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This Week’s Episode: An Intro on How to Schedule Smarter for School-Based SLPs

This month, we are diving into all things service delivery and tips and strategies to help us schedule smarter in the schools.

I am so happy to be having this conversation with BeckyAnn Harker. She is a school-based SLP near Youngstown, Ohio, and she has 24 years of clinic and school-based experience. She is currently a doctoral student in special education at Kent State University, and she’s very interested in caseload management and vocabulary intervention. For this podseries we will be focusing on her caseload management expertise!

I am just super excited to dive into this conversation. So let’s get to it!

Key Takeaways 

Why BeckyAnn Changed her Service Delivery Method

✓ 100+ kids on caseload and felt like running through the motions
✓ Needed a new way to manage a caseload in the double digits
✓ RTI or Responsive to Intervention was the start of that solution

Why 30-minute group sessions aren’t best for the student

✓ Mixed Groups – Needs don’t get met
✓ Behavior management
✓ Activities take extra time

Why 30-minute group sessions aren’t best for our workload

✓The student is on our caseload longer
✓Causes extra stress, rigid groups, no flex for meetings
✓Extra paperwork

Additional Links

ASHA Leader: BeckyAnn Harker Can We Break From 30-Minute Group Sessions in Schools?

Next Up in this Pod Series

6/7/22: An Intro to Smarter Scheduling for School-Based SLPs
6/14/22: A Quick Review of Service Delivery Options for School-Based SLPs
6/21/22: How to Navigate Alternative Scheduling for School-Based SLPs
6/28/22: How to Start Using Smarter Scheduling for School-Based SLPs

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Speaker 1: Hello there, and welcome to the SLP Now Podcast, where we share practical therapy, tips and ideas for busy speech language pathologists. Grab your favorite beverage and sit back as we dive into this week's episode.

Speaker 1: Hello there and welcome to the SLP Now Podcast. This month, we are diving into all things service delivery and tips and strategies to help us schedule smarter in the schools. And I am so excited to be having this conversation with BeckyAnn Harker. She is a school-based SLP near Youngstown, Ohio, and she has 24 years of clinic and school-based experience. She is currently a doctoral student in special education at Kent State University, and she's very interested in caseload management and vocabulary intervention. So today we'll be focusing all on caseload management. I found out about BeckyAnne in the ASHA Leader, so we'll link to that article as well. But I am just super excited to dive into this conversation. So hello, BeckyAnn.

BeckyAnn Harker: Hello. Thank you for having me here.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your wisdom and expertise. Yeah, I'm really excited. And so I'm curious, can you tell us a little bit more about your story? How did you end up pursuing a doctoral degree and what got you to focus on caseload management?

BeckyAnn Harker: So my doctoral degree is probably mostly going to focus on vocabulary, which is not what we're talking about today, but that's okay. I work as a speech language pathologist, as you said, and I'm in the schools. I have worked in clinics and I've been in the school district a couple different times. I worked in Indiana many, many moons ago where I had 100 kids on my caseload and it was ridiculous. It was stressful. I would get to the end of the day and I would have no idea what I did that day. It was terrible. And I kept thinking then that something has to be better. There has to be some other way, but we were very locked into this 30 minutes, two times a week with 100 kids. It was insane and unreasonable as far as I was concerned.

BeckyAnn Harker: But since then I've worked back in the clinic and then I'm back in the schools. And I have often felt, and I think living in both of those worlds, that working in the school, you really cannot be the best therapist that you are. I have felt with all of the constraints, the time constraints, all the IEPs, all the minutes, all the kids that you have, I cannot do my best work there like I did in the clinic, where you have those children, one on one, you get to work with the families. I want to make it better. I want to make a difference.

BeckyAnn Harker: And so I ended up going back to school and it's in special education, mostly because that's the world I live in right now. And it's special ed law that we have to work under. And so I'd like to make things better just for kids all around, all of the kids, but especially my kids, and working on caseload management is just something that I've been trying to do forever just for myself. And so I feel like I've come up with maybe something that works. And so I thought maybe I would share that. And that's why I wrote that little article in the ASHA Leader. I was just trying to share some ideas.

Speaker 1: Wow. I love that story. And just sharing that was really special, so thank you. And I'm right there with you. I also had a caseload in the triple digits and yeah, it's really hard to operate at the top of our license when we're working within those constraints, you're absolutely right. And I'm so excited to see what you do with this.

Speaker 1: So let's start chatting a little bit about the ideas that you've had so far to start addressing this and start improving caseload management strategies in the schools. I think it makes sense to just chat about what the standard is at this point. So you mentioned that most of us are seeing our students, 30 minutes once a week, maybe twice a week, in groups. It gets pretty obvious that that would be difficult with a caseload of 100 students because our groups would get very, very large. Let's dig into some of the cons of using that approach.

