Summer is coming to an end for some of us and it’s time to start thinking about getting ready for the upcoming school year. I think one of the biggest challenges we face as clinicians is making a schedule. Having multiple schools, high caseloads, and providing services to students with significantly varying needs; scheduling can be very difficult. I find I spend a lot of time at the beginning of the school year getting my schedule set even though you will continue to make small changes throughout the school year, it so important to set up a schedule.
If you have multiple schools the first step is to figure out what days you are at each school before you can even begin to schedule with teachers. I ask the principal or assistance principal at each school for a master schedule so I can refer to it when I begin to work on scheduling and use it when I go talk to teachers about an appropriate time to take the students for therapy. I don’t take my student out of specials (art, gym, music, library, etc.) or their reading and math instruction time. There are reading and math center times which have worked for me to provide services in the classroom or pull out the student for therapy services.
Ideally, I would group my students together by his/her goals; however, that is not always possible and I often tend to group students by classroom and grade. For example if I have 2 students in the same class I tend to group them together unless their needs are significantly different. If one student has an articulation goal and the other student has a language goal I can be create my lesson plans and work with both students together because it is easier for the teacher to find one time slot for the students to leave class together. If I have 4 or 5 students in a classroom, then I look at the goals and group 2 students together and the other 2-3 students together based on goals.
I try to keep group sizes to 2-3 students because most importantly it allows you as the therapist to provide more intense direct support. The other benefit of a small group size is if I add another student during the school year in that classroom to my caseload, I can easily add the student into the group without have to find an additional time slot in my schedule which is almost impossible come January.
I try and schedule a majority of my groups in 45 minute sessions. Sometimes it is too difficult to make my preschool sessions 45 minutes due to the students’ attention spans and shorter school day but I try and schedule my other students with longer sessions. In my district we provide monthly services so it often works out better to have 45 minute sessions and then if I need to miss a session to test or due to an IEP meeting I’m not constantly rescheduling groups. I make sure I explain to the teachers the minutes the students need and then how I am supporting the student. For example if a student gets 30 minutes a week that is 120 minutes per month. I explain to the teacher I’m scheduling a 45 minute time slot and will only need to pull the student 3 times during the month to meet the minutes as listed on the IEP. If the student is absent, there is a school field trip, class event, or I need to test a student and there is not another time; having that flexibility in my schedule is very helpful. I try and let the teacher know in the morning if I will not be getting the students in his/her class that day just to be respectful of their schedule; as well as, mine. I don’t want the teacher to think if I don’t pick up the students during the scheduled time slot that I am not providing the minutes listed on the students’ IEPs. I’m a big advocate for communicating with the teachers. I find it respectful to both sides because we are all busy and have requirements for our students so it is not fair to a teacher to not keep on a schedule or not let them know in advance of changes.
Probably one of my biggest pieces of advice is communicate with the teachers about the schedule. I go around to all my teachers at the beginning of the year and have the teacher provide 2-3 time slots which may work for their students. I let the teacher know I have to check with the other teachers in the building before I set my master schedule. Yes this is a lot of work but in the long run you will establish better rapport and relationships with the teachers if you include them in the scheduling. I find it helpful to schedule the older grades first because those teacher have less flexibility in their schedules. Usually kindergarten and 1st grade are more flexible in when to pull students out of the classroom or provide service in the classroom due to the structure of the class at that grade. There often is more center time and small group learning. Even if you have the school master schedule it is so critical you communicate directly with the teacher to schedule the therapy times for their students because they might make some minor changes to the master schedule and a time you think is appropriate to provide therapy may be a time the teacher is doing something important in her classroom. Plus it allows to establish that open communication and for the teacher to know who you are, what students you are providing serves to, and how you can support the teacher during the school year. Don’t forget to set up some collaboration time especially in those special education classroom which you provide services to all the students and may have different AAC systems in those classrooms. I try to leave that lunch time slot for collaboration with teachers.
Here is a sample of my daily therapy schedule. It does change throughout the school year; however, it helps me to list the students, the goals, and the activity so I can remember what I do week to week.