Thanks to Hilary Clinton, we have probably all heard the old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, it might also be said that “It takes a team to educate a child with special needs” – not so catchy, but just as true.
What is a learning support team?
A learning support team (LST) is a team of people who coordinate, plan and review the supports available to a child with a disability (Lyons & Kelly, 2008; NSW DET, 2008) . This team should include all those involved in the day-to-day education of the child.
According to the NSW Department of Education and Training (NSW DET, 2008), the people you will usually find on a learning support team include:
- the principal or another executive staff member such as the head teacher for welfare, or assistant principal
- a class teacher representative (if your child is in an inclusive classroom)
- the school counsellor
- a specialist teacher, such as a support teacher or the specialist class teacher if your child is in a specialist classroom.
Other people who may be involved in the team could include a disability programs consultant or itinerant teachers from the Department of Education, a teachers’ aide, or specialist personnel from outside the Department such as a physiotherapist, child psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist and so on. Parents can also bring along an advocate, interpreter or other “moral support” in the form of grandparents, friends or family support workers.
What happens in a learning support team meeting?
There may be two types of meetings involving learning support teams in your school (Lyons & Kelly, 2008). The first is a meeting of all learning support staff in the school. This meeting may happen once a week or once a fortnight and does not include parent involvement. These meetings do not focus on any one child, but on the needs of all children with disabilities in the school.
This whole school meeting of learning support staff focuses on items such as:
- Distributing resources
- Making referrals
- Managing case loads
- Reviewing or sharing information about students
Learning support team meetings focusing on individual students, and involving parents, most often happen once a year. These are usually focused on the processes involved in applying for and reviewing funding and resources. The tangible outcome of the meeting is usually a written profile of the child, a learning support plan and perhaps some completed forms related to funding (see this document)
The NSW DET identify the key processes involved in supporting children with disabilities as being a cycle (see image below, adapted from NSW DET, 2008 p12):
The student profile:
The child’s strengths
This might include the student’s interests, abilities, achievements, social networks and skills and so on.
The child’s difficulties or support needs
The way this is done will differ according to the funding policy of your state. For example, in NSW funding is allocated according to the level of need identified under 5 domains: Key learning areas, communication, participation, personal care, movement (NSW DET, 2004).
The key learning areas domain is about identifying the level of support a child may need in order to learn the syllabus outcomes identified in the curriculum. In this area, basic skills such as literacy and numeracy are often the focus.
The communication domain is about identifying the ability of a child to both understand what is said to them, and their ability to convey meaning to others.
The participation domain focuses on two areas: social competence and safety. The team will discuss the child’s level of need in the context of social interaction. And they will also discuss what management strategies may be needed to ensure the child’s safety.
The personal care domain focuses on the child’s support needs in the context of hygiene, eating and dietary needs, and health care procedures.
The movement domain is where the child’s mobility and fine motor skills such as handwriting will be analysed to determine what level of support they may need in these areas.
You can see some profiles of hypothetical children here.
The Learning Support Plan
The learning support plan usually has three key elements: goals, roles and responsibilities, monitoring procedures and a review date.
Priorities and goals:
Based on the child’s profile and identified difficulties, the learning support team usually identify priorities to help guide the child’s education plan. These priorities are then usually written into long term goals for the child. These goals then guide the support strategies and educational program for the child.
Roles and Responsibilities:
To ensure appropriate coordination and implementation of support, the learning support plan usually identifies the roles and responsibilities of team members in relation to each goal.
Monitoring and Review:
Strategies for monitoring the child’s progress towards their goals may also be identified in a learning support plan. This will ensure that the team is accountable for what has been done, and also helps the team review what is working and what is not. Ad date is then usually identified for the review of the plan.
Things to remember when collaborating
One of the most difficult things about team work is bringing together different ideas and perspectives. So it is important to remember a few things:
You are the "expert" on your child, and what you and they want from education. You should feel free to actively advocate for your child. If you are feeling a bit daunted by the process, bring along someone who will help you in your advocacy role.
However, make sure you are well informed. Being familiar with The Disability Standards for Education 2005 and the state/territory's funding policies and so on will help you in your advocacy role. Groups such as the Strengthening Families service can help with this.
You might also find it beneficial to visit your child’s classroom to get an idea of how it works and what might be practical in the context of space, number of children and resources available.
Teachers are the “experts” in curriculum requirements, or the things that children need to learn to progress through school. Executive staff and consultants know about what is practical within the funding and resource limitations. Therapists and medical staff will have very specialist knowledge.
Seeing things from these different perspectives may mean setting priorities is not as easy as it sounds, though these should be significantly guided by parent/caregiver input. So it is important that all parties are flexible and recognise that there is not necessarily and right or wrong answer when it comes to priorities as these should be shaped by the developmental stage of the child, the parent/guardians’ priorities and the combined information from all professionals.
Another issue is that education and medical professionals may find it difficult to stick to using language that people not involved in these fields can understand. This is simply because every profession has its own jargon. So it is okay to ask for something to be explained, or be put in plain English.
Everything that goes on in the LST meeting should be meaningful to and inclusive of all members of the team.
References and links:
Lyons, G. and Kelly, A. (2008). Resources to Support Inclusion. In P. Foreman (Ed), Inclusion in Action, p427-499. Thomson: Australia.
NSW Department of Educatio and Training (2004). Students with Disabilities in Regular Classrooms: Funding Document. Online at http://www.schools.nsw.edu.au/media/downloads/schoolsweb/studentsupport/programs/disability/guidelines.pdf
NSW Department of Education and Training (2008). Who's Going to Teach my Child. Online at http://www.schools.nsw.edu.au/media/downloads/schoolsweb/studentsupport/programs/lrngdificulties/whoteach.pdf
The Commonwealth Disability Standards for Education 2005
Information from the Victorian Department of Education:
Information from the NT Department of Education and Training: http://www.det.nt.gov.au/students/support-assistance/special-education-disability/disability
Information from the South Australian Department of Education and Children's Services: http://www.decs.sa.gov.au/svpst/default.asp?id=18656&navgrp=1177
ACT information: http://www.det.act.gov.au/school_education/special_education
From Education Queensland: http://education.qld.gov.au/studentservices/learning/disability/index.html
From the Western Australian Department of Education: http://www.det.wa.edu.au/inclusiveeducation/detcms/navigation/statewide-specialist-services/?oid=Article-id-4548025