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Excerpted from Resourcing: Handbook for Special Education Resource Teachers.

Resourcing – Being a Communicator/Collaborator

In your role as communicator and collaborator, you will be working with other staff members in your school, particularly those who have your students in their general education classes. Your goal will be to work with teachers to help students succeed in the mainstream. By working together, you and other staff members can develop strategies to assist any student who is having learning or behavioral difficulties. Such collaboration can have the added benefit of reducing inappropriate referrals to special education.

Unfortunately, collaboration is not always easy to establish between special and general education. However, there is excellent information available that will assist you in this endeavor. Professional journals and other published materials have been focusing on the issue of the interface between special and general education for several years.

Results of research studies regarding collaboration suggest that a first step is to establish a strong supportive base for this role from the school principal. A carefully planned, clear presentation to your principal of what this role will entail, the benefits of this service, and implementation steps will be important in obtaining the support you need. You want the principal to offer his or her backing for the program and communicate this enthusiastically to the staff. Their response to the service may be more positive, given this administrative support and leadership.

Once the principal's approval has been obtained, there are a number of steps you may take to implement the service effectively. Your own particular situation will define what the steps will be. However, there are some points for you to keep in mind regarding this role.

The Role of Collaborator

Although I have used the term collaborator, collaboration is essentially a style of interaction that can enhance problem-solving and planning activities between you and one or more others. This style of communication occurs when parties are viewed as co-equals and they voluntarily agree to work together to address a shared need.

Collaboration is not the same as consultation. Consultation is a process in which an expert comes in to help solve a problem. The responsibility is on the consultant to find the answer and make things right. The relationship between the consultant and consultee is not an equal one.

Often resource teachers are placed in the role of consultant. This is a difficult role that may create resistance on the part of regular educators. Teachers may resent having a so-called expert come into their class and tell them what they need to do – especially when this person is their co-worker and peer. Consultation can also create situations in which you, the resource teacher, become the person responsible for making the strategy work and the teacher has no ownership in the solution.

As a collaborator, your role shifts from the expert model and you work jointly with teachers. Therefore, you will want to pull back from your "teacher-directing" mode and exhibit a more interactive and sharing style. Your goal is to develop a working, trusting relationship with the teacher, one that emphasizes shared responsibility and decision making. The two of you will work together to define the problem and develop plans of action. You should be perceived as part of a team approach to problem solving and not as an expert who gives the answers.

Your communication skills will help you reach this goal. Trust, an integral part of a collaborative relationship, is more likely to occur when communication is nonthreatening, nonevaluative, and respectful. The teacher should feel "heard" and valued as an integral part of the decision-making process. Both you and the teacher can learn from one another in a give-and-take situation that is future-oriented and directed toward solutions.

This collaborative relationship will not always occur immediately and with everyone on staff. Realistically, 100 percent collaboration may never occur in a school building. You have to be prepared for some resistance and you need to lay the groundwork to increase your chances of success.

Some suggestions for various ways to foster success in your collaboration follow:

  • Develop a collaboration planning team that consists of members from both regular and special education. This team can explore such issues as benefits of collaboration, incentives, school-wide beliefs about mainstreaming that need to be addressed, and implementation steps. You want the regular education staff to also have ownership in this program and support this process. Having a team set the program, as opposed to just yourself, may make a big difference in its acceptance.

  • Advertise successes. Have teachers spread the word about the successes of the program. Let the school know how collaboration is working and what benefits have actually occurred.

  • Develop intervention resources. Your role can be enhanced by developing intervention resources that are accessible to teachers. As ideas are developed among team members, add them to a file. Network with teachers and colleagues in other schools to obtain more ideas. Place these ideas into a workable resource system that teachers can tap into when you are not available.

  • Schedule yourself regularly for collaboration time. You must be accessible if this service is to work. Your principal is a key player in establishing this time, of course. Establish a system for meeting with teachers that includes the use of "communication forms" to let you know when they are needy and interested.

  • Keep your communication and collaboration skills fine-tuned. Attend staff development activities related to this subject. Be aware that many relevant workshops on this topic are available through business and community organizations as well as educational organizations. Role playing with your special education colleagues can be helpful, as can brainstorming sessions to develop more intervention strategies. Also, browse through the bookstore to find books on these skills, especially in the business/management section.

These are a few of the many suggestions available to you regarding the communicator/collaborator role. The bottom line is that you need to be seen as an integral part of the school team, working together for student success.

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