At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question:
"When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does, is done with perfection. Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do.
Where is the natural order of things in my son?'
The audience was stilled by the query.
The father continued. "I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child."
Then he told the following story:
"One day not too long ago, Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, 'Do you think they'll let me play?' I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps.
I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, 'We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.'
Shay struggled over to the team's bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs, but was still behind by three. In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again. Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat. At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball.
However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact. The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay.
As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher. It appeared that the game would now be over. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game.
Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all team mates. Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, 'Shay, run to first! Run to first!' Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base. He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.
Everyone yelled, 'Run to second, run to second!' Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base. By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball. The smallest guy on their team now had his first chance to be the hero for his team.
He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman's head. Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home. All were screaming, 'Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay'. Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, 'Run to third! Shay, run to third!'
As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, 'Shay, run home! Run home!' Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team."
"That day," said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, "the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world."
We each have many opportunities every single day to make choices, and it's important to note that even the smallest decision we make can end up making a big difference. So many seemingly trivial interactions between people present us with a choice - and an opportunity to pass along a little spark of love and humanity, if that's what we choose to do
Years before I went back to school to get a Master's degree in Leadership & Policy Studies, a colleague of mine told me that she had been asked by her faculty advisor as she completed her Master's degree what her one big take-away had been. Her response, she said, had been that it's important to read the foreword in a book.
In all honesty, I didn't see the value in the behavior she recommended at the time of our conversation; it wasn't until years later that I discovered the wisdom in her words. Something else that exchange did for me, though, was to serve as a prompt during my own graduate studies, and, upon earning my Master's degree several years later, I identified my own big take-away: There is great value in the process of reflection.
Since I began teaching occupational therapy students, I have been interested in how, when, and why they reflect and how that impacts their learning. Over time, what I have noted is that there is great variability in the methods of instruction in and in the expectations and evaluation of reflective writing. In fact, “the widespread espousal of reflection as a key to effective learning has meant that its meaning is assumed to be obvious to all” (James & Brookfield, 2014, p. 26); however, in the midst of the multitude of methods of delivery and expectations associated with this teaching and learning technique, only infrequently are students provided with structured and distinct instruction about the process of reflective writing (James, 2007).
Several months ago, I came across an article by Martin Hampton in the Department for Curriculum and Quality Enhancement at the University of Portsmouth (n.d.) that provides a detailed breakdown the components of a high quality reflection. In the article, reflective writing is defined as evidence of reflective thinking and, in the context of academics, described as having three components:
Reflective writing is thus more personal than other kinds of academic writing. We all think reflectively in everyday life, but perhaps not to the same depth as that expected in good reflective writing at [a] university level." ~Martin Hampton
When a situation or assignment calls for carefully structured reflective writing, it may be helpful to think of questions that related to each of the of three parts:
Reflection is an exploration and an explanation of events -- not just a description [or summary] of them. Genuinely reflective writing often involves 'revealing' anxieties [and/or other emotions], errors and weaknesses, as well as strengths and weaknesses. It is often useful to 'reflect forward' to the future as well as 'reflecting back' on the past." ~Martin Hampton
Following is a series of diagrams that serve as a breakdown of the possibilities for wording - or a DISSECTION of a REFLECTION. Each of the 3 big rectangles represents one of the major components, and the phrases in the other shapes are meant to serve as prompts in the writing process.
Please note that this is just one way to structure reflective writing; there are other ways, and you may be required or you may choose to follow a different model. Please remember, though, regardless of the format you choose, that there is great value in reflection ... and that, like many other things in life, oftentimes what you get out of this process is directly related to what you put into it.
Hampton, M. (n.d.) Reflective writing: A basic introduction. University of Portsmouth: Department for Curriculum and Quality Enhancement. Retrieved from www.port.ac.uk/ask
James, A., and Brookfield, S. D. (2014). Engaging Imagination: Helping Students Become Creative and Reflective Thinkers. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
James, A. (2007). Reflection revisited: Perceptions of reflective practice in learning and teaching. Art, Design, & Communication in Higher Education, 5(3), 179-196.
