Monday, November 25, 2013

“Sometimes You Wanna Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name"

After I hear the buzzer, I open the heavy front door and turn left. I need to sign in and get my visitor badge before picking up my student. I hear an excited squeal as I approach the office. One of my favorite receptionists stands in front, leaning over the front desk. “Let’s see what shoes you’re wearing!” she exclaims, grinning. “I heard those heels and I knew it was you!”

Because we work in so many different schools, the life of an itinerant can sometimes seem like a lonely one. But, with some effort, it is possible to build meaningful connections with teachers, receptionists, paraprofessionals, and administrators all over the state! I’ve grown as an educator by observing teachers of all grade levels throughout the day. I’m invited to the monthly breakfasts before school and the baby showers after.  I feel elated! I feel connected! I feel like a member of a team!  And -- most importantly -- because everyone knows who I am, my students get what they need in their schools.

As itinerants, it takes time and persistence to build connections with the numerous people in each school building, especially when we are only there once a week or once a month. Yet, when we are able to build meaningful relationships with the staff at each school, the benefits to our students are immeasurable.  When a receptionist knows my name and the name of the student that I work with, she is more likely to help me arrange a quiet space for our direct service pull-out. When a paraprofessional understands my role, and his own support is validated, he is more likely to remember to text me when my student is out sick (and save me a long drive). When a classroom teacher views me as a colleague, he is more likely to implement my suggestions for providing visual access during instructional periods. When an administrator views my student's in-service PowerPoint or iMovie (hand delivered by myself and my student, of course!), he is more likely to follow though on acoustical modifications in the classroom. When a principal understands my role and how it is different from that of the other service providers, she is more likely to suggest services for additional students with hearing loss in the building.

It’s never too late to build connections, even months after the school year has begun. If you have not been introduced to a key person on the student's team, take a moment to seek that person out and introduce yourself. If administrators do not know your student by name, help your student set up an informal meeting where he or she can share a project or a piece of writing you are working on together. There will come a time when support is needed and having connections with school staff can help you get your student what he or she needs. Do you know everyone?

Special Education Director
Rarely visible in the school buildings, it may be easiest to call or email to introduce yourself and explain your role. Mention anyone on the team who has been particularly helpful to you. All administrators like to hear positive feedback about their staff!
Principal and Vice Principal
Introduce yourself by stopping by the office(s). Share highlights of your work with the student and, again, identify any teacher or paraprofessional who has made a difference in your work.
Receptionists and Guidance Counselors
The receptionists tend to know all the details of how the school is run! Be sure to greet them by name as you sign in. Guidance counselors have power in schools. If your student needs something changed or adjusted, it will be easier if you have a relationship with the guidance counselor.
School Nurse
The nurse can often be involved in the daily listening check and troubleshooting of amplification. Make sure you connect!
Cafeteria Workers­­ and Custodians
A colleague recently shared a story about a cafeteria worker who was not aware of a student's hearing needs and reprimanded a peer for walking over to speak to the student with hearing loss when the cafeteria rules state that students must remain seated. Everyone needs to know who our students are and how their needs may vary in each setting.
The IT Department
From enabling captions to helping you with splitters and audio adjustments, these are your go-to people in every building!
“Specials” Teachers and Paraprofessionals
Modifications may be necessary for art, music, P.E. etc. The Clarke resource, Have You Heard?contains handouts that can be shared with these professionals. Paraprofessionals often attend "special" classes with the students. If they are informed and trust your suggestions, carryover is more likely to happen throughout the student's day.
Librarians are great resources for information and may also be willing to purchase books featuring characters with hearing loss for the school library. One of my students wrote a letter to her librarian requesting that these books be purchased as part of a project on persuasive writing. I met with the librarian prior to having my student deliver the letter so that I could explain the project. This librarian not only purchased books but engaged the student in every step of the process!
Classroom teachers, special education teachers, reading specialists, writing specialists… you should connect with every adult working with your student on a regular basis. Collaboration is key!
Speech Language Pathologists
We often collaborate closely with the S/LP on the student's team --  a strong working relationship is important.
Every Person You Meet in the Hall
“Hi! I’m Heather. I’m the teacher of the Deaf working with _______ this year. I don’t think we’ve met?” Take a minute to say hello - you might end up working with this person at some point in the school year!

