Original Research Paper
Being Agreeable? A Critical Examination of Communication Among IP Groups in Early Intervention
By Lesley Dunn
Special Education, Ministry of Education NZ
Dunn, L. (2012). Being agreeable? A critical examination of communication among IP groups in early intervention. NZ Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 15, 102-119. Retrieved from http://www.childforum.com/research/2012-nzrece-journal-articles/888-communication-ip-groups-early-intervention.html
In New Zealand each child with an inclusive early intervention programme is supported by a group of adults: the child’s parent(s), teachers, early intervention specialists, and education support worker (teacher-aide). The group’s joint task is to prepare an individual plan (IP) for the child to follow in their regular early childhood education centre. In this study communication restraints within three IP groups were identified, which by their nature inhibited the groups’ ability to learn from each other and to evaluate their programmes. The use of reflective practice by these groups to evaluate their programmes could better support outcomes for children and stakeholders in inclusive early intervention teams in New Zealand.
Key words: Early intervention, communication, IP, education support worker.
It is axiomatic that people frequently talk past one another. The failure of communication is particularly problematic when groups of people are engaged in planning together. This paper describes communication patterns among three groups of people who prepared an individual plan (IP) for a young child with a disability.
In New Zealand, inclusive early intervention programmes for young children with significant disabilities are provided in regular early childhood education centres prior to school entry. Each child with an inclusive early intervention programme has a team of adults from different backgrounds whose task it is to prepare an individual plan (IP) that will support that child’s potential as a learner in their early childhood education setting. This team generally comprises the child’s parent(s), teachers, early intervention specialists, and an education support worker (teacher-aide). Because the team meet together as a group to agree on the child’s individual plan (IP), I have referred to them collectively as the ‘IP group’.
The research outlined in this paper is taken from a wider doctorial study of interaction within three IP groups. Its aim was to contribute to our understanding about current inclusive early intervention practice in New Zealand. This paper focuses on one aspect of the IP groups’ interaction, and a key component of collaboration: communication patterns.
The study’s context: collaboration in early intervention programmes
An essential feature of best practice in inclusive early intervention programmes is collaboration among early intervention specialists, teachers, and parents (Bagnato & Neisworth, 1999; Buysse, Wesley, & Able-Boone, 2001; Mellin & Winton, 2003; Park & Turnbull, 2003). Parents and whānau have been recognised as key players (Bruder, 2000; Dunst, 2000; Soodak & Erwin, 2000), and are keen to be treated as such (Carroll-Lind & Cullen, 2003).
However, while such collaboration has been acknowledged as essential for more than a decade, the field continues to find this issue challenging. Odom and Schwartz (2002) concluded that it was extremely difficult for professionals from different disciplines, with different skills sets and different philosophies, to collaborate. Bruder and Dunst (2005) have pointed out that pre-service early intervention education for speech-language, occupational, and physical therapists retain a single discipline focus. Professional knowledge still tends to be privileged over that of the family (Canary, 2008; 2011).
Many of the attempts to improve collaboration in the early intervention field have tended to be focussed on building practitioners’ understanding of each other’s work (Childress, 2004; Robinson & Cottrell, 2005). In New Zealand, the development of the professional development resource Te Reo Tataki (Ministry of Education, 2000), and the exemplars of inclusive assessment in Book 9 of Kei Tua o te Pae: Assessment for Learning (Ministry of Education, 2004), were designed to position early intervention practices within the New Zealand early childhood education framework, and enable New Zealand teachers to visualise early intervention services within their own context.
