Amy’s a school-based Speech Language Pathologist.
She’s in her busiest season for writing progress reports and IEP goals, making her a prime example of the need to reduce therapy burnout among school-based practitioners.
Entering her office after yet another IEP meeting, she spots articulation flashcards from her last session scattered across the table. “I’ll organize those later,” she thinks, piling them on a shelf.
Amy walks to her desk. She almost knocks over a tower of student worksheets as she sits. Sticky notes reminding her of IEPs to turn in and phone calls to litter her laptop’s surface.
She opens her inbox and finds five new emails. Two are from case managers reminding her of IEPs still needing her input. Two are new referrals. The fifth is from a teacher informing her Johnny’s no longer available at his scheduled therapy time.
Amy checks her phone, hoping some parents have returned her calls. Nothing.
“So,” she thinks, “what can I get done in the five minutes before my next session?”
The daily stress many school-based therapists like Amy face can lead to burnout—feeling emotionally exhausted, physically drained, and overwhelmed with negative thoughts about one’s job over a long period of time. Burnout can also affect workplace performance.
School-based therapists run a high risk of burnout unless they take steps to manage their job stress. That’s why we at Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS) offer our clinicians abundant tools and resources, organizational strategies, and support systems.
Here are some of our top tips for handling school therapy stress and preventing burnout.
Manage Your Routine With Checklists, Calendars, and Charts
Large caseloads mean writing reports, attending meetings, collecting and analyzing data, preparing for sessions, and more. Use these tools and resources to manage your everyday tasks effectively:
Checklists are essential to managing your schedule wisely. Use them to identify your priorities and set short- and long-term goals. Create categories for tasks—correspondence, priorities, reports, and so on—to make your list less intimidating.
- Calendars and Planners
Keep an accurate calendar of upcoming meetings and events. You can easily put IEP and ER/RR due dates on your calendar or in your planner (physical or electronic).
- Spreadsheets and Charts
When the school year starts, make an electronic spreadsheet or write a chart listing IEP/504 expiration dates in chronological order. You can then refer back to it at any time. You’ll find helpful time management tools on such sites as Pinterest, TeachersPayTeachers, and PTS’ page of Clinician Resources.
Put Paperwork in its Place Using These Organizational Strategies
School therapy, especially such disciplines as physical therapy and occupational therapy, often involves a lot of materials and resources! Keeping it all organized is a challenge.
Making and keeping an organized space can lower your stress and save you precious time. Set aside “organizing time” in your schedule as frequently as possible. If time during the day is tight, spend time at the day’s end to put materials away in an orderly manner.
Here are a few other helpful pointers:
- Incorporate clean-up time into your sessions.
Students can spend a couple minutes working on categorization and fine motor skills while helping clean up and organize your materials. Use plastic sandwich bags, sealable plastic containers, large clips, and rubber bands to keep small items from escaping.
- Steer clear of car chaos with supply containers.
Therapists traveling between multiple schools may find keeping materials organized especially difficult. Your car can easily become a chaotic mess. Categorize materials in small bins in your trunk. Your most frequently used items can go in one bin while less frequently used materials go in another. You can also organize items by type: assessments, cards, games, etc.
- Systematize the way you file students’ paperwork.
Group student IEPs and other documentation by active or inactive students, in alphabetical order. Create each student’s “working file” of samples or blank worksheets for future use, stored separately (such as in a hanging folder box) for easier access. You may prefer to keep worksheets with data collection sheets in a three-ring binder with tabs. If traveling to multiple schools, try organizing individual binders for each school rather than carrying a large binder with all student information.
Get Information and Encouragement from Your Support Systems
Therapists who take advantage of available support systems, or who establish their own, are more likely to reduce their therapy burnout risk. Identify your sources of support before your job stress gets too burdensome.
- Reach out to your supervisor and mentors.
Keep in touch with the people who taught, mentored, and cheered you on as you studied and trained. Your relationships with them don’t have to end now that you’ve entered the workforce. Also, don’t hesitate to turn to your supervisor, who can offer help or advice in a stressful situation. At PTS, our Clinical Directors provide on-site supervision and mentorship to our practitioners, and can advocate for them when necessary.
- Cultivate positive working relationships with school staff.
Getting to know the other people working in the school building can help relieve your stress and contribute to a positive school-wide working environment. Establishing mutually respectful relationships with teachers will make scheduling and collaborating easier. Teachers may also help you reach students’ families. School secretaries, with their wealth of school-specific information, can be a great resource. Building principals, special education directors, and other administrators can support you in solving bigger problems. Plus, you can find peer support from your fellow related service providers. They often deal with the same stressors, so share strategies and solutions with each other.
- Don’t skip self-care!
To help relieve stress, try taking time before work to mentally prepare yourself. Go for an early morning run or stretch, or in the evening to help unwind from the day. Meditation can also be a great way to nurture your mental health. Although sometimes difficult, try to avoid taking stress home. Caring for yourself is a critical ingredient in preventing burnout as a therapist, no matter your specific discipline.
PTS Helps You Work With Less Stress and More Success!
Trying the tools, resources, organizational strategies, and supports we’ve outlined here can reduce your risk of therapy burnout. They can help you feel happier at your job, and perform it with more energy and excellence.
PTS’ continuing investments in our practitioners’ satisfaction and success are no small reason we boast one of the biggest therapist networks in the greater Delaware Valley today. School year after school year, our independent contractor clinicians come back to serve kids with disabilities and disorders through our placements.
Interested in finding out if working with PTS is the right fit for you? Click here to check out our available opportunities.