This week on the podcast we’re doing something a little bit different. Instead of a stand-alone episode, this is the first of a 6-part series all about setting yourself up to rock this school year. 🙌
So today, we’re kicking things off with strategies for success in your first week. We’re going to dive into practical ways to tackle those new school year systems: networking + building relationships with other staff members, managing your caseload, setting up your schedule, and putting together a system for your paperwork.
We’re also going to talk about dealing with some of the mindset challenges that accompany September — because being an SLP is about so much more than data and assessments. #SLPSuperpower
From positive mantras to project management, this episode chockfull of practical and strategic goodness.
So grab your beverage of choice (I’ll have a chai latte!) put your feet up, and listen in. 🎧
– Staying grounded + positive when the work is hard
– Introducing yourself to (and building relationships with) teachers + other school staff
– Connecting with parents
– How I collect and organize my caseload data at the start of the year
– Tackling scheduling
– When I use digital systems vs a pen-and-paper approach
– Planning students’ goals and therapy ideas
– Stepping out of IEP overwhelm and into IEP action
– The most important components of my IEP system
– The tools I use to stay organized
– Using templates + other hacks for painless IEP writing
Links Mentioned in the Podcast
– Marisha’s SLP Manifesto
– Free form to send out to parents (by Natalie Snyders on TpT)
– Free IEP “At a Glance” templates from TpT
– Organizing caseload information using SLP Now
– A hanging file organizer to manage IEP workload (Amazon affiliate link)
– How to Use Asana (A digital project management tool)
– IEP Hacks (Skip to #3 for IEP templates)
– How to Use a TextExpander
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One thing that I think is super important that we want to dive into first before we go through all of the regular logistics of introducing yourself, gathering your caseload, starting to schedule things out, putting together that paperwork system, we want to talk about your why. This is what will keep us going when we are drowning in paperwork, or we're getting spit on, or dealing with other accidents and just navigating all of the challenges that inevitably come our way as speech language pathologists. But if we have a really strong why behind why we're doing the things that we do and why we decided to become an SLP in the first place, why we decided to work in the schools, it'll make it that much more doable and a lot less stressful if we know what we're working towards and what we want to make happen.
We can make a choice if we want to be if we want to. We can choose to feel overwhelmed or we can choose to tackle things with a positive mindset. So I really challenge you to think about that and just really remember the reason behind why you're doing this. It's really interesting because I wrote a blog post a year or two ago. I can't remember exactly when it was, but it was when I was feeling a little bit hesitant to head back to work and just kind of feeling in a little bit of a rut. But, there's actually some research out there around creating some statements for yourself. And if you want a fancy name for it, you can call it a manifesto, but I will share ... I'm going to put together a blog post with just the different links that I'm sharing here.
But, some of the statements that I put together, just in case you're looking for some inspiration, are that I make a difference in the lives of my students. When I talk to pretty much any SLP, that's why they do what they do. They do it for the students. We can hone in and get a little bit more specific. We can say that we help students find their voice. We enable students to communicate when they otherwise might not be able to. And we play such an important role in the schools that we have that very specific specialty and we can empower students to communicate when they might not otherwise be able to. Then, I'm a voice for students with disabilities and will speak up. This is one that I definitely kind of put at the forefront because some of our students don't have a voice yet and we need to speak up for them. Sometimes it's scary to do that advocacy and jump into that role, but that's one thing that I had in my personal manifesto. We won't go through all of the different things, but it's just a lot of it is about what I do for my students and how I see myself as an SLP. I'm constantly learning and improving. I'm a problem solver.
The last statement is the one that I wanted to end off with before we dive into all the nitty-gritty strategies. But the last one is I am exactly who I need to be. It's easy to compare yourself to the other SLPs out there. You might be looking at some of the pictures that I share, or what other SLPs are sharing on Instagram, or other speech therapists in your district. You might see what they're doing and think, "Oh, I'm not as good as Sally," or, "I don't have this like she does." It's easy to fall into that comparison trap and like, "Oh, maybe I'm not the SLP that I need to be to serve this student."
