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?

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Mainstream Resources

by: Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech

A very special thank you to Oticon, for their generous sponsorship of Clarke’s spring #MainstreamResources series on social media, which wrapped up yesterday. We hope the information provided over the past seven weeks was helpful as parents and professionals are adjusting to different versions of working, learning and teaching from home. To find the complete list of resources, please visit

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Mainstream News Spring Resource Series

by: Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech

Starting tomorrow, Clarke will launch a special spring edition of Mainstream News sponsored by Oticon

In an effort to provide relevant, regular content to parents and professionals working from home, we will publish a Mainstream News Spring Resources Series with posts three times per week on topics like hearing tech care at home, distance learning tips, self-care for educators and more. 

Follow along  on Facebook and Twitter with #MainstreamResources

See you tomorrow!  

Monday, March 30, 2020

Embracing Teleservice

Things have changed overnight for schools, educators and families. Remote learning is taking place in many states, with varying degrees of preparedness, from elementary schools through college.
Teleservice, or the application of telecommunications technology to deliver professional services at a distance, is not new for many itinerant educators and in this uncertain time, it’s essential. With teleservice, we can maintain quality service delivery to our students who are deaf or hard of hearing; connect with families and school staff; and interface with our colleagues.
Today, I made some hot coffee and sat on my couch with my computer, ready to contact students and consult teachers right from the comfort of my living room.
            Usually one to see possibilities and solutions, when initially presented with the opportunity to work with students through teleservice, all I saw were problems and reasons why it wouldn’t work. How can I build authentic connections with students virtually? And before we transitioned to all distance learning during this public health emergency, I wondered: how could I possibly offer modifications for instruction when I’m not in the classroom? How would I ever get a genuine sense of the students’ academic skills and social relationships with peers if I couldn’t observe those moments? What kind of accountability would there be when I wasn’t able to pop into classes and see how my student was carrying over skills? And, I hate computers. Why on earth would I want to spend my day sitting at a computer when I chose this career in part because of the social interactions, constant change in scenery and schedule flexibility?
            Much to my surprise, I’ve quickly come to embrace this new model of itinerant services. I’ve found that all of my initial concerns have been quite easy to address. As with any new challenge, I researched what had been done in terms of teleservice with other organizations. I spoke with a colleague who had used this method. And I decided to simply embrace it. Below are my tips for starting out:

·      Determine your model. A hybrid model includes some in-person visits and some teleservice visits, versus a pure teleservice model where there will be no in-person visits. Distance is often the determining factor, or in this case right now, closed schools.
·      Familiarize yourself with the platform you’re using. It’s important you adhere to any guidelines and regulations put in place to maximize accessibility for the population(s) you serve. I’ve found that most schools use Google, and GoogleMeet is easy to use. Skype, Facetime, Zoom and any other accessible method also work well. Additionally, Google classroom works on X-box and PS4 for students who have gaming consoles but not computers.
·      Connect with your school team (including the student and family)and set clear goals for the sessions. Will you meet with the student or just the team of teachers? Right now, meeting with students in their homes virtually will also require coordinating with parents or caregivers.
·      Send materials in advance. When I meet with students directly, I communicate with my school team leader and the parent or guardian  ahead of time and send any resources that the student will need (such as when we are working on advocacy and completing scales or making goal plans) so that the student can have the materials in front of them as we go over things. If I will need materials that the student has (such as academic resources from class), those can be scanned by the teacher and sent to me through email, or sometimes I can access them directly from the students school account.
·      Create resources for your mainstream educator colleagues working remotely, if possible. Anything that can be done live can also be done virtually. Consider recording an in-service so that staff can watch it on their own with your actual narration. This was a tip from my colleague which is quite simple but also very effective. My presentation can now be used over and over without any extra work on my part and teachers appreciate having the opportunity to go back and review as well as being able to watch it at a time that works for them.
·      Leverage Email. Email becomes even more valuable! I am able to email resources and observation follow up notes, the same way that I do when I physically drive to a school to consult. With teleservice being a new model for most schools and students, my expertise in the technology and accessibility features (e.g. live captioning) as well as what my students need in terms of access (e.g. visual access, direct connection of the HAT system to the computer for auditory access) has made consultation with teachers and school teams just as critical as when I’m visiting schools in person during the year.

I’m still figuring out the nuances of this practice but as more and more students with hearing loss are requiring support services, teleservice may very well be the wave of the future. During the pandemic when most schools have gone online, I’m hopeful that even more resources and strategies will emerge.

Live captioning for Google Slides:

Tips for creating a virtual classroom in Zoom:

A list of companies offering free educational subscriptions due to closings:

Accessibility strategies for deaf/ hard of hearing people in remote meetings:

Friday, March 13, 2020

Staying Healthy, Being Prepared

Clarke takes the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak seriously and is dedicated to ensuring proper protocols are in place to protect staff, students and family. Updates and CDC resources for the Clarke community are regularly posted at

According to Education Week: “as of March 13, 2020, 11 a.m. ET, at least 18,700 schools have been closed or are scheduled to close, affecting at least 8.1 million students.”

In the event of school closures, self-quarantine or a transition to online learning, here are some helpful resources for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. These may be helpful for families advocating for their child’s educational needs, as well as mainstream classroom teachers and support staff:

·      Best practices for making online learning accessible to children who are deaf of hard of hearing

·      COVID-19 and students with disabilities

·      Talking to Children about COVID-19: A Parent Resource

Take care and be well

Friday, February 21, 2020

Making the Grade

Preparing Your Students (and Yourself!)
It’s midterm and finals time for all of my junior high and high school students. I’ve worked with my schools to make sure accommodations are in place for students who will take their exams in separate settings. I’ve met with the staff who will be administering the exams, and I’ve arranged my schedule when I’ll be the one administering. I’ve worked with my students to create comprehensive study plans, and most importantly: I’ve made sure that teachers, families, and support staff understand that the work must be done by my students.
            I’ve often found that the staff supporting students with different learning needs feel that the students’ grades are a reflection of their abilities as support staff and educators. While I also want my students to succeed, I do not share this belief. Here are some helpful reminders for what can be a stressful time of year:

·      I will work hard to teach my students the literacy, language skills and strategies that they need in order to access curriculum.
·      I will work with teachers to modify tests and assignments to meet the language levels of my students.
·      I will support my students in advocating for their learning needs.
·      In the end, their grades are not a reflection of my abilities as a teacher of the deaf, but a reflection of their abilities as a student.

Offering Support , Encouraging Independence
            I can provide resources for my students and teach them how to use them. I cannot make my students use these materials. I can instruct my students in how to study effectively and effectively for exams. I cannot go home with them and make them implement these practices. Some of my students are strong academically and in honors or AP-level classes. Some students struggle more and are appropriately placed in more basic or even remedial-level classes. While I want everyone to do well, it is not to the benefit of my students if I “give” them answers or overly support them, especially during exams. This creates an unrealistic picture of the students’ true abilities and skill levels, and can lead to incorrect placement or expectations in future classes.

It is not my job to make sure all of my students get As, but it is my job to ensure that they have access to the curriculum, and that I am teaching the skills needed in order for that to happen. When grades are lower than expected—or desired—I work with my students to analyze why that is. Did the student apply the study strategies we discussed? Did they take advantage of the tools, accommodations and modifications available to them? Did they advocate for what they needed? Did the teachers provide agreed-upon support tools? And of course, no matter what the final grade may be, I always try to emphasize that a grade is just a grade. It gives some academic information but does not define my student as a person.

So here’s to finals! How do you support your students and educational teams?