How to Prepare for Back to School

Top 8 Tips for SLPs on How to Prepare for a New School Year

Today, I'd like to show you how I prepare for the beginning of every school year.

Now, I am usually a firm believer in leaving work AT work, and making sure to set reasonable boundaries and limits for yourself.  However, I have found if I do some things on this list before the school year officially starts, or put in a few extra hours the first week of school, I can save myself a lot of stress and aggravation later on in the school year.

So what do I do?

1)  Figure out and update my caseload list.  (Start a computerized list.)

Now, for me, this is fairly easy, since I am going into my fourth year in my current position.  At the end of the year, I update my list, marking which students I know are moving, which ones might be moving, and updating the students' grade levels.  At the beginning of the year, I check with our school secretaries to see which students are still in attendance, and to see if we received any new speech-language students that transferred in to our district.  (We still get records into the second month of school, so I make a mental note to check in with the office every week or so with the secretaries.)  I also find out which students have which teachers.

If you are new to your position, or if it is one with a lot of student turnover, this may be a more challenging task, and it may be something that you have to keep working on as you get information.  Get whatever system you like set up at the beginning of the year, and add students as needed.

I use a table in Excel for this.  I prefer to sort my students by annual review date, so I can quickly see at a glance what meetings I will need to schedule soon.

2)  Make a master student binder.  (Need copies of attendance forms, IEP goals, binder dividers, etc.)

This is where I keep my student's goal sheets (which I print out from our computerized IEP system), their attendance forms, progress monitoring data sheets, and anything else relevant.  I use a 3" binder, and use tabbed dividers to separate my students by grade.  (If you are still figuring out who will be on your caseload, print extras of the blank forms for more students, and fill them in as you go.)

(You can find my attendance form freebie here!)

I know other SLPs use different systems for this, but this is what works for me!  I keep this binder on my desk, and try to set aside time every week to update my binder.  (Some years are more successful than others with keeping up with this...)

3)  Scheduling

Ugh.  Scheduling!  This is my least favorite part of back to school.  What I do is send an email to each teacher, listing the students I see from their class, how much time I need, and possible groupings of students, and then ask each teacher to give me at least 3 possible time slots for these students.  It takes some time to get responses back, figure out the specials schedule (which always seems to change at least 3-4 times), and consult with all of my special ed teachers.  I try to send the requests to teachers out early, so I have at least a week to start figuring it out.

For me, I have found a combination of post-it notes and my big white board to be the most helpful when scheduling.  I assign each grade level a different color post-it note, and write students and potential time slots on each one.  I move them around until I have a schedule that at least sort of works, then email the teachers to double check - which usually results in at least 3-4 more adjustments.

Don't forget to schedule some time for testing (if that is part of your job)!  I try to save a two hour block sometime in my schedule (often Friday mornings) to have enough time to complete evaluations.

When it's finished, I make each classroom teacher a schedule for their students, using the forms from my Handy Editable Forms for SLPs.  (There are also some great forms to inform teachers of goals, accommodations, and modifications in this packet, too!)

for scheduling, accommodations, attendance forms for school speech-language pathologists

Note:  If you have more than one site to schedule, take time to figure out what days/times work for your most restrictive site, and work backwards from there.  For example, when I have students at our junior high (none this year, so far), I can only see them during study hall.  Last year, Fridays worked out best to be gone during this time (which is around the lunch period), so I scheduled those students first, then blocked out that time on my schedule for my grade school teachers.

When I travelled between ten parochial schools in a week, I had to figure out what times wouldn't work at each school.  For example, each of my three Catholic schools had Mass at a different time each week, so I avoided going there during that morning or afternoon.  Another one of my schools was on a four day per week schedule, so I couldn't go there on Mondays.  At another school, there was a tutor that came on Tuesdays/Thursdays and used the only space available, so I had to be there on different days if I wanted a room to use.

4)  Make copies of Teacher/Parent Explanation Handouts.

I make copies of these for my students' teachers and parents, to help explain why I do what I do, and why speech-language therapy is so important!  I make one small packet for each student's parents to be sent home at the beginning of the year, along with a note about what days/times I will be seeing their student, and a bigger packet for each teacher, with notes on which students have which disorders.

5)  Make copies of screening forms and schedule times to screen (if needed).

Since I'm the only SLP employed by my district, I take care of all student speech-language screenings.  I screen any students that teachers or parents request.

6) Make student folders and reward charts.

This is something I tend to do as a break in between other tasks, since it doesn't involve a lot of brain power!  I usually buy a green folder for each one of my students as their homework folder.  I take the time to write their names on it, and put a sticker with my contact information on the inside.  Also, I have laminated reward charts in my room, so I wipe off all of last year's students and write the names of this year's students.

7)  Set up weekly data sheet.

Once I have my schedule fairly well set up, I go ahead and enter the students into their time slot with their goals into my (free!) editable weekly data sheet.  I print a new copy for each week, and this is how I stay organized!  I have space to briefly write what the therapy target is for each session and how each student did.  I store previous weeks' data sheets in my master student binder.

Free weekly data sheets for SLPs

8)  Make copies of progress monitoring sheets, homework, and goal display pages.

When I know what students I have, I go ahead and make copies of appropriate progress monitoring sheets to keep in my master binder.

I also make copies of homework pages for my most common goals for the next month, and sort them into drawers in my rolling drawer cabinet seen to the right of my table here:


If you are new in a placement or school, I would definitely add the following items to your to-do list:

1)  Find out where everything is!  Check out your space to use, find the copier, figure out where the teacher's lounge is, where files are stored, what tests you have to use, that sort of thing.  (Sometimes buildings will even have a map - make a copy and write down which teachers are in which room.)  It will definitely help if you can find your way around on the first day!

2)  Go out of your way to meet the secretary, janitors, and other staff members.  They know how the school works, and can help with many of your questions.

Would you add anything to my list?


  1. I just shared this post with my CFs and first year mentees. Thanks for the great advice Natalie!

  2. Excellent blog, sharing with my graduating clinicians. I picked up some great hints too although I have been doing this for 35 years! Every September feels like a New Year complete with resolutions. I will resolve to be more organized!

  3. As a CF starting in the schools this year, this list (and the resources) will be very helpful! Thanks, Natalie!

  4. What do you include in the smaller packet that you send to parents? (Or maybe the better question is what do you NOT include for that parents, that you give to the teachers)? THANKS!

    1. The teachers get all of the info related to students in their class (so they might get the pages about articulation, language, and stuttering, along with each students' general goals and accomodations), while the parents only get info about their child. I hope that makes sense! :)

    2. I forgot to mention the forms I use for scheduling and accomodations here:

    3. Yes - that makes perfect sense. Thank you!!

  5. I use post its too! But I use a file folder. I put in the days on top. Times on the side and then laminate it. Put the kids names and groups on the post its. I usually go to my teachers. This year is going to be tough because my third grade teachers are now departmentalizing. So scheduling is going to be harder. I love your forms and my goal is to get more organized this year. Thanks, Your ideas are so good.


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