Last week was a complete whirlwind – whew. I’m finally getting settled at home, but I wanted to share my highlights of the American Occupational Therapy Association conference in New Orleans, LA.
Reuniting with old friends from across the country and making new ones!
Every year, two of my girlfriends from Utica College and I attend the conference together, and it feels like we are right back in college. This year, I also got to hang out with my friend and fellow OT blogger Colleen Beck (From the OT Toolbox) and two other admins of my USA School Based OTs Looking for Change group (Serena Zeidler and Joan Sauvigne-Kirsch). We had so much fun and definitely had some major brainstorming over the last few days. It’s amazing what a bunch of OT brains can come up with! I also attended the AOTA reception for the Communities of Practice. I’m in the state leadership group, so I had the chance to mingle with all the ladies I work with all year long.
I also had the opportunity to meet a ton of new OTs, and I’m never disappointed! When you go to the conference, there are literally OTs everywhere- at the restaurants, in the lobby of the hotel, walking on the street right next to you. Meeting new people is always super fun, and getting the chance to chat with other OTs from across the country is a blast!
2. Presenting at Conference!
This year I presented a poster and hosted a Conversations that Matter about the quest for Educational Credentialing and Equality for School OTs with my colleagues. The Conversation that Matter went GREAT! It was really well attended – there were actually people standing! Serena Zeidler, Joan Sauvigne-Kirsh and I worked hard to explain what Educational Credentialing is, and WHY it’s important. We had lots of great questions, and the members who attended seemed to leave just as excited and passionate as were are about the topic. ( I gave out 400 USA School Based OTs Looking for Change business cards!) This movement is expanding across the country!
I also had the opportunity to be a guest speaker at one of AOTA’s courses about social media, blogging, and getting published. Colleen Beck from the OT Toolbox and I had a great time meeting other OTs who are interested in starting their own social media following. It was awesome!
3) Attending other conference sessions
I attended a few really interesting conference sessions:
Telehealth in school-based practice
Applying a systems approach to school practice
How to get accepted for short courses for AOTA ( a goal for next year!).
Leadership for future OTs
I was sooooo excited that two of the sessions I attended actually mentioned the Educational Credentialing initiative – YAY! Word is getting out!
4) The Conference Expo
This is always one of my FAVORITE parts of the conference. I had the chance to mingle with other OTs who are entrepreneurs and inventors. Some of the products that are out there are just amazing! You can see a few of the videos I made on Facebook.
I literally hunted down this poor woman. When I discovered that Colleen Schneck was going to be at the conference, I wrote down every possible spot where I could run into her, and made it my mission to meet her – and I did! Colleen Schneck is the author of MANY articles about pencil grip and grasp. I’ve been working on a book about Pencil Grips, Grasps, and Handwriting for quite a while now, and I’ve been relying heavily on Colleen’s research. I was so thrilled to meet her- I think I actually scared the poor lady who was innocently standing by her poster when I practically bum-rushed her. I was just too eager!
6) Getting Inspired
Every year the AOTA conference fills me with new determination and initiative to keep working to achieve my goals. This year is no exception. The conference was super busy for me this year, but I did get a chance to hear Amy Lamb (president of AOTA)’s farewell speech. (The new president will be Wendy Hildenbrand). Amy showcased some really creative OTs who are thinking outside the box with really cool new inventions. Her main message was “Be Bold”. I love it.
7) Seeing a bit of New Orleans
I didn’t get a chance to do much sightseeing- the conference keeps you super busy during the day and there are always networking events in the evening. Usually, by the end of the day, you just want to put your feet up!
But I did get a chance to sneak in a few sights and bites. We did a food tour and walked around the French Quarter – the veignes were my favorite (think zepoles or funnel cake but smaller – yum).
You may have heard the buzz about Occupational Therapists advocating for Educational Credentialing. Especially if you work in the education world.
What is Educational Credentialing?
State Education laws vary from state to state. But in every single state in the USA (except for four), OTs and PTs are not under the “umbrella” of teachers. They do not have “educational credentials”.
This started in the past. Way in the past, because OTs and PTs were considered “medical” (like the nurses). However, educational laws have changed to a more inclusive educational community. This changed how OTs and PTs are employed.
