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Expanding How We Think about In-Services

Britt Coffey, PhD, MEd, (left) and Emily Snow, MED, (right) present their poster “Reimagining the In-Service” at the CEC (Council for Exceptional Children) Convention & Expo in 2022.

As itinerant teachers of the deaf (TODs) working in mainstream settings with students who are deaf or hard of hearing, we recognize that the “in-service consultation” is a noun. It’s that hard-fought session—40 minutes if we’re lucky!—that we conduct with teachers and our one opportunity to teach them everything they need to know about having a student with hearing loss in their classroom each September.

Through our research in andragogy (teaching adults) and learning what makes professional development effective (hint: it’s not a one-time workshop), we have come to see “in-servicing” as a verb. Throughout the school year, we are frequently “in-servicing” teachers in a variety of ways and in many forms.

We became curious about the factors that lead to successful communication and effective training in a consultative relationship between the classroom teacher and specialists like TODs and speech-language pathologists. Here we share some of what we’ve learned through our research and experiences. 

"Reimagining the In-Service," by Britt Coffey, PhD, MEd, and Emily Snow, MED.


  • Expect a Yearlong Connection
    Consultation cannot take the form of a one-time presentation and instead should consist of ongoing, digestible support throughout the school year. We have learned that our instruction to mainstream teachers is most effective when it is ongoing and occurs at regular intervals.
  • Involve the Student as a Leader
    We know that consultation needs to be specific and student-led whenever possible. It is more effective when in the student’s voice rather than our own. 
  • Incorporate the Teacher’s Perspective
    Teachers learn the most when they are active participants in their learning and when the content provided helps them solve or address an immediate problem. Part of effective consultation is finding out what teachers already know, as well as what they want to know and then meeting them where they are.

Sample Strategies

  • Email teachers at regular intervals. Automate this by scheduling messages or tips to send every two weeks. Invite teachers to reply with any questions.
  • Involve your student and support their self-advocacy goals by guiding them to craft an email with equipment tips or a short video clip showing the proper use of the HAT (hearing assistive technology) system. Let them get creative, and drive what the teachers still need to learn more about. 
  • Invite teachers to provide input before meetings. This could be a two-question Google Form you send to them one week before your consultation session. This allows you to tailor your session to meet their needs, and to come prepared with the resources they need. 
  • Seek student assessments. Before an in-service or consultation meeting, talk to your student about how things are going. Have them fill out a “teacher report card” so there is data and specific student challenges or concerns to share with the classroom teacher when you meet. This ensures that the meeting is student-driven. Whenever possible use real photos of student equipment and invite students to attend meetings with teachers (with prep and practice ahead of time). 
  • Seek teacher assessments, too! Send out quarterly surveys to each student’s teaching team to collect data on self-advocacy, participation, effort on assignments, equipment use and attention in the classroom. This data can be utilized as a baseline for IEP (individualized education program) goals as well as to track progress over the school year. With direct feedback from each teacher, gaps or challenges in specific classes can be identified and consultation meetings can target recurring issues. Google Forms also summarizes information in a visually appealing way that you can share at annual IEP meetings. Teacher quotations from the form can also be powerful to share with the educational team to show either growth or the ways a student needs more support. 

Looking for more on this topic?
Check out the upcoming Supporting Success online webinar where Britt talks more in depth about consultation models, tips and strategies, and common pitfalls to avoid when meeting student needs through consultation:

What strategies have you tried to improve in-service consultations? Let us know in the comments! 

About the Authors

Britt Coffey, PhD, MEd

Britt Coffey (née Dorn) is the Mainstream Services Supervisor for Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech in Massachusetts. She leads a team of 20 teachers of the deaf and speech-language pathologists who provide support to students with hearing loss and their teams in a variety of settings. Britt has worked in both general education and education of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and has been published widely. She has articles in the American Annals of the Deaf, the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education and the Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, among others. She has presented nationally and internationally and enjoys working with general education teachers and teachers of students who are deaf or hard of hearing to help them improve their relationships with one another. 

Emily SnowMED

Emily Snow is in her eighth year as an itinerant teacher of the deaf for Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech in Massachusetts and formerly worked as a preschool teacher of the deaf at the Weingarten Children’s Center in Redwood City, California. Emily has worked with mainstream students in leadership capacities in various Clarke programs, teaching advocacy, empowerment and breaking down barriers through activities, games and role-play. More recently, Emily has been interested in educating professionals in the field and co-presented at the Council for Exceptional Children conference in Orlando, Florida. Emily is passionate about the education of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and giving her students the tools they need to succeed both inside and outside of school. 

Hear Me Out

The Hear Me Out blog provides unique resources for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. It's a forum for itinerant teachers of the deaf to share their experiences as they grow as professionals! It is produced by Clarke's Mainstream Services team as part of our mission to support children with hearing loss and the professionals who serve them.

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About the Hear Me Out Blog

Itinerant teachers of the deaf (TOD) provide direct services to children with hearing loss in mainstream schools, consultation to their teachers, and professional development to school staff. Itinerant TODs travel to a child’s neighborhood school to provide one-on-one educational support, foster listening and spoken language development, and help children build social and self-advocacy skills. They also act as a liaison between the family and their mainstream school. Hear Me Out provides a unique forum for these special teachers to share their experiences as they grow as professionals.

Hear Me Out is produced by Mainstream Services at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech as part of our mission to support children with hearing loss and the professionals who serve them.

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Hear Me Out Blog

About the Author

Heather Stinson (CAGS, MED, S/LP-A) received her master’s degree in Education of the Deaf from Smith College in 2006 and a graduate certificate in Children, Families, and Schools (with a concentration in research methodology) from the University of Massachusetts in 2012. In addition to her many years of experience working with children with hearing loss who communicate using listening and spoken language, Heather has also worked as a preschool classroom teacher.

Heather has presented both locally and nationally on issues related to mainstreaming students with hearing loss and is a contributing author to Odyssey magazine. Heather currently works as an itinerant teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing at Clarke Mainstream Services, a program of Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech.

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