School-based OT is a cool job at its core. Helping kids with disabilities be the best students they can be? That’s pretty rewarding in and of itself. But sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day of assessing, treating, and documenting. So when your job starts to feel a little repetitive and monotonous, use this article as inspiration and as a reminder of all the cool things we can do as school-based OTs.
Get Involved with RtI
Once you have your special education caseload managed, one of the best uses of your time is getting more involved in your school’s RtI efforts. This can look a lot of different ways, all the way from working with teachers to help them serve all students more effectively, to working one-on-one with students at risk of needing special education. I think this is such a cool option for OTs because it really taps into our ability to provide preventative care. If we can provide some early intervention before students are really struggling, our schools will be much better off for it.
Provide Professional Development
Have you ever provided an in-service to teachers or other staff in your school? If so, great! If not, set a goal now to make this year the one where you start. We have so much knowledge to offer our school communities, and providing it via professional development ensures we do it in a time-efficient way. And doing this sort of thing can actually fall under the RtI umbrella as well!
Not sure how to start? Ask your building leaders or special education supervisors if it would be possible for you to do a short presentation at the next staff meeting. From there, continue evaluating your school’s education needs and consider pitching a topic the next time a full professional development day is scheduled.
Train Animals for Therapy
This is a cool one that I’ve seen more and more schools start allowing! If you love dogs or other animals, starting an animal-assisted therapy program at your school may be an option. Obviously, this is one you’ll want to check on rules and get explicit permission first. But if you can get it, it’s a win for you and your students.
Go on Field Trips
School-based OTs should be striving to provide more contextual and collaborative services. And while usually this means delivering therapy in the child’s classroom, don’t let your imagination be limited to that! Students can benefit from OT support in so many other parts of their school day, and yes, that includes going on field trips! Think of all of the rich opportunities for transitioning on and off the bus, navigating a public space, socializing, etc. Plus, teachers and other staff are usually grateful to have an extra pair of hands/eyes – especially from a therapist. If you can manage your caseload so that you can be away for a day, this is such a fun opportunity.
Go to Job Sites
Much like accompanying your student on a field trip, going with your older student to their job placement can be a boon to both of you. This type of support is some of the “truest” OT I’ve ever provided in the schools. It’s such a good way to see what your student is actually struggling with and offer accommodations in the moment, or make a note of what skills need to be practiced back in the classroom.
Support Students in the Community
Beyond just job sites, your older students working on transition skills probably can benefit from going out in the community. Depending on where your school is located and the rules of your special education programs, you may be able to help students with IADLs like learning public transit, going grocery shopping, ordering food at a restaurant, or even just navigating sidewalks and traffic signals. Again, this type of OT is some of my favorite that I’ve provided in the schools, and it’s so beneficial for your students to have your specialized knowledge in those real-world situations.
Start Specializing in Assistive Technology
Assistive technology is getting more and more popular. And school-based OTs are so well poised to support it! You’re probably already utilizing some AT through your role as an OT, like typing or even a low-tech pencil grip. But consider going even further. Different school systems handle assistive technology in different ways, but if it’s an option, join your district’s AT team or even serve in the role of Assistive Technology Specialist.
Start a Club
I have some really great memories of being in various clubs throughout my school career, and I bet you might as well. But have you ever considered being the facilitator of one? While teachers usually fill this role, most school districts would be happy to have an OT serve in that way as well. You could consider this an extension of your practice and offer a handwriting or shoe-tying club after school. Or you could run a lunch bunch for students who might appreciate a little more social support during mealtimes. But the sky’s the limit really – this is a great opportunity to bring your other interests/values into the picture. Popular school club ideas I’ve seen that you may want to consider: role-playing games, GSA, Lego, robotics, Best Buddies, etc.
Try Out a Different Setting in the Summer
Lastly, one of the coolest things you can do as a school-based OT is actually outside of the job itself. Since most school-based OTs get summer break, it gives you an opportunity to try out something else! Maybe you’d like to PRN in the hospital, pick up a few EI kiddos, or even try outpatient peds. Or you could even go big and take an ESY travel therapy contract somewhere you’ve never been. Whatever your preference, there are lots of ways to try something novel in the summer – and make a little extra money while you do.
There are tons of cool things we can do in our role as school-based OTs. I hope this article got your gears turning if you’re starting to feel a little bored or stagnant in your job. And if you’re wondering how other OTs are fitting these kinds of tasks into their workload, consider joining us in The Dynamic School OT Course. You’ll learn how to manage a caseload and start becoming a more global support in your schools rather than just a fine motor therapist.