School consultation is a process for providing psychological and educational services in which a specialist (consultant) works cooperatively with a staff member (consultee) to improve the learning and adjustment of a student (client) or a group of students. During face-to-face interactions, the consultant helps the consultee through systematic problem solving, social influence, and professional support. In turn, the consultee helps the client by selecting, implementing, and evaluating school-based interventions. In all cases, school consultation serves a remedial function and has the potential to serve a preventive function. Collaborative consultation is an interactive process that enables people with diverse expertise to generate creative solutions to mutually defined problems.
The outcome is enhanced, altered, and produces solutions that are different from those that the individual team members would produce independently (Idol, Paolucci-Witcomb, & Nevin, 1994). According to Idol et al (1994), the central disposition in this model is that consultation should be voluntary and that participants have parity and equity. Parity requires mutual respect and reliance on one another’s unique contributions while equity involves equal treatment of each team member. A fundamental goal of the model is to improve and maintain the competencies of all personnel.
There are various issues in school consultation that need to be taken account of when establishing a collaborative consultation. Some of them are
* Understanding consulting relationship
* Allocating sufficient time for consultation
* Sensitivity to multiculturalism
* Maintaining confidentiality
* Recognising different frames of reference, different preferences, and different needs
* Assessing treatment integrity
* Maintaining accountability
* Increasing family involvement
The following discussion will be based on four of the above points namely, understanding consulting relationship, allocating sufficient time for consultation, maintaining confidentiality and increasing family involvement. The discussion will highlight what each of these can be an issue in the consulting process, why problems may occur in this areas and what can be done by the consultant to avoid or minimize these problems occurring.
Understanding the consulting relationship
A central premise of consultation is that two professionals with different areas of expertise can engage in more effective problem solving than would be possible if either worked alone (Brown, Pryzwansky and Schulte, 1991). As we engage in a relationship, the first and utmost importance will be to establish a positive working relationship. The components of this relationship will be an egalitarian relationship characterized by open communication between the consultant and consultee, collaboration between the consultant and consultee at each phase of consultation and confidentiality of all communication. Consultation is effective only if both parties are active participants (Friend and Cook, 2003).
The fist step in initiating a productive working relationship is a discussion of the roles of consultant and consultee will take in consultations. The procedure assure that the consultee has an opportunity to express his or her preferences and that the consultant and consultee understand and agree on the basic parameters of consultation (Parsons and Mayer, 1984 cited in Brown et al 1991). This open discussion of their working relationship, initiated by the consultant, also provides a model to the consultee of the clear, open communication that should characterize later consultive communication.
During this discussion it is important for participants to agree on the fundamental principles of collaboration, most importantly, the collaborative feature (e.g. parity, shared goals and resources, independent accountability and responsibility and voluntary participation) as identified by Friend and Cook (2003). It is also, important to take into consideration the cultural factors between the consultant and consultee. When the consulting relationship is establish each one has to respect the culture of other so that a perfect solution will be met.
This relationship is very important for a collaborative consultation session to be a success, as the amount of effort each participant puts in will lead to the effectiveness. The better the relationship, the better both parties can work together and more interest they can put in. Finally, development of the initial relationship should take place in such a way that termination is an expected result.
Efforts at role structuring can prevent unspoken expectation from blocking successful consultation (Brown et al, 1991). For example, the consultant may assume that the consultee know better and he himself will solve the problem. On the other hand consultee may feel that something he may tell might not please the consultant. So to avoid this both parties have a very open minded discussion in building the relationship.
Another source of misunderstanding is the consultee’s experiences working with other consultants who operated differently. The consultee may assume that all consultants operate in the same manner and this can be a source of conflict that retards the consultation process.
Structural role relationships also include a discussion of ethical concerns, such as confidentiality of communication and data collection within consultation. The assurance of confidentiality must be built between the parties to have an non hesitative open communication.
Hence, to avoid any of these problems the consultant must very freely discuss with the consultee on their roles, aims and objectives and the ethical considerations and build firm consulting relationship.
Allocating sufficient time for consultation
Time is always a scare factor. Everyone in this world is so busy that they do not have a single time to the things they want. In every aspect of the work environment time management has been a critical factor. For special education teachers, psychologists and others who have both consulting as well as direct service responsibilities, a dilemma often arises regarding the time available to consult (Friend and Cook, 2003).
School professional repeatedly express dismay that collaboration is not possible without time for shared planning (Friend and Cook, 2003) and they seldom, if ever, have enough planning time to enable their collaborative either to reach their full potential. When time is available it need to used to its fullest.
When the consulting relationship is established, both the consultant and consultee must plan and organize the time they can be available for discussion and collaboration. As time is scare there must be some sacrifices involved. The lack of time to collaborate will not end up with effective results. There must be sufficient time and discussion, sharing of thoughts and brainstorming before terminating a consulting relationship with a successful result.
The following two general ideas offer great promise for providing long term solutions to creating planning time for individuals engage in collaborative service deliver (Friend and Cook, 2003).
* Early release / Late arrival.
In this approach, students arrive late or are dismissed early on a regular basis. Then the professionals have this time to plan and collaborate with each other.