BeckyAnn Harker: I am just not a fan of the group approach, and I'm not saying that I never see kids in groups, because I will sometimes. But the model I used to work from, was you would go to a classroom, that classroom might have three students that are mine. I will take those three students. One has articulation errors. One has language errors. One's working on all of the different things, right? And so I felt that by the end of my 30 minutes, sometimes those kids maybe practiced six times. And maybe that was me, but I just felt very ineffective. There were so many things that having the mixed group, even in that amount of time, you just couldn't get to all of them. One kid needed a little more time to work on his goal. And then the other one maybe did their sound and like two seconds, that's great, but the other one just took longer.

BeckyAnn Harker: So that was a problem. Behavior management becomes a problem, because now you've got three or four kids that you're trying to work with. And one, they get squirrly, they have to wait. They don't like to wait for that one. And then also you need some kind of game or activity. So then you think within that 30 minutes, even if you have three kids in that 30 minutes, that's 10 minutes per kid and you need to explain the game, make sure they're taking turns correctly, deal with it when somebody loses a turn or whatever happens. And then at the end, if you really gave that kid five good minutes of your time, that's probably stretching it. So I was very frustrated by that.

BeckyAnn Harker: And so some of the things I had looked into... So RTI was really where I started was trying to harness RTI. I saw Jennifer Taps speak at a conference one time. She's kind of the big RTI guru, so shout out to her. But I really liked the thought of that, you're still seeing students. And I think we have to be careful because there is a chance too, you could just do RTI and not give kids services if they really need them, and I am not saying to do that. Obviously, if a kid needs services, they need services. But think of your articulation caseload and how many of them are the R sound? How many of them are maybe just one or two articulation sounds, that when you really look at it and you weigh all the options, all the criteria to qualify for services, is it really a disability? Is it really impacting their academics or their education? And sometimes it does. And then for sure, those kids might need an IEP.

BeckyAnn Harker: But I still feel like this is our job to help these kids because we also don't want these kids graduating from high school with R sounds that are not correct, if we can help it. So RTI is one way that these kids are not on our caseload, but they're on our workload. And so there's that whole workload caseload thing that we're supposed to all be doing. But from what I have read, I think 70% of us are not doing that, really looking at our workload, instead of our caseload. So those kids count as your workload, but really that will get your numbers down, and then you don't have all of the extra paperwork that goes with writing IEPs and ETRs and those dreaded progress reports, so that's kind of where I had started.

Speaker 1: Yeah. So just to recap, if we're seeing more students, in RTI, we have less of that paperwork up front and throughout the whole process. It's possible that some of these students, I've done this before, where I was getting a bunch of referrals, so I was trying to move through things quickly and I qualified some students and there's one student in particular that stands out to me. We started therapy and he just blew through his goals so quickly and its like this could've absolutely been an RTI student. And yet, I spent all of this time on the paperwork, it's going to take more paperwork and more time out of the classroom to get him out, and in the meantime, he has a special education label. That's not benefiting anyone.

BeckyAnn Harker: I've seen that happen, even with some language kids too. You see those kids sometimes once, to get your testing done. And then you're like, "Well, he didn't score so well," and then you qualify them. And then, a few months into this, you're like, "Yeah, this was really not a language disorder." And then you kind of have this kid, at least until the end of the IEP and maybe longer. So I believe in trying to utilize... Our schools have this system set up, we should be using it, in my opinion.

Speaker 1: Yeah. And there's absolutely ways to do that. When I saw that happening, I was like, "Wait, no, that was a huge red light." And so I started looking into RTI more and we worked on building the team at the school where they had to document different interventions. We don't have enough time to dive into all of that in this chat, that might be a really fun follow up. But there's absolutely things that we can do so that it benefits our workload and caseload management, but then also it's better for our students. So yeah, I love it.

Speaker 1: So to wrap up this initial discussion, because we talked about how we typically schedule students, why that's not best, necessarily. And then, we also touched on why it's not best for our workload because of the paperwork. Is there anything else that you would add there in terms of how that impacts our workload, when we're using that approach?

BeckyAnn Harker: The RTI approach?

Speaker 1: When we're doing the traditional 30 minutes once a week in groups.

BeckyAnn Harker: So I think the other thing is just about scheduling and I know, this has just happened, right? So you have back to back, 30 minute sessions all day long, it looks great on paper that you can get all these kids seen. And then how many IEP meetings do we have, that we then have to cancel those kids? And then you're scrambling for minutes and you're scrambling for time and schools don't run as smoothly as it looks like on paper. So I think just trying to come up with some other ways to handle our schedule, to handle the minutes that we see our kids, RTI is certainly one way, but there's other ways too, because we're still left with a whole bunch of kids on our caseload. I try to come up with some other ways to manage the time that I have with those kids.

Speaker 1: Perfect. So I think this is the perfect introduction to what we're going to be spending the next several weeks talking about. So stay tuned for next week's episode, where we dive into a review of the different service delivery options and what it could look like to actually start navigating this. Thanks for listening to the SLP Now Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please share with your SLP friends and don't forget to subscribe to the podcast to get the latest episode sent directly to you. See you next time.


Hi there! I'm Marisha. I am a school-based SLP who is all about working smarter, not harder. I created the SLP Now Membership and love sharing tips and tricks to help you save time so you can focus on what matters most--your students AND yourself.

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