Ready, Set–Thrive Get—and stay—on top of your caseload by taking 10 key steps at the beginning of the school year. Features
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Features  |   September 01, 2015
Ready, Set–Thrive
Author Notes
  • Carrie Schiel, MS, CCC-SLP, works on a team that specializes in evaluation of preschool-age children for Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 16, School-Based Issues. carrie.schiel@gmail.com
    Carrie Schiel, MS, CCC-SLP, works on a team that specializes in evaluation of preschool-age children for Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 16, School-Based Issues. carrie.schiel@gmail.com×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Practice Management / Features
Features   |   September 01, 2015
Ready, Set–Thrive
The ASHA Leader, September 2015, Vol. 20, 44-47. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.20092015.44
The ASHA Leader, September 2015, Vol. 20, 44-47. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.20092015.44
The start of each new school year brings with it mixed emotions. There is excitement about new possibilities (and new supplies) and disbelief at how quickly summer passed. And yes, there’s often slight panic and regret when we compare how much we meant to prepare for the upcoming school year with how much we actually prepared over the summer.
However, there is no need to freak out, feel guilty or throw in the towel. Whether you are a speech-language pathologist looking to get more organized after falling short of your summer goals, a new SLP eager for tips to make your first year less intimidating, or a veteran looking to revamp your preparation, this list is for you.
Try out these 10 suggestions—starting as soon as pre-service week or any time after—to transition to a productive school year.

Whether you are a speech-language pathologist looking to get more organized after falling short of your summer goals, a new SLP eager for tips to make your first year less intimidating, or a veteran looking to revamp your preparation, this list is for you.

Make a plan … and stick with it. You haven’t seen your co-workers all summer, and it’s tempting to let catching up with them sidetrack you, especially during the semi-structured, pre-service week. Socialize for a bit, but don’t be afraid to limit these interactions. Choose times throughout the day to shut your door and get things checked off your list.
Make your list. Once you know how much time you have, prioritize your tasks.
  • Workspace. I recommend setting up your workspace just enough to be productive. Avoid using this time making elaborate bulletin boards or wall décor. You can always make changes and additions to your room later.

  • Caseload. Gather the list of students on your caseload and access both the paper and electronic copies of their files. This ensures you are privy to all the students’ documented information.

  • Introductions. Whether this is your first, fifth or 15th year, it is always beneficial to send an introductory letter or email to staff and parents. This is a chance to increase your visibility and “hype” all of the fantastic things you’re planning for students during the year. (Check out this Google Doc example from the blog “Ms. B the SLP”).

  • IEP process. Learn and/or revisit the IEP process at your school. Ensure you have accurate details regarding how, when and by whom meetings are scheduled.

Learn more about your school community. This may not seem like a pressing issue, but it should be, especially if you’re new. Schools are tight-knit, proud communities. Take 30 minutes to familiarize or reacquaint yourself with important details such as the school vision, mission statement, beliefs, traditions, local community organizations and frequently used resources. This knowledge not only increases your understanding of your school’s culture and climate, but also speaks to your commitment to the school as a whole.

Want to make your life a thousand times easier? Meet, re-establish and continue to cultivate working relationships with your closest collaborators. Although this relationship-building takes time and a proactive spirit, it will pay off in dividends throughout the year.

Identify and visit key people and places. Want to make your life a thousand times easier? Meet, re-establish and continue to cultivate working relationships with your closest collaborators. Although this relationship-building takes time and a proactive spirit, it will pay off in dividends throughout the year. Taking just five minutes here and there to build and nurture relationships with your principal, assistant principal(s), main office administrative assistants, special education team leader/department head, school psychologist, physical therapist, occupational therapist and guidance counselor increases the likelihood they will seek you out and refer to you throughout the year. Dropping by offices, conducting quick hallway conversations or setting up working lunches are all great ways to accomplish this goal. Don’t forget to touch base with staff in information technology and maintenance. Have you ever gotten much work done when your computer wasn’t working or your office was dirty? Me neither.
Tackle the impossibly possible task of scheduling. Begin by realizing that scheduling is an exercise in patience, creativity and flexibility. If you are a veteran SLP, note what has worked in the past and target areas to improve. If you’re a new SLP, The Speech Room News recommends that you manage this potentially overwhelming process in several ways:
  • Start with a list of all other scheduled events, including bell times, recesses/lunches, teachers’ and interventionists’ weekly schedules. From this point, decide what type of flexible tool you will use to help you communicate with teachers to develop your draft schedules: high-tech (digital template on iPad or via email) or low-tech (file folders/sticky notes, dry erase markers/page protector).

