Monday, October 21, 2013

How to Be A Highly Mobile SLP and Stay Organized

As some of you may know, I am expecting my first baby (It's a BOY!) and will be taking some time off from work and blogging before and after his arrival. During that time, there will be several guest bloggers/SLPs that will be featured on my blog. I am so excited to share all of the amazing, informative posts they have come up with. I can not thank them all enough for taking the time to write these posts! Just another one of the many reasons I love being part of the SLP world. I hope you all enjoy reading everything over the next several weeks. Please feel free to leave comments and post questions.
The next guest post is written by Natalie Snyders! Enjoy!

For my first three years as an SLP, I was assigned to work for a special education co-op an hour away from my home.  My assignment was to provide services to all parochial school students in two counties, so I ended up travelling to 10 schools in a week, with my office in another building.  Needless to say, this required some serious organization skills!  I wanted to share with you some of the tips and ideas that helped me through those years.
One thing that helped me considerably was to leave a small box of materials at each school.  For some schools, this was a school supply box, while at others (where I had more students) I used larger plastic tubs.  I worked primarily with elementary students, although I had a few preschoolers and middle-schoolers as well.  Some of my must-haves included:
Small Box
Hand sanitizer
Kleenex (travel pack)
Box of crayons
Index cards
Glue stick
Finger puppets
Play-doh (mini tub)
Small reward chart with all the student’s names on it (I kept track of homework, attendance, etc. and gave small prizes after ten stars.  This often was as simple as a blank index card where I drew the stars on with a pen.)

Large Box Additions
Small stuffed animal(s)
Small clip-on basketball hoop and ball
Extra office supplies (pens, rubber bands, tape, binder clips, etc.)
Deck of playing cards 
Bouncy ball

For the things I carried around with me every day, I used a large tote bag.  (I tried a rolling cart when I began, but the problem was most of my schools were older and had steps instead of ramps to get into the building, and at several schools I had to work on the second floor.  If you don’t have this problem, I would definitely suggest a rolling cart!)  These essentials included my clipboard, binder with all of my caseload information, homework binder, small travel games (Connect-4, Uno, and Hi-Ho Cherry-O being three of my favorites), stopwatch/counter, and a small bag of prizes.  I also carried around my own little stimulus books for different target areas that eventually inspired Super Duper’s Take Along series.  (Trust me, their version is a lot prettier than mine!  And they expanded my idea so there are even more areas than I created originally – mine was primarily articulation and basic language skills.)  I got an iPad in my second or third year, and this was a huge lifesaver!  I didn’t have to carry around as many materials or games, and made life much easier.
I was fortunate enough to have a “home base” that had a desk, computer, and small amount of storage.  I was able to arrange my schedule that I could be there every day around lunch time, along with one afternoon per week.   This was where I kept track of data, wrote reports, made phone calls, and planned for upcoming therapy sessions.  I also kept many of my books here, so I was able to switch out materials from my homework binder as needed (usually about once a month).

One major thing I had to get used to as a highly mobile SLP was I had to learn to be very flexible.  I used whatever space was available at the time I was at the school – this covered a wide range of spaces including an art room, library, and storage closet – not to mention the hallway when I got desperate!  Since I only visited each school once per week, sometimes the teachers would forget that I was there, and schedule tests and other important class events for the times I was scheduled to take their students.  I learned to rearrange my schedule on the fly as needed.  Sometimes as I drove across town I would run into trains that blocked the road for twenty minutes at a time, which meant I didn’t have time to prep anything when I got to a school, and I had to be ready to go the minute I stepped into the school building.
Since I spent so much time in my car every day, keeping it organized was a must!  I bought several storage crates to keep in the backseat and trunk to store materials that I would use occasionally, so I could just grab them and go.  Because this got messy after a while, I tried to reorganize my car about every month or so to make sure things went back in the right bin, and to switch materials out that I wasn’t using as much.  I kept several empty reusable shopping bags within easy reach in case I wanted to grab a couple of materials for the next school, but didn’t have room in my tote bag for.

            A few other random pieces of advice for travelling SLPs:  Don’t store crayons in your car.  They will melt.  When they melt, they will make a huge mess!  Also, invest in serious weather gear.  When you tromp across huge parking lots and in between buildings most of the day, you will want a good raincoat, umbrella, heavy winter coat, and snow boots.
Being a travelling SLP does have some disadvantages, but it is definitely doable!  The experiences I had in my three years of being highly mobile have definitely made me a better SLP for the years to come.

By Natalie Snyders, MS, CCC-SLP

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