The Collaborative Challenge for the School Therapist

Kathryn Biel Kathryn Biel[/caption]


I just completed my first week back to school, and I’m tired and energized all at the same time. This is my third year in the same school district and schools, which is like a record for me (I used to work for a contract agency, so I was moved around all the time). What makes this stability nice is the chance to collaborate more and more with the teachers and other therapists. At this point, collaboration is a must, and resistance is futile. Scheduling alone sort of clues us into that fact.

As a physical therapist, the majority of my sessions are pull-out, as I haven’t figured out how to push-in without totally disrupting the class. As such, looking at a schedule that includes two hours of core classes (ELA and Math), 90 minutes of special ed teacher (for my integrated students), 40 minutes each of special and lunch/recess, doesn’t leave much time for pull-out sessions, especially when a student receives PT, OT, Speech, and Counseling. As such, collaboration is a must.

For OT and Speech, the natural progression of collaboration occurs in the form of the push-in session. This, believe it or not, can be a hard sell. Sometimes, therapists are set in their ways and like the pull-out method. Other times, pre-conceived group ideas preclude this as students are in different classes. Still, and most unfortunately, sometimes teachers want students to leave the class for a while.

However, there are benefits to a therapist being in a classroom, more than just the additional body. It’s another set of eyes and therefore another set of ideas. From this, true collaboration can occur. The therapist in the room can bring a whole host of suggestions to help all the students in the class, not just the ones on program. This, in turn, helps the teachers. It may be more work, especially at the onset. The trial and error, getting to know the challenges that 20+ students create when they are mixed together.

We all know that even if a classroom is not identified as an “integrated” classroom, there will be students in there at different levels of academic readiness, neurological development, sensory integration, and overall needs. A well-rounded collaborative program between motor therapists, speech therapists, counselors, and teachers can work to provide a more hearty and thorough educational environment, especially in this trying climate. If you would like to learn more about how to create a collaborative educational environment, check out Sara Harvey’s course, A Collaborative Challenge: Therapists Successfully Supporting Differentiated Instruction in the Classroom that is part of the Seventeenth Annual Therapies in the Schools Conference.

~Kathryn Biel, PT, DPT