The Department of Occupational Therapy warmly welcomes Dr. Lisa Raymond-Tolan (OTD, OTR/L) as a Clinical Assistant Professor. Dr. Raymond-Tolan received her Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, and her Doctor of Occupational Therapy from Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions in Provo, Utah.
Prior to joining NYU, Dr. Raymond-Tolan was a Clinical Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy at Pace University, where she taught coursework in Pediatrics, Mental Health, Theory & Analysis, Professionalism, and more. She received the Pace University College of Health Profession’s Scholarly Research Award for a mixed-methods study of the impact of an executive function curriculum on the skills and experiences of second graders, and the Pace University Classroom-Based Research Experiences Award for her study focusing on student-generated podcast episodes as tools to support engagement and learning outcomes. Dr. Raymond-Tolan has also spent 15 years at Community Roots Charter School in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, a K-8 school devoted to racial justice work and inclusive practices, where she continues to consult on screenings and intervention for at-risk students.
Please read on for our summertime interview with Dr. Raymond-Tolan, where we discuss her work, teaching, and more!
Can you tell us a little bit more about your background in the OT profession and your areas of specialization?
I’ve been an OT since 2008 and have worked at an amazing elementary school that entire time, though I have also worked at a sensory gym working with early intervention and preschool kids and briefly at a middle school. School-based practice is my favorite because my personal OT lens goes well with the educational model (way more so than the medical model). I love collaborating with teachers and learning specialists on creating inclusive and holistic learning environments. I am not one for just pulling kids out of class to go to OT – truly, kids shouldn’t be leaving the classroom to learn, OT needs to be right there in that natural environment as much as possible. I will definitely be getting on my soapbox about this during pediatrics!
While I have a lot of experience and training in sensory processing and do use that frame of reference, my work focuses far more on developing executive functioning skills. Kids need mental flexibility, working memory and inhibition of impulses (and other EF skills) to participate successfully in anything! One of my recent research projects looked at an EF curriculum being used in a 2nd grade classroom. This was a mixed methods project that measured EF skills before and after the curriculum and interviewed the students to get their perspectives. It’s so important to get children’s voices and experiences into the literature!
One of my other big research interest areas is teaching itself. I love active learning, but does it work? I have two ongoing projects that look at the impact of creating podcast and social media content on students’ learning outcomes that I hope to bring to my work at NYU.
What do you consider to be the most significant or rewarding achievement in your career so far?
I have two: getting my first full time job in academia at Pace University, and now joining NYU. It is not easy to break into academia, especially here in New York. After not getting the first faculty position I tried for years ago, I knew I had to go and get my doctorate (which I did while also working full time and parenting my two sons). I then taught some adjunct courses to build up my teaching experience. It took a long time to get a position – I am nothing if not tenacious and stubborn – and when I did, luckily I loved academia just as much as I thought I would. Joining this historic and legendary program at NYU is such a thrill and I am so proud to have this opportunity.
We are thrilled to have you! What drew you to NYU?
This one is easy! NYU has one of the best OT programs in the world, and the faculty is amazing. I can’t wait to learn from and collaborate with these incredible teachers and practitioners. And the Village is one of my favorite areas in NYC – it was where I lived when I first moved to the city in the ‘90s!
What will you be teaching this year?
This Fall, I will be co-teaching Pediatrics, which is my specialty practice area and my passion. Working with children is so much fun, and I get just as much out of it as the kids do. They have such incredible ideas about how to do things and can be so spontaneous and unpredictable that it is always inspiring and energizing. I hope to share my love for this work with all of my students, even those who may not think working with kids is for them.
I am also co-teaching Development Across the Lifespan, focusing on – obviously – children. This course is the backbone of pediatrics because understanding typical development in cognition, gross motor, fine motor, sensory processing and social emotional is essential to our practice. Finally, I am co-teaching Foundations of Occupational Therapy, which is one of my favorites. I so enjoy teaching about models of practice and using our extensive practice framework – the fundamentals future practitioners will be using every day.
What do you consider to be the priorities within an exceptional OT education?
An exceptional OT education goes beyond what we think of as traditional occupational therapy – preparing to work in hospitals, rehabs, schools, etc. We should be opening students’ minds and hearts to think more innovatively about OT practice, which means thinking about communities, systems, institutions, and legislation. People experience occupational barriers that aren’t just what is happening with them individually. OTs must think beyond the micro-client factors to include the macro social, community, and political contexts that have just as much impact on people as challenges with their bodies or brains.
Thinking about your own student and training days, what were your most formative experiences?
When I was an OT student at SUNY Downstate, we did a community practice sequence where we had to find a community site that did not have any OT, volunteer there, and identify some kind of need that an OT student could fill. Over three semesters, we each developed a program and implemented it. It was scary to me at the time to advocate this way, but it was also incredibly eye-opening. It was the experience that started me on my journey toward bringing an occupational justice lens to my practice (both clinically and academically) and becoming more aware of the diversity and equity work that needs to be done in OT (and beyond).
Another formative educational experience was going up to Albany for the OT Advocacy Day. This was another experience I resisted, but once I got to speak with my assemblymember’s staff, I learned how easy and effective it is. Now, political advocacy is one of my favorite hobbies! This is something that I believe all OT students and practitioners need to be involved in to protect our clients and profession legislatively.
How would you describe your teaching style? What can students expect from you in the classroom?
My teaching style is all about active learning! While traditional lectures do need to happen, I am always looking for opportunities to flip the classroom so that students are co-creating their learning right along with me. That can take a lot of forms: jigsaw learning (where students focus on one area of content and then teach the rest of the class), creating TikToks and podcasts, developing Kahoots and quiz games, and lots of discussion groups and case studies. I want students to be developing their observation skills, mental flexibility, creativity, and bringing their voices and experiences to the work we are doing together. Students should expect to be participating and actively engaged!
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
The challenge of balancing rigor with flexibility. OT school is so demanding. There is a tremendous amount of content to learn, and then students must learn how to apply this knowledge to real life, complex, not-textbook humans. This is why mental flexibility is constantly on my mind: how do new practitioners learn to problem solve and adapt to truly dynamic situations? Often, students and new OTs become rigidly attached to the plan they have in their heads, meanwhile the real-life human client may be asking for or needing something else entirely. There’s so much listening and observing required on top of acquiring knowledge and skills. That is where the joy is for me – that human exchange and connection you have with your clients and your students and problem solving together.
Do you have any messages for the students you will meet in the classroom this Fall?
My number one piece of advice: do the reading before class! Having that background will make our class time more productive and fun because we can dive into active learning that much sooner.
What are your hopes for the profession as a whole?
My hope for our profession is that we continue to think bigger and more holistically beyond the medical model of practice. This means striving for justice, diversity, and equity for our practitioners and our clients, considering how our profession supports diverse voices and ideas, and making community-based work a key practice area. This also means making sure our work is truly client-centered and a partnership, not just an OT “expert” dictating the goals and the plan: clients – even young ones — should have a voice in setting goals, making intervention plans, and choosing activities that are relevant and meaningful to them in that moment.
And finally, is there anything else you would like to share with us to help us get to know you?
My extra-curricular passion is reading – I am always reading, and I love being outside as much as possible. My family plays and watches a lot of soccer, we love traveling together, and are big animal lovers (we currently have two cats, a dog and a turtle).