They say, “BCBAs don’t play well in the sandbox.” We’re used to working independently and doing our own thing.
You might get away with it in a clinic or home-based program, but not at a school. Building partnerships with teachers and administrators is a critical piece of our job. So, make room in the sandbox, share the shovel, and work together to build a castle.
What makes an effective partnership?
In an effective partnership, both parties share a common goal. They want to collaborate in order to obtain that outcome. There is a shared respect and an understanding that each person brings something valuable to the relationship. With this shared respect, both the provider and teacher feel comfortable bringing up ideas. This leads to the development and implementation of effective interventions.
How can I build an effective partnership?
Build a rapport
When we invest in a relationship, it’s easier to deliver feedback and the feedback is better received. Teachers are also more likely to implement recommended interventions when a rapport has been established. To build a rapport, ask meaningful questions, practice active listening, and point out the positives. Sharing some personal information can be helpful, but only if the intention is to emphasize commonalities. For example, it’s acceptable to say, “I have a student in elementary school, too.” or “I’m also a runner”. Avoid “oversharing” or talking about things that the teacher cannot relate to.
Engage in perspective-taking
Take a step back from who you are and what you’re there to do and consider what it’s like to be the other person in this relationship. I will never pretend to understand how hard it is to be a teacher, but I will always try to empathize. I also ask a lot of questions about what it’s like to be a teacher and try to learn from every observation I do. Use your soft skills and be compassionate.
Do what you say you’re going to do
This should go without saying, but if you say you’re going to do something, do it. This will build trust. Being busy is not an excuse. If you are having trouble prioritizing, ask the teacher for input. You can’t go wrong with underpromising and overdelivering.
Make it about you
Your role is to support the teacher. Whenever possible, do an observation first. What does the classroom look like? Make a note of the teacher’s style. How does the teacher interact with the students? How do the students respond to the teacher? Always listen before your talk. Instead of pointing out what you think is wrong, ask thoughtful questions. How can I help you? What is the hardest part of your day?
Don’t talk when the teacher is talking. Be as unobtrusive as possible during an observation. Maintain an open line of communication. Ask when the best time to talk and what the preferred mode of communication is.
Make unrealistic recommendations
If a teacher can’t implement the strategies you’ve developed, you’ve wasted everyone’s time. “Give the student a reinforcer every 30 seconds contingent upon sitting appropriately” will not work in a classroom. Working in a school is very different from working in a clinic where you have the staff and environment where you can control everything and give immediate reinforcers. Don’t tell the teacher to do something without demonstrating it.
Building partnerships with teachers is a critical part of our job. Use these tips to improve your relationships and build your professional repertoire.
Author: Jess Baldwin, M.S.Ed, BCBA