A Study of Collaborative Consultation Competencies For Regular and Special Educators
By Beverly Huntington

SSTA Research Centre Report #91-09: 14 pages, $11

Background Information In the last decade, there has been a trend in North America toward educating children with special needs in the regular classroom. This movement from segregated to integrated environments is referred to as mainstreaming. Collaborative consultation is one form of support to the classroom teacher who has students with special needs in his/her classroom.

The purpose of this study was to determine what competencies are required of special educators and also of regular educators who work together to meet the needs of exceptional children who are integrated in the regular classroom setting.

Purpose of Study
Research Questions
Sample Selections
Survey Construction
Data Collection
Analysis of Data
Summary
Discussion & Implications
Concluding Statement
Recommendations for Professional Development

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The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.


Background Information

In the last decade, there has been a trend in North America toward educating children with special needs in the regular classroom. This movement from segregated to integrated environments is referred to as mainstreaming.

The movement to mainstreaming has created an additional challenge to both special educators and regular classroom educators. The challenge is that of communication; to communicate concerning the educational programs of the special needs children for whom they share responsibility.

Howarth (1983), in a Canadian review of the literature on mainstreaming, listed the following characteristics regarding the mainstreaming process. Mainstreaming:

1. provides programs in the least restrictive environment for all handicapped students;

2. focuses on the educational needs of the handicapped student instead of the label;

3. includes in its educational program the social, emotional, and educational needs of the student;

4. provides support for regular teachers to program for the handicapped student.

Howarth (1983) stated that to accomplish items three and four in particular, special educators and classroom teachers need to interact to solve problems collaboratively and plan or adapt programs for children with special needs. Generally speaking, classroom teachers have not been trained to teach students with moderate and severe handicaps. They may not possess many of the skills and teaching strategies known to be effective in working with handicapped students. In addition, some classroom teachers are uncertain of many exceptionalities and are therefore somewhat reluctant to have special needs students in their classrooms.

Collaborative consultation is one form of support to the classroom teacher who has students with special needs in his/her classroom. Idol, Paolucci-Whitcomb, and Nevin, (1987) defined collaborative consultation as:

an interactive process that enables people with diverse expertise to generate creative solutions to mutually defined problems. The outcome is enhanced, altered, and produces solutions that are different from those that the individual team members would produce independently. The major outcome of collaborative consultation is to provide comprehensive and effective programs for students with special needs within the most appropriate context, thereby enabling them to achieve maximum constructive interaction with their nonhandicapped peers. (p.1)


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Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to be a part in the curriculum reform involving Special Education classes at the University of Regina. A number of research studies, which occurred simultaneously, served the purpose of assessing the needs of a variety of groups served by Educational Psychology to establish future directions for curriculum change. The role this study served was to have special educators identify and validate essential competencies in collaboration and consultation needed by regular and special educators interacting to serve children with special needs in regular classrooms.

A Delphi-survey technique was used to obtain the ratings of 90 in-school special educators from across the province. The competencies rated were adapted from a similar research project done by West and Cannon (1987) at the University of Texas.

The purpose of the second Delphi round was to have the same group of special educators rate their level of skill for each of the competencies identified as essential in the first round and have them predict, within one to ten years, when that competency might be required within their school division. This Delphi study also asked participants to predict future trends in special education in Saskatchewan.


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Research Questions

1. If special educators are to play a new role in Saskatchewan schools what competencies do they need?

2. Are any of the competencies identified by special educators needed by regular educators and if so, to what degree?

3. How skilled are special educators in performing the competencies identified as essential in the role of in-school consulting special educator?

4. Within one to ten years, when do special educators feel that each competency will be required of them in their school divisions?

5. Within a span of one to ten years, when do special educators predict that the identified trends might become evident in their school divisions?


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Sample Selection

This research was designed to include in-school special education experts. In different school divisions these special educators are referred to by a variety of titles. The most commonly used references were found to be: in-school tutors, resource room teachers, and learning resource teachers.

A listing of practising special educators was obtained from Saskatchewan Education. This list of names was arranged by Saskatchewan Education. Ninety in-school special educators were randomly selected to receive the Delphi study. The Delphi panel, thus selected, represented all seven Education regions (southern Saskatchewan, central Saskatchewan, and the northern region) of the province, from both urban and rural school settings.