Now, school therapists support children’s academic success. Unfortunately, the state education departments haven’t revised their terminology and laws to include OTs and PTs as “educators”. YET.
OTs and PTs are not ALLOWED to address medical issues – those must be worked on outside of school in a clinic or community setting. Everything a school therapist does must DIRECTLY relate to our kids’ academic needs.
Who IS under the “umbrella” of teachers?
Speech and Language Therapists
All of these professionals who work in the school system are considered”educators” or “pedagogical”. This means they are considered teachers, no matter what their license says (social work, guidance, etc.). The state education system provides them with this title, which means they are “credentialed” as educators.
sometimes laws don’t keep up with the times… AND This is one of those times.
School Occupational and Physical therapists are not under the umbrella of teachers. Often this means we aren’t:
observed and supervised like teachers are
held to the same standards as teachers
included in team meetings, faculty meetings, and professional development sessions
provided with an appropriate work environment or room in the school
paid equally to other school professionals
This limits us from collaborating properly as team members to make the most successful environment for the students. It also barrs OTs and PTs from MANY of the protections and opportunities that the “teaching” umbrella offers to other faculty.
How are we all ALikE?
– similar job functions within the school setting.
– address educational goals on student’s Individualized Education Programs to help them access their curriculum.
Social workers address social-emotional and behavioral needs of students that impact a child’s ability to access the curriculum.
School psychologists addresssocial-emotional needs, coping strategies, and other areas that impact a child’s ability to succeed in the classroom.
Speech-language therapists addressexpressive and receptive language deficits that impact a child’s ability to learn.
Occupational Therapists address impaired physical functioning which hampers the ability to perform daily life tasks, psychosocial problems which hamper the ability to function in daily life, special needs which require modification of the physical environment and/or use of specialized equipment and technologies
– We all should have equal supervision, professional development, retirement, benefits, and the ability to advance to leadership or administrative roles, but we don’t.
HOW are THE ROLES Different?
Occupational and Physical Therapists should be included in the umbrella of Pupil Personnel by their state education departments, but we are limited greatly by this archaic legislation that segregates us from our colleagues.
OT and PT professionals want education credentialing to achieve equality with our colleagues in the school system.
Opportunities for Leadership – Currently, OTs who are graduating from OT programs must have a minimum of a Master’s Degree. (This is the same as teachers, social workers, psychologists, speech and language therapists). PTs who are graduating must have a doctorate! We are not ALLOWED to pursue Educational Administration coursework, but we have equal or greater requirements to work in our profession.
What does that mean?
In most states, an OT or PT professional can get a job in a school, but they have NO WAY to move up the ranks. They can’t be a principal, CSE chairperson, Special Ed director or Superintendent. All the other “teachers” can if they take the proper coursework, but not us.
2) Collaboration- Many school OTs and PTs are excluded from typical staff meetings, professional development opportunities, and co-teaching situations. We are often not directly “employed” by the school. This enlarges the gap between the rest of the staff and the therapists. How can we be a cohesive team when we are treated so differently?
Read a personal story by a therapist who worked in the same school for thirty years. She was never “on the list” for simple work things like the holiday party, the super bowl pool, and more. This kind of exclusion isn’t done on purpose, but it does impact a therapist’s ability to be a “member of the team”. Developing a rapport with your co-workers takes time. If you are “not on the list” for things where the other faculty are working, collaborating, or even socializing, it takes that much longer.
So now what?
Occupational therapists across the United States are joining together to fight the state legislation that keeps us in this “other” category. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve come very far in a short time. Multiple state associations and the American Occupational Therapy Association are supporting us!
I’ve been a HUGE organization kick lately. Every month or so I need to clean out my therapy bag. Inevitably, I find things out of order, things I need to change up or replace, and things that are missing pieces , etc.
I once posted a pic of the crazy amount of stuff in my bag and everyone on Facebook went crazy commenting and asking questions. I figured, why not share this “clean out” phase with all of you?
I’m also a bit obsessed with Tiny Homes. So I love things that can be used multiple ways, are miniature, and don’t take up a lot of space.
