Practical Strategies to Manage a Heavy Workload

Practical strategies to manage a heavy workload: the roles and responsibilities of a school-based speech language pathologist and how to balance workload

This article discusses the following topics:

– Caseload versus workload approach;

-Determining the number of work hours required to successfully manage a specific caseload; and

-Advocacy steps to ease workload in a school-based setting.


Is your district using a caseload or workload model? What’s the difference?

An SLP’s “caseload” refers to the number of students an SLP is expected to service throughout the duration of a school year. If one school SLP’s caseload is 65 students, and the average student’s “Offer of FAPE” is typically one 30 minute session weekly, this may require an average of 35 hours of work per week from the SLP. However, a similar caseload size for another school SLP may require 60 hours of work because the frequency of services may be 60 or 90 minutes a week (double or triple that of the first school SLP). When districts use a caseload model in a school based setting, the special education administration may only be focusing on the total number of students served by the SLP without analyzing the amount of hours of therapy each student requires. This, as we are all too well familiar with, may lead to SLP burnout. For this reason, a caseload model may not be the right or “fair” approach to use in a school based setting or any other setting. Instead, a workload model may be the more effective approach. Workload models calculate all the activities required to successfully manage a caseload.

Here is a sample workload calculation for an SLP’s caseload of 60 students with an average frequency of 60-minutes of services per student, per week:

  1. Based on the above estimations, this SLP will service an average of 20 weekly groups, twice a week, which will result in an average of 40 weekly therapy sessions. If an average therapy session lasts 30-minutes each, with a 5-minute break in between, we are estimating an average of 23 hours of therapy each week.
  2. Additionally, we estimate that a caseload of 60 students may require an average of 6 hours per week dedicated to IEP meetings and IEP prep time. If we take the caseload size (60) and divide it by the number of calendar school weeks (36), we are looking at roughly 2 IEP meetings per week on average. Now, if each IEP lasts approximately 2 hours, and requires 1 hour preparation time for each meeting, we are looking at 6 hours needed per week for IEP preparation and meetings.
  3. Similarly, we estimate that on average, this SLP will have 2 evaluations per week that require 3 hours of testing time and report-writing.
  4. Finally, we added 1 hour per day for staffing, documentation, and email correspondence (totaling 5 hours weekly). An additional 2 hours weekly for new student screenings and teacher/parent consultations. Another additional 2 hours weekly for attendance taking, progress monitoring, data collection and billing activities. Plus an hour for lesson planning and therapy preparation.

According to our estimations, this SLP will need to work 48 hours per week to manage a caseload of 60 students.

The example above illustrates why our workloads often feel overwhelming and unmanageable.

So, how do we ease workload demands?

  1. Firstly, we can talk to our program directors about reasonable workloads/ caseload numbers that create equitable workloads across the district. Use a workload model/calculation to demonstrate the amount of hours needed to complete your current assignment. We can remind our administration about the overwhelming amount of responsibilities our jobs require. Direct services to students include screening, prevention, assessment, intervention, implementing IEPs or IFSPs, and counseling, program design, data collection and analysis, and compliance. Indirect services that support students’ educational programs include: (a) designing, implementing, maintaining, programming, and staff training for augmented communication devices and (b) engineering communication rich environments. Indirect services that support students in the least restrictive environment and general education curriculum include: (a) meeting and planning with teachers and paraprofessionals, (b) aligning IEP/IFSP goals with educational standards, and (c) determining appropriate instructional strategies/skilled interventions d) continuing education. SLPs must always conduct activities that support compliance with federal state and local mandates.
  1. Secondly, we can dismiss students who no longer meet eligibility criteria or the definition of a related service.
  2. Thirdly, we can advocate for relief from bus, cafeteria, or other school wide duties.
  3. Fourthly, we can burst /blast service delivery or provide classroom-based service delivery.
  4. Lastly, we can provide interventions through MTSS/ RtI to prevent students from coming to special education.

*For more information, there are two ASHA documents you may want to check out:

Roles and Responsibilities of School-Based Speech Language Pathologists” and “Implementation Guide: A Workload Analysis Approach for Establishing Speech-Language Caseload Standards in Schools

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