Mini-Resolutions for 2019

to-do-list-apps-1400x1050Last evening I drove to our local pizza shop to pick up our order:  large white pizza with spinach, tomato, and garlic.  This is a once-a-month treat, and picking up the pizza usually takes 10 minutes, round trip.  My trip took a bit longer than usual, not because the pizza wasn’t ready, but because I couldn’t find a parking spot.  You see, Peppi’s Pizza is right next door to a gym and it was mobbed!  Good grief, dozens of men and women in spanking new workout gear were swarming the parking lot and gym, the likes of which I’ve never seen.  Then it dawned on me — they all made New Year’s resolutions to exercise!  When I told my husband why I was late with the pizza, he laughed and said he has observed this uptick in attendance at the YMCA, as well.  “Don’t worry,” he said, “by next month, you’ll have your choice of parking spots!”  And that is the way it goes with resolutions:  a strong, determined start often gives way to dwindling effort.  An article in Psychology Today a few years back explains why.  In a nutshell, our resolutions are typically “large actions,” such as “I’ll go to the gym three times a week” when at present you don’t go at all.  A more realistic goal — a “small action” that is much more doable — is “I’ll increase my walking steps by 1/3” or “I’ll add 10 minutes a day to my usual walk with the dog.”  We tend to be more successful at modifying existing behaviors than we do in creating entirely new habits.  Indeed, research shows that only 10% of “large action” resolutions ever successfully become habit.

While this article doesn’t say so, I also surmise that resolutions tend to fail because they are based on negative feelings and deprivation.  Issues with body image, strict dieting that denies you food you enjoy, and a loathing of going to the gym (that’s me!) all contribute to resolution failure.  If you crave foods you can’t have, have to give up valuable time from other activities to work out at the gym which you don’t enjoy, or don’t see immediate results from your efforts, you’ll become resentful and discouraged and ultimately quit (certainly true for me).

In mulling this over, it seems that working toward small actions and building on current habits can be helpful to us professionally.  Here are some suggestions that have worked for me:

  1.  Bring new life to therapy.  The more you enjoy the interaction, the better the students will respond, so think about therapy activities that you enjoy and do more of them.  Pull some therapy materials off the shelf that you haven’t looked at in a while to get some new ideas.  Visit the Materials Exchange of Speaking of for some freebies you haven’t already downloaded. Get fired up about games, activities, and therapy techniques you’ve read about on this or other blogs or found on Pinterest or TeachersPayTeachers.  Share materials and ideas with colleagues.
  2. Improve your caseload management.  Hopefully, you already have organizational systems in place for all you need to accomplish daily, but if you find yourself stressed, worried that things are falling through the cracks, or realizing that you are always frantically pushing up against deadlines, you may need to tweak your caseload management strategies so that you are more productive and less stressed.  SLP blogs are full of ideas related to color-coding, stickie notes, bins, and binders, so check them out, but remember:  organizational strategies, to my mind, are very personal. We all have our own styles and ways of thinking, so look for ideas that feel doable to YOU!  Don’t get hung up on creating time-intensive, designer-like materials, unless that appeals to you.  Instead, I prefer to focus on function:  what can I do to simplify my workload, handle my “to do” list, and keep my workspace organized and efficient?  Little actions can make a big difference!
  3. Limit time vampires.  If you fall into a rabbit hole whenever you look at TPT or Pinterest, set a timer and stick to it.  If you have colleagues who love to gab about everything under the sun every morning before school, extract yourself politely but firmly so you can get organized for the day.  A “do not disturb” sign on the door may be needed, but will be worth the extra time you’ll find each day for doing what needs to be done without unnecessary stress.
  4. Schedule “clean up” time.  Maybe it’s just me, but I really need to start and end the day with a sense of tidiness.  I don’t want to wake up to a sink full of dirty dishes and I don’t want to come home from school to an unmade bed and other signs of disarray, so I give myself 5 minutes each morning and each evening to do a quick straightening up.  Likewise, I don’t want to walk into my speech room to find a mess I’d left behind the night before.  I find that spending 5-10 minutes at the end of each workday clearing off my desk, straightening piles of work to be done, and putting away therapy materials makes coming in each morning much more pleasant and helps me end the day with a sense of completion.

Well, that’s what works for me, so my resolution this year is to stick to it.  What works for you??  What little actions can you take to make your professional life run more smoothly?


