A Great Night at Northwest Children's Outreach

Taking a quick second to share a few photos here from our time at Northwest Children's Project last night. Five THFers and 3 Little THFers had the opportunity to prepare packages of clothing and toys for children in need around the greater Portland metro area.

I brought my oldest son, and this is what I posted on my personal Facebook when we got home last night:

nwcp fb post

Honestly, I can't imagine anything better. I vividly remember helping with a coat drive when I was about his age, and the first time I felt the other-worldly feeling that I now know only comes from giving of yourself to help others. Pretty dang fun to be part of a crew that's passing that feeling on to their own kids. 

4 Things Staff Recognition is NOT

When people think about special education, they typically don’t think about "company culture." In fact, many folks run from the idea of creating a subculture within a school community for fear of not being inclusive. But don’t kid yourself -- a culture is still created when nothing is done. What's the problem with doing nothing? You’re at the whim of what’s created in a vacuum. And what you get isn’t always what you want.

A school district can have the best mission statement, leadership team, workforce, intentions, outreach, timelines, paperwork, systems, and resources and still blow it in the realm of culture. And here’s the irony, culture trumps everything. Yes, EVERYTHING. What good are all those other efforts if no one is motivated to apply their best skills? Or worse yet, choose not to even stick around? If they care about kids, special education programs should strive to put culture first.

But how?

It begins with Staff Recognition. It's that easy. And yet, I observe countless folks getting it wrong. So in this post, let’s talk about what staff recognition is not.

4 things staff recognition is NOT

#1. Staff recognition is not generic.

Giving everyone the same certificate of appreciation is easy. But it’s also insulting. I remember my frustration when I was working for a school district and working like mad to meet census deadlines only to receive the generic blue certificate of appreciation as my colleagues who didn’t meet their deadlines. My take-away? Why work so hard if it didn’t really matter to my boss? Mediocre is acceptable. And sure, I’ll always strive to do my best professionally . . . so now I just feel taken for granted.

In our efforts to not exclude anyone, leaders undermine their own efforts to say thank you.

#2. Staff recognition is not one-size fits all.

Some leaders want to recognize staff, and hey, who doesn’t love a $5 gift card? After all, you have to make the effort to get a gift card AND likely, spend your own money! School districts don’t pay for that. Well, truth be told, there are lots of people for whom your $5 gift doesn’t mean anything, despite your best intentions. Maybe they don’t drink coffee. Maybe they feel it’s out of touch with the task for which they are being recognized. Maybe what they crave is a personal note indicating their boss really gets what they’re working to do.

One person’s reward is another person’s meaningless trinket.

#3. Staff recognition is not delayed.

What gets acknowledged, gets repeated. If you tell someone you value their work on problem-solving tough situations with grace, they will likely be graceful the next time confronted with a tough situation. If you tell someone you value their positive attitude mentoring other professionals, you’re going to see continued mentoring and collaboration. So if you want to see something continue, reinforce it right away. End-of-the-year parties are great, but waiting to recognize someone decreases the likelihood of seeing it consistently throughout the year.

If it’s worth a thank you, it’s worth saying right away.

#4. Staff recognition is not expensive.

At the heart of it, staff recognition is saying thank you. Yes, you can spend lots of money on flowers, food gifts, small tokens for everyone for different reasons, but that’s not really necessary. Many staff would love a simple note detailing why their boss values them. Our company culture rocks in part because of the simple things we do to recognize our staff on a consistent basis. Personal notes, public praise, relating someone’s specific efforts to our core values, acknowledgement in our internal newsletter, and periodic phone calls to validate their frustrations, fears, or success have paid off in dividends.

Because I care about kids, my #1 priority is my staff.

And this is a perfect time to say thank you to such an amazing and professional staff. Yes, a bit of a generic shout-out because I’m addressing them all but in reality, I want to work with every one of them for years to come. They care about kids, and I care about them.

Sharon Soliday

Sharon loves to help people communicate more effectively. She has been a licensed speech-language pathologist for 18 years serving both young children, teens and adults. She has a passion for adolescent language, communication and social skills. Individuals with disabilities have benefitted from her services as well as individuals just wanting to refine and improve their skills. She has worked internationally and has been recognized on a national level for her excellent work.

