The most overwhelming thing as a new Speech-Language Pathologist is showing up on your first day and being handed a caseload of 100 students and trying to figure out when you are going to see them all! I remember when this happened to me. Not only did I need to schedule students, I was working in a middle school at the time and was told they were on a rotating block schedule! What does that even mean?! So writing a speech schedule was challenging to say the least. Here are 7 tips to help you through it.
Tip #1: Organize Your Speech Caseload
Start your schedule by making a list of all your students and organize them by services, grade, and teacher. For example, make a list of all your students in an All-day SpEd program. Then make a list of students who are in gen ed with additional services (students who are out of the classroom often for SAI or RSP). And finally, make a list of your speech-only students. Once separated into these different programs, organize the students by grade level and list them under their teacher’s name. Put their service time next to their name so that you know how many times a week they need to be on the schedule.
Tip #2: Find Out When Your Site Holds Speech IEPs and Early-Out Days
Every school is different on when and how they hold IEPs. Some schools have a dedicated day for IEPs (my favorite method). Other schools allow you to schedule any day/time, but prefer that most of the meetings be before or after school. Most schools (at least here, in California) have one day a week that the students leave early. At my school it is called “Collab Wednesdays”, but it’s called different names in different districts. Before you make your schedule, find out if your school has a day when students leave early because obviously you can’t schedule them if they aren’t here. If your site does not have an “IEP day”, the student “early-out day” is a good afternoon to schedule your speech-only IEPs.
Tip #3: Ask For Teacher Input
Send an email to teachers with a list of students in their class who have speech and ask the best time to pull them out. This is also a good opportunity to introduce yourself and build rapport. Usually teachers are pretty nice about pulling out their students, although there is the occasional teacher who is perturbed by this. Taylor gives good tips about working with your team here. Asking for their input gives them a voice and allows them to share concerns and recommend times that work best. Teachers often work as grade-level teams and have similar schedules throughout the grade. Also, check the lunch and recess schedules. Sometimes teachers are so busy that you may ask “is it okay to pull Suzy at 9:30?”, the teacher may say yes, not realizing Suzy has recess at 9:30. So it’s your job to double check.
Tip #4: Base your speech groups on available time-slots, not goals
When I first started as a SLP I went through all of the students’ IEP goals and then tried to group them based on goal similarities. This is a great idea, in theory. The problem with this is that you are then trying to schedule around multiple student schedules, recesses, and lunches. It’s best to group them by grade level, teacher (if possible), and availability. Once you get to know them you can always move students around as appropriate.
Tip #5: Don’t Forget About Your Kindergarteners and Schedule Them First
When it comes to Kindergarten, each school is different. Some schools have all day kinders and some schools have only morning kinders. Some schools have two separate sessions, a morning kinder session and an afternoon kinder session and sometimes some students are there for one session and others are there for both sessions. So, first things first, check your kindergarteners schedules and figure out when they will be on campus and then schedule them before anyone else. Since they are at school for a limited amount of the day, you have even less availability to see them. I’ve found that pulling them out first thing in the morning works best for them and their teachers. That way they are only missing the morning meeting/routine.
Tip #6: Don’t Forget About Yourself, Testing, and Make-Up Sessions
Filling every opening in the schedule is tempting. Don’t. The caseload constantly changes and so do the caseload numbers. Sometimes they are high, sometimes they are low. Keep openings to add new students and if the schedule looks light at some points throughout the school year, take advantage of the down time because it will not last long. Don’t forget to block out time on the schedule for speech testing and make-up sessions. When testing is slow, resist the temptation to fill the time-slot. Always have at least one 1-3 hour block of time on the weekly schedule for speech testing. It’s also easy to create a schedule that is so jammed-pack that there is no time for lunch or breaks. Make sure to put lunch and breaks on the schedule so that you always have time to take them. Otherwise, you run the risk of burning yourself out.
Tip #7: Be Flexible!
You will quickly learn that as soon as you’ve made the perfect schedule something will change! It’s never finished and is always evolving.
Check out these schedule templates here to make your life even easier!