But, I really feel like we are there for a reason. There's a reason why we get those challenging students. There's a reason why we're at the schools that we're at. We can play a very important role, and you have everything that you need to make that happen. It's just a matter of continuing to work at it, and be a problem solver, and work through those challenges, but you have exactly what you need to solve those problems. We get really good at problem solving. I just wanted to start off with that. If you're wanting to explore that more, like I said, I will share the link. But if not, we're done with the woo-woo stuff now. Now back to all of the type A, super productive just tips.
That brings us to the second component of the first things that we want to do in our first week of school. Because we've got her mindset, and now we're diving into all of the logistics. We want to introduce ourselves. We'll say hi to the office staff and the teachers. Start building those relationships because we are not an island, and we depend on our team to be effective in our roles.
One of my favorite things to do is to schedule a party at the beginning of the school year. It's not like your traditional party. It's very, very short, but it gives us ... We walk out of that party with a completed schedule and some really nice rapport-building with our team of teachers. I'll share more of the logistics on how that works. But, I've seen a lot of SLPs implement that, and that's the only way I've ever done scheduling and started out my school year, and it always works really well.
Then, another strategy that's really helpful is to send out a form to parents. I'll just share this in the chat now, but it'll also be in the blog post. This is one of my favorite ones. It's the ones that I always use. It's by Natalie Snyder, and it's a free resource on Teachers Pay Teachers. That's a really great one. But just sending something home to the parents because it's really hard to be able to connect with them, especially if we have a caseload of 60, 70, 80-plus students. But sending home a letter, at least some of them will see it.
Then, if there is a meet the teacher night or back to school night, I will participate in that. But, I think those are kind of the soft things in our role that can make a really big difference. If we're present there, it'll pave the road for success in a lot of other areas. Sometimes it feels like I don't totally belong in those places. But if that comes up for you, you definitely do belong, and it will pave ... Like I said, it paves the road for future teamwork and interaction with the members of the team, and so that time is really important. I just try to make the most of it whenever I do participate in those activities. That is step two.
Now for step three. We get to start gathering our caseload information. This comes from ... We don't get it in just a nice little package, as you know. It comes from a lot of different sources. Hopefully, I've had different situations in different districts, but hopefully your district has the list of students prepared for you. This is often found in whichever IEP system you're using. You can log into that, and you should have a caseload assigned to you. I go through that and that's my starting point. But then, I just double check and reference any lists that the previous SLP might've left behind, or if I'm at the same school district the list from last year, just to make sure that no one's being missed.
Then, the school psych is an amazing resource too because he or she will be getting the transfers and processing those in, typically, so that's a way ... That's someone to connect with and get information from. I start to build my caseload off of that, and then I just keep the feelers out there to make sure that no one is being missed.
Oh, that reminds. Have any of you ever had the nightmare that you had a student on your caseload that you didn't know about? That hasn't actually happened to me in real life, but I have had some nightmares where John Smith was on your case load since July, but you never saw him. Just taking these steps at the beginning of the year will make sure that that does not happen.
Then the next thing, we're kind of starting to get ready for the scheduling component of our school year so we want to ask for a class list. Typically, the secretary, whoever's in the front office, is the person who will have that. I know that I've never been able to get it right away. It always takes them some time to get that put together. That's why it's really important to introduce yourself to that office staff person and kind of establish some rapport for them because you really need that schedule, that class roster to get started with scheduling. But then she's also navigating. He or she is navigating all of the demands. So if we have some rapport there, it makes that conversation a little bit easier.
Then, once we have those pieces of information put together, this is when we get to start diving in. What I typically do is once I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of my caseload ... And granted information will continue to come in as students transfer in and out. There's always a lot of movement in the beginning of the school year. But once I feel like I have a semi solid list, I will take some time to go through that list of students so that I can prepare myself for the year. This is typically easier if you are continuing at the same school. It'll take a little bit longer if you are jumping into a brand new caseload.
All of the districts that I've been in have a way to print an IEP at a glance. I use this for myself but then also to share with teachers, which we'll talk about further into the presentation. But, I would strongly suggest to see if your system allows you to export just like a quick summary of the student's IEP because that can save you a lot of time in compiling all of that information. If not, there are a lot of different templates available on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers. I just use that to do a file review, kind of like we would do in grad school. I make sure that I have kind of a general idea of what they're working on, make any notes of things that are really important in their history.
