Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Parents are Critical Members of their Child’s Support Team

How much time do you spend on email and phone calls in a typical week? If your days are anything like mine then the answer is, “a lot!” In addition to working with school staff and students, communication with parents takes a great deal of time but is so important.

            Parents are critical members of the team and, as itinerant TOD/HOH, our role in communicating with families can sometimes be unclear to school staff and to parents themselves. In the worst-case scenario, school teams may feel threatened, wondering what it is we are reporting to the parents, and parents may view us as being in allegiance with the school at the expense of their child’s needs. However, in the best-case scenarios, parents and school staff welcome open communication and see it as a benefit to all. As TOD/HOH, we can take steps to regularly communicate in meaningful ways with parents and school teams in order to create trust among all team members.

            School teams must understand why we need to communicate with families and we must take steps to alleviate any fears or misunderstandings they may have about what it is we are reporting. One school I worked with expressed concern that the parents may view their child’s teacher as incompetent if I talked with them before and after my classroom observations. A staff member at another school informed me that my regular communication with families may make the teachers in the building look “lazy” as this type of communication was not standard at their school. I have also heard concerns related to being seen as a “spy” more than once! In each situation, in addition to building trust within the school in other ways, offering to CC (copy) relevant team members on emails to parents and summarizing phone conversations to relevant staff members, have both, over time, lessened these worries. Below are tips for keeping parents in the loop!

Start a phone or email routine: Find out how parents like to be contacted and let them know when you will be in touch. Some parents are worriers. These are the ones we hear from constantly. Others, for various reasons, are extremely difficult to get ahold of - even when we really need them! Set expectations at the beginning of the year that allow you to create boundaries while still meeting the needs of the families that you work with. For students who I see monthly or only a few times a year, I call or email parents before and after each visit. For students who I see more regularly, I contact families bi-weekly, either by email or phone with an update and to hear their concerns. Knowing that I will be in touch is reassuring for the parents.  

Video Share: Consider videotaping your work with a student on occasion and sharing it with the family. This is really helpful especially for families moving from early intervention to a school setting since the initial transition can be shocking! Parents go from being key players in their child’s learning to having very limited interaction, if any, during therapies! In some cases, I’ve videotaped my sessions (with permission) to share with families so that they can still feel connected. One parent reported playing the videos at home, giving her son extra “sessions” at home!

Communication Books: Use a communication book that goes home on a regular basis with the student where you and the parent share information. This is not a new idea but can be a very effective way of communicating for all students. It’s also helpful for me when students have multiple service providers who use the book so that I know what my student is working on in other settings and can stay up to date as well!

Online Documentation: Make use of today’s technology! A colleague of mine works in a school where each staff member and the parents contribute to an online document. This process is similar to a communication notebook but rather than the student bringing the book between home and school, all notes are done online.

Translations: Be aware and sensitive to parents who may not be English language users and find ways to communicate with them. I don’t speak Spanish but one of my families does! I am fortunate to have a colleague who can translate my letters home to this family. When they respond, my colleague translates for me once again. Bi-lingual parents may already feel left out of school information and I want to be sure my families know exactly what I’m doing with their children!

Hand Written Notes: Handwritten letters are always an option. Not all the families that I work with have consistent access to phones or computers but that shouldn’t limit communication!

The parents with whom I work have varying levels of participation in their children’s school programs. Some parents contact me almost daily, others I hear from more irregularly. Regardless, meeting parents where they are and helping them to stay involved is a critical component of this job. It is our job to reach out to all parents!

How do you work with parents?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Supporting Each Other: Teachers of the Deaf and Educational Audiologists

It’s a typical Monday. One of your students has a dead hearing aid battery. Another is experiencing some static through her FM system. In another classroom, the student pass-around microphone is no longer synced with the soundfield tower. As teachers of the deaf/hard of hearing we are called upon to troubleshoot, re-sync, inspect and clean amplification on a daily basis. We know our students and their equipment well and have no choice but to learn how it all works together! Teachers and other school staff come to depend on us to help resolve problems with the hearing technology, including equipment malfunctions. But this is only one part of our job as the bulk of our time is spent consulting with staff and directly instructing our students. The ideal situation would be if every school we work in had an educational audiologist on the team. School teams may not understand the need for both an audiologist and a TOD so we have to make efforts to help them understand the role we each play in the student’s education. When there is no educational audiologist on the team, there is generally little or no contact between the audiologist and the school. It is critical that the TOD and audiologist collaborate and communicate regularly to ensure optimal access for our students in school.