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Survey Construction

In January, 1990, Idol and West of the Research and Training Institute on School Consultation in Austin, Texas were contacted. West and Cannon (1987) conducted a similar study for the Department of Special Education at the University of Texas. Permission was granted to adapt or modify their Delphi study to make it more pertinent to Saskatchewan.

A combination of open and closed-ended questions were used in the Delphi. This combination format allowed the participants to rate the stated competencies on a four-point Likert scale, but also allowed space for them to add additional competencies and rate those added competencies as well. Part two of this Delphi, an addition to the work done by West and Cannon, was composed entirely of open-ended questions whereby the participants were invited to predict future trends in special education in Saskatchewan.


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Data Collection

Due to the nature of the Delphi research technique, data were collected in two segments. The results of round one, including the input provided in the open-ended portion of the survey, became the basis for round two.

Round One of the Delphi

Of the 90 participants selected, 60 responded to the first round of the Delphi survey (57 in time to be included in the data analysis). The response rate for round one of this Delphi study was 67%.

Round Two of the Delphi

Of the 45 competencies included in round one, 36 were included in round two. Those 36 competencies were judged by the participants to be essential. That is to say, they received a mean score of 3.5 or more on the four-point Likert scale. The mean score of 3.5 was the criteria established by West and Cannon (1987) in their Texas study. Using the competencies which were identified as being essential in round one, the participants in the process of round two were asked to rate their skill level in each of the 36 competencies. Secondly, the participants were asked to predict, within a range of one to ten years, when each competency might be required of them within their school divisions.

When compiling the responses to the open-ended questions of round one, only those predictions which had a minimum response frequency of five were included in round two. In Part II of the second round, participants were asked to predict within one to ten years, when such future trends might be implemented within their school divisions.

The second Delphi-survey, a covering letter, and attached summary of round one were mailed in May, 1990 to the 57 in-school special educators who responded to round one. Forty of the 57 participants responded, 37 of them in time to be included in the data analysis. There was a 70% return rate for round two of this Delphi study.


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Analysis of Data

Both open-ended and close-ended questions were used in the Delphi survey. Analyses therefore, varied depending on the type of question being analyzed.

The first Delphi survey consisted of 45 competency statements. Panelists were asked to rate the statements on a four-point Likert-type scale:

1. Unimportant/irrelevant

2. Somewhat important

3. Important but not essential

4. Essential

The 45 competencies were arranged in nine categories. Spaces were provided following each category so that respondents could add and rate additional competencies.

The purpose of round two was to have panelists do three things: 1) on a four-point Likert scale rate their skill level for each of the 36 competencies; 2) predict within a range of one to ten years when each competency might be required of them within their school division; and 3) regarding the future trends in special education, as generated by the participants in round one, predict within one to ten years when each of the trends might be implemented in their school divisions.

Upon completion of the second round of the Delphi-survey, means and standard deviations for each of the competency statements were computed. Essential collaborative consultation competencies were established as being those competency statements that received high mean ratings (3.5 and above on a 4.0 scale). These figures are suggested by Delphi technique researchers (Helmer, 1983; Linstone & Turoff, 1975).


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Summary

This study found that:

1. The competency categories essential to in-school special educators were: Equity Issues and Values/Belief Systems; Personal Characteristics; Collaborative Problem Solving; Evaluation of Consultation Effectiveness; Interactive Communication; Consultation Theory/Model; and System Change.

2. The competency category essential to regular educators was Equity Issues and Values/Belief Systems.

3. Thirty-six individual competencies were essential to in-schoolspecial educators.

4. Twelve individual competencies were essential to regular educators.

5. In-school special educators rated their skill level as Somewhat Confident in the categories of: Personal Characteristics; Equity Issues and Value/Belief Systems; Collaborative Problem Solving; Interactive Communication; and Evaluation of Consultation Effectiveness.

6. In-school special educators rated their skill level as Somewhat Unconfident in the categories of System Change and Consultation Theory/Model.

7. In-school special educators rated 18 of the 36 essential competencies as likely to be implemented in their school division within one to two years and the remaining 18 competencies as likely to be implemented within three to four years.

