The end of the school year is near.
And if you are like me, you are counting down the days until you can finally breathe in that sweet summer break breeze.
But before we can completely close out this school year, there are a few things we can do now to make the next school year more manageable and rewarding.
Today, we'll explore six actionable strategies you can use now to ensure a smooth end to this school year and a fresh start to the next school year.
Let's get's started.
Section 1: Progress on Goals
As we near the end of the academic year, prioritizing the completion of progress reports is crucial to avoid being tracked down by your administrator all summer long.
Take the time to finalize and send these reports to the case carriers or parents - your district should have a system for who the OTP should send them to.
Not sure how to complete your progress reports or what to put in them? Here are a few tips:
Set a personal deadline a few days before the actual deadline - It's easier to set a personal deadline when you know the actual due dates for a project like this. So I recommend you find out when progress reports are due early and mark your calendars with a personal deadline a week earlier. Remember, if you provide your case carriers with the progress reports to send home, they may have a deadline of their own for you to meet.
Create a template - It's true. Everything is easier with a template. Create one or two templates to help you get through the reports. Here's one example you may use if you are in a bind:
It has been a pleasure working with ________ this year. ______ had a goal to (insert or summarize goal). Therapist data shows that ________ is currently meeting/making progress toward this goal with __% accuracy. (Add any details you'd like here - what's working, what's not, what type of support is required, etc.). It is expected that by the next annual IEP, ________ will/will be close to/will unlikely meet this goal. We will continue to address this goal during OT sessions and in collaboration with the teacher. (Repeat for each goal - minus the first sentence)
Please note this is one example and may only meet some situations. For example, if you have collaborative goals with the teacher, you may need to write a part of the report while the teacher also writes a part.
Tackle one "group" at a time - I like to complete progress reports one "group" at a time. Sometimes a group is a single classroom, an entire school (if there are not too many kids), or a group can be classified by the "easy/hard ones..." Only you know what groups work for you, and when you find a method that works, write it down so you remember it.
Make it easy for the case carriers - If you make it easy for the case carriers to send your reports home, you can often save yourself the time of sending them home. Try your best to meet their deadlines and provide the reports in a method that works for them. Some want them printed out, while others like them in a black-and-white PDF. Help them, and you are helping yourself.
When in doubt, ask the case carrier - Need help determining the due dates, what you are responsible for, or how to submit your reports? Start by asking the case carriers. Office staff members also tend to be helpful in this circumstance.
Section 2: Wrapping Up Your School-based OT Evaluations
Managing evaluations can be a challenge, but adopting a plan within your district can help. Here's the approach I took to evaluations as the end of the year approached:
For team meetings that will be held this year, I, of course, get those done this year before the meeting comes up.
For team meetings that will occur within the first two weeks of the following school year, I will work as hard as possible to have those evaluations done, written, and ready to go for when we come back in the fall.
For team meetings that will occur AFTER the first two weeks of the following school year, I will hold off on those evaluations until after we return from summer break. I recognize that students' skills may evolve, and new teachers may bring fresh perspectives and concerns. By postponing these evaluations until the fall, you ensure a more accurate and comprehensive assessment that reflects the student's current needs.
The exemptions for this are:
A) If I know the student will be going to a new school next year and/or
B) I know I will not return to the school in the fall.
If I know either of those circumstances is likely to occur, I will get the evaluation done in advance for the sake of the therapist who will have that student in the fall.
Keep track of your evaluations and get them done on time!
In the A-Z School-Based OT Course, I'll help you better understand each piece of a school-based OT evaluation and how they fit together.
You'll also get access to my evaluation document template to improve your evaluation write-ups!
Section 3: Communication with Parents
Maintaining effective communication with parents is critical to fostering collaboration and support. My contact with parents has often led to less friction between them and me, even when they have concerns about their student's IEPs.
If you don't currently keep in contact with all, or even some, of your student's parents or caregivers, you can start by emailing them at the end of the school year. Provide an update on their student's progress and express gratitude for the partnership throughout the year.
You can start with a template and then copy and paste portions of your progress report to write most of your email. Don't forget to add a touch of individualization to make the message feel personal and genuine. These thoughtful communications strengthen the parent-professional relationship and pave the way for a successful start to the next school year.
Section 4: Data Collection
Gathering and analyzing evaluation and service data from the school year is valuable for informing future planning - both for yourself and for the team of people you work with.
Take the time to gather information on completed assessments, service recommendations, student exits from OT, missed OT services, and any notable referral patterns. By analyzing this data, you can identify trends, areas of growth, and potential areas for improvement.
This process allows you to reflect on where your evaluations came from, how you can support teachers to lower the number of referrals you receive next year, enhance your practice, and better meet the needs of your students. This is the process I have used many times to get the support I need from the admin.
Section 5: Managing Equipment and Tools
OT Tools like to grow legs. Prevent adapted chairs, fidgets, task boxes, and other tools from going missing by walking around campus with a cart and collecting everything you provided to the teachers throughout the year.
As you collect them, document the tools and who they were for this school year. It may be helpful to even take a picture of the materials with the classroom teacher who had them this year. That way, you can easily give them back in the fall or give them to the next teacher who needs them if a student moves teachers.
If you don't have something in place, consider using any planning days (if you get planning days) to create a simple checkout form and process for next year.
Section 6: Celebrate
Remember to celebrate!
As the school year comes to a close, take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate the accomplishments of your students. Plan a fun activity or event that highlights their achievements and reinforces their sense of success.
As Susan mentioned in the OT Schoolhouse Collaborative Community recently, she likes to celebrate the final week of school with a snow cone party. The students get to make their own snowcone with an old-school manual crank snow cone machine.
Other end-of-the-year activities:
Acknowledge your students with certificates of some kind.
Have a "Student choice" therapy day. They choose the activity, and you adapt to make it therapeutic.
Enjoy the nice weather and take therapy outside.
Help your students surprise their teacher with a thank-you gift. This could be done with an individual student, a group, or a whole class.
Get creative - find your way to celebrate with the kids who appreciate you.
PS. Remember to celebrate your own victories and note all the ways you have improved this past year.
The Final Word
As we approach the end of the school year, embrace these strategies to help you wrap up the current chapter and set the stage for a successful start next fall.
Here's everything wrapped up into a nice little checklist:
Complete your progress reports
Wrap up your evaluations (or delegate to next year)
Communicate with parents
Bring your data to life and share it with your team or admin, if necessary
Collect and organize all of your equipment
Celebrate the students and yourself
By doing these things, you can enjoy your break knowing that you completed all the work to make your administrators happy and that everything will be ready to pick up where you left off in the fall.
Have a great summer!
PS. Did I miss anything? What do you do to wrap up the school year? Tag me in a social media post, and let me know.
Get my Evaluation Report Template and start feeling confident, knowing you conducted a solid OT evaluation.
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