Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Tale of Two Teachers

It has been four months since my last post. I just don't know where the time and my initiative have gone. The return to school this year was fraught with anxiety, palpable and exhausting anxiety. As much as I don't like admitting it, I let it get the best of me.

I started the new school year with massive workplace changes. Many of our special education teachers retired or moved on to other jobs. Missing the familiarity of my co-workers as well as the loss of my touchstone, was difficult. My daughter went back to college and left another gaping hole. My son began his senior year of high school and a year of lasts was looming. I had to center myself and that took some doing.

Fast forward to December first (rabbit, rabbit). On the first, we had a two-hour delay, which was glorious. I slip-slid my way to work and as is my norm, did a lot of thinking. My route to an idea is often twisty-turny! I began thinking about the Christmas season, which led to Christmas movies, that segued to A Christmas Carol. I moved on to Charles Dickens and his works. A Tale of Two Cities came to mind. I finally arrived at the inspiration for this post; A Tale of Two Teachers! (Disclaimer; I use the term "teachers" inclusively referring to those who work with children in a school setting and  mean no offense to SLPs). My thoughts turned to how what a child hears from a teacher is so powerful. I wonder if teachers realize how their actions, words, and even facial expressions make a lasting mark on children. I began to recall two very different teachers in my own story.

Here are my tales. Fifty years ago, I was a little girl wanting to be just like all the other children. I wanted the nice snacks and Buster Brown shoes and pretty bows in my hair. I wanted to be noticed by my teacher and looked upon with kind eyes. It wasn't always that way and one day in particular it was the complete opposite.

We were lined up by the back door of the classroom, from which we exited. This was our daily routine. Each day, someone would announce to our teacher, "Sister ____, the buses are here," and we would be dismissed. One day, before dismissal we were asked to sing The Lollipop Tree. I suppose our teacher was having a bad day, or perhaps we weren't singing to her satisfaction, or maybe she was just not a kind person. To a six year old none of those things mattered. What did matter, was that I announced the buses had arrived and she grabbed me by the ear, pushed me to the wall, and said with anger so rich, "If I want to know that the buses are here, I'll ask." I was stunned and terrified, embarrassed and confused. Typically my response to tricky situations is FREEZE. This day it was FLIGHT. I ran out that back door as fast as my six year old legs could go. I got on my bus and found my older brothers and wept. As a child, I thought my Mother did nothing to support me in this situation. She calmed me down and never said another word. As I grew, I surmised she must have advocated for me, because when I went to school the next day (full of fear), the event was not discussed. Apparently, my composition book had fallen from my blue vinyl book bag during my getaway. Sister _____ asked who it belonged to aloud (it had my name on it) and with trepidation, I raised my hand. She handed me the book and it was done. To this day I am convinced my Mother addressed the issue.

This next story recounts a very different kind of teacher; a kind and sensitive young man who was highly in tune with his students. I remember so many details of my sixth grade year, for instance, when our teacher announced the end of the Vietnam War. I remember, thinking I was funny and putting guinea pig poop on his chair (and having to write an apology). I remember being shunned by the pretty and rich girls. At this point in my life, our household had changed significantly. It was not always terrific. My younger brother and I were often left to fend for ourselves and our clothes and hygiene reflected that. It was that dreaded time of year for many, the day we got our school pictures packages. I had tried to look pretty, putting my greasy hair in pigtails and wearing a smelly sweater vest. Mrs. ___ had come into our class and was fawning over all the girls' photos, all the girls that is except me. I saw my teacher look at her, establish eye contact with me, and look back at her. He then said, and I will never forget it, "Did you see Annie's picture? She looks beautiful." Mrs. ___ dutifully looked, gave a half-hearted nod, and continued her praise of the class beauties. I shrank into myself further, solidifying the poor self image I would carry with me for years. What I also carried with me, to this day, is the awareness that this teacher possessed of his students, the kindness he had expressed to me and to any others who were willing to recognize it. Many years later, I found him via Facebook and I recounted this tale, thanking him for his sensitivity. His response was as kind as it had been years earlier, "It was because you WERE beautiful."

You can imagine how I wept when I read that. I'll admit I still do, because what teachers say to their students matters. The sidelong glances, the absence of eye contact, ignoring a question, anger, belittling, and the most grievous, sarcasm, all matter. In my 35 years in the schools I have seen teachers gesturally mocking students, telling a student to stand in the trash can, ignoring them, and more. It matters. Those words will likely be remembered for a lifetime. I know I remember, the good and the bad, but for a long time the bad memories were louder.

Which teacher would you rather be? Both have influenced me, one who I strive to be more like and one I eschew. As we start a new year, I challenge every adult working with students to be mindful of what they say, how they say it, and the body language they use. I hope to be the "teacher" a student reaches out to 45 years later and says, "Thank you.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

When Students Feel Sad

Recently I experienced a deep sadness with someone I care about. It wasn't my sadness, but hers.  To see tears and self-doubt, a turning inside out was so incredibly difficult. I felt a strong feeling of helplessness when wanting to remove all the hurt from her heart. Of course, that is neither realistic nor helpful. Encountering and coping with sadness is crucial and I contend that the desire to not feel is why so many Americans are on antidepressants, but that's a different issue entirely. Sadness, hurt, grief are difficult emotions, yet passing through them gives us fortitude. Passing through them allows us to see our power within and the beauty in the world. While I wanted to tear the sadness from my loved one, I knew she had to navigate it herself, had to experience it, to find her moxie. The sadness is temporary, the lessons learned, lifelong.

