The start of a new year is a perfect time to reflect upon your practice. For most of us there are areas of school-based practice in which we feel well-versed and there are other areas in which we could use more training, education, information or experience. Occupational therapy is a dynamic profession that is continually changing and evolving along with current views of best practice and the available evidence. It is a necessary aspect of occupational therapy practice that we stay up-to-date. One example is the shift to the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework. Those of you who were trained in Uniform Terminology may be less familiar with the newer Occupational Therapy Practice Framework (which by-the-way is extremely well-suited for application in the school setting) and have a professional and ethical obligation to understand and use our ‘new’ practice framework. The same is true for school practice – special education laws and regulations change and evolve over time and it is important to stay current in order to practice effectively in the schools.
When I talk to groups of school-based occupational therapists, my advice for change is always the same. Start where you are, figure out where you want to be, use what you have and move forward.
Start where you are: It can be difficult to move forward if you aren’t clear on where you are. The first step is to take the time to reflect. Think about what is going well in your practice. Think about what is not going well or what you could do better or what you’d like to change in your practice. Identify areas where you need to improve. For example, you may identify technology as an area that you know little about. Select an aspect of technology that you are particularly interested in or have a student-based need to know about and start there.
Figure out where you want to be: Keep this small, for example, you may decide that you would like to be able to make picture activity sequences and schedules to use with students in the classroom.
Use what you have: Your goal will be much more easily achieved if you can identify existing materials and supports. In this example, you know that the speech department has a copy of Boardmaker so you decide that is a good place to begin.
Move forward – take that first step: Baby steps…as my friend and colleague Sharon Ray says. Identify that one small thing that will move you in the direction you want to go. Then, as the Nike ad says…. ‘just do it’. When you complete that first small step, move on to the next one and the next and before you know it you will have changed your practice. In this example the first step may be to call one of the speech therapists to arrange a time that they can sit and show you the basics of using Boardmaker. The second step is to actually meet with the speech therapist and get trained. The third step may be that you will develop a simple 3 picture activity sequence to use with one of your students as he learns to put on his coat for recess. And on and on…By breaking down your goal into small steps and using what you have available to you, it becomes less daunting or overwhelming. In fact, we do this for our students all the time!
So, I challenge each of you to make a commitment to continuing forward movement toward your goals. And remember…start where you are, figure out where you want to be, use what you have and move forward (with baby steps)!