10 Tips for the New School Based SLP

With the start of school rapidly approaching, I’ve seen several tips for the newly minted clinical fellows out there. I’m going to jump on this band wagon and offer some nuggets of information that I learned along the way.

1. YOU ARE GOING TO MESS UP!!!! It’s just a matter of when. We are all human and we all make mistakes. When the inevitable happens, take responsibility, work to make it right, and MOVE ON! Believe me when I say, “It will be ok.”

2. If you are working in the school system, make friends with the front office staff and custodians. They run the school and can basically address any issue you will ever have.

3. Ask for HELP. Even if you are the only SLP on site, bring difficult clinical cases to your supervisor or fellow co-workers. Asking questions does not make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing. Take every opportunity you have to learn from your coworkers.

4. It’s ok to procrastinate… a little bit… My first year of work, I would rush to complete any paperwork/task that was given to me (e.g. completing annual professional development plans) well before the due date. Inevitably something changed (“Hey Ashley we gave you the wrong form”) and I ended up doing the work twice. It’s important to meet deadlines, but you don’t need to complete things months in advance. Wait and see how it’s all going to shake out.

5. Your relationships matter more than the amazing activities you plan. I spent a ridiculous amount of time my first year finding and making in depth materials for my students. Pinterest has helped immensely with that (definitely get into Pinterest if you haven’t already), but I also quit worrying about finding the perfect activity and focused on establishing connections with my students. I’m not saying, don’t have a plan – but really think about what the goal is for that student. Then think about how you can address this goal using what’s in front of you and what the student cares about. Check out my post on inclusive practices here. I doubt my students will remember the awesome board game I invented, but I hope they will remember that I listened to what they had to say and advocated for them.

6. Stretch out activities. Again, when I was planning these elaborate activities I found that students couldn’t always complete the task(s) I prepared in one session. I found myself rushing through sessions to get everything checked off the list. Remember – it’s not about the final product, it’s how you get there. I see this a lot when working on written expression. Many times my students were just worried about getting the assignment done, and negate the entire process of writing. My greatest success last year was when one of my high schoolers was given a writing prompt and asked, “Can I preplan first?”

7. Ask “Why?” and don’t be offended when someone asks you “Why?” Basically, if you don’t know why you’re doing something, nobody else will either. Keep asking yourself, “Why am I using this evaluation tool?” or “Why am I asking this student to complete this task?” If you can answer this question, you will be fine. It’s not a bad idea to state the reasons up front to avoid any confusion down the road. It’s also ok to ask others “Why did you do that?” You can learn a whole lot by doing this.

8. Smile – even when you don’t feel like it. When you walk down the hallways, smile big and say hello. Even if you aren’t in the building that much, people will at least know you as the nice, happy person that walks around.

9. When you feel overwhelmed, repeat this mantra “This is the last first time I will start at this school” or “That was the last first IEP meeting I will ever have.” You will never ever ever ever start a new job as a clinical fellow again. You’ve done it!

10. Try to leave work at work! I still struggle with this as I tend to take things too personally and carry a lot of baggage home with me (both emotional and work to be done). I have never met one person who worked in the schools that felt like they had everything checked off his/her To Do list. You know that feeling of wrapping up a semester and feeling accomplished? Yah- that’s over. There’s always going to be more to do. Really prioritize what needs to happen and what would be nice to happen. Focus on what needs to happen.

Good luck to all of those new SLPs out there. You are entering crazy, fulfilling, and awesome profession.

Does anybody else have some recommendations for recent graduates?

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