Tuesday, July 12, 2016

How to Dominate Your Clinical Fellowship Year (CFY)

As you can imagine, your first year on the job can be pretty hectic. There's finding your way around your new building (MULTIPLE buildings if you're an itinerant SLP), trying to get connected to printers and WiFi ASAP, knowing who to go to for different kinds of help, learning staff names and assignments, getting familiar with your new caseload, creating documentation templates to help keep you organized, sending/responding to 1.5 million e-mails, setting up your new therapy room, becoming familiar with materials/assessments...the list goes on forever!!

Don't panic just yet, I'd like to help you Not Only Survive Your Clinical Fellowship Year (CFY), but DOMINATE!

Rule #1, ALWAYS SMILE and don't let anyone see you lose it - First impressions are vital, and being the new kid on the block means you'll have potentially hundreds of first impressions to give staff and students. Always be pleasant, polite, and respectful to EVERYONE. Now that being said, there WILL BE times when you're about to LOSE IT. The first year can be rough and overwhelming. Everyone has been there. When you feel like your marbles are about to spill out all over the floor, take a minute to collect yourself (and your marbles). Do a lap around the school, lock yourself in your therapy room for a few minutes, dive into that secret drawer of snacks (you need that by the way, and pro tip - make sure everything is sealed or else an ant infestation may come your way!). Do whatever you need to do to handle the situation in a positive way.

Rule #2, Take advantage of having a mentor and planned observations - Call me crazy, but when I was allowed to pick any student/session for my boss to observe me, I picked my most difficult one. "Why would I do this?" I asked myself minutes before the observation as I was profusely sweating. I knew why though. If you have the opportunity to have someone who is knowledgeable and experienced, why waste either of your time? I wanted real constructive criticism and suggestions that I could use to help improve the overall effectiveness of my therapy...and as my session went up in flames right before our eyes, she had plenty of pointers for me that I implemented throughout the entire year :)

Rule #3, BE FLEXIBLE - One thing no one tells you is that there are special school or class-wide events ALL THE TIME! Your schedule is CONSTANTLY changing. You just have to roll with it. See the students you can, communicate with teachers, and try to plan alternate times to make up the students you cannot see. Often times, teachers are very flexible and want their students to get the services they deserve. Work with them a little and get creative. You could also see if you could push-in during special events. Those opportunities are great for observing carryover and targeting goals in a practical manner.

Rule #4, BE PREPARED - Be prepared to throw your plans out the window, make lessons on the fly, answer unexpected questions, and group students who have drastically different needs. You should always have some sort of plan that you'd LIKE to stick to, but be equally as prepared to go in another direction. Try to have some games or activities that could work with a lot of goals. ZINGO and Mashin' Max were my go-to games for my students with special needs and Headbanz/Jeepers Peepers and Rory's Story Cubes were my go-to games for the rest of my caseload. Also, be prepared for meetings. Have your documents organized with key information highlighted or easy to access. Go to the meeting a few minutes early (trust me, you'll be the first person there). While you're waiting, run through your sections of the IEP quick, jot down key points you'd like to talk about, and try to predict questions or issues so you can have a response or solution ready to go. Sometimes, it's also good to bring work in case anyone is late so you're not just sitting there wasting time (my BIGGEST pet peeve). Bring your data sheets to tally up percentages, write log notes, fill out attendance sheets, or work on reports. Do whatever you can that still offers you privacy and confidentiality of the student's names/information.

Rule #5, ALWAYS SCHEDULE A LUNCH AND DOCUMENTATION TIME - I think a 30 minute lunch break/planning period may be required (ask your union rep or mentor) but so many SLPs see students straight through lunch. HECK NO!!! Make sure you have a half hour lunch and documentation time scheduled EVERY DAY. Now, I have to admit that I typically work through my lunch WHILE eating and recharging for the afternoon. I tally up data, respond to e-mails, type log notes, print materials, make copies, work on reports, set up afternoon activities, etc., all while chowing down on a [usually] healthy lunch. (Anyone who works with me knows I take my lunch very seriously and never "forget" to eat...how do people do that?) Regardless of how I spend it, that time is MY time and I always need it! Also, some schools will allow you "ACCESS billing time". Make yourself aware of any time slots that you can get because you won't believe how much time you spend on unplanned tasks like communicating with teachers, attending surprise meetings, dealing with a difficult student who just spent 15 extra minutes transitioning, explaining to teachers WHY it's important you see their students, waiting for your computer to unfreeze or the printer to un-jam. All of these things eat your time like you wouldn't believe!

Rule #6 and the most important one, KNOW THAT YOUR BEST IS GOOD ENOUGH - There will be days when you question yourself as a person, SLP, parent, spouse, friend, coworker, etc. If you try your best, that WILL be good enough! I repeat, YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH to be a GREAT SLP! You've worked this hard to get to where you are. You made it and you're doing it! Don't let a difficult meeting, negative comment, rough session, quickly approaching deadline, or unreasonable expectation derail you. You CAN work through anything and you WILL dominate your CFY!

These are the rules I lived by that helped me get through my clinical fellowship year. We're all human though, of course, and a few trips directly to the closest fast food drive-thru or wine and spirit store also helped save my sanity on occasion :) Be sure to take time for yourself everyday and figure out what gives you fulfillment outside of work. If you have the right attitude, you can conquer anything!

Me on the last day of my CFY! I did it and so will you!

Do you have any suggestions for new SLPs?
What helped get you through your CFY?
Do you have any advice for SLPs starting their 2nd or 3rd year?
- I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

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