesture) in different situations. This observation yields so much more information than surface language data (i.e. sentence production) as it supports formation of an accurate communication profile.
Focusing on classroom-curriculum based intervention with teachers is the second area I emphasize, and is a major goal of my mentorship role. Meeting with teachers to share student communication strengths and goals and discuss both individual student and classroom profiles is important. Planning with teachers and getting into classrooms for co-teaching is the ultimate goal of service delivery. Students benefit, as well as teachers, when our expertise as S-LPs helps teachers understand not only communication goals, but also language components of the academic needs of their students (e.g., phonological and morphological awareness). S-LPs in turn benefit from learning about the teacher’s approach to pedagogy and strategies that help all students to learn.
In my mentorship role in LRSD, I share articles, resources and handouts and provide time to review and discuss ideas. While I supervise the S-LPs working in their schools, we also plan peer group supervision meetings and we share ideas through observations in one another’s schools. The major tool I use for classroom intervention is simple but powerful: the storybook. By planning with teachers to choose engaging and age appropriate books (not reading levels), I am able to design very specific intervention tasks for individual students which are productive and engaging for all students. Integrating targets can also be facilitated by storybook sharing and reflection. The S-LP and teacher can work together to develop reflective activities around a book. Small group review of speech and language goals provides ready-made reinforcement for students on the S-LP’s caseload. The home program is simple: read and talk about this fun and engaging book before bedtime at home.
What is the best part of your job?
What I find most rewarding is my collaborative work with the S-LPs and their students directly, whether that be in the classroom or in the therapy room. When a child says a sound correctly or produces a sentence or story retelling accurately and knows they have achieved success, there is no better feeling for an S-LP. That, I think, is a universal “plus” of the work we do.
What is one of the most challenging parts of your job?
Challenges abound as caseloads and workloads continue to grow and staffing levels do not change. But I think that we can, in collaboration with teachers, maximize our potential to make a difference in the lives of students by helping them to communicate more effectively, thus boosting their academic performance and, ultimately, their self-esteem.
The Takeaway: What do you want people to know about your job as a school-based S-LP?
The key word here is collaboration. Truly effective teaming requires school administrator support, belief in a common goal, trust and sharing, understanding of roles, flexibility, organization, commitment and creativity. It is not easy being an S-LP in schools in 2019, but we can be the most efficient and effective by prioritizing collaboration with teachers (and with parents, where possible), minimizing the amount of time spent doing formal assessment, using meaningful therapy content (i.e., storybooks) and by working with students in the most meaningful school context, the classroom.
Sharon Halldorson is a speech-language pathologist with a doctorate in Communication Disorders, which she obtained from Boston University in 1993. Sharon’s areas of interest are phonological awareness, language-learning disorders, literacy and collaborative service delivery in schools. She is currently a student services director in the Seven Oaks School Division, a mentor and supervisor in the Louis Riel School Division and a private practitioner in Winnipeg, Manitoba.