1. When do you really wish you could understand the student? What 3 times during the day you really wish that student could communicate more specifically with you. This often becomes a great opener for a discussion about core words too. Most of the time someone will say "I wish I knew when she needs help" or "I wish I knew when he was thirsty". Then we work together to come up with 2 or 3 phrases that can address those individual situations. The teacher now feels confident because he/she knows how to model this language and when to model this language and you have their buy-in because it is target vocabulary that is meaningful to them. In having these conversations I also found that times of the day I typically make recommendations for (snack, lunch, free play, recess) are not always the best choices for the teacher. Often these times provide great opportunities for spontaneous, meaningful language but come at times of the day where there is a higher student-to-staff ratio (remember the example about the PT) and less structure. With more students to keep an eye on and less structure, it can be really overwhelming to be asked to shift all your attention to the device and find [goldfish]. I've learned that we can work up to these less structured times as the teachers learn the device and feel more comfortable with modeling.
2. What activities do you have difficulty finding a place for the student? Chances are there are times throughout the day that the whole class is actively engaged in activities together: circle time, answering questions during reading, playing a game. When you start to identify areas where the teacher is struggling to engage the student you can offer specific strategies to encourage participation. From here you may need to get a little creative. Let's say the student you are talking about is part of a whole class discussion about a story and he doesn't get called on to answer questions. Can the teacher and the aide plan ahead of time what question he will be asked and preprogram the answer into his device? This way the lesson does not have to stop for the student to create the answer but he gets to participate. During morning circle time students can choose action words or activate a randomizer switch and be the "caller" telling other students what to do, added bonus for engaging students with physical difficulties in movement based activities. You can also program people games into the devices to allow students to participate- my high schoolers have an unbounded love for knock-knock jokes and I have spent more than one session programming new material.
3. Can we chose 2 or 3 phrases to focus on this week? Word of the week, phrases of the week, core words of the month- anything that gives the teacher some structure will help him/her focus their attention. I have many complex communicators with goals similar to "student will use a contextually appropriate statement to advocate for himself across no less than 3 different phrases....." (obviously you will want to have prompting levels and specific measurements but I figured I would spare you the paragraph long goal), the teacher and I then sit down and choose 3 self-advocacy statements to focus on. We always leave room on the data sheet to "write-in" a phrase, to encourage creativity, but we know that there are statements that are contextually appropriate and at the right language level for that student.
4. What is intimidating or difficult for you? We all have different levels of comfort with technology, implementing new strategies, and flexibility in our lesson plans. As the SLP we know that so much of AAC therapy is trial and error or providing more/less support depending on a student's performance that day. I have recently come to appreciate that shaping is a really challenging when trying to teach something you don't fully understand. I try to remember this and ask what about a given system or student is challenging for that teacher. If I can more fully describe the technique or theory then, hopefully, with increased confidence the teacher will be more open to the idea of shaping and prompt hierarchies.
5. You are doing a great job! OK not a question at all, but our teachers are constantly told what they can be doing better, how to improve their classroom, or why they need to do more. At the end of the day remember anyone who is invested enough in the student's progress to reach out to you is totally on your team and taking the best first step to help our kiddos succeed.