Finding joy and balance as a manager and a practitioner in public schools

Episode 126 February 09, 2023 00:33:17
Finding joy and balance as a manager and a practitioner in public schools
The Missing Link for SLPs
Finding joy and balance as a manager and a practitioner in public schools

Feb 09 2023 | 00:33:17


Show Notes

In this episode, Dr Jill Rentmeester-Disher, a manager in the Minnesota public school system, talks with Katie Widestrom-Landgraf about how she finds joy and balance in her work. Not only does she work on the management side, she is also hands-on with a caseload.  

Jill speaks of her interest in implementation science and using evidence-based practices to work with diverse caseloads and multilingual communities. She also talks about the importance of professional growth for practitioners from a managerial perspective, along with current staffing issues within the SLP field.

Visit for this episode's show notes, a full audio transcript and more great resources at the intersection of grad school and a successful SLP career.
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Episode Transcript

The Missing Link for SLPs Podcast Full Transcript Mattie Murrey-Tegels 00:06 Hi, Fresh SLPs. So glad you are listening to this podcast series. It has been so much fun listening to school based SLPs talk about what wakes them up in the morning and gets them going in our field. This next episode, we're going to be talking with Jill Rentmeester-Disher, and she has the unique position of being a manager of SLPs in a very large public school system. So, Jill Rentmeester-Disher – Dr. Rentmeester-Disher, is a manager of SLP services in the public schools, and she has had the privilege and honor of cultivating genius in 110 SLPs, who in turn cultivate genius in their students. Jill leads and partners with SLPs to implement equity based evidence-based practice in birth to 21 settings, where our SLPs believe that educational evaluations and services should not be predicted by a student's race. The status quo must be challenged to ensure all learners achieve their greatest potential. Relationships with other students and their families must be prioritized, and identity joy must be centered. When not managing, Jill has taught courses in higher education institutions and is actively involved in speech language pathology advocacy issues at the state level. As a hands-on manager, Jill jumps into birth through 21 caseload when needed, and continues to benefit from the joy of serving students and their families. Outside of this role, Jill spends time with her brave and kind daughter, educator husband, and snuggly boxer, Tipper. So, welcome to this episode of a Day in the Life of a School Based SLP. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 01:50 Welcome back, everyone, to a Day in the Life of the School Based SLP. We have a special guest with us today. Her name is Dr. Jill Rentmeester-Disher. Dr. Rentmeester-Disher, thank you for being here. Jill Rentmeester-Disher 02:04 Thank you so much for having me. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 02:07 We're so glad you made it. We are both in Minnesota. And so, when I comment on being so glad you made it, today was a hectic, crazy, snowy day. So, we're glad that you're here. And joining us. Jill Rentmeester-Disher 02:22 Yes, embracing winter together Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 02:26 That's right. That's right. So, I'm really interested to learn about your story, and I think the best place to start is at the beginning. So, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey that led you to becoming a school based SLP? Jill Rentmeester-Disher 02:46 Oh, yeah. So, the journey began, probably, soon after high school, and in that year between high school and college, and I knew I was very much interested in special education, but what area of that was something that I knew that would evolve in college. And so, in that very first year, like so many of us, the introduction to communication disorders, just was a spark in every way, shape, or form. I remember just knowing that point, this is the area of special education. And I do feel very early on, I was always an educator from the start. Although in the introduction to communication disorders, and all through undergrad and grad, and PhD program, of course, I love the clinic side of this field, and the medical field, but I have always deeply identified as an educator from way back in freshman year, introduction to communication disorders, and all throughout. And I think educator versus speech language pathology is such a very fine line of difference for me. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 04:21 Interesting. So, when I think about you, you have a really unique role, and we're all looking forward to hearing more about that. Could you talk a bit more about your specific setting and your specific position – your current role in the schools? Jill Rentmeester-Disher 04:38 Yes. So, in the schools I am a manager of speech language pathology, a type of supervisor within the special education department in my district. And I would consider my district maybe a mid-size urban district, about 30,000 to 35,000 students, a very diverse community. So, in my role in the district, I supervise, in any given year, about 110 speech language pathologists, about 15 special education interpreters. And then, in terms of my roles and responsibility, in addition to supervising those two groups of wonderful professionals, then other roles and responsibilities relate to special education in general. So, initiatives and policies and innovation, inclusion, and the role of the SLP in school life. And planning with other special education managers and directors about how we all come together as different types of educators, whether it's therapists or teachers, to support students, and helping them become who they wish to be. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 06:18 That's wonderful. So, can I pick your brain a little bit about your pursuit of your doctorate? I am curious to know what inspired you to continue your education? Was that a requirement for the role that you're currently in? Could you talk a little bit more about that? Jill Rentmeester-Disher 06:37 In general, as a manager in my mid-size district, a PhD is not required, but, historically, it has been a degree that folks have carried. And so, when I was considering going back to get my PhD, it certainly was always something that I was interested in. Meaning that I always loved the idea of using a PhD within a school district, within a K-12 institution. So, that to me, was just implementation science at its best. And in putting theory into action, and partnering with all of the stakeholders that I loved as a clinician. So, going back to get my PhD, I was so lucky at the University of Minnesota, there was such a wonderful group of faculty there at the time, and some of them are still there, and they were instrumental in helping me carve a path that I wanted to be on. Because in the PhD program, you do need to find your path and find your passion, and there's so much independent work in the PhD program to be who you wish to be. And so, I had really wonderful advisors that recognized that I love the idea of implementation science in a K-12 setting. Although was – would be wonderful too, I mean that was also clearly a path for many people, it just – I did want to think about implementation science with practitioners. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 08:57 I think what's interesting when you talk about implementation science is that we sometimes back into those really meaty questions that we want to look at and focus on only after we've had some time and practice. And were there any burning questions for you that you felt like you had to look at? Or you had to answer? Like were there questions that were primary drivers for you in pursuing this degree? Jill Rentmeester-Disher 09:33 Early on, yes. And then midway through, those changed. And at the end of the PhD program, they evolved further. So, I think in stages. There were always driving questions that made me curious. So, early on, what initially made me curious was serving a very diverse caseload, and having the opportunity at the University of Minnesota to dive deep into that. At that time, Dr. Kathy Kohnert was there. And if you know her, she's just so energetic, and brilliant, and deeply connected to the communities that she served as a speech pathologist, and that were part of the aim of her research. And so, that energy, and that curiosity that she had for bilingual learners, early on, that is definitely what brought me to the University of Minnesota because I was serving a multilingual population, and I loved every bit of it. And so, I wanted to know what are effective assessment and intervention methods for a diverse caseload? And so, that's how it started off, and being part of that wonderful research lab. And then, you know, the PhD program, the kinds of twists and turns, and then other things pop up in life. And then, I got more curious about, okay, how do assessment and interventions, methods for multilingual learners, how do they show up on caseloads in large K-12 settings? And how do we support practitioners in implementing practices that we know are evidence-based, but that may need some coaching and support? And what systems do we create in K-12 to make sure that tools and resources for assessment intervention for multilingual learners are accessible by all the practitioners, and the coaching is available to make that work out really well for students and their caregivers. So, that kind of morphed. And then at the end of the PhD program – this is just how it goes, the twists and turns. It twists and turns. At least, it twisted and turned for me. Then I was, at the end, more interested in professional growth of practitioners, and then how to support professional growth across all practices – not just practices for assessment, and intervention for multilingual learners, which brought me to the University of Minnesota, but professional growth practices across all of the roles and responsibilities that we carried. And how that showed up was developing performance evaluation – a performance evaluation system for school based SLPs, and that was my dissertation. So, that – Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 13:17 Amazing! Wow! Jill Rentmeester-Disher 13:17 – really was like twists and turns throughout. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 13:22 Yes! Jill Rentmeester-Disher 13:22 [inaudible] ended, and it was a really beautiful way to end the PhD program. And every day – every day, like just even today, and as I'm at work supporting folks that I support, I strongly believe that when we support professional growth of practitioners, we support growth of students and their caregivers. And so, that logic chain is still – it developed in my PhD program, but it's still very present on a daily basis. We support professional growth of practitioners, and in turn we support the growth of students. And for our youngest learners, their caregivers. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 14:15 So, what's interesting about that, is I do know at the present time, though, in addition to all of those system level supports, and the support of practitioners, and those managerial responsibilities that you have, I know that right now you're still also doing therapy with students as a portion of your job. Which is maybe kind of mind blowing to some of our listeners, that you're doing both. And, I think, historically, at least from my experience, when somebody's in an administrative or a supervisory position, they oftentimes are disconnected from the practice. Could you talk a little bit about still practicing, and managing how you balance some of those things? Let's get into that a bit. Jill Rentmeester-Disher 15:07 Mhm. Well, you know, during COVID times this has been also a journey that has twisted and turned in many directions, because during COVID, and now the great resignation, and other factors that impact staffing – and staffing is the number one barrier, from my perspective, to innovation. And so staffing, we really deeply need to think about how best