The Unsuspecting Supervisor: 4 Strategies for Successful SLPA Supervision

Here you are, a seasoned and successful school speech-language pathologist, enjoying the rewards of helping children communicate and succeed while dealing with the challenges of a diverse caseload and sometimes-limited resources. You understand the obstacles you face: lots of paperwork, more qualifying students than time to work with them, limited time to collaborate with teachers and other therapists….

You’ve adjusted to the challenges, and you’re secure in your position. But then your responsibilities take a sudden shift. The district has just hired a new speech-language pathology assistant (SLPA), and you’ve been chosen to supervise.

Strategies to Get Started

Here are a few strategies for successful supervision:

1. Educate yourself: If you haven’t worked with an SLPA in the past, you need to know the regulations in your state. When it comes to SLPAs, each state has their own rules for training, licensure/registration, scope of practice, and supervision.

Head over to ASHA’s State-by-State page and find the support personnel requirements where you live and work. Learn about the ins and outs of SLPA practice through the ASHA Practice Portal resources. You might find that the information and links posted there are exactly what you need… or you might find that you have more questions. Now what?

2. Connect with experts: If your written resources leave you scratching your head, find someone to act as a mentor. This might be an SLP colleague who has experience working with SLPAs, a faculty member of an SLPA training program in your state, or your ASHA State Education and Advocacy Leader (SEAL). These people are excellent resources who can offer real-life suggestions and advice in addition to helping you interpret the rules and regulations.

3. Self-assess: Once you’ve found out what you need to know, take some time to identify your strengths and needs with respect to supervision. ASHA’s Self-Assessment of Competencies in Supervision is a great place to start, followed by a trip to the Practice Portal for Clinical Education and Supervision. Once you’ve assessed your skills, you can look for written resources and continuing education courses to meet your needs.

4. Build the Relationship: You have located the need-to-know information and established your needs as a supervisor. Now it’s time to form a team with the speech-language pathology assistant.

As school SLPs, we know how busy the start of a new school year is. In-service training, new student intake procedures, scheduling, preparing materials, and setting up inviting treatment spaces are all high-priority tasks. However, your best beginning-of-the-year planning and preparation work will not translate into student achievement if you and the SLPA are not a strong team.

What does it take for you and the SLPA to be a successful team? Google spent a good deal of time and money to better understand teamwork and found that in a strong team, the members depend on each other. They plan, problem-solve, and review progress together to ensure that their work gets done.

Google identified, in order of importance, 5 factors that make teams successful:

  • Psychological safety—believing that it is safe to take a risk within the team
  • Dependability—producing quality work within the time frame required
  • Structure and clarity—knowing job expectations and how to meet them
  • Meaning—seeing a purpose in the work of the team
  • Impact—seeing the positive results of the team’s work

Building a Stronger Team

How can you and your new SLPA start building a team together? Focus on each other before you get caught up in the busy-ness of providing services. Schedule time to learn about the SLPA you will be supervising. In your conversations, discuss topics such as:

  • Cultural identity: What is important to you with respect to beliefs, values, and traditions?
  • Communication style: How do you prefer to receive information and how do you tend to express yourself?
  • Supervisory expectations: How do you expect to interact with the SLPA and what does the SLPA need from you?
  • Personal and professional strengths and opportunities for growth: What skill areas are you more confident in, and in which areas of practice are you focused on learning more?

Taking the time to have these conversations will show the SLPA that you care about collaboration. Your willingness to be open with the SLPA will build a foundation of open and honest communication. That mutual disclosure will enhance the feeling of trust, also known as psychological safety, the bedrock of your successful team.

In a perfect world, the work of preparing to supervise an SLPA and team building happens before you and the SLPA begin planning for your students, but sometimes that’s not the case. You might not be given time to meet before school begins. You might be called on to supervise an SLPA mid-year. Maybe you’ve been supervising an SLPA for some time but haven’t built the collaborative, trusting relationship you hoped for. It isn’t too late to go back and redo some of the groundwork for successful supervision!

Supervision is a dynamic process. As you and the SLPA learn more about each other and your caseload needs change, so will your needs as a team. Continue to educate, connect, and self-assess to build a successful supervisor-supervisee relationship.

  1. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2016). Appendix E: Self-Assessment of Competencies in Supervision. From A Plan for Developing Resources and Training Opportunities in Clinical Supervision. Retrieved from
  2. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.). ASHA Practice Portal: Clinical Education and Supervision. Retrieved April 12, 2019, from
  3. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.). ASHA Practice Portal: Speech-Language Pathology Assistants. Retrieved April 12, 2019, from
  4. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.). ASHA State Education Advocacy Leaders (SEALs). Retrieved April 4, 2019, from
  5. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.). ASHA State-by-State. Retrieved April 12, 2019, from
  6. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.). Technical Training Programs for Speech-Language Pathology Assistants. Retrieved April 12, 2019, from
  7. Google re: Work. (n.d.). Guide: Understand team effectiveness. Retrieved April 12, 2019, from