Scaffolding our Collaborative Response: Purposeful Layering of Team Meetings

Over the past number of years, as we’ve been working with schools and districts, clarity has been emerging in regards to the importance of scaffolding team structures. The layering of team structures within a school ensures that every student, regardless of their needs, has a structure in place that provides an opportunity for response, which also works to intentionally build capacity across the staff team.

Let’s start with the most intense, specialized structures, moving down to classroom collaborative planning. We recognize that these structures may be named something different in your organization but hopefully the purpose of each can be universally understood. We also understand that a number of other collaborative structures may exist in your school that align, extend upon or further support team efforts. The attempt in this blog is to engage in simplicity for the purpose of laying out a scaffolded approach to support.

The system of supports for students with specialized needs has been a well articulated, well established system in education for many years. We have spent countless hours focusing on the needs of students with significant concerns and this work has paid off in many respects. As a result, we have a number of successful structures that were designed to ensure the needs of individual students are met. At a simplistic level, these structures could be described as the Case Consult Team Meeting and the School Support Team Meeting.

Case Consult Team Meetings

The most intense level of support is a structure that is typically firmly in place in most schools. This structure is often referred to as the Case Consult Team Meeting and is an overarching title for any meeting that focuses on a single student. We typically require this meeting when there is an immediate crisis and/or a situation where students themselves or others are at risk, or when we need to reach beyond the school to ensure adequate supports for a student. The team is called together as needed and could include teachers, educational assistants, administrators, inclusive support leads, and perhaps school counsellors. It can also involve external roles such as psychologists, therapists and clinicians that support the specialized needs of one individual student. It can involve parents and/or guardians as this structure is intended to ensure a common understanding of supports on all levels including the home context. It could involve the student! This is an intensive wrap around support that is needed to ensure safety and wellness for all involved, but is focused on just one student. If this was the only layer of team we had in place to support and respond to students, it would be an incredibly inefficient way to coordinate supports across our school. Other layers are needed!

School Support Team Meeting

The next level of team that is frequently found in schools to support the specialized needs of students is the School Support Team Meeting. This team provides the ongoing support to classroom teachers in regards to individual students and perhaps small groups. Administrators, inclusive education facilitators or learning support teachers, and counsellors make up the partners of this team. Typically this team is meeting weekly or bi-weekly to engage in conversations regarding programming for students, school wide supports and referrals to district or external services. At times, teachers and educational assistants are invited to participate when a student for which they are responsible will be discussed at the meeting. This can be ideal as teachers have the greatest understanding around the students in their classroom and should be able to contribute to the discussions in regards to setting up the necessary supports in some situations. However, some of the supports to be put in place may not need a teacher’s direct involvement, if that information is included in a referral, gathered through a conversation or shared in a collaborative team meeting (discussed below). In some situations, next steps or supports established can be communicated to the classroom staff following the School Support Team Meeting. In some cases, the conversations in the school support team meeting may be about how best to support the teacher or other classroom staff. Essentially, this layer of team is about adding supports in addition to those supports provided by the classroom teacher.

Collaborative Team Meetings

A third (and absolutely critical) structure that we work with schools and districts to implement is the Collaborative Team Meeting. For additional support in understanding this structure, please check out this blog series focused exclusively on the collaborative team meeting, as well as the many resources we have in the Collaborative Structures and Processes section of the website, including video clips of a collaborative team meeting in action. This is the one team structure that is not always 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 requiring specialized roles, services and resources. 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 terms of differentiating strategies to support their needs. Their needs, however, may be needs that have surfaced for other students and could be used to design unique strategies that would not only support that particular student but many more in other classrooms as well. We refer to this as focusing on key issues (a topic expanded upon in this blog posting).

When the collaborative team meeting structure is not in place or is not functioning to support classroom instruction, we find that the people and resources in the other two layers (the School Support Team and the Case Consult Team) become stretched and overwhelmed with the number of students for which to provide individualized supports. We also recognize that without the collaborative team meeting layer, teachers may have no formalized recourse when struggling with the needs of a student but to reach out to these more intensive structures.

Collaborative Planning

The final layer of teaming is a Collaborative Planning structure that is parallel to the collaborative team meeting, which 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. Collaborative planning time is an integral complimentary process that ensures the supports that we are initiating through the collaborative team meeting have dedicated time to be actualized in the classroom. Schools familiar with traditional collaborative practices or professional learning communities certainly are well-versed to have this layer already present in their school.

We have had the privilege of working with Robert W. Zahara School in Grande Prairie, a K-6 school who have implemented the concept of levelling teams and shared their organizational chart to support staff in understanding each level of support.

Blueberry School in Parkland School Division have also created an overview for their staff team, focused on understanding more deeply each of the layers in their school.

We have also established an organizer to use when planning your scaffolds of collaborative structures in the school. It is critically important that staff members understand the purpose, composition, timing and frequency for each layer, as each one functions differently but contributes to a solid interwoven system of collaborative structures across the educational organization.

If anyone develops resources or samples related to this concept to share, we would love to see them! Email questions(at) or lorna.hewson(at) if you have something you wish to share.
Author: Lorna Hewson