As SLPs we often have students who are dealing with sadness, whether it is the loss of a parent,
being shunned by "friends," or family/economic concerns. We may find ourselves in positions to help assuage that sadness. As I shared my loved one's sadness I thought about my responsibility to my students' sadness over the years and I've learned a thing or two.

Be sensitive to my own emotional responses. 
When hearing of a student's trauma, my first response is, well,  to respond emotionally. I feel anger, sadness, disbelief, anxiety. I have to remember to keep my own emotions in check. If not, I could foment my student's response and that is not helpful. I need to be present, to be a compassionate listener. 

Practice the "art of the pause."
When confronted with a child's distress (or any difficult matter) I have adopted what I call the "art of the pause." I need to remind myself to stop and assess the stage and take in the circumstances. Pausing allows the rational mind to get footing and prevents responses that may be regretted later.

Be mindful of trust.
The fact that a friend, colleague, parent, or child has confided in me can be a source of comfort and a source of anxiety. Having information that has been shared in confidence can be burdensome. It is a blessing that the child trusts you with their secret, but it also presents challenges if I am called to seek help for the child. I am always forthright with students and tell them I may not be able to keep their confidence. Often these children find it difficult to trust adults, the last thing I want to do is give them more reason to doubt. Expressing at the outset, that the information may need to be passed on, gives a child the power to share or not share. It establishes an honest relationship.

I don't need to solve the problem. 
Another of my knee jerk reactions, is to try and solve the problem. This is frequently not possible and leads to my own place of paralysis and frustration.  I need to be cognizant of my role. My student doesn't necessarily need me to solve the problem. It serves us both better if I can be a sympathetic and compassionate source of support.

Make a realistic assessment of my role. 
Do I need to take action to help my student? There may be instances where steps are needed to help a child. Be realistic and cautious when discerning how to proceed. I always assess whether this is a place I should be involved and if not, who can I enlist to help the student?

Recognize the need for help.
Some situations require a larger team. If I think more professional help is needed, whether it's administration, a psychologist, or law enforcement, seek it. Being cautious not to betray a child's trust, get counsel from others if necessary. In the end, the child may feel more supported knowing there is a constellation of others who can help.

Be wary of judging. 
Being present for a child during times of sadness takes an emotional toll, as we know. Said toll leaves us wide open for passing judgment on those who caused the sadness. When my loved one was hurt, I most definitely passed judgment. I was angry and wanted to go to bat for her. That would have been a mistake. I always need to understand, I can only guess what the motivation of the other person might have been. It serves all involved well, if I try to remain nonjudgmental.

I have learned a lot about myself and my empathy can lead to considerable anxiety. I need to do whatever it takes to keep myself grounded when helping others cope. For me, I stay active. I have been known to clean for hours. I mean really clean, deep clean. It seems a metaphor for what I am feeling. Exercise is key and includes real sweat inducing exercise to yoga. Journaling is extraordinarily helpful in putting things in perspective. It is both cathartic and healing. Art, in whatever form is a wonderful distraction. Lastly, and for me the most helpful, prayer. Prayer for myself, that I will be a source of comfort, prayer for the child that she may find healing, and prayer for the source of the child's angst. My greatest prayer is that we all trust in God's providence.

It is so hard to see others in pain, but we can be a source of comfort and healing for all involved. It has always helped me and the one I seek to comfort if I remain observant to my own understanding of what healthy compassion looks like and how to exercise it.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thoughts From the Back Porch 2017

I was planning on doing my second installment on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain this week, but since life doesn't always have a way of following a predictable pattern, I didn't get a chance to do the exercises. I did, nevertheless, read the chapters and have had several thoughts on how the process has life applications. I'm going to save this for another post, but I will leave you with a little teaser; when learning a new skill, keep a sense of humor! Here is my first attempt at a portrait from memory!
Blueberries are what have occupied my time this week. That and planning an impromptu trip to the Jersey shore. Here are some pics of what I've been up to. Check back next week for an update on my first drawing lesson.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Thoughts from the Back Porch 2017

 I am an artist. I have amazing, creative visions of drawings and paintings, mixed media works, and projects. Then I try to put these ideas on paper and poof, my hands don't procure what my mind envisioned. Why? I saw it so clearly in my mind, the color, the perspective, the light. I often look at my work and utter with disgust, "This is crap!" Sometimes I am brought nearly to tears. I look with awe and a fair amount of envy at the art of others and wonder, "Why was I behind the rock when the art gene was distributed?"

My family members have it. My grandfather was an accomplished artist who made his living by his hand. My cousin, Jeanette is an an artist. Her brother Christopher is an architect. My brother Jimmy is an amazing musician, playing the viola, piano, and composing. My other siblings are craftsmen and poets and writers. Why was I gypped? Oh the cruelty to have such a yen and not be able to create! But if I have the vision, why doesn't it translate to paper? There must be a way!

