Creating a schedule is an annual rite of passage for SLPs in the public schools. For me, the pressure to be efficient with my time is never greater than during the first weeks of school when I’m working on my schedule. I’ve tried google forms and post-it notes and whiteboards, but as many years as I’ve created a therapy schedule, I always end up feeling like it takes longer, makes me more anxious, and ends less perfectly than I want it to.

This fall, in a back-to-school season unlike any other, scheduling feels even more stress-inducing than usual. It is easy to feel consumed by all that is different and challenging — virtual school schedules, the PPE, the rules for assessment, limitations determining which students we can see together and how many people can be in a room, getting students to log in at the right time with the right meeting code. There are lots of questions about how SDI minutes fit into an all-virtual or hybrid schedule, how to incorporate multiple models (some kids at school, some kids attending virtually) into a single SLP schedule, and how to plan for building-wide transitions between models. All of these complications place higher demands on our time, while staff-shortages, medical leaves, and hiring freezes mean districts are asking us to prioritize our tasks in ways they haven’t before.

Despite all of the COVID complications and uncertainties, this year is just like any other in one very important way: students still need to be scheduled. And, as it turns out, there are important lessons we have learned from the simpler scheduling years of the past that can be applied this year. If you are a scheduling veteran, you probably have more skills than you think you do. If you are new to the process, listen up!

Here are three things you already know about creating a speech schedule that will help you complete the task this fall:

Start with the low-hanging fruit.

Some kids/families/teachers are easier to schedule than others! In an ordinary year, you probably know the teachers that are easiest to work with, the students that you know you need to plug in at a specific time, and the times when you’re most/least flexible. That’s still true this year and this is a great place to start building your schedule. Maybe you had a good connection and consistent attendance from a family last spring. Call them up and offer them the same time. Is somebody hounding you to get started with their student? Let them pick their time first! (With the reminder, of course, that change is always coming – see #3). Has someone else already done some heavy ‘schedule’ lifting that you can use to your advantage? For example, if the resource room is already scheduled, might you schedule those students right before or after? Or take kids from that classroom at that same time?

Documentation is your friend.

Whether your schedule comes together magically or through much effort, it’s always a good idea to have a paper trail to rely on when questions come up later. You might have a student scheduled several times over, only to find multiple forgotten conflicts. A classroom teacher might take a week to get back to you with possible times. Or maybe there’s a parent who you can’t get ahold of or who declines virtual services. In any of those cases or myriad others, you’ll want to have documented your efforts towards compliance. Whether this is through maintaining email records, completing a communication log, or even filing a prior written notice, you’ll be glad you did.

Your schedule is never really done!

It’s true. Even in the most stable and predictable of times, our schedules are ever-changing (new referrals, move-ins, move-outs, dismissals, graduations, “oh, the new reading intervention conflicts with his speech time?”, etc.). And this can be a wonderful thing! The flexible, always-changing schedule can actually be a comfort to those teachers or families who make sacrifices for less-than-perfect speech times, and a word of caution to those who get exactly what they want in their scheduled times. Also, keeping this in mind helps to take the pressure of creating a “perfect schedule” off of your shoulders. If whatever you’re able to cobble together this month isn’t ideal, don’t sweat it. Teachers, students, and families will settle in, you’ll figure out what’s working and what’s not, and you can tweak as you go, just as you always do. 

This year, just like every other year, we do the best we can today. Next month — maybe even next week — will be just another opportunity to flex our creative scheduling muscle!