Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hi, There!

Hi, there!  I'm Courtney.  I'm a wife, a mama, and I also just happen to be a speech-language pathologist working in the school setting.  I currently am working with pk-5th grade students among several different elementary buildings.  My caseload encompasses a variety of students, including children on the autism spectrum, children with cognitive disorders, children who have experienced brain injuries, and children who simply need extra support in the area of speech and language.  I have a strong interest in the areas of executive functioning and brain injuries and am actually a member of my agency's brain injury resource team.  I wanted to create a blog to connect with other wonderful speech-language pathologists!  

Why Being a School-Based SLP Rocks

(graphics from MyCuteGraphics)

Okay, I'm going to start off this post with words that may contradict the title.  I'm not going to lie, these last couple weeks have been rough.  Between being between four different buildings this year, learning new caseloads, feeling out my new schools, having about a million meetings (okay, I'm exaggerating on that one), and the insane amount of referrals I've gotten when it's only been three weeks into the school year, I feel like I'm barely keeping my head above water.  Let me rephrase that: I'm practically drowning.  
What I need is a swift kick in the butt and a good reminder on why my job rocks (even at times when it feels like it doesn't!).  So, I'm making a top ten list on why being a school-based SLP is completely awesome as a reminder to myself and others, that even when our job seems to be more about the paperwork and less about the kids, what we do really does make a difference!  Without further ado, in no particular order, here is why our job rocks:
1.  Okay, this is for selfish reasons, but who doesn't like summer vacation, winter break, and spring break?    As a mother, I can't even begin to tell you how much this time I get to have with my son means to me.  Basically, this is a great job to have for family-work balance.
2. You get to be creative. Now, I realize creativity and being innovative is a skill that any SLP needs, no matter what setting.  For me, I love making materials (when I find the time), creating activities, and getting inspiration from other creative SLPs. Not to mention that awesome feeling you get when your students get completely inspired and motivated while doing an activity that you've created or found!

3. School based and pediatric based speech-language pathologists have an awesome community.  Between TeachersPayTeachers, blogging, twitter, pinterest, ASHA, and Facebook, it has never been easier to connect with other speech-language pathologists!
4.  You get to collaborate with awesome colleagues.  I'm talking the whole team: teachers, principals, other speech-language pathologists, school psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, parents, and the list goes on and on!  How great is it that we can easily pull people with a variety of expertise to create a plan for a child to help them reach their full potential?  Not to mention the wonderful private/clinic-based SLPs who I've collaborated on with students!
5 You are were the action is!  Being in the schools gives us some huge advantages when it comes to generalization!  We are where the kids spend the majority of the week.  We have direct and consistent access to their teachers and para-educators, who just happen to be vital members in implementing strategies for generalization.  Working on social skills?  We have the prime time to help generalize lessons and implement them in real life: recess!
6Flexible scheduling makes life easy!   Outside the 8:00am-3:30pm school hours, the agency I work for offers comp time, flex scheduling, and you can even apply to work from home (outside of school hours).  Can't get much more flexible than that!
7.  There is never a dull moment.  Nothing makes the day fly by faster than a schedule filled with students, meetings, and paperwork.  There are days I hear the school bell ring to signal the end of day and I didn't even realize it was 3:30pm!

8.  You are making a difference.  You do the therapy, you take the data, and you see the difference.  There is nothing more rewarding than seeing your students reach success and dare I say, graduate?

9.  You are guaranteed a hilarious moment at least weekly.  Even when I'm feeling my most stressed at work, I will have a least one moment I can think back during the week that makes me smile, whether it be something a kid said or a discussion I had with my coworker.

10.  Last, but certainly not least, you get to work with kids!  This is just a given.  What is not to love?  Nothing is better than walking into a classroom of kindergarteners to get a speech student and having 25 other little people surround you asking when it is their turn.

Bonus Reason:

11Professional development opportunities!  The school setting, at least where I work, provides so many opportunities for professional development!  I can't even begin to tell you how my tool box of strategies, tricks, and interventions has grown in the short two years I have been working.

Happy Speeching!



