Continuing Collaboration: Advice for the Rest of the School Year for TSVIs
Authors: Emily Leeper: VI Educational Consultant, Outreach Programs, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI)
Keywords: collaboration, communication, respect, teamwork, Expanded Core Curriculum
It’s the 4th week of school and you, as a TSVI or COMS, have finally settled into a routine. You know your students, you have a schedule “mostly” ironed out, and you even have that pesky new IEP software program figured out. Most importantly, you have been making connections with the members of your student’s educational team.
You have noticed, however, that it’s taking longer for some team members to respond to your emails. You hear that some teachers are forgetting accommodation details such as which font size the student needs. Some teachers are struggling to consistently use the calendar system you helped set up. Student equipment is broken or missing and you only hear about it days later. It starts to feel as though the work you put into establishing effective collaboration was a waste of time.
It’s important to recognize that team members may seem enthusiastic about working together at the beginning of the year. It’s a new school year after all, and everyone is excited to get started. Learning to work together is a process, however, and reality hits everyone as the year progresses. His 4th-period English class never settles down. There is a student in her Early Childhood Special Education class who cries continually. Every campus in the district is constantly short of paraprofessionals. Just when your week is looking good, an unexpected IEP meeting pops up. It’s no wonder that continuing to collaborate with the student’s team seems challenging.
But don’t give up! The key to effective collaboration is to understand that what seems like resistance from others is, in all probability, not intentional. You can continue to build collaborative relationships within the team to meet the needs of your students if you keep a few things in mind:
- Always assume competency and best intentions of team members. Trust the team to follow through on agreed-upon actions. Show respect for their ideas and experiences.
- Communicate regularly with staff, especially with those on campuses that you only visit in person monthly.
- Don’t come with demands. Present yourself as a source of support for both the teacher and the student. Recognize and compliment any effort by staff to “think outside the box” when supporting the student. You may be the expert, but as an itinerant, you are only present for a portion of the student’s day.
- Look for ways to include related service providers or speech therapists in Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) activities. Seek their support when setting up sensory rooms, calendar systems, or other activities for the student. Great things can happen for a student through adult teamwork.
- Your interactions with team members don’t always have to focus on the student. Building a positive relationship means sharing a laugh or commiserating over workloads and stress.
- Remember that parents and students are part of the team. Communication with them is just as important as communication with staff. Parents can be your best ally in meeting the needs of your students. Plus, team collaboration models self-advocacy skills for the student and supports their self-determination.
- Never criticize ANY team member. You don’t know what is going on in their life at work or at home. This is true for you as well. Be kind to yourself if the collaboration you hoped to maintain seems stalled.
It’s reasonable to expect that you and the student’s team will develop a productive relationship through continued communication and a focus on supporting the student to achieve their identified goals. Give it another week or so. It will happen!
For suggestions for the beginning of the school year, see the author’s previous article, Encouraging Collaboration, in the Spring 2023 issue of TX SenseAbilities.