Monday, August 14, 2017

How to Have a Stress-Free First Week

Today I begin seeing my students for therapy, and I plan on a stress-free 1st week. Am I ready? Am I as organized as I'd like to be? Heck, no, but I'm forging ahead anyway! Here are some ways I'll  start my therapy year off stress-free.

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.
First on the agenda is the "housekeeping" items that have to be discussed. Even though my procedures haven't changed that much from last year, I go over them the first session to refresh everyone's memories. 1 big change will be no prize box. This will be the first time I've ever not had some sort of prize/treat, but after speaking with Gold Country SLP over the summer, I realize that it's not necessary, and honestly, all it does is eat up 5 minutes of therapy time. Over the past couple of years, I've had a giant gameboard on my wall...when the student reaches the top, he earns a prize. I have several students that think that's why they come to Speech/Language, so it's time to get real. I'm sucking it up and trying it. Fingers crossed!
I have a bulletin board with "I can increase my" in the middle and different targets around it. This will be talked about, and the student will be able to tell me which aspect of speech/language he/she is working on.
Find this in my TpT Store for only $1.
I also have "Speech" as an acronym on my wall that we will also discuss:
This is a FREEBIE in my store and includes vertical and horizontal options!
 Another thing that will be done that first session is homework folders. I give my students homework every week. They are expected to take the folder home, complete the page, and have their helper sign so I know it was completed. I don't allow the students to decorate the folders while they're with me, but tell them they are more than welcome to decorate once they get home. I track the homework through Google Forms as part of their data. As a reinforcement, I'll use ClassDojo so the students can keep track of their own homework. I may give them a certain amount of points to work toward for a fun activity (speech/language related) before Christmas and again at the end of the year.

It's all about that base (-line data, that is!).
Baseline data is important to have, especially after a summer break. Hopefully you'll find that several of your students miraculously corrected that /r/, or another sound that they worked so hard on last school year. Sometimes giving the brain a little bit of a break is all that is needed. I've had several students whom I've questioned whether or not they'll ever get that sound, only to find that when we come back after summer break, they've done it. I'll spend this week collecting baseline data so we'll have a good starting place...with both artic and language. For my artic students, I use the S-CAT. Not only can I figure out a percentage, but I can also look at the sound in different contexts to determine if he is able to produce the sound at all. That gives me a good starting place with therapy, especially with that /r/. Oh, and just to make it interesting for the kids, they'll play a board game while I'm taking the data. The kids love Big John...kind of gross, but they love it. It's something fun to start off the year, anyway.
Don't Worry...Be Happy
I'm going into therapy today with no attendance sheets or data sheets ready. It's going to be okay; I'll do them during the therapy sessions while the students are talking about their summer and just talking with each other. I'll have one ear listening to them so I can pick up on exactly how they're doing with their target in conversation.

There's no need to be stressed about your first week of therapy. I'm hoping the schedule goes smoothly and no one's time needs to be changed. A girl can wish, right?
How does this compare to your first week of therapy?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Beginning of the School Year: YOU'VE GOT THIS!

Where did the summer go? ASHA CONNECT was my summer vacation. I'm in the middle of a horrible kitchen remodel, so, after feeling like a prisoner in my own home, I was ready to get back to school.

After I read Gold Country SLP's post Happy New {school} Year!, I was struck by how similar our beginning of the school year is. Even though we're separated by a whole country, we had many of the same things on our list.

Every start of the school year is different. I'm beginning my 32nd year in the school setting (I worked for 2 years in a SNF) and every single year has been different. Even the years when I haven't changed schools, something is different. But yet, many things are the same.

Leave the faculty no doubt that you are one of them.
Meetings. We all have to attend meetings that have little to nothing to do with us. Put your big girl professional panties on and make the best of it. Everyone in the room is ultimately there for the same reason: the students. Pay attention; you may learn something you can use in therapy.
Socialize. Yep, that's right. Don't just hide out in your room. Make sure you meet the custodian...and make sure he knows who you are. I had a head custodian in one of my schools who made sure I was always comfortable...I brought him brownies every now and again and he took care of me. Really get to know your custodians: Ask them about their families and any hobbies they may have.
Meet the new teachers. We've all been the newbie. I remember how petrified I was when I started working in the schools at 22 years of age. Make it a point to introduce yourself and offer your assistance on anything they need. Look around their rooms and see if you can find something you have in common.
Office Staff. They can be your best friends. I don't think I need to say anything else about that. If I do, email me & we'll "chat"!

