In February 2024, I finally checked off a bucket list dream to (1) have a research article published, and (2) provide an evidence-based source to support the advocacy torch I’ve been carrying for years.

Together, my colleagues, Serena Zeidler OTD, OTR/L, and Kim Wiggins, OTR/L, and I achieved that dream. After months of work, the article was published in Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention (JOTSEI).

If you know one thing about me, it’s probably that I am a huge advocate for school-based occupational therapy practitioners. We do not receive equal treatment in the schools, and it doesn’t make any sense at all! It would be simpler to have all SISPs (specialized instructional support personnel, e.g., school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, speech-language pathologists, occupational and physical therapy practitioners) treated exactly the same. Oh, the red tape!

Read the Abstract

In most states, occupational therapy practitioners are restricted from
advancing to formal school leadership positions. The absence of pathways
to leadership may limit the ability to fulfill AOTA’s Vision 2025
and Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This study investigates how
limited opportunities for career advancement affect school practice
trends. We explore the perceptions of school practitioners in New York
State concerning leadership, advocacy, and state policies. Seven hundred
and fourteen current and former occupational therapy practitioners
in New York schools completed a researcher-developed online
survey. Notably, almost all respondents (94.7%) agreed that practitioners
should be able to pursue educational administrative coursework.
Most (94.6%) agreed that practitioners in New York should
advocate for policies that would allow them to pursue such coursework.
Many respondents reported that they would consider pursuing
the coursework if available. This research emphasizes the misalignment
between federal and state policies. Federal policy (ESSA) and
Vision 2025 encourage greater involvement for occupational therapy
practitioners, but state policy restricts their advancement. The findings
demonstrate the pressing need for reform and the creation of pathways
that enable occupational therapy practitioners to assume formal
leadership positions in school settings, thus enhancing their contribution
to the school community.

Yes, the article is about New York State, but almost every other state is facing the same dilemma.

“In most states, a person must be educationally credentialed to become a school administrator.” However, there is no education credential required for occupational therapy practitioners.

This research highlights a gap between federal and state policies regarding occupational therapy practitioners (OTPs) in schools.

  • The Problem: Most states, including New York, restrict OTPs from becoming school administrators.
  • The Impact: This limits OTPs’ ability to contribute to school leadership and advocacy, hindering goals outlined in both AOTA’s Vision 2025 and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
  • The Evidence: A survey of over 700 current and former New York school OTPs found overwhelming support for:
    • Allowing OTPs to pursue educational leadership training.
    • Advocating for policy changes that would enable this.
    • Many OTs themselves expressed interest in pursuing leadership roles.
  • The Conclusion: This mismatch between federal encouragement and state restrictions requires policy reform. Creating pathways for OTs to become school leaders would strengthen their contribution to the educational system.
We need to cut through the red tape and find our way to equality. Imagine how an occupational therapy practitioner could impact school children if we were only given an opportunity to become school leaders!


To cite this article:

Jaime Spencer MEd, OTR/L, Serena Zeidler OTD, OTR/L & Kim Wiggins OTR/L (13 Feb 2024): Perceptions of Occupational Therapy Practitioners as Leaders within the New York State Education System, Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention, DOI: 10.1080/19411243.2024.2315579

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