ASHA Schools 2013: Putting Your Best Foot Forward

school shoes
I needed to find some bandages. Even though it was Friday morning of my fourth ASHA Schools Conference I had somehow conveniently forgotten how even the most seemingly comfortable shoes can feel like torture devices after a day of running and I had forgotten to bring bandages. Luckily the very nice concierge listened to my tale of woe and, instead of making me walk five blocks to the nearest drug store, gave me four bandages from the hotel’s super secret hidden first aid kit. Bingo—I was set.

I don’t wear fancy shoes very often (and usually new shoes for me means new running shoes) but every now and then I’ll splurge on a pair that promises pizzazz and comfort. Hence my silver platform pumps that were actually cleverly disguised “wellness shoes.” Yowza. Off I went to the Long Beach Convention Center.

In the ballroom for the opening plenary: So far so good. Everyone is busy getting their materials and buzzing around saying hi to friends and colleagues. The opening speaker, Murray Banks, infused the audience with his energy and passion for teaching. Once named the Teacher of the Year in Vermont and a recipient of the Outstanding Educator Award from the American Alliance for Health, Physical Recreation and Dance, Murray told the audience that they, as SLPs, were charged with a special mission for each student—to connect with them, no matter how difficult. “Each day,” he said, “remember to look in the mirror and tell yourself ‘It’s show time!’”

The morning sessions were good—really good. I wanted to go to both Sylvia Diehl’s presentation on autism and executive function where the audience learned why “visual supports are the bomb!” and Patti Prelock’s session where she helped the audience identify steps to make an effective integrated team to support students with severe disabilities. I had to divide my time and (of course) they were located at opposite ends of the conference center. I could feel my feet becoming one with my shoes but in a good way. Each speaker emphasized the importance of looking at each child and really learning what was behind the behaviors and to the goals.  In other words, improve a life one story at a time.

Meanwhile I was beginning to take note of the shoes conference attendees were wearing as they, too, ran from session to session. I had already fielded several questions about how comfortable my shoes were, so I was curious about others’ choices. If I had to say there was an overall theme, it was comfort. But that didn’t keep some from wearing heels, straps, and sometimes even flowers on their feet.

It was in Wayne Secord’s Friday afternoon session I gained some insight into the conference’s attendees’ shoe choices. Secord presented the results of a questionnaire that he had presented to each state’s top two speech-language pathologists (each state determined the qualifications and chose one from the schools and one from health care). The idea was for the answers to this questionnaire to illuminate what sets these great speech-language pathologists apart. The presentation was fascinating and some of the characteristics Secord pointed out resonated with me:

  • They remember their priorities
  • Not afraid to take risks
  • They understand the big picture
  • They never got too comfortable in their jobs

And then I started thinking about some of the shoes I was seeing.  They weren’t just comfortable, they were athletic and purposeful. They weren’t just fun, they were creative. They weren’t just borderline uncomfortable, they were a way to not get too comfortable. So, in fact, the very members who were attending this conference and racing to go to all the sessions they possibly could, were, in a way, embracing and displaying the characteristics identified to place them in the top in their profession. I met so many wonderful people at this conference and was reminded once again what a special breed it takes to be a school-based speech-language pathologist.

Going forward into the conference on Saturday and Sunday, the race continued as there was so much to see. People were running to catch Vivian Siskin’s session on Avoidance Reduction Therapy for children who stutter; others clamored to see Bonnie Singer’s instructional strategies for academic writing; and there was practically a stampede of members vying to hear Judy Montgomery share vocabulary strategies to support the Common Core State Standards. I did notice, however, that the number of high heels had greatly diminished by Sunday.

After one of the afternoon sessions I decided to check out the exhibitors in the Exhibition Hall. Among the many vendors of books, speech software and literacy programs, I came upon Kathie Kenaston who was representing the Fairbanks, Alaska, school district and trying to recruit SLPs to come to Alaska. A former California girl, Kathie has lived in Alaska for more than 20 years and loves it. I asked her how recruitment was going and she said that it’s slow but steady.

“Going to Alaska isn’t for everyone, but it’s perfect for the right person. I’ve seen people embrace it but I’ve also seen people not be able to handle it,” she said. “When I’m talking to someone about it I can usually tell if they’d like it by their shoes.”

Look for more ASHA Schools Conference 2013 coverage online in the upcoming August issue of The ASHA Leader.

Kellie Rowden-Racette is the print and online editor for The ASHA Leader. She can be reached at krowden-racette@asha.org.