Amanda Pennington grew up in Sparta, Michigan, the daughter of Mary, a purchasing clerk, and Wade, a welding engineer and supervisor. She credits her parents for teaching her the value of a good work ethic, how to make things fun, honesty, perseverance, respect, and kindness for others, and being a person of your word. Her brother, Matt, who died in 1999, also lived a life of innovation, kindness, and integrity, she says.
Pennington is a speech-language pathologist who graduated with her Bachelor of Applied Arts and Master of Arts from Central Michigan University. She then followed her career to a fellowship in North Carolina near Camp LeJeune military base to work in both an in and outpatient medical setting. Following that, she took an opportunity to work in the school system in Oahu, Hawaii. There, she experienced island life and the true meaning of “ohana” with her co-workers, students, and families.
Pennington moved back to Michigan and worked in post-acute brain injury rehabilitation for four years before finding a home at Forsythe Middle School. She then ventured to the Denver, Colorado area for three years and worked in a school system there, but then says she was lucky enough to return to her position at Forsythe Middle School once again, after having a child and wanting to be closer to home, family, and her Viking team.
Pennington and her six-year-old son, Ben, reside in Ann Arbor with their cat, Orry. They enjoy all things busy and outdoors, including bike riding, hiking, swimming, boating, beach days, festivals, farmers’ market, farms, and sports. She says Ben reminds her to enjoy the fun, simple things and reset every day.
How do you feel about the district’s emphasis on dignity this year?
When working in education, and especially special education, you experience a daily magnified lens on dignity and what it means for each student on your caseload. A key aspect of my field is to individualize each plan. I ask myself: What will help this student access social and academic content through communication? Dignity is being able to communicate your wants and needs, being able to protest, make choices and decisions, and being able to problem-solve and interact with friends and teachers. Dignity is feeling the pride that you are able to understand the world around you, and also be understood.
What convinced you to go into the field of speech pathology?
Initially, I took some intro communication courses at Central Michigan University, with hands-on projects and interviews with great professors that really intrigued me to delve more into the field. At CMU, I was also able to take part in some unique opportunities like a stroboscopy evaluation team and an AAC alternative and augmentative communication evaluation team that also piqued my interest in all the different facets of my future field.
Furthermore, my late Uncle Dave, a Grand Rapids attorney, experienced a closed head injury while I was in middle school. I was very close to him, and he stayed with our family during his rehabilitation. I had a birds-eye view of a startlingly successful rehabilitation at the hands of his doctors, therapists (including speech-language pathologists), and his hard work. He went back to practicing law, and I am certain that that transformation had quite an impact on me as well.
Describe a typical work day:
I have a daily schedule that I always hope to follow, to see students across the self-contained and general education settings. However, each day can always look a little different and requires flexibility; from working with other team members and students in group or individual sessions, conducting evaluations, team and IEP meetings, to programming and troubleshooting communication devices, training staff and parents related to communication topics, to creating visuals to help students process information and communicate, to assisting students/teams with behavior management, and working in collaboration with my team and colleagues to establish best practices and brainstorm together.
What do you enjoy about working at Forsythe?
The Team! The Team! The Team! We care about students and each other! We make each other laugh!
How do you measure your success?
Success is establishing a trusting relationship, where communication skills can grow and develop. Success includes those breakthroughs, be they big or small, when a strategy or concept clicks for a student and works in real time.
My team is a driving force in my return and longevity at Forsythe Middle School. We are lucky to have a dedicated, empathetic, fun, and supportive team. I work at a place where I consider some staff to be just as close as family. We have each other’s back and are able to communicate ideas and problem-solve freely.
What’s the best compliment anyone could give you?
“You are a good friend,” or perhaps “You are a good mom.” Those are the two best things I think you can be.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
I love seeing glimpses of humor and sarcasm come from all levels of my students, as it is a sophisticated language and cognitive skill, but tells so much about a personality, relationship, and/or growth in skill.
Everyday Speech is a great site for resources for social language skill development. Lesson Pix is another great tool that helps me build supportive visuals to aid students in receptive and expressive language areas.
What role does technology play in your work with students?
There are many new apps that aid students’ access to content daily. However, most impactful on my role are the communication applications that some of my students use, such as TouchChat and LAMP. They allow students with limited verbal skills or those that are non-verbal to communicate in their school and home environments.
How do you recharge?
Family and friend time is so important. Being outside and having a laugh is key.
How do you spend your summers?
My summers are spent with typically one “Up North” or one warm weather/beach vacation. Otherwise, we are outside, enjoying the weather as much as possible.
Do you ever miss living in Hawaii?
I miss the Aloha State often, especially when it gets grey or chilly in Michigan.
What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life?
Professionally, I enjoyed attending the Talking AAC Conference in Lansing. It was a great chance to collaborate and network with other professionals, hear the latest and greatest in research and application of AAC in the classroom and student lives, and experience actual AAC users presenting keynote speeches.
Personally, I am looking forward to the fall and winter holidays and events, as I love seeing them through my son’s eyes.