Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tips and Tricks for Itinerant SLPS

I have several SLP friends who have shared their classroom decor with me as the beginning of the school year is approaching us.  The rooms are always colorful and inviting.  Therapy materials are all organized neatly in cabinets with children's book lined up according to author on bookshelves.  Jerks.  Just kidding, but in all seriousness, I can't help by feel a little envious. 

For those who are more like me, who has traveled between two to five buildings over the course of my three year career, you quickly learn how to make a traveling position work for you.  This, of course, was done through trial and error and what I have found to work for me.  Without further explanation, here is how I survive being between multiple buildings while not necessarily having my own space.

Mock schedule on google calendar

Mock print out of schedule using google calendar
 1.  Plan ahead.  In my first year, I literally would plan therapy sessions minutes before grabbing the kids from class.  I now plan therapy sessions ahead of time.  What I found worked for me is scheduling my kids using Google calendar.  I printed out my calendar by day (Monday had it's own page, Tuesday had it's own page, etc) and would write the child's next target goal (ex: /g-/ unmodeled words, stage 3 mindwing program, etc) next to their name on the schedule immediately following their current session.  This was a great easy way to plan therapy, took less than a minute, and I was able to make sure we were progressing in therapy as usual.  Although I progress monitor in one form or another during each session to help guide my therapy, my agency also requires that we formally plug in progress monitoring data points once a month, so I always felt that sessions were planned according to the child's progress and needs.  I also liked using Google calendars because I could easily change the schedule if students were dropped or added and I only printed out the calendar weekly, so it was always up to date.  One more quick bonus for using Google calendars is you can color code your schedule, so for each school I was serving, I color coded students to help keep myself organized.

2.  Organize your materials in a way that works for you.  This will be different for everyone.  Ideally, I would love to have one school and one classroom and have all my materials in one convenient spot.  However, this is not the case.  I am between multiple buildings and I have personally found that keeping most of my therapy materials at home is what works best for me in this scenario.  We have a home office in my house and I keep my materials in a bookcase and organized in the closet.  I keep binders/workbooks at the school I am at the most since when I use them, I usually photocopy pages and I don't have a photocopier at home.  I rarely use workbook activities, so this ends up working well and I will photocopy homework sheets in bulk as I need them.  I also keep general office supplies at each of my schools (staplers, paperclips, tongue depressors, etc), as well as students files.  The main reason I keep my therapy materials at home is to avoid making extra trips to my schools if I forget materials.  I also got approved to home office this year, which has made life easier since I can go home and scope out my materials while planning therapy sessions between multiple buildings.

3.  Go as digital as possible.  When I started working between four different schools, Google became my best friend.  I kept my calendar and email on Google, as well as utilized Google docs.  Google docs prevented me from having to use a flash drive and also allowed me to work on documents between buildings (as well as share documents with school teams/parents).  I kept all student session notes on Google forms, which was wonderful.  I could open up a students' session notes without carrying files between buildings, which was great.  The one downside is you need consistent internet access for this system to work.  However, if you do have consistent internet connection, I highly recommend Google forms for session logs.  If you are interested in the google form I use for data collection and logs, let me know and I can do a separate post to share my system or do a tutorial on how you can make your own google form.

4.  Reach out to faculty and staff at each school.  This has been the most challenging for me, personally.  I'm not naturally outgoing and despite what I may advise, I always eat lunch in my office so I can keep up on my paperwork (although I'd advise trying to connect with teachers by eating lunch in the lounge).  Not being present in the same building everyday can definitely make one feel less a part of the school community, but sometimes you need to be the one to extend the olive branch.  Ask the special education teachers out to lunch.  Give the faculty an in-service about the SLP role in the school (I have many teacher friends from college that consistently tell me they have no idea what the SLP does in their school), bring homemade goodies during the holidays, sign up to be part of the social committee, and be present at the student support meetings just to name a few ways to stay connected..  You can even email monthly newsletters about the exciting world of speech-language pathology to promote your services and to have a presence in the building when you can't physically be there.

5.  Group students for therapy when appropriate and adapt 5 minute kids for those who are appropriate.  Even with a small caseload (which I don't have), scheduling students between multiple buildings can be extremely stressful.  When I first started, I saw all students individually (I also had 45 kids).  Although seeing students individually does have it's benefits, I found that my students made the same type of progress in language groups and during 5 minute kids (actually, my students made faster progress with 5 minute kids!).  Seeing students individually left very little gaps in my day for paperwork, observations, and referrals.  It was also difficult to fit the new kids who qualified for services during the school year.  Remember, it is completely okay to have time during the school day that is not occupied by therapy.  In fact, if you look at the workload activity cluster on the ASHA website, direct service occupies the smallest cluster.  We have a lot of responsibilities outside of direct contact with students and we shouldn't be expected to complete that in the one hour we have before and after school.  Some days I don't have those hours before and after due to student support meetings and IEP meetings, so it's almost necessary that I do create space in my day for indirect services.  Grouping students together and adapting five minute kids, at least for me, has freed up time I can be spending on my other responsibilities and ways to indirectly serve students  

6.  If you have the opportunity to utilize a speech language therapy assistant, do so!  My caseload is hovering around the 60 mark, which between multiple buildings, can be challenging.  Luckily, our agency does give us the opportunity to apply for assistance from a para.  It has been extremely helpful to have someone to take groups for therapy since I have had to double book some of my kids this year due to scheduling issues (we can't pull out of specials, math, reading, and not to mention when they go down for academic support).  Last year was my first year with a SLPA and I was a bit nervous having someone else work with my students, but as long as you offer ongoing trainings and students are making progress, SLPAs can be life savers! 

7.  Last, but not least, invest in some good luggage! I use a very sturdy Vera Bradley bag for my laptop, traveling binder, and student files as needed.  I then use my free SuperDuper bag to carry the day's therapy materials (although I heard ThirtyOne sells this bag that is wonderful for carrying therapy materials).  If you live in an area where it does not snow and your schools have access to ramps and elevators, rolling luggage is wonderful.  I had one last fall, but unfortunately it was more cumbersome for me since it was impossible to drag through the snow and I ended up having to carry it up and down stairs at school.

How do you keep sane and organized if you are at multiple schools?

Happy Speeching!



No comments:

Post a Comment