Content Editor


Jul 21
So You Have Decided to Become a School-Based Therapist!

Melinda McGouldrick, OTR, MOT
Manager, School-Based Therapy Services, Harris County Dept. of EducationWondering woman 2.jpg

For whatever reason, you have decided it’s the right time to change from being a therapist in the hospital, clinic, or skilled nursing facility. You are experienced in your current world, you know the language, you speak in familiar acronyms, and the processes and equipment are familiar and routine. Yes, you educate.  You give home programs, you are involved in discharge planning, and you educate caregivers.

You are ready for change . . . you are making the leap . . . you like working with kids . . .it sure would be nice to be on your own children’s school schedules . . . .It takes a while, but you land a new job in the schools. Wow! 
You know there will be new learning and you are ready. Just know that the change is bigger and there are more differences than you had anticipated.  This is not a bad thing…just under appreciated until you live it. 
You have become comfortable knowing that ROM is range of motion, H&P is history and physical, etc. etc. and you can even read it when a physician scribbles it on his notes. Be prepared, because you will find that the acronyms in the education world are completely different. In the resource section of this website there is a 7 page list of Frequently Used Acronyms and Terms for School-based Practice in Texas.  The only familiar term that you will notice is TBI for traumatic brain injury.  It is a different and rich language. (Frequently used Acronyms and Terms for School-based Practice in TX​; TxSpot Resources Page)
Other resources on this website describe the difference between school-based practice and the medical model/clinical focus.  (Comparison of School-Based to Clinic-Based Therapy​FAQ: Clarify school-based v. medical model; School Based vs. Clinical Based Therapy- Region 10 website) The services therapists provide in the school setting are vital components of a therapy world that is serving the 3-21 year olds in our state…we are helping to prepare for their future and in doing so our own futures.  This is not to say you will not continue to consider self-care, mobility, positioning, and the underlying fine and gross motor skills.  Your identity as a therapist who values the facilitation of independence and helping people will continue to be nurtured.  But, as a therapist, it is a mind shift to support.  You will look at the role of others on the team and regard the environment through a different set of lenses.  Among other things you will be supporting literacy and assistive technology, and “UDL” (Universal Design for Learning).  Your goals will no longer be therapy-specific goals, but will be in support of the student’s educational goals within a team plan.  You are now a member of a group whose mission is to help a student be able to receive a free and appropriate education and to participate in his or her educational environment. 
At the most basic level of operations, you have always organized yourself and your personal schedule in regard to work hours.  Now you will think in terms of days.  If you worked full time you had vacation and sick time or PTO or EIB.  In the schools when you are enjoying that winter or spring break or that long summer break with your children, those days are not counted in your “contract” days.  Don’t get me wrong; it is fabulous to not be dealing with hospital holiday scheduling stress.  You will still get personal leave days, but they are counted differently and depend on the school or district in which you work.
Just remember when you are feeling overwhelmed with all the effort and learning and energy that you put into this change…it is all worth it!
I’ve made the switch and you can, too. You’re going to love it!