Imagine your school without related services.
Imagine your students struggling with day-to-day classroom skills but having no one to come help them.
That’s what I saw during my recent trip to Guatemala, where I provided free inservice training to teachers from all over the country.
In developing countries like Guatemala, many buildings, including schools, are little more than a roof and walls. Yet I’m always amazed educators with so few resources are so passionate about making a positive difference for their students.
Their situation dramatically demonstrates the advantages of inservice training for teachers on therapy techniques.
And it reaffirms a belief we at Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS) have held for more than 20 years: You don’t always need the latest technology or fanciest equipment to put loads of good therapeutic strategies into action. You only need to know the basics of what therapists know about helping kids, because that knowledge has a power all its own.
Why Inservice Training for Teachers Is Often the Only Option
Over the last decade, as part of PTS’ DoMoreGood Initiative, I’ve crossed the globe training teachers in developing countries to help students with special needs.
In India, Central America, and the Caribbean, teacher training is the only option, since there are no pediatric therapists. Many schools don’t even offer special education.
Students who struggle with functional challenges that make school’s daily demands difficult and frustrating are abandoned to failure or sent home. In rural areas of Guatemala, for instance, only 61% of children with disabilities attend school, compared to 82% of children without.
But the teachers I met in Guatemala are full of questions and hungry to learn more.
The kids they’re most concerned about face issues like those in any suburban U.S. school district. Teachers want to understand more about Autism; or what to do if children can’t learn their letters, sit still, or hold a pencil properly; or how to keep students focused.
Training Teachers to See Students Through Pediatric Therapists’ Eyes
In the week or two I get to spend with amazing teachers in developing countries, I focus on key concepts and strategies that equip them to recognize a problem’s potential root and apply appropriate therapeutic supports.
Within days, even hours, teachers start to see their students through a pediatric therapist’s eyes.
They see the fidgety third grader who can’t stay in his seat as a child with potential sensory processing disorder. Or they no longer view the child who has “sloppy” handwriting as lazy; now they see a student who has low muscle tone and weak hand muscles.
We then give teachers multiple classroom-based strategies they can deploy with minimal equipment or resources.
Providing free inservices in developing countries has given PTS a unique perspective on the value of training teachers in therapy basics. We call it our “therapy without the therapist” model.
With the right training and some basic tools, teachers can help ALL students who need help—even when students don’t qualify for related services on a formal evaluation tool.
Inservice Teacher Training Helps Find the Support “Sweet Spot”
In the U.S., to support students with functional challenges (and to avoid “missing something”), teachers resort to making referrals for therapy evaluation.
We’ve seen a whole range of support across the programs we serve. Some don’t intervene when students struggle until they’re failing academically. Others order a full multidisciplinary evaluation because a student has trouble writing cursive.
The answer to finding the sweet spot of appropriate student supports is teacher training.
I always tell administrators the best way to start is to look at the most common reasons your students are referred to therapy in the first place. Focus on high-volume concerns so you get universal buy-in from educators.
The great news is you’ll also cut down on unnecessary evaluations. Teachers’ ability to solve little problems has a triage effect, so only truly needy students end up being tested.
Inservice training for teachers isn’t just advantageous for kids. It’s good for your budget.
When empowered with therapeutic strategies, teachers can handle less complex functional problems on a pre-referral basis. They can prevent unnecessary and costly evaluations, and eliminate over-identifying students with disabilities. Over the long term, reducing therapy referrals stabilizes caseloads as well as your related services budget.
Experiential Trainings Change Frustration into Compassion
One of the most important advantages of inservice training for teachers about children with special needs is its ability to transform frustration into compassion.
When teachers understand why a child isn’t performing a task or participating appropriately, they stop seeing a negative behavior and start figuring out how to help that child succeed.
We’ve found the most effective teacher training has an experiential component, allowing teachers to experience what having a disability feels like, and even to recognize issues they themselves might have.
For example, when one of our Occupational Therapy (OT) directors does a training on sensory processing disorder, she has teachers complete the Adult Sensory Profile. Teachers realize they have their own sensitivities. This realization creates empathy, and empathy creates a desire to help.
When I’m training teachers in large groups, I’ll ask everyone to stand up and take a movement break when I see their attention fading, or when they’re starting to shift in their chairs. After they have a chance to move around, we talk about how a brief opportunity to be physically active improved their alertness.
Tap into Professional Resources to Focus on the “Why”
When it comes to expertise, who are the best people to provide inservice training for teachers?
We’ve given away free trainings by our Clinical Directors for decades, but if your therapy company doesn’t, start with your own therapists. Not everyone is a public speaker, so don’t be afraid to bring an OT or Speech/Language Pathologist (SLP) from another school building to do a presentation for your staff.
In terms of content, tell the trainer to focus on the “why.” Why do certain students have the issues they do? Why use these specific strategies to address those issues? Teachers should walk away with ready-to-implement ideas that solve real problems.
They also need suggestions for embedding strategies into the curriculum and general school routine, because therapy strategies must be implemented consistently and often to be most effective.
Discover How PTS Can Help Your Program Do More Good
Sharing knowledge that helps kids is at the core of everything we do at PTS, whether in places like Guatemala or closer to home.
Giving teachers the tools they need to support ALL students is fundamental to creating a truly inclusive environment—a therapeutic ecosystem in which all children can reach their full potential.
If you’re looking for new resources for your teachers, be sure to check PTS’ free, open Parent and Teacher Resource Library. You, your teachers, and your therapists can access it at any time.
And if you’d like to find out even more about how PTS can help you maximize your program’s impact effectively and cost-efficiently, call us now at 610-941-7020, or contact us online.