TeleHelpers – Part 2

You have: decided to contract with a teletherapy company, agreed to terms, taken the training, and now you are ready to begin setting up your caseload, schedule, etc.  Who will be your tele-helper?  Will that person have any type of experience working within schools? Will that matter?  What are your expectations for that person?  This post is going to explore those questions and more to help you organize your thoughts and prioritize your “tele-helper” needs before the upcoming school year.
I have worked with various schools and each seemed to envision the “tele-helper” position differently.  From hiring college students to retired paraprofessionals, you may not know who you will be working with until the first day of teletherapy.  I hope, for your sake, you do not have to wait until then to find out.  If you are like me, I thrive on organization and knowing what to expect.  I am not so rigid that I cannot be creative and flexible when necessary, but I do like routine.  Teletherapy has taught me how to be more flexible than when I worked within the schools because things come up quite unexpectedly, and you are not physically there to deal with them.  When this occurs, you can either stress over it or you can “go with the flow.” As I noticed a distinct change in my hair color (i.e., from brown to gray), I mentally decided to join the, “go with the flow,” approach.
As you prepare for the beginning of the school year and you learn of your school assignment, request the contracting company to contact the school, acquiring the name of the person that will be your tele-helper.  Ask for that person’s background, email address, and cell phone number in order to introduce yourself and establish contact. It is a good idea to prepare some notes for yourself to make sure you present all the information you intended. If you are comfortable calling that person, do so to introduce yourself.  You may want to explain the position of “tele-helper” to him/her in your own terms because the school may have explained it differently.  Another idea would be to set up a second contact, after introducing yourself, to go over your expectations when there is time to discuss important points and for the individual to ask questions.
When you are preparing to schedule your students, your tele-helper can be an asset.  Rather than emailing each and every teacher about possible days/times to see his/her students, I sometimes have my tele-helper do the footwork for me and that way the tele-helper learns the location of the students’ classrooms.  Also, be sure to ask the school administrator or your district contact person about the protocol if the tele-helper is unable to work due to illness, etc. Will there be a substitute tele-helper for that day?  Will teletherapy services need to be canceled?  Will students that are impacted by the tele-helper’s absence need to have that therapy time made up if the sessions are cancelled?
My tele-helper expectations include the following:
  • Arrive at least 15-20 minutes before the first scheduled teletherapy group to get things set up and ready to go,
  • Require the tele-helper to call you directly if s/he is unable to work,explaining the cause.  S/He should call you the night before, allowing the teletherapist time to switch the game plan for the next day.
  • Stop in the office each morning to see if the school is having any special celebrations or activities on that particular day and the grades it will impact,
  • Check the “SPEECH – TELETHERAPY” box each morning in the office for any signed “Consent for… Evaluation, IEP Meeting, Placement” forms that have been returned by parents or parents’/teachers’ questionnaires. (*This will be something you will need to establish with the school.  There needs to be a system that the secretary/parents/teachers can use to keep track of paperwork you need to have faxed or emailed to you.  This will be addressed in a separate blog post).
  • Have the necessary activity pages I emailed him/her previously, printed out and ready to go for the day,
  • Have the table, chairs, computer, external webcam, and materials organized and ready for the students,
  • Log into the computer and the platform at least 10 minutes ahead of time to be sure that the system is working properly,
  • Gather the glue, scissors, markers, stickers, sticker charts, pencils, etc., setting them out and organized for the students,
  • At the end of the day, log out of the platform, then the computer, shutting it down the “correct” way, placing it in a locked drawer/cabinet/room,
  • Before leaving for the day, be sure to lock away any paperwork with students’ names or identifying information, or, if they are ready for disposal, shred them.
In terms of the tele-helper interacting with the students, you will need to specify how you want things to flow.  Do you want the tele-helper to pick up the students and have them sitting and waiting just before the scheduled time to begin?  What if you are running late and cannot start at the exact time?  What if you are attending an IEP for another student and using the teletherapy computer?  My personal preference is having the tele-helper log in 5 minutes before the first group to meet with me and discuss any schedule changes, etc. for the day.  Then I ask the tele-helper to pick up the students.  My expectations here include:
  • When picking up students, ask them about their morning.  How are they feeling today?  What did they have for breakfast?  Did they remember to bring back their Speech homework with parents’ signatures?
  • Remind the students of the Speech Room Rules that have been established and the consequences of not following directions (if necessary),
  • Ask the tele-helper to write a note on the students’ paper (activity they worked on in Teletherapy) such as “vocabulary” and listing 5 of the words you worked on, or “the /r/ sound” listing 5 of the words the student practiced, etc.
  • While walking students back to class, ask questions about what they worked on in Speech Class today (see if they can tell the tele-helper).  Remind the student to put any papers s/he is carrying in his/her backpack before going to his/her seat in class.
  • Remind the students to take their Speech Class homework home and to do it that evening.
  • Have the tele-helper privately tell the teacher if his/her student was having difficulty behaving, completing work, or following directions for the teacher to follow up with the student.
  • Have the tele-helper remind the student and teacher about any IEP paperwork, questionnaires, etc. that should be returned to school with parents’ signatures.
  • Meet briefly with the tele-helper after your last student/group to discuss how the day went, expectations for the next therapy day (e.g., print out pages for the kindergarteners before the next teletherapy day).
What if a student is misbehaving or having difficulty staying in his/her seat during Speech/Language Teletherapy?  If you were working onsite, you might place your hand on the student’s shoulder and speak a bit louder; is that something you would like your tele-helper to do?  Do you want the tele-helper to step in on his/her own or wait for you to say something to him/her?  What if the student has difficulty following the tele-helper’s directions when walking to or from teletherapy?  What are your expectations in that type of situation?  This is where the previous experience of the tele-helper comes in.  If s/he is familiar with the school setting (keeping in mind each school operates differently), you may feel comfortable having the tele-helper make the decision at that time.  Can s/he refer to the reward system you use if needed (e.g., “Remember, you are working for a sticker today, Toni”)?
If I have an IEP Meeting coming up, I will have the tele-helper write the date and time on his/her calendar so that we have the computer available for the meeting.  You should check with the school to see if they are comfortable with the tele-helper handling confidential paperwork, and if they are, I have the tele-helper print out the necessary pages for the meetings, etc.  Your tele-helper is a critical extension of your professional role as the school’s Speech/Language Pathologist.  S/He will have difficulty completing tasks in an appropriate manner if you do not first explain to him/her what the expectations are in different situations.  S/He cannot read your mind, so you will need to be clear in your expectations, flexible, patient, and respectful. The tele-helper is your “life-line” connecting you to the school.


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