In this blog, Ms Haley Tancredi discusses the power of genuine professional collaboration as an essential ingredient in supporting teachers to enact inclusive pedagogies in their classrooms.
Inclusive education is a human right for all students with disability, and educators and others working in schools are obligated to uphold this right. The Disability Standards for Education 2005 provide guidance about upholding these obligations, with the provision of reasonable adjustments being a cornerstone obligation. A review of the DSE took place in 2020, and professional collaboration was raised as a driver for inclusive education during the public webinars that took place. The last DSE review was in 2015 and in the final report it was acknowledged that designing and implementing reasonable adjustments requires “a high level of skill on the part of providers” (p. ii). Teachers internationally report a lack of the requisite knowledge and skills to effectively include students with disability with the result that students may not receive the adjustments they need when they need them, leading to more serious difficulties over time.
So how can educators be supported to develop their confidence to design and implement timely, appropriate and precise reasonable adjustments?
One way is through professional collaboration. Inclusion is a shared responsibility and, together, professionals can create high-quality inclusive educational experiences for students with disability. However, professional collaboration does not mean a one-off quick consultation between teachers, or with a teacher and psychologist, speech pathologist, or other professional. Genuine professional collaboration is about forming reciprocal working relationships, and contributing to shared, student-centred goals.
What professional collaboration is (and is not)
Genuine professional collaboration is a way of working in partnership that:
- acknowledges the professional expertise of each person involved,
- is underpinned by positive relationships built on respect, reciprocity and effective communication, and
- is focused on a shared goal, where the student and the student’s education is the focus.
Collaborative partnerships can take place between two or more teachers, or can include psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, school nurses and others. It is important to understand that the professionals in the collaborative relationships won’t always agree on everything. However, it is the shared goals and focus on the student and the student’s access to an inclusive education that is non-negotiable. In this way, professional collaboration can benefit students by contributing to high-quality teaching practices, targeted support, and consistency in their education experience.
Professional collaboration is not a one-off meeting with a specialist teacher or allied health professional, or a stand-alone assessment feedback meeting. Genuine collaborative partnerships also rarely blossom when participants adopt a specialist approach, rather than a shared partnership. While assessment feedback meetings and similar activities have a place and are important, they are only a small part of what can be a genuine, collaborative relationship. The benefits of professional collaboration include practice-focused professional learning opportunities and increased understanding of the roles and skills of other professionals working in their school. Professional collaboration can also contribute significantly to the education experiences of students with disability in inclusive contexts. These benefits cannot be achieved through a one-off meeting between professionals.
Sometimes, professional collaborations start organically – whether through staffroom conversations or a shared project. At other times, teachers may find themselves feeling “stuck”. Reaching out to colleagues for professional support and joint problem solving can be a great way to start a collaboration. Another way that professional collaboration may start is because a speech pathologist or other professional is working with a student, and the professionals acknowledge the power of partnering to support the student. Regardless of how a professional collaboration commences in a school, here are some questions that you could discuss or consider early in the process, to help find common ground:
- What is the goal and purpose of the collaboration?
- Is the collaborative work going to support a specific student, a group of students or is this a whole-school project?
- What data or information will inform decision-making and the activities undertaken?
- Are there any time, resourcing or logistical constraints to consider?
- Do the professionals involved have an existing relationship? If not, what are some ways that the team can learn more about one another?
Who brings what?
Preparing for professional collaboration discussions can be a bit like going on a picnic. Who is bringing what? While it is nice to have something delicious to share while you talk (and we all know the power of building relationships over food), I’m not talking about cake in this instance. Instead, in terms of information, skills and expertise – who is bringing what?
Teachers bring knowledge of their students, curriculum and curriculum development expertise, and knowledge of pedagogical practices and assessment processes. Specialist teachers, psychologists and allied health professionals can contribute specific information about a student’s learning profile (including specialist assessment data), and can support teachers to integrate their existing knowledge and information about a student’s learning profile to identify possible barriers in the classroom, pedagogical practices and assessment.
Then, the team can work together to design and implement adjustments to minimise or remove these barriers. For example, detailed information about a student’s communication profile, provided by a speech pathologist, can help a teacher consider how information is presented in class and potential barriers that may exist in assessment tasks.
Schools are busy ecosystems. There are many moving parts and various people involved, which means building and nurturing professional relationships, and working in collaboration is an essential component of the work life of teachers and other professionals. We invite you to read more about genuine professional collaboration, and add a comment below to share your experiences.
Haley Tancredi is the Coordinator of The Centre for Inclusive Education and a PhD candidate at QUT, where she is investigating the impact of teachers’ use of accessible pedagogies on the classroom experiences, engagement and learning outcomes of students with language and attentional difficulties. A speech pathologist by first profession, Haley has worked extensively in schools, in collaboration with teachers. She tweets from @HaleyTanc.