The purpose of this article is to provide general education teachers with specific information regarding collaborative roles and responsibilities of several team members involved in the education of students with disabilities. The need for collaborative working relationships within our schools has increased as the majority of students with disabilities are currently being educated in general education classrooms. Understanding the individual roles, responsibilities, and expertise of all professionals will create a better learning environment. The authors provide specific examples of student characteristics and questions that may assist in structuring effective conversations among team members to ensure success in the classroom for students with disabilities.
Collaboration is not simply two or more people working together, but more importantly it is how two or more people can effectively work towards a shared goal (Friend & Bursuck, 2009). Currently, students with disabilities are being served as much as possible in the general education setting, therefore it is essential that general educators work collaboratively and seek out other team members' perspectives and expertise. According to the National Center for Statistical Information, approximately 13% of all students age 3-21 years receive special education services. Of those 13% of students receiving special education services, over half (54%) spend the majority of their school day (80%) in the general education classroom (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). Students benefit from educators seeking assistance and guidance from one other to provide a supportive learning environment for students with disabilities within the general education curriculum.
When educating students with disabilities, there are many ways to collaborate and even more reasons why collaboration should include a variety of professionals. All individuals can benefit from different experiential and disciplinary perspectives (Millward & Jeffries, 2001). As professionals learn from one another, educators can provide all students with the most engaging and successful educational experience. Moreover, it is essential to deepen our understanding of other professionals' roles and how to work together to create an effective learning environment for all as it relates to educating students with disabilities.
Students with disabilities have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that are implemented by a team of stakeholders who are required to meet at least once a year, so there is a starting point for establishing positive relationships, as everyone on the team (i.e., general educators, special educators, administrators, speech-language pathologists, school psychologists, parents, etc.) meets to discuss options for programmatic and placement decisions, effective adaptations/accommodations and evaluation of student progress. Although there are initial conversations amongst team members (at the IEP meeting), it is essential for on-going collaborative efforts between all IEP members to ensure the IEP goals are being addressed. It is important to remember that parents are an integral part of the process. As parents contribute extensive knowledge about their children, it is important for educators to collaborate with parents as well, which is vital to student success in the classroom (Sileo & Prater, 2012). The IEP meeting should not be the one and only time of the year in which collaboration exists, but a starting point for an ongoing relationship. Each team member must be responsible and held accountable for continuing these conversations and problem-solving techniques on a day-to-day basis, so continued support can be provided to students within the general education curriculum. Without continued support from all team members, it is difficult to ensure success for students. The more communication and teamwork that exists between members, the better the outcomes for students with disabilities; collaboration is no longer an option, but rather a fundamental component of effective instruction. …