* Use of substitutes
Another common alternative for creating shared planning time to employ substitute teacher to release professional staff for collaboration.
As time is a very important factor in the collaborative process the consultant must try and provide as much time for the consultee. Try to find and allocate the time wherever the consultee is free so that the consulting process can be finished sooner and much effectively. It is consultant who requests the consultee for the collaboration so he should try and provide as much time for the consultee so that he will also take the process more seriously and much interest will be given for a successful outcome.
Confidentiality is the obligation not to disclose willingly any information obtained in confidence. Confidentiality is based on fan basic principle.
* Respect for an individual’s right to privacy
* Respect for human relationships in which personal information is shared.
* Appreciation of the importance of confidentiality to both individuals and society.
* Expectations that those who pledge to safeguard confidential information will do so.
When consultants build trusting relationships with consultee’s and problem solve with them, it is likely that information will be shared that should be held in confidence (Friend and Cook, 2003). When the consulting relationship is established they must also build the trust and confidentiality. Until this relationship is build the two parties cannot have an effective collaboration. When they engage in a successful collaborative consultation they have a very open discussion, and nothing should be hidden behind the discussion. Anything that is hidden might be very critical to the outcome of the situation.
To have this kind of relationship the consultant and the consultee must have a confidentiality of not to disclose any of the communication they are engaged in. For example, a teacher might have a personal negative response to a student which he’ll also share if they have developed a good trust among them. Ultimately, confidentiality is an ethical issue, one that merits serious and continued attention in schools.
So, the consultant must take confidentiality as a very important aspect for established and maintaining a strong consultant – consultee relationship. It is important that consultant is aware of the rights of consultee – vice versa to privacy. A consultant shall consult the consultee (vice versa) and attempt to obtain the consent of either before divulging confidential information. By sharing these kind of understanding will bring about a more effective and successful collaborative consultation outcome.
Increasingly family involvement
Families perform a number of functions that benefit their members. Successful families emphasize the importance of sharing affection with one another through the exchange of physical or verbal affection. Their interactions help each member to establish a self-identity and a sense of worth or self esteem.
It is the professional’s role to provide families with information they need to support their family members with a disability and to be effective participants in educational decision making (Friend and Cook, 2003). Parents spend more time with their kids than teachers. So their involvement will bring extra ingredients to the consultation process. Collaborative consultation offers counsellors a new paradigm for joining with family members and others in the community to help bring better solutions to problems. Over the years, the emphasis has moved from parent to family participation and a broad definition of family has become accepted.
There are two types of barriers to family participation identified by Bailey, Buysse, Edmondson, and Smith (1992, cited in Friend and Cook, 2003). First, many parents lack the knowledge and skills needed to contribute substantially to the education of their children. A second type of barrier is attitudinal, such as lack of confidence or assertiveness that prevents parents from active participation. In these situation consultant must support families and help them feel valued and comfortable participating at whatever level possible.
Given the tremendous range of parental abilities and preferences for involvement in interactions with school professionals, it is appropriate to ask whether collaboration is a reasonable expectation with particular parents. Knowing how to foster effective communication with parents is important, whether or not collaboration is the goal.
The consultant must take in to account the language, culture and other ethical issue when communicating with parents. When consulting with parents try to use the language that they are more comfortable with. In addition, consultants should ensure that they acquire and use appropriate cultural sensitivity in the development of the interpersonal relationships, in the consultant’s awareness of the parent’s receptivity to various interaction styles and in the appropriateness of various strategies. The consultant must also build a good consulting relationship with the parents. The ethical issues like confidentiality must be given priority. The family member must be given confidence that whatever they tell during discussions will not be disclosed in any circumstances without their consent. These will allow a proper and effective discussion with easiness to be performed.
For any collaborative consultation session to be successful, the above mentioned issues must be taken account of. Establishing a consultation relationship is the key to the success of a collaborative consultation. The components of this relationship will be an egalitarian relationship characterized by open communication between the consultant and consultee, collaboration between the consultant and consultee at each phase of consultation and confidentiality of all communication. Consultation is effective only if both parties are active participants.
During this discussion it is important for participants to agree on the fundamental principles of collaboration, most importantly, the collaborative feature (e.g. parity, shared goals and resources, independent accountability and responsibility and voluntary participation) as identified by Friend and Cook (2003). Once the consultant and consultee come into an agreement and relationship, they must allocate the time for the process.
School professional repeatedly express dismay that collaboration is not possible without time for shared planning and they seldom, if ever, have enough planning time to enable their collaborative either to reach their full potential. The amount of time for them to share and discuss will play and important part on the out come of the collaborative consultation process. Issues like culture are very critical. Consultants should ensure that they acquire and use appropriate cultural sensitivity in the development of the interpersonal relationships, in the consultant’s awareness of the parent’s receptivity to various interaction styles and in the appropriateness of various strategies.
In today’s changing environment involving the family in the consulting process is given utmost priority. Families perform a number of functions that benefit their members. Successful families emphasize the importance of sharing affection with one another through the exchange of physical or verbal affection. Hidden information about the students can be brought to notice when parents are involved in the consulting process.