13 March 2013

Learning Curve: Case Conferences

I need to get some things down in writing mostly for my own sake, but I figured I'd let you see it too. Chances are it will be mostly rambling and open-ended questions, so consider yourself warned.

I am almost a month into my school practicum and I'm loving it. I'm learning a lot from my supervising SLP, and she and I get along great. The staff in the building is awesome and, of course, the kiddos are wonderful. The only hurdle I can't seem to get over is the case conference. It's not the procedure or the law or the information shared-it's the parent side of the table I find myself wrestling with the most.

For some, it hits me the very second they walk in the room. There are always at least 4 other professionals in the room, most on laptops or tablets of some sort. Typically the parent sits at the head of the table and faces the rest of the committee. How intimidating is this?! For some parents, not at all. They can handle themselves, they've been doing these for years, boom bang done. But for some parents who may have a low socioeconomic or education level, how does this welcome make them feel? What about parents/guardians who don't speak English? I know that I have had to learn how to handle myself with people older/smarter/more intimidating than me and in all honesty I still wrestle with it a little from time to time. But in walk these parents/families into this room full of people furiously typing away and ready and waiting with test scores and information to toss at them...yikes.

Speaking of test information, I know that you start a conference (at least the ones I have seen do) talking about student strengths. Which is awesome. But the next 30-45 minutes is full of "can'ts, won'ts don'ts, do and shouldn't be doing" kinds of information. Test scores galore, most of which I still am working to keep straight in my head. It just seems that there is a lot of information from a lot of people being tossed around, and none of it too pleasant. It also seems to be coming at them at break-neck speeds, because these things can only take so long (which I totally get).  So then the discussion begins of what we can do about things-what we've tried, what's working, and what is not working.
In all honesty, there have been a couple just in the past few weeks that I literally have had to take a deep breath when I walk out of because my little intern brain is just on overload.

Now come the disclaimers. I know that not all conferences are bad. Some are dismissals, where we talk about nothing but how hard they have worked, how far they have come, and what awesome progress they have made. Yahoo!! Others are for articulation only, or are otherwise light,  and seem to be much more short and sweet. But some of these "bigger" cases are a little heavy for me, and seem to be done like it is old hat. And maybe for these people and parents it is.  But, while I'm not a parent, I can't imagine what it must be like to sit and listen to all these things teachers say you child can't do, is behind in, and struggles with. My heart breaks for some of these situations. I know it's why we are there-to turn those things around and make the most difference that we can-and maybe I just need to learn to get used to it and move on with life- but I think about it.
And I'm learning.


  1. Hey Rachel,

    Great post, and great posts into the perspective of parents. How will this information guide your practice? What can you do differently to make the case conference more welcoming and less overwhelming. Is sharing the test scores and results really necessary, or can you present the information differently?

    Speech Pathologist

  2. Great post and so true. I doubt most of the parents in my poverty schools ever understood a blasted thing that was said except that we were trying to help their child. I understand the necessity of informed consent but why can't we be like the medical profession and state things simply. Your test showed blank and this needs to be done to correct it. Can you imagine going to a doctors appt and having every test explained in as much detail as educational testing? Sheesh! Why then the mind numbing conversations in school? I'll never understand,

  3. Very insightful, and I'm pretty sure I didn't have that level of understanding at the grad school level. We do a few things to help parents, but I'm sure the meetings are still out of the comfort zones for most of them. A Sp. Ed. lawyer once said that parents should leave the meeting with the ability to express how it went to someone else - a spouse, family member, or friend. What do we want the parent to say?

    Oh, How Pintearesting!

  4. Loved this post and all of your views are SO warranted. My CFY year was in a mostly Spanish-speaking population north of Chicago and what I learned from that year was to slow down, use almost ZERO jargon, and look AT the parents. No matter the language or education level, eye contact and speaking as a PERSON keeps you on the same level. I'm now back in a mostly English-speaking school and have been here almost 2 years. I have also had to make a conscious effort to de-Jargonize my speech because I have become more comfortable with acronyms and tests. I think part of the problem can be the professionals' comfort level with tests and procedures. I like to come with graphs or other visuals if possible... for progress and for test scores. It sometimes helps.

    I would encourage you to keep this post in mind in the next few years of your career and look back on it. Keep yourself grounded, confident, and compassionate! :)