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Friday, August 11, 2017

8 Tips for the New School SLP

As a speech-language pathologist, I have had the privileged of working in several different settings both full time and PRN. As a school based SLP, I continue to work in various PRN positions during the summer and throughout the school year as I have time. My heart and energy, however, is poured  out in serving public school students with disabilities. My students make me smile and laugh everyday.

If you are making the switch this year to public school, there are a few tips I want to share with you to help you make the transition. So don't fret because change is always a little scary.

Here are my 8 Tips for the New School SLP:

1. Focus only on things you can control. When you work in the public schools so many different things change at the drop of a hat. Here are a few examples of changes I've seen from one year to the next: school assignments, caseloads, staff members, budgets, your office or classroom location, duties, dress code, special education paperwork, district curriculum (math or reading), and of course your schedule. Every year there are changes. And let's face it, big changes can happen anytime of the year due to unseen circumstances. Because things are always changing, I have really tried to focus on my " Circle of Control."   So let's think about the things you can control. Perhaps it's your choices, your attitude, your response to others, your healthy or unhealthy habits, what you read, your sleep patterns, or your effort. These are the things worth applying your effort toward.

2. Be a part of the school community. It is very difficult to "fit in" when you are internet. I've been right there with you, and I get it. I remember when I was assigned to a large campus and an administrator told me how happy she was to have me because she could tell I "wanted to be there." If you are assigned to more than one campus, try and make every effort to show each campus that they are a priority and you want to be a part of their team. You could participate in the pot luck lunches or take a plate of cookies up for Christmas. You could offer to help out with registration at the beginning of the year, or even wear their school T-shirt when you are there once a week. If you do have a room or space, decorate with the school theme or school colors (even if it's minimal). 

3. If you do have a spending budget, don't spend your money too quickly. I am fortunate to have a small budget for materials at my campus. This year it will be a little smaller due to deficits in the budget. However, I am required to spend it by January, which is the beginning of the second semester. In the past, I jumped ahead of myself and purchased games and therapy materials in August. Then by the time I knew my students I was out of money and was not able to purchase what my students REALLY needed. So wait, if you can, and purchase materials when you know it will be most beneficial for the students. 

4. Create systems and procedures. Collaborate with your special education team on how IEP meetings will be scheduled. Will you send out email notices or handwritten? You will also need to establish a procedure for picking up students for your sessions. Does your administrator have policies about students walking down the hall alone? Do you want teachers to send the students to you, or will you go and pick them up? You'll find that administrators like procedures. They are systematic and predictable. They help the campus run efficiently.

5. Document. Document. Document. You probably get the gist of this one. Document all parent conversations. If you send an email to a parent, either save a copy to a folder on your desktop or print out a hard copy to keep in a working student file. You might also want to print out emails you send to teachers regarding student behaviors, progress, information reported by the student, etc. Also, document any missed sessions and the reason for it being missed (ie: "Missed 2:00 session due to student being at a Boy Scout Assembly. Make up session is scheduled for Friday at 2:00."). You can write it in your lesson plan book, on your attendance log or anywhere you can save it. 

6. Prioritize your day. Your time is valuable and limited in so many ways. Yet as SLPs, we want to help everyone as soon as we are asked. I am guilty of jumping up to screen a student when his teacher asks me to "take a look at a kid." I loose track of my schedule and miss sessions when I drop everything for a teacher. Kindly suggest that you are more than willing to come by. Set up a time when you typically do not have students so you can devote that time to the teacher and her concerns. 

7. Be flexible. This is another important aspect of our job that I know you already understand. The question is, are you willing to be a superhero of flexibility? There is always something going on at my campus, such as: assemblies, special community visitors, guest speakers, special science lessons, and district wide assessments. My perfect Tuesday/Thursday schedule is thrown out and I am rearranging my schedule to make up missed sessions as soon as possible.

8. Keep an open line of communication. As SLPs, we are not teachers, intervention specialists, reading teachers, or tutors. We are communication experts. We should model what we are facilitating in our students. Be careful not to judge others' communication intent. Assume teachers want what's best for their students, and be willing to take a few minuets to touch base with your secretary, counselor, administrator, OT, PT, and paraprofessionals. You should also keep your emotions and feeling about a student to yourself in order to remain objective. You may be the only advocate this student has. Because you may be the one who understands your student the most, you may be the one the student confides in and reaches out to. 
If you are making the switch to public school therapy this year, I commend you. Our profession needs dedicated and skilled SLPs that are willing to go the extra mile for student with communication impairments.  I would love to hear from you. What prompted you to make the switch? What are you looking forward to? Do you have someone to walk beside you and mentor you in this new setting? 

Comment below, and don't forget to sign up for my newsletter and blog post to be sent directly to your inbox.

Are you looking for more SLP tips and strategies? You may want to read these previous posts. 

Have a wonderful week,

Lisa, SLP

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