Educator's Guide: How To Establish A School-based Collaboration

1. Call the superintendent of schools. Introduce yourself and your credentials and ask for five minutes of his/her time, in person, to discuss a family-school collaboration program which you think would be of interest to him and his staff. If you know a respected school employee, ask that person to recommend you to the superintendent and use his/her name when calling the superintendent. Explain (without waiting) that the program gets to the bottom of all child school problems in one to three sessions by getting family and school people together and by defining the problem in a way that it can be solved either immediately or soon in approximately 80% of cases.

2. Wait for a response. Answer one or two clarifying questions, but try not to have the actual interview over the phone. If you're good at what you do, you'll be more impressive in person.

3. Make an appointment with the superintendent or someone she/he designates, like the pupil personnel director or the assistant superintendent for curriculum. Make sure you can use the superintendent's name when talking to his/her designee.

4. Meet with the superintendent or designee and explain the program in five minutes. If s/he likes the idea, s/he will ask questions. Don't be pushy, but do be confident and do justice to your own abilities and the power of the program. Try to get a commitment for a demonstration session with a family, a follow-up meeting with more staff, an in-service training session, or some other concrete next step. These meetings can be offered free or can be charged for, depending on the enthusiasm, flexibility and responsiveness of the school officials. Have handouts describing the program and business cards to distribute at the first meeting.

5. Once a contract has been secured, try to present your program to school staff positively and calmly. without a desire to oversell or denigrate existing school practices. The power of the program will sell itself. Be sensitive to identifying the rules of the school sub-culture and avoiding the mine fields that lie waiting for outside consultants. Exercise freely your skills of positive connotation. Each school district will have at least a few enthusiastic supporters, but it will also have some reluctant and antagonistic resisters.

6. Before conducting your first "collaboration" session, make sure that all - or most - of the school people (especially the powerful ones) are sympathetic to the program. You might want to start with a family that seems fairly workable ahead of time. Get a referral sheet with relevant information on the family, and talk to a school pupil personnel representative regarding relevant family-school dynamics.

7. Develop a close working relationship with a pupil personnel representative, e.g., a school psychologist or social worker, in each school. Also, become cordial and friendly with the school principal and make sure, directly or indirectly, that you have his/her approval. If either of these tasks is not attended to, your days in the school may be numbered.

8. Even if you have succeeded in being hired to conduct collaboration sessions, try to establish an in-service training program. One of the philosophical goals of the program is to train others within the school, including teachers, to assume as many of the collaborative tasks as possible. Ecosystemic work will not make an appreciable dent in the school climate unless school personnel begin to do increasing portions of the collaborative work themselves.

9. Set up a program evaluation procedure. The program is controversial, and it will probably not be long before some educator targets the program as a fad or an unneccessary or ineffective "extra". Positive evaluations of the program will give school leaders the necessary ammunition to fend off the attacks of the school "nay-sayers."

10. Make yourself available to the school as much as possible. Scheduling is very difficult for school people, and they need to have a very flexible person at their service. Be prepared to eat on the run. 'Have gun, will travel" reads the card of the ecosystemic consultant.

There are dozens of objections which will be marshalled to kill the collaboration idea. It interrupts, interferes with, and disrupts many conventional therapeutic, educational, and parental practices. The ecosystemic consultant must be ready for strong and multiple objections and have a clear game plan for establishing the program. By following the guidelines outlined in this paper and by doggedly believing in the model, the advocate of collaboration can count on eventual success.

For appointments and scheduled consultations, please contact Dr. J. Brien O'Callaghan at, call him at 1-203-740-2595, or write to him at J. Brien O'Callaghan, Ph.D., 246 Federal Road, C-24, Brookfield, CT 06804