Hey there everyone!
Between working to startup the podcast and trying to stay up to date at the school sites, we fell slightly behind on this blog post. But we’re here and the world has not come to an abrupt stop. Thank goodness.
Despite not having a theme for April, this Month of OT has turned into a month of posts related to productivity and organization for OTs here, so we are going to run with it.
Last week, Abby posted a great post titled “Ten Time Management Tips for the Busy School-Based OT” and this week I want to follow that up with a few more specific tips and one useful document for all of you that either travel to multiple school sites or work with multiple therapists at several school sites.
Let’s jump into the first set of tips!
“Prioritize your time”
This one is straight from Abby’s post last week, but it’s so important that I felt it necessary to reemphasize. Being a school-based therapist is hard enough at one school, but having to deal with 2, 3, or even more school sites is just ridiculous.
Most school seem to have a six and a half hour day. However, between lunch, recess, and other daily activities it can sometimes seem like the kids are hardly there at all. And it's true, you really don’t have that much time in a day to see the students. It's absolutely imperative that you know the school schedules and organize your time to take advantage of it.
Here are a few quick tips to take advantage of the school schedules:
See older students when the younger ones are at lunch and vice versa.
Start at an early start school and end at a later start school.
Drive between schools during the time when most students are at lunch. (And don’t forget to eat your lunch - likely while driving...)
Make sure you have a schedule and directory for each school. Don't forget to reference to it when setting up your schedule. A school map may even be helpful at the beginning of the year.
Get on each schools' email list so that you know when fire drills or other drills may occur. That way you can plan around it and even potentially be at another school site when it occurs.
Going to a school site just to see one student? Call the secretary or check the web (if you have access) to see if they are even there.
Check In, Check Out
I got a flashback just now to Mr. Miyagi from the Karate kid while writing that.
This has not happened to me (and I hope it never happens to you either), but I have heard stories about therapists getting accused of not being where they were supposed to be during work hours.
Being a therapist that travels between sites comes with some extra responsibility. Many people in the district trust that you are where you are supposed to be and most do not check in unless they have a reason to. You definitely do not want to put yourself in a situation where your supervisor feels they need to check in on you. Plus, it just makes all of us look bad. So please, be where you're supposed to be.
With that said, be sure to check in and out of school sites. That way if anyone did feel the need to check in on you, you can prove you were at least somewhere in the district. You can’t simply rely on a teacher or secretary vouching for you. Some schools have a related service sign-in book in the front office and others have a sign-in/out for each student being seen in the classroom. Whatever the rules are, know that they are there for both you and the students' best interests.
If you want a little extra security, you can even set your phone up to track when you arrive and depart from somewhere and have it logged in a google doc using the IFTTT app. This can be a little tricky to set up, but if you’d like to know more about this, email me and I will try to help you out.
One of the hardest parts for any therapist can be keeping up to date on what kids are at what school, what do their services look like, and when are all of their meetings due.
In a perfect world, the case carrier keeps you informed on much of this, but we don’t always live in a perfect world so we have to keep up our own records. Below is a screenshot from a document we would like to share with anyone who would like it.
We use a very similar document uploaded to google docs so that we can access it from virtually anywhere. Then we try our best to update it right there during the IEP meeting. Although, quite frankly, it sometimes does not get updated until a pupil free day such as spring break.
Not only does this document track the details of each student, but it also is used to track how many students the OT sees versus the COTA at any school site so that you can easily determine if one therapist has more or
fewer students and/or weekly contact hours.
The summary page of this document automatically imports data from the other “School site” pages and auto-populates to give you a summary of how many students receive different levels of service at each school site. It will also help you plan for extended school year and help when conducting a workload study to justify the need for an additional support.
We have used a version of this spreadsheet for the past five years and it has really helped to keep our caseload organized year in and year out. I also make sure to save a copy of the document at the end of each school year to compare to other school years.
If you think this file is something that would be useful to you and other providers at your school you can get it here by subscribing to our email list. We promise not to spam your email or sell your data. We just want to let you know when we have more great stuff for you to use.
Traveling on a Schedule
When I first began as an OT with multiple schools, I was almost fearful of traveling. Not the actual driving part, but the idea that I wasn’t seeing students. I felt as though I was wasting time. That was when I was only at 4 schools. Now I’m at 9! But the truth of the matter is that traveling is part of the job and we should treat it with the importance it demands.
Travel takes time and if we don’t account for this time, we are bound to fall behind in our schedule. For this reason, be sure to schedule travel time into your day. Not just the time it takes to get from point A to point B, but also the time required to pack your things, check out, walk to your car, drive, check in at the new site (while saying a brief hello to the office staff) and finding/ getting set up in a room. This all takes time and is especially true for providers in rural districts as well as congested city districts where traffic can be bad.
Real quick, this is also very important to track if you are in the process of, or wanting to, conduct a workload study. Workload studies are great and we are currently tracking data for our own study. We hope to bring that to you over the summer.
One last thing on this topic to help you out, I promise. Be sure to track your mileage between school sites. You can either write it off on your taxes or have the district/contract agency reimburse you. In a rural area, this is well worth the time it takes to do.
And That’s Just a Few
There are so many other tips that could help a traveling school-based therapist and we hope to help you out with more in the future. Be sure to subscribe to our email list to get the spreadsheet from above as well as a few other free documents and stay in the know. Also check out the podcast for half-hour segments all about school-based OT.
What tips do you have for our readers? Be sure to comment below so others can learn from them.
Until next time,