This guest post is from Sarah Lockhart, a speech-language pathologist who works in a variety of settings, including: private practice, telepractice, and short-term SLP travel assignments.
Sarah is also the host of SLP Happy Hour, a podcast about navigating the working life of an SLP with more calm and less chaos; you can listen here.
Do you have summers off? Many SLPs do, although I worked part time this summer. Even so, now is about the time of year I start thinking about working full time again. My summer ends mid-August, so I’m already dusting off my office supplies.
Have you heard of the 5 stages of grief? Here is the 5 Stages of SLP Fall Transition…
We do what we can. I just broke level 3, so I’m personally on my way. I’ve already got the ice cream in the freezer.
Those Fall Feelings
Are you going back to a job you’ve worked before? Starting a new job?
Wherever you are, chances are you are feeling a mix of excitement and nerves.
You want to start the school year out right. You want to get systems in place that you can use all year long. Each year, you want to be more organized and effective than the year before.
Wherever you are in your work journey, these are five tasks I do in my first five days back at work each year. I’ve refined this list over many years as an SLP, and it helps me start out the school year feeling prepared.
By planning ahead and setting an intention for your first month, you can create the foundation for a successful year ahead.
Tips for Success
One: Introduce Yourself to Your Team
Introduce yourself to your teammates (if you are new) or check in with your teammates (if you are returning to your position). Don’t forget non-licensed staff that may interact with parents, schedule meetings, and help you get your paperwork in order.
There are often surprises at the start of the year, including students with high needs who have moved in. Check in with your teammates and start smoothing over those bumps in the road.
Two: Make an At-a-Glance Deadlines Sheet
Scheduling your deadlines for the year onto one sheet is a sanity saver. This one-sheet wonder should be posted somewhere you’ll see it often so you can glance at the month’s deadlines to plan your time. I do this the first week of school, and create one for the entire school year. I’ll include an example below. For the sake of space, I just did the first three months of my school year and included some SLP bloggers, just for fun:
Example: At-a-Glance IEP Due Date Sheet
|Annual IEP||Speechy Musings (8/1)
The Social Speechie (8/15)
|Beautiful Speech Life (9/2)
What the SLP Wore (9/20)
|Creative Speech Lab (10/10)
Nicole Allison SLP (10/11)
|Triennial Reevaluation||Speech Room News (8/16)||Crazy Speech World (9/21)||The Dabbling Speechie (10/12)|
Three: Schedule out the Entire Year
Once you have an at-a-glance sheet, it’s time to break out your calendar.
Schedule out all your deadlines for the year and put them in your calendar. You may want to color code tasks (for example IEPs, 3 year reevaluations, and progress reports are all different colors).
This doesn’t mean you schedule your actual IEP meetings for the year, but do put all your due dates into your calendar.
Four: Break up Big Projects into Small Steps
If you are a school-based SLP, chances are you have quite a few big projects to complete.
Breaking them down into small steps, and then scheduling in those smaller steps has been a simple but effective way to stay on top of my deadlines.
Giving yourself enough time to complete the task is essential. Here are a few examples:
(Minus – / Time)
|Report Cards/Progress Reports||– 1 month, take data on AM groups
– 3 weeks, take data on PM groups
– 2 weeks, write __ # of progress reports (half of caseload)
– 1 week write __# of progress reports (other half of caseload)
|Triennial Reevaluations||– 1-2 months, contact parent and decide on evaluation measures
– 1 month schedule and complete evaluation
– 3 weeks score protocols, write report
– 2 weeks write re-evaluation report
– 1 week, write IEP
I’ve noticed most SLPs who feel frazzled around deadlines don’t give themselves enough time to complete tasks. Without scheduling it out, as humans we typically underestimate how long these projects take, meaning we feel overwhelmed and behind.
Whatever system you use to schedule, begin by counting backwards from big deadlines and put those reminders on the calendar.
If you don’t write progress reports or do three year reevaluations, no problem. Outline what your big projects are, and schedule out the mini-steps you’ll need to complete to get you there.
Typically I try to break up large tasks into smaller tasks that will take 1-2 hours to complete, and schedule those out week by week.
Five: Get Feedback from Your Team
If you are returning to a job you’ve worked before, this is an essential step.
Getting feedback from teammates is difficult, but it’s an important step for success.
Ask your team what processes and procedures fell through and how you can improve. It can be a struggle, but I’ve found that making it about the process and not about the person turns it from criticism into working together.
Here’s what I’m working on this year, based on feedback:
Communicate more with the learning specialist by scheduling monthly check ins
Utilize Google Docs or a calendar scheduler with non-licensed staff who schedule meetings so they know my schedule better
Have a communication plan with the school psychologist so we can touch base more often regarding three year reevaluations
Why is this step important?
This helps us know how we can grow, become a more effective coworker, and help our teammates feel heard and appreciated.
I’ve scheduled in monthly check in times (using a recurring event on my Google Calendar on my phone) with the school secretary, learning specialist and school psychologist so I know to check in with these three team members consistently, and be more proactive. Monthly reminders are helpful, because an intention without action is just a wish. In order to make progress on my goals, I’ve got to schedule it in.
If you are starting at a new placement, you can ask your coworkers how they like to receive communication (phone, email, in person), and how they like to run meetings.
Setting Yourself up For Success
Your first 5 days at work is full of surprises, twists and turns, excitement, and rewards. I love the feeling of starting out fresh with a new school year. By implementing these steps, I hope you’ll be able to start your school year off more clear headed than ever before.
Wherever your first 5 days back at work take you, I wish you all the best.
If you enjoyed this blog post, head on over to the SLP Happy Hour website.
There, you’ll find a special micro-site just for Speechy Musings readers.
There’s a FREE 30 day challenge, with quick and easy self care activities for your first month back at work – one activity for each day.
I’m joining in on the challenge, and I hope you are too!