Section III: Collaboration and Team Based Planning

Imagine as a teacher you are sitting in an IEP meeting and looking around the table. Who do you see in the room? At times, you may have as many as 15 people gathered around the table who share some responsibility for a student’s academic program. Each of those people brings their own experiences, trainings, points of view, and personalities with them when they interact with the student.

Upon review of this situation, you can quickly begin to reflect on the number of different people who interact with a student with behavioral challenges and the varieties of learning demands, expectations, and transitions that this student may face across a variety of environments on a daily or even weekly basis. You are surprised to hear that Mrs. Wallis, the art teacher, adores Joe, a student who has challenging behaviors; however, she has never experienced the aggressive behaviors or crying episodes that Mr. Jones, the Math teacher observes almost every day.

You think to yourself, “What is it about Mrs. Wallis’ art class that works for this student?” This is an important question to investigate and answer. Later on in the IEP meeting, you hear that the Speech and Language Therapist uses a different strategy than the Math teacher for dealing with the student’s aggressive behaviors. Still later, you learn that the child’s parents use a completely different behavioral management strategy at home. It begins to become clear that Joe sees different responses or feedback to his behavior throughout the day and that there are situations where his inappropriate behaviors almost never occur.

Things to remember:

  • A simple definition of behavior can be explained as what an individual does to “get something” or “get away from something”. Keeping this in mind will help you understand what may cause a student to act in a certain way.
  • Behavior must be described in observable and measurable terms. Stating that Joe is annoying during math class does not tell us very much about Joe’s actions. Stating that Joe cries when he does not know how to complete a math problem during his math class does tell us what to look for in his behavior in math class. It also tells us that Joe is trying to “get away” from doing his math work when he thinks it is too difficult for him; in other words, he is avoiding possible failure by acting out.
  • The same student can behave differently in various environments. Behavior is a dynamic interactive process between the person and the environment. For example, Joe may exhibit totally different behavior in his other classes. He may love to read and therefore, is a willing and eager student with prompt responses and volunteering to read aloud in front of the class. Different setting, different circumstances, and very different behavior can be demonstrated by the same student!

Data-based Decisions

  • It is important to describe and quantify challenging behaviors in a variety of environments.
  • It is also important to describe factors in the environments where the behaviors occur most and least often.

In previous sections of the behavior module, you learned about the importance of quantifying and describing behaviors. The team in the opening scenario of this section decided to observe Joe in various environments, record his behavior, and examine the conditions in the environment where the behaviors occurred most and least often. The team then plans to come together and share the data that they have gathered to create an intervention plan. Environments where the behaviors occur most often can be changed to look more like environments where the behaviors occur least often. In addition, the data must be gathered frequently (before intervention and after intervention) to see whether the planned intervention is working. If not, the team can change the behavior strategy. Continuous data collection is one of the most important aspects in managing individual behavior.

Data-based Decisions - Function

  • The “function” of a particular behavior in a particular environment is assessed through observation and data collection.
  • Identifying the function of a behavior helps the team to determine strategies that match the student’s specific problem behaviors.

In other sections of the behavior module, you also learned how to determine the “function” or purpose of behavior. The team can use the function of the behavior during the collaborative process to determine behavior management strategies that match Joe’s particular problem behaviors. See the second behavior module, “Changing Behavior,” for specific descriptions and tools to assess problem behaviors. In our scenario, the team can be most effective by planning to implement the same strategies on a consistent basis throughout Joe’s day. Implementing a behavior support strategy inconsistently or only part of the time will lead to slower or less successful results.

Inclusive environments often have larger numbers of transitions which can lead to increases in behavioral problems for some students. It is imperative that teachers, parents, and other school personnel work together as a team to support students with behavioral and learning challenges.

Team work is the key to successful behavioral interventions. Collaboration among professionals and parents are key to developing not only an appropriate Individualized Education Program (IEP), but also a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). The implementation and evaluation of these plans are key components that are critical to the process. Not only are these tools effective for modifying the current behavior, they can also serve to deter future problematic behaviors.

Another type of planning tool is known as Person Centered Planning (PCP) and has been utilized with individuals who have sensory or cognitive impairments and possible multiple disabilities (i.e., deafblind, has visuall impairment/blindness). PCP is a tool used to collectively develop a vision for the individual’s future based upon his/her unique personality, interests, strengths and gifts. From that group process, goals are created that reflect a shared understanding of the student beyond being a student with disabilities or severe behaviors. The process of developing a PCP can involve any supportive person in the student’s life in engaging with the school team. This process has been reported to help teams that are “stuck” in a negative view of the student because of the severity of the challenging behaviors.