In New Zealand, early intervention specialists use assessment procedures, which, while they are applied in an ‘authentic’ manner within the child’s day to day experiences (Bagnato, 2007), are nevertheless criterion-referenced. Losardo and Notari-Syverson (2001) have referred to these tools as ‘criterion-referenced curriculum based’ because they are designed to indicate the next skill-step to teach to. In contrast, the early childhood education curriculum, Te Whāriki, is based on a socio-cultural understanding of learning where children interact with the knowledge around them. The teacher joins the child by ‘noticing, recognising and responding’ to the child’s learning experience without pre-planning an endpoint (Ministry of Education, 2004). Assessment is based on the child’s learning dispositions, with skills embedded in the picture, but not the focus of the teacher’s thinking (Carr, 2001). Dunn (2004) found that the different understandings about assessment and teaching held by teachers and early intervention specialists had impacted on setting IP goals.
While there was evidence that collaborative work among professionals and with parents might well be problematic in New Zealand (Dunn, 2008), there was a lack of information about the way this group of people interacted. This study was designed to examine how the parents, teachers, early intervention specialists, and support workers who were responsible for putting together a child’s individual plan, interacted at planning meetings.
This was a qualitative case study, which involved a detailed examination of the interactions within three IP groups. The study was reviewed and approved by the Massey University Human Ethics Committee, PN Protocol, 06/075. The early childhood education centres which were invited to participate had at least 80% of their staff fully qualified as early childhood education teachers, an on-going population of children with disabilities attending their centre, and used narrative assessment (learning stories) routinely with all children, including those with early intervention programmes. The centres were based in three towns, which allowed the study to involve three different pairs of early intervention teachers and three speech-language therapists. The three IP groups that were selected were each working with a child with significant disabilities, who would be likely to attract ongoing resource support at school.
An introductory meeting plus a further seven planning meetings were held by each group across a 12 month period. The members of Groups 1 and 2 were interviewed three times individually using a semi-structured interview. The interviews took place shortly after Meetings 2, 4, and 7. Meetings for Group 3 were terminated after Meeting 5 because the family moved out of the area. Thus only two interviews were held for members of this group.
Data from group meeting minutes and interview transcripts were sorted using the data base, NVivo 7. Written records such as the child’s profile book, the home-school book for Group 1 and assessment reports were reviewed. Once the data from each group had been considered separately, themes running across the groups were identified. One of these themes was communication style, and is the subject of this paper.
Findings and Interpretation
The IP groups felt that they were communicating well – and indeed they were when their information was cumulative. They valued the enriched picture of the child obtained as they listened to each other’s perspectives:
I might look at, like for example the building of the tower: I might look at how [the child] is making eye contact while doing it and trying to communicate what he’s doing and [Teacher2] might look at how he is problem solving. I might also see it but we look at it from different angles. I think talking about it just emphasises that. It seems like such a small thing but so many things are happening and that’s why we can all celebrate the success of that because by analysing we see it all… that exercise of looking at what he is doing and discussing it really helps (Group 2, Speech-language Therapist, Interview 2).
As in a study of the use of learning stories by IP groups (Williamson, Cullen, & Lepper, 2006), the process of accumulating assessment information promoted a feeling of equality among team members:
This way we’re – I just feel we’re – on an even footing somehow (Group 1, Teacher, Interview 1).
I felt that [the ESW] particularly was much more confident about what she was saying and much happier too. She sometimes contradicted what we were saying and she’s often got insights because she spends an awful lot of time with [the child] that the rest of us haven’t got. It felt like as the time went on that she was much happier to say, ‘Well no, actually to me it looks more like this’. Which was great (Group 1, Speech-language Therapist, Interview 3).
I’ve learnt a lot more about his skills and what he’s good at… I think that collaborative work in bringing that extra in has actually extended the whole group thinking (Group 3, Early Intervention Teacher, Interview 2).
There was evidence of new learning and shared understanding of different processes when group members reflected on others’ work. For example:
We [early intervention specialists] meet together, we plan, we have goals and work towards [them] whether or not the child is heading in that direction and then we see whether or not it works. Which… is the opposite to what they [the teachers] are doing. In early education they’re looking to see what the child is doing and then they are looking to see what skills the child is learning through doing that and how they can adapt the environment to enhance those skills. And then they are looking to see whether or not that has worked and move from there, which makes a lot more sense really (Group 1, Speech-language Therapist, Interview 3).