Make your room inviting...but not too distracting.
I've made a few changes to my room this year. Subtle changes, but changes nonetheless. Everything on my wall has an instructional purpose...except my banner.
Chevron Banner (PSSSTTT...It's FREE in my TpT Store!)
NBC News highlighted a short-term study on Kindergarten classrooms. One was sparsely decorated, the other was decorated to the max. While the students in both rooms were distracted (we're talking 5 year olds, here!), the students in the decorated room were distracted by the things on the wall (which may or may not have had instructional value) while the other students were distracted by each other. Decorate your room, make it inviting, but not too distracting. Make sure most of the "decorations" have a purpose.

Start out the year as organized as possible.
After the PD and meetings are all over, it's time to get down to business. One of the first things I do when I get to school is look at my caseload and note when the Annual Reviews/Re-evaluations are due. In my planner, for each month, I write the numerical due date and the student's first name on the side of the page.  I try to hold my meetings a month before the due date, because you never know when something is going to happen. If the student's due date is Oct. 15, I will pencil in the meeting around Sept. 15. Then, I pencil in "Send Johnny" 2 weeks before to remind me to send home the Invitation with plenty of leeway for the 10 Day Notice.
I keep a list from the screening the year before of those students who require re-screening. I pull that list up and write in the teacher's name. I have my screening forms ready with the student's name & birthdate already on the form before I head down the hall to rescreen.  After I rescreen and determine who needs to continue to be watched, who is ready for "Quick Speech", and who is ready for an eval, I make out the list for next school year and keep it in a folder on my computer, as well as Google Drive.
Very simple form that helps with organizing from year to year.
Scheduling doesn't have to be that hard.
Seriously. This is the time of year when Facebook and Speech Blogs are flooded with "It feels like I'm playing Tetris as I'm trying to figure out a schedule" posts. All I'm going to say about that is: find what works for you. What works for 1 person may not work for the other person. Our schools are different, our caseloads are different, we are different. I used Google Forms last year & will use it again. It works for me. (To find out how I did it, click here.) But, it may not work for you. Be creative! You CAN do it!

Therapy: Ready or Not
Nine times out of 10, I have not felt like I was ready to begin therapy when the required day came around. You know what? No one died.  Don't stress out about not being ready; not having the perfect "back to school" or "first day of therapy" cutesie activity. Take those first couple of sessions to talk to your students. Find out what they did during summer break. Pull out a board game that you may not use during the school year. Make mental notes of how his sound progressed in conversational speech, or how his story-telling skills evolved over the summer. Relax! It's going to be okay! Your students won't even know that you're not as prepared as you thought you had to be.

The beginning of the year is exciting; don't let it stress you out!

