It’s no secret that school-based SLPs can experience serious burnout. Growing caseloads, treating students with complex needs, a seemingly unending amount of paperwork, plus a possible lack of appreciation or understanding of our role are just some factors contributing to this issue. We may not be able to control all of these contributors to feeling overwhelmed, but we can do some things to improve our professional situation.
As we head into summer, let’s consider how we can make next school year our best yet.
Take care of yourself
As SLPs working in schools, we often feel like we’re on an island. Here are some things we can do to feel like we’re a member of a tribe rather than the sole survivor:
- Team with other SLPs in your district—Invite them to meet for lunch periodically or seek out professional development opportunities together.
- Get involved in your state organization—You’ll be better informed about larger issues in the field and can make helpful connections.
- Develop a book study or lunch group with your special education colleagues—School-based occupational therapists, physical therapists, social workers and psychologists likely face some of the same issues and could be valuable sounding boards.
- Integrate services into classroom—Not only will teachers better understand our work, but it also can help us feel less isolated.
- Join a professional learning community—These can be great avenues for problem-solving.
- Practice mindfulness—The daily challenges of our job can be overwhelming at times, but some moments of mindfulness can help us recharge and reset.
Reaching out to teachers and administrators
While SLPs may find it frustrating to still hear so many misconceptions about our work from teachers and administrators, lamenting it won’t make much of a difference. Here are some ways we can help facilitate better understanding by our colleagues and supervisors:
- Offer yourself as a resource—Sure, it’s one more thing to do. However, you can make a positive contribution and foster better understanding and appreciation by offering yourself as a resource on issues facing your school community, such as bullying, self-esteem and social skills, for example.
- Ask to present at a staff meeting—Consider what you want teachers and administrators to know about what you do and why it’s important, then schedule a time to educate your colleagues.
- Advocate for collaboration—Ask—and continue to ask!—administrators for formal and informal opportunities to collaborate with teachers and others throughout the school year. One of my principals hired a floating substitute teacher each quarter, so all general education teachers could meet with the special education team for additional collaboration opportunities.
- Advocate for professional development—Remind administrators of the importance of mentoring programs and other professional development opportunities. Attending a conference with other school-based SLPs is rejuvenating!
Engage parent groups
Parent support groups often celebrate classroom teachers and other professionals during national appreciation weeks or days. Sometimes specialists like SLPs, who perhaps serve more than one school, go unacknowledged. Making overtures to the parent community can help. These ideas worked for me:
- Join the PTA—Become part of the community yourself, meet people and get a better understanding of their issues and concerns.
- Give a presentation—Our expertise encompasses a variety of issues, and PTAs will likely welcome a visit to explain what you do. You can offer a general description of all the different areas you treat, or tie the talk to a specific disorder. Discuss autism during Autism Awareness Month in April, for example, or how to prepare children for reading and writing, typical communication development, bullying and more. Make it easy on yourself by using one of ASHA’s ready-made presentations at the bottom of the Schools resources page!
- Consider easy ways you can contribute—For example, is the PTA hosting a silent auction? Can you offer a lunchtime board game party in your office one afternoon as an auction item? Or an ice cream party?
- Send information home—The beginning of the year and May Is Better Hearing & Speech Month are excellent times to send something home in school folders. Create homework tips or other helpful information for parents. This helps remind parents of your presence in the school—or introduces you to them for the first time—and creates a positive impression.
While our days are already hectic, taking some of these steps may reap professional benefits and help you feel more fulfilled in your job. What are some ways you help prevent burnout and build bridges in your school communities? Please share in the comments section below.
Stacey Ellison Glasgow, MA, CCC- SLP, is associate director of ASHA’s school services in speech-language pathology. firstname.lastname@example.org