What are the biggest challenges SLPs face in schools

Aug 21, 2016 by

What are the biggest challenges SLPs face in schools

About a week ago I asked school SLPs this question on Facebook, “What is the biggest challenge you face working in schools?” I received over 60 responses. With 30 years under my belt, I was pretty sure what the responses would be but I wanted to hear from others.

Paperwork was the biggest challenge hands down. I know my paperwork requirements have increased significantly in 30 years. The advent of the computer just increased the amount of paperwork, but helped us to do it faster. That’s just a change in society that we can’t do anything about. Imagine how long it would take us to do all our paperwork tasks by hand these days. However, the time given to me to do paperwork within the school day has shrunk as my caseload numbers have grown. Reality is we have different paperwork needs than teachers. Many of the documents that we produce have legal ramifications and must be done correctly. We have a much better chance of our documents, notes and assessments ending up in court at some point. So you would think that schools would give us significant blocks of time to organize thoughts and string coherent sentences together. What we need to do is to make those differences known and advocate for more paperwork time. It’s a little hard when your contract is basically a teacher contract not a SLP contract. Even if you are able to get your principal or other school administrators on board understanding the need, based on a contract you are only eligible for as much paperwork/prep time that teachers get.

What can be done:
Point out that you are sacrificing other support services such as classroom consult and homework in lieu of getting paperwork done.
Limit the time you spend working on paperwork at home.
Showing up not totally prepared will be an awful feeling but sometime necessary to make the point.
Say, “No I can’t do that,” when given a new paperwork task.
Keep track of paperwork and present data

Caseload
Caseload came in a close second. Caseloads are too big and too diverse. Schedules are too tight, groups are too big, groups are not matched well. We need to stop talking even to each other about caseload numbers. Caseload is just a number. What we need to do is to start emphasizing WORKLOAD. Workload will include paperwork and any other tasks that you do on a regular or as needed basis. I could treat 30 articulation students in my sleep. However, given a diverse caseload with a few severe needs thrown and you have a totally different ballgame. Longer reports, more meetings, more consultation time….more everything.

What can be done:
Again say ”No,” tell administration there is no way this workload can be completed within the specific time frame.(especially if you work part time)
Point out there isn’t enough time
Ask for more help
Point out that specialized instruction requires time and practice. Give them the realities of therapy. If you have a group of 3, working on 3 different areas, that’s only 10 minutes per student once or twice a week. That 10 minutes is only good if you haven’t been cut short by your pick up/drop off. Not enough to make effective progress.

Scheduling
Scheduling came in third. So much of the scheduling process is dependent on a decent and consistent school schedule. For 10 of my 30 years I worked at a middle school with a perfect schedule which scheduled in flexible blocks where students could receive extra support services. No other school I’ve worked in had those flexible blocks. There was only one other year where scheduling wasn’t a problem. Our program manager was very organized and had us schedule as a team one of the last days in June. She was also organized enough to have the majority of our meeting completed in early June. (yes it was an amazing year). We actually started servicing the student the second day of school in September. Although I have tried to replicate that scheduling process at other schools, I just can’t seem to get the team mentality working. State audits will ding you if there is too much time between the beginning of school and services starting on a regular basis.

What you can do:
Get the school schedule and any other information you need the minute you get in the building
If scheduling is too daunting, ask your principal to do it for you. Especially if your school has some sort of crazy waterfall schedule, an unusual day cycle or block scheduling. Make sure you use the word
Try to coordinate and schedule as a team. It streamlines the process and gets the schedule up and moving faster
Write in pencil, it’s always going to change
Expect this to be a difficult process.
Suggest a school schedule with flexible blocks
Point out anything that takes up significant time even pick up/drop off of kids.

Other areas mentioned:
Time: Not enough time to service, not enough time to consult, not enough time to educate staff not enough time to complete paperwork tasks.
IEP Season: Not sure what exactly that means but I have an idea it means all the IEPs are updated at the same time. If your IEPs are not scattered through out the year, I’ll be praying for you. I wonder if direct services cancelled during IEP Season?
No coordination to help carry over skills: This stems from lack of time, lack of understanding of our roles and lack of understanding of language disabilities.
Space: Face it we are always doomed to get the smallest, dingiest spaces, with the worse acoustics. However, what’s worse is an SLP sharing an office with 4 other people with make shift walls. Space alone speaks volumes on how we are perceived. Whenever I’m linked to a new school being built either in the town I work in or the town I live in I alway advocate for decent small spaces with good acoustics.
Medicaid: Medicaid billing is easy for some hard for others. Different states require different documentation. Some schools will have more students on medicaid than others. What I have heard of is putting time into the negotiated teachers contract to provide specific time to do this.
Lack of Parent support: It’s a fact few students actually practice their speech/language skills at home even when extensive home programs are set up. I’ve encouraged use of paper materials and apps with little to no feedback. Students actually tell me they didn’t practice.  Frankly I have little time to encourage and follow up with this.

School administration not understanding who SLPs are, our diverse training and background, how we help, who we work with and our role as SLPs in schools: Too many time we are lumped in with teachers and our role is very different. My feeling is we should be working to show how we should be align with the school psychologist in terms of our overlapping interest in language/memory/neurology, our legal responsibilities, paperwork similarities and common goals we might address. That we are viewed in the same lens as teachers, I believe is the crux of the problem.

One SLP commented that even with educating several of her administrators over the years, there was never any significant changes. I believe this to be true and that is why most SLPs are just willing to go along with the status quo. It’s easy to say I have too much paperwork and to big of a caseload but problem/reasons goes much deeper than that? Why are workloads too big? Have you done anything successfully to address these issues in your school? Have you worked with other SLPs in your system or state to improve your situation? If so, share!

Footnote: I cover many of the issues mentioned in my book “The School Speech Language Pathologist  An Administrator’s Guide to understanding the role of the SLP in schools along with strategies to aid staffing, workload management and student success.” I provide a breakdown of time factors, suggestions for administrators and even a little education for administrators. Hoping at some point I find out that my book made a difference somewhere.
Teresa

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2 Comments

  1. I’ve had “IEP Seasons” before. We paired up with another SLP (at that time we could sign as LEA) and canceled therapy for a week. I think that school system stopped doing that shortly after I left.
    Another tip for paperwork: get ahead and stay ahead! I try to do my paperwork a week ahead of time; that way I’m not scrambling at the last minute, thus not feeling unprepared.
    Good post! 🙂

    • Teresa Sadowski MA/SLP-ccc

      Thank you for taking the time to respond with a nice positive comment. The reason you IEP season was discontinued is because technically it is illegal to cancel therapy, even to get paperwork done. If school is in session, the student should receive services. With that said, lots of things go on in the school day that might keep a student from being seen. Most parents and administrators recognize that and understand. If it happens too often then you have a problem. You’re not going to pull a student if there is a special one time program going on. Maybe there schedule would be flexible for make up and maybe not. My biggest problem is that once test prep and/or testing begins the students are often unavailable. I don’t feel like being the person who opens that can of worms

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