However, also apparent, was an inhibitory communication style that pervaded the way all three IP groups operated, and which hampered their operations. One of the notable features of the IP groups’ meetings was their apparent wish to appear agreeable despite disagreement. Conflicting views remained unacknowledged while the IP groups demonstrated alignment within their planning meetings. Aspects of their communication style are expanded as follows: a) a decision-making process that avoided overt disagreement, b) reluctance to speak out directly about issues where this might be construed as criticism, c) unilateral decision making, d) difficulty maintaining communication within the group, and e) the use of vague terminology.
a. The decision-making process: an avoidance of disagreement
Decisions were made by the IP groups in this study without careful questioning or debate about their efficacy. Participants first stated their agreed position. At that point an individual in each group offered a ‘solution’ from her own knowledge. These solutions were accepted by the rest of the group members without debate.
All groups agreed that the child should experience a sense of wellbeing and self-confidence in their centre, and that they should be encouraged to interact with the other children there. The inclusion of the child in their centre was said to be paramount. Groups 1 and 2 expressed concern about their usual goal-setting process: that pre-set goals did not ‘keep up’ or fit with the child’s learning patterns. The teachers in those groups then described the way that they worked with children, joining with and extending on a child’s learning moment, rather than pre-determining the learning outcome by focusing on a content-specific goal. They referred to this as ‘following the child’s lead’. Group 3 members said that their main focus was to encourage the child to interact with other children. At their second meeting the speech-language therapist recommended the adoption of a structured language programme to help the child communicate with other children at the centre.
These ‘solutions’ were mostly agreed to without further discussion. An exception was a concern raised by Group 1’s education support worker who said at Meeting 1 that she found it helpful to know the specific goals that she should be working on with the child. This concern was not addressed by the others at the meeting, but during their interviews, the professionals in that group said that wanting goals to be stated was a sign of the education support worker’s lack of confidence. Thus the issue became centred on the education support worker’s shortcomings, rather than an argument for the group to consider.
Disagreement and misunderstandings about the agreed solutions remained unvoiced. In Group 1 the mother and education support worker assumed that ‘following the child’s lead’, meant leaving the child to do whatever he wished. In Group 3, the teachers were not happy about the idea of a structured language programme occurring in their centre. They did not say this at a meeting, but simply failed to follow the agreed programme:
Well I know that the speech language therapy is really important and that all the ideas and the games are for a reason, but they just seem very clinical. When they are happening it’s just [the child] and one other person …. So that structure is fine for that few minutes but I don’t see myself doing that ten times a day or week or anything like that. (Group 3, Teacher1, Interview 2).
b. Reluctance to talk directly about issues where this might be construed as criticism
Members of the IP groups avoided speaking out directly about issues with which they disagreed or thought that they might disagree. While a function of this behaviour was to maintain harmony at group meetings, it also resulted in the loss of opportunities to learn from each other.
For example, teachers in Group 3 put out the child’s profile book with its learning stories at each meeting for the early intervention specialists to look at. However, the book was not looked at. The teachers expressed considerable frustration at the apparent lack of interest shown, but did not actually ask the early intervention specialists to read the profile book:
I don’t feel that the people from GSE really understand how we work with the children. Especially with the dispositional learning. They don’t really take an interest in [the child’s] profile which is a record of his learning here at kindergarten, which is really sad…. I think they all need to know about the dispositional learning, about the guided participation, about all the things that we do with the children, such as trying to get their esteem up and get them to have a go and do things for themselves, instead of [the GSE people] just coming in, sitting at a game and “Do this and this” and then going away again. (Group 3, Teacher 2, Interview 1).
When, by Meeting 4, the teachers finally asked everyone to read the child’s profile book, the speech-language therapist said in interview that she thought that writing learning stories was logistically impossible.
