June 10, 2013

Lessons Learned

reflections on what I've learned during the past school year

I'm not going to lie. This school year was quite challenging for me. I left a job I loved to move to a new state. Had to adjust to a new school with new teachers and new students and a tremendous amount of paperwork (I mean, really...a form to fill out keeping track of the forms I've filled out?!). Plus I received a huge number of referrals on top of my already bulging caseload. And the evaluation procedures are so different here in Iowa than anything I was used to. No standardized testing. More than once I broke down crying with my husband consoling me.

Don't get me wrong, things weren't all bad! I dismissed nine students from speech services, put together this little blog, was able to attend some great professional development classes, had a mom tell me that I was the first SLP in three years who was able to help her son correctly say the /k/ and /g/ sounds, people out there valued the TpT products I've created (!)...there were definitely some great moments!

Now that the school year has come to a close, I've spent some time reflecting on what I've learned and I thought it would be nice to write it all down 'for the record'. Perhaps some of you have struggled also this year and will find something useful here. Let's get going!

1: Be Flexible, Be Organized, and Prioritize!
More than any other previous year working as a speech pathologist, I had to learn flexibility this year. My schedule was a working, living document. Organization isn't my strong point, but I capitalized on using my online calendar, which was a huge lifesaver for me. Also, I have Stickies on my MacBook holding every list, thought, idea, personal to-do, blog post ideas, etc.

 April: color-coordination is key to an organized calendar

It also became extremely important to prioritize my to-do lists. I kept a running list of all the tasks I needed to complete, and also kept a second to-do list of the most important tasks to get done that day. I kept both lists on post-its taped to my laptop so they were constantly reminding me to get things done. Oh, and procrastination is my downfall! It's still a struggle for me to buckle down and get things done, but I learned this year that when I put things off, there was twice as much to do the next day! How do you keep your work life organized?

May 2013: Narrative Discourse course

2. Don't be afraid to accept help from others or to ask questions.
The education agency I work for has a mentor program for the first two years of employment with the agency. I was blessed with an amazing speech-pathologist with 20+ years experience here. She is just a wealth of information and I definitely took advantage of her expertise any time I needed help. But we also learned from each other! I did some things differently with scheduling, graphing student progress, and using the iPad that she thought were great. Continue sharing your ideas with other SLPs and parents and coworkers! We can all learn so much from each other!!

September: Homecoming Week - Mismatch Day

3. It's okay to say no.
In March, when assignments were starting to be reviewed for next year, I was approached by my regional director and asked if I would be willing to add the middle school in town to my caseload next year. Honestly, I didn't want to do it, but I said I would consider it for a couple days and let him know. My assignment involves working with 10 preschool classes, plus 12 kindergarten and first grade classrooms. Those ages have lots of needs and come with lots of referrals. It's a busy time! It's always been challenging for me to say no to people, especially people who are an authority to me. But I had to think about what was best for me, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to say no. So I did. And my regional director was okay with that.

April: flowers from a preschooler
on the playground

4. Communication with parents is key to everyone being happy.
There were a couple instances this year where I had parents upset with me. For different reasons. One didn't think I was providing the correct number of service minutes stated on her child's IEP. Another parent was upset her son didn't qualify for extended school year services. Both situations scared me at first. I just don't like disappointing people. But both conflicts were resolved once I was able to talk directly with these parents rather than them communicating through other people not directly involved in the situation. In both instances, I was able to communicate the truth to parents. I was providing the correct number of minutes, but the parent didn't realize that because I didn't send home a session note every time. Easy fix. The other parent wanted her son to qualify for summer services because he qualified last year. I helped her see that he was making such great progress that he didn't need the extra services over the summer. Communication directly between me and the parents changed everything.

October: a little appreciation

5. Things aren't always as bad as they seem.
I think it was mid-November and I was struggling to keep afloat amid the numerous referrals I had already received since the school year started. Thinking about all the tasks I had yet to do led to a cry-fest with my husband. I think my words included, "I don't know what I'm doing!" and, "I just have so much to do and no time to do it or I'll be missing minutes with my students!" and, "I wish we had never moved to Iowa!" He's the best at calming me down when I'm at my worst. And he helped me put things in perspective: I did know what I was doing. I just needed to prioritize (see #1), and I would get through this. I do enjoy living in Iowa. And so on.

And now that the school year is over, he was so right. Things aren't as bad as they seem. My year could definitely have been worse. Here I am reflecting and wallowing in the difficult year I've had when I read this. Laura at Oh, How Pintearesting! is one of the first "big time" SLP blogging celebrities that started following Schoolhouse Talk. She's going through some major struggles right now, and it really put my year in perspective. Go leave her some love.

I've also been thinking about the SLPs, teachers, students, and families who lost everything in the Oklahoma tornadoes recently. Oh, I can't watch The Bachelor tonight because I have progress reports to do? Stop complaining, at least I still have a home. Makes my situation pale in comparison.

May: Super Duper bag all packed up for preschool therapy

6. Be sure to take time for yourself.
So you have a caseload of 60 students, but teachers won't let you see them during reading instruction, or math instruction, or recess, or specials, or reading group, and they all have to eat lunch, and you have three buildings to travel to, and meetings before and after school most days, and two evaluations and four IEPs to write, and three phone calls to return...there just aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done! Every speech pathologist deals with this. Just like classroom teachers, we end up bringing work home with us. Whether it's lesson plans, materials to print and laminate, or paperwork to complete, there's always "something to do".

October: Halloween costume

I learned this year that it's important for my mental health to take some "me time" regularly. I don't have to feel bad if I take a few evenings a week and leave the paperwork at school. I don't have to feel bad taking a personal day here and there. Sometimes I need to take a break from blogging because I don't want this blog to just be a machine that pumps out random products. I want my blogging to be meaningful to myself and others. Maybe I just need a couple hours to unwind after work. So as long as I get my paperwork and to-do list completed in a timely manner, it's okay to take some time for myself and just. do. nothing.

May: double motivation: iPad and Connect Four

7. Technology is my friend
I'm fortunate that the education agency I work for supplied me with a MacBook and an iPad. Both have been instrumental in my practice. I recently attended a two-day technology for SLPs workshop and learned so many productivity tips that I know will save me so much time next year! (Stay tuned, blog post on that to come soon!) We are all learning how remarkable the iPad can be in therapy. It's our responsibility to share this knowledge with teachers and parents we interact with. Also, the SLP blogging community is a lifesaver! There are over 130 blogs about speech pathology out there. So many great ideas and resources being shared! I am so thankful to be a part of such a great group of people.

June: all packed up and ready to go

I'll be transferring to a different school district in August. I am so excited for the change. My caseload will be smaller. My commute will be 1/3 as long. I'll have other SLPs in the same building! I'm looking forward to starting new after learning all the above lessons this year. But first, it's time to embrace summer break. Regroup. Plan for next year. RELAX. It's going to be fantastic.

On your toughest day, remember: We all make a 
difference in the lives of the children we work with!

Leave a Comment: How do you deal with stressful days at work?
I love coming home to my husband and opening a bottle of Barefoot Sweet Red :)


  1. Aw, Abby, you are so sweet! I was reading your post and relating to a lot of it and thinking that you have learned things in your career that took me much longer to learn when I got to #5. Thank you. Here's hoping to a restful summer and more even next year for both of us!