In explaining the differences and overlapping responsibilities of the TOD and audiologist to school staff, some factors to consider include:


Additionally, teachers of the deaf/hard of hearing see the application of hearing technology in the classroom and the student’s access. We have important information to share about a student’s academic progress, speech and language development, auditory comprehension and equipment use in the classroom. We must also communicate with the audiologist around problems with equipment in case adjustments need to be made. I find communicating with the audiologist via an email the easiest but phone calls or in-person visits are sometimes options as well.

Audiologists are knowledgeable about equipment and the student’s hearing needs from observing the student in the booth. They must communicate about technology to the TOD/HOH including changes in FM settings, adjustment to CI maps and HA settings (e.g. activation of noise reduction options) as this will affect the student at school. This information is often communicated in reports which can be sent directly to the TOD with parent permission.

Teachers of deaf/hard of hearing and audiologists are both important members of a student’s team. How do you collaborate with your student’s audiologists?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Making Self-Advocacy Meaningful

As teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing, we understand the importance of fostering self-advocacy skills in all our students, even our preschoolers! Our students all have goals and objectives focused on self-advocacy because this early, supported practice helps them to develop life long confidence in alerting others to their listening and learning needs.  But, before students can alert others to their needs, they need to understand their hearing loss, amplification, and the benefits and limitations of their amplification. It is also important that students know what their self-advocacy objectives are. We work together to decide which aspects of their advocacy goals can be tackled first.

Advocacy is not always easy or comfortable, even for adults! So how can we get our students to willingly work in this critical area? Here are some ideas:

Student Presentations Have students create presentations to share with their teachers or peers about their specific hearing loss. Using provided organizers and outlines, students as young as preschool can take part. PowerPoint, iMovie, and homemade posters and books are some formats that I’ve used with students. Finding a motivating medium to work with keeps everyone engaged while working on the project.  Be sure to weave language objectives into self-advocacy practice by having students use a variety of structures to explain their hearing loss and how their amplification works. For a more detailed description of such presentations see my earlier post here .

Letter Writing Students can send regular letters, newsletters or emails to teachers describing their needs in specific classes. One colleague has her middle school student write monthly letters to her teachers from the CIA (Cara’s Implant Advocacy), putting a spy twist on what could otherwise be a mundane task for a middle school student. 

Communication Notebooks Some students have communication books which they take ownership of, writing what is working well and what needs improvement in their classes. Under the guidance of the TOD, SLP, or other designated adult, this is a valuable record of the student’s perspective in classes and can be used to spark discussions of how to handle difficult listening situations.

Meetings Several of my students meet with me and their teacher(s) on a regular basis. Prior to meeting, the student and I meet as the student fills out an organizer requiring them to write what is working and what needs improvement in their classes. They also write any specific questions they have for their teacher. This structured format allows the student to practice with me before approaching a teacher. Teachers are generally receptive to the feedback and often ask for a copy of the student’s notes!

How do you help students advocate?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Starting the New School Year Strong

It’s back to school time! As Clarke Itinerant Teachers, we’ve already hit the ground running. Despite the lingering heat, summer is officially over and students are returning to school this week as we frantically check items off of our “to do” lists. Here are a few key people to connect with in the next few days to ensure a smooth start to the new year:

Parents: Call the parents of each student; introduce yourself and find out:
·       How summer went for the student
·       How they like to be contacted (email, phone, text, etc.)
·       Concerns for the upcoming year
·       When last audiology appointment was and any changes (if you don’t have a recent report from the audiologist)
·       Name of managing audiologist and if this person also manages FM (sometimes it’s two different people)

Schools: Identify and coordinate the following school-related information:
·       Student’s school address and main phone number
·       Classroom / main teacher; contact this person and introduce yourself, explain your role
·       Your primary contact (could be SPED teacher, SLP, counselor etc.)
·       Report dates and format. Sometimes schools request a word document, or sometimes we have access to an online IEP manager, for which you’ll need access codes and log-in information.
·       Schedule your In-Service. You may need to coordinate with the managing audiologist if they are doing an in-service at the school.
·       Make sure you have the most recent signed IEP. If not, request it.
·       Request copy of the student’s daily schedule. For elementary students the teacher will have it. For junior and high school students, guidance department will likely be the place to get you a schedule.

·       Contact the audiologist (HA/CI and FM audiologists if different) to introduce yourself.
·       Request reports if they are not already in the student’s file. *Parents may be required to sign a release and this takes time, so ask early!
·       Find out what each student uses for amplification including make and model of each device.  
·       Identify concerns the audiologist may have for the upcoming year?
·       Discuss how the managing audiologist wants to handle general troubleshooting and how she wants to be contacted when there is a problem with equipment.

Your students! Set up a file/binder for each student that includes:
·       IEP/relevant testing
·       Audiological information including the most recent report and audiogram
·       School information including calendar, contact people (names, email, phone)
·       Family information (names, email, phone)