I am in the process of moving, so I’ve also been a huge labeling kick. I am really trying to turn over a new leaf when it comes to putting things back where they belong. I don’t like to waste time in a therapy session looking through my bag for “that thing” I need (and can’t find!).
First things first, you’ve got to have a sturdy bag with a lot of compartments. I like to use a rolling backpack because:
It’s better for your body to pull instead of carry
It zippers closed so when I throw it in my trunk (which I always do) it won’t spill crayons and beads everywhere
I like the laptop compartment to hold my folders for each kid
One thing about the rolling backpack though, is that the fabric inside is made of a tough rayon-like material, so it’s hard to stick labels on. I’ve decided to relabel with my label maker and then cover them with packing tape. Hopefully, that will stay put. (I’m obsessed with packing tape)
My latest backpack has a bunch of compartments. This is how I organize them.
The Very Back
The “back” compartment is actually a zip-up spot where you can “hide” the straps of the backpack if you aren’t using them. I also use this spot to put my papers, dry erase board and cookie sheet (a traveling OT’s best friend).
See through packets- A Must Have!
I really like to have everything clear and see through so I can get what I need quickly, so I buy clear zipper packets from the dollar store. I keep one in the very back section with construction paper and different kinds of writing paper. I also keep my laminated “Manipulation Dot Activity Sheets” in this spot because they are the perfect “starting” activity. I like to pull this out and keep my kiddo busy while I get out their folder and organize my materials for the session (perfect for the kid that keeps asking, “What are we doing today? What did you bring today!?”) I laminated the sheets, and they’re also perfect for keeping track of my kids’ fine motor practice.
Manipulation Dot Activity Packet
The Cookie Sheet
I use a cookie sheet 75% of the time when I work with students in their home. It’s the best dollar you’ll ever spend. It keeps messy therapy materials (like putty) in one spot and is simple to clean up glue, paint, or shaving cream. Kids LOVE tactile sensory activities like slime or shaving cream, but parents don’t want the mess. A cookie sheet is an easy fix. Just make sure that you can use the kitchen or bathroom sink to rinse it.
The cookie sheet also makes a quick magnetic surface- perfect for magnetic letters, tangrams, or puzzle pieces. Put it on the floor and have the child lay on their belly to encourage weight bearing into the upper extremities. Or, place it vertically against a wall to encourage mature grasping patterns and separation of the hand and fingers from the whole arm. I also put “chalkboard” paper on the back of mine so I could use it as a blackboard.
The Back Section of my Therapy Bag
This is the part where they think you’ll put your laptop. It’s pretty skinny, but I fit my student’s folders in there. I use colored folders so I can grab the one I need quickly and get right to work.
The Middle (Biggest) Section of my Therapy Bag
In this section, I put my toys, games, and “big stuff”. I like to change out these items to keep things fresh and exciting for the kids.
But, there are some things you are guaranteed to find in this section.
Fine Motor Toys That Require Two Hands: Many children have difficulty with fine motor skills and bilateral coordination, which is the ability to use two hands together. Toys that work on both of these things at once are a Must-Have. Some of my go-to picks are Legos, Stringing Toys, Lacing cards, Nuts and Bolts, Pop-beads, a pegboard and Bunchems
Puzzles Many children struggle with spatial awareness to put puzzles together. Kids should start doing jigsaw puzzles (not inset) around the age of 4. I like the Dollar Store jigsaw puzzles with a back because the back has an outline of the shape, which is a visual cue for kids. If that outline isn’t enough, I also label each spot with a letter, shape or number, and then put a matching label on the correct piece. These puzzles also fit nicely in a zipper pocket folder (and you don’t lose the pieces).
Some kind of game with letter pieces. Such as Scrabble, Applets, Pears to Pairs, etc. These tiny letter tiles are great for working on letter recognition, handwriting, or anything else!
An ice cube tray. Weird, I know. But the ice cube tray is a favorite of mine. I like how it has tiny compartments for little fingers to “pinch” and put stuff in. Use a grabber and manipulatives and the possibilities are endless – do patterns, roll dice and count to put that number in the next spot, etc.
My front section stays pretty consistent. This is where I keep my clear pencil cases, crayons, markers, fine motor/manipulative supplies, etc.