Wald, H. S., Borkan, J. M., Taylor, J. S., Anthony, D., and Reis, S. P. (2012). Fostering and evaluating reflective capacity in medical education: Developing the REFLECT rubric for assessing reflective writing. Academic Medicine, 87(1), 41-50.
Earlier this week, a screening of the film Unrest was held for students and faculty in occupational therapy education programs. The film, a documentary by Jennifer Brea, tells the story of several individuals diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME, which is often referred to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The film has won awards at Sundance and other film festivals.
I first learned about Unrest about a year ago through conversations on Twitter, and I reached out through the film's website to inquire about hosting a screening on campus. A few months ago, I got an email from a member of the screening team with whom I corresponded to work out the details leading up to the screening event.
In addition to the occupational therapy students on the campus where I teach, an invitation to attend the screening was also extended to occupational therapy assistant students at another institution in the area, and several of those students attended the event as well.
After the film was shown, I asked the students to consider sharing what their big take-away was, if anything had surprised or really struck them from the film, and how what they saw might have impacted their ideas as a future OT practitioner. Several students made comments about how disheartening and frustrating is it that the stigma surrounding conditions like ME serves as such a huge barrier in our society, both for the individuals diagnosed and their caregivers. The resiliency of the people in the film impacted the viewing audience at the screening, as did their apparent drive for purpose and meaningful connection, both of which are intertwined with occupations and the philosophy of OT.
We agreed that there were a number of memorable quotes in the film, including the comment Jen made about there being such a difference between being alive and living - again, another point that really resonates with occupational engagement. One student noticed that there was a line in the movie about spoons, a concept that relates back to The Spoon Theory, which we discussed in a course the students took last spring. Finally, the comment was made that it isn't just those diagnosed with ME that may feel disconnected, stressed, or depleted: Caregivers are also likely to experience these things and many other emotions, and this is an area in which there seems to be a place for occupational therapy to play a role.
A couple of images from the documentary that students said will stick with them as they continue to work towards entering the field of occupational therapy come from the scene in which Omar is struggling to get Jen back into their house after the rally and the footage of the shoes from the protest.
... one of the things that I've learned ... is how resilient humans are, and that, when we face challenges that we think will break us, we can find within ourselves resources that we didn't know we had." ~Jen Brea
That [pre-illness] life is gone, but here I have this new one, and I have to fight for it." ~Jen Brea, in Unrest
In conclusion, the OT students and faculty enjoyed learning about ME and related topics through the viewing of this documentary, and we recommend that all healthcare practitioners and students watch the film.
I love it when I come across something that - on the surface - seems to have nothing to do with occupations or occupational therapy but that - when I really think about it - has some sort of connection.
This musical track, entitled Years, has a really cool back story that I think connects to the lives of the clients we are privileged to come to know as occupational therapy practitioners and, as I am in my current role, OT educators. This music is played on a record player that was specially designed to play slices of wood. When a circular horizontal cut of a tree is placed on the turntable, the rings, which represent years of life for the tree, are translated into music. Like humans, the music that results from each slice is unique.
Read more here: http://traubeck.com/years/
Today I had the opportunity to participate as the featured speaker in a virtual chat conducted as a follow-up to the article I wrote for the AOTA Technology Special Interest Section Quarterly. To listen to a recording of the chat, click on the button below to be taken to the TalkShoe site, where you will see a listing of today’s and past AOTA TSIS Quarterly Virtual Chats in the series.
The Hippocratic Oath: Even people with very little medical knowledge or training has probably heard of this pledge that has been taken by medical students for centuries as they prepare to provide care for patients. It is believed that Hippocrates, often referred to as the Father of Medicine in Western culture, or one of his protégées wrote the oath around the 5th century B.C. Although the specific wording of this oath has been updated over the years, it primary message remains the same: "First do no harm."
I have long wondered why it is that there isn't a similar oath that directs and a ritual that symbolizes the commitment of students in other health care professions. In occupational therapy, we are guided by the AOTA Code of Ethics, which serves us well, but I still think there could be great value to more closely emulating the tradition of the Hippocratic Oath. Why not an OT Oath?
