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You are Not an Island…though It can Feel that Way

You drift from one intervention visit to another, seeing families and children all day. You might, if you’re lucky, have some time in the office before,shutterstock_133423559 between, or after visits to catch up on missed phone calls or emails, write contact notes, and/or attend a meeting or two. Your day is busy and full…so why do you sometimes feel like your own island, floating from place to place?

Isolation in Early Intervention

Two of the things I always loved most about the early interventionist’s job was that no two days were the same and that I was always on the go. I liked the freedom that came with traveling around my community, rather than being “stuck” at a desk all day. This freedom, though, also left me feeling somewhat isolated at times. It felt strange (and sometimes exhausting) to be with people all day and yet, at the end of the day, feel like I had not really “talked” to anyone.

The interactions we have with families are quite different from those with our colleagues. With our colleagues, we can share stories, discuss challenges, vent frustrations, laugh freely and, when needed, emotionally support each other. Without opportunities to do these things, it’s easy to feel isolated. I’ve worked in several programs where I was the only early childhood special educator, and even though I had wonderful colleagues from other disciplines, I really missed having a like-minded person around. In bigger programs, or programs that cover a large geographic area, it can be hard to find time in the office that overlaps with other staff. In either case, it can be difficult to get the support you need to do this job and improve the work you do when you don’t have others around to help you grow.

Connecting with Others…How?

So if you’re in one of these situations, what should you do to feel less like an island? I’d love to hear your ideas about what we can do to feel more like a community, within our own programs and on a larger scale. Here are a few of my ideas:

Service Providers

Make Time to Connect with Others – This can get lost in the shuffle, but spending a few minutes each day catching up with other team members is so important. Touch base with service coordinators. Call the other IFSP team members. Share what you’re doing with a family and invite ideas. Make a point to touch base with your other team members at least once each month. It will make you feel more connected to the team, which will benefit the child and family as well.

Host an Activity – Offer to coordinate a teaming activity that brings your team(s) together. Invite your team to meet for lunch after an assessment. Host a community of practice in the evening to discuss topics and expand your skills together. Sometimes we don’t get together because no one takes the lead coordinating these kinds of activities…so be that leader and get the ball rolling!

Supervisors

Check-in Regularly – I believe that program leaders need to check in regularly with their staff, to make sure that they are emotionally “okay.” I’ve worked with colleagues who felt like the supervisor never checked in with them. Even though they had other friends among their colleagues, having a supervisor who is not in touch with staff “ups the ante” on feelings of isolation. You can check in with a quick stop by each person’s office space, in a quick email or text, or with a call. Make the effort because it builds morale and, well, it just matters.

Schedule Regular Teaming Times – If possible, have a regular meeting where your team gets together. Sure, you can discuss updates on children and families in the program, but you could also share personal stories and celebrations. You could do something fun together have lunch, meet for dessert, meet outdoors  (for a change of scenery), have an annual retreat, or host a monthly community of practice where you develop an interest together. Sure, staff meetings could “count” but honestly, they usually aren’t that fun. Make time for your staff to enjoy and support each other.

Preservice Faculty

Prepare Students – Talk with students about how to balance intervention visits with finding the support they need from colleagues. Invite inservice providers to speak to your students about the “real world” of early intervention. I’ve heard more than one student say that the isolation of EI came as a surprise. Help students get linked with other groups, through social media, and by email. Online support isn’t the same as in-the-office support but it’s really helpful too

It can be so easy to drift, and you may not think you need support until you REALLY need it. Don’t wait until that point. Take a few moments to intentionally reach out to others so that you have somewhere to land when you need it.

What do you do to stay connected to your colleagues? What groups do you follow online to stay connected?

How does your agency/program encourage teaming and staff connections? 

Share what you do in the comments below. Who knows, you may have the idea someone else is looking for? 🙂

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