She’s Back! Katie Widestrom-Landgraf talks on the joys of a switch to a school-based SLP

Episode 114 October 25, 2022 00:27:45
She’s Back! Katie Widestrom-Landgraf talks on the joys of a switch to a school-based SLP
The Missing Link for SLPs
She’s Back! Katie Widestrom-Landgraf talks on the joys of a switch to a school-based SLP

Oct 25 2022 | 00:27:45


Show Notes

This first episode in a new series sees the welcome return of Katie Widestrom-Landgraf. In this episode, Katie reflects on how and why she switched from being a medical SLP to school-based, and how much she still loves a day in the life of a school-based SLP, over 20 years later.

Stay tuned! For the next 10 episodes of this series, Katie will be bringing her school-based SLP experience to the interviewing seat and talking with various guests also working in schools and educational settings. 

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.
Not a substitute for a formal SLP education or medical advice for patients/caregivers.
Fresh SLP is in no way affiliated with or representing any university.

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Episode Transcript

The Missing Link for SLPs Podcast Full Transcript Mattie Murrey-Tegels 00:06 So, welcome back to the Missing Link for SLPs Podcast! I'm Mattie Murrey-Tegels and we are starting a new episode on A Day in the Life of a School-Based SLP. The Missing Link for SLPs is your podcast if you are a new or a transitioning SLP, and want to learn all about the wonderful things, the painful things, the ugly side, the pretty side, of all that we do as SLPs. So, stay tuned. Listen to this episode. I’m so glad you are here. While you're listening, check us out at and and see what other resources we can offer you. This is so much fun, and I am glad you are here. Sit back and enjoy the episode. All right, welcome back! We have been on a break with the Missing Link for SLPs Podcast series. And I am so glad to be welcoming Katie Widestrom-Landgraf to our series. Welcome, Katie. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 01:03 Hello, Mattie! Mattie Murray-Tegels 01:05 So, good to have you back. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 01:06 I'm so glad to be back! Mattie Murray-Tegels 01:10 You and I had a lot of fun on the Fishbowl series. And now, we're going to do something a little different with the Day in the Life of a School-Based SLP. Because I am not a school-based SLP, and you are. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 01:22 I most certainly am, yes. Mattie Murray-Tegels 01:24 You are. So, you're going to be taking over and hosting this whole series for us. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 01:29 Wow, okay. I'm excited! Mattie Murray-Tegels 01:31 I’m giving you my baby! Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 01:33 Yeah! Well, I will take good care of your baby. And I am delighted to have the opportunity to have these amazing conversations with really interesting people about something that I'm incredibly passionate about, and that's working in the schools. Mattie Murray-Tegels 01:48 So, you're the perfect SLP for the job, or for the [party]! Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 01:53 Well, I mean, I hope so. I hope so. Mattie Murray-Tegels 01:55 I have so much fun on these podcasts. And most of the time, I record them in the evening. So, I come home, or it's like you and I are recording on a Sunday night, and my husband's like, “Really, you're going to go do that?” And I'm like, “Yes, I am”, because it's so much fun. So, before you start interviewing other SLPs, I want to take this very first episode in this series and interview you, and get to see who you are. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 02:19 Okay. Mattie Murray-Tegels 02:20 So, tell me a little bit about yourself, and your experience in the schools? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 02:23 Well, maybe the most interesting thing to know is that I never ever thought I would be working in a school setting when I was in graduate school. So, as I was coming up in the field of communication sciences and disorders, I was so certain I was not working in the schools that when I did my practicum hours for children it was through a private pediatric clinic setting. Mattie Murrey-Tegels 02:47 I did not know that about you! Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 02:49 Now, to give you context, I just started my twenty-first year in the school setting. So, it turns out, I didn't know what I would love doing within our field until I kind of ran into it. So, what brought me to the schools is that I – I talked a little bit about this previously – but I'd been working for a rehab corporation, and I had worked with a lot of different populations, but what I found is that I was much more comfortable helping clients develop a skill set that they never had versus helping clients recoup a skill set that they had and then lost. I found that the rehabilitative aspect actually made me kind of sad. So, I would come home at the end of the day, and just feel energetically drained and kind of bummed out. And that was shocking to me because, again, if you'd asked me, “What are you doing and where are you heading?” I am in adult neurogenics all the time. I knew where I thought I wanted to go. Mattie Murray-Tegels 04:00 Interesting. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 04:02 So, there were a variety of factors that led to me looking at just trying something different. My very first job out of graduate school was pretty stressful. There were really big productivity expectations. There was a lot of change and a lot of shifting. And I'm like, “You know what, I'm going to give schools a try, and I'm going to see what happens”. And I was hired to work in an elementary school, two elementary schools, actually, it was a split position. And the week before I was to start my new job they called me and they said, “Well, what would you think about working in a high school?” And I hadn't thought about working in a high school at all, like it hadn't occurred to me. My experience working with a speech language pathologist was with my S’s and my Z's when I was eight. And so, I didn't even know that was the thing you could do. Fast forward 20 plus years, I'm still at that high school, and I love it! Mattie Murray-Tegels 05:00 The same school? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf And I love the population. The same high school, mhm. Mattie Murray-Tegels 05:03 Wow! Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 05:04 Yep. Mattie Murray-Tegels 05:05 What is your big “why”? What is your “why”? Why do you stay? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 05:12 I think teenagers are fascinating because they are developing that frontal lobe. It's a system in progress. And the bulk of the caseload is language disorders, and language is my very favorite thing to work on. I think there's something about – there's something magical about being able to help somebody develop the infrastructure of thought. So, it's not just communication. When you're thinking a thought in your head, many of those thoughts are mediated by language. And so, the idea that I get to do that every day, that's my “why”. And I know that sometimes people are like, “Oh, teenagers! They're just – it's a tough time”. But what's interesting is, when the teenagers are not your own teenagers, they're interesting, and wonderful, and respectful, and fun, and engaging. So, yeah. I love this population, that I didn't even know was the population I could work with back when I was in graduate school. Mattie Murray-Tegels 06:21 I love the fact that you reflected on what you liked and what you didn't like, how you felt at the end of the day. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 06:54 Yeah. Mattie Murray-Tegels 06:29 And because you were doing a thing with career exploration, we just did this great eight week course on what do you like about your job? What don't you like about your job? And many SLPs, they get on a track and they just don't stop, and then they're unhappy. So, I love that you stopped, paused, got off of the one track, and got on to the other. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 06:54 And I would say that it took me a while. Like I had to feel really drained, and really sad, and really discontent before I considered a shift into a setting that I wasn't even tracking previously, but it ended up being the best gift ever. Mattie Murray-Tegels 07:19 So, how long were you in your setting before you shifted to the schools? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 07:24 Two years. Mattie Murray-Tegels 07:25 Was it scary shifting over? Were you like, “What am I doing? What am I thinking?” And how did you pick up that skillset? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 07:34 So, part of my job was working with adults with developmental disabilities, and that was a client population that taught me a whole lot about what we take for granted with language and that symbol referent relationship. And I felt that I had incredible field instructors, and I did, for that reason, feel really confident shifting to a habilitative or a developmental focused practice, which is kind of what we do in schools, right? I mean, and it's not to say that you don't ever have the student that maybe has some sort of an acquired brain injury who will come across your caseload. But the vast majority of the students on our caseload in the school setting are individuals developing a skill set that they haven't really mastered yet, that they haven't had available to them, largely in an automatic way. And so, I just love that. I love minimizing the impact of the language disorder, or the communication disorder, and maximizing that kind of self-regulation, and self-awareness, and self-monitoring, yeah. Mattie Murray-Tegels 08:59 So, you mentioned mentoring. For the SLP who is listening to this and is thinking of shifting, or the grad student who's like, “Well, maybe I'll start here”. Tell me more about the mentoring piece. How did that roll out for you? And what recommendations do you have for somebody who might not have that support? Where might they find mentoring? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 09:22 They are people that you can access that can help you. And when I think about the connections that I made professionally, it wasn't necessarily at the building that I was working at because a lot of times, you are the only person in a building. But I had made these connections through, actually, our state association. So, I felt like there were people that I could connect with and lean on when I was seeking assistance. And I also think that our profession, maybe it's because we do address communication, but you can find a lot of folks that are willing to go deep with you into conversations about practice and intervention. There are a lot of people willing to go there with you pretty quick. And so, I do think that you have lots of resources available if you look. And maybe it's a message to your state association, maybe it's a message to one of your former students that were in the program with you, maybe it's a message to one of your practicum supervisors, or one of your professors. They can sort of be that gateway into other folks that you can access, right? Mattie Murray-Tegels 10:37 Mhm. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 10:36 Yeah, mhm. Mattie Murray-Tegels 10:37 All right. So, an interesting story. You and I have known each other for a little while, and I vaguely remember that – so, how you started, and then how you shifted. So, that's pretty cool. Pretty cool. Let's talk a little bit more about your day as a school-based SLP. A day in the life of Katie. So, can you walk us through your day? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 11:01 Sure, the first thing I would say is that flexibility is the name of the game. So, it's been 20 years, I still make my schedule in pencil and that is so that in any given moment, in any given time slot, in any given day, I am ready to do a switch or make an adjustment. I see students from the start of the day, through to the end of the day. Now, that's not to say it's continuous. But when you think about a teacher, they teach the same class periods and have the same chunk of time where they're not teaching. For me, that is much more in flux, and it depends on availability of students, appropriateness of grouping for students. It depends on what else might be happening during the day. So, maybe I have a bit of a longer chunk of time to do some paperwork, or to return phone calls, to catch up on emails one day, but then maybe the next day, I don't really have that time allocated at all. So, I am flexible from the moment I get to work until the moment that I leave. And so, I start my day by looking at who I've scheduled. I create my schedules by the week, and I have a combination of like passes, and sometimes I'll call classrooms. I really make it a point to travel under the radar because I think that, especially when you're a teenager, you don't need your peers in your business, so I'm covert on purpose, and I will distribute as many passes as I can. But then it's just I'm in constant motion. I work in a really large high school. We have a student population of about 3,000 students. And so, I'm on the go pretty much from the time that first bell rings until the time students leave for the day. Mattie Murray-Tegels 13:05 What time does your – now, see, I've never been in a school. So, this is perfect. What time – I’m twiddling my fingers here – what time does your day start? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 13:15 So, my day starts at a little after 7:00 – 7:10 . Students arrive, and the first period starts at 7:40. Typically, I see students in 30 minute blocks. We are on what's called – Mattie Murray-Tegels 13:27 Individually or with a group? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 13:29 It depends. There are some students that can kind of inadvertently pull their peers off task, and kind of make it harder for us to make meaningful progress in that little 30 minute window. They might be one of the chosen ones for an individual session! And then there are other students where the grouping just really makes sense. So, definitely, it's the individualized aspect of what we do. But each class period for the high school that I'm in is 67 minutes, unless you're on what's called an adjusted school day because there's something else going on, like collaboration time. So, typically, five class periods, two to three chunks of time. If you do have students that have 20 minute blocks, you chunk your time a little bit differently, but it's usually two chunks of time. So, two blocks of students. Two sessions is another way to think about it, per class period. And, inevitably, there's always that one class period that I can see everyone, it just works out. And then there's another class period where I wish some of the kids that I could see like the fifth hour would fit into the second hour, because it's a really strange game of tetris that you play, like four times a year when you're building your schedule. Mattie Murray-Tegels 14:53 How do you operate covertly? I would love – I just – the stealth mode. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 14:58 Yeah. Mattie Murray-Tegels 14:59 How do you do that? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 15:00 Yep. So, my passes never say speech or language on them, which maybe seems like a little thing, but I would – Mattie Murray-Tegels 15:06 [crosstalk] Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 15:06. Yep, I would ask all of your listeners to remember what it was like to be in high school, and how much you were aware of your peers being aware of you. And so my passes never identify why a student is coming to see me. Sometimes I will have passes that are just generic, where a student comes to a house office – which they would come to house offices for a lot of different reasons, and then I meet them. I may have the room number. I just changed locations. That's another thing that can happen a lot in the schools is they move you all around. So, I did just change locations this year, but it's a room number without identifying information. And I will talk to students about my thinking around that. I'll tell students “You're closer to being an adult than you are a kid, and one of the things we don't do when we're adults is announce our appointments. So, think about this like an appointment. You get to decide if you want to tell somebody where you're going and what you're doing, but you have control of that information. So, I'm not ever going to put anything on a pass that makes you have to explain where you're going to someone. Mattie Murray-Tegels 16:13 Mhm. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 16:13 So, and it goes further. Like if there's a substitute, I will only have a student go to a house office. Because what I don't want is somebody to inadvertently be like, “Hey, Joe Smith, the speech lady's calling for you”. Like, I mean, those things can happen. And I think that ends up paying dividends in terms of compliance and session attendance, for the entirety that the students and I work together. Mattie Murray-Tegels 16:44 Sure. What is a house office? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 16:47 Oh, again, because we have such a large high school, you have your main administration office, but then we have four more offices where we're breaking the student population into smaller, more manageable sections. So, they’ll be aligned by grade, and then further broken apart based on alphabet, because you couldn't possibly have 3,000 kids come into the same place! Mattie Murray-Tegels 17:11 No. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 17:12 No. Interestingly enough, I grew up in a really small town. And so, I'll tell my students that the entire population of my town is almost the population of the high school. I could fit my whole town in our high school, almost. And they're really surprised, so. Mattie Murray-Tegels 17:32 That’s a shift. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 17:32 Yeah. Mattie Murray-Tegels 17:33 What is one of the most challenging aspects of your job? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 17:38 I think it's having non-student time built into the work day, to do all the things that are just as required as meeting with students. So, whether that's third-party billing, whether that's writing IEPs, whether that's making those phone calls to parents. I don't think that that is as structured into our work days as it should be. And what ends up happening is then those tasks spill over into other parts of your life and other parts of your day. Mattie Murray-Tegels 18:16 Mhm. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 18:17 So, that bums me out. I wish that – like my dream would be that we had caseload and workload sizes that weighed all those other tasks as importantly as a student session. Because I will always prioritize seeing students, and as a result, that can sometimes then lead to workload spillover, and to evenings and weekends, and things like that. Mattie Murray-Tegels 18:56 And you do that? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 18:58 Mhm. I do that. It's not all the time. It's not every night or every weekend. What I find is that you'll almost have these workload bursts where it seems like you have multiple IEPs that are due all at once. You’ll have progress reports that are due at the end of a trimester. And so, there'll be these chunks of work that have to be done. And it's not necessarily that you're writing just a couple of IEPs per week, for example. You might have none one week, and you might have seven due the next week. And so, being able to have some balance around separating work from your home life is, I think, really important, and can sometimes be challenging in this setting depending upon things like caseload size. Mattie Murray-Tegels 19:51 And your caseload size is manageable? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 19:55 My caseload right now, today, is 73 students. Mattie Murray-Tegels 19:59 That sounds large. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 20:01 It feels large, sometimes! I think the other thing we're running into, this year in particular, is that it is very challenging to find enough speech language pathologists to adequately staff our needs within schools, and that is an interesting and newly emerging concern. Mattie Murray-Tegels 20:23 And what's driving that? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 20:25 I don't know all the factors, but I do think it might get a little worse before it gets better, I'm not sure. That's a great question. Because it's – I think part of it is we are on the heels of the pandemic, and what I think a lot of people are doing is changing and moving and shifting. Mattie Murray-Tegels 20:49 Mhm. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 20:50 And it's not necessarily that they're leaving because they didn't like what they were doing before. But they maybe just feel like, “Uh, this really taxed me in a way that I need a break from. So, I need to do something different”. Mattie Murray-Tegels 21:06 So, how do you advocate for your needs as a school-based SLP? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 21:12 I think it's important to bring solutions when you have concerns. And so, what I mean by that is you have a lot of people who don't understand how what you do is different from, say, a classroom teacher. And so, of course, we want to educate administrators, and supervisors, and people who are sometimes the school board members, people who have the ability to make decisions about our day-to-day experiences. There's an education component. But there's also, I believe, a solutions-based aspect to that as well because if I bring a lot of concerns to stakeholders and decision makers without possible ways of remedying that situation, I think that's really challenging, and not necessarily going to yield the results that you would like. Mattie Murray-Tegels 22:10 And that shifts it from “I'm complaining”, to “I identified a problem, and here are some solutions”. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 22:17 Mhm. Mattie Murrey 22:18 All right. On a positive note. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 22:20 Sure. Mattie Murray-Tegels 22:20 What are some of the favorite parts of your job? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 22:24 Oh. Well, there are these wonderful moments of connection and authentic authenticity that you have with your students, and I don't think I'm unique in that experience but that's a primary driver for me. I love seeing meaningful progress. I love seeing students kind of build that awareness and take charge, and take control of “Is my language system working for me? Or is it not working for me? And if it’s not working for me, what can I do? I have this toolkit of fluency strategies. I'm going to decide when I do or don't deploy those, but I have them available if I need to use them”. I love fostering that independence, knowing always that my whole role, and really any therapy role, is to make ourselves unnecessary, right? Mattie Murray-Tegels 23:19 Mhm. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 23:19 And it can be interesting in a school setting because sometimes you have students on your caseload that have been on an education plan and have been receiving services since they were three. And so, really being able to kind of come at some things with a little bit of a different approach, and a different experience. Yeah, I love that. I love that I start to miss my students in August. I'll start thinking about them like early August, wondering what they're doing. It's great to see students graduate. That's one of the really amazing things that I get to do working in high school, is you have this closure to, and this formal celebration, of your time with each other, and that's pretty cool, too. Mattie Murray-Tegels 24:08 Can you share with us a story of a student that you'll always remember? Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 24:16 Oh, there are so many. So, I had this one young man who, I guess I would tell you had a little bit of an edge, like he was not necessarily bought into why we were spending time together, wasn't always sure if he wanted to be sharing space and time with me, and so the warm-up and the buy-in took a while, Right? And we worked together, and I just remember thinking sometimes like “Is he benefiting from this? I don't know.” Some days, I would feel unsure. And he's a senior, and it's getting towards the end of his time in school, and I have this note that's left for me that tells me how much our time together has changed his life, and how helpful it's been, and how he didn't always show it but he always was glad for our time together. And I was blown away! Whoa! But when I tell you that, it's not an outlier, either. They are always these really cool points of connection, and that's what keeps me coming back. So, why have I been where I've been, for going on 21 years? It's that. Where growth and connection, and seeing young people kind of inspire you, and inspire kind of like the people around them. It's just – it's cool. It's really cool. The energy is infectious, you know? Mattie Murray-Tegels 26:08 Mhm. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 26:09 Yeah. Mattie Murray-Tegels 26:09 Well, I think the students are very lucky they have you, and I think you're lucky that you have them and find such joy in your field – in our field. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 26:19 Oh, yeah. Mattie Murray-Tegels 26:20 It’s on different ends of what we do. Well, thanks for sharing this. So, everybody listening, this is Katie Whitestrom-Landgraf. And she's going to be taking over the Missing Link for SLPs Podcast for the next 11 episodes, and she's going to be interviewing SLPs from a variety of settings, including ECSE, zero to three, three to five, elementary, middle school, high school, transition, rural, suburban, urban, administration, and then we've got somebody coming on to talk about school-based contracts. So, lots in store. Lots in store. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 27:01 Oh, I can't wait! Mattie Murray-Tegels 27:02 Yeah. Yeah, it’ll be fun. Thank you. Thank you for doing this. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 27:06 Yeah, thank you. Mattie Murray-Tegels 27:09 Thank you for joining us on A Day in the Life of a School SLP. We are really happy you're here. We’re working hard on getting the Missing Link for SLPs Podcast out there, and you would greatly help us if you would like, share, subscribe, all of those things that you do to let us know that you're listening to us and that we are making a difference. Find us on Instagram @freshslp and @baddestSLP. Find us on Facebook. Find us at our websites and Come join the fun. Come join our community. Happy you're here and hope to hear from you!

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