I think they’re really nice as a record for parents to see what their children have done at kindy. But I can’t see that they are hugely significant in recording progress. I think it’s a huge amount to expect from the kindergarten staff to do something as theoretical as that… I don’t know if I’m being a bit harsh about it, but I honestly don’t see how that can be achieved (Group 3, Speech-language Therapist, Interview 2).
However, she did not raise these concerns with the teachers, so that there was no opportunity for the teachers to respond to her comments. Thus an open disagreement was avoided, but a learning opportunity was also lost.
Early intervention specialists in Group 1 did read the child’s profile book. However, the early intervention teacher made an interesting comment about the child’s learning stories during her second interview. She said that she thought that they lacked sufficient contextual description for her to judge whether the child was copying someone else or working independently. This could have been useful feedback to the group. But she did not say anything about her concerns at the group meetings. Instead she persisted in her belief, not supported by the others in her group, that the child’s progress was minimal. At the meetings, along with the rest of the group, she expressed satisfaction about the child’s progress, so that there was no opportunity for the rest of the group to challenge her thinking.
In Group 2 the centre teachers and the early intervention teacher were frustrated at the mother’s failure to work on her child’s programme at home.
She said she doesn’t do anything with him at home. I appreciate her honesty. Sometimes I raise my eyebrows and think well maybe you could do something on the weekend (Group 2, Early Intervention Teacher, Interview 2)
Because if she doesn’t work with us, and leaves it all up to us, then you don’t get the same level of success Group 2, Teacher 1, Interview 1).
This frustration generalised to an overall criticism of the mother’s attitude:
I felt that [the mother] had expectations of us … I felt that she wanted everything from us and that she wasn’t giving much back (Group 2, Teacher 2, Interview 1).
However, no-one told the mother that they thought she should do more work with her child at home. One of the teachers actually considered how she might word the request:
Perhaps, when the time is right, it being suggested to her that ‘We have this expectation here. We would like you to have that expectation at home. Can you?’ (Group 2, Teacher1, Interview 1).
This tentative request was not in fact made. Instead the early intervention teacher resorted to operating as an apologist for the mother, explaining to the teachers that the mother was under stress managing demands at home, and had little energy left for working directly with her son.
Asked in interview why no-one spoke directly to the mother about the issue, the early intervention teacher said that this would have been rude.
I suppose manners were holding us back, in that a direct comment to [Mother] would have appeared rude I think (Group 2, Early Intervention Teacher, Interview 3).
Because the matter was not raised directly, there was no opportunity to problem-solve the situation.
c. Unilateral decision making
Two of the early intervention specialists took unilateral decisions regarding their group’s programme. Their actions, stemming from unexpressed differences of educational philosophy with others in their group, were ineffective and undermined a collaborative approach.
When the speech-language therapist in Group 3 introduced the idea of a structured language programme for the child at the group’s second meeting, she claimed that by following the programme the teachers would enable the child to interact more successfully with other children. Playing successfully with other children was the primary goal that the IP group had agreed on. However, in interview the speech-language therapist said that what she really wanted to do was to rectify the centre’s programme, which, she believed, lacked structure.
[The centre] is probably the least structured routine and predicable place I go to. They don’t have structured routines and so [the child’s] not in the ideal place for what his needs are (Group 3, Speech-language Therapist, Interview 1).
She saw her language programme as countering this, but this was not a rationale that she shared with the group. As a result of her choosing not to raise the issue of structure with the group, the language programme was not used in the way that she had envisaged but was adapted to fit the existing teaching approach. The teachers and education support worker used snippets from the programme that the speech-language therapist had presented, but they did not attempt to follow the structure. Unsurprisingly they focussed on encouraging the child to play with the other children, which after all was what they had originally wanted to achieve. To judge by the subsequent learning stories for the child they were in fact very successful. But a discussion about the relevance or otherwise of a more structured approach for the child did not take place.
