Juggling the To-Dos of a School Therapist

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

Being a school-based therapist has many challenges. From large caseloads to lack of space, we always feel as if we are magicians—making it all happen. However, among these challenges, the good of what we do shines through, and we begin to realize that we do play an important role in this setting. I have come to find one of the most difficult aspects for me is to juggle all the “extras.” I can creatively plan sessions with limited space and resources, as well as play calendar roulette, making sure I can keep up with treating all the students that need to be seen. But what I cannot get a handle on are all the extra meetings, paperwork, and compliance things that have to be done…essentially, taking me away from doing what is most important for the student—providing services. Adding these extras on top of large caseloads means less treatment time.

From planning meetings to Evaluation Team Report (ETR) meetings to Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings to any additional consult meetings that need to take place, there just is not enough time to do it all. I actually consult with a district, so I am not even there full-time, which further limits my schedule flexibility. As the end of the school year is quickly approaching, I find more meeting requests flooding my inbox, and the days dwindling down.

So, what are some strategies for muddling through this?

1.)    Be Organized: Keeping an updated chart and timeline of your caseload, dates of when reviews are due, and any testing that needs to be completed is helpful. This will avoid those little surprises that may pop up.

2.)    Schedule Smart: I know this cannot always happen because it is not about just you; all staff members and parents are juggling calendars, as well as meeting deadlines. But when you are given an option or asked a preference, be direct and honest, stating what is best for you. If you are the type that likes to try and have a day of meetings, work hard to schedule as many as you can on that day. Or, if you find it better to have one meeting a time, schedule each one to allow you to still fit in your daily obligations.

3.)    Be Focused: Help meetings stay on track by keeping the information focused and on point. I know we all like to be personal with parents, and for many of us, this is the only time we see or meet them, so it can be tempting to cover a lot of ground. But know that the focus is to provide the necessary information for that particular meeting.

4.)    Attend Only What You Have To: I know each district is different, but bow out of the meetings you are actually able to miss, making sure you provide any information that is required.

5.)    Stay Individualized: It is easy for us to get into a routine as we do more and more of the same thing. For example, if you are in the process of doing three first-grade students’ IEPs, you may find it simple to use the same goals. Although it is often the case that students in the same grade will have similar needs, it is our job to differentiate and identify the individualized components that each student needs. Always make sure you keep it individualized.

Keep in mind that you are not alone. Many school therapists are feeling the same pressures with all the extras. Although following these few tips will not completely take away the mounting lists of what needs to be done, they will help lessen the burden.