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Consultation in Early Childhood Settings

Consultation in Early Childhood Settings

Authors: Virginia Buysse Ph.D., Patricia W. Wesley   Foreword Author: Samuel L. Odom Ph.D.

ISBN: 978-1-55766-774-8
Pages: 232
Copyright: 2005
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Size:  8.5 x 11.0
Stock Number:  67748
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Interventions for young children with disabilities are more effective when the adults involved form collaborative partnerships. That’s why consultation—a systematic process to help educators, parents, and early childhood professionals work together to address concerns and identify goals—is so important. This practical handbook equips you with the skills you need to function as an effective consultant to educators and caregivers of children from birth through age 5, leading you step by step through an 8-stage model that shows you how to

  1. initiate contact with the consultee and establish open, respectful communication
  2. build rapport while gathering crucial information about the consultee
  3. work with the consultee to assess concerns and needs
  4. set goals directly related to these concerns and needs
  5. select appropriate strategies for meeting the goals
  6. prepare the consultee to implement the strategies
  7. evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies and the consultation itself
  8. hold a summary conference to review outcomes and plan next steps

For each stage, you’ll get a description of key consultation tasks, critical considerations for consultant and consultee, strategies for improving communication, and a “What If” section that addresses potential problems and solutions. This guide will help any early childhood professional serving as a consultant—and anyone in the role of consultee—form strong, respectful partnerships that lead to better child and family outcomes.

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Review by: Steve Knotek, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
"Superb. . . . Consultation has never been presented more effectively for the early childhood professional."
Review by: Ann Schulte, North Carolina State University
"Highly readable . . . a valuable resource for early childhood professionals who want to increase their impact through effective partnerships with others."
Review by: Susan Klein, Indiana University, Bloomington
"[This book] gather[s] the best of what we know about effective collaboration and consultation. This comprehensive and highly motivating book will clearly become a key resource for early childhood and early intervention professionals in their quest to develop the most effective ways to communicate and interact with each other."
Review by: William McInerney, University of Toledo
"[The book] should provoke an examination of the practices of the current generation of professionals and spur consideration of a new paradigm in early childhood education and special education personnel preparation."
Review by: Pamela Winton, Senior Scientist and Director of Outreach, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina
"Integrates a wealth of information about consultation in ways that are practical and applicable in a variety of early childhood settings. I predict this book will become the 'consultation bible' in the decade to come."
Review by: Laurie Dinnebeil, Professor and Judith Daso Herb Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Education, University of Toledo
"Those involved in personnel preparation will find this book essential to coursework designed to prepare individuals to serve as consultants. Early childhood consultants will find this book an indispensable resource. I can't wait to add this book to my professional library!"
Section I: Conceptual and Philosophical Framework

1. Why Consultation? New Roles for Early Childhood Professionals
2. Consultant Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions

Section II: Model for the Consultation Process

3. Stage One: Gaining Entry
4. Stage Two: Building the Relationship
5. Stage Three: Gathering Information Through Assessment
6. Stage Four: Setting Goals
7. Stage Five: Selecting Strategies
8. Stage Six: Implementing the Plan
9. Stage Seven: Evaluating the Plan
10. Stage Eight: Holding a Summary Conference

Section III: Outcomes, Applications, and Recommendations

11. Additional Considerations for Evaluating Consultation Processes and Outcomes
12. Contexts and Settings Associated with Consultation
13. Future Directions for Consultation in Early Childhood Settings

Appendix Blank Forms

Excerpted from Chapter 3 of Consultation in Early Childhood Settings, by Virginia Buysse, Ph.D., & Patricia W. Wesley, M.Ed.

Copyright © 2005 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Gaining Entry

Stage One of the consultation process involves the consultant's initial contact and first meetings with the consultee. The goal of the entry stage is for the consultant to become familiar with the consultation site and the early childhood staff with whom he or she will be working. As the consultant and consultee begin to get to know each other, they begin a conversation about the general purpose and process of consultation.

When the consultant is an early childhood special educator or a therapist visiting a classroom in which a child with an IFSP or IEP is enrolled, the consultant and the early childhood teacher probably understand that the consultant's role will be to help that child succeed in the classroom. As illustrated in the following chapters that describe the eight-stage consultation process, however, this understanding may be limited to knowing which child is on the consultant's caseload and the child's general goals. The consultant and consultee may not share the same expectations about their respective roles. For example, the consultee may not anticipate spending much time with the special educator and may in fact be counting on the special educator to remove the child with a disability from the classroom each time he or she visits. The consultant may expect to spend time meeting with the consultee and observing the child in group activities and may have no plans to work directly with the child in or out of the classroom during early visits. Chances are that neither consultant nor consultee has the privilege of choosing to work with each other the way consultants and their clients in the business world often do but, rather, find themselves in a professional relationship because of the way in which early intervention and education services are delivered to children with disabilities in inclusive settings. In part, the entry stage serves as a springboard for discussion about the stages and desired outcomes of consultation.

When the consultant is an early childhood educator working in a classroom to promote global quality as part of a community- or statewide quality enhancement initiative, there may be an opportunity during the entry stage for consultant and consultee to determine whether they want to work with each other. For example, early discussions may explore the match between the consultant's services and availability and the program's needs. If the match is confirmed, then the consultant and program staff continue to share information as a way of getting to know each other and preparing for the consultation process.


