Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Our Students are Children First

    There’s no denying it: the feeling of teacher burnout is real. Winter months are hard in New England in a regular school year, and the added stress of the constantly changing school models—remote to hybrid and back again—safety concerns and uncertainty are just adding to that pressure. I haven’t been writing as much here either because what more is there to say? Our students and families are stressed and anxious and tired. And so are we.

    Once again, I needed a fresh start. There’s plenty of talk about regression, education, IEP hours, goals and objectives. Who is talking about preserving childhood? This is an equally important factor right now. 
I’ve focused on play with all my younger students. Pure and simple play. I spent a morning with my preschooler washing rocks in the sink. This is an activity that would have happened in any preschool classroom pre-pandemic. We poured and measured and scooped the water. We adjusted the temperatures. We had a variety of sponges and containers and soap. We made a complete and utter mess. She was soaked, the counter was dripping, and there were puddles on the floor. My student was beaming, and I felt relaxed and “normal,” which is a rare feeling this school year.

    I got baby dolls and painted on cochlear implants for my younger students. We may be in a pandemic, but representation still matters. Students took their dolls home and some classroom teachers got puffy paint to add technology to their classroom dolls. 

    I had been thinking about the importance of childhood when one of my high school students shared with me a poem she wrote, titled “Childhood,” which was recently published in an online literary  journal (and you should definitely read it here). As one of my graduate professors once said, “The children will thrive in spite of what we do.” I’m trying to keep this sentiment in mind as I move forward with the rest of the school year: Our students are children first.  Let’s honor their need for playfulness and hoy, even in these stressful times. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Check out the Winter Issue of Mainstream News!

by: Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech

The Winter issue of Mainstream News, sponsored by Oticon, is now available online! 

Read about learning regression and how to prevent it, learn best practices for a successful college search (particularly in a pandemic), understand the crucial partnership between a teacher of the deaf and student, discover why activity breaks matter — and more. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

“So, which mask is the best?”

    As itinerants, I’m sure we’ve all been asked this question by school teams. I also continue to see this question posted in forums and in Facebook groups. I’ve decided to answer it for you here. Get ready- it’s not a simple answer. 

At the start of the pandemic, there were all types of recommendations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and their teachers and support teams. Clear masks! No, face shields and masks! No, full hoods! No, wait- the auditory signal isn’t great- surgical masks! Quick speech recognition studies were conducted (I participated in a few); patterns for homemade masks of every style appeared all over the internet. Websites popped up selling every style of mask imaginable. Professionals created charts and graphs. Schools emailed and called me, desperately looking for guidance in what to purchase. 

So, you’re wondering, what exactly is the best mask?! Well, it depends on the student. At the start of this year, I had several students attending school in some in-person capacity whether full- or part-time. I told my students outright that I don’t have all the answers. We’ve all been thrust into this experiment together (however willing or unwilling we are as participants) so we might as well do the best research that we can. It IS ok to change your mind. Rather than one mask, I tried a wide array of options and suggested others do the same. I’ve found that each student has a clear preference and as educational teams, those preferences have been accommodated. 

One high schooler who is a very auditory learner prefers that her teachers wear the surgical style masks for improved auditory access. Another high school student uses more visual information and reported that his preference was a style of mask with an oversized clear window to really optimize speech reading. All clear window masks are not the same and students may need to try a variety, as this student did, in order to find one that works. My little three-year-old may not have much language but she sure does know how to communicate her mask preferences! After only one session spent with her attempting to pull my mask away and gesturing frantically so that she could see my face, I now wear a clear shield with a fabric bottom for our sessions so that she can see my entire face. Our students are the experts. We teach them to advocate and this is no different. Access matters and our job as itinerants is to help our students find what’s safe and what works best for them and implement that into their school day. 

Masks will likely be part of our lives for quite a while. It’s worth it to take the time to experiment now so that our students can confidently advocate for their preferences and have the best access we are able to provide. 

