It’s that time of year again for many of us – in fact, most of us are already past those first few days of a new school year. Despite how school-based therapy sure does its best to drag some of us down, there is always something hopeful and exciting to the start of a new school year. I don’t know about the rest of you, but even after seventeen years, I still start each year with the mantra “This is gonna be the year. I’m gonna nail it this year.” (When one of you actually figures it all out and accomplishes that, fill me in, okay?)
Ya Gotta Have a Goal. Do Ya Have a Goal?
The never-ending loop of change-and-back-again is in full swing, the summer has ended without ceremony, and there’s a new (or continued) list of expectations for the classroom. “Accountability” and “continuous improvement” are huge buzz words in schools these days, and while some states have specific criteria with which their speech-language pathologists’ skills are evaluated, many tend to throw their school-based SLPs into the teacher bracket and judge their effectiveness to a set of criteria that doesn’t quite jive with their actual scope of practice. It is a work in progress, I think.
In the district where I work, the continuous improvement adult learning framework and quality tools have become a required aspect of all classrooms (even early childhood and special education), including therapy rooms, and I can attest to the real struggle some of it has been to make it applicable not only to special education, but specifically therapists. We are doing our best! Again, it is another example of a work in progress.
One of the big requirements of the continuous improvement classroom is the incorporation (and display) of a class-wide, attainable goal, written in SMART format. (If you don’t have to write goals this way, be glad – I still don’t fully get it – but, for schools, it’s a mnemonic that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic/relevant, time-related). Now, I know what you might eventually ask – how can a speech therapist write a single caseload-wide goal that all of our kids can target when they have such specific and individualized targets?
I pondered this, too, particuarly being in early childhood special education, where a three-year old cannot realistically (in most cases) be expected to regurgitate, much less understand, their specific speech or language goals. But, after a bit of consternation, I came up with something that covers most of my students. (Of course, because of the absolutely individualized nature of what we do, some students need modifications in order to participate, which I’ll get to, later!)
Why Do You Come to Speech?
During my student-teaching days, thanks to my lovely experience in an elementary school (which helped me do a 180 from adult rehab – but that’s another story), I had the realization of just how important it is for kids to know why they come to see me. If you ask the kiddos on your caseload why they come to speech, chances are, many of them will answer “to play games!” while you sustain a mild concussion from your beautiful head-to-desk gesture. Let’s face it, though – they’re not entirely wrong, but we’ve led them to believe that because of the many awesome things that happen in our rooms. (Shh, don’t shatter the illusion – I believe it, too.)
I also believe that when students know their goals, even a general one like this, they take greater ownership and responsibility for their participation and feel like they are more a part of their sessions. Call it a “buy-in” mentality.
You Don’t Have to Re-Invent the Wheel! I’ve Got One You Can Borrow.
Here is what a few of us are using as a SMART-format goal, written for our “class” (or the majority of our caseloads), to fulfill the requirements of our district’s continuous improvement “adult-learning framework” criteria. If any of you are stuck in a quandary trying to figure out how to make this work for you, I hope the example is helpful:
I help my kids take ownership in their contribution as well as encouraging them to support and cheer on others by turning it into a motivational bulletin board. This is not designed as a way to visually “shame” my students. This is simply a huge visual data chart that makes it easy for the kids to understand our progress and get excited as we get closer to our goal. (Of course, there’s an incentive of a rockin’ ‘speech party’ celebration once we hit that goal, and the kids are involved in the planning.)
Some therapists choose to have their older students summarize their specific goals, for example: “I’m working on /r/,” or “I’m working on recalling three details from a story.”
Another therapist in my district has her elementary students naming things that make them good and effective communicators (e.g., “eye contact, asking follow-up questions, staying on topic, etc.)
And what if you have a low-functioning/high-needs population? How the heck are you supposed to target an all-encompassing goal in that case? With a little creativity. Perhaps there is a similar goal they are all working on, such as one-step commands or responding to others when greeted/asked a question. One of my colleagues simply made it a goal that her high-needs friends would simply make progress, and decided on whether it was mastering a certain number of objectives, progressing by a certain percentage, or meeting an overall annual goal.
These are just some ideas. And, even if you are not required to have one of these broad goals or post it in your room for all to see, it is definitely food for thought. Do your speech students know why they are coming to your class, or to your private therapy practice/clinic? Do your students know the sound(s) they are targeting? Do they know what makes a good communicator? These may not define “individualized” goals, but in the end, they should be considered an integral part of our practice!
Have ideas or questions? Need any help? Please feel free to contact me! We’re off to a great start this year!