Pencil Case Pouches: Clear ones save time! Here’s what I have:
Markers, colored pencils, crayons: The smaller the better. I love Pip Squeaks from Crayola. Again, they take up less room and promote more mature grasping patterns.
Stickers: Big stickers, little stickers, big dot stickers, little dot stickers. Looseleaf reinforcers, too. Peeling stickers is an AWESOME fine motor and bilateral activity for kids. I like to use them as “spaces” in between words, “start spots” to show kids where to start letters, or “turn spots” when kids are trying to learn how to cut on corners. I like to use them to work on letter recognition with the Manipulation Activity Packet. And of course, they work great as rewards!
Playdoh and putty – Kids always love these things. I love to use it as a reward or an incentive for kids who are reluctant to begin therapy. They are also great for hand strength and sensory play. I like travel size putty because I don’t mind throwing one out if it gets boogies in it!
Travel size shaving cream – A little goes a long way!
Manipulatives – Again, I like to keep these in little clear plastic containers so I can see what I’m grabbing. In here you’ll find:
-magnetic bingo chips
-wind up toys
-small stamps and stamp pads
My backpack has two side pockets- which I love. I found that I was kind of forgetting about them, so I made some labels and put things that I don’t need all the time.
Side pocket #1: A tiny box with office supplies. I got this at a conference once as a “gift”, but I recently saw them at Dollar Tree! I bought four. Now I have one in every single bag and in my car. It literally has every office supply you could need in a quick fix. Even a stapler.
Keep track of things like how far a kid can jump, how big are the floor tiles (because then I can calculate how far they ran, etc), how far is this spot from the target on the wall, etc.
Measure how big chairs, desks, and tables are. Teachers often ask me to look at the furniture in the room, and this way I can say- “it’s too big, you need a 12-inch chair”. Then, the teacher knows exactly what to ask the custodian for.
Side pocket #2: A multipurpose tool. This little guy has a hammer, knife, pliers, file, and screwdriver. I use the hammer in therapy sometimes (my kids love to bang golf tees into a pool noodle or pushpins into a corkboard), and the other things I often need in a pinch. The screwdriver is great for loosening tight scissors and the knife opens or cuts cardboard boxes.
Shoelaces – in case we need to practice tying and my kids only have velcro.
And that’s it! You can fit a ton of stuff if you organize it right- I also keep a trunk organizer in my car with extra toys so I can swap them out when I need to.
My backpack has a tiny pocket at the top of the front section – it’s meant for keys, I think. (or money?). Anyway, I keep small pencils in there, and two tiny playdoh containers that I use to keep sponges and chalk.
The Very Front
My backpack also has a mesh front section in the very front. I used to keep my scissors there, but inevitably, they end up cutting the fabric. So now I keep hand sanitizer and a roll of packing tape in the front. I love packing tape because it’s so sticky and strong. Most often I use it to tape things to the wall or a sliding glass door – to add a vertical surface to our therapy session Worksheets, pegboards, and dry erase boards tape easily to the wall. Working on a vertical surface is great for fine motor skills and for encouraging mature grasping skills.
Forward from Miss Jaime, O.T.: When I first graduated from OT school, I got a job working as a contract therapist in a public school. I had no supervisor, no mentor, and no one to ask questions.
Thank goodness, I ended up placed in a school with such a large caseload that there was also another (more experienced) OT. She took me under her wing and offered me informal mentorship and much invaluable advice as a colleague and friend.
I left that agency very soon to get a district job, but I am forever grateful to my first mentor, Diane Fine, Occupational Therapy Extraordinaire. Twenty years later,Diane still works for that agency in that building and has generously offered to share her experiences and advice to new school OTs in the field. Continue reading →
The other day I did an autumn arts and crafts project with all of the students on my caseload.
Every. Single. One.
Kindergartners as well as fourth graders.
Very often we hear about the problem of a “cookie cutter therapist”.
Meaning – a therapist that does one thing with every single student regardless of their goals or deficit areas.
A lot of people have a problem with this and so do I – sometimes.
I might sound like I’m contradicting myself because I said I’m OK with doing the same activity with every single student but here’s the thing:
One of an occupational therapist’s best and greatest qualities is creativity and flexibility. Teachers have this gift, too!
