5 Traits of great SLP student clinicians

5 Traits of a great student clinician

 The zone of proximal development for a student clinician is learning the lessons that cannot be taught while being receptive to the guidance of your mentors. There are certain skills that seem natural. We throw around the term ‘natural talent’ to usually describe something we cannot figure out how to cultivate organically. We often think that the outliers of various domains got there because they are talented. But the truth is, it is hard work. Harder than we can usually understand. You need to know what you want and then you learn how to get it.

There are certain traits I have come to find in my student teachers that make them stand out. They did things, almost naturally, which made the learning process exciting and enlightening for us both. When these pieces are vacant, it can often mean a long and arduous semester for you, the student and your clients.

Here are the traits that make an outstanding student clinician. My goal is provide these traits and give insight on how to foster them. No one is perfect, but there are traits that make you stand out personally and professionally.

 DROPS - Driven, receptive, organized, prepared, sincere.

 1.) Driven:

The best students are driven to learn. They are motivated self starters. They are hungry to learn everything so that they can be successful in their chosen domain. Even students who are on the fence about where they want to work, with adults or children, can be excited about the process of learning.

 It is best to think of the student clinician experience as a personal investment. You want to be marketable when you apply for jobs and you want to show off your skills, the greatest skill is to be driven. This cannot be taught, but it can be sparked through passion. Students learn from seeing, but they also pick up on the energy you bring to a situation. It is more than just teaching them what to do and when to do it, it is about reflecting your passion for why you do it. But to be driven means to be intrinsically motivated to excel. The need is great because the stakes are high. You are servicing clients that need you. To be driven is to understand the value of this endeavor and the rewards that come from hard work.  

 2.) Receptive.

“I never learned anything while I was talking.” Larry King.

We are very familiar with the relationship between listening and understanding. Few know how to truly listen, but listening is one of the great superpowers of SLPs. We listen as we assess the domains of language. We listen not to respond, but to understand AND to assess. A great student is receptive to what you have to say. They understand that listening is integral to learning. But with the ability to listen comes the sensibility of receiving feedback. I have had students who listen to what I say, but when it comes to giving guidance or constructive criticism, they become defensive.

Feedback is mean for improvement, not argument. Some students will become insecure and feel the need to justify their decisions, no matter how misguided. But a receptive student will see the lesson in feedback and criticism. A receptive student transmutes what you tell them into actions, they modify their behavior based on your feedback. We expect this from our clients and our students need to understand the connection. A receptive student asks questions when they don’t understand. They can monitor their own comprehension. They are curious to learn and know the value in what you have to say.

 3.) Organized:

Being organized looks different for everyone. The pile next to my desk is a mess, but the fact that I can find exactly what I need when I need it means it’s organized… right? Being organized is a matter of credibility and mental order. The process of getting certified requires the management of several documents, course, tests and deadlines. You need to be organized to achieve all these tasks. If you are not organized then this can become an absolute disaster. The skill of being organized is the ability to trade short term comfort for long term success. Therefore being organized is a professional trait. Some people have different parts of their life organized. Their homes are immaculate, but their workspace is a garbage dump. But if you are trying to make a professional impression then being organized is a priority.

 4.) Prepared

People often think because they are stressed and busy that they are working hard.

Industrious students bring fresh materials and ideas. They work hard to match materials to activities that will be relevant to the clients. I always tell mine in the beginning to over plan for the sessions, meaning have at least 3 activities. Sometimes you only get through half of one, but sometimes you get through all 3 in 12 minutes.

But the industrious student is prepared to keep going. Because they worked hard in planning, they are prepared to keep moving. There are no lulls in their lesson where they walk across the room to scramble for a new game. They don’t ask after they run through their activities “What should I do next?” Being prepared shows they value your time and the clients.

 5.) Sincerity

High affect drives learning. Sincere affect is authentic and inviting. This can be “faked” to a degree. You can see my piece of finding your voice as an  SLP to get more on this topic. But essentially, you want sincere affect in everything you do. That is something that is cultivated by adjusting the dial to various frequencies of intonation and sincerity until you find your voice.

We know from our clients that they respond to how we say things, not just what we say. This is also true for the students you are mentoring. They pick up on these cues without knowing. But I have found that the best students have a sincerity in their tone that translates into the interactions they have with clients.

Sincerity is what solidifies relationships. It is contagious and reinforcing. Sincerity invites you to be yourself. The ones who are sincere in what they are doing are the ones that make real connections. That is essential what this whole game is about. Make connections to make a difference. Don’t act sincere, be sincere.   


Matthew CriscuolaComment