Setting Yourself Up for Success this School Year
Just getting started as a school-based music therapist? Getting ready to head back to the school setting after being away for a while? Here are my tips to start the school year off on the right foot!
1. Get Organized
Explore what systems work best to help you stay organized and grow in your practice. I highly recommend using a digital calendar and/or organizing app, but if you are a paper-planner-person, more power to ya!
Find a calendar format that works for you (Google, iCalendar, etc.) and ensure you use it effectively
Set your sessions to repeat as needed
Include school address, school phone number, classroom number and teacher name in each repeating event so you never have to dig through your contacts for a school/teachers phone number if something unexpected happens.
2. Communication is key
Ensure you have emails and classroom phone numbers to communicate with both the teachers and Assistant Principal (who typically oversees the delivery of clinical services).
Communicate with staff regularly; double check when school holidays or breaks will occur. I highly suggest getting acquainted with the front desk staff; they seem to know it all even when other staff do not!
3. Be Prepared with Visuals and Diverse Communication Supports
Make and bring visual choice cards to each and every session. It allows for every participant to communicate their preferences, choices, and ideas with you.
AAC devices are used by many students who receive therapy services, but most do not have an adequate bank of instrument choices, song choices, movement options and more. You will need to make a request to a students’ Speech-Language Pathologist to add buttons to an AAC device which often takes a while and can be inconsistent or inaccurate. For example, a desk bell is often the item pictured on an AAC devices “bell” button, however wrist bells or jingle bells are more commonly used by music therapists.
In my experience, all learners benefit from the use of visuals - written, picture and a combination of both. iPads and Chromebooks are convenient, but being able to adjust the field of choices, or adjust how you use these visuals based on individual students’ motor skills and vision abilities is vital. Having choice cards also allows students to communicate with one another even if they do not have an AAC device.
Also remember, technology can fail! Have physical backups of core choice cards on hand; stop/go, stand/sit, yes/no, colors and/or numbers, song choices, instruments, movement choices, and sensory options.
However, making visuals can be as simple as copying and pasting images in a GoogleDrawing grid and adding a label. I highly recommend laminating them to give them a longer life. I also recommend putting velcro on the back and creating choice boards in a binder or any stiff, portable surface.
If you want to get extra fancy, check out the visuals you can make with Canva!
4. Technology is Your Friend
See what is popular from recent movies and TikTok dances so you know what to do (and maybe what NOT to do). For example, some TikTok dances are inappropriate for the school setting, but the Peaches song from the new Mario movie already has millions of views! See what the kids are watching and provide a variety of song choices and experiences throughout the year.
Body percussion and Boomwhacker videos are all done for you! You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. These are great for creative choice, collaborative problem-solving, visual tracking skills, and so much more.
Use Youtube videos to facilitate discussion, do a music video analysis, or use the relaxing nature scenes and fun backgrounds to help facilitate movement or participation.
Google Slides, Canva presentations, etc. can be emailed to teachers to utilize the SmartBoards/Promethean boards that are common in most classrooms. Take advantage of their cool features like the Whiteboard and Pens!
5. Take care of your body
Going in and out of schools so often can put a lot of strain on your immune system and your body overall. Take care of your physical and mental needs to reduce the risk of vocal fatigue and muscle injury. Pay attention to your mental health needs and seek assistance with these needs when they arise, before they become unmanageable!
WHEW, that was a lot. Not sure where to begin this school year?
So many MT-BCs offer resources on their blogs, sites, and YouTube channels. Find 10 interventions you like that address your goal/need areas. Next, adapt each activity/experience in 2-3 new ways and you’ve got things to do for months!
Play getting-to-know-you based activities! Rate new and old songs, explore appropriate music videos or dance styles, and encourage students to communicate what they LIKE and DON’T LIKE. Learning about one’s peers, exploring new things, and finding commonalities with peers brings so much joy to the classroom!
You say your teachers haven’t let you know what goal areas they’d like you to address? Check what the educational benchmarks are in your state. A State Board of Education or a quick Google search can help you find what core words, concepts, and skills a grade is working on throughout the year. Adjust as needed for what is developmentally appropriate for your students. You can also ask teachers for their monthly themes or units that are scheduled throughout the year.
Wanting more support? Email me! firstname.lastname@example.org I help support our team of 9 manage their school caseloads and have lots of tips to help you do the same.
Keep up to date with all our latest resources at www.dynamiclynks.com/resources. We have back to school ideas, monthly ideas when you get stuck, and so much more!