You can do it! Working as an SLP in a high school setting

Episode 115 November 01, 2022 00:32:41
You can do it!  Working as an SLP in a high school setting
The Missing Link for SLPs
You can do it! Working as an SLP in a high school setting

Nov 01 2022 | 00:32:41


Show Notes

In this episode, we hear from an SLP who loves her work in high schools! Karly Sisco talks with Katie Widestrom-Landgraf about misconceptions people may have about high school populations, and how she adapted her SLP practice after working in medical, elementary, and then to high schools. 

Karly has a particular interest in neurodiversity and shares her passion for helping prepare teens at high school to become self-advocates, functional, and independent. She also shares some of the challenges you may not learn about in grad school, particularly speech schedules and caseloads that may impact on the capacity to have individual sessions with students.

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 00:04 Welcome to this episode of the Missing Link for SLPs podcast. We are at the beginning of our series, our brand new series, A Day in the Life of a School SLP, and I'm excited about this. We’ve had such a huge response of school SLPs who want to come and be on the podcast and share about their day. So, the guest I'm introducing to you today, her name is Karly Cisco. She's a school-based SLP, and here's what she has to say. “I am a high school SLP. My school has two life skill classrooms and these students are allowed to stay until age 21, if parents choose. They are on a different diploma pathway. This is probably one-third of my caseload. We still can work on articulation at the high school level. And I have some students where we work on pragmatic language, some students who are learning functions of language, and we work on comprehension, inferences, etc. I have learned a lot with my time in high school, and I'm learning more about how to write functional goals that prepare my students for life outside of high school, whatever that may look like. I've also worked in the elementary school setting. One year I was split between five schools and had over 80 kids on my caseload, and that was too much for me. I'm pretty passionate about school SLPs being supported by the admin and central office district.” So, this is Karly, a school-based SLP. Overall, she's worked in a school setting for 12 years. She graduated from the University of Alabama with her undergraduate and grad school degree. She's married, has two boys ages seven and four. She works full time, and she's a full time mom and wife. She thinks it's very important to have work and personal life boundaries. And her comments here: “I truly do enjoy my job, and I never imagined that I would ever work with high school students. As someone who loves routine, I do think it is good trying new things in our field because you never know what setting you may love the most.” And I love that. That is the perfect segue into our episode for today. And just a little reminder, you're going to be not hardly hearing my voice at all, except at the beginning and the end, because I'm not going to be hosting this. My friend, SLP friend, Fishbowl friend, from previous episodes is Katie Whidestrom-Landgaf, and she is school-based SLP and is going to be hosting these episodes. So, welcome, Katie and Karly. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 02:25 Welcome, Karly Cisco! My name is Katie Widestrom-Landgraf. Thank you for joining us in our series, A Day in the Life of a School-Based SLP. Karly Sisco 02:35 Thank you for having me. This is my first podcast interview ever, and when I got the message from Mattie, I was kind of like, “Did you mean to send this to me?” And so, I'm excited about this. I hope that I can kind of allow others to know what it's like working in the school setting. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 02:55 Yes! Well, thank you so much for being here, and I think we should just jump right in. I would love to hear more about your story. So, tell us a little bit about yourself, and what brought you to the school setting as a speech language pathologist. Karly Sisco 03:13 Okay. So I, like a lot of people, went to grad school with a plan. I – well, even further back from that, I knew that I always wanted a job helping people. My mom was a nurse, and I told her that I thought maybe I could be a nurse and she said, “Absolutely not. You're not going to be a nurse”. And honestly, I am not great with the whole – I can't even watch surgeries on TV. And so, I don't know what I was thinking when I even considered that. But then I had a neighbor who was a speech language pathologist, and she worked in the schools, and I was like, “Hmm, I'm interested in this”. And I thought that was a cool way to help people. So, I started looking into it. I honestly went back and forth between “Do I want to be a dietician or an SLP?” And then I was choosing my school-based off of that, and I landed at Alabama, and I was so happy there. I really just knew this was it for me. But I still had the plan of “I'm going to work with adults, with stroke patients”. And my first round of clinicals, one of my favorite professors, she paired me with children with autism. And at that time, I didn't even know what autism really was. And then I realized, “Oh, I'm not working with adults. I'm going to be with these people. This is my field”. And then I just kind of went for the first job that I could find, which was actually a turn of events, a nursing home, because I lived in a very small town and I graduated In December so there weren’t a lot of openings. Then a school job opened up during my CF year. I swapped with one month left of supervision, which was kind of a pain with ASHA, but you can do it, and then I’ve been at schools ever since. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 05:17 So, while you worked in a medical setting, you knew during your practicum that you were headed for a setting that allowed you to work with young people. Karly Sisco 05:31 I really, I knew that this wasn't – that first job, I knew it was not going to be long term, but I am as Type A as they come and I had to have a job before I graduated. I knew I just couldn't not have a plan. I couldn't wait to see if something else was opening. So, I thought maybe I’ll like this, and I'm going to try this. And my husband and I were pretty set on the town that we lived in, and I didn't want to commute. So, there was an opening and I just kind of had my feelers out just in case something else would become available. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 06:09 Wow, that's great. So, talk a little bit more about the setting that you work in. We know you work in the schools, but tell us some details about that. It sounds like you've spanned, within the school setting, different populations. Tell us about your setting right now, though. Karly Sisco 06:29 Okay, so right now I am in a high school setting, and never ever did I think I would work with high school students. So, it kind of just fell in my lap though. First of all, my husband and I ended up moving to another city. And then I was at a school that I really enjoyed, but I had small children at home and I kind of felt like work at home looked a lot of the same when I was working with elementary students and pre K students, and I said, I kind of need a separation. And the director of our school system knew I wanted a change, and she called me and said there was an opening at the high school. And so, that is kind of how I landed there. And I was very anxious about working with older students. I clearly had all of the wrong misconceptions. I didn't understand what my day to day was going to look like until I got there. And it was the best change possible. I have been – this is the happiest I've ever been at a job. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 07:39 So, Karly, it's interesting you say that. I do work in the schools as well, as you know, and I have worked only with adolescents. So, I just started my twenty-first year in a high school setting, and then I did also work with transition age students. And you said something really interesting when you referenced those misconceptions. Could you talk a little bit about maybe some of the misconceptions you had before you went into that secondary setting, specifically the high school setting? And some of the ahas, or kind of cool things that were revealed once you were actually in it? Karly Sisco 08:20 Yeah. So, I think a lot of us as SLPs, especially when we've worked in the elementary setting, we kind of feel like we have this control over the therapy room because we are – they’re these little students, and they think that the speech teacher is the coolest person at the school. They get to leave and they get to play games, and you kind of can tie in their goals through games. And high schoolers, we know you can't trick them. You can't put on this front. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 08:52 Yes! Karly Sisco 08:52 They don't care about this bubbly personality. Which is great, because I am a huge introvert. It was really kind of exhausting being in the elementary setting and feeling like I always had to be on. And in the high school, they don't care. They see through everything. And I guess I was a little nervous because I just thought, “Oh, I'm such an insecure person. These high schoolers, they're going to make me feel like I'm just not enough”. But then I realized that these high schoolers need me just as much as those elementary students did. We may not be working on the same things, but these kids – I mean, I say kids, they're teenagers, they truly need someone in their corner. Someone who makes them feel safe, because – and I've said this a lot on my Instagram page, I've posted this – so many of us go into the field thinking I'm going to work with elementary kids, but those elementary kids grow up to be high schoolers and they grow up to be adults. You may have to live in a group – like there are a lot of things that we need to look at, the whole life of these students, and not just the, “Well, I can’t. I can’t work with that population”, because you probably can, and you are needed. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 10:15 Well, Karly, I think that's absolutely true. And I do think that with our teenagers especially, they're that much further from those neurodevelopmental targets. And so, that need for support, that need to develop compensatory strategies, that need to kind of help their communication systems rise to the level of those increasing communication demands, that never stops being important. You're absolutely right. So, when we think about your setting, I'm curious about your day. Could you walk us through like a day in the life of Karly Sisco, high school SLP? Karly Sisco 11:02 Yes. Well, it's always going to look different, for sure, but I would say I try really hard to see a lot – I try to go heavy on groups in the mornings, obviously, but I'm seeing groups all day. I try to do a little more testing in the afternoons. We have some team meetings, and things like that throughout the week. But my school, in particular, has two life skills classrooms. So, these are the students that are on an alternate diploma pathway. And these students are probably going to – there's a chance they could live independently, but there's also a good chance that they are going to be living with a family member and have some sort of supported employment. And I work a lot with those students. I would say that's about 40 percent of my caseload. And we truly try to think about the next step. What's next? We are thinking about functional skills. I don't – we don't need to work on pointing to the biggest tree in a picture, or find the smallest object. We need to work on what is going to help prepare them for life after high school because we only have so much time with them. So, I really preach looking at the function behind a goal. Like why did you write this goal? Because if it's not going to help them, their time is so important, we don't need to waste their time on a goal that's not going to help them be more – more increased independence, or increased function. Like we just truly need to think about that with our goals. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 12:51 So, you bring up really an excellent point, and it's a shared experience, and it’s that experience of urgency. I think when we work in a high school setting, we're keenly aware of that clock ticking. There's only so much time left within this system that has these supports. So, how are we going to maximize that time? And I don't know for me, if I felt that level of urgency when I worked with little people. I don't know if that was true for you as well, but – Karly Sisco 13:23 That is true. I have taken on a lot of interns during my time as an SLP in the elementary and high school setting, and I've talked about the pros and cons of each setting. And I think it's truly hard when you're in the elementary school and you're on that team telling parents, “Hey, something's different. Your child is learning differently, and we're going to figure it out together”. And those are hard meetings for a parent to hear that the first time, but these parents still know I have 12 more years. But at the high school, you have parents who are pros at this. This is not their first IEP meeting. They know what they want, but they still have that sense of – the future is still really far off. But it's our job to remind them, actually, it's a lot closer. And depending on the needs of the child, they might have to get on a waitlist for a home, or look into vocational rehab and transition services, and things like that and it's hard. Both settings are hard, but I do prefer the high school setting. But I would say that, yes, there is that sense of urgency at the high school, but the elementary, it's equally difficult being there and walking through parents at the very first steps. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 14:50 So, perhaps the newness of grieving some losses about how a parent may have thought about their child's path. And as a part of that team, you're communicating differences, changes, and kind of helping parents see that it's different, but there's still a lot that can be done – Karly Sisco 15:18 Right. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 15:18 – when they’re little people. And then as they get older, well, there's still some things we want to think about, and there's still some things we've got to get done, and here are the things to think about if you haven't started thinking about them yet as a parent. Karly Sisco 15:33 Yes. And a lot of parents, they – and I'm sure we're all like this at times, we'll think the worst. And it's really a joy to be able to say, “No, your child can do this, this and this. We totally see your child working one day. We see your child being independent with these functions when they're older”. Or, “We see this child going to college. You need to trust us. We see this too”. Because I think a lot of parents, they just agree they're going to assume the worst, but it's nice to be able to give them that hope as well with their students. Especially over the past couple of years, I think we've all been learning more about neurodiversity, and ways to respect all forms of communication. And some parents are truly excited when I tell them about a resource, or tell them about this SLP online that talks about neurodiversity affirming practices and terminology. And these parents, it's just nice being able to speak that hope into them, and show that there's no limits. They can do a lot of things. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 16:47 So, could you tell us a little bit about how you maybe start that conversation, a conversation around neurodiversity that maybe gets parents excited, or gives them new ways to think about the future for their children? So, could you talk a little bit more about neurodiversity, and how you're incorporating that into the work you do with your students? Karly Sisco 17:08 Absolutely. I had a student in particular that – this child had a really difficult time being in the school all day, every day because this child was masking. And masking is when you – for those who are unfamiliar with the term, you try really hard to just blend in with the neurotypical environment, and it's exhausting to be like that. And I spoke with this student because once the student got very overwhelmed they might have a moment of an outburst, or a screaming, or something in the hallway. And so many people would just not really understand what was going on in that student's head. And I was able to talk to that student and I said, “Do you feel like you, all day, are putting on a mask, and that you are trying so hard to fit in that it's just exhausting?” They're like, “Yes, I really – it's really hard”. I talked to them about what masking meant, and we talked about ways to put brakes in their day. And I spoke to their mom about how great that conversation was, and she was just so thrilled because she was like so many people, all they see is the outburst, or the emotion, or the end result of the masking. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 18:28 Sure. I do think that one of the things that is important is that when – even though we're speech language pathologists, our role isn't to pathologize everything that we do and all the aspects of that we do. And so, when you talk about neurodiversity, sometimes it's more of a collaboration to kind of help the individuals we work with understand that their processing may be different. But it's kind of understanding that constellation of relative strengths, and kind of spending as much time understanding some of those pieces versus, like you said, there's so much work done in perspective taking and those kinds of things that it can feel very one sided. So, I do appreciate that that's pulled into the work that you do as well. So, when we're thinking about that, what would you say your favorite part, your very favorite part of working in the schools is? Karly Sisco 19:30 There's a lot. I love being a safe space for my students. I think it's really easy for us as SLPs to establish rapport with our students. One, because we aren't giving grades. But also because we're the person they get to talk to, and we can embed communication goals into everything. If you've got a vocabulary test in English, I can look at those words and we can talk about them. Or if you're reading – I have done this with some of my students who are working on pragmatic language, we use a lot of what they're discussing in history and we will roleplay and talk about perspective taking, but also disagreeing with people without – I think a lot of people could really benefit from learning how to disagree appropriately, because we don't have to think the same, that's fine. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 20:26 Yes. Karly Sisco 20:26 But we do need to respect other people's opinions and not belittle them, because if all we do is yell and try to win them over to our side, we're not winning them over with that. So, we work a lot on – a lot of my students, I'm like, “Okay, tell me what you're working on in history. Okay. How do you feel about that? So, you take this side, I'll take this side. Let's go back and forth on it and practice”. And I love that because they enjoy it, and I enjoy it, and it's just so functional. But another thing, I know you said one thing, but another thing I love is the self-advocacy component of working in the high school. This is a huge thing for me. The very first week of school, or the very first week, I have a student, I'll pull up their IEP with them, which is an Individualized Education Program and it has their goals for the year. And I’ll specifically ask them, “Do you know why you see me?” And a lot of them are like, “Well, I don’t know”. So, it’s like, “Okay. I need you to know why you come and see me, and this is what we're working on, and is this goal important to you?” Because, of course, we're going to get students that we haven't written their goals before, or they've come from the middle school so somebody else wrote that IEP, or they came from another school system. And so, I always tell them, “I want the goal to be something meaningful to you. I want this to be something you're motivated by”. So, if they don't like the goal, we'll talk about it, and we'll plan for the next IEP goal. And then another thing I like to do is I like to look at their services page. And I'm like, “Are you aware of your services?” Like, “What are you talking about?” It's like, “Okay. So, you have accommodations daily in the classroom. You have accommodations for tests”. And I write them down, and I highlight them, and I show them what they are. And it's so helpful for the students when I do that, because I want them to go in the classroom and do this. I can't go with them everywhere. So, I really like teaching that self-advocacy component. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 22:36 I love that. So, we've talked about some of your favorite parts. Of course, the other question is what are some things that are challenging about this setting? Karly Sisco 22:46 Yes! Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 22:46 Yeah. Karly Sisco 22:47 Yes, challenges. Okay. If you guys were to ever follow me on social media, I post a lot of memes about the challenges of working in the schools. I probably have 30 different memes about creating a speech schedule. The speech schedule is the hardest piece and they don't teach you how to do that in grad school. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 23:08 Yes. Karly Sisco 23:08 It is so hard when one student has a fluency goal and one student has a pragmatic language goal, and their only off period that you can pull them is this random period, and you have to pull them together, and it's just so hard to really find the right students to work together. Because that can make a big difference if you have a student in the wrong group. And we know that a lot of us don't have the luxury of seeing students individually because our caseloads are high. So, that's another frustration is not being able to give the students that need the individual time, the individual time they need. But I have actually – I'm very fortunate, I have a really good district that really tries to keep our caseload not crazy high. So, I'm able to offer those individuals, for students who truly, truly need to be on their own. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 24:06 So, Karly, one of my favorite things about our conversation, and I imagined this may happen as I do these interviews, is that if I close my eyes, even though you're in Alabama and I'm up here in Minnesota, I feel like you're saying some of the exact same – like you're singing from a shared songbook. The schedule – oh, wow! You are not kidding. And the caseloads can be daunting. Out of curiosity, what's your caseload this year? Karly Sisco 24:35 I am in the low 50s, which feels very good, very manageable. But my previous district, at one point I was in – I traveled to five different schools and had 82 kids on my caseload. And I wanted to say one thing, I had – there's a quote, I don't know who said it, but If they said something to the effect of, “A toxic work environment will change you before you can change it”. And I realized, “Oh, this is just going to run me down. I'm going to be a bad therapist if I keep doing this because I'm burned out. I don’t have any relationships with anybody at school because I have no time. I barely have time to eat because I'm just doing this”. And I was so burnt out, I had to make a change and find a better work environment for me, because I wasn't putting in the best that I could. And I hate that, but you can't stay at a school and be a martyr if you know that you can't truly do that job. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 25:40 Wow! Those are such wise words. So, Karly, we are running a little short on time, but I really, really want to hear about some of your side projects and interests. So, you've talked a little bit about your Instagram presence, and I read – Karly Sisco 26:01 It’s very small! Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 26:02 I read that you have a TPT store. Can you talk to us a little bit about some of these other interests and creative endeavors that are still attached to the work that you do? Karly Sisco 26:13 Yes. So, every product I make in my Teachers Pay Teacher's store, or Boom Learning store, I have a very specific student in mind when I'm making that goal, and when I'm making that resource. Because, again, I want to be functional. I want to work on things that are going to make my students more independent. So, the other day, I wrote a goal for a student that was working on completing perspective-taking tasks at work. I wanted that student to understand how to communicate with their boss, or a customer, or a coworker. And I was like, “I'm not going to be able to find this resource. I have to make this resource”. So, I started with that, and then it kind of – it just truly developed out of necessity. I found that a lot of Teachers Pay Teachers was overly saturated with elementary resources, and little clipart of cute kids talking to each other. And my high schoolers don't need clipart, it doesn't matter. We don't need the fancy stuff. I joke that my creativity is minimal, but my lessons are meaningful. I just – we don't need all of that extra fluff. So, it just kind of came out of necessity to make these resources. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 27:41 I love that you're making these resources. And I mean, if I'm being honest, the moment we finish this podcast, guess where I'm headed as a fellow high school SLP. I'm headed to your TPT store. That's so exciting. Karly Sisco 27:58 Yeah. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 27:59 So, when you think about something that you would want the listeners of this podcast to know, it could be someone that's considering a switch to the school setting, it could be a person in graduate school who really isn't sure where they want to work yet. What would be kind of one takeaway, or piece of advice or golden nugget of wisdom that you want to make sure that we have? Karly Sisco 28:26 Okay. I think that we sometimes limit ourselves and we think that “I could never do this. I could never do that”, but you chose this field for a reason. You love communication. You love helping others communicate. And you are the expert and these – whatever population you choose to work in, you are needed, and you are here to give your clients, your students, a voice. And you can work anywhere. You can do anything. I just think we have one of the best jobs and the most versatile jobs because we can do any setting. We can work on the computer, even. We can do it in-person, not in-person. We can work with babies. We can work on swallowing. So, I just don't want people to limit themselves. I may change my mind in a few years. I've always said I am really intrigued by pediatric dysphasia. I think that our field is too cool to not do as much as we want to do, because we can do it. We survived grad school, and the Praxis and Comps and all the other things. So, you can do it all! Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 29:36 Yes, yes! Oh, Karly. This has been a wonderful conversation. Karly Sisco 29:43 I'm so glad. I've enjoyed it. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 29:45 Thank you so much for your time and your insights. We appreciate you spending the time. Karly Sisco 29:51 Well, thank you all for having me and asking such great questions. It's my mission to make sure others know how awesome it is to work in a high school, and that high schoolers are not scary. It's a great job, and we need all the great SLPs we can get. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 30:07 One last thing, Karly, before you leave us, if people did want to find your store, or find you on Instagram, how could they find you? Karly Sisco 30:16 Okay. My Instagram is @slpforeveryiep. So, I – because, as I’ve told you, I try to make very specific resources for the specific goals I write. I want to be the SLP that can help every IEP. So, my Teachers Pay Teachers store is the same as my Instagram handle. So, I'm the same across the board. That is my name, and I thought for a long time about it. My husband was like, “I don't think people will get it”. I was like, “I really think they will!” So, hopefully you all get it! Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 30:51 You tell your husband, I got it. We’ve got it! Karly Sisco 30:55 Okay! I was like, “The SLPs will get it. I think it's clever”. Like I thought of it at like 2:00 a.m. one night, I was like, “Oh, yeah. Exactly what I want!”. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 31:02 It is clever, Karly. Karly Sisco 31:05 I thought it was, but I don't know. So, thank you! That’s very affirming. I like it. Katie Widestrom-Landgraf 31:11 Thank you so much for spending this time. Karly Sisco 31:15 Okay, thank you. I really appreciate you all asking me to be on. Mattie Murrey-Tegels 31:18 So, now you see why I asked Katie on board. Katie is going to be able to ask questions to school-based SLPs that I'm just not going to have that depth. So, reaching down deep, giving you the best that we can for the Missing Link for SLPs podcasts. I’m so glad you are here for part of this series, and reach out and let us know what you think. We are on Instagram as @freshslp. Also, a funny little note, in all transparency here. I have those Invisalign braces in. So, if you hear a lateral lisp, that is why. I'm not drinking, I just – I had a motorcycle accident quite a few years ago and teeth are shifting, and I decided I've got great insurance, now's the time to do the Invisalign braces. So, that's what you're hearing! A little chuckle, I know, ha-ha! But anyways, I am so glad you're here. Everything is working out so well for this podcast. But come on, come find us! We are @freshslp on Instagram. We have our Facebook Fresh SLP. Come find me on LinkedIn. Please like and share and join these conversations that we're having, and also let us know who you want to hear on the podcast. This would be great to have you guys involved more. We are working hard, filling in the gaps on the Missing Link for our Fresh SLPs podcast.

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