The second example of one individual working without prior negotiation with her group centred on the use of a home-school book. Group 1 decided to use a home-school book during an early meeting as a way for the teachers, education support worker, and parents to let each other know what they and the child had been doing. The home-school book was also to be available for the early intervention teacher and speech-language therapist to read and contribute to. The group decided at a subsequent meeting to add in pictures of what the child had done, to help parents communicate with him about his day.
There was however a further extension to the use of the pictures, initiated, not by the group as a whole at a meeting, but unilaterally by the early intervention teacher. Rather than the child choosing an activity which was subsequently recorded in his book by a picture as well as description, she decided that the education support worker should get the child to select an activity from a set of pre-arranged pictures. Having completed the activity, he was to put the relevant picture into his book. She explained during interview that this process was the start of a preparing a visual timetable for the child, and said that the child needed to learn to conform to school routines. This was despite the group agreeing that they were not going to start on preparation for school at that point.
I think we established right from the very first meeting, that we didn’t see [getting him ready for school] as the most important goal [but] there still has to be a certain amount of that because that is where he is heading (Group 1, Interview 1, Early Intervention Teacher).
Selecting a task from a set of activity pictures and carrying the task through was also at odds with the agreed group decision to ‘follow the child’s lead’.
I don’t think it fits very well into an ordinary early childhood setting and you wouldn’t normally do it, except for readiness for school (Group 1, Early Intervention Teacher, Interview 3).
The early intervention teacher did towards the end of the project discuss this process with the group and get agreement. However, the education support worker, having also thought that she was also to follow the child’s lead by letting him do what he wished, was very confused:
[The early intervention teacher] would come back and look at it and I would find I was doing it wrong. So I wasn’t sure whether it was to give mother information. And then it was to get [the child] to sit down with me and put pictures in so he would be aware what was going on … And then it was “Oh no he doesn’t have to be with you when you do it”…and sometimes “You’ve got to write”, and sometimes I had to stick pictures in (Group 1, Education Support Worker, Interview 3).
The result was that the visual timetable did not get under way, and the home-school book ceased to be used at all.
In both these examples, the question of whether the structured language programme or the visual timetable would have been useful is beside the point. The issue was that there was no opportunity to debate their use because the individuals concerned had not shared their thoughts with their groups.
d. Difficulties maintaining communication with the whole group
The need for good intra-group communication was generally recognised.
We won’t know what’s relevant until we get together and talk” (Group 1, Speech-language Therapist, Meeting1).
We notice a lot and we have it in here but when it comes to passing on that information it is much easier and clearer for me and for the people who are listening to it if I have it written and if I write it at the time it happens. So I think that a key thing is for us all to be documenting on what we see. (Group 1, Teacher, Interview 1).
As mentioned, the function of the home-school book changed for Group 1, and fortunately the child’s profile book was able to substitute.
[The profile book] really turned into the communication book. Because they would put something in there on a regular basis... something different or interesting that he had done (Group 1, Parent, Interview 3).
However, as mentioned, the early intervention teacher was dubious about what she saw as a lack of context in the stories, and unfortunately this issue was not raised.
In Group 2 it was decided from the outset that the profile book should be the primary source information about what the child was doing. However, while the group discussed the child’s activities and reflected on these insightfully and in depth during meetings, only one or two learning stories were written down in any one month, and these tended to lack teachers’ reflections altogether. Teaching goals, infrequently recorded, were expressed in very general and uninformative terms. For example:
We will encourage the child to explore new activities and offer him the support he needs to have successful outcomes (Group 2, Child’s Profile Book).
As a source of shared information for the group this was inadequate. Instead, individual group members talked among themselves. The early intervention teacher saw herself as the pivot of the communication process:
We’re collaborative in that I will talk with Mum, so we’ve got a collaboration going there and I will talk with the staff, the staff will talk with Mum too, so it’s kind of like a triangle really (Group 2, Early Intervention Teacher, Interview 2).
