With the one-year mark of school shutdowns approaching, we have a lot to reflect upon. This year, districts across the country demonstrated resilience and embraced digital solutions to ensure that students receive the continuity of care they so urgently need.
We built PresenceLearning on a foundational belief that remote working structures would allow more clinicians to remain in the workforce, serving students and schools that need them. In building our teletherapy platform, we have always stayed true to the idea that technology cannot replace the human connections that educators make with students; but it can ensure that those important connections still happen, even when they can’t be in-person. This year we had the opportunity to show school providers everywhere that, through teletherapy, they don’t have to be onsite to positively impact the lives of their students.
We believe that the future of work is changing, and our goal is to ensure that when talented clinicians want or need to work remotely, they are still able to impact the lives of students for the better.
The way we collaborate with district SPED teams changed this year. Before the pandemic, schools viewed PresenceLearning exclusively as an outsourced service, sending caseloads and evaluations to handle on their behalf. Now, districts also bring in PresenceLearning to resource their own employee teams, using our Teletherapy Essentials platform, professional development, and clinical support to deliver their own services more efficiently and effectively.
This shift, from viewing teletherapy as an outside service that schools can tap into as needed, to viewing it as a way of working for everyone who serves students, will be revolutionary for special education and for the retention of women in the workforce. Our field has always struggled with hiring constraints and clinician capacity. That was the case long before COVID, and it will remain one of our great challenges after we have emerged from the pandemic.
Over ten years ago, teletherapy as a profession began to emerge and grow because it was a true solution for the women who work in this field. Before teletherapy was an option, many of these women were leaving school-based work for clinics and private practice, because working full time onsite at schools didn’t give them the flexibility they needed to balance their household responsibilities.
Women represent a majority of the workforce in schools, and more than 90% of special education providers. At PresenceLearning, women represent 97% of our clinical workforce, of which the vast majority are working mothers. With the world waking up to the benefits of remote work, schools will need to embrace flexibility to ensure that their most talented clinicians remain engaged in working with the students who need them most. Teletherapy allows that to happen everywhere.
The return of women to the workforce is crucial to counteracting the significant setbacks of the past year. Coming out of the pandemic, we all need to engage in building work environments that support the retention of women. I have shared ideas for how to do this in my book, The Good Boss: 9 Ways Every Manager Can Support Women at Work, which will be released on March 16, 2021. At PresenceLearning we will be spending time with school leadership teams this year applying messages from the book to public education, with a shared goal of building workplaces that work for women.
Education, and the way that educators work, will be forever changed by the experiences of the past year. Technology is not a replacement for in-person learning; but, in our complex and interconnected world, it will remain a vital resource for sustaining our daily lives and student learning. As we look ahead, we’re excited to continue working together to address gaps in equity and access, and to continue advocating for efforts in service of a more inclusive society.
Kate Eberle Walker is a CEO, author, and working mom. She is the CEO of PresenceLearning, the leading provider of live, online special education-related services for K-12 schools. She is an education industry leader with 20-plus years of experience managing, advising, acquiring, and investing in education companies, and the author of the new book, The Good Boss: Nine Ways Every Manager Can Support Women at Work.