My Favorite Parts of #AOTA19

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.

  1. 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!

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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.

5) Meeting Colleen Schneck

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).

Attending the AOTA conference for a discount is just one of MANY benefits of being an AOTA member. Check out some more here. 

Did you attend the conference?   What was your favorite part?  Are going to go next year?  I can’t wait! (Next year is in Boston!)

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Why do Occupational Therapists want Educational Credentialing?

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”.

Why not? 

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? 
  • Teachers
  • Social Workers
  • Counselors (Guidance)
  • Speech and Language Therapists
  • Psychologists

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.

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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 address social-emotional needs, coping strategies, and other areas that impact a child’s ability to succeed in the classroom.
  • Speech-language therapists address expressive 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.

  1. 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.

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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.

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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!

To learn more, watch this FREE educational credentialing webinar. 

Join the Facebook group “USA School-based OTs Looking for Change”. Help us in this quest for equality.

Sign up for Miss Jaime, O.T.’s OT politics newsletter.   Stay in the loop with how we are advancing.

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