Friday, July 21, 2017

CONNECT Round-up

Thanks to my state organization (TAASLP), I was able to scratch off another thing I've always wanted to do off my list: attending ASHA CONNECT. I won free registration through a drawing. I entered at the very last minute and only bought 2 was the second one that won.
A colleague & I made the 8 1/2 hour drive to New Orleans on Thursday. After our first encounter with the elevator, we found our room. Then we had to figure out how to get to where our registration materials were. The Hyatt Regency in New Orleans is not an easy building to navigate, especially when you're as directionally challenged as I am!
The reception was a little "blah"...a lot of people milling about in groups, not really mingling with each other. We grabbed a cookie and made plans to meet up with a group of SLP friends.
Hmmmm...I wonder where those beads came from?
The CONNECT app was very convenient, especially when the slides were downloaded. With my iPad, it was very easy to take notes directly on the slides. The slides on the overhead were very hard to read, so having them on the iPad certainly came in handy.
I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed in the sessions. I hoped to go away from the conference with some real, practical applications that I could take back to my school and my students; however, I left pretty empty handed. That's not to say that I didn't learn anything, but I didn't leave with that burning desire to get back to school so I could try some things out with my students.
A couple of sessions were very worthwhile, though: Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder: Best Practices for Assessment and Intervention (Carolyn Timler) and Clinical Decision-Making in the Assessment of Bilingual Students (Lisa Bedore). The session on Ethics presented by ASHA Attorney Heather Bupp started out very lively, but as people began to bring up their own personal situations, it started going downhill.
That didn't deter me from having a good time! I am lucky enough to be friends with Mia, who is from the area. There was a whole group of us from all over the country who descended on Cajun Country. We ate, we talked, we was like we had known each other forever!
The whole crew at Willa Jean
Okay, it seems like we mostly ate!
Annie demonstrating how to eat a beignet while wearing black
We call our little group "Splitcoast Speechies" due to all of us living all over the country: NHOh, Tn., La., Tx., OrCaCo. Our Colorado Friend wasn't able to make it and she was sorely missed. From the first minute of catching up with them on the street, it was like we had known each other forever!
Love this picture that 3DSLP made! We missed her!
We certainly missed Colorado, but she was with us in spirit! Small Talk SLP made these super cute bracelets for us.
These ladies are my heroes. Friday evening, we met up with more SLP bloggers/TpT Sellers for dinner.
I'm not sure who took this picture, so I can't give credit!
Saturday, we managed to roll out of bed for our 8:00 session; several of us ended up in the same session.
Ready to learn!
It was nice to have a friend sitting with me in sessions. That doesn't always happen when you go to a conference.
Enjoying some friend-time during a session
We visited some out-of-the way places, thanks to Mia. This was a sweet place that had a backyard with tables set up; if you could grab a seat, you could comfortably sit and listen to live music.
Ready to listen to some music
The weekend was over too soon as one by one each one in the group headed home. I hope we can do this again!
Last dinner together-minus one

Disclaimer: I did not take some of the photos in this post. I would love to give credit where it is due, but I have no idea who took them! Shout-out to Laura's husband, who I'm fairly certain took some of them! 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Post That Broke My Heart on Several Levels

Recently, I read a blog post written by Andrea Szwabowski (with assistance from SLPs from around the country) at The Whimsical Word, Inc. This article broke my heart on several different levels. 
I just completed my 33rd year of being an SLP...31 of those years being in a public school. I may be in a minority: I've never had a closet as a room. I've had my own space in 6 different school systems in 3 different states in the Southeast U.S. I am called "Speech Teacher" by my students and parents; in fact, when I introduce myself to my elementary-aged students, I call myself "Speech Teacher". I don't think that diminishes what I do; it puts my job on their level. I have educated my principals and teachers on my title "Speech Language Pathologist", but I don't get bent out of shape if someone calls me "Speech Teacher". 
I get it. I'm in the minority. I've spoken about my "dream job" before. I've never had to work in a closet; in fact, in the world of School Speech Language Pathology, I've been a bit spoiled. I've had the distinct advantage of working with administrators and teachers who have a pretty good grasp of what I do. That's why it pains me to read about some school systems who don't "get it".
As SLPs, we are cut from the same cloth, so to speak. Even so, we are each unique with our talents. I worked in a Skilled Nursing Facility for a couple of years and found that wasn't for me. Luckily, I was able to go back to the schools when I was 7 months pregnant with my youngest. When I left the schools, my special ed director warned me I wouldn't like it. I should have listened, but it gave me some experiences that I was able to use in the schools, as well as in my personal life.
As we all know, the great thing about our field is that if we don't like a setting, we can change. If one setting is too stressful, or we don't think we're valued as we should be, we can change. I applaud Ms. Szwabowski for realizing she was unhappy and getting out. There's nothing like an unhappy SLP who has to continue having meetings with parents, work with administrators and teachers, and continue to work patiently with students. Talk about everybody being miserable! The saying, "If mama ain't happy, nobody's happy" can certainly apply to SLPs!
I've said this before, and I'll say it again: I think the school setting is the hardest, most demanding setting there is. You have to get along with everybody: office personnel, custodial personnel, students, teachers, administrators, and, of course, parents. You can't "specialize" in one area (unless you're in a special school):  You have to know a little bit about everything. You have to constantly research and network to appropriately serve your students. You have to learn to work with grouped students who may have different certifications; you have to be able to juggle those different targets within a 30 minute session (although in reality, by the time the student comes to your room and you get settled, it may really only be 20 minutes). You have to evaluate, come up with a plan, do paperwork, have meetings, and treat. You have to take paperwork home because you don't have time during your day since you're seeing groups of students back to back. Oh, and 1 more thing: you have to coordinate scheduling with the teacher, working around the student's schedule so he doesn't miss out on something. And then you have to reschedule because he is missing out on something.  On top of all that, you are expected to participate as a school employee. That means attending events held in the evening. 
If you feel "stuck" working in the schools, here are some suggestions:
1) Re-evaluate where you want to be in 5, 10 years. If you don't see yourself in the schools, get out.
2) Unless you're the only SLP in your school system, you should have an ally. If you have a Speech Coordinator/Lead SLP, talk to her. Make her do her job. Have her talk to your principal. If that doesn't work, talk to your Special Ed. Director, but don't whine about it. Come in with solutions to your problems. He/she will be more open to helping you if you come in with a well thought out plan rather than coming in just to complain. 
Results you may see are all in your attitude and presentation. If you try to maintain a good attitude, there's a good chance you may see some good results. The same goes for how you present your difficulties. No one likes a whiner. Go in whining, and you may find your life much harder!
4) Let's talk PD. I've sat in my fair share of PDs that have nothing to do with Speech Language Pathology, but you know what? Sometimes it's good to be in there so you can see what's going on in the classroom, and how to help your students. If you have to sit in those PDs, go in with an open-mind and with the question: How is this going to allow me to better serve my students? 
If you're not the only SLP in your system, talk to the coordinator/Lead SLP and ask her for PDs just for your group. My coordinator (God love her!) started doing that for us a few years ago when we requested it. She began handing the reins over to us for presentations so the work isn't all on her. 
If you are the only SLP in your system, make a request that you be able to attend Speech PDs in a neighboring system. We have a couple of SLPs (who work in neighboring -or nearby- systems) attend meetings, and they are welcome to our PDs.