Thursday, September 12, 2013

Think Social Curriculum

(picture by Amazon)
This year, I have quite a few social skills students on my roster.  In the past, I have been more of a support person or coach for the special education teachers in implementing social skills lessons.  I continue to partner with the special education teachers, general education teachers, and para-educators (para-educators are your best friend when taking data and generalizing skills taught during sessions) in working on social skills, but now I have more of an active role in actually implementing social skills lesson.  At the beginning of the year I reviewed several social curriculums and thought that the Think Social curriculum by Michelle Garcia would be a good fit for all my students.  It seemed very well-rounded, as well as easily adaptable for different students.  Not to mention it is perfect if you are working in a school setting since it is easily tied in with IEP goals and educational standards.
The first lesson I implemented discussed "unexpected" and "expected" behaviors.  The vocabulary of "unexpected" and "expected" is not new to me, but the way it is taught in this curriculum is.  I started out the lesson by demonstrating unexpected behaviors myself, such as facing away from them while talking, getting up and jumping around, tapping my pencil loudly on the desk, talking too quiet/too loud, and being a little "silly" in general.  After I demonstrated these behaviors, I asked my small group about what they thought about they way I was acting.  This jump started our conversation into unexpected and expected behaviors.  The students responded very well and had some great ideas.  A few of them were familiar with these terms and were great models for my less experienced students.  I made sure to use their wording when writing ideas down.  The students would get very excited when the expected list was longer or "winning" in their words.  Following this lesson, I made quick stops in their classroom to share information about unexpected and expected behaviors so that this vocabulary could be used consistently throughout their school day.

Disclaimer:  I have horrible hand writing and it is even worse on the white board.
I look forward to continue sharing how this curriculum is working for my students. 
What social curriculum do you use?
Happy Speeching!


Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Age Old Question: What to do with Missed Sessions?

While spending my Sunday afternoon browsing Facebook, I saw a question on Jenna Rayburn's (from Speech Room News) status from a speech-language pathologist:  How do we deal with missed sessions?

This question was a bit of a hot-button issue my first two years of working in the schools.  In my first year, we were strongly encouraged to make up every session that was missed, whether it was student absence or the speech-language pathologist's.  With a caseload of fifty (which is far less than I've seen other speech-language pathologists have) and no option of substitutes, missing a day of work due to PD or illness was like a death sentence.  It even got to the point that we were expected to makeup minutes that the children would be missing over holiday breaks.  That did not last long, however, as it was soon realized that this goal was completely unrealistic.  To make up sessions, I would have to group more students together and sessions became more about the quantity and less about the quality.  I'm all about keeping compliance with the child's IEP, it's written and designed by the team for a good reason, but when you're seeing a group of five to six kids for the sake of meeting minutes and not much else, quite frankly, it's a waste of the student's instructional time and my own.

On Jenna's Facebook post, a speech-language pathologist recommended going to the ASHA website and searching "missed services," so I did just that.  This article/notification popped up.

In a nut shell, it explains that the state or districts should not be creating policies on how missed sessions should be made up.  Instead, the IEP team should be the decision makers on how great an impact missed sessions would have on the student's FAPE and determine what the outcomes should be to ensure FAPE.

I am curious to try the 3:1 model to help with making up missed sessions in a productive and efficient manner, but have not yet figured out to make this work in my district or agency, although I believe it is something they are looking into.  For now, I reserve Wednesday afternoons for meetings (my district has monthly meetings on  Wednesday afternoons), as well as IEP meetings, work time, and make-up sessions.  This has worked well for me in the past.  I also write a statement on my student's IEPs (individualized for specific students) that addresses the issue of missed sessions.  For example, while describing their services, I may write:

"Minutes per month may vary due to limited student absences, limited speech-language pathologist's absences, school breaks, assemblies, testing, and weather cancellations."

If you want to get more specific, you may want to state the number of absences (e.g. sessions will be made up if the student has missed more than two sessions per month).  I always make a point to discuss this at the IEP meeting and all my parents and teachers have been very understanding.

As speech-language pathologists, we are in the service of helping people.  I personally love my job.  I love working with the kids.  I love collaborating with the teachers.  I love coaching and guiding parents.  I love watching my student's growth.  And you better believe I am one proud mama when a kid is able to graduate from speech services!  Paperwork and rules and compliance are just all part of the package that comes along with being a school-based speech-language pathologist.  Although issues like this can cause stress, we, as SLPs, need to remember that our job is to provide quality therapy and support our students the best we can.  Discuss the implications and outcomes of missed sessions with the IEP team.  When you're deciding the outcome as a team, with the child in mind, you will be less likely to be stressed about making up sessions when needed, and more focused on what is right for the child.

How do you view making up missed sessions?  How do you handle missed sessions?