Slide 1: Welcome to the unit on inter-agency collaboration. I’m Stanley Dudek, working on behalf of the Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation at the University of Cincinnati’s Systems Development and Improvement Center.
Slide 2: What is “inter-agency collaboration?” It sounds fancy, but it is part of everyday life in schools. Students, often those with special needs, receive supplemental services from other organizations. 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 developmental disabilities or other disabilities. Inter-agency collaboration involves working together with personnel from organizations such as these.
Slide 3: Maybe you already do this; maybe you have been participating in inter-agency collaboration for a long time. Even so, thinking about what this phase of your work accomplishes can help you collaborate better. Collaboration is difficult in any organization. When it involves multiple organizations, there additional challenges.
Slide 4: So, here’s the big picture. Teachers, parapros, and related services personnel who work in schools often collaborate with personnel from non-school organizations to ensure that students receive appropriate supplemental services. Sometimes these services are specified in the students’ IEP or 504 plans. But sometimes, supplemental services are provided to many (or even all) students in a school. For example, some school districts partner with health agencies to provide dental check-ups to all students.
Slide 5: What might be your role in helping students benefit from supplemental services provided by non-school agencies? Here are some examples. You might escort a student to a speech therapy, physical therapy, or orientation and mobility session. You might help a student’s educational interpreter find her way around your school. You might even work with a teacher whose employer is a regional service center or agency that specializes in developmental disabilities.
Slide 6: Whatever the specifics, these individuals work for an agency other than your school district. They may not know much about your district and may even, unintentionally break some of your district’s rules, especially the unwritten rules.
Slide 7: In fact, whether they spend a lot of time or a little bit of time in your district, they also belong to another organization. And their organization will almost certainly do things differently from the way things are done in your district. These differences may be hard to see at first. But they’re there.
Slide 8: Let’s look at a few examples. In your school, all the adults might refer to one another by their first names: George or Sylvia. In a medical organization, everyone might use a more formal approach: Doctor Clark or Miss Smith. Or your school’s practice might be to include related services personnel on teacher-based teams, but interpreters from a private agency may have had no experience of collaborating in that way.
Slide 9: This last example points to a feature of some organizations that collaborate with schools. These organizations do not have employees, but instead organize independent “contractors.” This approach differs from the way many parapros, teachers, and principals are employed—that is, directly by school districts. But the picture gets even more complicated because many parapros in Ohio are not employees of school districts but rather are employees of Educational Service Centers—ESCs.
Slide 10: All this complexity means that, when people from different organizations collaborate to provide services to students, their assumptions about their work might be quite different from those of people employed in your school or district. You can’t necessarily expect service providers from other agencies, such as the physical therapist or the orientation and mobility specialist, to behave or think like you do or like the other educators in your school. They may or may not understand how your school—or schools in general—work. Because you can’t know in advance, you need to watch and think and ask careful questions in order to find out. And, if these service providers are working directly with students in your school, you need to help them navigate the school and district organization and culture.
Slide 11: How do you do this? For one thing, you try to communicate effectively with these practitioners. In other words, you apply what you already know about effective communication to this new context. As a reminder, here are the five principles: 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.
Slide 12: When you interact in this way with personnel from other organizations, you are doing something more than making sure that students get the supplementary services they need. The something more involves building strong connections between the instructional team and outside organizations. Effective communication helps strengthen these connections. It benefits the team, the school, and the district. These interactions may not seem like much, but they are actually very important.
Slide 13: Your effective interaction with personnel from outside organizations helps ensure that your district can, in the short-, mid-, and long-term, provide a range of supports that meet the needs of a variety of students.
Slide 14: When an instructional team operates in this way, moreover, it builds its capacity to cultivate additional organizational relationships. Consequently, effective collaboration with some partners helps a team expand its network of organizational partners.
Slide 15. Mistakes in communication, however, can be costly to a partnership. The care implied by the term, “effective communication” is essential. One extremely important part of being careful involves maintaining confidentiality. When both you and a person from another agency are working with the same student, it’s tempting to share information. But, as we’ve discussed before, school leaders need to be the ones to decide the types of student information that can be shared with different service providers. Without a clear determination from the principal or other supervisor, it’s best to be a good listener but not to volunteer information about students. In short: be courteous, respectful, and observant.
Slide 16: Thank you for viewing the slideshow on inter-agency collaboration. We hope you’ll tune into the slideshow in the next unit, which focuses on recording and sharing data.