School-Based OT Topics for Staff Professional Development

Have you been tasked with giving a presentation to your school’s staff for professional development? In-services are a wonderful way to increase your impact as a school-based OT as well as help more of your coworkers understand your role. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed about what topics to cover, these ideas might get your gears turning!

Before Choosing a PD Topic

Take some time to think about your audience. Will you be speaking to special education teachers? General education teachers? A combination of both? Paraprofessionals? The kindergarten team? High school case managers? Knowing your audience and the biggest needs they have will help guide your in-service topic. If you have the time, you could even consider surveying your audience to find out what subjects they would most like to hear about. 

PD Topic: Role and Scope of School-Based OT

One of my favorite topics to do for just about any school audience is the role and scope of school-based occupational therapy. There is so much misinformation about school-based practice, and I’ve found that even special education staff I worked closely with often didn’t realize all that goes into our role as school-based OTs. For this presentation, I like to share the legal definitions of school-based OT, discuss different areas we can support, and teach staff about the referral process so that they can get more personalized support from OT if needed.

PD Topic: Executive Function

An area of practice that has gotten more attention in recent years is executive function. And for good reason, too – EF skills are necessary for so many different school-related tasks. I find that this is an area all teachers generally want to know more about, and that there are a lot of practical strategies and accommodations we can share with them. 

School-Based OT Topics Professional Development

PD Topic: Handwriting

For better or worse, people often think of handwriting when they think of school-based OT. And while school-based OT is so much more than fine motor skills, this is an area where we can help teachers considerably. Plus, the more your teachers know about handwriting, the more likely they are to address it and save you a slew of inappropriate referrals. If your school/district doesn’t yet have a consistent handwriting curriculum, this is a great opportunity to show some different options to teaching staff. 

PD Topic: Assistive Technology

Another area of practice that continues to grow in popularity is assistive tech. AT is amazing and can bridge the gap that many students need to be successful in school. For a PD, consider focusing on 1 or 2 AT tools that you use frequently and know well. Or, you could give a broad overview of AT in general and how to obtain it in your district. 

PD Topic: Neurodiversity-Affirming Strategies

You may have heard a lot about the neurodiversity-affirming movement in the past few years. If you haven’t, the long and short of it is that professionals working with neurodivergent individuals (e.g. autistic people, ADHD, and other conditions) are actually listening to those individuals when planning treatment or care. And while we’d like to think we’ve been doing this all along, much of what neurodivergent adults are now telling us indicates that many therapy and teaching strategies are actually harmful or even abusive. And of course, most of us working in education dearly love kids and would be horrified to learn that we’ve done something to hurt them, even unintentionally. The faster we can get this information disseminated, the better! If you’re looking for resources on this topic, Learn Play Thrive and Neuroclastic are great places to get started. 

PD Topic: Alternative Seating

One professional development topic that might get you a lot of bang for your buck is alternative seating. This has been trendy for teachers in recent years, so it’s likely that you’ll already have some buy-in. You can use this opportunity to show different examples of alternative seating and let teachers trial them. Think things like exercise balls, wiggle cushions, standing desks, rocking classroom chairs, slant boards in prone, under-desk bikes, etc. This can be a really fun PD and may even motivate school teams to look into funding for these types of items beyond just the OT department. 

PD Topic: Sensory Processing

We all experience the world through a sensory lens, and OTs are well-positioned to teach about this. Sensory needs have gotten a bigger focus in the school system recently, which on one hand is wonderful! On the other hand, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about sensory processing differences, their interaction with behavior, and how to best address these needs. Doing a PD on this topic is a great way to let your specialized knowledge and experience in this area shine. Plus, you’ll be helping upskill teaching staff to more confidently and effectively work with children with sensory processing differences in situations that don’t necessarily need specialized OT input. 

School-Based OT Topics Professional Development

PD Topic: Self-Help Skills

Got some great tricks for working on ADLs? I bet your special education team would love to hear about them! Even though this is an area that both special education teachers and OTs can address in the school system, I find that there are still gaps in knowledge in life skills classrooms. Some strategies I find especially helpful to share with these teams are positioning guidelines, adaptive equipment, and backward chaining. 

OT in-services are truly one of the best strategies for sharing all of your great knowledge with your wider school community. If you haven’t given one before, I hope these topics gave you some ideas for what to present! And if you haven’t yet been asked to deliver PD to your school teams? 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.

And if you’re looking for more information on the topics above + strategies on how to fit tasks like this into a busy 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. 

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