The realistic educational application of learning (REAL) program: an elearning program for contract occupational therapy professionals in school-based practice
Brennan, Maryann B.
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Pressures on school districts to provide cost-effective special education programming have resulted in an increased reliance on outsourcing of occupational, physical, and speech language therapy services to control costs. Occupational therapists who provide services under these kinds of contracts report they often feel like outsiders and that they are left out of the communication loop between educators, parents, and administrators (Kennedy & Stewart, 2011). In addition, contracted therapists typically do not have access to the professional development opportunities available to therapists who are hired directly by the school systems. However, all school-based practitioners require preparation and ongoing development of the professional knowledge, skills, and behaviors necessary to successfully address the needs of special education students in the school environment (Doyle & Swinth, 2018). The complex environment of schools and the isolated nature of the contract therapist contribute to less than optimal interventions and documentation practices. The literature describes an absence of recognized skills and training among school-based therapists and the need for occupational therapists to engage in more collaborative practice (Brandenburger-Shasby, 2005; Kemmis & Dunn, 1996; Kennedy & Stewart, 2011; Laverdure, 2014). This doctoral project addresses the practice barrier contracted OTs encounter accessing practice-specific professional development opportunities. The Realistic Educational Application of Learning (REAL) program provides contract OTs working in school-based practice (SBP) with a two-stage eLearning opportunity for professional development. The design of the program is guided by principles of androgyny or adult learning theory. The blended learning program provides content specific to SBP in learning modules and adds a professional mentoring component for increased collaboration and carryover into SBP. Practitioners completing the REAL program will gain knowledge, learn how to apply content to SBP, and collaborate with an experienced OT professional. The program provides practice-specific content and mentoring to optimize contract OTs’ provision of services to promote the success of students across the lifespan.