You have begun your career as a Speech Teletherapist. I'm sure by now you have realized that there's a bit of a learning curve you must endure to get ready for that first session with students. You might be spending the last hint of summer vacation training, reading and learning all about your new platform, and the systems that go along with it. I remember feeling quite overwhelmed initially. Learning how to navigate the screen, in addition to the new policies and unfamiliar procedures, slowly filled me with anxiety. I'm sure that as I prepared, I didn't consider what actual "therapy" would look like, on Day 1.
As I look back on my first week, I realized that I built "teletherapy" up so big in my head, that I caused myself a lot of unnecessary grief. My first week with students was MUCH easier than I predicted. It CAN be stress-free if you take time to prepare, and follow these 5 helpful tips while getting started!
1. Learn your platform. Each platform is different. Depending on the one you are using, there are different features that you will need to be familiar with in order to navigate in order to have a successful day of therapy. I found that this is simply about muscle memory. Very quickly, your wrist will just "know" where to click in order to highlight, underline, play videos, or screen share. But this does take a week or so, depending on how often you are in your therapy room with students. I found it helpful to put a sticky note on the side of my monitor, with cues/reminders of what icon meant what. Use terminology you can understand, and draw pictures on that note if you need to. In that moment of forgetfulness, I relied on that sticky note several times in live therapy. And I only needed it for a few days, before I became comfortable with all the tools and features.
2. Practice, practice, practice. I cannot stress this enough. Your first therapy session will go easy as pie if you spend time practicing. Have your son or daughter log on to your platform from other room. Ask to borrow your neighbor's child, and have him/her log on to play games! Use your colleagues! If you are on social media, there are several Teletherapy groups with SLPs who are established practitioners. Ask for help! Most people will make time to practice with you if they are available. Click here to find speech teletherapists who can help! Just be aware of confidentiality policies, as some platforms are exclusive to the companies who own them. Ask an administrator about the rules for sharing links to the platform if you aren't sure.
3. Create an opening day presentation. For me, this was the best advice of all. In the beginning, I was very green with all things technology. However, I quickly learned how to use Google Slides and Powerpoint to create an introductory "All About Me" presentation. In this presentation, I added photos of myself and my family, talked about my state, and shared my interesting weekend hobbies. I also added questions for each student, so I could get to know them. I created a slide with rules for my therapy space, to set expectations from the start. Your presentation should be unique to you! And always consider your audience. Create a presentation for your elementary students, then adapt it for older kids. I found my junior high students didn't appreciate my "cute" and "babyish" graphics on Day 1, as much as my little ones did. If you need help, creating a presentation for young students, click here! If you are in need of first day activities for older students, click here!
4. Teach your platform. All participants need to know how to navigate the tools on the platform. Your student will be most successful if you demonstrate what each button/icon is for, and why you might use it in therapy. Most likely, this is the first time your student has worked with a therapist online. It's foreign to them. Review each tool, and practice how to use it with your student. This is also a perfect time to teach your e-helper, or paraprofessional, how to work inside the platform. Most students will have an adult nearby to supervise and/or help your student participate in the session. Make sure you invite this individual to learn the platform as well! Demonstrate what to do to troubleshoot technology issues, report a problem, or communicate with you should audio or visual go out. Your sessions will run smoothly when everyone knows how the technology works.
5. Have a growth mindset. Knowing and accepting that mistakes will happen your first week will ease a lot of your stress. I openly admitted to my students, on Day 1, that I was NEW to being a speech teletherapist. I explained to them that just as THEY were learning, so was I. We discussed how, in the beginning, we both were bound to make a lot of mistakes while navigating the platform. That it would take time to work through the initial glitches. Every mistake I made, I used as a learning experience. My students and I laughed a lot. I lightened the mood with humor and many apologies. Once I accepted the fact that mistakes were a natural part of the process, and really to be expected, my stress eased significantly. Remind yourself that you are learning a skill set that sets you apart from your traditional colleagues. That in a few months, you will have grown tremendously as a therapist. And every period of growth comes with bumps and bruises.
As you begin your journey, remember you aren't alone. In the world of social media, you are always connected to other SLPs who have stood where you stand today. You can take advantage of all those great brains and advice at any time. Quickly, you will realize you survived your first few weeks of therapy. I would almost guarantee you will say to yourself, "WOW! That wasn't bad at all!" Be proud of what you have accomplished. You have taken a brave leap into a new world. The field of speech telepractice is rapidly growing and evolving. You will soon be able to offer advice to the SLPs who begin this journey behind you. You've GOT this!
If you are looking for additional resources for your platform, organization, or hand outs for professionals, check out my TPT Store! I'm adding new resources weekly, so check back often.