Half Way There….

downloadThe excitement of the upcoming holiday break is palpable! But then comes January and that long stretch of soul-sucking winter (at least, for those of us who have to deal with ice and snow and bitter cold).  It can be a challenge to keep one’s spirits up when the winter blahs take over.  Since New Year’s is all about resolutions, here are some suggestions that might help you over the hump, and it all falls under the heading of “Take care of yourself.”  You know the saying about caring for yourself before caring for others in a crisis situation?  Well, that holds true all of the time, although our own needs often take a backseat as we routinely care for family, friends, colleagues, students, and community. Resolve to change that!  Here’s what has worked for me in my 28-year career:

  1. Exercise.  Ugh, I even hate the sound of that word.  Going to the gym is torture for me, especially when the only time I can go is when it is dark and cold.  When I expressed this to my doctor, she said, “so don’t go! Just find a way to exercise at home.”  And that’s what I’ve done.  Each night as we settle down to watch TV, I do a half-hour of pilates exercises and stretches with bursts of cardio worked in-between.  I still can’t say I enjoy it, but the TV provides some distraction, and it’s become an easy routine to maintain.  I also try to pick up my pace when walking throughout the day, park on the far end of a row to add more steps, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, and try to carry all my groceries from the store to the car instead of using the cart.  I’ll never win a bodybuilding contest, but as long as I still fit in the jeans I bought 5 years ago, I’m happy.
  2. Yoga.  I have attended yoga sessions but, like the gym, it’s hard for me to commit, especially in the winter.  Instead, I try to work in some yoga with YouTube. In fact, my goal for January is to take the 30-day Yoga Challenge. I also work some kids’ yoga into my therapy sessions;  the breathing and stretches are great for warming up and settling down the students, and I find it relaxing for me, too, a great way to loosen the tension that I tend to hold in my neck and shoulders.
  3. Drink!  I know many SLPs who sip water all day long, an excellent habit.  I’ve never been one for drinking throughout the day (I think mainly because I rarely have time to visit the ladies room in school!), but I realized a few years ago that I really should make the effort.  I bought myself an attractive, transparent water bottle with an infuser core that I fill each morning with fresh lemon wedges (microwave the lemon for 45 seconds before cutting to get lots more juice from it), then I fill the bottle once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Being able to see my progress through the bottle has been reinforcing for me, and also reminds me that I had better start drinking to meet my noon and dismissal deadlines.
  4. Read, sew, cook, watch movies or do whatever gives you personal pleasure and satisfaction.  I absolutely must read at least a few pages every night when I go to bed, just my way of blocking out the noise of the day.  I try each weekend to do some quilting — much easier to do in the winter!  I find those dreary, cold, wintery days just fly by when I am immersed in a project, and I end up with something nice to show for it.
  5. Aim for balance.  All work and no play is no way to live!  It’s so easy to get swept up in the demands of work, family, and home.  My husband and I vowed years ago that we would schedule time for friends and each other every week.  Sometimes that means the house doesn’t get cleaned or the clothes stay in the dryer for a week.  I can honestly say that we have survived this occasional neglect, and have certainly benefitted from the social activities that we did instead.
  6. Stay organized.  Organization at home and at school is the only way I can live. I make sure that every day before I leave, my therapy table is cleared, my desk is neat, and my “to do” list is prioritized.  There’s nothing more demoralizing than walking into the therapy room in the morning and seeing a mess to deal with. (I do the same at home — bed made in the morning, dishes washed at night really helps the day start and end well for me).  How to organize is up to you, as everyone has their own style (highlighters? stickie notes? color-coded folders? charts and graphs?  all of the above?).  Just make sure it is working for you.
  7. Avoid negativity.  I learned very early in my career that, for my own mental health and well-being, I needed to avoid complainers.  I don’t for a minute mean to minimize the legitimate gripes we have with paperwork, difficult students/parents/teachers/administrators, and crazy schedules.  Those are certainly some of the issues we need to deal with on a daily basis.  But complaining about it doesn’t help, and listening to others complain only makes things worse. Pretty soon you find yourself in a downward spiral of negativity, and who needs that?
  8. Focus on the positive.  We applaud our students for their progress and give them a certificate or reward when they are dismissed from therapy, but do we stop to give ourselves a well-deserved pat on the back as well?  After all, their achievement is our achievement, too!  Celebrate accomplishments, large and small, with colleagues;  create a dismissal sticker chart and give yourself a gold star every time you dismiss a student;  toast yourself at dinner with a glass of your favorite adult beverage.  Just a few moments of basking in a job well done will have a positive effect on your outlook.
  9. Laugh more.  Watch funny movies, use jokes in therapy, have a “family fun night” of playing games with your kids, laugh at yourself instead of putting yourself down.
  10. Unplug.  We know that too much screen time is bad for kids.  Well, it isn’t great for us, either!  Make a determined effort to put down the phone or tablet, turn off the TV, set digital limits for yourself, and get involved in a hobby or community activity instead.

You are a creative, compassionate, and dedicated SLP.  You couldn’t have survived in this field if you weren’t.  So give yourself the credit you deserve and the time you need to protect your mental and physical health to get through the second half of the school year and beyond.  Nobody else will do this for you.  It’s all up to you.  Happy New Year!

