Angela Coyle, M.S.Ed., was born and raised in Iowa and attended college at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana where she lived for 30 years. She currently lives in Arizona with her husband. She has two sons in college, ages 20 and 22.
What inspired you to become a school psychologist?
I always thought I’d be an educator, but I went through a back door. I started working for public television for PBS and NPR and really liked that. I started doing education outreach through Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and realized I really was supposed to be an educator. I didn’t necessarily want to go through a classroom process and be a classroom teacher. I decided to be a school psychologist because I really liked data and assessment and understanding how the brain worked beyond just the daily curriculum delivery. I went to graduate school, which is a long process—3 years of grad school, a 600-hour practicum, a 1000-hour internship. I started working in a private school in Indianapolis. While I was there, I was also licensed as a school counselor. So I did 18 years in private school as a school psychologist and a school counselor. I did some work in public school in Indianapolis to see what different environments were like.
Then my husband took a job in Arizona. Our children were all in college. We thought the youngest would move with us but he didn’t. They all stayed in Indiana. Two years ago we moved to Arizona. Now I am licensed in Arizona. It took a while to get that done. Their laws are a little different out here. We like to go hiking and experience all there is to do in the outdoors here. We love traveling. We’ve traveled all around the world together. We’re big foodies. I like to do yoga.
What made you want to be a teletherapist with PL?
I recently relocated to Arizona when my husband’s career led us to the Southwest. As the CEO of a global company, he travels quite often and a typical school psychologist position would have restricted my ability to have time away from the school building. Teletherapy has allowed me the flexibility to accompany him on his journeys from time-to-time.
I didn’t want to be tied to a brick-and-mortar school any longer. I didn’t even realize there was a world of contracting and teletherapy. I got introduced to it by someone through a different company. I did some research and came across PL. I realized I can set my own schedule, of course taking into consideration the needs of the school at all times. But if I front load my schedule with all the evaluations and make sure all the testing is done, then I can take files with me anywhere. I’ve written reports in the French Quarter with beignets and jazz music and then I am sitting in Tokyo while my husband is in a meeting, eating a wonderful bowl of ramen, doing data and entering scores, or on that really long flight over to Thailand last year, I was scoring reports. I really appreciate that flexibility. It takes some work on my end to make sure I get all of my testing done on time. And I communicate with my PSP. I’ll ask in advance, “How does your schedule look? I’d like to block out this week and make sure that we can front load these things.” Everyone has been terrific with that. As long as you’re pretty well organized and you communicate that a head of time…it really can work well with your schedule.
I have read how many other providers came to teletherapy because they have young families—and teletherapy provides the needed flexibility. I looked into teletherapy at a completely different point in my career, as a first time empty nester. When I was raising a family, I was tied to the local community and the education needs of my children. With them now off in college, teletherapy has enabled me to continue my career while traveling with my husband in his career pursuits. It has been a dream come true in merging our two careers!
Could you walk us through your daily routine? A “day in the life of a PL therapist” if you will?
As a resident of Arizona working with a district in Indiana, I typically start my day quite early due to the time difference. As a morning person, I don’t mind being online for meetings or assessments as early as 6:00 AM. I always start my day with a check of email and confirm the schedule with my on-site support person in case of student absence or weather delays during the winter months. We typically do assessments with students in the morning when they are most alert. I then score assessments and complete documentation. I peruse the PL Lounge to see what’s new with my community and plan for the following day. With my current part-time schedule, I’m typically done with my tasks by early afternoon so I have time to meet a friend for coffee or get to a spin class. In the late afternoon I gather files and protocols for the next assessment and end the day with a quick check of email to respond to any questions or issues that came up throughout the day.
Can you tell us about your caseload?
I have students in K-12 in Indiana and also Arizona. The age range keeps it interesting. It takes you to different spots in the testing. It’s not always the same test. I have such a fun caseload. I still work with a district in Indiana because I kept my Indiana license. That’s an interesting time zone change. Indiana right now is on East Coast time. Then I am working with two schools in Arizona. Many times I’ll be up and online testing, “camera ready” at 5:30 or 6:30 in the morning for my district in Indiana. Then I’ll go do a couple things around the house, or go meet a friend for coffee. Then I’ll be back at 9:30 to work with my two districts in Arizona. I really like that because it keeps me in touch with the IEP system I knew in Indiana—it keeps me in touch with the laws there. And it keeps me in touch with the laws in Arizona. I also do a little bit of consulting with a brick-and-mortar school here in Arizona so I do a little bit of hybrid. If they need me to come in to do an evaluation, I can go in to the school building and I do some evaluation—I work with students live one-on-one and I keep those skills sharp too. I really like being able to have that hybrid ability. I just have to make sure I am really organized.
How do you keep track of your caseload?
I use the online PL calendar and I have a paper calendar as well. I make a file folder for every student. I have a checklist that I attach inside every single file folder—I have all the information here so that when I open the file, this is a child, not just a file. I have dates written there for me. I have who their teacher is, who the special ed teacher is, what school building they are in, because a district might have several school buildings, who the principal might be, everyone who might be involved in the case conference so that all the information is right there so they’re not continuously having to look things up online.
