As I see all the adorable pictures of therapy spaces come across my Facebook and Instagram feeds at this time of year, I'm reminded of how thankful I am to finally have a space of my own, but also how thankful I am for the lessons I learned as a traveling SLP!
Let me take a moment and back up. My first job fresh out of grad school was a newly created position with a nearby special education co-op. I was assigned to cover all of the private and parochial schools in the two counties covered by the co-op. This turned out to be traveling between 10 schools per week, all but one of which were an hour from my home. (One was only a half hour away, so I got a little extra sleep on those mornings!) I spent three years in this position before finding a job closer to home.
In hindsight, it does seem a little crazy, but I made it work for me! I really enjoyed the students and disorders I got to work with, and ended up staying in that position for three years.
So, what did I learn?
1. Stay organized!
- This is VERY important when you have to travel to multiple sites!
- Figure out what bag/bin/crate system works for your trunk. As you can see, I had a combination of bags, crates, and even a laundry basket! (These days, I would definitely look into some of the large Thirty One organizing totes.) Organize your most used materials so you can find them quickly. I used the laundry basket for binders and books, and the smaller crates for stimulus cards, toys, and games. I then had two or three empty tote bags that I could fill for a particular school/week, and quickly trade materials in and out when I got to another site.
|My cats were very helpful in testing new crates.|
- A rolling crate or small suitcase may work for you, but make sure to visit your sites before investing in one. Over half of my buildings had stairs to get in to the building and/or to get to my assigned space. The crate I had ended up being too heavy and unwieldy to utilize in these situations.
- Make sure to set aside time every month or so to organize and clean out your car. I was able to store some materials at my desk as well as at home, so I would change out materials as needed.
- I had master binders, organized by day of the week. I kept my Monday/Tuesday student info together, and then my Wednesday/Thursday/Friday student info together. This is where I kept my data sheets and goal pages. I just made sure I had the correct binder in my bag when I went into a school.
- Find a calendar system that works for you. It may be a paper or electronic calendar, but it is essential to keep track of which school you are supposed to be at when, as well as the various meetings you will need to attend in various locations.
- Make sure each school has your contact information, as well as each teacher you work with. You won't have much time to talk if you are only there for an hour or two each week, so it is important that they have your information. Also, make sure to get the email address for each student's teacher, so you can quickly let them know anything important.
2. Try to find a "home base."
- I was assigned a desk at an office in an 11th school with access to a computer, phone, printer, and fax machine. I did my best to set my schedule so I was able to be there over my lunch break almost every day. This helped me have time to answer emails, do paperwork, and make phone calls. Only one of my 10 schools had wifi, so this was definitely needed!
3. Take time to figure out an effective schedule.
- Figure out what days and times don't work for each building, and go from there. For example, my three Catholic schools had mass on different days, so I avoided going to those buildings on that morning/afternoon. One of my schools was only open four days per week, so I couldn't go there on Mondays. At another school, the only available room for me was used on Tuesdays and Thursdays by a reading tutor, so I didn't go there then. I had a few preschoolers that only attended morning or afternoon classes, so I knew I had to be there at that time.
- Get each site's calendar. If you are in different buildings, chances are that there may be schedule differences on holidays, early dismissal days, late start days, and that sort of thing. It's much better to know in advance!
- Make sure to include time for testing! You won't have time if you are scheduled back to back for therapy all week. I left my Friday mornings open for this, and it made things a lot easier, since I never had to cancel regular therapy sessions to get in testing.
- Give yourself enough time between schools. It's going to take time to get to your next site, and you need to allow time for red lights, bad weather, trains, and that sort of thing. Don't forget to give yourself 10-15 minutes once you get to get your materials set up, make copies, and have a bathroom break if needed!
- Think about an effective route. It doesn't make sense to drive to opposite ends of the town or county every day. Try to group nearby schools on the same day if possible.
4. You don't need a lot of materials to have effective therapy sessions!
- For the first couple of months, my only materials were ones I borrowed from someone else or purchased/made myself. (The district did order materials and tests for me, but they didn't come in until late October.) Even when my ordered materials came in, I still had to transport and carry all my materials every day.
- I purchased about 5 travel size games, and would use one all week for any sessions that needed it, then switch it out for the next week. (For my younger students, I used it after a certain number of trials, and with my older students, it was used as a reward for the last couple minutes of therapy while I was writing my session notes.) I found great travel-sized versions of Sorry, Connect Four, Trouble, and Hi Ho Cherry-O at Target, and also carried Uno and a regular deck of cards.
- Get your hands on an iPad if at all possible! Our district received them in my second year there, and it made a huge difference. No more need to carry ten different sets of articulation cards everywhere! An iPad will significantly lighten the load you have to carry into each building.
- Sometimes, the weather wasn't cooperative, and I brought almost nothing into a building because I was afraid it would get drenched. I quickly learned how to target whatever my goals were, using whatever materials happened to be in my purse or the space I was using. (Side note: The King James version of the Bible is great if you are working on the /th/ sound!)
5. Only purchase materials that can be used for multiple students in multiple sessions.
- Trust me, if you have to lug it around, you want it to be worth it! Don't bother with materials that can only be used once or twice.
- I tended to buy materials that would be able to be used year round or for at least a couple of months. I stored my seasonal materials (like these homework packets) in binders that I would change out when I cleaned out my car every month.
- I didn't create these until after I left my traveling position, but my progress monitoring tools would have been very helpful to have stored as PDFs on my iPad!
6. Invest in appropriate clothing.
- In the Midwest, we have some serious weather. Rain, snow, wind - winters in particular can be pretty brutal. Make sure you have a warm winter coat and rain coat. (You won't have enough hands for an umbrella!) At several of my schools, I had to park several minutes' walk away from the front door (since I didn't have keys to any buildings), and it got cold quickly.
- On a similar note, make sure you have comfortable shoes to walk in! Check out some of my suggestions here. Don't forget snow boots for the winter if you live in a place where you get snow. You can't count on parking lots and sidewalks being cleared before you get there.
7. Leave a small box of materials at each site if possible.
- I left a small school supply box (purchased during the back to school season for about $1 each) at each of my sites, clearly marked with my name. (In three years, I never had one disappear, but since it wasn't expensive, I wasn't too concerned about it.)
- This contained a small bottle of hand sanitizer, pencils, scissors, box of crayons, index cards, small tub of play-doh, scissors, highlighter, glue stick, mini stapler, mirror, and a little pouch of Kleenex.
- In a pinch, I knew I could do therapy with the items in the box alone. Also, it meant I didn't have to carry all of those items in my bag every day.
8. Be flexible!
- Especially when traveling to multiple sites, your therapy plans are going to go out the window at a moment's notice.
- You might drive across town to test Johnny, but maybe he's absent that day. Turns out your other student Jenny is available, though - be ready to see a different student than the one you came to see.
- You may get to a school, only to find out that there is an all day assembly or field trip going on that nobody remembered to tell you about. It happens! Have a plan on what you can do with your time.
- You are going to have to use whatever space is available. It may be an empty classroom, the teacher's lounge, the library, or a glorified broom closet. Do your best to find a decent space, but know there may not be many options.
- You may find the space you have been assigned to use is occupied on a certain day. You may have to get creative to find another space to use, but you can't let it phase you too much.
Bonus tip: Don't store crayons in your car. They melt.
I may be in one district now, and only one or two buildings per week, but I definitely still use the lessons I learned as a traveling SLP! I'm still a minimalist when it comes to therapy, and I know the value of organization.
Have you ever been an itinerant SLP? What tips and tricks do you have to share? Leave a comment and let us know!