After many years as an OT practicing in the field, I know how easy it is to fall into a routine with the daily grind of one's job. Sometimes we get bogged down by the details, the to-do lists, and the minutia of it all that we forget - or at least we forget to be mindful of - what drew us to the field of OT in the first place, why it is that we do what we do, and how fortunate we are to be part of such an exceptional profession. Maybe looking back at the pledge that we took as fledgling OT students would bring that back into focus.
I will remember that I do not treat a fever, chart, or cancerous growth , but a sick human being."
I will gladly share knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow."
I will not be ashamed to say 'I know not' nor will I fail to call on my colleagues when the skill of another is needed."
I wish I had written an OT Oath for myself as an OT student. I would love to read now what I had pledged back then.
As part of the coursework I am completing as a student in pursuit of my doctorate in instructional design and technology, I have created an interactive instructional unit for OT students and practitioners about using LinkedIn. Click on the button below to access the unit.
The first-year and second-year OT students - both of the cohort groups on campus right now - in the program where I teach viewed a screening of a documentary film today called "Shooting Beauty." This film was produced by ReelAbilities, an organization based in NY started in 2007 to promote award-winning films by and about people with disabilities. The students came together in an auditorium to watch the 62-minute long film and then to dialogue about the impact the film had on their perspective as future occupational therapy practitioners. After the film was screened, students broke up into small groups that included members of each of the two classes to chat. Following that, a whole-group debriefing was conducted with input from the instructors and students.
Part of the discussion centered on the importance of therapeutic use of self in interactions with clients and others. One of the big take-aways the students identified was the impact of having a feeling of meaning and purpose in one's life and of feeling valued and understood.
My diagnosis is not who I am," said Tony, one of the individuals featured in the film.
One student point out that several of the struggles of the individuals shown in the film are things that some of us may also be experiencing or might have experienced in the past, such as the heartbreak at the end of a relationship. The general consensus of the group who viewed the documentary was that watching the film helped us to better relate to others who may have different lives and/or challenges than we do. Overall, we agreed that we felt inspired by watching the film.
The biggest thing is to start the conversation. Everybody has the right to be heard," stated Courtney, the photographer in the film.
Because the project shown in the film was partially funded by a grant, the class session was wrapped up with a discussion of the intricacies of grant writing which included some "insider tips" from faculty member Courtney Sasse.
As a follow-up, I want to share a link to a list of resources including grant funding for individuals with disabilities: joyfuljourneymom.com/ultimate-list-of-grants-and-resources-for-families-with-special-needs/
I'm a bit of an aberration (or at least my schedule is) in terms of when the courses I teach begin and end in the program in which I am working. First of all, the college in which I teach runs on terms rather than semesters, meaning that the grading period is 6 months long instead of 15 weeks as is much more traditionally the set-up. On top of that, courses start and stop at various time points during a term, based on a multitude of factors. What that means for me is that the term I will begin teaching one course in February, and two more in April, the latter two being taught to two different cohorts (first-year OT students and second-year OT students).
On another front, I am two weeks into the semester in the two classes I am taking as a doctoral student, and so I can relate to what my students may be about to experience in navigating a new course syllabus, buying textbooks, entering due dates for class sessions and assignments/tests into my calendar, etc. I once had a classmate who compared the starting of a new class to climbing into a bed with new linens on it. I am not sure that I am in agreement with that metaphor, but I understand the feeling of starting anew. I hope that I am able to both put my students' minds at ease - to transmit a "we're in this together" message to them from early on in each course - and spark their interest in learning the subject matter at hand. That's my goal for the next couple of weeks at least ...
I am a teacher at heart, and there are moments in the classroom when I can hardly hold the job. When my students and I discover unchartered territory to explore, when the pathway out of a thicket opens up before us, when our experience is illuminated by the lightning-life of the mind - then teaching is the finest work I know." ~Parker Palmer
Stephanie Lancaster, MS, OTR/L, ATP, CAPS is an occupational therapist with 25+ years of clinical experience. As an assistant professor, Stephanie trumpets the value of teaching and practicing in the field of OT in an "out loud" manner.