5 Strategies for Clarifying the SLP’s Role in Schools

SLP Role in Schools

“Limited understanding of my role by others” has been one of the top challenges reported by school-based SLPs in every ASHA Schools Survey since 2004.1

Whether it’s by parents, teachers, administrators, or other colleagues, the scope of responsibilities of the school-based SLP is underestimated. This can result in:

  • Burdensome caseloads that don’t allow time for all of the required indirect services and administrative tasks
  • Inappropriate referrals or lack of appropriate referrals
  • Failure to include SLPs in discussions about students’ academic performance
  • Exclusion of SLPs from building- or district-wide committees where their expertise would be valuable

This misunderstanding leads to negative impacts for SLPs, their students, families, and the school system in general.

Advocating for Yourself and Your Role as an SLP

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to clarify your role:

1. Begin to think, talk, and plan in terms of “workload” and not “caseload.”

You should use the term “caseload” when referring only to the students for whom you provide services. Your “workload” is much broader than that, encompassing the direct services provided to students as well as all the indirect services and administrative tasks associated with those services.

Resources developed by ASHA and outlined in the MedBridge course “Balancing & Scheduling Speech-Language Workloads in Schools” will be useful in helping you define those responsibilities and communicate them to others.

2. When developing IEPs, include both direct and indirect services provided with and on behalf of the students within a continuum of service delivery models.

These services can be:

  • Direct services in the classroom, small groups, and/or individual
  • Observations
  • Evaluations
  • Data analysis and report writing
  • Curriculum modification
  • Co-teaching
  • Planning
  • Parent conferences
  • Paperwork

The course “Balancing & Scheduling Speech-Language Workloads in Schools” includes samples from two students explaining how you can document all that you’ll do for them within the school year and the time allotted to each activity. A handout from the course “Educationally Relevant Speech-Language Services in Schools” is included below that depicts how to incorporate direct and indirect services in the allotted time.

Unlock your free handout on Service Delivery Models!

Enjoy your download

Enjoy your free copy of "Service Delivery Models."


3. Include both direct and indirect services in your schedule.

Typically, there’s a big disconnect between what SLPs do and what is typically on their schedules. The caseload of students is generally scheduled, while all the indirect services provided on behalf of those students are generally not scheduled. If that’s been the case for you, it’s time to begin scheduling your workload.

Time blocks can reflect not only the students you’ll serve but also activities such as time in classrooms, meetings, consultations, planning, testing, and paperwork. Sample schedules are available for you in the course “Balancing and Scheduling Speech-Language Workloads in Schools” to help you think of ways that you can incorporate these responsibilities into your workday.

4. If you think you may need support in explaining to others this shift from caseload thinking to workload thinking, federal law can help you.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) is quite clear about providing both direct and indirect services with and on behalf of students. The course “Educationally Relevant Speech-Language Services in Schools” outlines IDEA’s mandates for supporting students with disabilities by providing direct and indirect services with and on behalf of students in academic, non-academic, and extracurricular settings. It’s the law, so refer to it if you want extra justification.

5. Get out of your therapy room and actively collaborate with your colleagues.

Schedule work in classrooms so your connection to students’ academic achievement and functional performance is evident. Be mindful that successful collaboration takes careful planning and structuring along with strong relationships with your colleagues.

The course “Effective Collaboration for School-Based Speech-Language Pathologists” has helpful information on models of co-teaching, consultation, and teams as well as suggestions for developing productive relationships with your co-collaborators. And be sure to include time in your schedule for collaborative planning, consultation, and teams meetings!

Some of you may already have several of these elements incorporated into your work and just need some tweaking to clarify your role more fully to colleagues, administrators, and families. The three courses referenced here may be a good refresher for you, or perhaps you’ll want to look at only one or two of them.

Others of you may be in districts with more traditional models of service and may find this a total revamping of what you’re currently doing. Spend some time in the three courses mentioned here. Delve into the resources given in each, then identify the steps to take that will move you into an approach to service delivery that will more clearly reflect your role in the schools and support you in carrying out those responsibilities.

The time invested in making these changes will have significant pay-offs for you, your students, and your district.

  1. Brooks, G. (2018). Schools Survey Report: Trends in Educational Audiology 2010–2018. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Rockville, MD.