As summer starts to wind down for many of us (boo hoo), we begin to think about the new school year. Many school based SLPs spend this time reflecting back on what went right last year and what we can do better this year. For others, it’s a time of excitement as we prep our new materials and decorate our rooms. But this time can also be full of anxiety and uncertainty as we walk into new territory or face changes we may or may not have been expecting.
I originally wrote this blog post in 2019. I’m reposting on my new blog in 2020…the time of COVID. Back to school is extremely uncertain for most school SLPs and educators. I still don’t know what back to school will look like for me or my students, but I wanted to share this post anyway. There are still things we can do to prep, even if we don’t know what our speech therapy sessions will look like.
Here are my top 10 tips for school based SLPs to get school year started off right:
Preview Your Caseload
As soon as you are able to, print off your caseload list and look it over. Don’t just look at the number of students on your caseload, but also look at their disability codes, grade level, and service time. All caseloads are not created equal. A large caseload doesn’t always mean it’s time to panic. A small caseload does not always mean a walk in the park. Take this time to look over the list and begin to familiarize yourself with the make-up of the caseload. This will help you as you get to know the students once you start seeing them and drafting your schedule.
Scope out your therapy space.
I’m not talking full decoration mode here, but it is a good idea to find your therapy space and start thinking about how you want to use it. If you actually have a room, this is a good time to start thinking about how to want to arrange it and decorate it. If you do not have a room, this is a great time to ask for one. Start looking around the building to see if there is a space that could be repurposed as a speech room. Whatever your situation is, use this time to start planning and preparing for how you will use your space to best serve your students.
Decorate your space…or not.
Many school based SLPs enjoy decorating their space and making it their own. I’m going to be honest…I’ve never been great at décor. I always have good intentions, but it just doesn’t happen. Basically, if I don’t get it done before I start seeing students, it doesn’t happen. And that’s okay. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be the Joanna Gaines of classroom décor. But…do it if you enjoy it. Just do what makes you happy. Also, download this Welcome to Speech bulletin board set (it’s free).
Organize your most used materials.
If you’re at all like me, you have some materials that you use all of the time. For me, it’s my Language on the Go Bundle and a few favorite games (Sneaky Snacky Squirrel, Zingo, Pass the Pigs …Amazon affiliate links provided). I use other materials, but these are my frequent flyers…the ones I find myself grabbing most often. I like to make sure that these games and materials are easily accessible in my space, so I can grab them when I need them. If you’re a new SLP and aren’t sure which materials fall into this category, no worries. You can always rearrange as necessary.
Meet the teachers and staff.
Sometimes SLPs tend to hide out in their own little world. We often don’t get to know anyone outside of the special education department very well at all. I want to encourage you to get out there and meet the other teachers and staff on your campus. Introduce yourself to the general ed teachers…even if you don’t have students in their classrooms. Get to know the clerks in the office, the custodians, the nurse, and the paraprofessionals. Get out to the lunch room and meet the cafeteria workers! Make your face familiar so you feel comfortable on campus and they feel comfortable having you on campus. Become a part of the team!
Set up a calendar.
Having a calendar is so important in the school setting. It doesn’t have to be a paper calendar. There are so many options out there for digital calendars, too. Find something that works for you that will help you keep track of important dates and deadlines. Start out by writing down all the school holidays. This is especially important if you will be working in different districts. I typically have 4-5 different school calendars to keep track of, so I would be lost without my calendar.
Make a rough draft plan for the year.
Plan a rough draft of IEP meetings, re-evals, and progress reports for the year. The next thing I do is map out IEP due dates and progress report dates. These dates can often seem to sneak up on you when the year gets busy, so having reminders written down in your calendar is so helpful.
Look over upcoming due dates.
The first few weeks of school can sometimes get hectic. I recommend looking over your dates and noting anything that is due before October. Look at IEP meeting dates, re-evaluations, and any initial evaluations that need to be completed. Prioritize these dates and make a plan of attack to get the paperwork done. This will help so you don’t end up scrambling at midnight the night before a due date.
Learn off-limit times for providing services.
Every school has times that they do not want students pulled for speech. It is so important that you find out what these times are BEFORE you start scheduling. I do my very best to schedule students during center times or intervention time whenever possible. I try very hard to stay away from PE, recess, and core subject areas. Talk to your administrators first, that way you have them on your side if scheduling gets difficult.
Create your first draft of your schedule.
Yes, I said first draft. Your schedule will change throughout the year. It will most likely change a lot during the first few weeks of school. Be flexible. Do your best to group students by similar grade level/goals, but don’t be afraid to combine goals/grades if necessary. Mixed groups are pretty much a given in the school setting. Once you start seeing students and running through your schedule, you can make adjustments as necessary. There might be students that you discover do not work well together at all. It’s okay. Just communicate with teachers and revise the schedule.
The first few days (and weeks) can sometimes seem overwhelming. It is my hope that this list of tips for school based SLPs will give you a game plan that you can make your own. My biggest advice for anyone who is new to the school setting, a new SLP, or just new to your school is to get out there and try not to feel intimidated. Be friendly, communicate with your teachers, have confidence in what you know, and don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Now that I’ve shared my tips, I want to hear from you. What back-to-school tip do you have to share? Leave a comment below with any tips or questions you have.