8 Skills for Teachers to Effectively Collaborate with Specialists to Support a Child’s Inclusion & Equity
No single educator should be held responsible for student success. Many students work with multiple adults in a school setting. Collaboration amongst teachers and specialists is essential not only to ensure each child’s academic progress, but also to support inclusion and equity in the classroom.
What is Collaboration?
Collaboration is an effective tool that helps teachers, specialists, administrators, and other school personnel work together to meet each student’s individual needs. Collaboration supports all students, including the 1 in 5 with learning and attention difficulties. The National Center for Learning Disabilities defines the primary purposes of collaboration as “identifying and sharing effective academic, behavior, and social-emotional instructional practices, ensuring that practices are consistent across all providers, and ensuring that the students benefit from those practices.”
Collaboration allows each professional working with a child to share their unique knowledge about the child and their progress with others in order to meet learner variability. For example, a general education teacher may collaborate with an occupational therapist to develop a classroom plan that supports a student with their fine and gross motor development in the classroom. The teacher and therapist may implement accommodations and modifications such as the use of pencil grip and/or Theraputty (a putty-like material that can be molded and stretched to build hand strength and develop fine motor skills) and heavy work activities targeted for proprioceptive input such as being assigned jobs to help carry heavy items on a regular basis. By collaborating with specialists, general education teachers are able to consistently implement differentiated strategies, accommodations, and modifications that will not only ensure success for a child with learning differences and encourage inclusion and equity, but will also benefit all students.
What Does Collaboration with Specialists Look Like?
Collaboration can look different in each school setting and for different educators based on school policies and individual schedules. Some schools have regularly scheduled meetings between the general education teacher, specialists, and administrators to ensure everyone is on the same page and to provide consistent updates. Other educators prefer to meet on a more casual basis and may simply stop by a specialist’s office or send a weekly or bi-weekly email to check in. Email communication can be a great way for specialists to also share related articles, links, and resources that may help the general education teacher develop a greater understanding of the child’s needs or more effectively implement support in the classroom.
Despite the type of meeting or the frequency, the most important component is that each team member has the opportunity to share a student’s progress in their setting and for all parties to work together to develop ideas to allow the child to practice skills in different settings and with different people. Not only does this allow the teacher to implement strategies the child may be working on during individual therapy, it may also provide the specialist an opportunity to reinforce skills the student is working on in the classroom during their sessions as well.
Skills for Effective Collaboration
- Be prepared: Setting an agenda before a meeting can help to identify goals and ensure everyone remains on topic during the meeting. Identifying a meeting facilitator can help to keep everyone focused as well.
- Be an active listener: Focus on the meeting agenda and goals without distractions from cell phones or laptops. Allow others to fully finish their thoughts without interrupting.
- Focus on establishing culturally responsive collaborations: It is critical that these collaborations remain culturally responsive spaces that center anti-bias, anti-racist norm setting.
- Summarize: Summarize next steps, ownership, and deadlines for follow-through as the meeting concludes and identify any unresolved topics for the next meeting.
- Check for understanding: Ask questions, particularly open-ended and clarifying ones to ensure you understood your colleagues correctly. Paraphrase what you heard to also check for understanding.
- Integrate: Synthesize colleagues’ ideas to develop a cohesive action plan that benefits the student. Use input and feedback from all team members to develop the strongest plan.
- Empathize: Ensure everyone feels as though they are a meaningful contributor to the group whose voice has been heard.
- Allow for intentional perspective taking: Ensure that a safe space is created for intentional perspective taking. Consider who is being silenced. Take time to pause and reflect on whose voice is not being heard during these collaborative meetings.
Utilizing these 8 skills can help leverage each team member’s assets—their background knowledge, their expertise, and their awareness of the student. Partnering with specialists will allow classroom teachers to ensure all students experience academic success in an inclusive, equitable manner.
About the Author
Heather White, EdS, is a Montessori coach and consultant, content creator, and educator for adult learners, as well as a moderator and manager for the Montessori at Home (0 – 3 years) Facebook group. Formerly, she was a Montessori teacher, in-home caregiver, Lower Elementary coordinator, and associate head of school. She also has experience as a school psychologist intern. She is AMS-credentialed (Early Childhood, Elementary I) and is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The opinions expressed in Montessori Life are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of AMS.