Effective Strategies for Collaborating Across Multidisciplinary Teams with Karen Dudek- Brannan


[00:00:00] Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Confident Principal podcast. In this episode, I'm interviewing Dr. Karen Dudek Brennan. She is the founder and owner and operator of Dr. Karen LLC, which is a company focused on empowering therapists and educators to design interventions that support language, literacy, and executive functioning.

She has a doctorate in special education and a director of special education and assistive technology credentials from Illinois State University. As well as master's and bachelor's from Illinois, Illinois State University in speech language pathology. She spent 14 years in the school systems and has held various roles in leadership in higher education, teaching and mentoring clinicians and educators.

She is the host of the DeFacto Leaders podcast, where she shares evidence based practices. Her own experience and guest expert interviews on topics related to education and health care reform. And she is also part of the Bee Podcast Network that I'm a part of as well. And in [00:01:00] this episode, we are talking about how multidisciplinary teams can work together to provide the best service models for students on IEPs.

Karen also shares some strategies to support struggling students that work for all students. So this interview is really helpful for helping you to think about how you want to service your special ed kids in ways that you can get your team working together to collaborate, which will create less stress and less overwhelm for you if you can have strategies that everybody is on the same page and communicating together.

So I hope you enjoyed this episode.

Welcome to the Confident Principal Podcast. I'm your host, Barb Flowers, a principal and life coach. This podcast is your guide to enhancing confidence, not just in your role as a principal, but in every facet of your life. Join me on this journey of growth, self assurance, and unlocking your full potential. Together, we'll explore how to become your best self. Let's [00:02:00] get started. Today I'm here with Karen Dudek Brennan, who's the host of the DeFacto Leader Podcast. So she's here today to talk to us and I'm going to turn it over to Karen to just tell us a little bit more about herself and give us some insights to what she's been doing in the field of education.

Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here. So, let's see. Let me see if I can give you the cliff notes version of what I, what I've done and what I'm doing now. So I'm a licensed SLP. I was a school SLP for 14 years and was also working on my doctorate and director of special ed credential at the same time.

So I was doing a little bit with higher ed and supervising clinicians and special ed teachers, both people who are in the field and people who are about to be in the field. And at that point, once I finished my degree and was kind of considering what to do [00:03:00] next, I was also toying with the idea of starting a private practice or self employed options.

And so what I ended up doing instead of Being a school administrator or starting a private practice was I created some online programs for speech pathologists who needed to figure out a way to support their students in language therapy. So really that language literacy role can be a challenge for SLPs to figure out how they fit in and that was always a struggle for me.

I always wished that I would have had a better framework. for working with that when I was in the schools. And so that's really what I studied during my doctoral program. And I created a course for SLPs to help walk them through the process that I figured out. So I ended up doing that. I focused on both the I would say the science of reading before it was cool to talk about the science of reading.

[00:04:00] and so in addition to the support for SLPs, I also provided work for the entire team, just focusing on the collaboration aspect. I do a lot with executive functioning. And so that's something that SLPs address with their therapy because they're really focused on the brain and language and cognition, but it's something that kind of, there's a lot of overlapping scope and a lot of people on that school team really need to know how to, how to work with students who need support and executive functioning.

So. I've also created programs that provide support for the related service providers. They'd also be relevant for teachers. A lot of the information is relevant for school leaders as well because they need to be able to support their teams and, and uh, doing all of that work. So, For the last five years, I was really focusing on my, my, online learning for those school teams.

And then recently, I started working in child welfare as a [00:05:00] product manager in the area where we provide preventative services to try to keep families together. So that brings us to what we're doing now. And then as you said, I'm also the host of the DeFacto Leaders podcast on the Bee Podcast Network, which you're a part of as well.

Yes. Yes.

The BePodcast Network. It's a great network. All right. So, well, you have quite the background, lots of experience there. And I know, um, we'll share those links for the courses in the show notes, because I know as a principal on professional development days and throughout the year, I'm always looking for things that I can offer to my related services staff.