One of my strengths is perseverance and a desire for lifelong learning. This summer I began exploring how I can untether my creative juices and really make art happen. I started reading, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and it is fascinating! Not just from an art perspective, but from the educational and speech-language pathology perspectives as well.

This summer, I am going to go on a journey to tap into the right side of my brain, which is very counter intuitive for a left-brained language oriented sort of gal. I am going to share some of the nuggets I learn on this artistic journey in my Thoughts from the Back Porch 2017 series.

In her book, Betty Edwards, purports that drawing is an essential skill, like reading, that has implications for the perception and understanding of both visual and verbal information. She continues that our education system, that is so heavily language based is missing the mark in terms of cultivating creativity, perception, imagination, and intuition. This is fascinating. In her introduction, Edwards includes this quote from Albert Einstein, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." Nowhere is this more prevalent than in our schools! Furthermore, with the emphasis on facts, standards, and standardized testing as the measures of competence, we see less and less competence and more and more behavioral struggles and anxiety in our students, who are, in fact, unable to think their way out of a paper bag.

Edwards includes a 1969 excerpt from Rudolf Arnheim that is striking in its accuracy, "The arts are neglected because they are based on perception, and perception is disdained because it is not assumed to involve thought. In fact, educators and administrators cannot justify giving the arts an important position in the curriculum unless they understand that the arts are the most powerful means of strengthening the perceptual component without which productive thinking is impossible in every field of academic study. What is most needed is not more aesthetics or more esoteric manuals of art education but a convincing case made for visual thinking quite in general. Once we understand in theory, we might try to heal in practice the unwholesome split which cripples the training of reasoning power."

This just intrigued me, that perception fosters productive thinking; reasoning and problem solving. We know this as it relates to social pragmatics, but it truly extends to all aspects of the curriculum and life in general. We talk ad infinitum of metalinguistics and metacognition, but what of the magnitude of those. The simple fact that the brain is the only organ that ruminates on itself! I had never thought of it in those terms. The liver doesn't think on the liver, the stomach on the stomach, the skin on the skin!

Edwards's premise is to waylay the language dominant left brain and allow the perceptual right brain to run the show for a while. I think this practice may change the way I do language therapy in that the verbal overload in school is so very taxing on our language impaired students. It raises the question for me, "Is more language always the way to remediate language?" "Will drawing help remediate perspective and reasoning?" The basic components of drawing are listed as:

  1. The perception of edges (seeing where one thing ends and another starts)
  2. The perception of spaces (seeing what lies beside and beyond)
  3. The perception of relationships (seeing in perspective and in proportion)
  4. The perception of lights and shadows (seeing things in degrees of values)
  5. The perception of the gestalt (seeing the whole and its parts)
The correlation between these components and social pragmatics is staggering to me!

The crux of this journey will likely be a challenge for this language infused individual.  It occurred to me as I was reading, that my self-talk is a boon and an axe. I use it to do my job and express my feelings, to make my unending points and to write. I also use it to sabotage myself, to quit when I'm exercising ("I can't. This is too hard.), to beat myself up ("This is no good.), to remind myself of my failures ("Remember when you couldn't/wouldn't/didn't?"). I am excited to pull away from the language Annie and cultivate the perceptual Annie and to share that journey here.

Friday, July 21, 2017

ASHA Connect 2017 and Why I've Been MIA

I am woefully behind in my blogging duties and for that I will apologize! My last post was the end of May!! Naturally, I always have the best of intentions, but as we know "the road to hell is paved with good intentions!" Henceforth I will commit to my writing.

Where have I been? Well, the end of my school year was busy and exhausting. I just had neither the motivation nor the inspiration to write. That, my friends, is a mindset I need to change. One of the notions I have considered is that my posts don't need to be earth changing, therapy changing, mind blowing tomes of inspiration that take a half a day to write with photos that take another half a day to curate. Sometimes they can be brief snippets reflecting real life, real world thoughts. That is my new focus; create connections and stay present.

Speaking of "connections," ASHA Connect did not disappoint. Writing the blog Doyle Speech Works has been the catalyst for so many connections with those I now consider my dear friends. ASHA Connect 2017 was the catalyst that brought many of us together in real life for the very first time. We call ourselves the "Splitcoast Speechies" and share many conversations daily. Unfortunately one of our gang couldn't attend ASHA Connect, but her state is represented here nonetheless. What a ball we had!!

The days spent learning from thought leaders in the field and evenings spent taking in the splendor that is New Orleans made for a perfect experience. Most of the sessions I attended delivered at least in some way, but there were two standouts for me; Reimagine Your Service Delivery: Strategies for Dosage, Scheduling, and Other Challenges and Recipe for Success: Mixing Low- and High-Tech AAC Tools for Classroom Success.

Reimagine Your Service Delivery: Strategies for Dosage, Scheduling, and Other Challenges, caused me to consider some options to my service delivery model including a modification to the 3:1 model. I've been exploring the idea of a 4:1 model; four days of uninterrupted therapy with one day per week of consult, meetings, and assessment. If I can establish buy-in with my colleagues, we can employ this model without the need to change service delivery in the IEPs. It will also be helpful in creating a dedicated time for consult. I also have been thinking about co-treating with the special education teachers. In this way, one rather than two scheduled times for intervention will be necessary. the benefits to the student speak for themselves.
The session Recipe for Success: Mixing Low- and High-Tech AAC Tools for Classroom Success was the last one I attended on Sunday morning. It was loaded with practical information on a topic that often unnerves me. I was so happy to have attended.
I always purchase the Plus Package which allows me to access recordings of all the other sessions, with the exception of Michelle Garcia Winner's presentations (she doesn't participate in that option). Consequently, I attended her sessions because I knew they would be unavailable via the Plus Package. I won't do that again.

