Most speech and language therapists working in school settings spend the bulk of their time interacting with the students in need of their services. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that this task makes up the totality of their responsibilities.

In order to be highly effective, speech and language therapists need to develop productive relationships with the individuals who play a key role in learning and reinforcing speech and language improvements. This list includes both a student's parents and his or her teachers and at times, it can include medical professionals such as doctors.

Trust and collegiality
At first glance, it may seem that people working in speech and language therapy jobs should have little difficulty working effectively with teachers. After all, both professionals are working toward the same goals: the short- and long-term success of the pupil in question. The reality, of course, is that teachers are human beings with their own quirks and foibles.

Fortunately, people choosing careers in speech and language therapy can follow a few simple guidelines that will help them avoid mistakes that might poison the well of the teacher-therapist relationship.

First and foremost, speech therapists should remember that teachers, particularly in the primary years when language therapy is most often needed, make large emotional investments in their charges. Indeed, teachers of young children tend to become parental surrogates during the school day. Accordingly, they may sometimes feel that they and they alone can meet a child's needs.

Therapists therefore need to be sensitive when providing advice and guidance to teachers regarding follow-up activities and exercises that can help to reinforce the skills practised during a speech therapy session. Therapists who come across as the "sage on the stage" may trigger resentment in a teacher. Instead, a more subtle approach akin to the "guide on the side" can be far more effective.

Another significant source of conflict involves scheduling times for students to be pulled out of their regular classes. Whenever possible, speech and language therapists should adjust their own timetables to reflect teacher preferences, since repeatedly taking a child from class at a time inconvenient to the teacher is bound to make a collegial relationship more difficult.

Experienced therapists may know a school site's routines well enough to do this almost by rote, but those just starting out may need to take the time to speak to individual teachers.

Effective relationships with parents and doctors
Working with parents requires a somewhat different set of interpersonal skills. Speech and language therapists must be sensitive to parents who may be resistant to the notion that their child needs special help. With such parents, one approach is to stress the concept that because children are individuals, they develop speech skills on different timetables.

One important responsibility of speech and language therapists is to encourage full parental participation in home-based speech activities. Although most parents are quite willing to assist, some may be somewhat reticent because they automatically assume such activities to be the province of trained experts.

Providing parents with exercises structured as games can be helpful as this approach makes the tasks involved seem less daunting, as well as less stigmatising.

Even newly qualified speech therapists may need to consult with a child's doctor on occasion. When working with physicians, best practices include supplying information that is as detailed and specific as possible. This is particularly important with regard to physical problems that may be interfering with speech production.

Speech and language therapy requires a very specific set of skills. Those skills prove most effective and benefit students to the highest degree possible when teachers, parents, doctors, and therapists all work together in a cooperative fashion.