Studying Role of High School Principals in Return to Learn after Concussion
If there isn't enough frustration and feeling of being overwhelmed after suffering a concussion, the process of returning a student back to academic work can only seem to magnify those concerns.
While return-to-play progression protocols have been established to assist in getting athletes back to sport, similar return-to-learn programs have lagged behind. The sheer complexity of meeting particular needs and schedule demands of each student requires an individualized plan created with appropriate understanding of expectations and optimal communication between medical professionals, families and educators.
Often, recommendations include designating a point person who can advocate for the student and family by communication with fellow educators and monitor of student progress. This same person might also provide on-going dialogue with outside medical providers. However, finding a person with appropriate knowledge and desire to accept and carry out these roles can be difficult.
A school-based concussion management and response plan can provide further framework to delineate expectations, potential adjustments, and roles, though the actual implementation and utility of such plans has not received much study.
Given the common findings of frustration and lack of apparent coordination in the return to learn process, I was excited to review the article HIgh School Principals' Resources, Knowledge, and Practices regarding the Returning Student with Concussion in an effort to gain unique and previously unreported insight into school-based resources and management strategies.
Using a cross-sectional computer-based survey of 465 urban, suburban, and rural public high school principals in the state of Ohio, key findings of this study included:
- Just over 1/3 of the principals had completed some form of concussion training in the past year, with those who completed such training have higher self-reported concussion knowledge scores and were more likely to have provided or supported concussion training for school faculty who were not directly involved with youth sports
- When identifying a point person, athletic trainers were most often reported, but about 1/5 of respondents did not know or designate a point person at their school. Schools that identified more than one point person tended to have more students, a principal with higher self-reported concussion knowledge, and to have a full or part-time athletic trainer.
- Athletic trainers were reported as the main agents of communication with medical professionals for concussed student-athletes, while school nurses and counselors assumed this role for concussed students who were not athletes. Principals, assistant principals, and guidance counselors assumed the primary role of communication with parents for all students (regardless of athlete status).
- When asked to respond to a list of short-term classroom adjustments commonly recommended for concussed students, over 90% of principals agreed with all or most of them, with just over 30% requiring a health care provider note to initiate the adjustments.
- Several principals reported a school response-to-intervention (RTI) team to assess student needs and to develop an intervention plan in terms of academic adjustments and accommodations.
- About 1/3 of the schools had a written concussion plan, with 75% of those plans addressing academic adjustments and accommodations.
How can we use these findings to better assist our concussed students in their effort to return to the classroom?
- A principal with concussion knowledge is essential- thus ensure more (and hopefully higher quality) concussion training for principals, which could then translate to more training for school personnel, the identification of point persons to assist concussed students, and better communication between principals and the parents of a concussed athlete.
- An athletic trainer is essential- thus ensure that every high school campus has a certified athletic trainer acting as an advocate for concussed students and being on campus for part/all of the academic day (not just for after-school activities) to foster relationships with teachers and help monitor student developments.
- An intervention team is essential to initiate academic adjustments early after a concussion, preferably without the absolute need of a medical provider note to reduce any obstacles.
- Providing a concussion management plan that delineates roles and expectations and is shared with all key parties (students, school personnel, families and medical providers) to provide education and on-going assessment of the utility of the plan.
What other recommendations do you have to assist concussed students return to learn? Do these recommendations seem reasonable and practical?