How do you connect with key people at your schools?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Strategies for the Reluctant FM User

As a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing, I love FM!  FM systems – wireless devices made up of a transmitter and receiver– can make it feel like the teacher’s voice is right next to the student’s ear. The signal-to-noise ratio is improved!  Attention improves! Who wouldn’t want this? The answer is, unfortunately, many of our students. The excuses are endless: “The receiver sticks out.” “I can’t hear the other students.” “Oh, I don’t need it in this class.” “FM doesn’t actually help me that much so I’m not going to use it.” “I think it’s broken.” “I don’t want to carry the transmitter around all day.” And on, and on, and on…

Still, achieving FM success is possible, even with the most reluctant user. The first step to ensure that the equipment is in working order is to ask the student how it is functioning and to listen to it yourself. The sound should be consistent, not intermittent, with no static or distortion. The teacher of the deaf should also check with the managing audiologist to be sure that the students’ hearing aids have been verified using Real Ear to Coupler Difference (RECD) and for transparency. Proper settings will ensure proper amplification. It may be true that your student does not perceive sound as he or she should.

Students who do not feel that they benefit from FM may need to develop a greater sense of self-awareness as part of their self-advocacy program. Using the Common Phrases auditory checklists or the Listening Inventory for Education- Revised (LIFE-R), both available from Karen Anderson, can help students identify areas where they struggle with auditory comprehension. If students are not aware that they are missing auditory information, they will not see any need for a resolution! These tools are designed to help students better understand what and how they hear.  Students must understand why these inventories are being used so that it doesn’t feel like the teacher is merely pointing out flaws. Such tools can also be used with younger students who use FM willingly to emphasize the benefit and prevent future rejection.

Students often comment that they are not able to hear their peers as clearly when the FM is in use and therefore reject using it. For some CI users, this may be due to the internal settings of the processor map and may be resolved by having the managing audiologist adjust the mixing ratio in the student’s cochlear implant speech processor(s). This will ensure that the student is receiving a proper signal from the environmental microphone when an FM system is in use. Requesting a copy of the student’s cochlear implant MAP will allow you to see the settings in the speech processor when connected to the FM.  Audiologists want the best for their clients, and as the teacher of the deaf, you are in a position to help the audiologist maximize the student’s access.

Include the student in choosing a class where they can try out the FM system for the first time. We know that the FM is designed to reduce the signal-to-noise ratio and is most beneficial for students in larger classes. With that being said, large classes may actually be the most uncomfortable setting for our reluctant FM users to begin a trial. I often work out a compromise with my students and begin the FM use in one class each day, typically a small class where the student feels more comfortable, and with a teacher who will be supportive. For students who are willing to use FM in some classes but not others, it is important to find out why – perhaps the teacher is not muting and unmuting the microphone appropriately, making it difficult for the student to concentrate or follow along. Students may also need a listening break and not even realize it! Choosing not to use FM during some classes may be their way of getting this reprieve from concentrating. With this knowledge, you can work with your student to find alternative times for listening breaks.

Encourage classroom teachers to support the student in FM use but not to pressure them or embarrass them in front of their peers. One of my reluctant FM students recently reported, “[Teacher] keeps saying, ‘Well, that’s what your FM is for. Bring it to class,’ in front of everybody. It’s just annoying.” I have a trusting relationship with this student, and like many teenagers, her resistance to the equipment grows as outside pressure to wear it increases. I have since had conversations with teachers encouraging them to allow me to be the “bad guy” around FM use since the student and I have an agreed-upon plan. If you do not have a trusting connection with your reluctant FM user, find out who does and guide that person in helping begin consistent FM use.

Most importantly, listen to what your reluctant FM user is telling you. Many legitimate concerns can be addressed through adjustments to the FM programs, building self-awareness, or starting slowly. Although I’d love every student to start the year using the FM full-time in every class, I know that patience, and slow integration of FM – as well as making my student a partner in decisions regarding FM use – will pay off in the long run! Still not convinced? Listen to what my high school student, Stephanie, has to say!

(To access captions, view the video on YouTube.)
Try these strategies with your reluctant FM user and let us know how it goes! What other strategies have you used successfully to help your student accept an FM system?