Editor’s note: This is part three of a series on SLP-ESL educator collaboration. Read the first part, “Partnering With ESL Teachers to Better Serve Multilingual Children,” which appeared in December 2015; and the second part, “SLP and ESL Teacher Raise Awareness About Multilingual Needs and Benefits,” from July 2016.
This is my third and final blog on the ESL/speech-language pathologist partnership my colleague, Lauren Harrison, and I developed. This last installment shares lessons learned and tips about creating and running our “BiG” (Bilingualism is a Gift) campaign. I want to emphasize how one idea can make a difference. Our project involved presenting current, research-based information to help dispel myths and misinformation among those teaching and caring for children with communication challenges. We shared our campaign with families, caregivers, educators, psychologists, administrators and anyone else with an interest in a child’s development. We promoted “BiG” across our community!
Even if a lot of what I share seems like common sense, I thought some of our insights might help other SLPs hoping to form a similar collaboration or project.
- Form a clear and simple message. Our message emphasized that “Bilingualism is a Gift,” as well as that children with communication challenges of any kind should not be excluded. Provide staff and families with reader-friendly materials and research. Empower families and give others the tools to support them.
- Align your project with an aspect of a school mission or initiative. Part of our district’s priority is to “support diverse learning styles, civic interaction, global awareness and personal success.” Our campaign fit nicely with these priorities.
- Learn the chain of command, follow protocol and be respectful. Varied personnel will want to know about your project or collaborative efforts. Apologize if you inadvertently leave someone off an email invite or meeting request and make sure you keep anyone remotely interested in the loop. After informal conversations to share our ideas with friends and colleagues, our first official meeting included our director of early childhood services and our ESL coordinator. This protocol followed school guidelines and policies. The ESL director went to the superintendent on our behalf and the superintendent then invited us to share the idea with district’s school committee.
- Update all stakeholders—even those not directly involved—along the way. For example, my special education director wasn’t in project meetings because the project originated in the ESL department, so we kept her informed along the way.
- Be willing to go the extra mile. Caring educators want to work together and learn from one another. However, often this can’t all happen within the confines of a school day. Lauren and I worked on this project while working full-time on many unrelated responsibilities. We used calendar tools to set regular appointments and keep things moving. We used our individual strengths to assign ourselves appropriate tasks and timelines. We met before and after school. Tools like Google docs allowed us to edit, comment and respond on our own time. In addition, we called, emailed and texted in the evenings to review drafts and solidify plans. As pieces came together and outside interest increased, we got even more energized.
- Ask for help and be patient. Our flyer looked professional, thanks to the kindness of a friend with expertise in graphics who saw the value in helping. The campaign took nine months to develop. We call it our baby. Her name is “Hibah,” which means “gift” in Arabic.
- Tell your colleagues—near and far—about your project. They may want to get on board. Posts on Facebook, Twitter, and special interest groups got shared and discussed. Think even bigger and consider presenting at conferences and writing blog posts. Send your proposals to various education groups locally and at the state level. We’re amazed how our project gained momentum through these efforts!
- Be proud of your work. Many supportive administrators and colleagues—who applauded our ideas, enthusiasm, professionalism and research-based approach—contributed to our success with the BiG campaign.
What started out as a simple letter of information to local agencies and pediatricians turned into a wonderful project empowering diverse families, especially those of children with challenges. It also allowed for more open conversation from hesitant colleagues and enabled us to develop a message that shines. Other districts ask for permission to use the campaign and help us translate the flyers into other languages. Working together just makes the message stronger and more effective. We hope through venues like these that our “BiG” message will continue to spread.
We also hope our collaboration will inspire similar SLP-ESL teams, as well as more discussion and collaboration among other educators from varied disciplines and professional organizations. I was often the only SLP at several ESL conferences this year. The enthusiasm for our collaboration made it clear that ESL teachers want to work with SLPs. We have so much to learn from each other.
Maryann MacDougall, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician at an early childhood center for the Watertown, Massachusetts, school district. She’s worked with young children for more than 30 years. firstname.lastname@example.org