But as the education support worker in that group pointed out, she was not always there to hear what was happening, and “people forget to tell you later” (Group 2, Education Support Worker, Interview 3). Nor was the speech-language therapist privy to much of the discussion.
e. Vague or confusing terminology
The language used by professionals in the groups was imprecise, and meanings were assumed to be common to all, so that they were not explained. A case in point, as already mentioned, was the idea of ‘following the child’s lead’. The educational implication of this statement was not explicit to the non-professionals in Group 1, and the mother and education support worker acted on the literal meaning of the words.
Teachers in all three groups spoke of the child as ‘being valued’ in their centres. Inclusion was referred to as a state of ‘belonging’, and everyone accepted that the teachers were able to individualise child’s programme ‘according to their needs’. At one meeting a mother said that she wanted her child to say please and thank you. The early intervention teacher responded by saying that the child ‘needed to be part of his family’ as this was an important aspect of ‘fitting into the wider community’. These are all pleasant phrases, but no-one asked “What does that mean to you/us?”
An example of the use of words that obfuscated meaning because their meaning was not explored or explained was the application of the phrase ‘short term goals’. The teachers in Group 2 used this phrase in an early meeting in the context of talking about the importance of responding to the child’s learning moments rather than working to pre-set goals. They proposed to set what they said were short-term specific goals for the child and to review these every fortnight at their regular centre staff meeting. However, these short-term goals were not recorded. The teachers asked everyone in the group to read the profile book in order to keep abreast with what was happening for the child. But, as already mentioned, there was a lack of clarity in that profile book about what was happening and what the teachers were trying to achieve.
No-one in the group seemed to expect to have these ‘short term goals’ stated aloud or made explicit in any way. When the child’s mother was asked in interview what his short term goals were she said,
I think one might be taking the time to complete an activity, as the broad goal. And so within that there are little things that he can do to achieve that, such as complete a puzzle. Now because that is a broad goal that, like the others have been made aware of it, I think that people actually take the time to encourage him to complete it. Whereas before he was able to get up and walk away. Because his goals were so big that you couldn’t see what the little stepping stones were. Whereas now they’re smaller so those little stepping stones are more meaningful so you can say, [the child] has completed this puzzle (Group 2, Parent, Interview 1).
It became apparent that what was being talked about by group members was a process of teaching rather than short term goals as such. When the early intervention teacher was asked in interview what the short term goals were and how she knew, she said:
He was setting his own goals by playing in those areas and us interacting with him there. [I knew the goals] just by engaging with him. In the back of my mind I would have had a goal that he’s working towards, but because play is such a general term I believe that you can actually scaffold his learning from wherever you are, whatever your goals are, through play, and what he was doing (Group 2, Early Intervention Teacher, Interview 2).
The education support worker in Group 2 said that unlike her previous way of working with the early intervention teacher, the goals were not written down, nor was what the child was doing in relation to them documented anywhere, but just talked about.
I suppose it was just a general consensus (Group 2, Education Support Worker, Interview 3).
In Group 2, where all participants, including the mother and education support worker, had a teaching background, the consequences of using a phrase ‘setting short term goals’ to describe an internalised thought process as they worked was not as confusing as it might have been to someone from a different background. But the phrase implied a degree of specificity in the child’s programme that was misleading. While there were enthusiastic oral stories about the child’s increasing ability to follow the process of a variety of complex activities, such as muffin making, screen printing, etc., the ‘stepping stones’ to get him to complete an activity were not described. According to the group’s meeting notes, the advantages of setting ‘short-term goals’ included the group’s stated expectation that scaffolding would be clearer, a faster turn-over of goals would be achieved, and there would be more reflection on the child’s programme. There was no paper evidence of any of this.
The findings described in this paper have focused on aspects of the IP groups’ difficulties with communication. As only one part of a more complex study of IP group interactions and the interrelationship of issues impacting on their ability to collaborate effectively, the scenario described here is relatively narrow, and has for the most part concentrated on the negative. However, I have selected this focus because it draws attention to an interesting challenge for our work in the inclusive early intervention field: the relationship between a lack of a dialogic approach to information sharing, and less than adequate programme evaluation.
