The school year is ending for kids at school. For recent SLP graduates, it's time to find a job. Thinking about becoming a school based SLP? Your text books are closed, but it's time for your real learning to begin.
Here are our suggestions for first year new school-based SLPs that you will not find in a text book:
1. Listen before you speak. One of the hardest parts of being a school SLP is maneuvering through work relationships with various adults. As SLPs, we are hired as support staff, SUPPORT being the key word. Each teacher brings his or her own perspective on how this support should occur. Some teachers prefer that kids with special needs always be taken out of their rooms for special help. Other teachers feel that they alone will provide the best quality of instruction to children and are leery of giving up any instructional control to another adult within the room. As SLPs, we have our own set of guidelines and ideas for service delivery. At times, it is difficult to find a balance between best practice and teacher preferences. As a new SLP, if you try to bulldoze your way into work relationships, you may find yourself out of a job. Instead, we recommend that you listen to teachers your first year. As much as possible, support teachers in the way that THEY feel is best, as long as it is acceptable to the guidelines set by your administration. Prove your skills to the staff. Once you have the trust of your colleagues, make suggestions for change in year two.
2. Help out in ways not listed on your job description. Classroom teachers have an incredible workload. Never underestimate how hard classroom teachers work. If there are small things that you can do to help take some of this work off their plate, do it. Are you good with Excel graphs? Offer up this skill to help your team graph. Listen to your teammates when they complain, and offer your support or services to make their lives easier. As SLPs, we don't have classrooms. This provides us with more flexibility in our schedules. Little shows of support go a long way.
3. Schedule time for face-face team meetings. At least bi-weekly, set aside time to meet with teachers or grade level teams that house your IEP students. Use this time to discuss how the IEP student is doing in class. This is also time to suggest strategies to use in-class and to plan for co-taught lessons. In our district, we re-wrote IEP minutes to reflect this consult time. In lieu of a standard 60 minutes per week, we write 46 minutes direct and 8 minutes per week consult.
4. Don't just give teachers strategy ideas; Give them the tools. Going back to #2 above, teachers are busy. Don't create more work for them. First discuss strategies with teachers. If they like your ideas, offer to provide EVERYTHING that they need to make it happen. As SLPs, we can often make time to cut and paste during the day, while teachers often can't even make time to use the bathroom.
5. Teaching parents to support their children is just as important as working directly with students. The reality of most school based speech/language services is that we have relatively little face-face time with students and most students are seen in groups. Especially for our younger students, they spend far more time with their own parents than they do with us. We need to coach parents how to support their children's speech and language development. This can happen through email, phone, letters, or notes. Especially for articulation therapy, we recommend sending home "homework." This can be as easy as a notecard saying "practice this word 5x a day."
Best of luck to starting off a new job. Being a school-based SLP is a fantastic opportunity to change the future for all students.
Are you a veteran teacher or SLP? What are your best suggestions? Please feel free to share them in the comments section below.