As an itinerant SLP, I’ve been the new kid on the block at 14 different schools in just two years, and next year I will have a different caseload and 5 more new schools to add to the list! I’m not going to lie, it can be draining to constantly change settings, BUT I’m going to share some valuable tips and tricks to make your life easier and help you make a great impression at your new school(s).
Here are some lessons I’ve learned firsthand and things I’ve observed as others joined our schools.
- Know the secretaries’ and principal’s names and faces!! - The secretaries will be invaluable to you. They help keep the ship afloat and they somehow know everything...EVERYTHING! It is important to know them by name, simply saying “Thank you so much, Barbara” or “I appreciate your help, Mrs. Smith” goes a long way and makes people feel special knowing that you know their name. Find out how they prefer to be addressed. I always go with the formal Mr., Mrs., Miss, etc. until they say, “Ohh, call me Mary.” Taking this respectful and professional measure will help you make a good impression.
- Find your “team” - These are the people who will help you along the way and answer any questions you may have. Your team captain should be your mentor, I believe most schools have to assign you a mentor if you are new to their district. The rest of your team may consist of the secretaries, principal, vice principal, director or supervisor of special education, a staff member who has been at the school for years, a helpful teacher’s aide, school psych, a behavioral interventionist, and the list can go on. Your team will be specific to your setting and your needs. You don’t want to go to your boss with every little question you have. Try to find the easiest and most practical person to ask for help.
- Always Smile - This may seem silly or unimportant, but when you’re new people don’t have much to judge you on...but they will. I can’t tell you the number of people who have commented on the fact that I am always smiling. Give them the impression that you LOVE your new job and you are killing it, even if you just had to call a BI after being hit and spit on, while your principal was observing you. Your coworkers don't need to know that having a rough day, show them that YOU CAN DO THIS! Smiling is contagious and people will pick up on your positive energy.
- Don’t Fall Into the Negativity Trap - You will come across people at your new placement who have been there a lot longer than you. Some of these people may be burnt out and aren’t afraid to share their negative thoughts. You may be talking to a few teachers when one says, “The principal is such an idiot; I can do his job in my sleep, not that he ever actually does anything though!” Teacher #2 responds, “Don’t even get me started! This week he came into my classroom and made a comment about my messy desk and didn’t even acknowledge the excellent lesson I prepared!” then they look at you to chime in...DON’T! You want to be a part of the group and you want to feel accepted, but this is not the way to go about it. Try to stay neutral, avoid these situations, or just be there for support. Respond with something generic or neutral like, “Well I’m sure your students loved your lesson”. You may feel like you’re in a safe place to air your grievances, but don’t do it. When you’re engaging in negativity, even if it’s welcomed, it’s not a look that you’re going for. Coming from an observer standpoint, you’re too new, you shouldn’t even have complaints yet (even if you’ve been there for months). When you think new, think fresh! You want to be a breath of fresh air for people. I’m not saying to respond to that situation with, “Oh, I love him. We spoke for hours about his years of experience and all of the great programs he’s started here, I can’t believe you don’t like him!” You want to always be positive, but not obnoxious.
- Check out the school’s webpage - Some schools have really informative websites. You can learn so much before you even start and people will be impressed with how prepared you are. You may find pictures and names of staff (or at least administration), student handbooks (which are great to flip through so you know their policies/expectations), calendars, special programs, news, board meeting minutes, clubs, or contact information. Learning some ins and outs of the school before you even start will help calm your nerves a bit.
- Inform the parents - One year I got so overwhelmed that I never sent out the parent letters that I prepared that informed the parents that a new SLP would be providing services for their child, OOPS! Don’t do that, I felt horrible. Introduce yourself to the parents with either a quick phone call, letter, or in person, depending on when your school’s Back to School night is. The last SLP may have worked with their child for YEARS and the parents grew to trust him/her. Could you imagine the confusion when you send your first progress report home and that’s when the parents realize you aren’t the SLP they know and trust. It’s important to establish a good relationship with parents and keep them up to date on therapy/progress. Make a good first impression right out of the gate. You can find great parent letters that are already made for you on www.teacherspayteachers.com or you could make a simple one yourself. It doesn't have to be fancy, just introduce yourself and provide your contact info for the parents.
- Use my free checklist - Use my FREE checklist that I’ve made specifically for SLPs starting at a new school. It has a ton of suggestions to help you get started at your new setting. It’s filled with questions to ask and things that you should do to help you get the ball rolling at your new school(s). You can download it from my TPT store by clicking this link CLICK HERE FOR THE FREE CHECKLIST!
There are so many overwhelming aspects that come into play when you start at a new school. This is even harder when you’re an itinerant SLP and you have anywhere from 2-10 new schools! Use these tips to make a great impression that will help foster a positive relationship for the remainder of your time at those schools. A little effort goes a long way! Good luck with your new adventure!
Do you have any other suggestions for how to make a good impression at a new school? I'd love to hear your ideas! Comment below with any tips you may have or feel free to share any real life experience. We've all been the new kid on the block at least once, let's help each other make things as stress-free as possible.