Creating a Happy Learning Environment

One of the most important things for speech-language therapists is building great relationships with our clients/students. In my experience, kids tend to learn better when they are in a happy environment. They work harder when they like you and trust you. Our profession can be so fulfilling. Or it can be a pain in the butt. It all has to do with attitude.

My first year as an SLP was a great learning experience. But looking back I was very overstressed. I had a high caseload, was trying to figure out all the required paperwork and documentation, scheduling, homework, meetings, and not to mention planning therapy sessions for each individual kid. I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about.

One particularly stressful day one of my kids actually said to me "Miss Annie what's the deal? You are usually all smiley and stuff and right now your are just blah. Are you okay?" Oh, Hello, reality check! I realized that day that my therapy is probably not very effective when my students can sense my own stress. That day it was time to "take a chill pill" as some of my kiddos would advise. I sat back and thought about how I could make things better and here are a few conclusions I came to.

1. Be a friend. Let your student's talk, and listen to them. I'm not saying spend the whole therapy session chatting, but building that therapist/client trust is really important. If they really want to tell you a story, but you don't have time, acknowledge it and tell them you want to hear about it later. My students tend to want to tell me all about their week. I LOVE this, but I need them to work. Often their story can be used in the session somehow. With a lot of my articulation groups I let them each have 10 seconds at a time to tell me whatever they want to, but they HAVE to use their good sounds and once their time is up it's the next kid's turn. I like the ten seconds things because I can just hold up my fingers and they know when their time is up. I always try to really listen and comment on their story just like I do when talking with my best friends. With my language kids I have them think about what they want to tell me until the end of the session and sometimes I give them a good couple minutes. It's a good time to reinforce good sentence structure or have them describe things in more detail. Give them time. They can tell if you like them, and you can tell if they like you.
2. Be the "teacher". Just because your students like you doesn't mean that you can't expect them to work hard. From the beginning let them know what you expect and what they can expect from you.
3. Be consistent. If you have rules, use them. If you have a schedule, stick to it. If you require homework, keep track of it. Kids thrive on routine. If you expect them to do something, let them know, and most importantly follow through with your expectations. Make visuals rules. It's so great to blame the "rules poster" instead of saying "because I said so".
4. ORGANIZE! Organizing your paperwork, schedules, routines, etc is like making a good strong foundation on a building. If you have strong organization and routine you spend less time dealing with behavior problems with the kids, you won't be as stressed and your therapy will be more effective. It takes a lot of leg work at first but once your organized you will have more time to really focus on the child's needs.
5. Make your room a happy place. I realized the day that my student mentioned my "blah-ness" that I kinda hated being in my tiny 8 by 10 foot "room" (that was really a storage closet with a whiteboard). I decided I needed to make it a happy place for my sake and my student's. A week later "The Parrot Perch" was born. I decorated and organized my stacks of paper and suddenly I felt super giddy when I walked into the room, instead of feeling stuck in a cave and the speech kids were "cool" cause they got to go to speech.

I've only been an official speech language pathologist for 3 years and there is so much more to learn! But when I started realizing these things, my life as a therapist got even better than it already was.

What do you do to help keep a happy environment in your therapy sessions?


cmf-slp said...

Want to get really inspired and rev'ed up about speech therapy ? Watch this super video from England. Gina Davis has a fantastic attitude about therapy and an infectious attitude of enthusiasm.

Krista said...

Love your room! I'm in my first semester of graduate school and working as an SLP-Assistant. I'm always looking for ways to make my room more 'fun' for the kids! What is that on your door? Do you put daily activities there? :)

Elementary speech said...

Hi would love to know what is on the back of your door in a photo, looks like some article material but I cannot really tell. Thanks

Unknown said...

I would LOVE to have a copy of your sound pocket cards for the Speech sound wall pockets! If you could share it would be greatly appreciated. I looked on TpT to see if I could purchase it from you, but didn’t see it. My email is Kimberly.baker@scott.kyschools.us. Thank you so much in advance.