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How Can SLPs and Other Specialists Best Partner with Teachers?

In a recent 90-minute webinar with PresenceLearning, an audience member asked Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson, an expert on differentiated instruction, how SLPs and other clinical professionals can best partner with teachers. Here’s what Dr. Tomlinson had to say about this common pain point faced by both clinical professionals and special education teachers.

Tip 1: Choose Your Allies

Clinicians all have numerous teachers with whom they need to work and on whom they need to make an impact. If you are not careful, you can find yourself running from one to the other all day long, and by the end of the day, you will hardly remember where you were because you couldn’t stay in anyone’s classroom for longer than 15 or 30 minutes.

Think strategically about these teachers. Which ones are important to really dive deep with, and which ones can you share information with in a lesser amount of time? If you could work with two teachers for at least an hour every day for a semester or even better, for a year, and those are teachers who want to work with you, you would have two very strong allies by the end of that year. You’d have two model classrooms. You’d have two places where you could video and use the video with other folks. You would have classrooms to which other teachers could come and watch. You would have a pair of arms helping you with helping other teachers.

Try really hard not to spread yourself so thin that you really can’t make an impact on anyone. Find a few teachers that you’re going to work with long and intensely, and then with others less intensely. You can rotate that as time goes on.

Tip 2: Set Expectations

Put an agreement in place between you and the teacher or teachers you are working with, and outline what you both agree to do and what your expectations are for each other. Have the principal sanction this. One expectation could be that when you are working in the classroom, the teacher should be working with you —not grading papers, not doing administrative tasks, not planning tomorrow’s lesson in the back of the room — and be actively engaged in the process.

Tip 3: Model Techniques and Check Back

Talk with teachers about what would be most helpful to them and how to fit those techniques or strategies into their lessons. Model it for them two times, discuss it, tailor it for the teacher, and model it again. Then talk about how the teacher will pick it up, and be there to observe and provide a second pair of hands.

After that, watch what the teacher plans on his or her own, and work with another teacher for a week or so while checking in on the first teacher once or twice during the week, and then come back in again. Set the expectation with the teacher that they are the one actually doing the strategy rather then them thinking, “Oh, Sarah is back in the classroom today. I get a break now. That’s really nice.”

Tip 4: Structure Your Time

Nobody has any time at school. And so consequently, if you’re not careful, you can go into a classroom but never really have any time with the teacher to get together. Agree to set times to meet, and make that time sacred, even if it is only 15 minutes. Don’t be late. Don’t expect the teacher to stay longer. Have your questions and materials ready during that planning time, and make that time work for you both. Structure the time thoughtfully and impactfully, so that you have reason to believe that the way that you’re using your time will have maximum benefit on teacher growth.

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