Then, this is also when I start to collect the information that's really important in terms of starting to manage the paperwork and all those other components. I make sure that I have a list of the students' names, the teachers and their contact information, parents and their contact information, the IEP dates, evaluation dates, and all of that information because that's what I need to get set up for success when it comes to getting started with all of the paperwork, like the IEPs and the evaluations, as well as just scheduling students out.
You can do this in a number of ways. I know some SLPs just write it out on paper. I feel like it changes way too much to deal with a piece of paper, so I would strongly recommend trying to use a spreadsheet, or a Word document, or something just so that you can easily update and move things around and then just print some updated copies if you want that hard copy. Then, I will share how I organize it in just a second. But there's lots of digital tools out there as well that you can use to organize your student caseload information and then some.
This is a look at how I do it. This is in the SLP Now system. It lets me enter the students' names. It doesn't show all of the information on this first page, but at a glance I can see who their teachers are, which is really helpful with scheduling, what grade they're in. Then, I use the IEP end dates and the evaluation dates to manage my paperwork process, which, no worries, we are going to dive so much ... or dive into that in a lot more detail pretty soon here. Then, one extra thing that this has is that it lets me see their service time. And because it's at the beginning of the school year, none of my students have minutes yet, but it lets me track the cumulative amount of time that I've seen them, so that can be really helpful.
Another thing that I really like to do ... And this is something that I actually do using paper and pen. I like to just be able to write it out because there's so many little things that keep happening. But what I do is I jot all of the grades that I'm seeing in the column, in the first column. So I'll do preschool, kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth to fill in each of the rows. Then, I go through my students' IEPs. And if I have the IEP at a glance, that makes it really, really simple.
I just go through. Okay, John Smith, he has goals working on ... He's in preschool, and has goals to work on K, and synonyms, and past tense verbs. That's probably not the goals that we're working on. But if that were the case, then I would put K and then either John's name or just a one next to that under the articulation column. Then, I would put synonyms and then a tally in the language column, and then past tense verbs with a tally in the grammar column. That is incredibly helpful when it comes to planning out getting my therapy ideas planned because then I can easily see what types of skills I will be working on. It gives me an idea for the types of activities that might work for the different grade levels depending on what types of goals I'm working on. It helps me gather all of the assessments that I might need.
Then, I just want to be careful to make sure that I have assessments that match the wording of the student's goals so that I can actually measure progress towards their specific goals and not just K. If I have a K goal and the student is going to use K in sentences, just giving them a list of words and their probe data or their assessments wouldn't help me measure progress towards that goal. So I do want to make sure that the specifics match up, but this is just a really helpful overview to get me started in compiling those different materials. That's something that we'll also talk about more when we talk about getting started with therapy.
But I like to take some time during the first week of school to work through this so that I know what I'm looking at. We might be taking some time now to also organize our speech room and get some materials together. Just being able to have this at a glance and know what areas I'm going to be focusing on over the school year is really helpful.
Then an added bonus, I usually just make a couple copies of this. I'll write assessments at the top of one of them. Then, I'll write visuals at the top of another sheet, and then I'll write PD on top of another sheet. Then, I just highlight them as I feel like I'm fulfilling the needs for that area. If I have a lot of students with grammar goals in preschool and I don't feel great about targeting those, I'm going to look into some professional development to help me build my toolbox of skills to target grammar with that age. Then once I feel good about that, I'll just highlight that, and then that helps me prioritize. Because if I have 10 kids working on grammar and one student working on R, it makes it really easy to decide which one to focus on.
In the overwhelm of the first week of school, it's just so nice to see it laid out in such a simple way. Granted there might be a lot of areas where I feel like, "Oh, I feel like I need all those materials, and those assessments, and that professional development," but just having it laid out makes it feel that much less overwhelming because we'll get to it. We won't get to it all right now, but we'll get there, and we will make progress. I have a plan. I'm just going to keep tackling one thing at a time, and that just ... I think that's really helpful for me, and I hope it is for you, too. That's how we'll navigate that first component. That's how we kind of ... what we do to collect that information and what we can do once we get those basics.
Let's dive into the schedule. This is scheduling it out in terms of the paperwork that's coming up because sometimes we ... Hopefully the previous SLP took care of things, but I've walked into schools where I had to do IEPs and evaluations right off that first week, and I just want to make sure that I'm not missing any of that and that I'm also setting myself up for success for the future due dates that are coming up.