So that would be great if you could share those and we will put those out so people can access them. So can you go ahead and elaborate on the concept of multidisciplinary teams? So getting all of those specialists together and describe how to structure the teams and how they can collaboratively work together to support our students, because we know that the [00:06:00] collaboration piece can be hard and sometimes Principals are navigating conflict with schedules and trying to figure out the best way to service students and, you know, find ways to support students who have multiple needs and need a variety of services. So what advice can you give on collaboration in that area?

So I could probably talk you know, days about this, but I think it's helpful to to start with the the big picture ways to think about that, where I see people Getting stuck is that if you're somebody who is a teacher or a therapist and you're responsible for providing direct instruction or therapy for a student, obviously when you first get into that role, especially your first couple years, you're focused on what I call, what I say, planning for therapy or lesson planning.

If you're a teacher where you're thinking about your specific discipline or area. And you want to think about, what do I [00:07:00] do when I have a student or group of students in front of me? So where your focus is, is a lot of, you know, what are my materials? What curriculum am I using? If you're a therapist, you might be focusing on specific therapy protocols and strategies, which makes complete sense.

That's where you should be focusing on. If, especially in those first few years, you need to have that solid understanding of your role. Like, if you're a reading teacher, you need to know how to teach reading. You have to be really competent in that area. If you're a math teacher, you need to know scope and sequence of the math curriculum.

If you are. A speech pathologist. I'll use that example. You need to know how to do good therapy for speech sound disorders for for stuttering for voice. And then a big one is obviously language therapy, which for me was kind of my Achilles heel. You need to understand how to support students [00:08:00] vocabulary and all those other Language components.

Syntax is a big one where, where people tend to struggle and ask me a lot of questions. so yeah, a lot of that is focused on, like, what's my strategy when I have students in front of me? You need to be solid there. something that is kind of a shift for some of the therapists is the, there's this medical model of you pull kids out and you do this therapy session and then you send them off to their day.

Um, which is a huge, really important part of what we do. So that's where, you know, I talk about planning for therapy. But that's just part of what we need to do when we are supporting kids. We also need to think about planning for service delivery. So kind of zooming out and thinking about the big picture, because if you're focused on your one little area and you're not thinking about.

upstream and downstream impacts, like, how does this look in the context of this entire ecosystem [00:09:00] of support that I'm providing for the student? How are all those other things that are going on in the student's day when they leave my therapy room or when they leave my classroom, like, it's really hard to make good decisions about what to do.

What to do when a student is in front of you if you don't have all that information, and so that's where I say that it's important to encourage the team to shift from that lesson planning to service delivery planning, to getting really solid in their area so they feel like they have the bandwidth to think big picture.

And that's where I think it's I think that the school administrators do get more of a bird's eye view of what's going on and just to make sure that their, team has the right support so that they feel solid in their individual area, so that they have the confidence and the bandwidth to be able to kind of zoom out and see things from the [00:10:00] bigger picture.

And I'd say from a practical standpoint, it's a, it's a time thing. You need the time to just. Like be able to reflect and organize your schedule so that you can actually meet and collaborate with the other team members. And so, so, yeah, I think that. Understanding the shift from planning from therapy for, to planning to service delivery is the way that I describe it.

Hopefully that makes sense.

Yeah, and I love how you talk about, you know, everybody really being good at their roles and knowing their content area or what they're in charge of and teaching or service delivery so that they can think about the big picture because I think that You know, so often it is hard when you're just in one role and that's your only focus.

We do have this like tunnel vision of that area. And so it can be hard for, you know, teachers to want to have their students pulled or, you know, speech pathologists to understand the teacher's schedule or when [00:11:00] best times are. So I think having that view is important. I guess another question that I have for you that I've heard you talk about on your podcast before and I think is a really good point, how do you determine the best service delivery model?

