Everyone has been there. It’s your first year on the job. Even if you are an experienced therapist, if you’re making the transition to working in a school setting, you’ll have a bit of a learning curve. If you are working as a school-based occupational, physical, or speech therapist for the first time, don’t sweat it. There are several things you can do to make your rookie year go well.
Realize it’s a different ballgame.
If you have been working in a hospital, rehabilitation center or a nursing home, a school setting is different. The rules and regulations you are used to may not apply in a school. While many of the techniques and principles of therapy will be the same, your approach may also have to be different.
Don’t get caught up in proving yourself.
Sure, you’re the new kid in town. But that does not mean you have to prove you have what it takes right from the start. If you’re always trying to be in charge or “right” all the time, you won’t grow as a school-based therapist. Remember, you still have things you can learn. Keep an open mind when starting in this setting, and do your best to learn from other therapists and clinicians.
Work together with those around you.
Working in a school setting will give you the opportunity to work with teachers, school counselors, parents and other professionals. Be open to working as a team. Consider the advice and suggestions you get from other staff who have experience. It does not mean you have to do everything each person suggests. Instead, use what advice you feel will be helpful when working with your students.
You’re starting a new job in a setting you are unfamiliar with. Having questions is normal. Don’t be afraid to ask other therapists or teachers when you need clarification on something. If possible, find a mentor who has been a school-based therapist for a while. Keep in mind that parents of the students you are working with can also be a helpful source of information.
Be confident in your abilities.
Working as a school-based therapist can be quite different from what you are used to. If you have not treated children, especially younger kids, it will be even more of a transition. This doesn’t mean you can’t continue to believe in your ability and knowledge. Refer to your training and experience, utilize the resources you have in your new job, and you can still succeed.
Be sure of school policies.
Before you start your job, be sure you understand school policies. If you have worked in other settings as a therapist, you may not be familiar with individualized education plans you’ll be developing or other school-related requirements. They may have specific processes for documentation, note-taking, conferences, etc. Find out either from your recruiter, the special education coordinator, or the HR director at the school district if you’ll have a short orientation of specific school policies you need to know.
As a school-based therapist, you will be working with students providing therapy, but that’s not all. In addition, you’ll spend time charting, developing and reviewing individualized education plans, talking with teachers and meeting with parents. With all the responsibilities you have, it’s easy to get off track. A little procrastination can spell trouble and put your behind. Develop a system to stay on top of things and organized from the start. Pinterest and blogs from other school-based therapists are extra resources that can help you with organization tips.