What I do, this is just a simple example. We will probably have more than three IEPs due in any given month. But I know that when I walk in, I feel really overwhelmed with the thought of tackling 50, 60, 70, 80-plus IEPs in a school year, plus, I don't know, maybe 30 evaluations. How in the world am I going to get that done? This also helps, again, reduce that overwhelm and gives me a plan of action. We'll dive into more of the paperwork system components in just a minute here.
But what I like to do is I look at all of the ... I map out all of the IEPs due this year, and then I kind of look for trends. I will just observe. Okay, there's four due in August, 10 due in September, 5 due in November, 2 due in December. I know I skipped some months there. But then I would kind of distribute that because I don't want to be drowning in the month that I have 10, or 20, or however many IEPs and just kind of be twiddling my thumbs the other month. For my work-life balance and sanity, I kind of want to distribute that over the year. So I kind of split them into chunks and distribute the work evenly throughout the school year. That might mean that I'm writing an IEP for December in November or maybe even a little bit sooner, but I just continue to work through the paperwork process, which will make more sense in just a second.
Then, the meeting might still happen in December, but the worst part of it, for me at least, is getting all of those components together and getting all of the ... like updating all the baselines, and figuring out which goals to write, and meeting all of those check boxes for the actual paperwork process. The meeting in itself is ... I mean, I kind of have fun getting to connect with the parents and do some problem solving and figure all of that out. That's like a little mindset shift there in trying to enjoy those meetings. But then that way, it makes it so that I'm a little more sane throughout the school year. Hopefully that makes sense. Just working ahead a little bit so that the crazy months aren't so crazy.
In terms of how I navigate that and how I make that work, I've come up with a lot of strategies to help make the actual paperwork process a little bit less crazy and chaotic. These are my two favorite tools. Super cheesy picture, but you can see it all, and I'm happy because it works. I've really enjoyed this hanging file organizer. You can find it on Amazon. They have so many different options. You probably have something in the school that you could grab that lets you organize IEPs like this or just organize files in this way. I really like this one because it's color coded and that makes me happy. But I feel like it has a manageable workload.
My rule is that ... Because there's six files here, and I never work on more than six reports at a time. The process might look like, okay, I'm working on this IEP. It's October. I'm working on this IEP that's due in November. And while I'm working on it, it's living in that folder. Then once it's done, I move it into the cabinet so that it's just ready for the meeting. That only happens if I'm working ahead more. But typically, the workload is it works out where I can write it and go to the meeting and not have to kind of switch the storage around.
But that just helps me really focus on those six students at one time instead of trying to think about 15 different students at the same time, and that's when ... Because I can juggle six. But juggling 15 is really challenging for me at least. You'll know your limits and you know what works for you. But I found that if I could work in this way, I just knock those out, move them into the cabinet for storage if it's not time to meet yet, bring in some new ones, and it's just that constant rotating system.
I've switched from the paper and pencil checklist, but I wanted to share that because I know that it still works really well for a number of SLPs. Inside each folder or each folder has an IEP checklist and/or an evaluation checklist depending on what we're working on. I just laminated these. I printed a handful at the beginning of the year. I printed a little bit more than six because I want to keep the checklist with the ones that get archived. So maybe make 10 or 15, however many you think you'll need. But, they're laminated. Then I just use a dry erase marker or a wet erase marker to check off as I go along. Then when the IEP is done when I've met all the requirements, I just wipe that off and then stick it into the next folder. That was just a way to make it fun for myself, but you could also just print paper copies.
But, the most important part of this system is that you have a checklist. This will look different depending on which district you're in and what your district requirements are. A lot of times it can be really helpful to meet with the SLPs in your district, too, to come up with a process that makes the most sense. You can all kind of compile your different checklists and come up with the ultimate checklist to make sure that everyone's getting all of their components in the IEPs and evaluations. I know I would always forget to collect a language sample, and that was something that I was always, always scrambling last minute to get to, or observing in the classroom.
Just you can make this as detailed or as general as you need to, as long as it helps you remember all of the different components. Because you could list like every single subsection of the IEP. That might not be super helpful. I try and make it as broad as possible without making it so that I miss different components. For me, I can just put write IEP. And that process from filling in those, just all the boxes required, isn't that big of a process for me. I can sit down and just do that in a quick setting. But if it's taking you more time or you don't have as many blocks of time to work through things, you might want to make it more specific and granular to navigate through that. But having a checklist, regardless of how detailed or general it is, is so helpful.