8. Of the 22 future trends in special education, seven were predicted to occur within two years, 11 within four years and four within six years.


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Discussion and Implications

Mainstreaming

Two of the characteristics of mainstreaming are: 1) it provides support to the teacher and 2) it unites the skills of general education and special education (Howarth, 1983; Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation 1986). This study identified the competencies needed by special educators in order to offer the support to teachers. The Delphi also identified the competencies needed by both special educators and regular educators collaborating to effectively integrate children with special needs into the regular classroom.

Previous research on mainstreaming indicated that two of the problems incurred in mainstreaming are insufficient preparation and inadequate teaching skills and resources (Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, 1986). Earlier research also indicated that a lack of time is another key problem encountered in mainstreaming. The lack of time refers to both teachers and special educators.

The intent of this study was to determine, by asking experts in the field, exactly what competencies are needed by both special educators and regular educators. Findings from this study support the claim of inadequate skills, as special educators rated themselves Somewhat Unconfident in competencies dealing with consultation theories and models, acting as change agents in the change process, adjusting the consultation process to match the learning stage of individuals involved in the process, managing conflict and confrontation, and possessing a variety of data collection techniques to aid in problem identification and clarification.

The results of this study reaffirm the concern identified in the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (1986) study regarding time. In predicting future trends in special education, part two of round one in the Delphi-survey, special educators involved in this study predicted that "class size will reduce to better facilitate the integration of children with special needs". Practising special educators identified the connection between numbers of students in a classroom and the amount of time required to meet individual needs.

The establishment of a school based team is recommended in the implementation of mainstreaming (Council for Exceptional Children, 1987; Hadder, 1986; Howarth, 1983; Little, 1985; Thousand, 1986 ). Saskatchewan research has made the same recommendation (Hayes, 1988; Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, 1986). In addition, the STF also recommended the establishment and utilization of support structures. Saskatchewan special educators involved in this study predicted that within five to six years "each school will have a team involved in delivering services to children with special needs". Members of those teams need to be prepared to plan programs, define roles, and learn how to use support services wisely. This study, specific to Saskatchewan, clarifies what competencies are essential to special educators and which ones are essential to regular educators. Special educators and regular educators need to collaborate. They may need to consult with resource pools which exist outside the formal educational system. It cannot be assumed that educators possess the skills of collaborating and consulting. This study indicates that special educators, described themselves as not possessing some of those skills. Special educators and regular educators need training. This study offers suggestions for the foundational competencies required in pre-service and inservice training.


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Effective Schools

Mainstreaming is a change presently in progress within many Saskatchewan schools. Participants in this study claimed in the open-ended portion of the research instrument that, "mainstreaming will continue to be popular". Effective schools employ particular strategies when implementing change (Fullan, 1985; Miller & Lieberman, 1988). This study revealed quite profoundly that special educators do not feel adequate in their role as change agents.

Two characteristics of an effective school are: 1) it spends both time and energy on training and supervision to ensure that school personnel are as effective as possible; and 2) it creates and capitalizes on educational planning teams to collaborate and make decisions (Thousand & Villa, 1989). The results of this study act as a needs assessment for the training and supervision of both individuals and teams.

Thousand and Villa (1989) proposed several priorities in inservice training. A few of them were as follows: skills pertaining to the collaborative team model; using interpersonal and small group skills; knowledge regarding the "best educational practices" in heterogeneous schooling; classroom management strategies; and computer assisted instruction. Findings of this study would agree because participants rated as essential such competencies as consultation process, interpersonal skills, and small group skills.


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Collaborative Consultation

The collaborative educational planning team is an integral part of the mainstreaming process. Special educators in this study agreed with the experts (Chalfant & Pysh, 1981; Idol & West, 1987) regarding the goals of collaborative school teams. One of the predictions made in the open-ended portion of the survey was, "Mainstreaming will continue to be popular. Support through tutors and/or assistants will accompany this trend". Saskatchewan special educators who participated in this study saw a trend toward mutual support and sharing of expertise.

Special education authorities include the following competencies on their list of consulting skills for in-school special educators working with collaborative educational planning teams: skills of interpersonal communication; problem-solving; interviewing; conflict resolution; and change agentry; (Chalfant & Pysh, 1981; Conoley & Conoley, 1988; Huefner, 1988; Idol & West, 1987; Thousand & Villa, 1989). Participating special educators, throughout this Delphi, rated all of the above competencies as essential to them as part of their role in schools.

