I recently wrote a blog post about how occupational therapists can support the classroom. You can take a look at that post here. One of the ways we can support students and teachers is the consultative model of service. I personally feel like this is a powerful service delivery model especially in the school setting, but it can be overlooked. Therefore, today, I want to explore what the consult model is, how it can be a very effective way to provide therapy services in the school setting, and tips for making consultation work.
What is the consult model?
With the consult model, the therapist is typically working with the classroom team that supports the student daily, such as the teacher and paraprofessional. You actually can consult with the student as well, but I have typically only seen this with older students.
What kind of activities could be considered consultation?
Consultative activities usually include observations, conversations, offering tips and strategies, monitoring the effectiveness of interventions, checking in with various staff, training, attending meetings and problem solving. Consultation can happen face to face or via email/zoom/phone calls.. The child doesn’t necessarily need to be present for consultation to occur.
When can consultation be a good choice for service delivery?
There is a thought that because consultation doesn’t have to be ‘directly’ with the student, that consultation is somehow not as ‘good’ or meaningful as typical direct service. I have had the opposite experience! I love using the consultative model within the school setting. There are certainly some situations where more direct service is warranted. However, even with students who are more appropriate for direct services, I always include even a small amount of consultation. What is the point of me pulling a student out to work on a skill if I don’t check in to see how that skill is transferring to the classroom?
Additionally, as school based therapists, we are not present at all times and in all school environments. A student may be doing really well in the classroom, but have more difficulties in art or PE or in the community. With the consultative model, we can take the time to ensure the continuity of interventions across settings, which in turn can lead to more success and independence for the student.
Finally, in the schools, we have to keep in mind the child’s overall ability to access their education as well as the least restrictive environment. Should we be pulling students from their classrooms to work on certain skills? What parts of their education are difficult to access? Can any of these things be supported by consultation with the team? These are some of the things I think about when determining a service model. I want to be as supportive as effective as possible while allowing the child to participate in their classroom activities as much as they can.
Tips for making consultation work
Whether you are a therapist doing the consulting, or a teacher receiving the consultation, there are some things to keep in mind in order to make consultation services as effective as possible for your students. These tips generally fall into the same categories, regardless of whether you are doing the consulting or receiving the consultation.
- Communication. This is so important in any situation. As the teacher or staff member, clearly communicating concerns and feedback to the therapist will help the therapist accurately assess the situation. As the therapist, clearly communicating your recommendations is helpful. Teachers are so busy, so I do my best to follow up any conversation with something written that can be referred to at a later time. Additionally, it is important to communicate honestly with each other on the effectiveness of suggestions or interventions so appropriate changes can be made to support the student.
- Collaboration. We are all here to help each other help our students succeed! Working together is essential for positive outcomes. Working together to come up with strategies that can be easily used across settings will lead to a high level of success.
- Flexibility. As a consultant, you will constantly need to be flexible and responsive to the classroom needs. Planned to do an observation that day but it didn’t work out? That’s ok! Work to find another time. Offered a strategy that doesn’t seem to be effective? Regroup and try again. There are going to be ups and downs, but going with the flow and adapting can be a powerful tool. As a teacher or classroom staff, it can take some adjustment to utilize some of the strategies suggested, but keeping an open mind and being flexible will help.
As you start this school year, don’t forget about the power of consultation. Consult services can be an incredibly effective way to support students and school staff. What are some of your experiences with the consult service model?