Just like any practice, interprofessional teaming has its pros and cons, the most obvious of the cons being the additional time and effort it requires. After all, collaboration doesn't just happen without working at it.
That said, time and effort spent implementing this approach can reap huge rewards. Here are five reasons you should consider using a team-based approach:
A broader view. When a team works cooperatively, general education teachers, special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, counselors and other school personnel gain a multidimensional perspective of a child. They no longer see the child within the narrow scope of their discipline but within the broader arena of the academic setting. As Colleen Flynn Williams, an SLP at the Ivymount School in Potomac, Md., notes, "By meeting with the other team members on a regular basis, I have a more holistic understanding of how the child's speech-language deficits might be affecting his/her performance throughout the school day. Likewise, I gain a better understanding of how the student's behavior, mental health, fine and/or gross motor needs might be affecting his or her speech and language performance."
Staff members are able to see the child as a whole person with a variable profile of strengths and weaknesses, and not just as a student with reading difficulties, or a language disorder, or difficulty interacting with peers. They may learn that "Johnny" is a top student in math, helps a classmate open her locker every day or is a self-taught pianist.
More coordinated services and supports. As teachers and staff gain a more holistic understanding of a student's unique learning profile, they can better coordinate services to support the student where needed. "Often these teams work in the same classroom together, so it helps with scheduling, planning and collaboration for each child's needs, and the child/parent sees us as their educational team. This makes a big impact during the elementary years," says Cate McGillavry, an OT at the Katherine Thomas School in Rockville, Md.
More creativity. By delivering services collaboratively, teachers, clinicians and other staff members can build on one another's strengths and weaknesses, and identify creative approaches to instruction and intervention. Collaboration and coordination of instruction and intervention go hand in hand. Working with other professionals makes you call up and apply your expertise, understand others' knowledge and skills, and meld both to implement novel ways to teach a skill, co-teach a lesson in a class, and provide consultation to staff and parents. McGillavry recalls such an experience while working as part of a team: "The SLP, PT and I wrote a column four times a year for our school newspaper, giving parents ideas to interact therapeutically with their child and addressing developmental appropriateness, positioning, adaptations/gradations and so forth. It was a great learning experience for the three of us, as well as for the parents and kids."
Increased efficiency. When professionals are able to move away from the constraints of traditional service delivery options, work with their colleagues, and use innovative teaching and treatment techniques, this model seems to lead naturally to more efficient service delivery. A case in point is Amanda Carcone, a PT who works for Babies Can't Wait, the early intervention program in Georgia, on a team with OTs, PTs, SLPs, special instruction providers and service coordinators. By using an interdisciplinary approach in this type of setting, clients receive more treatment overall, says Carcone, because team providers gear treatment across the full constellation of patient goals. Similarly, Martha Goodman and Cynthia Hixon, SLPs in Prince George's County in Maryland, report that they integrate communication intervention into a child's full day, rather than only one hour a week; this promotes shared investment and responsibility for progress.
Easier parent involvement. On an interprofessional team, each member has a sense of mutual responsibility, accountability and investment in a student's progress. Each member of the team, including the parent, has a unique role, perspective and contribution. As a critical member of the team, parents and guardians have equal voice in developing and implementing academic, social and other goals for their student. Because they are dealing with a cohesive team, rather than individuals in silos, they can communicate more easily with these professionals.
Ultimately the ideas that drive interprofessional teaming are cooperation, coordination, collaboration, collective identity, shared responsibility and, of course, high-quality care. But, based on the comments from some SLPs in schools, additional ideas (and outcomes) that we can add to the benefits are impact, efficiency and synergy—all good reasons to put in the time and effort teaming requires.
For more information on school-related topics, visit ASHA's schools webpage. Also visit the ASHA Community to post questions and discussion topics with colleagues on clinical professional issues.