Fixer or Facilitator?
As a former itinerant staff member in a local school district, I can identify with how difficult it is to feel like you are really making an impact. From the large caseloads to student schedules, to the traveling from building to building, and everything in between, it can be hard to know if you are making a difference. I lived that life for more than thirteen years, and there were many times when I walked out of school wondering if I had made any impact at all that day. I saw improvements in my students, which told me that I was doing something right; but I often wondered if there was more, a different way of providing service that could make a bigger impact or have more benefit.
On this path of discovery, I asked myself a few important questions that helped me to make the decision to change the way I was doing things. The questions I asked were: “Do I just want to fix the holes on the surface, or do I really want to get in there and solidify the structure that will lead to longer lasting and farther reaching results?” “Do I just want to teach the child to say words, or do I want him or her to communicate meaningfully?” Once I stopped and thought about the answers to these questions, I knew what I needed to do. I couldn’t just keep shoring up the house with ‘jacks,’ I had to find a way to firm up the foundation so the house could stand without supports. I needed to find a way to make communication meaningful, and not just a rote skill of learning words to say.
I was lucky enough to find a different way to conceptualize my role for each individual student. In order to do this, I had to change my way of thinking from that of “fixer” to being a “facilitator.” What do I mean when I say I changed from fixer to facilitator? As a speech and language pathologist, I was trained to “fix” the disordered speech and/or language. If a child was unable to correctly produce the ‘r’ sound, I taught him/her how to make the ‘r’ sound. If a child wasn’t talking, I taught him/her how to name pictures or objects. Twelve years later when I learned how to “facilitate” development as a way of remediating deficits, I was no longer just looking at a specific problem and using my tools to “fix” it, I was looking at all the foundations necessary for that skill to determine the true starting place in remediating the deficit. So for the child who couldn’t talk, I wasn’t trying to just teach words anymore. I was looking at all the foundations of communication that are needed prior to saying a first word. I started thinking about what was foundationally missing for each child in order to determine the starting place in therapy. Having this new way of thinking helped me to be a “facilitator” of communication development by providing each child opportunities throughout their day to build the foundations needed for correcting the deficits they were experiencing.
Do you want to be a ‘fixer,’ or a ‘facilitator?’ Do you want to merely cover up the holes on the surface, or shore up the foundation that is causing those holes? The following list of questions will set you on the path to being a ‘facilitator.’ By taking the time to answer these questions you will have a better understanding of each student, as well as your role in the school as a whole.
5 questions to think about as an itinerant staff person:
- What is the best setting for this child to receive services?Does the child do best in a one-on-one setting, a small group, or within the classroom? Does the child need a quiet low stimulation environment that is free of distractions and noise? Is it best to see the child in the morning or afternoon? Is it better to provide services sitting on the floor, at a table, moving around the room, or swinging on a swing? These are all questions that need to be thought about when designing a child’s therapy.
- What are the goals for my time with the child? One of the biggest things to consider when answering this question is to stop and think about the child’s future. What are the ultimate goals for this child when they become an adult. What do the parents want for their child long term? After this question has been answered, then you can take a step back and think about what needs to happen in the immediate future to reach the long term goals. You must also look at whether the child has the foundations to reach even the short term goals. An annual goal of having a reciprocal conversation may begin with just being comfortable sitting in a room together. Your goals for your time with the child will change from week to week and month to month, but they should all build on each other – and should be built on a solid foundation.
- How can I support classroom/school success for the child? When working in a school setting, one of the biggest goals is to help the child be as independent as possible. As an itinerant service provider, it is your job to determine how you can support this goal of independence. How you support this goal can look very different depending on the child’s needs. At times you may be seeing the child on a regular basis; at other times you may be providing service only occasionally to the child, but talking regularly to the classroom staff; at still at other times you may only be consulting with classroom staff on effective strategies for the classroom as a whole. Whatever level of support you are providing, having all of the players on the same page is key.
- How do I build an effective relationship with parents? In my experience, regular ongoing communication with parents is essential. At a minimum, parents should receive weekly notes letting them know what was being worked on in each session. For students with more needs, including autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, a monthly team meeting provides an opportunity for sharing successes and concerns with all staff members and parents in attendance. Keeping parents in the loop with what is happening at school and providing them the opportunity to share about home is so important for the child’s success. I have found that when we take the time to let parents share their concerns and really listen to what they would like for their child, we discover that what they want isn’t so different from what we as school staff would like to see. Typically, what parents see as concerns really stem back to those foundations I wrote about above. If we can go back and shore up the holes in the foundation, many of the parents concerns as well as our own.
- How do I stay connected? I know how difficult it is as an itinerant staff member to feel like you really belong when you are moving from building to building. I found that one of the best ways to stay connected is to first of all find a home base and be a part of that staff. I sat on school improvement teams, social committees, child study teams, and more over the years as a way to stay connected. In the buildings where I spent only short amounts of time, I made a point of talking with the principal now and then to share how things were going and to find ways that I could be helpful. I also would make sure that I had a good relationship with the secretaries in each building (they know everything) as a way of staying connected. I also tried to make sure that I ate lunch in the staff lounge in whichever building I was working as a time to connect with the staff on a more personal level. Going from place to place and not really feeling like you fit in can be difficult, so choosing one home base can go a long way in establishing a connection with the district as a whole.
Being an itinerant staff person can be a challenging and rewarding job. It is one with a very unique perspective, and the potential to touch many lives over the course of a week. You not only have the opportunity to support the students, but to influence the staff with whom you work. Because of this, you need to decide if you will be a ‘fixer’ or a ‘facilitator.’ Should you decide that you are a ‘facilitator’ or want to become one, I would encourage you to take some time to consider the five questions I posed above to determine if there are some changes you can make to the way you view your role.