Making Educational Support Teams Work In a recent conference, special education expert Karena Cooper-Duffy and parent Kerri Eaker chatted with participants about effective ways to build and participate in teams of professionals and parents supporting people with severe disabilities. The Leader was there. Overheard
Overheard  |   November 01, 2014
Making Educational Support Teams Work
Author Notes
  • Karena Cooper-Duffy, PhD, is a professor in the special education program at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.
    Karena Cooper-Duffy, PhD, is a professor in the special education program at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Overheard
Overheard   |   November 01, 2014
Making Educational Support Teams Work
The ASHA Leader, November 2014, Vol. 19, online only. doi:10.1044/
The ASHA Leader, November 2014, Vol. 19, online only. doi:10.1044/
Note: Karena Cooper-Duffy and Kerri Eaker shared a login for this chat.
Joyce Shinn: You mentioned a lot of communication is shown by the eyebrows. Could you tell us a little more about that?
Karena Cooper-Duffy and Kerri Eaker: OK. For example, when someone lifts their eyebrows it can be perceived as surprise, disbelief, shock or humor. Crunching eyebrows together means confused, thinking, stressed. This is a challenge today since most of our communication is with technology and we cannot see each other’s faces. Components of the message can be lost over the Internet, texting, etcetera.
Mark Turek: Working in the school system, it is often difficult to get parents to the table. Any tips or suggestions for getting parents to buy in to the team approach and keeping them engaged as a team member?
Cooper-Duffy/Eaker: Build a trusting relationship by developing rapport with families. Highlight and identify the strengths of the parents and tell them about the visible strengths, instead of highlighting their child’s behavior or parenting challenges. Listen to what parents want and don’t criticize ideas, suggestions, goals, etcetera, that parents share. For example, think about speed dating. On the first date, folks who want a relationship with that [other] person do not start the date with negative comments, judgments or other offensive statements—that is, statements that can be viewed by parents as judgmental, negative or offensive.
Megan McCall: Thank you, Kerri—it is important and rare to get a parent’s perspective. It is so easy to forget how our everyday behavior can affect a parent in unintended ways. Your comment about whispering at meetings was a reminder to me. Sometimes I do this to bring an incoming team member up to speed but it is understandable that the parent would have no way of knowing that—and, of course, it is distracting, too. Do you have any suggestions for on-the-spot diffusing of a very tense meeting?
Cooper-Duffy/Eaker: Hand out chocolate. Take a break. Return in a few minutes and use the conflict-resolution strategies in the handout. Write out on a flip chart the issues and barriers the team is facing. Then talk about the issues and attempt to problem-solve the issues. Families can bring in a parent educator from Exceptional Children Assistance Center. Also, avoid acronyms when talking with families. That also helps.
Jody Terry: I would like to hear a little about how the two of you came up with the ideas for the effective team practices and put them into the presentation.
Cooper-Duffy/Eaker: This is the most critical area where both professionals and families come together. Without the team approach, families are left floundering in a sea of unlinked services or no services. When teams can be built effectively, the goals for the children can be identified and implemented with success. When people are functioning in isolation, the goals for the children are unclear and not met. This area leads to great frustration, wasted time—for help and learning for the child—and potential due process hearings. This area is critical for both professionals and families.
Melony Anne O’Flaherty: When communicating with a team, what happens if it is the same individual all the time that multiple team members are having problems with consistently? How do you approach people that aren’t pulling their weight? How do you handle people that don’t confront the issue but talk behind your back?
Cooper-Duffy/Eaker: When creating the team, it is important to ask folks what role they can realistically do to help meet the goal around the child or team goal. When folks are assigned a role they cannot do, they may be resistant or slacking or resentful. Provide folks the option to say, “No, I am not committed to this team goal,” and let them go. The team can then request another person who is committed and wants to be there.
Anne Current: That would be great. In schools, certain personnel are required to be on the team (regular education classroom teacher). Cooperation from such overloaded persons is often difficult for all.
Sandra Zuefle: I often find myself covering for an individual so that the team doesn’t fall apart. We have tried written plans and it is hard to come to the table with parents and admit that something hasn’t been followed through. I think this is why we have such a hard time giving roles to others.
Cooper-Duffy/Eaker: Trust is a big part of the team. It all goes back to building that relationship. [But] folks not pulling their weight can be reported. A parent can go to the principal or superintendent to share the situation and ask for help. When creating a team, members can sign a contact agreeing to their role. This can also help.
O’Flaherty: I work in a very small community and we don’t always have the option to find someone else who is willing to commit.
Cooper-Duffy/Eaker: In that case, it may be a possibility to talk directly with that person and see what the problem is. Then use the collaborative problem-solving process to address the concern. In this situation the person may be able to explain their behavior and why they are so resistant or just not active. At times this can address the problem and let the person feel heard and the problem can be addressed. People may be taking on too many roles, and may be overwhelmed and have too many cases. Asking folks directly can also be helpful.
Michelle Cavallaro: Kerri, your perspective that turnover in team members was hurtful to your child’s well-being impacted me. We usually have students with a team for multiple years, but then the whole (or most) of the team changes. Would you find it better if one or two members gradually changed instead of this whole team change? I really value your opinions!
Cooper-Duffy/Eaker: It is important to avoid taking on another’s role to cover for another person. Better if one or one change at a time instead of all at once.
McCall: Do you find that any of this teaming can happen online or sequentially or any other ways that are maybe easier to fit into people’s schedules? I don’t really think there is a substitute for face-to-face when there is conflict resolution needed, but what about other parts of the process?
Cooper-Duffy/Eaker: Group conference calls, Skype, and GoTo Meeting can all be helpful as a last resort. Face-to-face meetings help me feel like I am being heard better. I can see facial expressions.
Kristyn Nunes: Other than starting with strengths of the student, is there any other way to approach the areas that need to be focused on for improvement? I once had a mom tell me she didn’t want to hear her child was making slow progress.
Cooper-Duffy/Eaker: Go back to the Individualized Education Program goals and start with the progress that was made. Stay specific to the goals and avoid general statements. The parent may be seeking specific information on what was learned. It is really important to ask the parent to clarify what they mean by their statement. Ask the parent to give examples of what would be helpful to know. The comment “slow progress” may have negative connotations for the parent. Asking for clarification can be helpful. Parents know the areas their child struggles in; it may be an issue of language.
Lindsey Broom: Any suggestions for how to resolve conflict when everyone on the team has one plan for what is best for the child and the parent has another?
Cooper-Duffy/Eaker: One person cannot do it all for all teams. There is no “I” in team. Use the steps for resolving a conflict in the presentation. The professionals and parent would benefit from gaining some understanding from what the others are presenting and why. Look for areas to compromise. Make a list of results that would work as acceptable solutions. Avoid offering families the cookie-cutter options. Families have ideas and goals that can personalize and individualize services for their children. These ideas can be embedded in the school services.
Leigh Deussing: Can you explain how to deal with a team member who is unable to listen or seems disrespectful of other team members’ contributions?
Cooper-Duffy/Eaker: A typical reason for this is the person is not feeling like they are being heard. Writing their ideas for all to see and respond to can be very helpful. Set ground rules for the whole team and post them. Hold that person accountable for their behavior in a respectful way, by using an assertive statement. For example, “Ouch, that comment really hurt—I work hard to meet the student’s needs daily.”
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November 2014
Volume 19, Issue 11