Hi! As the school year comes to a close, I can't help but reflect about the year (and years) that past, as well as look ahead to next year. I've been a SLP for 13 years, and like all of us, I've learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way. I love to share these thoughts with student clinicians and "newbies", hopefully to make their journey a little smoother, and I thought, why not share with all of you? I bet you have a list, too. So here's my top ten (in no particular order) lessons learned as a SLP:
1. Tell your clients their goals, and often. Years ago, my CF supervisor gave me some great advice....always tell your clients why they're there, and remind them often. This is one of the first things I teach student clinicians...goals should never be a secret. They are not MY goals, they are the CLIENT'S goals. If they can't tell you why they go to "speech", they will never take ownership of their progress. In my experience, you need to review goals monthly, or even weekly, to keep their "eye on the prize".
2. Be nice. No, seriously... be NICE. A very wise colleague/friend always says, "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar." It's amazing how far kind words and joy in your heart will get you. I find this particularly crucial in a school setting. If you can't be nice, don't work with people.
3. A former colleague once told me that her 90-year-old mother's life motto was "Virtue lay in the middle." I think this is very true in our profession. To me, she meant BALANCE. Sometimes, you have to meet people halfway. We've all been in a position where our clinical judgement tells us to do X, and a parent/client wants Y. Depending on how supportive (or unsupportive) your administration is, you may have to bend a little (or a lot) and provide something you wouldn't have otherwise. Sometimes you have to compromise for everyone's sake. Sometimes the fight just isn't worth it. Not always, but sometimes. You can't win them all...sometimes you have to give in. Fight the fights you can win, and that are worth fighting. Let go of the rest (and your ego). Balance.
4. Guard your free time. A superintendent of schools I once worked for said, "Rebecca, this district will be happy to take your free and personal time. It's up to you if you let us." Profound, right? I'm a SLP, but I am many other things, too. I'm a mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend, etc.....Never forget that work is work, no matter how dedicated you are....don't let work take all of your free and personal time. Believe me, they will try. Live your life.
5. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be honest, and explicit. Tell parents/clients what you honestly think is best (see #2 about being nice when you do it ;). Practice good communication skills. Be consistent; don't do "personal" or "back-door" favors. Stay out of the politics! Politics are EVERYWHERE. And everyone has an agenda (even us, hopefully for the right reasons). Do your job professionally and with integrity. Don't fall into the political trap and compromise your ethics; treat every client the same, no matter who they are (or who they know).
6. Keep learning. A school psychologist once said to me, "You don't know everything, Rebecca." This was after I declined to go to the same seminar I had been to several times. I agreed with her. I don't know everything (PS- I never will). It's impossible to know everything. That's one of the main reasons I started blogging. I was learning so many new ideas and "tricks" of the trade from other bloggers, I wanted to be a part of the dialogue. Not because I have all the answers, but rather because I DON'T.
7. Nobody's perfect. Nobody. It's not possible to be perfect (see "keep learning" above), yet SLPs more than most any other profession, in my opinion, strive for perfection. I once heard someone say, "I am not my mistakes. You are not your mistakes, and I am not mine." Have I forgotten to write progress reports in time---yup. Did I under-service a student for an entire year once a long time ago---yup. Work on the wrong objective for a few months---sure thing. We all make mistakes. Learn from them, forgive yourself, and move on. Try your best, but expect to make mistakes. We. All. Do. One of my favorite professors ever said, "Nobody ever died from speech therapy, Rebecca." (Except dysphagia, of course;). What she meant was, it's OKAY to make mistakes. Nobody is going to die from them. Honestly. Not even you.
8. Have fun. Every human wants to have fun. We do, and so do our clients. I know that sometimes we take heat from non-SLPs about "playing games" in therapy, but that just tells me they need more education about what therapy, and the human experience, is. No, life is not all fun-and-games (PS-neither is therapy), but why NOT make it fun if it can be? Seriously, why not?
9. Make new friends, but keep the old. I don't think I've ever met as many intelligent people as the SLPs I've worked with---in schools, hospitals, and the VNA. Never, never burn bridges. Consult with colleagues, old and new, and keep that professional learning community alive (see #6).
10. Be flexible. If you're feeling cognitively rigid, see #3. Be as flexible as possible...in scheduling, in service delivery, etc. Give people choices if you can. Let clients/students choose their favorite activities. If we're trying to teach others to think flexibly, shouldn't we also try it? Be a role-model for other professionals, work interdisciplinary...and remember, we're all in this together.
So that's it. My top ten all-time lessons learned as a SLP. Well, so far, anyway ;)
What are yours?