Lesson Pix

If you have followed this blog or the Speaking of website for any length of time, you’ll know that I am a strong proponent of visual supports for all students.  I’ve presented on this topic at local, state, and national conferences, and have built up such a huge collection of materials created with Boardmaker that I’m running out of space to store it all.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 10.25.16 PMRecently, though, I’ve been exploring the features of another symbol system, Lesson Pix.  Lesson Pix is a subscription-based, web-based tool for creating a wide variety of visual supports.  A single subscription is just $36 per year, and lower prices are available for multiple subscriptions.  Included in the subscription:  35,000 symbols accessed by an easy to use search engine, the ability to upload images from the Internet or your camera, tools to modify symbols, and a gazillion preprogrammed templates for all kinds of games and materials. In addition, you get tech support in the form of a large number of instructional videos on all features of Lesson Pix.  Looking for ways to use visual supports?  Check out the resources under “Articles.”

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 10.25.37 PMSymbols in Lesson Pix are available in color, outline (black/white), and stencil (no outline).  SLPs will love the SoundFinder feature, which lets you search for any speech sound in any position of words.  Making worksheets and cards for medial and final target sounds just got a whole lot easier!!  But that’s not all,  You can also search for patterns (CV, VC, CVCV, etc.), minimal pairs, and rhyming words!!  Wowzers!

If you are making theme-based materials, you’ll want to use the ClipArt library, which is arranged by category.  Click on the category to open the folder, drag all desired images to the “tray,” then use these symbols to populate your chosen template.  Edit to change text and alter the appearance of symbols.  You can also import clip art and photos to augment the 35,000 symbols built into the program.  A unique feature of Lesson Pix is that you can request a symbol;  just fill out the form with a description of what you need and they will draw it for you.

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Although an MS-Word Integration plug-in allows for creating your own unique materials, Lesson Pix is primarily a template-based tool.  Here is just a sample of the long list of available templates:

  • Picture cards
  • Picture schedules
  • First, then boards
  • Books and social stories
  • Certificates
  • Door hangers
  • Flashcards
  • Coloring, lacing, and cutting materials for fine motor practice
  • Loads of games, including Bingo, Dominoes, treasure hunt, fortune tellers, I have/Who has cards, and much more!
  • Menus
  • Voting ballots
  • Multiple Choice worksheets
  • Semantic maps
  • Writing pages
  • Stick puppets
  • Overlays for AAC books and devices

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If that isn’t enough, your $36 annual fee also provides you with access to the Sharing Center.  Upload your creations for others to use, and download loads of free materials that others have posted.  All materials created with Lesson Pix are saved as PDF.

Lesson Pix provides a free 30-day trial in which all features of the program are operational, but a watermark appears on materials when you print them.  For just $3/month, Lesson Pix is certainly worth exploring!








Creating a Happy Place for Therapy

Well, friends, it’s happened again.  Summer (very short this year due to snow days and the requirement that we attend a full week of professional development before the kids come back) is officially over.  Last year was my first year in a new building, so setting up and organizing the room to be a functional workspace was my #1 priority.  I was so lucky to have a large room (half classroom, divided by a partition and shared with the reading specialist) with bright sunny windows, built-in bookcases, and plenty of space for my desk, computer and printer, therapy and office supplies, holiday decorations, a phone, and air conditioning (first time in my 25 year career).  Given that space to work with, it didn’t take long to get the room in tiptop shape — my organized, cheerful, welcoming, happy place.  That task quickly completed, I was able to move on to the business of being the new SLP in the school:  meeting teachers, figuring out the crazy layout of the school, reviewing student files, meeting the students, and setting up a schedule (the first of about 18 versions through the school year).

This summer I was informed by my principal (a wonderfully supportive man with whom I worked for 9 years in my previous school) that my room would be needed for a new kindergarten class (the 6th!) due to exploding enrollment.  There were three options for a new therapy room:  a 5′ x 8′ closet off the nurse’s office, presently used as a food pantry for underprivileged families;  a long, wide hallway with an exterior door on one end and double door on the other to seal it off from the main hallway (guaranteed to be cold and drafty and distracting, as many of the teachers use this door to run errands during the 4 lunch/recess times);  and a very small office off the library with the advantage of having lots of built-in storage.  While this is the best option, it is upstairs from the K-1 classrooms and moving in means displacing the librarian from her private space.  Ugh.  I’ve already spent at least 8 hours this summer, packing materials and moving boxes upstairs, but still have much more moving and unpacking to do, once the library materials are moved. (To say I have a lot of materials is an understatement.  My colleagues and student teachers refer to my room as the “candy store” of therapy).