Um, I know that, we have our federal regulations of how many minutes we have to follow and then we have our optimal things that we'd like to do for students. You know, we know what's best for that student, but we also have a limited amount of time in a day. So, how do you navigate that? Both of those when you're planning and thinking about what that service should look like for that student.

Yeah, that is, that's really tricky and here is where you know, I'm careful about how I talk about this because obviously you want to make sure you understand compliance. Um, and here is that, that other concept of you need to know what, you need to know what the rules are so that you can understand where there can be flexibility within [00:12:00] those rules.

So, for example, When I was a speech pathologist, there were specific protocols we had to follow in order for for eligibility to determine how many minutes a student would qualify for, and I know that special ed teachers and school psychologists have have similar guidelines as far as, What category are we placing them in as far as, you know, are they in the resource room for these services?

Are they going out into the classroom and more of a co teaching situation? So you do need to understand compliance to know what is on paper. and you need to understand what, like, what that looks like in practice, but then there's this gray area where it gets a little bit fuzzy, and this is where it can get kind of challenging, because, sometimes you can, you can work around this with.

with things like consult minutes on an IEP when you're actually thinking about what are these federal [00:13:00] requirements. But what I encourage people to do is make sure that you are in compliance with what it says on that IEP. Make sure that if you're supposed to be pulling a student out for direct therapy for 30 minutes a week or whatever it is, that you are, you're, in compliance with that.

But then also be thinking about what other things you need to do in order to support what it says on paper so that you students can actually benefit from what they're getting. So a practical example that I see coming up a lot is with things like social skills groups and so who I've seen providing these sometimes it's the speech pathologist.

I have also seen situations where it's a social worker or a counselor, a psychologist. I mean, sometimes it could even be a special ed teacher and the way that they're often delivered is that it's like. That is the [00:14:00] entire intervention, like we do this social skills lesson and we send students out into their, the rest of their day, and there's absolutely no generalization, they can tell you exactly how they're supposed to act, they can answer the questions about, like they can give you the right answer in the moment, like, how should Johnny have reacted in this situation, but then there's no application, and that's because, like a therapy setting is very academic, like, That's not how a social situation is.

It's a completely different context. So you're actually not giving them practice with the skills that they need. what you'd need to do is have your session, but, but treat it like like a front loading situation where there's a real situation that this student is going to be in, like at recess or whatever it is.

And I'm going to take situations from that student's life. And I'm going to use my therapy session to prepare, but then I'm also going to make sure that I have eyes and ears outside [00:15:00] supporting what is going on in, in my therapy room. One thing, if I, one specific example that I can think of is that I had a, an autistic student that I worked with, and he had situations like that, where You know, something would overwhelm him and, like, he wouldn't, he wouldn't do what he was supposed to be doing or what he was expected to be doing, but I was always having regular conversations with his teaching assistant, um, when he had a one on one aid, and sometimes even my therapy session would be, like, she would come in there with me and the therapy session would be me training her to do something with him.

So, you know, She didn't like every time there was a situation that came up. I didn't have to necessarily handle it because she knew how to do it. So I was using a consult model and I was kind of looking at the IEP, figuring out how many minutes am I supposed to be, um, doing with the student. But is there a way I can try [00:16:00] to.

work some consult minutes in here, but still also meet the requirements. So I know that's kind of, um, like there's so many different nuances to that situation, but I think that you need to look at what's on paper and figure out where's my wiggle room in here. How can I figure out ways that I can get my students support across the day and still meet these minutes?

Yeah, I think

that's a great point. I love what you talked about, even training like a para pro to know some of those, um, strategies to work with the student in the classroom so that there is that carryover. And I think also, with that collaboration piece, and it all comes back to time, but finding time for the therapist to talk to the teachers and help them because, yeah, I know I've learned more with the science of reading about, You know, speech and, but I didn't even understand as a teacher how much of a correlation speech had to do with their reading and why I had so [00:17:00] many struggling readers when I had all these students who were on speech IEP.