On to the NOLA experience! After another amazing dining experience, I remarked that, "Each thing I put in my mouth is better than the thing I had before!" I have never experienced such gustatory delights as I did in New Orleans. With our resident Cajun gal and tour guide, Mia McDaniel at the helm, we dove into divine doughnuts the size of dishes, frozen frosé on the streets, beignets with powdered sugar perfection, piquant pork rinds that ate like popcorn, fruity fried lemon slices that I tried to replicate at home and failed and so much more. I came home to 21 Day Fix containers that nearly had me weeping. With musical delights and an architectural style completely unique to New Orleans I was on a sensory high. I loved every minute of my experience and to enjoy it with my best friends was truly special.
I've included only a handful of photos that capture the essence of the trip. Enjoy, I did!

Oh that chocolate chip cookie at Willa Jean!

St. Charles Trolley experience

Splitcoast Speechies minus Sparklle SLP and Amy (3D SLP)

How to eat a beignet without get powdered sugared! 
Connecting with my BFF at Connect (yes, I donned the cutout with beads and they remained throughout Connect)

Love this photo (and it won me a $50.00 Amazon Card! Thank you ASHA!)

Friday, May 26, 2017

A Letter to a New SLP-A Frenzied SLP Linky

What better time to reflect on a career in Speech-Language Pathology than Better Hearing and Speech Month! This year heralds my 34th year in this field and it has been a storied career. It's hard for me to even imagine that it is winding down. I still have at least four years to work, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I love the way the Frenzied SLPs arrive at topics to write about. Individually, we are struck with a thought or idea and announce, "I have an idea! What do you think about...?"  One day I was reflecting and I thought, "What would I say to a younger me?" Here we are sharing our letters to our younger selves. I started working in the schools at 22 years of age. I had a bachelor's degree, and that's all I needed at the time. I worked for year and decided I should go back to school for a master's degree. I never gave much thought to the fact that some day I would be a veteran able to impart some wisdom to my younger self.

Dear Annie,
You did it! You managed to graduate with a BA with honors. You were accepted into Kappa Delta Pi, an International Honor Society in Education and were the secretary of your school's chapter. You were the VP of the Speech Pathology Club. And yet, girl, you played it safe. You let your reservations, your loss drive the bus (oh yeah, you literally drove the bus that was a mobile classroom).

I want you to know how competent you are. I want you to know the professional you will grow to become. You have awesome and creative ideas, act on them! Take risks my friend. Stretch yourself and grow, grow, grow. Know you are respected and loved. Learn to listen, sooner rather than later, to your colleagues and the parents of the children you are called to share your life with.

There is a memorable quote from It's a Wonderful Life, "Youth is wasted on the young." You are a passionate and funny young woman, but you think you know it all. I'm writing to tell you, you don't. Is it because you're young or is it to cover for insecurity? Perhaps it's both. Be gentle with your opinions and be gentle with yourself.

Take care of your health. Don't stay out too late, don't drink and drive, lose the diet pills and eat some food. This body is the one that is going to carry and nourish your children. This body is the one that is going to run 3 half marathons. This body is the one that is going to comfort sweet school children. This body will dance at weddings, hike mountains, and God willing live a long life. I don't like what you're doing with it.

I have so much to tell you, this letter could be a book. I think I need to find the one greatest piece of advice I can muster. You have suffered so much, but you have also known love and happiness. Remember, you are not a victim! Your choices define your destiny. The greatest advice I can give you, is to know where your value comes from and where it doesn't come from.

  • It does not come from your family.
  • It does not come from your professors.
  • It does not come from your administrators.
  • It does not come from your colleagues.
  • It does not come from your friends.
  • It does not come from ASHA.
  • It does not come from your students or their parents.

Your value comes solely and exclusively from you. It comes from your actions and your words. Your value is about you and you were created by the Master artist for good and beautiful work. You are a creation that will touch so many lives with love and humor. Know the gift you have to connect people and bring a group to a place of love. Understand this. It has taken me a lifetime to to say out loud, "I love you!"

With love for who you were, who you are, and who you will become,

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Rockin' Tale of Snow White Meets CCC-SLP

Well it seems I have taken the month of April off from blogging. It wasn’t intentional (it usually isn’t, is it?). Spring in New England isn’t really the stuff of spring. There are glimpses here and there, but overall it is dreary. I expect spring to be chirping birds and daffodils and unfortunately in New England late March and early April often are chilly, sometimes snowy, and generally muddy. I guess I was in a funk.

