Building Teacher Capacity Through Group Consultation

Posted by: Lori Walls on October 27, 2011 4:01 pm

The role of a teacher usually involves very public and social endeavours, but as a new teacher I often found myself feeling isolated from colleagues when it came down to dealing with students who were displaying emotional or behavioural difficulties. It can be a vulnerable and intimidating experience to seek help from fellow teachers when one is new to the profession due to a fear of being viewed as inexperienced or incompetent. Several years of teaching later I realized that all teachers face these types of challenges with students despite their years of experience, but often the feelings of isolation and the hesitation to seek help remain. Writing now from the perspective of a school counsellor, I believe that with the increased demands on teachers and counsellors it is more important than ever to find ways to collaborate and consult on difficult issues in order to build capacity, extend resources, and to break down barriers that have lead to isolation.

Farouk (2004) posited a model of group consultation that involves teachers providing emotional and professional support to one another with the school psychologist playing a facilitative role. As with any group work, there are issues that must be addressed prior to assembling the group. Farouk suggested establishing support for the group at a management level and then seeking membership in the group by giving a description to teachers that outlines the group’s purpose, function and practical implications. During the first meeting of the group roles need to be defined, the process explained, and issues of ethical considerations and confidentiality discussed. As the school psychologist/counsellor, your role in the initial meetings is to keep the group on task, balance the input, and to model the type of process and discussion questions needed to keep the group moving in a problem-solving direction (Farouk, 2004).

The role of teachers in the process occurs in four phases. In the first phase the teacher presenting the problem is encouraged to speak openly and honestly about their concerns while providing background on the student. During this phase only clarifying questions may be asked by other group members. The second stage is the reflection phase. At this point other teachers may ask questions for the purpose of gathering more information so long as the questions maintain a constructive and supportive tone. The third phase involves generating a personal theory about the problem. It is during this phase that the group now begins to explore unexamined beliefs, feelings, assumptions, challenges, and personal hypothesis related to the presenting concern. It is this phase that can present the most challenges for the facilitator, so it is important to have clearly established group rules from the beginning in order to maintain a climate of safety and trust among group members. The final phase consists of generating strategies. Although strategies are offered by the group, an important aspect of this model is that the strategies are not operationalized, but rather reflected upon and selected by the teacher presenting the concern. This allows the teacher the freedom to choose the strategy that is most feasible and achievable for both the individual teacher and the context in which the strategy is applied.

For a more detailed description on how to implement group consultation in your school check out:
Farouk, S. 2004. Group Work in Schools: A process consultation approach. Educational Psychology in Practice, Vol 20 (3), 207-220.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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