West and Cannon (1987) investigated the collaborative competencies needed by regular and special educators. A panel of 100 experts were involved. A Delphi questionnaire was used. Five competency categories were rated as essential in the following order: Interactive Communication; Equity Issues Values/Belief Systems; Personal Characteristics; Collaborative Problem Solving; and Evaluation of Consultation Effectiveness. Three years later, in Saskatchewan, seven competency categories are rated as essential for special educators in the following order: Equity Issues and Values/Belief Systems; Personal Characteristics; Collaborative Problem Solving; Evaluation of Consultation Effectiveness; Interactive Communication; Consultation Theory/Model; and System Change. The category of Equity Issues and Values/Belief Systems was rated as essential to regular educators.

This research went beyond the work of Idol and Cannon (1987). In the second round of the Delphi, participants were asked to rate their own skill level for each of the competencies that they had determined to be essential. They were also asked to predict when that particular competency might be required of them in their school divisions. While Saskatchewan experts agreed with special education authors about what is essential to their role, they did not always claim to be skilled in each of those competencies. They rated themselves as Somewhat Confident regarding such categories as: Personal Characteristics; Equity Issues and Values/Belief Systems; Collaborative Problem Solving; Interactive Communication; and Evaluation of Consultation Effectiveness. Their skill level was self-rated as Somewhat Unconfident in the categories of Consultation Theory/Model and System Change. The individual competency of conflict resolution, felt to be essential by special education authors and by Saskatchewan special educators, was rated at a skill level of Somewhat Unconfident. Managing conflict was not the only competency rated at a skill level of Somewhat Unconfident. Special educators predicted that the competencies which they felt Somewhat Unconfident about would be required of them within three to four years. For practicing special educators that means that they have less than that amount of time to acquire those skills through the avenue of professional development. For special educators of the future it means that the universities have to act immediately to ensure that such skills are included in a four-year B. Ed. training program.

Thousand (1986) emphatically proposed that a highly skilled consulting special educator be in each school as the in-house expert to aid the collaborative educational planning team. The regular educators bring the curriculum expertise to the team while the special educator possesses the consultation and special education expertise. She referred to graduate level training for Educational Specialists saying that such individuals needed to be a master teacher, an experienced adult educator/trainer, an advocate of family and should possess excellent interpersonal and communication skills. Saskatchewan special educators involved in this research agreed with Thousand (1986) when they predicted that within three to four years, "special educators will be required to have a minimum of three to five years classroom experience prior to a special education placement". If special educators are to be experienced classroom teachers first and then take further training in the form of graduate level classes, then universities will need to design appropriate classes.

According to the future trends predicted as part of this Delphi, class content for university training ought to include: counselling skills; collaborative consultation and team problem solving; leadership skills and skills for facilitating change; management skills such as conflict management, time management and organizational skills. Special educators may possess a wealth of knowledge about children, exceptionalities, appropriate programming and much more but it is unreasonable to ask them to adopt a new consultative role and assume that they magically possess consultation skills. Special Educators in new consulting roles need additional training. Thousand (1986) from Vermont, and 60 special educators from Saskatchewan suggest the components of that training.


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Training

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (1986) claimed that pre-service training does not adequately prepare teachers to deal with exceptional students in the regular classroom. The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation publication (1986) included a listing of what pre-service training should prepare teachers to do. Future trends generated as part of this Delphi-survey predict that pre-service training for regular educators, within two years, will include similar competencies, namely; "the language used to identify special needs students", "knowledge of referral procedures.....for appropriate identification and programming", and "knowledgeable about alternate program possibilities within the regular classroom setting". Participants in this study agreed with the STF recommendations but were in fact, more specific when referring to dealing with families. This group of special educators predicted that within three to four years pre-service training for regular educators will include "child abuse, family dynamics, and Indian and Metis cultures."

