Time and distance are barriers to services that ESU 10 continually addresses. ESU 10 is fortunate to employ twenty Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) that provide individualized student interventions in twenty-three school districts. Several of the schools ESU 10 SLPs serve are 100+ miles from ESU 10. The majority of schools have only one SLP, so the opportunity for face to face collaboration is limited to the two ESU 10 all staff meetings at the beginning and end of the school year and three quarterly Special Education (SPED) meetings scheduled throughout the school year. Since these quarterly meetings involve other Special Education service providers and district educators, the time for discipline specific collaboration is further limited to an hour or two during these meetings. One of ESU 10’s greatest resource is its SLPs who have a combined total of 320 years of experience. On a mission to find a way to use this vast amount of experience to best support student interventions and continue to support a growth mindset, the idea of creating an SLP professional learning community was born.
Professional Learning Community (PLC) is a term with which most educators are familiar. PLC represents a structure to focus on continuous improvement for staff performance, as well as student learning. PLCs share expertise, work collaboratively and meet regularly. Given the barriers of time and distance, some out of the box thinking was required when deciding the best structure to make an SLP PLC possible. The main concern was that the PLC visits needed to be set up in a way that did not interrupt student services. ESU 10 Special Education Director, Jean Anderson, was able to find an option which allowed for uninterrupted services for students by offering to have an SLP substitute serve the visiting SLP’s caseload.
In order for the visits to be as meaningful as possible, all ESU 10 SLPs were asked to complete a needs assessment in which they rated themselves on level of mastery on 20 topics. They also identified three areas in which they wanted to grow and three areas in which they felt comfortable mentoring a fellow SLP. SLPs were then paired based on their self-identified areas of strengths and needs. During the first semester there were ten visits. At the end of each two month period, the visiting and mentoring SLPs got together to discuss what went well on the visits, topics that would benefit the entire group, and suggestions concerning how to make the process better.
Overwhelmingly, the feedback has been positive. SLPs are excited to get to collaborate on their respective caseloads as well as see how others approach various interventions. Some were given resources at their visit, while others were able to see interventions in action or watch videos of specific interventions, followed by discussion. Others were able to arrange for the visiting SLP to observe specific groups and problem solve after the sessions. These face-to-face visits have allowed SLPs to reflect on their own practices and share resources.
We are proud of the collaborative and growth mindset culture fostered among the various disciplines in the Special Education department of ESU 10. We continually strive to implement ESU 10’s mission: To partner with stakeholders to meet changing needs through professional expertise in providing services, learning opportunities and support.