The opening of the new school year is going to be a challenging one this year. There rightfully is a great deal of anxiety as there is a multitude of plans offered for school reopening. It is hard to prepare for something that is so fluid especially so for speech and language pathologists as our caseloads are so different from classroom teachers. The number of students that we see often necessitates that we group students from several different classrooms. Our interactions with our students often require very close contact and the ability to see a student’s mouth. We may see a large number of students across several grade levels and across several school buildings. The school closure in March impacted evaluations that need to be completed at the end of the school year. How will all of this be handled?
One option is distance learning or remote learning in which we offer our services in a teletherapy way to our students. This was begun in the spring as we navigated how to transfer what we did in-person to an online platform. I know that of my cases there was about ¼ of them that I had a regular Google Meet or Zoom meeting with. These students I felt very good about and could document some of the skills that they were gaining and those that needed support and adjusted my treatment to this including providing support outside of the Google Meet or Zoom meeting. There was another ½ of my students that regularly participated in my Google Classroom activities some of which were specifically set up for digital learning with data on how the student performed and some of them were specific YouTube videos I made specific to the goals of the student and included Google Forms or some other response mechanism. This left ¼ of my students with minimal or spotty attendance and for a small percentage no participation in distance learning.
The one thing I can do in my planning for August 31 is to look at what worked and what did not and how I can, or the TEAM can support all students.
I am visiting with my 90-year-old mother as she undergoes some medical testing for the last week. She does not have the internet. I brought a hotspot with me to allow me to do my work while visiting. The visit has been extended as there are more medical appointments that are needed. One of the consequences of this extension is that I ran out of data. To say I began to panic as I added more and more data to my plan and then ultimately changed phone plans is putting it mildly. I had set up my plan to alert and slow down to avoid overages and as I have a family plan the slow down impacted us greatly. I began to think of our poorer students and their families. Do they get this same dread? I know our district loaned out devices and the local cable company gifted hotspots to the families but were there limits on the hotspot’s connections? What are the best platforms for these students so that they are not using too much data?
So much of our world is digital that there is an expectation that everyone has it and is able to use it easily. This too was brought home by my visit as so much of my mom’s medical appointments and basic household maintenance now require an email address even to register. The difference between a phone call for assistance and an email for assistance was dramatic. The phone call for assistance had my mother listening to a large menu of options and then when the option was picked a long wait (sometimes up to an hour) to get a person to talk to. My mother does not have the patience for this. When I emailed the same party not only was my email answered quickly but the information that was contained was very comprehensive and gave me immediate steps to take. However, I know that simply setting up the internet in my mother’s home would not solve her difficulties as someone would need to teach her the technology.
Is there a way to provide some instruction to families on how to navigate the technology we are asking them to use? I think I will now include more YouTube videos not just on content but instruction videos on how to use the technology.
One of the things that I found as a speech and language pathologist as more difficult was communication with families. I had greater success with those students who I was the case manager and I could contact directly. I understand that families do not need to be inundated with emails and multiple platforms.
Could this be streamlined with perhaps a virtual meeting with each family to set up what is most comfortable with them and then to set up the schedule at that time? This could also be a time that we could review expectations. What are the families’ expectations? What are our expectations of the family?
For some families, this may be the first time that they observed a speech and language session. Do they understand the research-based strategies that you are using?
One of the things that I did in my treatment in the spring is to set up in the child’s Google Classroom a parent section in which I gave the reasons behind what I was doing and how I could support their child. I recognize that this was most successful for my younger students who needed the parent to navigate to the Google classroom than it was for my older students who were more independent in this activity. What are the ways to engage the parents of older students?
Social-emotional connections are going to be key. In the spring we had already established a relationship with our students. To me, this is probably one of the most important things we do in therapy. If we have a relationship with our students and an established trust we are able to do a better job in engaging them, knowing when we need to push them, and knowing when we need instead to support and bolster them. I saw this dramatically in some of my students that I did teletherapy with. If I had not known them as individual students, what they loved to do, and who they were as a person the student would not have even come to the Google Meet. We will need to have some way to make this same connection with our students in September.
The upcoming opening of schools will be different regardless of whether it is distance or in person. It is up to us to be part of the solution and to be there for our students. It is up to us to offer our expertise to our districts to assist them in planning. What other suggestions do you have?