I did have something fun and new to keep my mind off the lack of spring warmth, a play! I wasn’t performing this time, I was assistant directing our middle school play. A very different activity for me, but one I felt well suited for given my background in speech-language pathology. As I embarked on this challenge I was reminded of how theater and speech-language pathology are interrelated. In fact, I recalled thirty-three years ago when I was a graduate assistant. I had nearly forgotten that my time was split between two departments, communication sciences and disorders and speech and theater. How could I forget that? In working to help our students give a spectacular performance I was so happy to have a background in articulation, anatomy and physiology, voice, and social pragmatics. Here is how this all played out:
  • Articulation - I was dumbstruck by the number of girls who dentalized everything. Not only that, they didn’t voice /d/s and /z/s! They seemed to want to sound like all the Disney pop stars. On the other hand, some of the kids over-articulated their lines to the point where they sounded forced. Neither of those practises translates well to the stage and I was able to help them achieve better placement of their articulators for lines and singing.
  • Voice – The other piece of sounding like a Disney pop star is nasality. WHEW! We worked on establishing oral resonance when singing, but they always went back to Disney pop. I was also able to help our actors learn how to use their larger muscles as a basis of support for voice volume and projection and with the music director’s expertise how to adequately use breath support for both volume and pitch. We helped them recognize the difference between shouting while singing and supporting. We worked on appropriate rate and helped them understand that during performances when all that adrenaline was surging they had the potential to go even faster. 
  • Social-Pragmatics – This was the really fun piece: acting. My background in social was extremely helpful here. We talked about eye contact and body position on stage, remembering to never turn backs to the audience, but rather “cheating” out a tad. We worked heavily on not sending a mixed message. For instance, learning how not to laugh when telling the king that his wife has died or actually smiling when happy. By the same token, I helped the actors understand that it’s crucial to use a tone of voice that reflects the sentiment of the line that is being delivered. So if you are an evil queen you need to use a tone of voice and body language that is wholly evil. Performing in a play, like role playing in therapy, is a great opportunity for students to practice perspective taking in a non threatening and fun situation. It provides students the ability to stretch themselves as well as to consider the perspective of the other characters. I recall watching Robin Hood Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner. While overall I enjoyed the film, I was disappointed in Kevin Costner’s British accent. It seemed sometimes it was there and sometimes it wasn’t. Maintaining the integrity of the character played is as much a part of social as it is acting. We all assume different roles in different social scenarios. The work Annie is different from the home Annie who is different from the party Annie. They are all me, but they shift according to the scenario and other “actors.” This was a fun perspective to help our middle school actors understand. They still had to maintain their characters, but their character could shift as the context and other actors shifted in different scenes. 
The role of assistant director was new for me and I thank Monique for showing me what a good director does, as I performed in her plays. It was a wonderful distraction from my spring melancholy and despite being a ton of work was a fabulous experience, one I hope to have again.
Reflecting back, my colleagues and I had, what I consider, the perfect quantities of let’s make this good and let’s make this fun. We remembered when to be firm and when to laugh, when to remember this had to be performed and when to remember these are kids. We brought our own unique talents and strengths and I think we complemented each other perfectly. I am so grateful for my professional background, because without that expertise I think I may have missed the why behind the what in theater!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

It's Spring! Fresh Ideas for Speech Therapy

I used to love spring when I lived in NJ. The daffodils and crocuses would lift their sunny heads and the weather would warm up. Spring in NH is not nearly as nice. In fact, yesterday, the 24th of March, we got eight inches of snow. Earlier in the week we had indoor recess, because with the wind chill the temperature was below zero! After everything melts we get blessed with MUD. Oh the mud in NH! We live on a dirt road and it gets perilous! I learned early on after our move to New England to drive fast up the mountain in the snow and slow up the mountain in the mud. It seems counter intuitive, but that is how it works. Oh and try to stay out of the ruts!

I am fairly busy these days, so my therapy is going to be somewhat simple. Simple as springtime!

I realize I could go on, but I must stop somewhere and I need to get ready for a Saturday middle school play rehearsal! I hope these ideas inspire you to spring into spring with some fun and fresh therapy!! Enjoy and HAPPY SPRING (when it gets here!). Please link up with the Frenzied SLPs and share your springy ideas.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

I am Not Superpowered!

I can't explain it. I have had a very, very busy year with no less than six evaluations pending at a time and I have been coping quite well. Two weeks ago...BAM! Leading up to my proverbial "hitting of the wall," we had been coordinating a two-day NHSLHA Spring Conference and rehearsals for our middle school play began. I am assistant directing this year. Adding a little lemon juice to the paper cut I had progress reports and IEPs to address. This was all magnified by a system of meeting scheduling that is inefficient and panic inducing. Case managers submit requests for meetings to the secretary, who then begins sending a barrage of emails to the required meeting attendees asking if the date is good. This means I may get a permission to test and a meeting request within days of each other. Naturally, I don't have the testing done or the written evaluation and already a meeting is being scheduled. I can get four of those at a pop! I can't think about a meeting when I haven't even had the privilege of evaluating a student. I quite literally had a panic attack, twice. My breathing became shallow, I was dizzy, and the tears just came.

I saw a friend who suggested I go to our principal for help. She was very supportive and suggested I take two days and get as much testing done as I could. She also offered administrative days whereby I could do my progress reports from home and type my evaluations. I declined the administrative days as I have no problem going to work. I happily accepted the time to test. I spent Wednesday testing and felt relieved. Thursday morning, lying in bed, another unproductive emotion reared its ugly head; guilt. Guilt over not seeing students for therapy, guilt over being given the time I needed to do the work I have been given. Guilt, guilt, guilt. I immediately began sabotaging myself ("I'll see my regularly scheduled students. I'll test in between groups.") UGH! I ignored my guilt, however, and I did test.

