I feel like the summers get shorter and shorter every year and I can’t believe it is back to school already. You know what that means for us clinicians….trying to schedule all your students for therapy! This can be a challenging and often time consuming task at the beginning of the school year. However, if you can make a master schedule and stick to it for the most part (I know students get sick, school field trips, unexpected meetings, etc) then it makes your life and your teachers run a little smoother. For me, it is easier to plan therapy sessions, create data sheets, schedule meetings, and complete paper work when you have a set schedule and have a general idea of what is going to happen each day. In my district we have team days in which we try to schedule most of our IEP meetings so I try and not have a lot of therapy sessions on those days. I use those days for testing and paperwork when I don’t have meetings. Then I try make my other days full of therapy so I’m not constantly rescheduling because of meetings. Here are some strategies I use when working on my master schedule.
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 creative in 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 the students receive services outside of the classroom. 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. If you provide some of their services in the classroom you can work with a small group of students within the classroom setting perhaps during centers or a time when you and the teacher co-teach.
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. I do occasionally provide some whole class or larger group instruction which I find beneficial for all the students in the group but when targeting specific goals I have found my students make more progress in those smaller group settings. It allows more trial opportunities and allows me to analyze how the student is producing a sound, understanding a language concept, using an AAC device, etc. 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 some of my groups in 45 minutes sessions which is not always possible but works well for students with multiple goals or more intense speech/language concerns. 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 a high amount of paperwork that week then I try to do it when I had a 45 minute group session so 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 advance or 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. I do have a few students or groups of students who are very schedule oriented and change is difficult for them so I really try and not miss those sessions if I know it will upset or disrupt the student’s day because of unexpected change.
Probably one of my biggest pieces of advice is communicate with the teachers about the schedule. Even though I have the school master schedule so I know when the students’ lunch, gym, art, reading, and other classes the students can’t miss are I do not schedule without the teacher input. 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 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 his/her classroom. I let the teacher know I have to check with the other teachers in the building before I set my 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. Plus it allows to establish that open communication and for the teacher to know who you are, what students you are providing serves to, what the students’ goals are, and how you can support the teacher during the school year. I also find it helpful to schedule the older grades first because those teacher have less flexibility in their schedules and more required classes for the students. Usually kindergarten and 1st grade have more flexibility when to pull students out of the classroom or provide services in the classroom due to the structure of the class at that grade. There often is more center time and small group learning in the younger grades.
I use to be guilty of this….not scheduling time within the school day to consult with teachers or complete paperwork. I use to feel bad if I sat at my desk and did paperwork like I should be seeing student. The fact is we have a lot of required paperwork and with busy personal lives I can’t do all my paperwork outside of school hours. I know we all do work before and after school but scheduling sometime within the week to do paperwork and lesson plans is important. Like I mentioned before I try to schedule the majority of my therapy sessions on those non-team days (days in which we try and not schedule IEP meetings). Then our team days when we can have IEP meetings I try and leave open for testing and paperwork time. There are weeks when I have fewer IEPs so I try and take advantage those weeks of less meetings and work ahead on IEPs, progress notes, lesson plans, etc.
Scheduling consult time with teachers is often challenging too. What I have found works is to try and schedule a working lunch with some of my teachers especially my special education teachers who I work with all of their students and some of those students have AAC devices. Maybe 1-2 lunches a week are working lunches and you have a different rotation with teachers who you have more intense needs or you work with many of their students. For my articulation students I try and just touch base with my teachers once a month for just a few minutes. Usually a non-verbal student with significant language needs will require more consult time with the teacher then a student receiving speech services for a frontal lisp. It is still important we consult with the teachers in both cases and make sure they are aware of the students’ speech-language goals and their needs.
Good Luck Scheduling!