I frequently think of ways to improve the work efficiency of speech-language pathologists. Why? If you are like me, I know you love working with your speech language therapy students each week. After all, that’s why you were led to work in a service profession. I believe speech-language pathologists are truly called to positively influence the lives of children with special needs and their families. You do that every day. You do that quite naturally. You make a difference.
However, the common message that I hear in my conversations with other SLPs is that their caseload keeps increasing, there is more documentation required, and no increase in the time to get the job done. Trust me, I completely understand. Luckily, I haven’t had outrageous caseload numbers lately. Instead, the amount of students served has been manageable but the workload has still significantly increased in my 10 + years of being a speech-language pathologist.
What’s the solution? Get involved in your state association and at the national level to promote change in regards to consideration of the difference between workload vs. caseload. Other than that, here are 7 practical efficiency tips that I have used to improve my work efficiency as a pediatric speech-language pathologist in the school setting. These tips will help you be more successful as an SLP by planning ahead how best to provide speech-language therapy with excellence.
1. Scheduling. Get creative with your schedule to free up your time to do other essential tasks. If several children need three times a week therapy, think about various options to best provide services. Can you provide this service in the special education classroom with the whole class once a week? This can reduce the number of separate sessions each week while still addressing the children’s speech-language needs. Perhaps you can lead a language lesson with the support of the special education teacher. You could read aloud a story and follow up with an interactive activity on the smart board. You could also lead a cooking/language lesson. This is a great way to work on sequencing, oral language, following directions, and life skills. Teach them how to make a seasonal snack mix or a sandwich. The kids will learn and love the activity too.
Schedule 5 minutes in between sessions to allow you to walk and pick up students for group therapy. This way you are not cutting into therapy time by picking up and dropping off students.
Another option is to talk with teachers and students about giving the kids more independence by allowing them to come to your speech room at their designated times. This is a great way to teach responsibility and foster some level of independence of kids with special needs. Of course, use your discretion at your school to see if this is feasible with your caseload. This may very well help your day flow better and give you time to quickly set up for your next groups.
2. Monthly therapy plan. Before the month starts, make a plan. This will serve as a guide of materials (e.g. book) to use and activities (e.g. craft, vocabulary game, language worksheets) to use during therapy/guided instruction. I use a one page form and list the themes for the month. Then, I categorize this into the main therapy areas for my caseload. For example, list plans according to articulation, vocabulary, general language, grammar, and functional communication. At the bottom, I list the evidence based therapy techniques that I use. Then, I list any progress monitoring tools that I use. Remember this is a guide. It does not have to list every possible activity that you have in your room. Just a few suggestions. After all, SLPs differentiate instruction every day.
3. Daily session plans. I keep these forms in my students’ group folders that I use to take attendance and any mini-lessons and printables that I need for group sessions. You may keep these in a binder if you don’t keep group folders. The form is a simple chart with the date, students’ names, and activity. I love having this at the front of their folder. At the end of a session, I can quickly write what needs to be taught or addressed next session. The day of the session, I can take a quick glance, gather therapy/instructional materials, and begin the session. There’s always room to tweak your plan based on students’ behavior and needs, but it’s nice not to fly by the seat of your pants. Having a basic plan will improve your SLP work efficiency.
4. Organize therapy materials. You can do this by themes, seasons, and/or skills. I tend to organize the majority of mine by themes and skills. Before a new season starts (I’m already looking forward to spring), I pull out all of my related theme materials and keep them in a bin on and also near my therapy table. Most of my theme therapy instructional and practice resources are in large 8 1/2 ” by 11″ envelopes or clear ziplock bags. Others that are organized by skill (e.g. basic concepts, listening comprehension) are in binders. I love having these in binders because I can view several resources for one skill in one convenient place. I do have some overflow materials in large envelopes though. 🙂
5. Data collection sheets. Data Data Data. I love data! I really do. It’s best to have several versions of data sheets to best meet your style of data collection as well as the most logical form to note students’ goals/accuracy. Before working with a student, I select the data sheet that I think will work best. I also make copies of additional baseline data and progress monitoring tools for specific speech-language objectives so I’ll have them ready when I need them. This all goes in my group speech/language folders that I pull at the start of each day.
6. Speech/language visuals. This is essential for increased comprehension and flow of your speech/language mini-lesson. Each session, it is always important to teach/review the essential skill. I use a variety of visuals that I have created to show my students while I explain the language skill. Then, we do a group activity to practice the skill. I keep these on my therapy table so I can quickly access them for each group.
7. Plan for challenging behaviors. You know… yelling, running around the room, laying on floor, or hiding under the table. For older kids it may be skipping speech or verbally talking back. What’s your plan to reduce and/or eliminate these behaviors? Here are a few suggestions: 1) First/Then visual – This can be very successful. However, you have to know what your student will work for. Is it potato head, puzzles, toy cars, blocks, ipad, skittle, etc? 2) Include the paraprofessional- This can drastically improve your SLP work efficiency for children with challenging behaviors. Have the para bring the student to therapy and remain during therapy session. This way you have support to address the behavior while you focus on providing the therapy. 3) Work with student in the special education classroom during a whole group lesson or speech/language center or station. A center or station is a space in the classroom that gives children an opportunity to participate in a learning activity. Children rotate to different centers so they can practice various skills. 4) Have older students track their progress on a chart and provide incentives periodically. They may earn a bag of chips, soda, non-speech game time, or pizza party. Use the school discipline plan to address behaviors such as talking back. For example, they may receive a consequence such as silent lunch. In your speech room you can not have them join the fun speech activity and complete a separate task instead. Try different things to see if that will motivate older students to not want to skip speech class or talk back.
I hope these 7 tips will improve your work efficiency as a school-based SLP. After all you need the right systems in place so you can focus on what matters. Speech-language pathologists are building successful lives of children and adolescents with communication disorders. You build speech articulation, speech fluency, receptive language, expressive language, and so much more. Keep up the good work!
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