How Teacher Inservice in Therapy Strengthens Your Program

When you were a student, “inservice days” on the school year calendar likely meant little more to you than days off. Now, you know teacher inservices are critical to educators’ professional development (PD).

Female presenter in sweater and jeans stands to give inservice presentation to seven young teachers sitting at desks. Well-qualified teachers are the most important school-related factor in student achievement. Regular, structured opportunities for teachers to learn about new pedagogies, practice new skills, share ideas, and receive support can lead to concrete changes in classroom instruction that make a positive, long-lasting difference for students.

Naturally, not all “teacher workdays” are equal. In too many districts, inservice has devolved into a “sit ‘n’ git” affair, where presenters expect teachers to passively absorb information bearing no relevance to their daily work.

The Learning Policy Institute identifies effective PD, in contrast, as active, collaborative, and focused on best practices. Engaging, immediately applicable training can spark and sustain meaningful changes in teaching that improve and enhance students’ experience.

It’s that kind of teacher inservice Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS) provides.

For more than 20 years, in districts across the greater Delaware Valley, PTS has been training not only teachers but also other building staff, administrators, and paraprofessionals in practical, proven ways to help students who receive related services make measurable, meaningful gains in accessing their education. 

Why Is Special Education Inservice Training for Teachers Needed?

Teacher inservice training matters throughout the curriculum. But it assumes special importance, even urgency, in special education.

Female occupational therapist sits at table with elementary school girl, encouraging her as girl plays with toy car.Nearly 95% of students (ages 6-21) receiving services under IDEA are enrolled in regular education schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and 63% of those students spend at least 80% of their days in regular education classrooms.

Even so, effective ways to teach and support these students aren’t covered in most teacher preparation courses of study. True, most programs include a “Special Education 101” course. But a single introductory survey can’t equip teachers with strategies and tools sufficient for today’s increasingly inclusive classrooms.

If inservice training for teachers doesn’t fill this gap, school-based therapy can acquire an unhelpful air of mystery. Teachers and other building staff can start thinking of it as an obscure process in which only clinicians have parts to play. At worst, teachers’ unfamiliarity with therapy can leave them thinking it’s a disruptive distraction from the “real work” of classroom learning.

But when schools implement a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) model, therapy no longer happens only in “the special ed room.” Instead, teachers use proven methods to teach all students, intervening with small groups and individuals in targeted ways as needed, making referrals for more specialized, clinical interventions only when warranted.

Because teachers in MTSS settings are the “first line” for screening and serving students with special needs, training them in the most commonly used, most effective strategies for helping students overcome functional issues is imperative. 

Practical Considerations for Special Education Inservices

Therapists can and should provide some training for teachers in the classroom, showing the strategies in practice and explaining why they work. As PTS co-founders Pam Hackett and Diana Fongheiser write in their book Take a Bite Out of School-Based Therapy Costs, “It goes without saying that this [approach] is immeasurably more effective than barking orders or even handing over a set of handwritten instructions.”

Smiling female occupational therapist leans next to young female student who is practicing her handwriting.

But because “in-depth discussions with each teacher in each building is a costly proposition,” districts can save money and time by also holding teacher inservice trainings about related service strategies. Training days dedicated to related services allow teachers to focus on therapy interventions without being distracted by routine instructional responsibilities.

To keep inservice trainings manageable and productive, we recommend offering them by building and, whenever possible, by grade level. This scope allows each training to take building culture and other contextual issues into account.

We also recommend students’ personal aides and paraprofessionals take part in these inservice days so they, too, can learn how to conduct more essential tasks. Their presence and participation can maximize the sessions’ value and impact. 

Three Areas for Teacher Inservice Training in Therapy

“Special education” is a broad topic, and related services are many. Where should you start when planning teacher inservice events on this subject?

You’ll want to take stock of the most pressing special education issues facing the students you serve. But here are three areas we see at or near the top of districts’ lists again and again:

  • Handwriting and FineMotor Skills
    Surveys show teachers refer students to occupational therapy (OT) for handwriting issues more than any other reason. You can help reduce referrals by giving teachers a highly practical inservice on ways to help students increase hand strength (especially in the pincer muscles), and properly form and space letters.
  • SFemale speech therapist sits at table with five elementary school students to lead them in articulation exercises.elf-Regulation for Focus and Attention
    As Diana Fongheiser and Pam Hackett write, “With proper in-servicing, your teachers will realize that the third-grade student rocking back and forth in his chair is not trying to be disruptive or annoying—he’s seeking vestibular and proprioceptive input.” Training teachers to recognize and respond to students’ need for sensory input can go a long way toward reducing everyone’s frustration in the classroom.
  • Articulation and Language Development
    Teacher inservice days focused on developmental language norms and strategies for stimulating sound production and vocabulary adoption can lower the amount of speech-language pathology (SLP) referrals in your program. Teachers can quickly master such easy and effective strategies as cueing, repetition, and asking open-ended “wh-” questions. When they incorporate these techniques into their regular instruction, they can help their students make developmentally appropriate language progress—no group or one-on-one pull-outs needed!

Let PTS Give Your Teachers Valuable Professional Development

The students in your district may still think of teacher inservice days as “days off,” as you once did. But when you partner with PTS to give your teachers focused training in how to more effectively support students with disabilities and disorders, you can be confident these days are “days on”—valuable investments of time and energy that improve the classroom experience for everybody.

Discover more about how PTS’ approach to teacher inservice on special education and related services can help your program. Call us today at 610-941-7020, or contact us online.

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