A more intensive type of planning process known as the Wraparound Planning Process is specifically for children or youth that have complex emotional/behavioral needs that require assistance from multiple service providers such as mental health, social services, public health, special education, and possibly juvenile justice. Wraparound requires a team planning process that follows a series of steps guided by principles and guidelines that help children or youth with mental health needs and their families realize their hopes and dreams for the future. Wraparound builds on the strengths of families and their child or youth with emotional/behavioral needs to help make supportive connections within the home school and community in order to address the behavioral challenges of the child or youth.

Working with multiple agencies, community programs, schools, and families requires strong collaboration skills to develop successful intervention plans for children and youth with emotional/behavioral problems. Collaborative teamwork ensures that everyone can bring their skills and experiences forward to plan more successful strategies and interventions.

Tools for Collaboration

  • Allotted time for team discussion and data sharing
  • Wraparound Planning Process (Miles, Bruns, Osher, Walker, & National Wraparound Initiative Advisory Group, 2006; Eber, 2003; Burns and Goldman, 1999)
  • Team based functional assessments (Chandler, Dahlquist, Repp & Feltz, 1999)
  • Person-Centered Planning (PCP) (Artesani, & Mallar, 1998)

Finding time to organize data, discuss what is working and not working, and involve non-school members of the child’s team can be challenging. There are multiple examples of schools that made time for collaboration a priority and saw huge dividends, particularly for students with challenging behaviors. Collaboration can offer a student the intensive support that she needs early to teach the student new, more appropriate behaviors and prevent major behavioral episodes in the future. In contrast, there are numerous examples in court case law that reflect a lack of collaborative planning on the part of the school team.

Team based functional assessments involve a variety of team members across environments collecting and using data to determine when and why problem behaviors occur. Corroborating data across team members can be a very effective way of establishing reliability of what is being observed and planning together on behalf of a student.

Evaluating Student Progress

Reviewing and analyzing student data on progress towards IEP goals is:

  • Required by the law
  • Considered to be “best practice” for teaching
  • Used to systematically determine if the team’s intervention is working
  • Necessary continued collaboration to create and refine the most effective interventions for students

In this behavior module, you have seen examples of how to document a student’s behavioral changes. It is important to review this data with the team, including parents and administrators, to document and discuss what strategies are proving to be effective in specific situations. Reviewing data on the student’s past performance can help the team adjust and improve strategies documented in the Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). This is called “data-driven instruction,” a concept that is also used in academic instruction.

Evaluating Team Progress

  • It is also important to gather data on the team’s behavioral changes.
  • Evaluating the team’s changes may involve:
    • Video analysis of teachers using the strategies
    • Documenting practices used in team meetings (times of day, note-taking, etc.)
    • Team reflections on how the team perceives an intervention for a student

Systematic data collection of a student’s team behaviors can be helpful for recognizing and rewarding teams for collaborative planning. Team members can share examples of what each of them are doing that is working and not working. For example, the staff member who comes in to observe the Math teacher may make notes of responses that were particularly effective to share with members of the whole team. The team may share their perception of the collaborative process by comparing team accomplishments at the beginning of the year to accomplishments at the end of the year. It may be valuable for a team to share their perceptions on the effectiveness of the intervention and the ease of use for the teachers implementing the strategies.

  • As a student’s behavior changes, so do the roles and responses of team members.
  • It is important to evaluate the changes in a student’s behaviors and to adapt to new roles to meet the student’s needs.

A student who has shown severe behavioral challenges in the fall may not have the same types of challenges in the spring. It is important to celebrate the team’s success but also to examine some opportunities to evolve in supporting adaptive behaviors. For example, students with autism may have made significant progress in reducing aggressive behaviors but may still need to learn other types of social behavior. As the student learns and adapts, the team should adapt as well. It may be that different members of the team may be more suited for assessing and teaching appropriate social behaviors. Collaboration does not end when the challenging behavior is reduced. Instead, it shifts to meet the student’s new and changing needs. Collaboration allows for effective role shift and adaptation based upon those needs.

Evaluating and Sharing Progress

  • Documentation of successful collaborations can foster success for other teams.
  • It is important for teams to share success with others to replicate what worked.

Amy’s child’s IEP team podcast reflects one team’s successful collaboration on behalf of a student with behavioral challenges. Note the strategies that the team shared which were most successful.


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