Every single child has different goals – so tweak that activity to work for them!
Change it Up!
Here are some ways to tweak this simple fall craft.
For really weak fine motor skills, take one piece of tissue paper in each hand. Hold the student’s hands up in the air like a “Y”. Crunch the tissues into little balls without using his other hand or his chin or even his belly to help with the crunching.
To work on mid crossing midline; place the paper to the other side of the student’s body. Put the helping hand on vacation (meaning behind his back). His dominant hand has to crossover in order to glue on the leaves of the tree.
My student with weak grip strength had to use a clothespin to pick up each tissue ball and place it on the tree.
My student with really poor scissor skills had to cut the tissue before he crunched. He also cut a piece of green construction paper to make grass for the bottom of his picture.
So – if you were a random person standing at the door of my occupational therapy room, you’d see every student come out with a picture of a tree with different colored fall leaves on it.
It might look like I’m doing cookie cutter therapy but I’m not.
It’s ok to re-use an Idea
My point is – give yourself a break! It’s OK to do the same or similar activity with different students.
Just use your creative mind to tweak it to work for that student and the needs of that student.
For teachers, this may mean creating groups of students who will complete the task in a different way. For example, the red table will use clothespins to pick up the leaves and the blue table has to crunch with two hands in the air in the shape of a Y.
Once you give yourself permission to do one activity with all the kids; you’ll see how easy it is to change it up.
Need an AMAZING Activity to do with your kids this week?
An exciting guest post from 4th-grade teacher, Jennifer O’Brien about the Hidden Benefits of Flexible Seating!
*This post contains affilaite links
Prior to implementing flexible seating in my classroom, I did A LOT of research. A flexible seating transformation is so much more than just buying new furniture. There are rules and expectations that must be clearly communicated to the students to ensure an easy transition. While I prepared myself for this change, I learned about some of the benefits of flexible seating:
Comfort: Students are more comfortable, allowing them to focus for longer periods of time. This leads to higher academic achievement.
Differentiated Seating: Flexible seating is essentially “differentiated” seating. There are many different choices, some options giving children the sensory input that they need.
Improved Behavior: Students are less disruptive and are able to burn off energy throughout the day.
The “hidden benefits”
When I made this commitment, I never would’ve thought that I’d see such positive changes (so quickly, too!) within my classroom.
With flexible seating, students aren’t tied down to one desk or seating arrangement. Throughout the day, they are sitting with different children. I have seen new friendships grow from this and I feel like it has only brought my students, and my class as a whole, closer.
Tables replaced the desks that were removed from my classroom during this transformation. I’ll admit- I was nervous that this would lead to a much noisier room, but that did not happen. Instead, I found that there was more productive chatter around the classroom. Tables foster a much more collaborative learning environment. I feel that this has also led to the development of stronger social skills in many of my students.
FREEBIE: Choosing the Right Alternative Seating Option
Improved Self-Monitoring Skills
The purpose of flexible seating is to give students the power of choice. They should be comfortable and ready to learn. This has been one of the more challenging skills to master but it has helped my students develop a necessary awareness throughout the school day. When I ask students to choose a “smart spot”, they know what is expected of them. It has been amazing to see them mature with this concept, understanding what both concentration and productivity should look like. When students feel like they cannot focus or that need to move, they may do so.
Stronger Classroom Management
Since I was rolling outthis transformation mid-year, I knew that my classroom management had to be strong. Clear rules and expectations arecritical and must remain consistent. Seeing my students understand the daily routine and take responsibility for their learninghas been incredible.I’ve learned so much through this experience, and I believe it has made me a stronger, more effective teacher. Stronger classroom management is definitely a hidden benefit of flexible seating!
Interested in learning more about Alternative Seating? Check out:
It’s almost Back to School time! Get 50% off the Guide to Alternative Seating for the Classroom until the end of August. Use Promo Code: BTS50
Jennifer O’Brien has a Master’s degree in Literacy from St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, N.Y.. She is General Education and Special Education certified birth-6th grade. Jennifer has been a public school teacher on Long Island for 3 years. In her spare time, she enjoys creating supplemental resources for her students to use as well as reading and going to the beach! Check out Jennifer’s Teachers Pay Teachers Store.