For the entire month of August, I have a fun little series starting on the blog. A few of your favorite bloggers are coming together to provide us with some “Quick and Easy Back-to-School Tips.” We all need these don’t we? I just love being part of a community that is so generous and giving! Today, Sarah from Speech is Beautiful is sharing a few of her tips.
Thanks Nicole for inviting me to share some tips for surviving back-to-school chaos. Over the years I have learned a lot about therapy, but most importantly, I have discovered more about myself as a professional and a person. I think that is one of the best things about being a speech path: I provide therapy to my students and they teach me about myself. Here are some things I wish I had known when I first started ten (WOW!) years ago:
- Beware: The Teachers’ Lounge
It’s important to meet teachers and staff at your school. You want to start those relationships right away (many of them will become good friends down the line too!), but you don’t want to hang out in the teachers’ lounge too much. Why? There are some toxic people in every building and I’ve found that many gossip in the teachers’ lounge. You don’t want absorb negative energy at the beginning of the school year. Eat lunch with your new teacher friends in the lounge when you can, but it’s okay to close your door and have time to yourself over lunch. It’s a real downer to have to listen to gossip before you get a chance to make up your own mind about the school’s staff members. TIP: Find the new teachers and make them your lunch buddies! You’re in the same boat and they have way less baggage!
- It’s Okay if You Don’t Have a Pretty Space
I’ve worked in some pretty terrible closets and noisy hallways over the years. I would feel tremendously jealous of speech paths with rooms and decorations. Sometimes I lost sight of what is important: the only thing that really matters the therapy! You don’t have to have a super cute room to be an excellent speech path. TIP: Focus instead on providing evidence of learning for each of your students’ files. From data to applied worksheets, you can have something to share with teachers and parents at meetings when they ask you “What did you do in speech?”
- The First Weeks of School are Actually “Re-Evaluations”
Summer is a huge period of growth for kiddos. My own sons grew inches this summer! Imagine what happened inside their beautiful minds. I’ve found that many students have outgrown many speech and language goals. TIP: Keep your first sessions kind of fluid. I know that teachers have an opposite strategy (strict at first), but we are supposed to get the kiddos talking. Plus, we need to establish rapport. That’s where more open-ended “All About Me” activities can be helpful. I do that so I can gather informal speech and language samples – it’s like a mini-reevaluation all over again! Sometimes IEP goals need to be revised at the beginning of the year, too.
- Give Yourself Quiet Time to Reflect at Work
When I look back over my work experience, the six years I spent in Chicago Public Schools were the most challenging. Sure, I had high caseloads in addition to supervising paraprofessionals, but the toughest part was that my schedule gave me little time to quietly reflect on my students’ goals, progress, and behavior. After sessions were over I wrote basic progress notes, but it was just go, go, go all the time. I needed more time to chew on everything that happened during therapy. TIP: If you can, build in moments of rest between groups so that you can think and write a few things down. Now I build in 10-15 min breaks twice a day where think about my students AND I think about my own practice. What do they need that I may have failed to provide? Can I change around the group members? Should I move therapy to a different time of day? What do they need to be successful? Being reflective is a huge part of being successful in therapy.
- How Do You Feel about Your Job?
The first weeks back at school are also time for you to evaluate your current position at school. Sometimes there are changes in management over the summer that create more favorable or (sadly) less favorable conditions for school-based speech pathologists. Ask yourself: Do you have an adequate place to work, enough materials, a manageable caseload, and supportive administration? I think of those as the foundation of a successful year: they have to be in place so that you can provide meaningful therapeutic services. TIP: Listen to your gut. You will have to advocate for what you need to be successful. If you don’t get support over the course of the school year, then you might need to move on to another school or district. Don’t be afraid to act if you are not satisfied. I changed districts until I found the right fit for me. Trust me, it’s worth the short-term discomfort to be happy over the long haul.
Sarah Wu, MA CCC-SLP is a bilingual (Spanish) speech-language pathologist who lives and works in Illinois. It’s her tenth year as a school-based clinician! If you have any questions, feel free to click over to her blog SpeechisBeautiful.com or email her at sarahburnswu(at)gmail(dot)com, or tweet/instagram/pinterest her @sarahburnswu. Her TPT store is: Sarah Wu – Speech is Beautiful. Thanks! J