  • Consult teachers through email or in person (in person is often preferred) to discuss the best classes to pull students from or to push into and co-teach, as well as to notify them of how students will leave the room for speech-language treatment (escorted versus by themselves with a pass).

  • Be ready to rework your schedule. It is completely normal to go through many, many, many versions of your schedule before you finalize one that works.

  • Don’t be afraid to embrace change! You’re bound to work with a variety of teachers. Stay calm and remain flexible. If you have done something one way successfully in the past, that doesn’t prevent you from exploring or going along with new processes as well. Get creative by splitting session minutes or co-treating with other support professionals.

  • Coordinate with the school psychologist to plan joint assessments to avoid redundant testing. Often, you will be on a tight timeline when assessing students. An effective way to gather additional information about a student’s communication skills without interfering with too much instructional time is to complete your observation or assessment during a joint session. This method not only fosters efficiency and collaboration, it also provides you with someone with whom you can discuss findings and observations.

Avoid reinventing the wheel when planning lessons. When you work with students of any ability level, it is best practice to integrate curriculum and learning standards into intervention sessions. Most states have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and developed their own CCSS-based curriculum. Obviously you’ll want to plan your lessons, intervention sessions and IEP goals accordingly (see the September 2014 ASHA Leader article “Taking Measure,”).
Here’s where you get to be creative—but time is limite, so don’t feel you need to make all “original” materials. Consult ASHA’s Schools website for ideas. Fortunately for all of us, many SLPs offer creative blogs where they share free tips, tricks, lesson plans and materials. Just be sure you draw from reputable blogs. If you’re looking for app recommendations, check out websites such as www.speechtechie.com or read The ASHA Leader’s “App-titude” column online.
Data … data … data … Although many of us are tired of hearing this word, not one of us can deny its importance. The secret here is developing a system you will use consistently and with fidelity. Many districts provide tools for data tracking and management. However, if those don’t suit your needs, don’t be afraid to explore alternatives.
I prefer to use Excel spreadsheets for each of my students. Excel allows me to easily access and manage data in all goal areas from my computer, calculate quick percentages to plan for future sessions, and print out progress in easy-to-read charts or graphs for meetings. Check out the free and easy-to-use Excel documents offered online by sites such as EasyBee.
You can also use graph paper or other simple forms that help students track their own data during sessions. This method is especially helpful in group intervention. Although it requires an initial investment of time to teach and monitor the students’ documentation skills, having students record the accuracy of their responses in real time is a great way to increase both awareness of and motivation for correct productions. Check out the blog Simply Speech for reproducible data-management tools and ideas.
Constantly review and refer to special education laws. If there is one thing more important than data for an SLP, it’s knowledge of special education laws. Staying up-to-date on rules and procedures protects you and the students and families you serve. Be well-versed in your district’s “parental rights” manual. Additionally, many nonprofit organizations produce and distribute user-friendly versions for you and your team (check out an example from the Maryland Disabilities Law Center). Just be sure to use a resource that is specific to your state. Have a few copies for you and your team to refer to throughout the year.

If there is one thing more important than data for an SLP, it’s knowledge of special education laws. Staying up-to-date on rules and procedures protects you and the students and families you serve.

Put www.asha.org/slp/schools to work for you. ASHA dedicates an entire section of its website to school-based SLPs. Here you can find reproducible materials that describe disabilities using accessible language and that provide suggestions for working with students outside of school. These materials are perfect to print and distribute to educators and parents at back-to-school night or at meetings throughout the year. You can also find handouts, tools, templates and practical information on clinical topics on ASHA’s new Practice Portal.
Maintain a high level of professionalism. Privacy and discretion should always come first—when discussing students, always remember to do so in a private setting, with need-to-know parties only. Be mindful of your appearance—it may be tempting to dress down, but try to find a middle ground between a “day off” and a “business professional” dress code. Be an advocate for yourself and your profession—often, school administrators and other staff members do not fully understand your role (see “From My Perspective” on page 6). Use the opportunity to shed some light on a great profession, while highlighting the enriching work you do with students every day.
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September 2015
Volume 20, Issue 9