The Tax Man Cometh: Make the Most of Your Hard-Earned Cash!

imagesTax time can really take the zing out of Spring!  While I don’t have any magic words to make taxes go away, I can give some advice on how to make the most of your hard-earned cash.

  1.  For the past several years, the IRS has allowed educators to take a $250 deduction for unreinmbursed teaching expenses.  Here are the details:  Educator Expense Deduction.  Of course, you’ll always want to check with your accountant about this.  And save your receipts!
  2. I have been using Ebates as my starting point every time I shop online for goods, services, and travel. Then, when my Big Fat Check arrives, I put that $$ toward therapy supplies.  This is so easy to do, and it is amazing to see how many stores and other companies participate in this.
  3. I just learned of a new program that gives rebates for online shopping:  Giving Assistant.  Like Ebates, you earn cash back on your online purchases.  A bonus with Giving Assistant is this program’s social mission.  For every qualifying purchase you make, Giving Assistant will donate a meal to Feed America.  In addition, if you don’t need the rebate $$ for therapy supplies, you can designate all or a percentage of your rebate to be donated to the charity of your choice — a very easy way to provide ongoing support to worthy causes that are important to you.  Check out the “Thoughts” page of the site to read about lots of ways college students can earn cash back — I had no idea! giving_assistant_hero
  4. Once I have my rebate money in hand, I shop Zulily for therapy materials.  This can be hit or miss, as the participating businesses and their offers change frequently. A search of “education” or “toys” will usually turn up something useful and interesting but you’ll really hit the jackpot when “Super Duper Publications” is offering their materials at 45% off.
  5. Obviously, TeachersPayTeachers is a great source of inexpensive materials.
  6. I always shop for puzzles, games, toys, and books at yard sales, rummage sales, and thrift stores.
  7. Arrange a swap meet with other SLPs and teachers.  Exchanging books, toys, and games costs nothing and will give the students something new to use.
  8. Make your own materials.  Yes, this takes some time, but using an inexpensive game generator like Lesson Pix allows you to customize materials to your students’ needs.  Spend a professional development day with colleagues and then share what you’ve made!
  9. At absolutely no cost to you:  FREE materials on the Speaking of Materials Exchange!!  If you haven’t scrolled through there in a while, it is worth another look!
  10. And you know, a creative SLP will never walk out of the dollar store empty-handed.

Challenging Parents

f7a5478d223be000631d6d90ed0968f2In my career, I’ve met all kinds of parents.  Most have been supportive, appreciative, and trusting, but there have been others who have been, at one time or another, angry, argumentative, or distrusting.  Dealing with challenging parents is probably the least favorite aspect of our job. If you build a good rapport with the parents from the initial contact, actively keep channels of communication open, and always be the consummate professional you know you are, then you may well avoid many conflicts.  But, inevitably, you’ll have some experience at some point with challenging parents.

I’ll say right up front that there are toxic people, and some of those are parents who will never agree or be satisfied, so what I’m about to say does not apply to all parents or situations. Believe me, I get that!

As with so many aspects of life, I believe that attitude is everything.  When I’ve been involved in conflicts with parents, either as case manager or member of the IEP team, I’ve tried to view those conflicts as growth experiences.  Rather than get defensive, I do my best to examine the situation objectively.  That’s not always easy, but it does help to keep me calm and focused, and often leads to important insights.  One of the most memorable conflicts, and the situation that first taught me this valuable lesson,  involved the mother of an elementary age boy who had profound disabilities.  (This happened early in my career, when the movement toward inclusion was just taking hold, and multiple disability support classes were more about keeping the students comfortable, safe, and entertained, rather than engaged in a strict curriculum.  Related services were typically weekly consults with the teacher, rather than direct therapy with the student).  This mother was loud, brash, often jaw-droppingly inappropriate in language and dress, but she had made herself well-versed in current literature and best practices, and was going to make darn sure her son was the recipient of the latest educational trends.

There was nothing subtle about this mother’s manner.  She’d pop into the classroom, unannounced, disrupt the staff with loud questions and comments, and demand weekly team meetings which caused high anxiety among team members.  You can imagine that the team was none too pleased with this mother. After all, no one wants to feel bossed around or to have their professionalism questioned, and some of the things she was insisting upon were unheard of in our program.  There was a mutual lack of trust between the parent and the team, and the immediate reaction on both sides was to dig in their heels and defend their position.  Little compromise was achieved;  tensions grew.

Always much more comfortable being proactive rather than reactive, I took a critical look at what we were doing and read over the notes I had taken of the mother’s demands in the last meeting.  Away from the emotionality of the meeting, reading these notes made me much more open to ideas.  I started researching Environmental Communication Teaching with its task analysis and the new view that Every Move Counts.  I became a fan of Linda Burkhart and her simple assistive technology.  I took training in PECS.  Through reading, workshops, and videos, plus networking with special education teachers and SLPs in other programs who were already implementing new teaching strategies and equipment, I was convinced that we could develop an exemplary educational program in what was already a very warm and supportive classroom with a team that got along very well.

Very long story short, the team joined me in actively pursuing professional development, and we worked together — one piece at a time with support from administration — to build a program that incorporated clearly defined and measurable goals, integrated therapy, assistive technology, visual supports, Standards- and IEP-based task analysis and use of a consistent prompt hierarchy, data collection and videotaping for progress monitoring, and regular team meetings for curriculum planning, review of data, and sharing of observations. (All of this seems so obvious and commonplace now, but remember this happened years ago).  The result was so positive that our classroom became the model for the larger program in the county.  Both students and staff grew that year, and that growth has continued because the team, encouraged by the success of implementing the first new ideas, remains open-minded and forward-thinking.  The mother became a partner, rather than an adversary, and strong bonds were formed among all team members that continue to this day.

Very often, we would label a mother like this as “difficult,” and there were times when that would have been an understatement.  But I prefer to think of such parents as “challenging,” not in the sense that they are hard to deal with, but that their questions and demands challenge us to honestly assess what we are doing (or not doing) and to make improvements where needed and possible.  Sometimes, that challenge can be all we need to keep us growing as SLPs.

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!