So I, I just really had a lack of knowledge in that area. And so now I see, you know, a huge need for collaboration with all of that, but I think that just having that time is really

important. Well, and this is, this is where this is maybe pie in the sky, but, so there's obviously caseload laws about when you have those related service providers, how many students they can have on their caseload.

And sometimes some students require more work than others, which is why that that model of using a number isn't always the best model and some states have no cap or their cap is just. Insane, like a hundred students. I was fortunate to work in a state where we have a caseload cap that's, you know, reasonable, depending on what your caseload looks like in Illinois at 60, but I know districts in my area where they like to cap their SLPs at 40, and this is [00:18:00] where there's a little gray area where it's, It's not on paper that that's your job, but it, it makes sense.

And it's within your scope and your abilities to do that. Um, and so I think that that can sometimes happen with people in those interventionist and related service provider roles where there can, they can be in sort of this sort again, the concept of de facto leadership where they're not technically a school administrator, but they can emerge into that role, but they can't do that if they're so overloaded with, just what's on paper, you know, like the direct therapy.

Um, and I think that those people in those positions can be really important subject matter experts to provide support to both the, um, the principals. who are making those decisions about how services look, as well as providing support to teachers. And that's what I'm sharing all the time with people who are in that related service provider position, is that your role, you want to be somebody who is removing barriers for those [00:19:00] teachers, just like a principal would be somebody who is removing barriers.

So, you're, you know, you're not just there to, you know, think about your lesson plans and your direct therapy. You also want to make sure that those people who are supporting the students have. The support that they need to do their job. So, in the school, that is obviously the teachers, typically. If, you know, for some therapists who are in private practice, that's often the parents.

And hopefully schools can do that too, although I know it becomes challenging to engage the community. But that's definitely a place where, we can improve as well. So, what recommendations

do you have for principals about how they can Um, help their teams collaborate and how they can even have conversations with their teams about different service models.

And, you know, because you might have a speech pathologist who's only done pullout and is resistant to going in the classroom. So how can principals kind of [00:20:00] help facilitate that and then get teams to collaborate in different

ways? One of the biggest, areas where I've gotten pushback or maybe seen some hesitation from SLP specifically, and I think that this could potentially apply to other people who are in that role where they're providing therapy, is Many times they're concerned that they're not going to meet their students needs if they're co teaching.

So I've even had some specific situations where there was maybe some miscommunication about a principal's intentions where it's, Well, my principal says we're supposed to do inclusion, so now I'm going to have to go provide services in the classroom and my therapy is going to be really watered down. So I think just having intentional conversations to really make sure that they are being Discerning about how they make those decisions, because sometimes for certain students, they're really not going to apply the skills that they learned if you're only doing pullout.

And if the, the [00:21:00] therapist is not involved in that classroom in some way. But there's other situations where it, the, the student is not going to get what they need at the level of intensity that they need if you're trying to do services in the classroom. So I would say really making sure that you understand and you're, you're taking their expertise into account because, I think that that's, that's a fear a lot of times is, oh, I'm just going to be.

A glorified, parent volunteer or something like that. They're like, this is something that a parent volunteer could do that. I think that a lot of times the fear too is I'm going to go in there and and this is taking nothing away from parent volunteers or teaching assistants, but they're worried that they're going to function as a teaching assistant as opposed to a therapist.

and so they don't want to just be like, You know, the teacher is up at the front of the room, and I'm just floating around, and the students don't even see me as a teacher. They see me as like, [00:22:00] this extra helper, so that is something where I think that, you know, the principal and, um, really anybody on the team can kind of facilitate how that's going to look because, because that's not an ideal co teaching situation where someone Real teacher.

And then there's others, this other person who is kind of the helper and they're not seen as having the same authority and, and they don't have the same ability to make decisions and things like that, where I have seen co teaching work really well is, um, one of the special ed teachers that I used to work with, she had a great collaboration with the teachers and they would take turns being the, like who was teaching and who was floating.

