How to Be a Great OT Fieldwork Supervisor in the Schools

If you think back to when you were an OT student, I bet you can easily recall how nervous you were before starting fieldwork! If you were anything like me, you were hoping to get a placement in a setting you loved, where you could learn a lot, and be supervised by an incredibly knowledgable and supportive OT. And now, as a practicing clinician, you’re probably realizing what a tall order that is! Despite the immense need, providing OT fieldwork supervision in the schools isn’t something that we get a lot of support on in the field. Many OTs want to take on fieldwork students, but worry that they don’t have the knowledge, skill, or time yet. But, with the right preparation, you can provide a great fieldwork experience and help shape the next generation of school-based OTs!

Make contact and send first day procedures

Your student has likely been given the directive to contact you, but if you don’t hear from them, definitely reach out ahead of time! One of the things that can make or break the fieldwork experience is not anything to do with clinical practice – it’s onboarding. Think back to first days you’ve had at jobs or even your own fieldwork. It can be a stressful experience! There is so much information that needs to be communicated, like what time to show up, where to go, parking details, what to bring, if there is fridge access for lunch, etc. All of those little things that become routine over time are so important to get established for your student as soon as you can, that way their first day is not fraught with anxiety over what to do or where to be. 

Advise on what to wear

Beyond those other first day procedures, you’ll want to advise your student about what they should wear to their fieldwork experience. If your school/district has an official dress code, send that to your student ahead of time that way they can plan accordingly. If your schools are more informal, you may just want to recommend comfortable yet professional clothes and shoes that can get dirty. 

Communicate the laws, rules, and regulations

This is one of the most important areas to know in school-based practice. And it’s likely that your student’s pediatrics class in OT school didn’t have time to go over all of the different laws and regulations that are relevant to our practice area. If your student reaches out to you ahead of time wondering what they should review, this is where I’d start! Luckily, this information is available freely online:

  1. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  2. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act 
  3. Americans with Disabilities Act
  4. Your state OT regulations/practice act
  5. Your state education regulations
  6. Your district’s special education policies and procedures

Many states may also have a guide specifically for school-based OT, so definitely consider sending this if it’s available. 

Share info about common assessments 

Learning how to conduct OT assessments is a big part of fieldwork for students. Again, this may be something your student wants to know about beforehand so that they can familiarize themselves with the assessments that are most common in the school system. Your student doesn’t need access to the actual assessments until they start – they should be provided time to review and observe various assessments before they actually perform one themselves. But giving them a list of what to expect will help them be more prepared and ease their anxiety. 

OT Fieldwork Supervision in the Schools

Figure out how to share your systems

Your student will be following your lead at first (especially if they’re only in the schools for a Level 1), but eventually, they need to learn how to perform all the aspects of your role. This means you’ll need to show them how you schedule, write IEPs, communicate with teachers, document, and more. Keeping completely digital documentation can be helpful for easily sharing and collaborating with a fieldwork student. You may need to figure out how your student will get access to certain systems. Will they have a school district email? Will they be able to log into your IEP program? Will they need a physical ID to get into buildings? Having all of this figured out ahead of time will make the first week with your student much easier. 

Ask your student about their preferences

Part of being a great fieldwork educator is about tailoring the clinical experience to each student. In that first week, ask your student about themselves! Ask what they’re hoping to get out of fieldwork, their preferred learning styles, communication methods, etc. Knowing and honoring their preferences is key to being an empathetic and effective mentor.

Provide a safe and non-judgemental space to learn

Fieldwork is a very vulnerable time. Your student is likely nervous about performing interventions, completing assessments, and attending meetings. Make sure your student knows that there are no stupid questions and that they can come to you for support whenever needed. Having a regular check-in time can help facilitate this.

OT Fieldwork Supervision in the Schools

Have a plan for the entire experience

While it can feel like we often fly by the seat of our pants in the schools, having a plan for your student’s fieldwork is essential to them having a valuable experience. This means that you should have an idea of how often you’ll meet, what your student’s responsibilities will be each week, and how you’ll assess their progress. Additionally, this plan should be specific and curated to school-based practice. One way I recommend doing this is putting together a fieldwork supervision manual that has this plan + other important info. That way, as you continue to take more students, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time!

I hope these tips were helpful! Being a fieldwork supervisor is one of my favorite roles as an OT. It is an immensely gratifying experience, and I know you’ll feel the same once you have the right tools to support you. You are helping shape the next generation of OTs, and that is a priceless contribution. And if you’re looking for more support on providing a great fieldwork experience, check out my done-for-you School-Based OT Fieldwork Supervision Manual that you can use and modify to provide an excellent learning experience for your student. 

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