to come up with short term, midterm, and long-term solutions. What happens now, for supervisors and managers and directors, and other – just that level of managers in any organization, is that you do become a short term solution for staffing. And many times during the past few years, and currently, because we need to cover services. And so, this year, I have covered services two days a week. And then the other three days, I manage. And that does lead to managing on weekends and nights. So, anytime you do cover caseload on top of managing, you do risk some work life balance. And so, you do have to work very hard to address that. That's a risk. But the positives and benefits of carrying caseload and managing at the same time, is that you always have the opportunity for your own reality checks on the systems that you aim to create, or that you have created for individuals. You then get the reality check of, do these systems actually work for the caseload that I'm responsible for? And so, you get these wonderful checks and balances on tools and resources. Because creating tools and resources at the systems level is a big role of a manager. So, when you carry a caseload, you get to see in real time systems at work, and tools and resources at work. So, I love that piece of it, and I love the iteration process that goes with that. So, the process that this tool and resource actually can greatly be improved upon because it doesn't actually work as well as planned. And carrying caseload, I get the opportunity to partner with the other SLPs in the building, and the teachers, of course, and the assistants. So, that also brings a lot of joy to a manager. So, while the biggest risk is work life balance, it can be tricky when you cover caseload and manage, the benefits are wonderful. And this year, I cover caseload every Tuesday and Wednesday, and I look forward to it. Now, when I'm at 7:00 o'clock in the morning, there's – I won't lie, I look at my to- do list, my manager to-do list, and I think, ‘Well, I'll be getting none of this done today. Because today I must focus on this caseload, and I must be present for the students’. And if I'm working with little kids, their caregivers, and you must be present. And I cannot – when I’m covering caseload, I cannot come up with any excuse that, ‘Jill is not at her best’, because I'm a manager, and this is just a side gig. I have to be fully present, just like any SLP would be fully present for their caseload. So, I think my experience is not unusual during this time of multiple roles. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 19:36 I think your experience of actively practicing while managing is somewhat unique. And from the perspective of someone who has only carried a caseload and who has not managed, I would be delighted if individuals who created systems and tools and expectations, had that rooted in an actual caseload experience. So, when I'm hearing you talking, I'm thinking to myself, that would be wonderful. If every person who's managing or supervising could contextualize the ask, the expectation, the tools, with the realities of that day to day workflow. So, I heard you say that the joy, of course, is working with students and caregivers and teams, and the challenge is work-life balance. Do you anticipate it being like this for a while? Do you think that balance will come? Are you just living in the present? Jill Rentmeester-Disher 20:56 You know, in the past few years, when you're carrying those multiple roles, I've had to do more, I would say self-care. I have needed to pick up more books, or listen to more blogs, or tune in to podcasts that focus on self-care and balance. Because I want to – you want to do your best in both roles, but you know that there are limited resources. So, do I think it’s going to get better? I don't know, Katie. There are times where I think mid-term and short term staffing solutions are going to take a bit, whether it's medical or the education field. There are only so many graduates a year, because there are really big requirements that have to be met for graduation. There aren't a plethora of SPLA programs, although those are starting. The needs are really great because of COVID. And so, I do think we're going to be here for a little while, and I guess I like to prepare for it. So, that's what I work on, is balance, and finding things that helped me achieve that. And, yeah, there are all kinds of resources. I don't know if I have a particular one. But, I guess, in sum, I think that there will be staffing challenges for a while. And that, due to that, we have to think about system changes, short, mid, and long term solutions to staffing. And just making sure that we have the people not only in schools, but in medical clinics as well, in medical institutions – that are also really suffering from staffing challenges right now. So many of us are in the same boat. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 23:41 Right. Jill Rentmeester-Disher 23:43 And so, there – when we think of short, mid and long term thinking with that, it's not just manpower and person power – I should say person power. It's also thinking about service models, evidence-based practices – how those are implemented to help us handle some days of higher caseloads. So, when we don't find the people that we need, what other tools and resources can we do to manage what is now a bit higher caseload than we've had in the past? And I don't think we're unusual in the schools in that way. I think medical clinics have some really big numbers too. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 24:36 So, when I'm thinking about our listeners, I'm thinking about folks who are maybe in graduate school, folks who are thinking about maybe a career change. If you had a piece of advice for individuals looking at working in the schools, what would you most want them to know? Jill Rentmeester-Disher 24:59 The schools are full of joy and meaning. There isn't one minute –. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 25:12 Yeah. Jill Rentmeester-Disher 25:13 Just even thinking about it. Like when people ask me that, it actually – it does, it makes me emotional because I think like every minute in a school is just a really beautiful minute. So, that's one thing the listeners should know. The day that you – the moment that you walk in, and the moment you walk out – all day, you have the opportunity to build connections with young learners, and that is such a beautiful gift. That day will be very diverse because in the schools we serve whatever the needs are for that particular school. And that often means wonderful ability, diversity, and wonderful areas of all the identity diversity. And so, that is joy felt. That is joy filled. And then in terms of – so that's your heart. The heart – your heart in schools really benefits from identity joy. All the different identities that we have in schools just makes your heart sing. And in terms of practises, it's a busy day. It's a busy day filled with one-on-one service, filled with small group service, filled with push-in service, pull-out service, caregiver service, coaching service with assistance, collaboration service. It's filled with all these different services that also bring an incredible amount of joy. But in order to pull it off successfully, you do need to have a good backpack of evidence-based practices. And you kind of need to hone in on those practices that are big levers, and then sort of let go of some of the practices that may not be as big of levers. And so, when we're working with new SLPs – and in my district, we think deeply about those big levers and categories of skills that we tend to serve. So, what are the big levers for language literacy intervention? And how do we make sure that people have tools and resources for those big levers? When it comes to speech Sound disorders, what are some big levers? Do we have the tools or resources and the coaching for it? And then for fluency, because that is a lower frequency disorder impairment in general, do we have tools and resources and some expert coaching in that area? So, that's part of being in schools, is thinking about you know you're going to have a really awesome diverse caseload, and you want to have in your backpack those certain evidence-based practices that are going to be efficient for you and effective. And that's kind of fun in this field, right now, because there's just a lot of great information that can be gathered. And I think distance learning, the past few years, there's been even a further explosion of materials and resources, and a lot of them are really nice, evidence-based resources that people can now easily access to prepare for diverse caseloads in schools. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 29:14 Wow. I mean, Jill, the time flew by. I can't believe it, but we're almost out of time. I really do want to thank you so much for the conversation. I want to thank you for talking to us about meaning and joy and balance. Is there anything that we neglected to mention? Any parting words or thoughts or takeaways that you want us to be thinking about as we wrap up? Jill Rentmeester-Disher 29:44 I think anytime we have the opportunity to talk speech and language, my heart always goes towards connection. Yeah, connection. That is the beautiful thing about this job. It's the connection with staff, as a manager, that I love. It’s the connection with students and their caregivers that I love when I carry caseload, and what therapists love who carry a caseload every day. It's the connection to something that we believe in. So, I identify strongly as an educator. So, to serve within public education just connects me to a core value. That connection is also present. And within that equity, the connection and the values towards equity. And so, that's kind of what's going through my mind right now as we talk about speech pathology, is just my heart is thinking about all the connections every day that bring meaning and joy. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 30:58 You know, connection, to me, is always the first step, and it's never wasted time. And that's been a through line through this whole series, is that connection is always the first step, and it's never wasted time. Jill Rentmeester-Disher 31:13 No, no. [crosstalk] Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 31:15 Oh, thank you. Jill Rentmeester-Disher 31:18 Thank you! Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 31:20 We appreciate you. Jill Rentmeester-Disher 31:23 Right back at you. I appreciate you, and appreciate you putting this space out there to talk about these awesome issues, and just the ability to think about these in a podcast, and to listen and be inspired. And I'm not saying about me, I'm just – I’m saying about your guests! [crosstalk] I don't want to listen to me and be inspired. But I love this idea that you guys thought of. I mean, it's just awesome. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 31:52 Yeah. Thanks. Mattie Murrey-Tegels 31:58 Hi, Fresh SLPs. I hope you enjoyed that episode as much as I did. Because I am not school based, Jill's perspective, and the discussion she had with Katie, was something I could have only dreamed about listening in on. It is so interesting pulling these guests on and getting their perspective of what it's like to work wherever we are working in our field, and Jill adds the valuable perspective of being a manager in a large public school system. She talked about the challenges, the joys, the rewards, how she balances, what she's required to do, and all of those things. So, I really hope you enjoyed this episode. We are working on this series. We're working on this podcast to answer your questions as you navigate your career. So, come check us out at Reach back to us on Facebook, or email us and let us know what your questions are, and we will tailor podcast episodes in the future for you. As always, like us, subscribe, follow – our following is growing. We are closing in on 75,000 downloads around the world. Pretty exciting! This is episode 126, and we are doing nothing but growing, growing, growing. So, thanks for being part of the fresh SLP family, and have a great day!

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