Teri Black, COTA, ROH
Madison Area Technical College
Describe your journey of leadership. Where and when did you begin?
My journey to leadership started even before occupational therapy (OT). Actually, it started with inspiration from my father, who was an activist and leader in the Union system. Although I discovered it later, it was his example that led me to be in several officer positions in 4-H, hold class officer positions, be vice president of the Young Democrats in high school, and be vice president of the Student OT Association in college. In my first job as a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) in the schools in 1978, the Administration did not know what to do with the COTAs, so they placed us in the Teacher Aide Union, where we had to function as aides. This did not fit right for the 13 COTAs hired by the district, so I became president of the Aide Union and got all of the COTAs out of that union and into the Teachers Union.
The path after this went from being involved in our district OT Association as district chair, to being the legislative chair on the Wisconsin Occupational Therapy Association (WOTA) Board of Directors for 11 years, where we were able to get Wisconsin regulated under certification and later licensure. I also became the founding chair of our new regulatory board. While being involved at the state, I was tapped by AOTA to serve on several committees. Service on the committees helped me to be recognized as a responsible, knowledgeable OTA, so I was chosen to serve on the AOTA Ethics Commission.
Those experiences, and taking advantage of several learning opportunities related to regulating our profession, facilitated my being selected to be on the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) Board of Directors. During the 9 years I served on the board, I was on the Disciplinary Action Committee. (At this point, I have to say that there probably is something a little wrong with me because I like to read laws and rules, and to write rules, since I had the major responsibility for writing the rules to implement our licensure law. Becoming an expert in some aspect of OT can help define your leadership path.)
My time on the NBCOT Board of Directors prepared me to be elected to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Board of Directors. I was elected to two 3-year terms as a Board Director. I think name recognition helped me to be elected. I have written many articles, presented in Wisconsin and AOTA, and keynoted in several states. The opportunities to serve the profession I love in a capacity other than practice have been wonderful experiences. How exciting it was to be involved in the development of the Centennial Vision and our roadmap to the future.
Currently, I serve as the Wisconsin Representative to the AOTA Representative Assembly (RA). Perhaps it is my great interest in the legislative/regulatory process that has caused me to follow the RA for at least 20 of the last 30-plus years. I have been vitally interested in the work of the RA, but the timing never seemed right to be on the RA until now.
What made you want to be involved in OTA leadership?
What made me get involved in OTA leadership was teaching in an OTA educational program and developing a vision for what I thought the OTA role could be in practice. Almost all the leadership activities I have engaged in have been to further the vision. I wanted to be involved because I saw so few OTAs in leadership roles and I felt, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” I chose to teach part-time for most of my 27 years so I would have time to do volunteer work and practice, in addition to teaching.
Did you have a mentor? If so, how did he or she become your mentor? Is that person still your mentor? Who were your other mentors along the way? How did your mentors help you become a leader or a better leader?
My mentor was Carol Holmes. She was on the faculty with me and was involved with the Wisconsin OT Association in a variety of roles, and was president of the Wisconsin OT Association when we decided to go for licensure for the third time. Carol recognized that I had the interest and skills in effecting change, so she asked me to be the legislative chair for WOTA. She put faith and trust in me and had a vision for what we needed to do to keep OT vital in Wisconsin. She would create elaborate programs to impact public policy and I would be part of implementing them. We presented together in the state and we did a workshop at AOTA. We received the second AOTA Terry Brittell COTA/OTR Partnership Award, which was very meaningful to me. As far as Carol still being a mentor, I would say our relationship has changed over time. Now that she has retired from our college and OT, she serves more as a sounding board and an advisor than as a mentor. There are individuals who have been inspirations, but not necessarily mentors for me, such as Carolyn Baum, Mary Evert, Sally Ryan, Robin Jones—I’ve watched how they lead and try to use the way they influence in my own methods of leadership.
What pitfalls or obstacles have you had in your journey to become a leader? What surprises did you encounter?
I would have to call them bumps in the road as opposed to pitfalls, and that would be when I let my passion for an issue override respecting the process, which I think made what I was trying to do less effective. I learned from that, and now I always try to understand the system I am trying to impact and follow the chain of command and protocol. Something that continually surprises me is that there are so many OTs and OTAs who are not aware of how the RA works or how much AOTA and the state associations do to keep practice viable. Because they are unaware, they don’t know how easy it is to have an impact and we lose the ability to have OT become a much more widely known profession.
Why is OTA leadership important? How does OTA leadership benefit the profession?
If we are not advocating for our profession wherever we are, who will? OTAs are vital to the provision of services and we all need to practice the best OT we can to help us maintain the role we have. I believe OTAs can be the pioneers into emerging practice. Then we should bring an OTR in for program development and research to validate that what we do is effective. OTAs have our own unique perspective that we should share. We have to lead in small ways by becoming experts in our practice and in large ways by writing to our legislators on every issue that affects our profession—volunteer for professional organizations and advocate in public policy.