Initial contact between consultants supporting IFSP or IEP implementation and classroom teachers too often involves the consultant simply arriving at the classroom on the first opportunity after itinerant services are recommended. Ideally, the consultant would initiate contact with the classroom teacher or program administrator to discuss and schedule a first visit. Sometimes a program representative, teacher, parent, or other potential consultee calls the agency or consultant providing specialized services and describes the concern or need that has prompted the call, and the consultant schedules a visit to learn more. This is often the way that a school psychologist, for example, may begin work with a teacher who has asked for help managing a student's challenging behavior. Consultation focusing on quality enhancement also sometimes is initiated in this way when community child care programs signal their interest in participating in a rated license or accreditation process by requesting that a consultant contact them.

During entry, the consultant goes to the program and meets the people with whom he or she will be working —ideally the classroom teacher and assistant if the focus is a child with a disability and also the program administrator, especially if the focus is program quality. They jointly discuss the presenting concern and overall purpose of consultation (e.g., to support a particular child's IEP, to address a challenging behavior, to improve playground safety, to increase the level of a rated license). In either case, if other program staff do not know the consultant already, the consultant may want to find an opportunity during the initial visits to describe briefly his or her work history and current professional activities. By sharing information about recent experiences and current interests, the consultant not only builds his or her own credibility in an easygoing way but also presents possible areas in which the consultant and consultee may find they have things in common.

During these first contacts, an effective consultant also builds an understanding of the program's history and current mission. This is particularly helpful if the consultant has no previous experience with the program. The consultant may want to determine whether he or she knows anyone who has consulted with or provided training to the program before and could serve as a resource. The consultant should also ask the program staff about previous experiences related to the general consultation focus. For example, has the program served a child with disabilities before? Has it ever served a child with a disability whose needs were similar to those of the child whom the consultant is visiting? What steps has the program taken in the past to improve quality? In general, what needs remain in this area? The purpose of this line of inquiry is to build knowledge about the program staff's general resources and interests.

The consultant and consultee need to begin a conversation about the process of consultation, continuing to clarify its general purpose and their respective roles, expectations, and activities. Consultees who have a sense of control are more likely to participate fully in the consultation process (Gutkin & Conoley, 1990). Therefore, the consultant should strive to demystify consultation by describing it as a systematic process in which interventions are developed, implemented, and evaluated to address the consultee's concerns and solve problems (Hughes, 1997). The consultant should then introduce the stages of consultation, pointing out that they are not necessarily linear and that the consultant and the consultee may move back and forth among them (see Figure 3 in Chapter 1). In his or her description of the process, the consultant needs to explain the rationale for each stage, a process that will be repeated as the consultant and the consultee approach each stage in the months ahead. The consultant should note that the consultee will play an active role throughout the process and that his or her participation is especially important during the stages of goal setting and implementation. The consultant's attitude should reflect confidence and excitement about collaborating with the program, especially about the opportunity to learn from the consultee. Based on his or her experience, the consultant may make suggestions about which resources will be needed to support the consultation process. For example, the consultee will need relief from direct responsibility for children to meet with the consultant during every stage of consultation. It also will be helpful to know if there is a source of funds, material donations, or volunteer labor to draw upon in the event that additional toys or furnishings are needed.

Based on this description of the process and on clarification of the consultation's purpose, the consultee and consultant will begin to develop a mutual understanding of how the consultant's services could address the program's needs. When the consultant is visiting the program to serve a child with a disability, this match may not be so much a question of whether the consultant is the right person for the job as it is a discussion of how the consultant's approach and expectations compare with those of the program. For example, how do the consultant and the classroom teacher envision working together? In what ways will the family be involved in the consultation process? How will the consultant integrate his or her services into the classroom? If the program has asked for assistance to raise its global quality or obtain a higher licensure or accreditation, the discussion of the fit between consultant and program may involve a greater examination of the consultant's qualifications and experiences and the program's expressed goals.

Toward the end of the entry stage, a key task for the consultant and consultee is to discuss the logistics of future communication. Which communication methods are preferred? Which times are convenient for scheduling visits? Do both agree that the visits should be confirmed in advance? The consultant and the consultee also should establish the boundaries of confidentiality for information about the children and program, including the consultant's firm commitment not to share sensitive information among the programs in which he or she is working. During this discussion, the consultant must clearly express the circumstances under which sensitive information would be shared with others, such as observed child neglect or abuse.

The consultant may find it helpful to use a Contact Summary form to describe briefly all contacts with the program, including telephone calls and visits (see Form 2 for a sample; also see the appendix for a full-size, blank version of this form). This form provides an opportunity to summarize discussions, actions taken, and plans for the next contact, and it can be used throughout the consultation process. The consultant may want to complete this form independently after each consultation contact has concluded, especially after early visits, when the consultant focuses attention on the consultee and does not want to be absorbed in paperwork. As consultation progresses, the consultant and the consultee could work together in summarizing information on page one of this form, which then can be photocopied for the consultee's records. The consultant records his or her own reflections about the consultation contact on page two of the form and keeps this page in his or her own file. These notes may include the consultant's perceptions about a range of complex issues, including interactions with the consultee, the consultee's expectations for consultation services, previous strategies that have addressed goals effectively, observations about the classroom or program, and thoughts concerning implementation.

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