Working in Schools: When Collaboration Fails and How To Fix It

In order to provide speech-language services that truly support students’ educational needs, it’s essential for the SLP to collaborate with classroom teachers. However, many school-based SLPs experience frustration and barriers to successful collaboration. It’s important to identify the challenges and pitfalls of collaboration and to equip yourself with strategies to guide your efforts.

To establish effective collaboration, it’s necessary from the beginning for both you and the teacher to acknowledge and clarify your respective roles. As the SLP, you are offering your expertise in communication skills in order to identify individual student needs and relevant instructional modifications. The teacher, on the other hand, provides expertise in the content and curriculum, as well as training in classroom instruction. Respecting these distinctions and the balance that results will create a solid foundation for your collaboration efforts.


While there are several ways to collaborate with teachers, the most common one used in the schools is co-teaching, and the most common model of co-teaching is One Teach, One Assist. In this format, the classroom teacher is responsible for teaching, while you circulate throughout the classroom monitoring progress and providing assistance to students as needed.


There are definite advantages to this approach. It doesn’t require joint planning, as you just slip into the classroom while the teacher is teaching. It also allows you to focus your attention and skill on one or a few students who need support, particularly those who are on your caseload.


There’s a major disadvantage to this approach: you can quickly become a teacher’s aide. Without a planned role for you beyond “monitor and help”, your expertise can be wasted, and it won’t be long before you’re feeling uncomfortable or unsatisfied. Sound familiar?


Broaden Your Perspective

To remedy this, you need to take two giant steps back in order to broaden your perspective on collaboration. First, consider a variety of approaches to co-teaching in addition to One Teach, One Assist. These are discussed in-depth in my course, Effective Collaboration for School-Based Speech-Language Pathologists.

Your next step is to go even broader and look at elements of collaboration that go beyond co-teaching. Collaboration can include consultation as well as serving on teams. Furthermore, it will be more effective when you invest the time to establish a solid foundation of collegial relationships. Collaboration is also made easier by finding ways to schedule joint planning and effectively tackling any conflicts that arise when working together. Strategies for successfully managing these components are all discussed in detail in my MedBridge course on Effective Collaboration for School-Based Speech-Language Pathologists. The pay-off of these efforts will benefit, you, the teacher, and your students.

  1. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2010). Roles and responsibilities of speech-language pathologists in schools [Professional Issues Statement]. Available from
  2. Friend, M. & Cook, L. (2013). Interactions: Collaboration Skills for School Professionals 7th Edition. Pearson