Are you a new SLP working in the schools for the first time? It can be quite overwhelming when you first walk through that school door. You are often the only SLP in the building so you are left to figure it out on your own. I first wrote on this topic in 2010 and I find that most of it is still relevant today. I thought it was worth a rewrite for our newest SLPs.
When I first started working in the public schools, I was uncertain on how to start the school year. I did my school internship during the spring semester and therefore didn’t get the experience for the fall opening. Everything was scheduled and running so I had no idea what I should expect.
My first school year was in a setting where I was the only SLP. Since that first fateful day, I’ve started school years in about 25 different buildings in 10 different districts with every kind of mix of caseload you can imagine. Some things have changed over those 30+ years, but much remains the same. For your sanity, acknowledge that you will be overwhelmed for the next few weeks. Even the most seasoned SLPs have that feeling the first week of school. `
The first week of school usually consists of meetings and trainings that may or may not be relevant to you. This is where your ability to discriminate what is important comes in. You will find much of the information you are given doesn’t pertain to you directly. Try to stay tuned long enough so you get the information you need and don’t get overwhelmed by the stuff you can ignore. A lot of it is meant for general education teachers only.
You will need the following information. Try to obtain information on building schedules such as lunch, recess and any duties you may be assigned. Staff meetings and child study meetings will be important for your schedule. You will need a list of teachers, grades they teach, and contact information such as phone numbers and emails. Find out your technology person so you can get set up with a phone number and email. Get important district numbers such as the Special Education Director and mentor SLPs if there are other SLPs in your district you can call when you need information.
Don’t forget to introduce yourself to the office secretary and custodian. These can be important people to you during the school year so get off to a good impression. The secretary may be able to give you class lists with teacher’s names. This is very useful for scheduling and finding your students. It is likely to change but at least it is a start. Gather all this information and post, file, or place it in a special notebook that will be easily available when you need it.
A floor plan of the building is helpful for finding your way around. This may be posted as a fire alarm drill plan in your room. I am directionally challenged so maps are very important to me. One year I worked in a district that had two High Schools with flipped floor plans. I worked in both buildings. I spent my year heading out in the opposite direction every time I stepped out of my room. You would think I would have a 50% chance of being right but it didn’t work out that way.
Try to get into your office/therapy room and see what furnishings and materials are available to you. Sometimes you can switch out things like shelves, chairs and tables those first few days. We use to have a room of unwanted furniture that went into district storage after that first week. It was almost impossible to get furniture after that. It was also difficult to get rid of unwanted furniture.
One of the most important things to do is to get to know your teachers. We may be tempted to do the more tangible things such as paperwork and bury ourselves in our office. Getting to know the people will be the most beneficial in the long-term. The teachers you work with are your best resource and it’s good to have them working with you. It’s important to introduce yourself so you are on speaking terms and they can recognize you. The teachers are most available on the non kid days so take advantage of that.
In my district case managers are required to make teachers aware of any special needs students in their classrooms. Some my students have picture schedules and other items that need to be explained to their teachers. I give teachers IEP information or make sure they know how to access IEP information. I request a copy of their class schedules with highlighted times when it would be best to see students from their rooms. This comes in handy when I start scheduling.
Many places now use computer programs for electronic IEPs and Medicaid Billing. This may require some training, but it doesn’t take long once you start using a program. I recommend finding a mentor if at all possible to answer questions. Computers have helped with keeping paperwork organized, but I don’t think it has decreased it any. The paperwork load continues to increase as the powers above keep adding one more form to fill out. The rules can be quite different on how IEPs and CUM files are stored and who has access to them. If you are lucky there will be a procedural notebook you can use as a reference.
Then it’s time to dig into those files. I usually have files from new kids that have moved in. These need to be looked at and updated fairly quickly. Hopefully someone knows where the caseload files are and can direct you to them. The first year is the roughest because you do not know kids from last year and the file represents all that you will know about a child. I try not to get too hung up on what it says in the files. Most of the time the worse cases in print are not really as complicated as they may seem at first reading. Usually until you put a face to the file you will not remember much of it. I usually read it over and put the goals and objectives on to my data sheets I use for recording information from therapy sessions. This goal sheet is what I use when I do scheduling for therapy sessions because it is easier to manage a one page synopsis when scheduling and making groups. I use a simple excel template for each child. I update the sheet as new IEP goals are written annually. The 1st year involved a lot of time to put them together. After that I’ve saved them from year to year and it has saved me a lot of time and effort as I only need to do the new students.
There are a lot of apps out there to help with organization. I typically run a to do list on my desk top under headings such as permission to test, testing due, report due, schedule parent meetings, IEP, and file paperwork. As I go through files I started to place students under the headings. I found that this relieved a lot of stress for me because I didn’t feel I had to keep it all in my memory bank. I try to look a month ahead which is not always easy to do.
I do not see students the first week of school. The scheduling often changes after that first week and I found myself making too many changes. A lot of kids need to become comfortable with their classmates and schedules. I found that scheduling by grades and classroom worked best rather and then by goals. I found that I could differentiate within a small group rather than trying to get all articulation students together and all language together from several classrooms. I often took students on the off day of their specials schedule which meant it would be a special day in a classroom of the same grade. I avoided taking students from a special class because it was not fair or worth not having the motivation of the student.
I often spend the time the first day in the kindergarten room. Teachers always benefit from a few extra hands to get kids settled and parents need reassurance that Johnny can do without them. I am often the case manager for one or more new kindergarten students and need to get to know them. The rest of the week is spent organizing the schedule, getting meetings set for new move ins, and checking on kids I haven’t seen since last spring that may be able to test out. I try to have everyone scheduled for services by the second week so I can do a test run.
Here is wishing you a great beginning to your new school year. May your move ins have complete files. May your schedule have adequate breaks so you may actually have an adequate lunch break and your schedule have room for your ten 4th graders that can’t miss any core instruction. Good Luck!