A Note from Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech 
Clarke approaches PPE carefully in both practice and purchase. We continue to evaluate and test PPE including face coverings. Clarke does not endorse or recommend any particular PPE for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Clarke follows health and safety guidelines set by the CDC, Departments of Health as well as regional Departments of Education.  

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Time to Hit Restart

“I’m exhausted. Like, really exhausted.”
“I hate this.”
“I have so much work that it’s… it’s mind blowing.”
“I feel like I’m running and running and running… and if I stop, I’m going to crash.”

This is what students said to me recently. One day, every student that I saw cried. This level of stress is not sustainable. Teachers are overwhelmed. Parents are stressed. Students are confused and lost and picking up on all the negative energy from adults. Remote learning is hard. In-person learning is hard. Hybrid is hard. It’s all just hard. 

Over the weekend I thought about what students were saying. We can’t go on like this. I’ve never worked so much in my life and felt like I was accomplishing so little. I can relate to every single comment above, because I feel the same way. I decided this week to hit restart. Scrap everything I’ve been doing and start over. 

Here are my tips for a much-needed reset. 

Address Priorities and Access Needs
For my students and families who are feeling overwhelmed with remote learning, we’ve communicated with teachers about prioritizing work. Many students have an accommodation for reduced workload anyway, so this is absolutely the time to implement that accommodation. Each of my remote students completed the CAVE with me, a tool used to assess student access to remote instruction, during our remote sessions so that we can better understand and address access needs for remote classes. The CAVE results were shared with teachers, either by me or by students directly. 

Determine What’s Working and What Isn’t 
For my students who are feeling lost with in-person classes due to access issues related to PPE, distance and scheduling changes, we’ve sat down this week to create organizers of what is working well and what is not working. These organizers were shared with the educational teams. Simple changes—such as allowing my student with hearing loss and her partner to work in the hall—have alleviated the stress of her attempting to communicate with a peer, wearing masks, six feet apart, in noisy classrooms. 

Get Creative and Incorporate Movement Breaks
And for myself, I’ve quickly remembered how much I struggle to sit at a computer all day. We’re itinerants—we all signed up to MOVE and travel! I did one session outside in the woods near my house. My student was studying biomes and I knew we’d be going over that content during our lesson. He was so excited to play, “Which Biome Did Ms. Stinson Visit?” (the deciduous forest ☺ ) to break up the monotony of remote learning. I’ve built movement breaks into all of my remote sessions this week, whether it’s a dance party or a “Go Find” activity encouraging students to move around. 

This is not a normal school year. We need to reevaluate the purpose of school, of education and of our sessions. While I will certainly address the IEP goals and objectives as I always do, it is equally important to really hear the feedback from students and adapt accordingly. I needed to hit restart. Maybe you do, too. 

Friday, October 2, 2020

Check Out the Fall Issue of Mainstream News

 by: Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech

The Fall issue of Mainstream News, sponsored by Oticon, is now available online! 

Discover tips for protecting children from cyber bullying, read what Clarke professionals have learned through remote services, understand how to support literacy skills -- and more. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

School in the Time of COVID

Welcome back, itinerants! Like me, I’m sure most of you have been working throughout the summer to prepare for a school year unlike any other! I have students learning in every possible format—remote, in-person, hybrid, fully outdoors… and the list goes on. Because this year is so different, my welcome back blog post is different as well. I’ve compiled a list of resources and answers to my own Frequently Asked Questions and I’m sharing it here. Who’s ready for a whole new adventure for Fall 2020!?


Itinerant Teacher of the Deaf FAQ for the New School Year

1.    I’ve never even heard of that platform! How do I add captions?

There are many lists of closed and live captioning options. I’ve found these two to be the most comprehensive. As a bonus, they have both been compiled by professionals with hearing loss.