Then, I started organizing this in a tool called Asana. I have a blog post where I go into a lot more detail on how the digital task system works. I just pasted that into the chat if you want to check it out, but it's ... I know it's a whole new world of things to start tackling. And if you're feeling good with a paper checklist, you don't even need to set this up. But, I just like it because it lets me do ... It even lets me do color coding, and it automatically builds out the checklist. It helps remind me what's most important based on the due dates. It's really cool. But, I know that's not everyone's cup of tea. I just wanted to share that because that was super helpful for me.
Another tool that's really helpful when it comes to making that IEP writing process a little bit less overwhelming and a little bit quicker is to create some templates. There are a lot of really amazing templates available online if you just look for ... Just do a Google search for evaluation templates or IEP templates speech therapy. There's some really great resources out there. I can also link those in the blog post. I'll make a note there too to include the templates. But, that can be a really great starting point.
You have templates in all of the different IEPs that you have ... Oh, I think I might ... Thanks for the heads-up on the chat. It should work now. But yeah, so there are ... You have a lot of templates already. You have all the IEPs that you've written or all of the IEPs that are in the file cabinet at your brand new school if you're a brand new therapist, and there are ... You have a lot of texts that you can grab from. Reach out to an SLP that you admire and see if you can look at some of his or her IEPs and evaluations and just how they do their documentation. That can be a really helpful strategy.
Then, what I do, just to take it one step further ... Because I don't know about you, but looking at a blank screen is really overwhelming to me, and so I needed to find a way to help give myself a little bit of a boost. I started using an app called Text Expander. They have a lot of different versions of this. Let's see if I can find a link real quick for you guys, too. But what I do is I have a template text for all of the different components that I put into the things that I write all the time in my evaluations and my IEPs.
So in the screenshot, it's pretty small, but hopefully you can get an idea of what is included in that, just the general findings of what I always write for those findings, what I always write for the Goldman-Fristoe. You can see what that looks like. I just pulled different templates from all of the resources that we just talked about. I pulled those all together.
Then, how it works, because you can see that abbreviation on the very bottom, so when I go into my IEP system and I type .GFTA, it makes a nice little sound effect. It goes bloop. Then, the text expands and it inserts this whole summary. I used to keep all of my templates in a massive Word document. It got to be like a hundred pages or something crazy. I was constantly scrolling and trying to search and find the right template, and that just took a long time. But with this, the things that I use all the time, like when I'm writing that report, and it's like, "Okay, I gave the Goldman-Fristoe. .GFTA. Bloop," and then it fills in that whole thing. Then, I have a system to make sure that I fill in all of the blanks, which I'll show you in just a second. But, this is one tool that can save a whole lot of time in your evaluation and IEP writing process. I'll share that here, too.
The next thing that makes it a lot easier, so I just pasted in the template for the self. Then, as you could see ... Okay, so here it is. It just expanded it. Then, it has a bunch of asterisks and blank spaces. I need to fill in that information because I can't have something analysis of asterisk responses. I use a keyboard shortcut, and it's command F on a Mac or control F on a PC. Then if you do that, you can replace. You can choose the replace option and type in three asterisks, and then type in the student's name. Then, it fills the student's name into all of those different blanks. You can set up your template however you want. I just happened to use three asterisks.
Then, another thing that I did ... So sometimes you can write his/her, and then you can search for that and replace it with the correct pronoun, and the same for he versus she. Or you can use asterisk for the pronouns, too. You can do two asterisks for he and one asterisk for his/her, like the subject one and the possessive pronoun. just set up the template in a way that makes the most sense for you. If that's too much to work with, you can just look for the asterisks and fill them in, but that's just a way to make it a little bit faster.
Then, we obviously want to fill in the scores with the blanks in it. But, I just do a quick spot check at the end where I use the find function and just type in and make sure there's no asterisks or blank bars so that I have a complete IEP. Because there's nothing worse than having the wrong student's name in the IEP or whatnot. That's how I manage the paperwork components. Let's dive into all things scheduling.
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