Don’t Underestimate Your Influence Can you really help to create change in your school or district? You might be surprised. School Matters
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School Matters  |   August 01, 2015
Don’t Underestimate Your Influence
Author Notes
  • Susan T. Karr, MS, CCC-SLP, is ASHA associate director of school services. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 1, Language Learning and Education. skarr@asha.org
    Susan T. Karr, MS, CCC-SLP, is ASHA associate director of school services. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 1, Language Learning and Education. skarr@asha.org×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / School Matters
School Matters   |   August 01, 2015
Don’t Underestimate Your Influence
The ASHA Leader, August 2015, Vol. 20, 38-39. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.20082015.38
The ASHA Leader, August 2015, Vol. 20, 38-39. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.20082015.38
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Most people know this quote by Margaret Mead. It does take a group to bring about change, but often one person has to take the first step.
Early in my professional career, I experienced something that shaped my future direction as a speech-language pathologist. It was 1977, and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) had just been enacted. IDEA was groundbreaking law at the time, and many school administrators didn’t yet know or understand its mandates and implications.
In my first job out of graduate school, I was the only SLP for a rural district with three elementary schools and a combined middle/high school. It was clear that additional staff and resources were needed to meet the requirements of IDEA.
My vision of only providing effective and creative services for students soon became overshadowed by the demands of meeting IDEA requisites. The responsibility to advocate for additional personnel and materials to meet those students’ needs as outlined by the new law fell solely on my inexperienced shoulders.
Although a bit overwhelmed, I began fighting for change by implementing some basic steps:
  • Gathering data and assessing student needs.

  • Educating the principal and other staff on the new law’s requirements.

  • Presenting information to other school administrators and the school board.

  • Discussing students’ needs and concerns with families.

After two years of ongoing persuasion, I finally convinced school administrators that we weren’t meeting IDEA requirements or students’ needs, and they hired two additional SLPs.
Fast-forward 12 years from that first job when I joined the school services team at ASHA. Part of my job is providing resources and information to help school-based SLPs provide quality services. I ask myself once again: Can one person make a difference?
I got my answer at the 2014 ASHA Convention. Diane Goldman, an SLP from Broward County, Florida, sought me out to thank me for assistance I provided 19 years ago. At the time, she was concerned because her district had the highest caseloads in the state, but also lacked adequate tests, materials and technology to provide a quality speech-language pathology program for its students.
Goldman and other district SLPs formed SPEECH—Speech Pathologists Energetically Effecting Change. They contacted their state association, teachers’ union, parents and school officials to improve services.
Then she approached ASHA for help. She gathered her data and made an appointment to see me at the 1995 convention in Orlando. Together we wrote a letter to the superintendent explaining the critical situation and its impact on SLPs and students. In the letter, we cited survey data on caseload size and referenced evidence-based practice in school service delivery.
By the end of 1996, Broward County generated and designated the requested funds, which were allocated to local schools. For the first time, the district developed a job description accurately describing the roles and responsibilities of SLPs. The administrators also allowed school SLPs to decide how to use resources.
Over the next 10 years, the school system allocated approximately $30 million for the SLPs’ programming. The efforts of Goldman and her colleagues clearly had a lasting impact on their school district, and I was proud that my actions contributed to their success.
SLPs work in countless ways against obstacles to make positive changes in their schools. They advocate for manageable workloads, reduced caseloads, salary supplements, less paperwork and more appropriate roles for their work setting. Joining forces with other SLPs, professional colleagues, state associations or ASHA often helps bring about positive change.
Bringing about change is not an easy road and takes time, patience and persistence, but more often than not it’s worth it. In addition to helping individual members like Goldman, ASHA staff respond to proposed national legislation or regulations and advocate for change to improve SLPs’ practices.

Bringing about change is not an easy road and takes time, patience and persistence, but more often than not it’s worth it.

If you want to make change in your school setting, district or state you can:
John F. Kennedy once said: “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” Your actions can leave a lasting effect on your profession, services and—most importantly—your students and their families.
1 Comment
August 17, 2015
Teresa Sadowski
Impressive
I'm glad this worked out in these situations but SLPs across the country are still dealing with similar issues how many years later. Caseloads/workloads have grown dramatically the past 20 years. Our roles in schools have become much more diverse and parents are more educated. I've tried to increase awareness of administrators and teachers on the role of the SLP in schools and the skills we bring to the table in my new book, The School Speech Language Pathologist. The School Speech Language Pathologist is an administrators guide to understanding the role of the SLP in schools along with strategies to aid staffing, workload management and student success. Read more about it on my blog the schoollspeechtherapist.com. It is available on Amazon. Now I only have to get it into the hands of administrators.
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August 2015
Volume 20, Issue 8