I have always loved this time of year! I treat Back-to-school like a holiday just as worthy of celebration as all of my other favorites (like Halloween)! A fresh pack of post-it notes and new flair pens can make me one happy lady! While I am energized with the excitement of new office supplies, an organized calendar, and a new set of goals to accomplish I also recognize that it can be an exhausting and overwhelming time of year as we get to know new students, families, teammates, and changing procedures. One of my former student interns is starting her first job this school year. As I was sharing thoughts and advice with her, I starting reflecting on my journey as an SLP. What would I love to go back and tell myself 16 years ago? What is critical to how I operate now as a “seasoned” SLP? You know, the kind of advice that isn’t really skill specific to our job and is definitely not found in graduate school text books.
First, make sure you grow yourself a garden of marigolds. I read this amazing advice from Cult of Pedagogy which helps me frame my actions and thought process in a positive manner. She explains that in gardening, the marigold is an excellent companion plant to most plants and vegetables, protecting them from pests and harmful weeds that can otherwise takeover the space and nutrients. Quite the opposite is the walnut tree that can deplete nutrients and can be quite toxic. Her article is definitely worth reading and sharing with new and experienced teachers alike. She challenges new educators to seek out the marigolds that will help to find a solution instead of dwelling on the negative. I would challenge all of us (new and experienced) to present ourselves as marigolds and to recognize when the walnut seeds are dropping by our garden. A perfect example of this happened during my first staff meeting this year. I was assigned rotating morning duty of both carpool and cafeteria duty. I grumbled internally but made great efforts to smile in spite of having a not-so-desirable assignment. Knowing that the counselor was on cafeteria duty last year, I asked her about the role of this duty. Her response immediately triggered a positive response as she explained that she really liked the opportunity to check in with kids and give them a good start to the day. It also gave her a chance to look for patterns of eating and behavior that might clue her in to other issues or problems. She changed my outlook without even knowing I needed it. I kicked out the walnut seed that I was bringing into my own garden and decided that she was a marigold to keep near!
Make friends with the school librarian! No matter the IEP goal, my therapy is always very literacy based. My school librarian has been instrumental in helping me find literature and authors to connect to my units or goals. I can go to her with a child, grade level, or skill and she will pull books specific to the topic I am teaching that is leveled appropriately. Sometimes I know what I am looking for, but quite often I go to her for ideas. Her brain is like a card catalog and she knows exactly which shelf and corner of the library to find each book – amazing!
Develop a portfolio. This is actually something I started my first year because I was worried about how my performance evaluation would look when my administrators barely stepped in my room. If they weren’t observing the obvious, how would they ever know the behind the scenes work I completed as part of my role? After my first two years, I have been fortunate enough to have administrators who really care about knowing my job role. They have been appreciative of the portfolio and will reference it when they are writing my evaluation review. I’ve continued this portfolio process every year and have found it very helpful! Plus, it keeps me organized. And an organized me makes me very happy!
Take things on one step at a time. Don’t try to roll out new procedures all at once. If you have an idea for student folders, parent communication, reward systems, teacher feedback, co-teaching therapy techniques, etc…try it out with a small sample first. Figure out what works and what you would change then expand it to other groups. One approach will not fit all, so it is okay to have different methods in your toolbox.
Find your inspiration. What makes you giggle, inspires you, or helps to add a little pep to your step? I like to turn to music – anyone who looks at my playlist would probably be very confused because there is such a range of artistic styles! I have Broadway tunes, hip-hop, country, and everything in between. My very favorite song to pump me up before a stressful IEP meeting or a chaotic day is Alicia Keys’ “This Girl is on Fire”. I also like humor to recenter my focus. Jimmy Fallon is my go-to when I need a little laugh. He helps me remember to laugh at myself every once in a while and not be so hard on myself! With my students, I use quotes from books, favorite characters, and video clips to keep an inspired outlook. One of my favorite sources is Kid President. With a tagline like “Don’t be in a party. Be the party!”, he’s certainly got my vote! When I learned a little more about the obstacles he has overcome in life, his positive outlook inspired me even more!
This is certainly not an all-inclusive list! What lessons have you learned over time? I hope you have a great school year…let’s make the world awesome!