There are still times when I'm required to attend "non-SLP" PDs, but I think of it as a time to reach out to my teacher-peers, as well as a time to find out what's going on in their world so I can bring a little bit of it to my speech room.
I'd like to address another important aspect of being a School SLP. I'm the kind of person who has to feel like I belong. In my schools, I do what I can to show the teachers that I'm one of them. Although I don't advertise it, if someone needs help with bus duty and I'm available, I pitch in. I know some SLPs who don't like having duty, but it's a great way to talk to the students and find some of those students who have "fallen through the cracks". It's also a great way to put a face with a name during those S-Team and RTI Meetings. I am a part of both of my faculties, through the good and the bad. The teachers want to get to know you. They want to see you as a part of the faculty. They want to see you as one of them. Become a part of the faculty, and you may see some excellent benefits from it!

I love being a School SLP. This is what I was called to do. There is nothing like being unhappy in your job. If you're unhappy, don't let it take over your life. Try something just may find your niche. 

Do you have any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments!

Friday, May 26, 2017

{The Frenzied SLPs} Letter to ME as a new SLP

I woke up at 4:00 on the first day following my last day of the school year, thanks to Laika. She is the black and white dog that you've seen in my Looking Ahead posts. After I went back to bed, ideas on this post kept running through my mind, so I surrendered. Mostly because I knew if I didn't, I wouldn't remember what I thought about! 

Looking back over the past 33 years, if I was able to give myself advice, what would I say? I've come up with 5 things (in no particular order):
Make your family #1. No matter what. If you are single and have no children, make time for yourself. Stay active, go out with friends; take care of yourself. No one is going to die if you're not at school one day, or if you don't spend the summer making materials. Your students at school are just as happy throwing chips in a cup after saying their target as they would be working with a book companion that has been printed on cardstock and laminated. Your main objective is to target their goals; the cutesie, nice-looking materials are just an added bonus.
The only way to learn is to ask questions. You may earn the respect of your peers if you ask. Learning from others' experiences will make things easier for you.
Parents will request that their children be taken out of Speech for various reasons. Don't take it personally. Remember that their children are just that: their children. You may think you know what's best for that child, but there may be underlying reasons for them to refuse services...or an evaluation. Let it go!
That being said, remember that you are the professional when it comes to communication. Your job is to make recommendations to the team. If you suspect there may be some resistance from the parent at the meeting, do your homework before the meeting starts. If you suspect there may be some resistance from other team members, request a staffing prior to the meeting so the school staff stands in unity. If the parents decide to not follow your recommendation, don't take it personally.
This is one that I'm still working on, especially at the end of the year. When I see injustice, whether it be someone receiving special attention because of who they are in the school system, or being denied attention because of who they are/aren't, I have to speak up. I can be a bit opinionated, and the older I get, the more I say. Sometimes it's a good thing, but other times it's not. Try to learn when to speak up and when to be quiet. You may come across people who will take what you say and use it against you. Stay on the safe side and just be quiet. You can't control everything, so control yourself. 
Photo courtesy of Pexels
I'm still a work in progress. I have to remind myself of each point weekly, if not daily. Some things will come with experience and as you gain confidence. I still take things too personally at times. I still feel badly when a parent refuses an evaluation and I hear the student's horrible /r/ as he's talking in the hallway, knowing I can't do anything about it. We can't change the whole world; we can only do the best we can with those who will accept the help.

