How I went from a stressed-out, overworked therapist with three jobs to helping thousands of school-based practitioners, parents, caregivers and teachers help the children in their lives.
Before I was an AOTA Approved Provider, national speaker, author; making webinars and creating and self-publishing occupational therapy products, I was a stressed out contract therapist struggling to pay my bills, balance my life, and set up my future.
Eager to help children everywhere.
Totally unaware of the barriers preventing me from doing so.
I am an accidental advocate.
I never planned to become an entrepreneur. And I never dreamed that I’d be an outspoken activist for equal rights for school-based occupational & physical therapy practitioners.
As a young therapist, I aspired to be a school administrator. There were so many changes I would make:
Why don’t OTPs have a proper work space?
Why aren’t there any principals that are OTPs or PTs?
Why don’t the preschools have an OTP consulting with them to “catch” the children who are falling behind?
Why aren’t OTPs and PTs at back-to-school night?
Why don’t we have time during the day to keep accurate notes and collaborate with teachers?
Why aren’t we enticed and compensated to take more continuing education classes like all the other teachers?
Why aren’t we included in the professional development meetings or safety training?
Then I quickly realized:
“This is how it is for school OTPs and PTs.”
There are almost NO school principals or superintendents who are OTPs or PTs because that’s the way the laws are set up
We can’t advance to official leadership positions. We’re not considered educators like all the other related service providers.
Like tons of other school therapists, I figured there wasn’t much I could do. After all, who the heck was I?
I decided to concentrate on my own situation. I started to build a plan for my future financial stability that did not include more jobs and more hours. If I were a social worker, school psychologist, or school counselor, I could secure my future salary by taking credits to advance myself on the salary scale. OR I could just sit back for the next twenty years and enjoy the yearly salary increments and cost of living raises afforded to everyone. But that option wasn’t available for me.
By starting an occupational therapy blog and website, I was able to work towards one of my other goals – helping tons of parents, teachers and therapists to help their kids.
As my technology skills grew and my social media following flourished, I realized:
“I’m not the only one in this boat…and now I have the skills to help us all”
Burning myself out with more cases, more agencies, and more per diem jobs was not the answer. I might be able to do it now… but what about when I’m sixty? What about work-life balance? Why are school OTPs and PTs in this position when all the other “teachers” aren’t?
The first few years of advocacy were slow.
I remember being a wide-eyed bright green school OTP with just a few years under my belt. I requested a meeting with the State OT association and got one. I thought this was it. Once they heard my position, and what was really happening in the schools in NY, they’d change it.
I had no idea about politics. No clue about legislation, red-tape, the legal barriers in addition to the fact that we were historically cemented into the Civil Service union. I drove 3.5 hours to Albany blissfully unaware of all of it.
They politely crushed my ignorant dreams in about twenty minutes. This was not going to be a “quick fix” by any means. I remember walking out of the conference room totally depleted. Only to see that my car had a flat tire. Typical.
My tire was flattened and so were my aspirations.
This all happened years before I started my website. Social media wasn’t even a thing back then. I was just a typical burned-out contract therapist with no opportunities to advance in the school setting.
Fast forward to 2015. I’d been infrequently meeting with a few other therapists who had similar advocacy interests. I was working full-time as a school district employed OTP and part-time 4 evenings a week in a sensory gym. I also worked per diem on weekends and school vacations at a hospital. My blog was a tiny seedling.
I decided to attend the AOTA conference in Nashville. And then I heard Amy Lamb’s speech “Be the Change”.
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”
That was when it hit me. I had a unique opportunity to help children in a much bigger way: If OTPs and PTs were able to be leaders in the school district, we could make some serious changes. Not just changes for ourselves, but changes for the kids. OTPs and PTs have so many unique qualifications and skills to bring to the leadership table.
In reality, the only way to make real change, to reach all the children in all communities is to advocate the full potential of our services in the school setting.
I decided to try again.
As my social media presence continued to grow, I started using my voice to educate other OTPs, PTs, teachers, and parents about the distinct value of occupational therapy. I started researching advocacy and the history of other “change-making” women who fought for equality and respect.
- How to advocate for myself, no matter the audience, in a professional but assertive manner.
- How to use technology to reach more therapists, teachers, and parents who are desperate for occupational therapy resources for their kids
- How to use social media to connect with thousands of other school practitioners who feel the same way and are desperate for change.
- How to use research to gather the data that key stakeholders and decision makers need to even begin to listen
Little by little, this “School-based OTs and PTS Looking for Change” movement has caught on. School professionals are talking about it. Teachers and school administrators are aware of it. We are getting somewhere. We are helping more and more kids. We are gaining traction.
There is still a lot of work to do…but it will get done.
OTPs and PTs CAN make a difference in the school setting without over-exerting themselves to see 16 kids in a row without a bathroom break. We don’t have to deplete our own mental and physical health to service the wonderful children we care so much about. The resources are out there, you don’t need to recreate the wheel.
BUT we still need change. We deserve parity to our other educated, IEP abiding colleagues. We deserve a seat at the leadership table. Only when we have a designated seat at the leadership table can we rise up out of the shadows to infuse our unparalleled and unique skill set throughout the whole school community.
And we will get that seat.
Ready To Take The Next Step?
If you like what you’re reading and want to take action in advocating the distinct value of OT & PT in the school setting, check out my free resources and email courses.
After all, insight without action is worthless.