Coming to the end of a 29-year career certainly gives one reason to pause and reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and how challenges became teachable moments for me. Here, then, are more thoughts that come to mind:
3. Be organized. I realized early on that the amount of paperwork, widely varying tasks, and pressing deadlines that faced me every day would be crushing unless I developed strategies to keep everything straight.
The first day of school, I reviewed every student’s file, noting IEP and RR dates in a spreadsheet that I continually updated throughout the year. Using this as a basis for each subsequent school year made the task go more quickly. I sorted the list first by IEP date, then RR date, and posted this on the wall over my desk. Each month I highlighted those in need of new IEPs and/or reevaluation for the NEXT MONTH so I would have a visual heads-up on what deadlines were coming. As each new IEP was written, I had the pleasure of crossing that off my list, then updated the info on the spreadsheet on my computer so the dates would be correct for the following year. I know other SLPs who keep this info on an oversized calendar or who can print this info from their school’s internal recordkeeping system. Whatever works for you, do it! In 29 years, I was never out of compliance on deadlines (although, yes, I did cut it pretty close sometimes!).
My inbox wasn’t working for me. For one thing, it couldn’t possibly hold all of my upcoming work. And having it all in a pile meant that I was constantly rifling through the pile to find what I needed — not efficient! I tried putting things in piles by category across the top of my desk, but quickly found my desk wasn’t big enough. The solution: I purchased a stepped file sorter (similar to the one pictured) and some fancy patterned file folders (because, you know, it’s fun to be fancy), then labeled them according to categories that worked for me, such as “To be tested,” “Waiting for signatures,” “To be written,” “To be copied,” etc. Completed files that were ready to go for the IEP meeting were then put into the inbox according to the upcoming dates.
Even with all of this staring me in the face, I still needed more reminders to keep me on track. Alerts on Google calendar made sure I was never late for a meeting. I used a calendar with boxes at least 1″ x 2″ to create a “month-at-a-glance” schedule. I kept this under a clear plastic desk blotter. Instead of writing directly on the calendar, I wrote all appointments and other “to do” deadlines on small 1″ x 2″ sticky notes and stuck them on the calendar. This enabled me to easily change appointments — and you know this will happen a lot! — and still keep the calendar readable.
4. Control the chaos. I don’t know about you, but I find messiness demoralizing. I make my bed every morning because it is much more inviting to come home to at night. I wash my dishes and wipe up the kitchen every night so I am not faced with dirty dishes and counters in the morning. It only takes about 10 minutes total to do this, but it makes my life much happier to have it done. Given this proclivity toward organization and tidiness, you can imagine that I am much the same at school. During the day, of course, the hustle bustle of therapy, meetings, etc., can create a jumbled mess in the therapy room, and that’s okay. But being greeted by a jumbled mess the next morning will start not my next day off well. Every afternoon before I leave work, I make sure that all therapy materials are put back on the shelves in their proper category, all files are in their place, and my desk is cleared of everything except my “to do” list for the next day. This may take me 10-15 minutes at the end of the day, but I leave with a sense of closure and can start the next morning with a better attitude — definitely worth the effort, at least to me! So many teachers, principals, and parents have come into my therapy room over the years and expressed how warm and welcoming my space is. I’m sure that feeling comes from the sense of orderliness.