I was chatting with some SLPs extraordinaire and the subject of retirement came up. We were sharing how many years we have left to work. I like to think I can do everything I could do when I was twenty-two. I question why I can't run as fast and long, why I can't run up those steps or why I can't kick my heels up (I'm sure the extra twenty-five pounds I'm hauling doesn't help). I am putting forth the same effort and work ethic as I did when I was younger. I haven't given up any responsibilities, but I am tired. My fatigue joins forces with my anxiety, which, for me, has been a lifelong reality. A perfect storm for panic and a feeling of drowning. Understand this: I love what I do. I love my friends. I love the schedule. There is so much that is wonderful about it, but the workload can get the best of me.

My friends had some wonderful suggestions ranging from prayer, to exercise, to Vitamin D. I understand how to relieve stress, but how do I keep it at bay? I'm a thinker. That can have benefits and downfalls. I started to wonder why as SLPs we are so susceptible to stress? I wondered if I bring any of it on myself? That's when it occurred to me; I have a water cup that reads, "I'm an SLP. What's your superpower?" I loved the sentiment, it gave what I do some sort of value, but it also sets the bar really, really high. The notion that I am superpowered also caused me to compare myself to the other "supers." I had to maintain a level of performance that resulted in near burnout. The bottom line is, I don't have superpowers. I am but a mere mortal, who as one SLP pointed out, has roughly five full-time jobs.

My thinking has led me to this:

  • While I would like to don a cape and mask and save all my students, their families, my colleagues, and administrators, I am not superpowered. There I said it.
  • Every speech therapy session does not have to have a book companion, game, mixed group activity, or the latest and greatest material. Sometimes a little positive reinforcement after a target is produced is all my students need and want.
  • I read fewer blogs. I am pretty good at my job. I've been doing it for 34 years and I have to trust that what I have been doing has merit. I don't need to compare myself to everyone else.
  • Perfection cannot be my hallmark of success. I realized my standards are VERY high! Incidentally, my standards are how I measure everything and everyone; not fair!
  • I love interpreting testing data. I love digging through test results and parsing out an accurate diagnosis. I love to research different aspects of communication disorders. I don't have to write a fifteen page evaluation, each and every time! Again, my standards are exhausting me.
  • When I am given help, I need to accept it. It does me no good to cry, seek and receive help, and not accept it. I need to do so without guilt. I've heard it said, guilt is productive for all of ten minutes, then it becomes destructive.
  • This one may be the hardest for me...EXERCISE. Getting my heart rate up for twenty minutes four times per week is as effective as medication for me. One week I set a goal to run fourteen miles. I did it and I felt awesome, and then, I stopped! 
  • I need to remember not to tick off my to-do list over and over in my head or aloud. Each time I recite what I have to do it triggers my anxiety all over. In fact, I don't even know how many students are on my caseload. I decided not to count. It doesn't help me.
Since last week, I feel better. I am setting realistic goals and as I tackle the work my anxiety gets checked. I am doing simple and effective therapy. I am still writing fifteen page evaluations, but one thing at a time. At least I have a handle on my emotions and repeating, "this too shall pass. I always get it done," has been helpful. I would love to hear how you handle your job. If you have no anxiety associated with work, PLEASE share! I can use all the advice I can get!!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Teamwork: The Blessings and Challenges

As professionals, members of families and communities we frequently engage in activities that require group dynamics. Whether you are coming together to raise funds for a new playground or church or to put on a production or event, you are working with individuals with their own experiences and backgrounds. Those experiences invariably shape their thinking, feelings and actions and can have an impact on the group as a whole. Their experiences may spur the group onward reaching for more and encouraging members to strive for results. Their experiences may be grounded in doubt and therefore detract the group from taking risks. Their experiences may be more pragmatic and result in taking very measured steps to the end. Whatever their background, their experiences will add a distinct flavor to the group dynamic, for better or worse.

Because we really have no way of knowing what the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of our group's members are, I have been thinking about how crucial it is for us be be mindful of our intellectual and emotional health when tasked with group activities. I arrived here because, I know the blessings and challenges that come from group work. Moreover, I am struck by how often, I know I don't always consider these same challenges and blessings when I am working to help my students learn to work in a group.

The question then becomes, "how do we remain positive, motivated and encouraged" and "how do we impart these strategies to the students we work with?" First of all, there will be times in most of our lives when we are part of a group that has a common goal. This group may be professionally based, community based, church based or even family based. What has recently occurred to me, is that because you share a common goal, you may believe you have a common vision. That may not be the case. Goals and visions aren't necessarily one and the same. Merriam-Webster defines a goal as "the end toward which effort is directed" and vision as "a thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination." Personally, I think this is where I run aground; goal versus vision! This distinction is huge and has the potential to prevent much discord. When working in a group or when helping our older students learn HOW to work in a group, it may be important to clarify the difference between a goal and a vision and encourage the group to refine their collective notion of each. When, as a group, your goals and visions are aligned, it becomes easier to recognize where problems are seated.