videoblocks-smiling-business-woman-working-inside-cardboard-box-as-a-very-small-office-female-worker-talking-on-the-phone-isolated-on-white-background_rulnymktg_thumbnail-full01This is not the way I expected to start the year—-but I’m sure I’m not the only one facing therapy in less than ideal conditions. Certainly, I’ve worked in my share of closets, alcoves, and dusty spaces behind the curtain on the stage in the past, and have many colleagues who can claim the same.  A good friend of mine is an architect specializing in school design.  Frustrated by inadequate and even inappropriate SLP rooms in our county which were clearly an afterthought, I asked him about this seemingly universal situation.  He reacted with complete surprise and said that in his 30-year career, he had never once been asked to include and design a room in a school for speech/language therapy!  Geez, Louise!  How we get that to change should be a mission of ASHA.  But, for each of us in the field, it is our mission to make the most of whatever space we are given.  Fortunately, SLPs are creative and flexible, so I will be putting those attributes to work big-time in the next two weeks.

My “to do” list:

  1.  Downsize furniture to make the room feel more spacious.  Gone is the large semi-circular table, replaced by a small trapezoid one, surrounded by kid-sized chairs.  Gone will be the metal shelving unit, replaced by a computer cart to hold my computer, printer, and desk items. Gone are two file cabinets filled with cheerful decorations for every holiday and season.  There’s simply no room to hang or place decorations.
  2. Unpack boxes of books, games, and materials and shelve them in an organized fashion so whatever I need can be easily accessed.  Weed out any excess materials and pass them on to newbies on our staff.
  3. Do all of the above as quickly as possible with the help of my loving husband so I can get on with the real business of setting up the new caseload.
  4. Smile!  And remember that the students are the most important thing to have in the therapy room!  Everything else is window-dressing.

Strengthening Parent Connections

School will be starting in just a few weeks.  One of the first things I do each year is write a “welcome” letter to parents.  Actually, I may write several different versions — one for artic, one for language, one for life skills, one for AAC users — depending on my caseload.  One purpose of the letter is to provide the parents with my contact information, including the days that I am in the building and best way to reach me (email works best for me).  The other purpose, and the reason for the various versions, is to give parents a description of what to expect in school-based therapy and, most importantly, to remind them of the importance of parent involvement in therapy.  Of course, I always stress this at all IEP meetings, but find that even families who are diligent about speech/language support at home during the school year tend to fall off the wagon over the summer, so an early reminder helps them get back into the routine of supporting speech/language skills.  For students learning new skills, I use the analogy of piano lessons:  no one can become an accomplished musician if they only practice 30 minutes a week during their lesson.  For students in the carryover stage who don’t feel they need to work on their communication skills, I remind them that even professional baseball players take batting practice.

In the past, my contact with parents was often limited to the welcome letter, the annual IEP conference, and a hastily scribbled note on a page of artic homework or on the “what I did in speech/language therapy” sheet I staple in each student’s folder.  Now there are so many other options to keep parents informed and involved!

VIDEO:  Along with the welcome letter, I send home a media release form for each student.  Once signed and returned, I am able to use PhotoBooth or other video apps to capture snippets of therapy that illustrate what the student needs to do and how I elicit that.  These clips are then emailed to the parents with a brief explanation.  Parents love having this visual model, and it helps their students when the parents are able to use the same cues and have the same expectations.  You can read more about this in a previous post about PhotoBooth.

Screen Shot 2018-08-07 at 9.03.31 AME-NEWSLETTERS:  A periodic newsletter allows you to expound on what’s currently going on in the therapy room (especially useful if you are doing theme-based instruction) and to share lots of links to useful articles and materials.  Newsletters don’t need to be lengthy. They just need to be issued on a regular basis, be it monthly or quarterly.  S’more is a subscription-based site that offers a special rate for educators.  Check to see if anyone else in your district is using S’more for newsletters;  if so, you may be able to get a subscription at a further discount (and have your district pay for it!).  This is very useful for sharing general information to all parents in an attractive, professional format.

ACTIVE STUDENT AND PARENT ENGAGEMENT:  Another amazing resource — a limited version is free for educators — is Seesaw.  This app, which works across multiple platforms, not only allows you to communicate with parents via a general newsletter, but also allows you to create your own activities and post to each student’s online portfolio, which their parents can access and review.  Students can also use this for active learning — think of the therapy goals you can address while engaging the students in this digital format!  Check out the videos on the Seesaw site for lots of inspiration!

Screen Shot 2018-08-07 at 9.01.45 AMUse ClassDojo, a free web-based app for computer, tablet, and phone, to monitor specific student goals, including behavior, with positive reinforcement, and share student progress with parents via photos and videos, and through the student’s self-created portfolio.  Notes to parents can be instantly translated into 30 languages.  ClassDojo has added many new features since I first blogged about this.

How will you engage with parents this year?  Please share other resources that work for you!