Welch (1989) proposed that leadership training must be included in the pre-service programs of both special educators and regular educators, as each plays a role in the change process. The role of change agent appeared regularly in this study. In round one, special educators judged that it was an essential competency for special educators but not for regular educators. They also predicted it as a trend in expertise required by special educators. In round two they rated their skill level as Somewhat Unconfident and predicted that in three to four years they would be expected to demonstrate skills as a change agent. Also in round two they predicted that the future trend of special educators "facilitating change" would occur within three or four years. Both pre-service and inservice programs will need to reflect these findings, in order to insure that practicing special educators and special educators in training might acquire such skills.

The "best practices" of staff development included: teachers acting as trainers; in-the-classroom peer coaching to assist in practice and transfer; and school based sessions (Cook, 1982; DeBevoise, 1982; Holmes, 1988; Jennings & Lake, 1986; Showers, 1984). Thousand (1986) claimed that the in-school consulting special educator should be an adult educator/trainer in order to conduct inservice sessions for regular educators, administrators, parents, and community resource persons on the collaborative educational planning team. Again, this is a new role for special educators. It cannot be assumed that those trained in pedagogy are also skilled as adult educators. Training will be necessary.


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Concluding Statement

Clearly indicated in this study is the fact that Saskatchewan schools are in the process of change. The change is one of integrating students with special needs into the mainstream. The general tone of the Delphi survey indicates that special educators are prepared and willing to participate in the process. They are cognizant of the fact that the change will take time; it is not an overnight occurrence. Those who participated in this study spent considerable time and effort in thinking through the various stages involved in moving from segregation to integration. Through self-evaluation they are aware of what skills they have, what skills they need, and how long they have to acquire the skills they do not have. There is no reluctance evident in this research. What is evident is the fact that to operate within and contribute to collaborative consultation, which is an integral part of mainstreaming, both special educators and regular educators need training. The components of that training, both pre-service and inservice, are suggested through the results of this Delphi research study. Perhaps the most powerful feature of all is that it was designed for Saskatchewan by practicing Saskatchewan experts.


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Recommendations for Professional Development

This researcher believes that clasroom improvement must be systematically linked if real progress is to accomplished. The progress in question is integrating exceptional students into the regular classroom. With this in mind, recommendations will be directed toward school boards, Saskatchewan Education, the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, and the universities, as there are responsibilities for each of these groups. This researcher suggests that the following professional development endeavours be undertaken:

1. the essential competencies identified in this study be used by the universities as the basis for the development of the curriculum for pre-service courses of regular and special education teachers in the area of collaborative consultation;

2. the essential competencies identified in this study be used by school boards as the basis for the development of an inservice training program on integration for school-based teams whose membership includes regular and special educators, administrators, teacher aides, parents, and community resource persons.

Saskatchewan is currently implementing a new Core Curriculum effective throughout kindergarten to grade twelve. The adaptive dimension is an integral part of Core Curriculum. The adaptive dimension makes it possible for special educators and regular educators to modify programs according to the educational needs of exceptional pupils. Every year, for the next ten years, Saskatchewan teachers will be implementing new curricula with the expectation that they will adapt and modify these new curricula to meet the needs of exceptional children who have been integrated into the regular classroom setting. Classroom teachers do not always have the necessary skills. Special educators are trained to work with exceptional children but they do not have the consultation skills needed to share their expertise with classroom teachers.

Considerable information is available regarding the topic of mainstreaming. Saskatchewan authors have conducted current literature reviews. Children with special needs are currently being integrated into regular classrooms. Special educators, classroom teachers, administrators and parents need to work together to successfully move from segregation to integration.

Respected special education authors verify that school based teams are most effective in mainstreaming exceptional children in regular classrooms. Special educators and regular educators are members of those collaborative school teams. Both groups of educators need specific skills to collaborate with one another as well as with community supports to meet the needs of exceptional children in regular classrooms. Idol and West (1987) and this Saskatchewan study found that special educators and regular educators do not currently possess consultation and collaboration skills.

Educators in the field who participated in this study, identified the required skills that are not currently a part of their repertoire. Inservice training is needed. For teacher education programs, a redesign of preservice training is the solution.

Education is not an individual enterprise. It is a collaborative process involving many stakeholders. In times of fiscal restraint the collaborative component becomes infinitely more important. Saskatchewan has a history of challenges. It is apparent that a new challenge exists.


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