If you’re a clinician working in a school setting, you know it’s important to prepare yourself for the back-to-school season. Our Head of Clinical Standards and Outreach, Kristin Martinez, CCC-SLP, provides tips on teletherapy organization and time management as we embark on the FY19–FY20 school year:
How do you set yourself up for success with time management and organization in teletherapy?
Whether you are located onsite or virtual, the school-based SLP’s primary role and responsibility is maintaining compliance for all students on his/her caseload. Maintaining compliance includes provision of direct therapy and consultation according to each IEP’s service delivery statement, reporting progress as outlined in the IEP, and, of course, ensuring that all annual and triennial review meetings and associated reevaluations are completed according to all due dates. As such, the first step in managing and organizing our time is driven directly by the IEP requirements for the students on our caseload.
As an onsite SLP, my first one to two weeks of each school year was spent in a mad scheduling frenzy between buildings, meetings with teachers and other related service providers in order to come up with a therapy schedule that doesn’t interfere with students’ specials time, lunch, recess and core instruction, while allowing for other specialists who might also require time with each student. And of course, onsite SLPs frequently have the required travel time between district sites to build into weekly schedules. Happily, working as a teletherapist removes this scheduling complication entirely!
As an SLP starting out in the schools, I lived by my planner (yes, paper planner) and Excel spreadsheets. I started every year by adding all my students’ IEP due dates, whether reevaluation was required, and then I added meetings once they were scheduled. My Excel spreadsheet included all students on my caseload, their direct therapy or consult minutes, annual or triennial due dates, goal areas, grade level, and any other details pertinent to managing my caseload at a high level. Pretty standard practice.
When I made the transition to teletherapy six years ago, I also started the transition not only away from paper-based therapy planning and data tracking, but also away from my beloved spiral planners. While I was never able to entirely give up my spreadsheets for caseload management, I did move all therapy scheduling over to the PresenceLearning virtual therapy platform, where I am able to overlay my Google calendar that includes all IEP due dates. The ability to use Google calendar in conjunction with my virtual therapy platform to create schedules, set automatic reminders, create meetings and invite other participants transformed the ease with which I organize and maintain IEP compliance for all students on my caseload!
Is your time management strategy different as a teletherapist compared with your years as an onsite SLP?
There are a few key differences between what time management looked like for me as an onsite SLP and then later as a teletherapist. The most obvious difference is that with teletherapy, I completely (and thankfully) cut out all travel time, both to and from work as well as between sites. As a mom of three, this alone had a huge impact on my work-life balance since I no longer had to get myself and everyone else up at the crack of dawn to ensure that all of us were fed, dressed, lunches packed and out the door early enough so that I could get to my first before-school IEP meeting 45 minutes from my home. I not only had more breathing room in the morning and after school with my family, but I was also able to more quickly transition to prepping for my students each day as I didn’t have to factor in the commute.
While teletherapy brings some scheduling relief with the elimination of travel time, it can also bring some interesting new organizational challenges! Because of the ability of SLPs to cross-license into other states, a teletherapist might not only be working in multiple school districts at the same time, but potentially in multiple states (and even time zones)! This definitely requires the teletherapist to maintain a high level of organization not only at the start of the school year in terms of caseload planning and schedule management, but throughout the year as meetings and evaluations must be scheduled across sites and districts. Again, the virtual therapy schedule in conjunction with a web-based calendar (including those all-important auto reminders!) are essential tools of the teletherapy trade.
With the potential time zone difference that can exist between where the teletherapist is living and where he/she is providing therapy, it is imperative that availability for before-and after-school meetings be considered. For instance, a teletherapist living in Florida but serving students in Arizona might need to be available as late as 8:00pm EST if IEP meetings need to be scheduled after school. While this might be perfect for some individuals who prefer to work later in the day and have mornings free, this could be an issue for an SLP who needs to be done with work every day by 5:00pm. Teletherapy brings new options and some tremendous scheduling freedom but as is true of any school-based SLP position, the full scope of serving students must be factored in when deciding whether to accept an assignment.
What is one piece of advice you wish someone would have told you when you first became a teletherapist?
In terms of my organization and time management, I wish that someone had emphasized the importance of building “movement” breaks into my therapy schedule. Before transitioning to teletherapy, I took for granted how much I moved each day working as an onsite SLP: I was walking up and down halls multiple times a day bringing students to and from therapy, getting down on the floor with my preschoolers, and joining some of my students on the playground at recess to work on social communication goals. My first year of teletherapy (particularly as I quickly realized how much I loved it!), I ended up packing my week with four to six hour stretches of back-to-back therapy, because of course I didn’t have to travel! The students just came to me! Big mistake. By the end of the year, I was experiencing the kind of back and neck pain that can only come from sitting hours at a time without standing, stretching or walking. Lesson learned. As I started my second year as a teletherapist, I made sure to build in 15-30 minute breaks a few times a day, and I tried to avoid more than three hours of back-to-back sessions.
What do you do to prepare yourself for the back-to-school season?
Beyond the required caseload organization and scheduling, there are a few other preparatory activities that will help every teletherapist get off to a great start.
- Introductions: Particularly given the fact that teletherapists are not physically in the building where we serve students, and likely have not been invited to those start-of-year staff meetings, it’s even more important to introduce yourself to principals, teachers, and other special education team members. An emailed letter (with photo!) is a great way to help your new colleagues learn about who you are, where you’ve worked before, when you will be providing therapy in their building, and how to get in touch with you.
- Learn building processes: Before those IEP meetings start coming (which can be the first week of school!), reach out to each school’s case managers, SPED department chairs, and principals to find out how you can best integrate into their established processes for communicating with each other, scheduling IEP meetings and collaborating. Are there monthly department meetings you can join? Will you be supporting the RtI/MTSS process? Is there a site coordinator who schedules all IEP meetings, or does each case manager schedule his/her own? Don’t wait for those individuals to connect with you; take the initiative and make sure everyone knows to include you as their new team member!
- Connect with parents: When parents first learn that their child will be receiving speech-language services via teletherapy, it’s common that they may have questions or concerns. Reach out to your building’s principal to coordinate an introduction to your students’ parents. It might be that the principal has already notified parents of a switch to teletherapy, but maybe not. While your principal will likely welcome your effort to introduce yourself to parents and to provide contact information, you want to be sure to work with, not against, any communication plan already in place.
Are you considering making the switch to telepractice? Click here to start your application with PresenceLearning today!