Second point; remember when working in a group, you are in fact part of a group. That means that the group is the driving change and decision making body. So while you may have grand ideas and visions, if they aren't shared, they most likely won't be accepted. That can be very discouraging. It is in those moments that often we are faced with making a decision about whether we have a good fit with the group. I am not suggesting giving up. I am suggesting either yielding to the majority or perhaps finding/forming a group that is more in line with your goals and visions. In some groups, the discomfort associated with change is more than the discomfort associated with stagnation. Those groups might not change and if that is what the group wants, then that should be what the group gets. Find your group!

Third point: you may feel like an island, believing you are the only one with a vision of growth and success. That may not be so. As a wise friend said to me once, "As long as there is at least one other person in the trenches with you; that's the mover and shaker you need. Two can turn into four, and four can turn into eight, and so on." The takeaway here is, find an ally. I don't mean someone to collude with. I mean someone who complements your vision and can help you express it effectively.

Working in groups is one of the most wonderfully difficult, challenging blessings we can engage in. It is a life skill that if not learned, can result in family, school or employment struggles. Group dynamics bring about dichotomous relationships; the discouragement of roadblocks with the elation of success; the sadness of isolation with the joy of unity; frustration of negativity with the thrill of positivity. In life, there is value in experiencing and learning to cope with all.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Imagination Speech Therapy

It's March already! Wow! I have been on winter break this past week enjoying balmy temperatures when suddenly the temperature dropped to 5 degree! It's hard to imagine it will ever be warm, but imagine I will.

As I dreamed of flowers and bird song, I started planning therapy for my return to work. I have so many St. Patrick's Day and spring activities, but I wanted something different. It's important for me to stay motivated in speech therapy as well as my students. Our students are keenly aware of when we are bored, too! When my children were little they would engage in the most creative and imaginative play. They would have "set ups" with fairies and dragons and knights. I headed straight to the attic and dusted off the bins of fairies knowing the kids at school would love them. Imaginative play is immensely motivating as well as therapeutic. I decided to create a leprechaun and fairy village that can double later in the spring as a gnome village. Out into the bitter cold I went collecting mossy bark, sawing fungus off stumps and collecting branches. I thought my little fingers would freeze off!

I began the process by applying Mod Podge® to all the pieces to seal them and give them a glossy finish. My husband helped me cut stepping stones and ladder rungs. We devised a seesaw and a swing hung from a fungus canopy. He cut pieces for a table, chairs, and benches. As my friends commented, "It's enchanted." I couldn't help playing, arranging pieces and rearranging them. Oh my word, had I had a village like this as a little girl, I would have played on end.

The possibilities for language are endless. I've added just a few of the language targets I will incorporate in speech therapy. I don't want to use any cards, worksheets, or printables while using the leprechaun village, I very much want my students to play in a naturalistic language context. I will, nevertheless incorporate tools like the Expanding Expression Tool and Story Grammar Marker.
  1. sentence formulation and expansion
  2. vocabulary development
  3. categorization
  4. associations
  5. similarities and differences
  6. defining and describing
  7. grammar
  8. making explanations
  9. question formulation
  10. social pragmatics
  11. narrative development
  12. concept development
  13. understanding complex sentences for direction following
Not only will my leprechaun village be seasonal and motivating, it can be recycled as a gnome village later in the spring! The best part of all was using my imagination to plan and design the different features and spending the afternoon with my husband in construction. We had such fun and it was wonderful to watch him get "speechie" as he said, "Let me make these different widths, so you can work on following directions with different thicknesses."

I will certainly post pictures of my little ones playing, imagining and learning.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Letters to Those Who Inspire Us: a Frenzied SLP Linky

I have recently had an opportunity to write a "palanca letter." Palanca means lever in Spanish and is intended to uplift the recipient. They are often written to those who are on retreat or a journey, often spiritual, but frequently just life changing. I wondered why it would take a big event for me to tell someone who is or was instrumental in my life what they mean to me, to offer them encouragement as they have given encouragement to me.
The Frenzied SLPs posted a blog hop on kindness last week, so I think writing palanca letters the week of Valentine's Day is the perfect extension of kindness. We are linking up again to write letters to someone who inspires and encourages us. It may be a college professor, a mentor or supervisor, a relative, colleague or friend who has been the "lever" in both our professional and personal lives. To me it is my friend and colleague Allison. I want her to know what she means to me.

Allison and I have been working together since 2003. She is as ideologically different from me as fire is to water, and yet we are bound by a mutual respect and admiration for each other's passion and commitment. We are alike in the value we place on tolerance, kindness, love, respect, education, growth, perseverance and so much more. Personally, I think we are the poster children for how people of differing opinions should treat each other.

Here is my letter to Allison EET style!
My Dear Friend,

I was thinking about how to write this letter to you, one, because it is public and two, because my blog is often speech oriented. It occurred to me that a public expression of admiration is a practice we should all engage in from time to time and I have the perfect speech tool for describing! You know I love using the Expanding Expression Tool in speech. We use it to describe objects and also to develop writing summaries, writing from background knowledge and writing biographies or autobiographies. It is very handy little item and it provides a wonderful framework for describing you.

Green: You are my faithful friend, a strong woman, a caring and tender mother, an advocate for all and an insightful and gifted special educator. You are an athlete a writer, a visionary and one classy lady!