Hello Live - Social Skills After the Age of 18: A Case-Study of a 32-Year Old Woman with Autism Wanting to Date, with Sharon Soliday

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be a young woman high-functioning ASD who is trying to navigate the online dating scene? Are you curious about what foundational social skills younger children with ASD might need as they move into adulthood? Join THF-owner Sharon Soliday as she shares a case-study detailing her private practice work with a remarkable 32-year old woman with autism. Sharon will share some of their more memorable sessions together, a few lessons she herself had to learn along the way, and her take on the skills SLPs can and should target with young adults in this population. 

And when you're done earning those free CEUs, take a listen to our Q&A session. Sharon and I had a great chat about why and how these sorts of cases fall into the scope of practice of SLPs, ways we've screwed up our teaching at the High School level, and how truly thankful we both are to not be speed dating right now. 

Research Tuesday: Impact of Prematurity on Language Skills at School-age

November is an intense time for special educators in the public schools. Not only do we feel the time-sensitive pressures of Census, but instruction, assessment, progress measures, and paperwork are all in full swing, requiring a clear head and careful consideration. Demands on our time are numerous and being efficient is as prized as being thorough. 

At this time in the year, my most exciting discoveries are those that allow me to work smarter, not harder, and the article I have chosen for this month's Research Tuesday falls into that category. It is, of course, convenient (and smart and efficient) to choose an article that helps me think about a student I am trying to figure out right now, this week. But generally the evaluations that require the most time and energy are those where I find conflicting evidence, e.g. my observations, the oral language sample, and results from standardized testing don't all tell the same story. This article sheds some light on one possibility that might explain this. 

The Details: Jamie Mahurin Smith, Laura Segebart DeThorne, Jessica A. R. Logan, Ron W. Channell, Stephen A. Petrill; Impact of Prematurity on Language Skills at School Age. J Speech Lang Hear Res 2014;57(3):901-916. Retrieved November 11, 2014, from http://jslhr.pubs.asha.org/article.aspx?articleid=1802636

The Question: The authors of this article review the literature linking premature birth (birth prior to 32 weeks gestation) to behavioral and emotional problems, including ADHD and deficits in executive function. Performance on standardized language measures has also been observed to be on the lower end of the normal range. These researchers questioned the reliance on scores from standardized tests and the relative lack of data from language samples in this population. So they asked how children born prematurely would perform compared to their full-term peers on standardized tests and on discourse-level language samples. They also looked at the effects of potential moderating factors, such as gender, breastfeeding, and parental education. 

The Method: Data for the study came from the Western Reserve Reading Project (WRRP), which is a longitudinal, population-based twin study. Children were selected for the premature group if they were born prior to 32 weeks gestation or if they weighed less than 1500g at birth. A second group of children born at 37 or more weeks’ gestation  was selected from the WRRP database to act as the control group. The study looked at recorded language samples from annual home visits when the children were aged 7, 8, and 10. The samples were analyzed with a variety of semantic and syntactic measures. Composite IQ scores and performance on four CELF-4 subtests and the Test of Narrative Language (TNL) were also compared between the two groups

The Results: Consistent with other studies, this study found that school-age children born prematurely scored, on average, in the lower end of the normal range and were out-performed by peers born at full term. However, in contrast to prior studies, this study documented a difference between outcomes on standardized tests and outcomes of discourse-level measures. Though differences never reached statistical significance, control children outscored the premature children on more than 90% of the measures assessed. No effect was documented for either gender or breastfeeding as a moderating factor, though parental education was associated with a generally positive effect.

The Take-Away: The current study corroborates existing findings that children born prematurely score slightly below their school-age peers on standardized tests, but within the normal range. However, these student's discourse-level language is virtually indistinguishable from those same peers. Why is this? Why are we not seeing language sample results that reflect standardized test scores. What other factors contribute to performance on the standardized tests, besides the actual language skills? 

I think these are great questions to consider when we interpret standardized test scores from any student. All kinds of factors from attention to exectuive function skills to behavior may impact performance on a standardized test. If we are seeing discrepancies beteen langauge samples and standardized scores (or other data points like teacher or parent report), these other factors may need to be part of our discussion. 

I'm looking forward to an article that has just been accepted for future publication in JSLHR on the consequences of co-occuring ADHD on children's language impairment. Stay tuned for future Research Tuesday posts!