Poster Session
Issue Date: July 2015
Published Online: July 01, 2015
Updated: April 30, 2020
The Teacher–Occupational Therapist Relationship in School-Based Practice: Perspectives of the Teachers
Author Affiliations
  • Duquesne University
  • Duquesne University
  • Duquesne University
Article Information
Education of OTs and OTAs / School-Based Practice / Basic Research
Poster Session   |   July 01, 2015
The Teacher–Occupational Therapist Relationship in School-Based Practice: Perspectives of the Teachers
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, July 2015, Vol. 69, 6911505034.
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, July 2015, Vol. 69, 6911505034.

Date Presented 4/16/2015

The role of the occupational therapist (OT) on the educational team and the teacher–therapist relationship was investigated via a survey. Results indicate that the majority of teachers understand the contributions of the OT as well as value the role of the OT. Results suggest that communication, collaboration, and the OT presence need improvement.

SIGNIFICANCE: The occupational therapist’s role in the school-based setting includes evaluation of the student where data collection is focused on the academic, developmental, and functional needs of the student in the school context. The student’s strengths and factors that may be interfering with his or her learning and participation in the educational context are determined and the student’s productivity is compared with other students in the same environments. While working within the school context, the occupational therapist is a member of the team lead by the teacher. Teachers often become frustrated with the system expressing concerns for the lack of occupational therapists and lack of communication. When working with occupational therapists, teachers express the desire for a more proactive approach to consultation and role clarification, also indicating a belief that occupational therapists need to develop a greater awareness of the needs of the educational system.
As collaborative teaming increases, outcomes indicate teachers’ perceptions of occupational therapist’s contributions to student skill development increases and teacher’s understanding of the occupational therapist’s role and scope of occupational therapy practice improves.
INNOVATION: To explore the current trends in school-based occupational therapy practice and how teachers in the school system perceive the occupational therapist’s roles the following research question was explored: How do teachers perceive the role of occupational therapists in a school setting?
METHOD: Using qualitative survey research methods this study focused on the following objectives: 1. Identify current trends in school based occupational therapy services within Pennsylvania. 2. Identify teacher generated perceptions of the role of occupational therapy in current school based practice. 3. Understand the implications of teacher perceptions to current school based practice and the role of the occupational therapist on the educational team.
A 31 question anonymous online survey was mailed out electronically to teachers in Pennsylvania who have worked with occupational therapists, which collected demographic information, employment status, and practice patterns on the teachers.
The purpose of the survey was to gather information about the teachers’ perceptions of the roles of occupational therapists they have worked with in the school setting.
Data for this research study was analyzed using descriptive statistics including frequency tables, statistical pies and/or histograms to provide a picture of current trends in school-based occupational therapy practice as they relate to the therapist teacher relationship.
The open ended questions answered by the teachers in the survey were analyzed using constant comparative analysis. Themes were identified to represent the lived experience of the teachers related to their perceptions of occupational therapy.
RESULTS: Data analysis of the responses from the participants resulted in four key themes that represented teacher’s perceptions of school-based occupational therapists. These include (I) The good, the bad, and the ugly (II) Communicate and Collaborate! (III) OT’s role on and contribution to the IEP team, (IV) The teachers want MORE!
When the participants were asked to describe a positive experience they had with an occupational therapist the majority of the participants offered insights. The data analysis revealed the following three sub-themes: (1) occupational therapy is an important factor for providing support for classroom participation, (2) occupational therapists are student-focused, and (3) occupational therapists are great team members.
The participants were asked to describe a negative experience they had with an occupational therapist. From the responses, 53% could not identify a negative interaction and 22% responded with answers that were categorized into “The Bad” theme and identified occupational therapy as “not important”. The participants reported scenarios where the occupational therapist was distant and made minimal to no contribution to student progress. One participant stated “I think occupational therapists should be more involved with the students they work with in order to help them make progress”.
The remaining participants (25%) reported the negative experience was in regards to the theme of: the occupational therapist not fulfilling the responsibilities to the child and/or team. The participants reported that responsibilities not being met by the occupational therapist were a.) no direct interaction with the teachers/students, b.) not attending IEP and regular meetings, and c.) lack of communication/collaboration between therapist and teacher.
Communication & collaboration between teachers and occupational therapists needs improvement. Examples include more direct interaction of the teacher’s in the classroom with the students and a more collaborative relationship with the teachers on a daily basis.
The teacher’s viewed the occupational therapist as a valuable member of the educational team by contributing to the meetings, giving suggestions that will support classroom performance for each student, and helping teachers/parents understand the role of occupational therapy.
However, some teachers found that the occupational therapists didn’t have time for meetings due to their high caseload, contributed minimally to meetings, and that outside of the field of special education occupational therapy is not viewed as a huge contributor.
The teacher’s showed appreciation of the suggestions/ideas that occupational therapists have given them to help support the needs/strengths of their students in the classroom. Because of the value of occupational therapy, the teacher’s want more. Teachers report wanting more of an opportunity to work together and share strategies and ideas.
CONCLUSIONS: School-based occupational therapists need to have a voice in the educational system. Our roles are valued when we impact the classroom context and increase student participation. When we are not a “present” member of the team our perceived value decreases. Teachers have been identified as a key component to the successful integration of occupational therapy strategies to support student success in a school context. The findings from this study concur, showing that the teacher-therapist relationship is an important and a vital piece in promoting success for children with disabilities in the school environment.