Club SLP Feel you’re missing out on energizing discussions with colleagues? This SLP did. So she did something about it. In the Limelight
In the Limelight  |   September 01, 2014
Club SLP
Author Notes
  • Carol Polovoy is assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader.
    Carol Polovoy is assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader.×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Professional Issues & Training / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   September 01, 2014
Club SLP
The ASHA Leader, September 2014, Vol. 19, 26-27. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.19092014.26
The ASHA Leader, September 2014, Vol. 19, 26-27. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.19092014.26
Name: Annie Brandt, MA, CCC-SLP
Position: Clinician, Greater Latrobe (Pennsylvania) School District
Hometown: Latrobe, Pennsylvania
As the lone speech-language pathologist in a 650-student elementary school, Annie Brandt felt something was missing. In a school district with only two other SLPs, Brandt felt professionally isolated.
To be sure, living and working in a small community has its advantages. Brandt thrives on serving the same tight-knit Western Pennsylvania district she attended as a student.
But she missed the interprofessional interactions of her graduate school clinical placements and her “amazing” clinical fellowship supervisor, who had left the district to enroll in a PhD program.
She knew what would help: a professional learning community of school-based SLPs who would gather monthly for information, support, problem-solving and discussions.
Knowing what she needed wasn’t the problem. She wasn’t sure, however, how to make it happen.
“I had the idea to create a professional learning community early on,” Brandt says. “It’s a big challenge to be the only person in the school who does a job. There’s no one to bounce ideas around with, to engage in critical thinking, to help solve problems. My goal was to bring people together to focus on the specific needs of SLPs in the local schools, but it seemed like a daunting task.”
Welcome help
Brandt found the help she sought in ASHA’s Leadership Development Program—the 2011 group for school-based SLPs. “It helped me develop a framework to develop and execute the project,” she says. “I realized I needed to identify the stakeholders, develop a plan, make personal contacts and market the idea.”
Advice from other LDP participants proved invaluable. “As I developed materials, I would send them to the other members of my cohort,” she explains. “They provided a ton of good feedback.”
When it came time to identify local SLPs to invite, her newly developed skills came into play. Brandt’s Greater Latrobe School District is one of 17 districts in Westmoreland County. Each district hires its own SLPs and may also have the services of the county’s intermediate unit SLPs. Brandt had to contact administrators in each district, explain the project and convince them of the need, and have them forward the information to their staff SLPs.
Her persistence paid off, and eight SLPs from seven districts attended the first meeting. Brandt was not disappointed at the turnout. “Really, I was pleased that anyone responded!” she says. “I wasn’t at all worried. I knew that having a network of ‘just’ eight people could make a difference in our practice, but of course I hoped that over time we would grow.”
And, indeed, the community has grown. By its third year—the 2013–2014 school year—the community counted 17 members.
“It was all by word of mouth,” Brandt says. “People in the group brought their colleagues, and someone brought in a friend from graduate school who lives in a nearby county, and others have just heard about we’re doing.” The participants represent 13 school districts in three counties.
Brandt was hopeful the community would take off because “from the beginning, we focused on what the people in the group needed and wanted,” she says. “We put the direction of the group in the hands of the members by doing a survey of possible discussion topics.”
Guest experts
As the community has gained experience and members, it has expanded its purview as well, often Skyping in experts.
Recent remote guests include Kelle Hampton, a blogger whose daughter has Down syndrome. “We wanted the perspective of a parent whose child has a wide array of strengths and needs,” Brandt explains, “to find out what it’s like on the ‘other side’ and what we clinicians can do to make things easier.”
The group also Skyped about fluency issues with Craig Coleman, director of the Virtual Stuttering Center, and with an SLP consultant from a manufacturer of augmentative and alternative communication devices.
Coleman had seen one of Brandt’s social media postings, and offered to work with the community. She stresses that guest experts do not provide lectures, but participate in discussions. “We like to think about professional development in a different way—lectures are not always the best. Discussions are much more effective. I always leave discussions with so much more to think about and to take back to my school.”
The community had its first few meetings in restaurants, then in Brandt’s home. It now meets at the Westmoreland County Intermediate Unit.
“The support we receive from the districts is great,” Brandt says. “Some districts allow participants to count the time we spend in the community as flexible hours for in-service requirements.” The community also counts as continuing education required for Pennsylvania teaching certification, which school-based SLPs must maintain.
She offers some advice for others looking to start similar programs in their school districts: Distribute leadership responsibilities among the group to make members feel more invested and bring different perspectives to the forefront; make sure that everyone in the group is on the same page about the group’s goals and visions; and don’t be afraid to change what doesn’t work and ask others for help.
“I live and work in a wonderful community,” Brandt says. “I feel so lucky to be back doing a job that I love. It’s a privilege to be here and to put something back into the community.”
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September 2014
Volume 19, Issue 9