What would you say to yourself as a new SLP? We'd love for you to join in and link up!

Thanks to Sparklle SLP for getting this linky off the ground, to Putting Words in Your Mouth for the fabulous image, and to Doyle Speech Works for putting the linky tool together. It takes a village!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Wrapping Things Up: Progress Reports & Summer Packets

My rooms have been dismantled, progress reports have been given out. It's hard to believe year #33 is in the books, but it definitely is. 
This year, since I used Google Forms/Sheets to keep track of my data, I was able to include a progress chart with my progress reports. I was also able to let the parents see how their children did with returning their homework.
To find out how easy it was to do this, check out this clip:

The end of the clip was cut off (operator error!), but if you have questions, please email me or leave a comment below!
I am a firm believer in summer vacation. Not only for the teachers, but also for the students. That means that I only send out summer packets to a select few. It's been my experience that some students will actually progress when they have a break. I tell parents that we work on a sound so hard during the year, that when they get a break, something clicks. 
I handed out more summer packets this year than in previous ones.  The students that received the packets were my preschoolers, except for 1 student who has trouble with vocalic /r/. I was able to make some packets for different targets very quickly using Lessonpix. For my /k,g/ students, I made a packet last year, so all I had to do was print them out. I made directions for each of the activities last year, so I only had to print those out, as well.
My summer vacation will officially begin on Wed.; we have a Tech Conference on Tues. that will allow us to take an extra day of Fall Break. Definitely worth it! I have books to read and a kitchen to remodel, as well as ASHA CONNECT to attend in July. I plan on relaxing and taking a break from Speech things; July 25th will be here before you know it.
What fun things do you have planned this summer?

Monday, May 15, 2017

{Looking Ahead} It's the End!

It's here!!! It's finally here!!! The end of the school year is this week, so I try to have something fun for my students to do to wrap things up. I found this "foodtivity" on pinterest from The First Year Blog:
Really cute, right? I thought they would be perfect; they didn't look too difficult, and it would be pretty inexpensive to do for our last day of therapy. Weeeell, ours didn't turn out quite the same. This one was mine:
And this one was a student's:
I wouldn't call it a complete "Pinterest fail"; the kids seemed to enjoy it. I used already made frosting & put some blue food coloring in it. I also took a short cut by buying the graham cracker crumbs. I also used the graham cracker fish instead of the regular goldfish crackers. Just the thought of putting the little cheesy crackers on the sweet stuff didn't sit well with me! The little jimmies and white balls (for the bubbles) are pretty hard to control. After we put them together, we played a game to let the goodies dry just a tad.
It was a free-turn kind of day; just a fun last day before summer break. The students really enjoyed Hopping Frogs from Super Duper. After we played the game, I put the Graham Crackers in a sandwich bag for them to take home. (I don't allow students to eat anything in my room...I insist that they wait until they get home to ask their moms in case there are allergies.) Here's a tip: When you put something like this in a sandwich bag, make sure there is some air in the bag to help preserve it until they get home.
There will be another round of Under the Sea Graham Crackers and Hopping Frogs for my other school, then paperwork and cleaning up so I can leave ASAP on Friday.
I have to give a HUGE shout out to the following for giving up a lot of time on Saturday to help me design my new logo"
                   Putting Words in your Mouth                   grab button for Sparklle SLP          3D SLP

These ladies are the BEST! I'm pretty happy with the end result:
It was very interesting to look back and see the first idea, then to see it evolve into the above. 
If you've stuck with me through the year, thank you. If you've just found me, look through and see if I can inspire you! If you have questions, leave a comment below, or email me!

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