What resources do you find truly essential to your school-based OT practice? If you’re looking for things to add to your toolbox, these are the school-based OT resources that I’ve gotten the most bang for my buck for over the years. Whether they’ve saved me time, strengthened my practice, or just made my job easier, these are the five resources I recommend every school-based OT have at their disposal.
A Screening Form
Screening is an essential part of your referral process. Screening ensures the students that are referred to you for assessment are appropriate and will likely be recommended for services. And for best practice’s sake, it’s key to formalize and standardize this process as much as possible. Screening is also important because it allows you to start giving strategies to teachers right away – whereas the assessment process can take several months before the reports are reviewed. One note of caution – before you implement this step, check with your district to make sure they’re on board with a screening process. Most will be, but some are hesitant to do so due to fear of litigation.
Jennifer, a Dynamic School OT alumni who has been in the schools for about two years, started focusing on her referral process after seeing how it was working well/not working so well in various districts. “I have been a travel therapist so I have just kind of went with the flow of what the past therapists have done for referrals. The information you gave was really helpful and hoping to implement some of it in the future.”
To snag my screening template for free, click here!
An Assessment Template
If your role is like most school-based OT jobs, you’re probably going to be doing a lot of assessments. It is essential not to reinvent the wheel each time! For that reason, I heavily recommend using an assessment template that you can then modify when you meet a new student. Personally, I even keep 4 different assessment templates, separated out by age/grade level. You will likely find yourself making similar observations, conclusions, and recommendations in your assessments, so not having to rewrite them will save literal hours of time.
Brittany, a school-based OT who tried out my high school assessment template, said this: “This is a great evaluation template and I love that it addresses the many areas and needs that occupational therapy can support in the school! Very helpful – thank you!”
A Service Minute Determination Tool
Do you ever have a student where you’re stumped on whether to pick them up for OT or not? Or perhaps a student that you’re ready to discharge but the team disagrees? In these situations, it’s really nice to have a way to quantify this process a bit instead of having it be so subjective. As much as I love how much of school-based OT is left up to our professional judgment, having no qualifying scores required to be eligible for OT makes these kinds of decisions tricky.
After reviewing similar tools such as the DRTT and CERT, I created my own spreadsheet that determines how many minutes to recommend for a student. It’s based on a variety of factors such as number of areas of need, years in OT, age, staff support, etc. Now, any time I have a tricky or contentious case, I simply take 5 minutes to run the tool.
Terra, a school-based OT taking The Dynamic School OT Course, commented on the importance of individualizing your service minute recommendations. “I’m looking forward to using your rubric, I think it will prove extremely helpful in being more individualized in the services that I recommend.”
If you’d like to use a tool like this as well, I created mine in Google Sheets! Or, if you’d like a shortcut, I’m happy to share it with you when you enroll in The Dynamic School OT Course.
The Relevant Federal/State Laws & Regulations
The importance of the law is easily the biggest difference between school-based practice and other settings. So much of your work in the schools is dictated directly by the law. Luckily, this information is available freely online. Knowing all the laws can feel intimidating, but it’s so important to do so that you can fully serve your students as well as protect your license. Here are some to familiarize yourself with:
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- Your state OT regulations/practice act
- Your state education regulations
Molly, another Dynamic School OT alumni, highlights how important it is to know the laws in this setting. “I liked the deep understanding of the laws and emphasis on how this can affect practice. I’ve been working in schools, directly from grad school, for 3 years but never felt I got a great introduction to them. Devon does a great job at breaking down this information in a way that is understandable and also gives great suggestions for how to navigate challenging situations.”
A School-Based OT Manual
What was that copier code again? Shoot, how do I reset my password to the IEP system? And what was that bit of text the SpEd Director wanted me to include in my email communications with parents? If you have a school-based OT manual, the answers to these questions can be found in seconds. If you don’t – well, have fun searching your email, those old file cabinets, and that post-it note that fell off your computer last month.
Having all of the important information about how your department and your school district at large operate in one place is integral. It’s the difference between being able to move forward on your work without roadblocks vs waiting on someone to respond to that email you sent last week about a district policy. It’s also a great resource to share with new employees and fieldwork students that will make onboarding go much more smoothly.
If your OT department doesn’t already have a manual or guide like this, start creating one, ideally on an online, searchable platform like Google Drive. Don’t feel like you have to write a 50-page document in one sitting. But as you encounter situations in your practice that you know you’ll want to refer back to, take time to document the process/password/policy. The OTs who come after you will thank you!
If you’re looking to make your school-based OT job less time-consuming, more legally defensible, and just EASIER, implementing these resources will help. And don’t feel like you have to create all of these overnight – pick one or two tools to focus on refining to start. Or, if you’d like to save even more time, come join us in The Dynamic School OT Course. You’ll find these resources and more, plus support on actually implementing them into your practice. Alternatively, if you don’t need CEUs right now, feel free to snag the resources by themselves in this convenient bundle.