What SLP Workload Concerns Really Mean, and How to Address Them

August 26, 2014 BY Sharon Soliday, CCC-SLP

“I need help. There’s too much to do!”

The year has barely begun, and already many administrators are fielding questions or complaints about SLP workloads.

How can they be overwhelmed already? Doesn’t crying “workload!” in the first month of school seem a little dramatic?

No administrator wants to start the school year listening to complaints about SLP workloads… but perhaps SLPs are just poor communicators in these moments. Instead, it might do well to present their situation in the context of student growth.

What SLPs Should be Saying

Research from ASHA suggests that SLP caseload size has been found to have an inverse correlation with student outcomes. In short, as caseloads increase, weekly service time and individual attention begin to wane. The result? Elongated program involvement – and subsequently decelerated student progress.

The fact is, there are consequences when time and staffing are stretched:

  • SLPs have no choice but to abandon individual therapy and increase the size of therapy groups.
  • Consultation and collaboration with teachers is often cut.
  • Service models are narrowed to address the lack of collaboration time (which results in more students being pulled out of the general education classroom… The only actual classroom in which we’ve been mandated to see student growth. How’s that for irony?)

What This Means for Your SLP’s Workload

In other words, when SLPs complain about workload in the first month of school, the message isn’t that they’re overwhelmed or being dramatic. Despite how hard SLPs work, if they are stretched too thin, it will inhibit students’ ability to make functional progress.

SLP Workload Concerns

7 Ways to Address SLP Workload Concerns

With that in mind, here are 7 ways district administrators can realistically (and effectively) address workload concerns with their SLPs.

1. Create an environment of consistency district-wide.

Often SLPs feel others have lighter caseloads and advocate for help with their own. And all too often, administrators respond by comparing numbers of students between specialists.

While consistency is a worthwhile goal, numbers of students alone do not come close to capturing how an SLP will be spending her time in the building. (5 students remediating /s/ & /z/ do not carry the same collaborative and time demands as working with 5 students with autism.) A true environment of consistency is one based on overall expectations of work.

2. Define SLP expectations clearly, including identifying how long it should take for each student to demonstrate functional growth.

Too many districts give SLPs complete autonomy when it comes to delivering service. This makes evaluating their work and influencing their practice nearly impossible for administrators.

Not to mention, many administrators have no expectations around how long it should take for kids to demonstrate functional growth, and therefore have no way to monitor progress. This resource from Progressus Therapy highlights the importance of measuring outcomes in the school setting.

Make sure all expectations are clearly defined for your SLP – including eligibility criteria, educational impact, service models and considerations. If your SLP practices in the best interest of student progress, she will be happy to see this happen.

3. Encourage SLPs to pass specialized knowledge to others in the building.

Not all of your students’ speech therapy time has to be logged with an SLP. Paraprofessionals, classroom volunteers, other students, teachers and parents can all be taught small structured pieces of therapy to help a student practice and generalize various skills.

4. Allow for structured time in a monthly schedule for SLPs to collaborate.

A student’s IEP might dictate 30 minutes of service, but that doesn’t account for time spent educating teachers on therapy techniques or collaborating with peers – which severely inhibits program success.

Eric Richards, Coordinator of Student Services in Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Oregon committed 10% of a building’s SLP service time to non-IEP responsibilities. The goal was simple: SLPs were told to use the time to collaborate and influence student progress.

Some taught sound productions in Kindergarten classes. Others spent time scaffolding curriculum. Still others taught educators how to reinforce speech objectives in the classroom. These efforts resulted in quality referrals, eligibilities and dismissal rates. Make sure your SLPs have time to devote to collaboration outside of their IEP responsibilities.

5. Look beyond the number of students when determining SLP workload.

As mentioned above, student number alone is not an adequate measure of an SLPs’ overall workload. Be sure to account for different types of disabilities, consultative time, existing staff knowledge, and other variables when addressing your SLPs’ workload.

6. Determine data points to monitor.

Develop a shared understanding of what objective information will be most informative when evaluating SLP performance, making the discussion more productive and student focused. Operating in the common interest of students allows professionals to look forward, focusing on positive change rather than assigning blame about inequitable workloads.

7. Bring in help.

Large SLP workloads are often unavoidable. In these cases, don’t be afraid to seek out help – even if it’s for an abbreviated, immediate need. Bringing quality short-term SLPs on board can fortify collaborative efforts, and help your team with time-intensive projects including testing, screening, and teaching classroom strategies.

Securing short-term SLP help can deliver important returns in the long run. By providing your high-quality, student-focused employees with the supplemental support they need, you’re empowering them to be successful, and helping ensure to ensure the long-term progress of your students.

If SLP workloads are putting your students’ progress at risk – we are here to help. The Hello Foundation provides districts with highly-qualified SLPs to support the unique needs of your speech program. Click here to meet our pool of talented SLPs, or give us a call at (503) 228–2942 to learn how we can help.