What do you enjoy about being a provider with PL?
I enjoy the ability to interact with multiple people within a school district and the time I save by not driving in between multiple school buildings. I also enjoy working with more than one district simultaneously in different parts of the country. It makes me feel well connected to what’s happening outside of my own hometown and I learn something new every day!
This is the very first generation that are natives to technology. They know their way around technology. For instance, the computer shut off in one of the sessions and the student reconnected it before the PSP even noticed it. They really enjoy the interaction over the internet. They’re so used to that with the video game platform and interacting with their friends over video games. It feels more normal to them because there is so much interaction. Grandma is on FaceTime with them. They are so comfortable with that portal. We’re testing from my home so they’ll hear my dog. I’ll pick up my dog and they’ll see my little dog. It really humanizes me to them like “Oh this is them. This is your home.” They really like to see that glimpse into my life, not just me as a professional, but me as a person who cares about them. I am at home and I am still taking time to care about you and be concerned about them. I take the first 5 minutes to get to know each other. I’ll ask, “Tell me about you. Do you have pets at home? What do you like about school?” And then we talk about what the testing is going to be and we go from there.
When I am working in Indiana, I’ll do a screenshare and show them a map and ask them if they know where Arizona is. I’ll show them how far away I am. A lot of them have never seen how far away Arizona is.
Can you tell me a little bit more about your communication preferences? Which channels do you use?
We do a lot of email, because everyone is in so many time zones through PL. Once you build a relationship with your PSP, my PSPs and I will text each other. They’ll let me know a student is running 5 minutes late. I told them that’s fine with me. I have no problem with them texting me. I’d rather they let me know. That works really well. I keep my alerts on my phone so even if they email me, I’ll see the email alert as well. They’ll call. I just let them know they can get in touch with me any way they need to and if I can’t reply I won’t but I’ll get back to them as soon as I can. I’ll always be online at the time that we have assigned. If I’m not online within 10 minutes something has really gone wrong and I’ll get back in touch with them as soon as possible—this has never happened yet.
What were you most surprised about when you made the transition to be a teletherapist?
I was surprised at how well the students interact via teletherapy as I thought there may be some challenges not being physically in the same room with the student. I was very pleased to find teletherapy to be just as effective as being in close physical proximity to the student.
When I meet with students and other educators on the PL platform, I feel like I am welcoming them into my home. It creates an engaging, comfortable interaction and merges my professionalism with my wish for everyone I interact with to feel the true joy I find in helping children reach their potential!
What do you find most challenging about being a teletherapist?
One challenge I found is that when school districts prefer to conduct referral meetings without me in attendance, I have to do some research to understand the reason for the referral. Not participating in the initial conversation with teachers and parents leaves some questions unanswered when first reviewing a referral. I found that sending an email to the general education teacher fills in the missing information so that I understand the concerns and what led to the referral for an evaluation.
What’s one piece of advice you would offer a therapist who’s considering transitioning to telepractice?
I think that it’s a growing platform that you’re going to see more and more of in the future. I really like the opportunity to zip around the country and be involved with school districts coast to coast rather than just with one particular school building or school district or school population. I enjoy the flexibility that it allows me and how it let’s me keep my career skills sharp. I can interact with other therapists and hear what’s happening from around the country rather than just being in that echo chamber of just one district—that has really opened my perspective as in “Oh I never thought of that, I never tried that, I didn’t even know that was happening!” It’s given me so much more depth to my professional toolbox and knowledge. I’ve been doing this for 25 years and thought I’d really picked up most of what there is to know. And then I met people from all around the country and realized I still have a lot to learn. I have appreciated that.
Don’t be afraid of it. For people who have been in the profession for a while, it seems a little unusual because we are so used to one approach: face-to-face, sit across the table, and test the child right across from us. But teletherapy works beautifully. The children are wonderful with the platform. They’re very receptive. The data is consistent in showing it’s as if you were sitting right across from them. Don’t be afraid to delve into this new opportunity to use your skills and profession to help students in a new way that is really growing.
A friend asked if teletherapy feels like I’m on an ‘island.” I replied it’s the furthest thing from it! Not only have I have formed relationships with my PSPs and other professionals at PL, but teletherapy has also given me time to pursue other interests in my community. I am very involved in Women United with United Way. Our mission is to promote early literacy in the local community and we partner with schools and agencies, so I am meeting people I never had time to meet when I was working a typical full-time brick-and-mortar school schedule.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I really enjoy working with everyone at PL. Everyone is so helpful. Every time you reach out to anyone, the people are so helpful and responsive even if they just say, “I’m not sure. Let me get back to you.” Then they’re back to you the very next day. I’m really appreciative.
My overall motto about being an educator is, “It’s a passion, not a paycheck.” I think with educators, that’s the kind of people you find—it’s a passion that shows in everything we do, every single day.
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