Students with special needs sometimes receive supplemental services from organizations other than the school district. Such organizations might include (1) private transportation providers, (2) human service agencies, (3) hospitals and clinics, (4) regional education service centers, or (5) agencies specializing in particular disabilities. As a parapro, you may already interact with personnel from such organizations (or you may even be an employee of such an organization yourself!).

One way or another, educators in schools must often collaborate with personnel from non-school organizations to ensure that students receive the supplemental services specified in their IEPs or 504 plans. Thus, For instance, you might escort students to physical therapy sessions or to orientation and mobility training. Or —if you are employed by an ESC to work in school districts—you might find yourself in different organizations on different days of the week. You might even notice that your job requires you to follow different sets of rules (both written and unwritten) depending on where you are working on any given day. Inter-agency collaboration can be challenging!

It’s important to understand what it means to work for organizations other than the school district. Personnel who work in such organizations coordinate their efforts—weakly or strongly—with those of the school district, but these specialists don’t work for the district. And sometimes they are not in schools on a regular basis. So what?

Different organizations have different ways of doing things. And different ways of doing things produce employees with ideas about how to do things that can be subtly or sharply different from educators’ ideas about how to do things. That is, you can’t expect the physical therapist or the orientation and mobility specialist to behave or think like the educators you work with. And if you “belong” to two organizations (for instance, an ESC and a school) you might experience difficulties or tensions unknown to many of your colleagues. Whether you are employed by a school district or another agency, you need to take the likely existence of organizational differences into consideration. But how?

The best approach is to apply the principles of effective communication: When you are interacting with an employee from another agency, be aware of your assumptions, exercise patience, observe carefully, think before you speak, and do all of this in order to advance the interests of the instructional team.

When you interact in this way, you are doing something more than making sure that students get the supplementary services they need. What is that “something more”? It’s stronger connections between the team and other service agencies. These connections benefit the team, the school, and the district—and ultimately, of course, they benefit the students.

When an effective team operates in this way, it expands its network of organizational partners. So you can see that inter-agency collaboration is also part of what makes an effective team.

As a parapro, you might carry messages to and from the instructional team, assist the specialist or the student in activities, and even reinforce activities between sessions. But you need to share very little about the student with outside personnel. Confidentiality rules still apply in this situation!

In short: be courteous, respectful, observant, and attuned to confidentiality issues. And be sure to share what you learn about partner organizations with your team.