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Student Intervention Teams


Student Support Intervention Teams –
Can This Team Be Saved?

By Dr. Sandra Dill, School Psychologist and Dr. Chuck Morris, Associate Superintendent, Guilford County Schools, Greensboro, NC

Shirley sighed with abject discouragement. She had just attempted to facilitate the last Intervention Team meeting for the current school year. The goal for the meeting was to review all cases presented that year and to make decisions about the dispensation of each case. The case managers, as a whole, were unprepared or absent. The number of members who were present at the beginning dwindled during the meeting, which began at 3:30 on a Monday afternoon and continued past 5 p.m. Shirley said with despair, "I don’t care if I only have three members on this committee next year, I don’t want people who are not committed on this team".

The Team was clearly experiencing a "melt down". Although the team had accomplished some good things for students, many cases were left without closure and any feelings of accomplishment were lost at the end. The question facing Shirley, and others with vested interest in assisting teachers and students with problems at this school is, "Can this team be saved?"

Although the core members of the team were pupil support staff and dedicated teachers, others had been recruited from various teams to fulfill a quota. Obviously one of the problems was scarcity of time (time for regular duties, time to function as a case manager during the school day, time to put intervention plans into place, and time to meet to discuss progress).

A more global problem facing intervention teams, or child study teams, is attitude. We all know that a major ingredient in any plan to improve the behavior or learning of a student is attitude. We have many words to describe staff members with a bad attitude. We have lamented that some are just uncommitted, others are disconnected, and others are just plain
disinterested. We say others think the students cause their own problems or it is the parent’s fault or society’s fault.

So how does Shirley, who feels like the lone ranger, deal with all these negative attitudes? How does she move through her own disappointment and discouragement to find a positive way to revamp and energize this team? First and foremost, Shirley can not accomplish this alone.

Shirley must seek and attain administrative support. The success of any plans to turn the team around must have the support of the principal and other administrators. The converse is also true. Efforts to make change can be sabotaged by lack of administrative support and commitment from administrators to be a part of the team.

The following questions then must be asked and an action plan developed to make the team effective.

1 . Look at the scope of the Team’s responsibility. Is the Team trying to do too much? Is there a way to limit the types or numbers of referrals presented to the team?

2. Look at the size of the committee. It is too big? Is it too small? What is the optimum number of team members?

3. Analyze the use of time. Time is a limited resource. When is the team meeting? How is time allocated to accomplish the objectives of the team?

4. Study the assignment of cases. Are some members overloaded and others not accepting their share of the work load?

5. Is the paperwork too overwhelming? Is it possible to streamline the process? What documentation is necessary? How important is the paper trail in meeting federal and state
mandates for special education, safe schools, 504, ESOL programs, etc.?

Scope

The goal of most intervention teams is to identify student and staff needs and to develop strategies to meet those needs. Some Intervention Teams have evolved from the legal mandates of special education law and safe schools legislation. Student needs are as varied as academic difficulties, truancy, drug and alcohol abuse, family and home stresses, physical problems, and social emotional development. The manner in which schools approach these needs is just as varied. Some teams serve as prereferral intervention teams before a student is referred to special education. Other teams act as a conduit to alternative placements such as Schools Within Schools programs. If a Team is floundering, as Shirley’s team is, the focus and team goals should be carefully considered. Perhaps the team is attempting to solve too many problems with too many programmatic needs. At this point, the team should narrow its focus and prioritize its goals. The Team should examine the steps school staff members are required to take before making a referral. Examples are parent contacts, conferences with the student, student record reviews, and consultation with other school staff members who are working with the student. If the case load is too large for the team to handle effectively without burn out, the Team will most likely feel frustrated and unsuccessful.

Size

What is the optimal size for an intervention team? Team literature recommends optimal membership of no more than twelve members. If the Team is larger, tasks such as training new team members and developing consensus and collaboration become more difficult. Revolving membership on the committee is a challenge. Each year, as new members are added and other members rotate off, the team must reform itself into a new entity. If members are forced to join the team to meet a numbers mandate, the team will suffer. Team members who want to be on the team will be more likely to accept responsibility and to think creatively to find solutions. Middle and high schools are challenged by the number of instructional teams and disciplines involved in their schools. To have each represented on a team would be overwhelming. A team must decide how to communicate with all its constituents in the best interest of the person seeking assistance or the person for whom assistance is being sought. How involved should the referring party be in presenting the case and developing the plan? Participation certainly improves buy in. If a teacher is making the referral, the team must find ways to allow that teacher to be present at the team meeting. This may also solve the problem of group size if the referring party is present and part of the team for that particular student.

Time

Time is a limited resource. Team members must find the time to meet to discuss cases without feeling rushed or under pressure. Team members may be more focused, attentive and creative if the meetings can be held during the school day. If Team members serve as case managers, time must be allocated for them to fulfill those duties. If these responsibilities are added on top of all the other responsibilities, members may become disillusioned and resentful. Schools have met these challenges by providing substitutes for teachers during team meetings, using already scheduled planning periods, adding a planning period for team members, or forming more than one team in a building. Other have offered compensatory time for time spent on team business after the regular school day and removing other responsibilities such as homeroom, cafeteria duty, hall duty or bus duty. The support of the school administrator is critical in solving this problem.

Work load

The Team Coordinator may be given the responsibility for assuring that cases are assigned equitably. Or the Team may develop a method by consensus for assigning cases. A fair and equitable distribution of cases is essential for the team to function well. Another method for assuring that the work load is distributed is to rotate roles. Roles such recorder, facilitator, hospitality and timekeeper become less burdensome if they are shared. This rotation also assures that each team member functions in each role. By rotating roles, all members are encouraged to participate fully in the team process. Another important attribute of good team membership is promptness in completing one’s responsibilities. If team members are not prepared, or do not perform their duties as case mangers in a timely manner, the team and students suffer.

Paperwork

Some mandates for documentation can not be avoided and are actually beneficial to the school or the student being referred. Over the years procedures may have become outdated and unnecessary, however. The Team should review forms and procedural steps periodically to determine if any can be streamlined or eliminated. Paperwork should be user friendly and directions for following procedural steps should be clear and accessible to users. New members should always be trained in using forms and procedures. Team members should be expected to complete paperwork appropriately and efficiently. The use of technology should be utilized to help in streamlining the paperwork.

The question remains. Can Shirley revitalize her team? The answer is yes if she assesses her team in the five problem areas discussed above and obtains the support of the administration and the resources they can provide to make this an effective, proactive student support team.