COVID-19 has caused many disruptions for school professionals and students this past school year. Our SHC Schools Center of Excellence decided to have a discussion with some of our own school professionals to get their thoughts and advice on the challenges they faced. Given that the 2020-2021 school year will continue to look different from years past, here is a look at some school professionals’ experiences to help navigate this changing landscape.
Our Senior Division Staffing Manager of Schools, Jim Burris, moderated our panel of school professionals and SHC ambassadors: Sara Young, an occupational therapist in St. Louis, Tina Kollar, a school psychologist in Dallas, Taylor Yarbrough, a clinical fellow speech-language pathologist in Baltimore, and Brandon Buckendorf, a speech-language pathologist and supervisor near Kansas City. You can read more about their resources and advice as well as watch the whole video discussion below.
What were the top tools or resources you utilized to overcome the pivot into remote/innovative learning?
Sara, OT: My favorite tool, and I use this throughout the school year whether I’m home or at school, is Tools to Grow. It’s a great therapy resource: it has activities broken down by specific skill area, they have different themed activities, which are super fun for the activities, and you can make it seasonal. I find kids are really motivated and those activities are a little more fun for them to work on their goals.
I’ve kind of been a resource hoarder over the past couple of years since I’ve started compiling different resources from websites and treatment activities that I have on a disc. So, it was pretty easy to access those activities and send them through email and then just describe how to modify and adapt those activities per student, so that came really in handy. I was happy that I did that over the past couple years, so it made the transition a little bit easier.
Tina, SP: I still had to provide counseling through Zoom, I still had to attend meetings through Zoom, I was conducting evaluations through Zoom, so you know those were some big challenges to overcome and figure out how to accomplish all that at the same time. So, that was my first go-to tool. The second one’s very personal.
My second tool is actually my wardrobe because I wanted to feel like I was still in the building. I wanted to feel like I was still projecting a certain image and representing the company, so I wanted to make sure that when I was on Zoom, I still looked professional. I still looked like I did in the building.
Taylor, SLP: My go-to tool was Google Meets. It was pretty easy for my students to access and I was able to see them in groups as well as leave homework for them to get on and access by themselves, so I use that a lot.
Teachers Pay Teachers, I’ve used that throughout. They have a lot of worksheets for my students because I’m at a middle school and high school, so it’s easy for them to just kind of find a lot of worksheets and resources for them and it’s pretty easy for them to access.
Brandon, SLP: Teach Town was a resource that we that we piloted during COVID. It’s an online platform where you can assign speech and language activities and that the kids can actually do on their own. It didn’t work for everybody, but it was one tool that that was really helpful.
The other one is kind of like Tina was saying, this is more personal. I had to start my day getting centered. Being in leadership during this time, it was a time to like, really step up. And I had to get back into meditation. I used to meditate a long time ago and I just kind of got lazy with it. But when this whole thing hit, I was like, all right yeah, I need some zen. So I started using Balance, which is kind of like Headspace, and I started using that and that was I found that super helpful.
What advice would you give someone that is new to the school setting for the 2020-21 school year?
Sara, OT: When I started, I had no clinical experience in schools and it was very overwhelming. You’re learning all those new systems and just learning how the school setting works and your role in the school setting. So, I would say the biggest thing is that not everything has to be learned in that first week. You don’t have to know what you’re doing right away. It’s kind of a learning and growing process. I still ask questions to team leads and other therapists when I’m unsure about situations, so ask lots of questions.
I will say, for St. Louis Public we have a great supportive group of therapists, and when you have those interactions in those buildings, ask questions to those therapists. Everybody is very kind and willing to help, so ask questions and don’t be too overwhelmed with learning everything at once.
Tina, SP: I was able to establish more trust and rapport with parents, but what I discovered in that was the parents were so overwhelmed. Going into this, I would just have some idea of what you’re going say to parents because that’s going to happen again. You’re going be put on the spot. They’re looking to you to guide them, to give them advice.
I would encourage you to really look at the remoteness as being a place where you can have more flexibility. Look at it as a way to find more ways to be efficient, because I did. It was an opportunity to really streamline some of my own processes that we normally just kind of fly by or throw together, so that was a good opportunity to be flexible and efficient that way.
Taylor, SLP: It was overwhelming but I learned that you grow over time, it’s important to ask questions, use your resources. I was finding that I was kind of going out of my way and going to Target a lot and the Dollar Store to get different things. Where instead of like looking at my school and going to the library, or asking teachers for resources first, because the school has so many resources that you can use.
So just relax, ask questions, don’t get too overwhelmed, especially if you’re in middle school or high school because it can seem a little intimidating at first. But I just found getting comfortable with other team leaders and teachers helped a lot and they were there throughout the whole time to help me.
Brandon, SLP: It’s a time right now where I feel like we can’t be governed by the unknown, so it’s a time where we have to step out there and try new things. Try teletherapy. Try some of these different programs. You might be surprised at how well you like it. And if you don’t, it’ll probably change tomorrow, so that’s a plus! I just feel like it’s not a time where you’re going to base the decisions for the rest of your career off of right now. This is a very unique period. And I feel like we’re all learning a ton. This is such an opportunity for us to learn. I feel like it’s going to be useful for us moving forward.
Answers may have been edited slightly for clarity and length.
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