Have you been asked to supervise an SLP Assistant (SLP-A) for the first time? If you’re anything like I was, you’re probably super nervous about the prospect of managing another person. This article is a good starting point if you are unsure of what you need to know for your new role as a supervisor. It has facts about the job requirements as well as tried-and-true tips for managing your responsibilities.
*Disclaimer: Since you could be reading this article from anywhere, know that I am going to refer to the guidelines set by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Be sure to check the guidelines in your state for more specific information.
The most important question you should answer before you take on a role as an SLP-A supervisor is, “Am I qualified?” According to ASHA’s new standards, which go into effect on January 1st 2020, in order to be a supervisor, you need:
- ASHA certification and/or state licensure
- 2 years of practice post-certification (i.e. CF year + two years of experience)
- 2 hours of professional development in the area of supervision
Role of the SLP-A
The role of an SLP-A is to assist their supervisor with the delivery of speech and language therapy services. They follow treatment plans and report client progress to the SLP. SLP-As are not allowed to evaluate, develop treatment plans, or communicate client progress to families. These responsibilities involve making interpretations based on data, research, and an extensive knowledge of speech and language development. The skills needed for interpretation are gained in graduate school, which is beyond an SLP-A’s knowledge base.
Role of the SLP-A supervisor
An SLP-A supervisor completes all testing and develops treatment plans for the SLP-A to follow. SLPs must identify their assistant and the scope of their role to clients, families, and coworkers. The SLP knows the most about current and potential cases, therefore it’s their responsibility to figure out caseload assignments. It’s important to remember that even if a caseload is “split” between an SLP-A and their supervisor, the SLP is still responsible for all of the clients that their SLP-A sees! It’s important to keep tabs on everyone by maintaining regular direct and indirect supervision of the SLP-A.
The most important thing to keep in mind as a supervisor is client welfare. If you believe a client’s standard of service will decline if they are seen by an SLP-A, see them yourself. Having an SLP-A is a privilege, not a right. If a client’s quality of service declines, you could be sanctioned for violating the ASHA code of ethics.
Once your caseload is set up, it’s time to set expectations for your SLP-A. It’s important to set clear expectations for reporting deadlines and data tracking practices. Beyond these professional expectations, it’s important to discuss personal preferences. These topics can include your preferred method/frequency of communication, your learning styles (i.e., auditory, visual, tactile, etc), as well as how and when you would like to give and receive feedback (i.e., in the moment, in writing, conference at the end of the week, etc.).
Now that you’ve set expectations, it’s time to start observations! Supervisors must set aside time for both direct and indirect observation of their SLP-A. First off, SLPs must make the first contact with all clients because they’re responsible for developing and ensuring the treatment plan is followed. It is a good idea to do this process with your SLP-A present to ensure a good therapeutic fit is established.
After initial contact, it’s really up to you and your SLP-A as to how and when observations occur. Indirect observations can include weekly discussions, going over your SLP-A's data collection, reviewing billing information, or discussing lesson plans. Direct observations are done when the SLP-A is seeing your clients. I found that, as a supervisor, I gained the most benefit from direct observations when clients need a progress update, a new evaluation, or they are due for an annual review with their family. This way. you’ll have the most up-to-date information you can get on their performance first hand. Another beneficial time for direct observation is when your SLP-A or student is struggling with a goal. You can serve as fresh eyes and offer a new perspective/approach to help them succeed.
As an SLP-A supervisor, you’re responsible for tracking your direct and indirect supervision time. You can check with your state board for logging templates or make one that fits your style. Just make sure to note your: names, license numbers, date, and length of interaction, type of interaction (direct or indirect), and any notes you would like to include about each interaction. Review these regularly with your SLP-A and have them sign off on your notes. These notes can serve as a guide for giving feedback to your SLP-A about their performance.
As a supervisor, you will need to provide feedback to your SLP-A regarding sessions, data tracking, and student progress. Giving feedback can be stressful because you can’t be 100% certain of how someone will react to what you say. When providing feedback, it’s important to highlight areas for improvement without devaluing your SLP-A.
Enter the compliment sandwich technique. Start your feedback by mentioning something you liked about the session, even if it’s something small, like the connection you feel between the SLP-A and the client. Then add in areas that need improvement. Talk about their weaker points, but remember to offer alternative approaches and ideas they can try next time. Finally, end with another compliment. Mention that although one thing needs improvement, they were really good at ____ or you like the way they _____. This way, you say what needs to be said, but both you and your assistant are cognizant of things that are going well and can keep conversations constructive.
For SLPs that are going to supervise an SLP-A who is older than they are (like I did!), I know this can seem daunting. You may be thinking, “They’ve been in the field much longer than I have, what can I possibly teach them?!” Trust me, I thought the exact same thing. BUT remember this: You know more than you give yourself credit for. You have a wider base of knowledge and you know the newest intervention techniques. I’m sure you will learn a lot from their expertise, but remember, they can learn from you too.