It would be safe to assume that the declaration “we should have more meetings” would not be met with ringing endorsements in most schools! But we can likely all agree that meetings are a necessity to respond to the diverse needs of students. It not only matters how we structure our meetings, but how we articulate the purpose of each meeting. When implementing a Collaborative Response in our schools, it is important to think about layering our collaborative structures with each having a very specific purpose, and then infusing a unique type of meeting we call the collaborative team meeting.
Layered Collaborative Structures
In its most basic form, we suggest four layers of team meetings should exist in every school. The great news is that three of them likely already exist in your organization, in some shape or form. We recognize that these structures may be named something different in your organization (and that we have oversimplified for the purpose of clarity) but hopefully the purpose of each can be universally understood. Let’s start with the most intense: case consult team meeting.
Case Consult Team Meetings
We typically require this meeting when there is an immediate crisis or a situation where students themselves or others are at risk, or when we need to reach beyond the school to ensure an adequate response. The team is called together as needed and could include teachers, educational assistants, administrators, special education leads, school counselors, psychologists, therapists and clinicians. This is an intensive wrap-around support that is focused on the needs of a single student and therefore could involve the family and the student themself. This structure will always be needed, but if the only way we have to respond is through discussion of one student at a time, it is an incredibly inefficient way to manage the needs of all students. We need additional layers!
School Support Team Meeting
This team is frequently established in schools to support the specialized needs of students. It provides ongoing support to classroom teachers for individual or small groups of students. Administrators, special education facilitators or learning support teachers, and counselors make up the site-based partners of this team. Typically, this team meets weekly or bi-weekly to engage in conversations regarding programming for students, school wide support and referrals to district or external services.
For most schools, these two structures are not unique. Neither is our least intensive layer focused on collaborative planning.
Collaborative Planning Meeting
This foundational layer of teaming provides teaching staff with the opportunity to work in teams in creating the resources, materials, lessons, and strategies that would support students in their classrooms. These collaborative structures can differ from school to school but ensure time and process is provided for teams of teachers to work together to enhance practice and increase levels of student success.
If these three structures already exist within your school, great news! Fifteen years ago, in our own school in Alberta, Canada, we had each of these structures in place, but we were finding two things happening:
- Our student response structures (case consult and school support) were being overwhelmed. It was difficult to keep up with the requests for additional support beyond the classroom, and we were not maximizing the collective capacity of our staff by parachuting in outside support.
- Our collaborative planning teams didn’t always engage in work that was responsive to the needs of our students.
Something was missing and we learned the missing piece of the puzzle was the collaborative team meeting.
Collaborative Team Meetings
An absolutely critical structure that we work with schools and districts to implement is the collaborative team meeting. This is the one team structure that is not typically present in schools and is the structure that ensures we’ve done everything we could at the classroom level prior to accessing more intensive supports. It also helps to inform the subsequent collaborative planning for teams. This structure is intended to provide an avenue for discussing students who are experiencing challenges in the classroom and might benefit from a boost in differentiated strategies. Their needs, however, may be needs that have surfaced for other students too. Therefore, it would be more efficient to design unique strategies that would not only support that particular student but many more in other classrooms as well. We refer to this process as focusing on key issues, which is visually represented in the flowchart below.
By adding the collaborative team meeting structure into our schools, we can, in time, reduce the number of more intensive meetings about students as we increase skills, capacity and response at the classroom level.