And so it was a nice, Collaboration where it was an equal partnership. So I almost think you got to walk before you run. So maybe doing things in small pilots so that it doesn't overwhelm people. And so you can kind of work out those kinks. You can't just be like, we're [00:23:00] doing inclusion for everybody because we know that's not going to be individualized, but also from a, The port that your staff needs to just completely change everything doesn't make sense, and you're not going to have good implementation because you haven't really worked out the kinks so I always recommend like, is there a way that you can start this and do a little experiment in a pilot with it?

one teacher, one therapist, one group of students, see what happens and then you can kind of grow from there.

Yeah, I think that's really good advice because I'm all about, you know, piloting something with one group of teachers, trying it, seeing how it goes, being flexible to change it if it needs change and going from there.

Yeah. All right. So my last question for you is, Do you have any other tips or strategies for principals just drawing from all of your experience that could help them with leading multidisciplinary teams and then supporting students with diverse needs?

Yeah, so I will have to take the opportunity to plug my [00:24:00] content area and my area that I've been focusing on a lot.

So with, with language and executive functioning, those areas are. You know, obviously, as an SLP, that was something where I was focusing on directly, but they really impact all of these other areas. With things like executive functioning, that is often an area where students who qualify for special ed services or students who are on that borderline where it's like They don't qualify yet, but, you know, maybe they have a 504 plan, or maybe they are someone who needs a lot of support in the classroom and has a lot of work for the teachers, but we don't have enough to qualify them for special ed, for example.

So, those types of situations, a lot of times the support that they need in order to be successful are things that could benefit all of the students, and so I think that some of the things that we think about for a student with [00:25:00] autism or ADHD when it comes to supporting executive functioning can be beneficial as more of a universal design initiative.

So some specific examples of things that have come up for me is students ability to visualize the end goal and think back, um, and think about what steps they need to be taking in order to get there. When they have a difficult task in front of them, can they engage in the right internal dialogue and self talk in order to talk themselves through the steps and be able to reflect and evaluate when they're getting off track?

and this can be, the way that we actually do that is through a number of different things, through teachers knowing how to model the right self talk to show how they're thinking in their heads and planning, putting visuals and Posting expectations clearly in the classroom, knowing how to help students to sense time [00:26:00] and pay attention to time in a way that is, is beneficial for them.

So there's different strategies that you can use for all of those things that are going to be beneficial for students, you know, for really anybody. But if you have students who are showing behaviors, especially kids that don't want to get started with their work, this comes up a lot with writing assignments where it's like, You know, there's that one kid who's, who's never on track and they try to avoid and, you know, they're, they're taking forever to get their things out.

And a lot of times that is an executive functioning issue. And so that can be, if you think about putting that support in place for the whole class, that can be something where once the teacher gets the right training and it becomes part of their. their habits and their process. It doesn't feel like a lot of work for them.

So doing that up front can actually cut down on some of the work later on. And yes, there are going to be students who still need support, maybe from a teaching assistant, maybe from different classroom [00:27:00] accommodations, maybe from a therapist or a special ed teacher coming in and providing support and kind of a co teaching situation.

But you can actually address some of those things and cut down on on some of the things that you need to put in place if you have them in support for the whole class. So universal design isn't about preventing students from getting in special ed, but it's about making it robust for everybody. Um, because then further down the line, that's going to impact how those, those special ed services look, and it can cut down on the burden that it, you know, that it takes to have to make all these different accommodations when some of those things are just already accessible and in place.


I think, you know, part of what I do in both my podcasts are trying to make things so they're less stressful for principals and teachers. And I think the more that you can do that universal design, like you said, it will make things easier for everyone and support students who need it. And even those who might not [00:28:00] have initially, it'll be helpful.

So I love that. Well, thank you, Karen, so much for being here. I really appreciate you joining the podcast today.

Thank you so much for having me.

Effective Strategies for Collaborating Across Multidisciplinary Teams with Karen Dudek- Brannan