Consider this scene from Shrek:
Shrek: Ogres are like onions.
Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes. No.
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry.
Donkey: Oh, you leave em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs.
Shrek: No. Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.
Donkey: Oh, you both have layers. Oh. You know, not everybody likes onions.
This scene comes to my mind often as I reflect on schools and the many layers that exist within the work of students, parents, educational assistants and teachers. And yet it also sparks hope and possibilities when I reflect on school Collaborative Team Meetings and their relationship to district supports.
Layer #1 Collaborative Team Meetings
Over the past number of years, we have been sharing the structures and processes that support students in schools through the implementation of a Collaborative Response Model. (For more information see Essential Elements of a Collaborative Team Meetings.)
One of the concepts that we consistently share is that Collaborative Team Meetings are intended to meet the needs of students who are in the middle. These students do not require extensive supports but would benefit greatly from receiving supports in specific targeted areas. It may only take one or two strategies, interventions or accommodations to bump these students to access supports at the classroom level.
We also consistently share the message that some students require more time than is allotted in the one hour timeframe in a four week cycle within the Collaborative Team Meetings. Students who are needing lengthy regular discussions which may include multiple supports and multiple resources require a much more in-depth discussion outside of the Collaborative Team Meeting.
Layer #2 Student Support Teams
What structure exists outside of the Collaborative Team Meetings that could provide this additional time and support? Enter the “Student Support Team“. This is a school level team that has three primary functions:
- To engage in collaborative discussions to support students with intense, multi-faceted concerns
- To monitor and problem solve with staff regarding next steps for students which may or may not include external or district supports and services
- To provide support for the teacher to ensure the student’s needs are met
The Student Support Team uses the same processes and structures that are used in the Collaborative Team Meetings (i.e. norms, common set of notes, celebrations, visual board, etc.). This team includes the admin team, learning support teacher, family school liaison or counsellor as well as the teacher and educational assistant involved with the student.
When a student is referred to the Student Support Team, the team adds the student to their Student Support board for discussion. This collaborative conversation may lead to a referral to external supports or it may lead to a recommendation that additional time and strategies are required at the classroom or school level prior to accessing Tier 4 supports. In this case, the team would support the teacher in implementing additional strategies prior to moving the student to the next level of support. In essence, this team engages in a vetting process as to whether enough has been done for a student at Tiers 1 and 2 prior to engaging Tier 3 and 4 supports.
Layer #3 District and External Supports
If the Student Support Team is confident that every possible strategy, intervention and accommodation have been exhausted within the classroom and school levels of support, then this team, along with the teacher, refers the student to district or external agencies such as speech language pathologists, behaviour specialists or psychologists to engage their supports for the student and family.
As the third layer, the District team may also use the same processes and structures that are used in the Collaborative Team Meetings (i.e. norms, common set of notes, celebrations, visual board, etc.). When a student is referred to the District Team (i.e. Learning Support Services, Inclusive Services, etc.) the team adds the student to their District board for discussion.
In my experience at the district level, supports are often stretched by limited available staffing and extraordinary numbers of requests for support. When a Student Support Team is engaged through specific structures and processes, it reduces the need for supports from the district. This makes the specialized supports more accessible for those who really need them.
We know with enhanced collaborative structures we not only meet the needs of more students but we provide opportunities to build collective capacity within school teams.
Shrek: That’ll do, Donkey. That’ll do.