The IP groups did not collaborate successfully. While group members said that they valued hearing each other’s perspectives, they avoided saying things in the group that might have resulted in a disagreement. Where there was a difference of opinion, debating alternative views was avoided. Where they had problems with what someone else was doing or saying, they tended to complain in private rather than to the person concerned. This was counter-productive in terms of group cohesiveness. Debate which might have been informative was avoided, and information that might have been important to the group was withheld. Opportunities to learn from each other and create new solutions together were missed.
For the IP groups to have communicated effectively, they would have needed to use ‘dialogue’, in the sense that Freire (1972) has defined it, that is, the genuine sharing of information where speaker and listener are both open to change. According to Friere’s terminology, this contrasts with ‘discussion’ where speaker and listener are captured by their own personal arguments. In fact, the participants in this study also avoided overt ‘discussion’. It seemed in most cases that an imperative to agree and be agreeable as an IP group superseded the impetus to communicate frankly.
Agreement without reflection fosters a comfortable if collusive harmony, but can stifle individual learning and programme development. To maintain their agreeable façade it was not possible for the IP groups to evaluate their programmes. The essential questions – to what extent did we all do what we planned to do? To what extent can we know that what we did do was effective? - could not have been asked without uncovering misunderstandings and dissonances. That uncovering, however, may have served a useful purpose, had there been the will for it. Conflicting views, far from being counterproductive, can provide necessary grist for group learning (Achenstein, 2002; Petrone, 2010).
In this study the IP groups only estimated their programme’s effectiveness by describing the child’s progress. This level of evaluation was inadequate. As we have seen in this study, the programmes were frequently compromised by miscommunication during their planning. The children concerned did, according to their IP groups, make very good progress. However, the extent to which the children’s progress was related to the groups’ plans could not begin to be established.
The danger of working without a system to evaluate the effects of that work is that programmes stagnate as inefficient methods are retained, or, conversely, that spurious innovations are introduced without careful examination as to whether they are suitable for the use to which they are put. Without programme evaluation, progress for children with inclusive early intervention plans may be dependent on little more than chance. More seriously still, a lack of progress may be attributed to the child’s own limitations rather than the approach of the group.
Communication limitations are not easily rectified. This paper has indicated that there is a lack of attention to dialectic behaviour among some IP groups. In other words, collaborative group behaviour that includes on-going checks on levels of shared understanding, an openness to challenge during meetings, and willingness to problem solve may not be occurring. One of the results of this failure is likely to be a lack of genuine programme evaluation.
There are team-teaching models in the inclusive early intervention sector where the IP group or its equivalent have met regularly to examine the extent to which their programme has been undertaken and its effectiveness (Hunt et al., 2004; Rush, Shelden, & Hanft, 2003). While these sorts of approaches might ensure more accountable inclusive early intervention programmes rather than discussion about the child’s progress alone, a behaviour change for the programme planners is also needed.
The following behaviours need to feature in meetings: questions: do you understand what I mean when I say? / what does that look like?; statements: I don’t follow you/ agree with you/ give me an example of……. Most importantly, if there is a disagreement, this needs to be acknowledged by the group. Otherwise it cannot be resolved. Those who argue that as professionals they need to present a united face to the parents, should reconsider the extent to which they are genuinely including the parents as part of the planning group.
Collaborative programme development is achieved by reflection on a shared task (Robinson, Anning, & Frost, 2005; Timperley & Robinson, 2002). There will be different perceptions about the task. The job of the group in the first instance is to share the perceptions.
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About the Author
Lesley Dunn works as a psychologist in the Waikato for the Ministry of Education, Special Education, Early Intervention Team, and has recently graduated with a PhD from Massey University. The findings described in this paper are drawn from her doctoral study. She has a long standing interest in issues that may affect successful inclusion for children with disabilities and/or challenging behaviour in
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