2. What masks should I recommend for my students?

There have been a variety of studies done over the summer (I participated in a few) and as with most research, there are mixed results. In the end, each student has unique learning needs and each school program has unique requirements for PPE. I’ve shared this list of resources with my schools and students to help them make informed decisions regarding masks.


In Support of Clear Masks:

Questioning the Efficacy of Clear Masks:

Informational Resources and Guides:

List of Companies Providing Clear Masks (not exhaustive):

3.    Eek! How do I sterilize that?

I’ve used Phonak as a resource for sterilizing protocols. If you are not on their mailing list already, I’d recommend it as they frequently send out updated information with links and resources.


You can read their recommendations for sanitizing Roger products here.

And the CDC and EPA have shared this list of surface disinfectant wipes that are effective against the coronavirus: 

4.    Headsets are being recommended to improve sound quality, but which one should I get?

I consulted with a colleague who has hearing loss. She recommended the Logitech H390 USB Computer Headset, with enhanced digital audio and in-line controls.

The Arctis 5 headset, made by SteelSeries, is more pricey, but comes recommend by Stacy Crouse (Instagram: @stacycrouse.slp) who has been providing remote services, exclusively, for several years. 


And OPTION technology professionals recommend the Willful M98 Bluetooth Wireless Headset.


While we are definitely going to encounter more challenges as the year progresses, hopefully we can embrace the unknowns and continue to learn together. Here’s to Fall 2020 and a completely unique school experience!


Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech does not endorse, recommend or provide advice for any products or vendors referenced above. Please contact the vendors directly for product information. 


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Managing An Unusual End To The School Year

Usually at this point in the school year, I’m writing about wrapping up. I write about summer maintenance for HAT systems, end-of-the-year IEP and transition meetings, setting up in-services for next year’s teachers and preparing students for the transition to the next grade. This spring, all those topics come with a bit of a question mark. What will the end of the year look like? What will fall look like? Will audiology clinics be open for HAT system maintenance? How do we end this school year?

            Because of the many unknowns, I’ve started working with my school teams to prepare for any number of possible scenarios. Below are some of the topics I’ve covered and begun to explore with the support of my schools, families and students themselves.
·      In the event that my mainstream students return to school in the fall, what precautions can we expect? If face masks will be required, students with hearing loss may benefit from adults on their educational teams wearing masks with clear windows that allow for speech reading. While a quick Google search turns up many manufacturers, many are out of stock or back ordered. Planning and ordering masks now can help alleviate potential stress in the fall.
·      If masks are required, how will this impact a student’s access to sound using a HAT system? I have encouraged families to reach out to their audiologists and the manufacturers of the HAT systems for guidance, as this may be different for each individual student.
·      How will new rules or protocols for social distancing or safety be provided for students? It will be important for our students with hearing loss to receive explicit, clear, written guidance to ensure that they understand any changes that may be implemented.
·      How will teacher-of-the-deaf support continue in either live school or remote learning settings? For several of my students, amendments were added to the IEP for remote learning, clearly outlining what support from me would look like during this period. At other schools, separate forms were completed for each student on an IEP. I’ve recommended that this paperwork stay in the IEP in case of a return to remote learning so that supports can continue seamlessly regardless of the format that school takes.
·      For my in-services, I’ve discussed options for both virtual and in-person in-services in the fall. This way, the expectation is clear to schools that the in-service will be necessary either way. The content will vary since remote learning and live classes require different accommodations and modifications, but it will be important for next year’s teachers to have that information prior to the start of the school year.
·      When I meet with students virtually, I do my best to assure them that although there are still a lot of unknowns, this will end. We will not be in quarantine forever. I’ve spent time learning what has worked for them in remote learning and what challenges they have experienced. This will help me to fine tune my own teaching and recommendations for the future.

Most of these questions do not have clear answers. Every student is different, and every school is operating under different protocols. By starting the conversations now, we can do our best to prepare for the many possible scenarios for the fall. 

How are you working with school teams to prepare for the return to school?