Blue: You are always there to act as my touchstone whether it is to problem solve on a student or process a more personal issue. You encourage me to exercise (something I'm not naturally drawn to) as well as to stretch myself professionally. When I am hesitant about my abilities you always say just the right thing to encourage me to leap. I'm not sure you even see how instrumental you have been in my life. When I was falling, you LITERALLY picked me up and held me. I watch you do so much for your boys. I saw what a grateful and loving daughter you were. I see how you commit to your relationships and it furthers my own commitment.

Eye: I recall watching the ABC Afterschool Specials. One movie in particular was a favorite and I've mentioned it to you before. Skinny and Fatty was a 1958 film directed by N. Terao and written by Mitsuo Wakasugi and Seiya Yoshida.  It originally aired as part of the 1967 CBS Children's Film Festival that was hosted by Kookla, Fran and Ollie. When I think of us I am reminded of that film. It was very inspirational to me because it was about unlikely friends who encouraged each other, but it's largely our height difference that reminds me of Skinny and Fatty. You are tall and lean and beautiful with curls so dense and lovely. I know you sometimes bemoan your height (as I do mine). I think it suits you.

Wooden bead: This is the part I like; your character! What makes you, you? Well you are faithful, an unfaltering friend. You are always honest. You listen without judgment. You are a yin and yang of traits; humble, yet beautiful, strong, yet kind, brilliant, yet eager to learn, serious, yet funny, adventurous, yet rooted. You're amazing!

Pink: I don't know all of the life events that have had an impact on your life. I do know about your experiences with competitive swimming and how the work taught you perseverance and sportsmanship. I understand how the loss of your father as a teen impacted you, in fact that loss connects us as I had a similar experience. Your life growing up in Miami gave you a broader perspective of life. Then of course a college education at Harvard and meeting the man who would become your husband. Moving across the country to California and then back to NH with two young boys must have been a challenging decision, but again like me it became a place where you could find solace in difficult times. As a daughter, building an addition for your mother was an act of love and devotion. I am sure your mother was full of love for you especially as you nursed her during her illness. Dealing with a parent's terminal illness is something I can't even imagine. What a gift that you were there with your mother. When things got even more difficult and you had to make even bigger changes in your life, you did so with grace and courage. Not one to be stagnant, you continue be a model for your three boys by to taking your life by the reins and growing. I am excited to be a part of the next phase of your life!

White: This is where I could edit. I wouldn't change a thing!

Orange: What else do I know? I have been blessed with an amazing friend. A person who can laugh with me and cry with me. I love our relationship, one where we both give to each other. I relish those long after school conversations where we process a situation or talk about trends in our professions. I love talking movies and curly hair and kids. I love how I can look at you and you know what I'm thinking. After all this I am left with a single question; "Will you marry me?" :)
Is there someone special who has been a lever for you? Let them know, I suspect it will mean the world to them.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sharing Kindness: A Frenzied SLP Blog Hop

I recently had a student tell me I should be teaching him about kindness. He felt kindness was more important than strategies. I agree. Kindness is an ultimate goal as it relates to social competency. I explained the strategies we are learning lead to kind behavior. He seemed satisfied with my explanation. 
It seems there is a disconnect between kindness and the way people are behaving these days. The tolerance and acceptance people are professing only exists to the extent that they think others should believe as they do and not vice versa. The prevailing sentiment is "If you don't agree, you're a fool. I am right." Society is stuck on needing to be right, rather than accepting differences of opinion. Americans are expressing their opinions with ad hominem attacks, violence and vulgarity and our witness children are learning this is how to behave.  Furthermore, people seem to believe opinions ARE facts! Don't we help our students learn the difference between fact and opinion? The truth is, we are all entitled to our own opinions, just not our own facts. My anxiety increases daily as I see the diminishing premium placed on kindness in our world. I pray that we as a society begin to understand that it takes a conscious effort to behave with kindness and compassion. That living with kindness means extending kindness to everyone; the colleague who annoys you, the person who voted for the other candidate, the driver who cut you off, the neighbor whose dog barks, and the demanding parent. I've seen the hashtag #kindnessnation. Hashtags are cool and trendy, however I believe actions and effort are what is needed. I'd like to see people posting how they acted on their kindness each day because I believe #kindnessiscontagious.

The Frenzied SLPs are coming together in sharing kindness this month in the way we know best! We have collaborated to create FREE materials all with a kindness theme. You'll be able to target a wonderful variety of speech and language skills with these products! We think you and your students are going to love them. Let's keep the kindness going! We graciously thank you for downloading and using these materials with your students/clients. If you would be so kind, please leave feedback in our TpT stores if you find a few spare moments!
My valentine treat for you is a social story about giving and receiving valentines. This freebie is a story social intended for use with children who need help understanding the process of giving and receiving Valentine's Day cards. The tradition of giving cards may be overwhelming and confusing for our children with social pragmatic challenges.
Included in the download are 6 sheets that can be cut in half for a 12 page story. There are also places where students can insert themselves into the story by drawing a picture or gluing a photo. I hope you find it useful.

You can download it for free here.

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind. ~ Henry James

Check out The Frenzied SLPs Sharing Kindness Blog Hop for more freebies by starting here: