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Working in a team

As a teacher or leader, you may be a member of several teams providing additional support for students. Sometimes you will be working with others to support a particular student with high needs – for example, you may meet periodically with a teachers' aide, a specialist teacher, the student’s whānau, and someone from special education services to plan for a student verified for the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS). Sometimes, a team will be focused on one or more students with moderate needs – for example, you may be working with the Learning Support Coordinator and literacy leader in your school to incorporate appropriate differentiations for a group of students in your class struggling with reading and writing.


In Example 5, a teacher works in a range of teams to support groups and individual students in his class; he works with a mathematics support teacher (MST), is an IEP team member, collaborates with a visiting specialist, and liaises with the ESOL teacher.

Effective teams develop mutually agreed understandings and ways of working. Members keep the focus on student learning, positive relationships, and developing ways of communicating that work for all those involved. At times this may mean providing specific support for some members – for example, interpreters, support people, or translations of materials. Effective teams are aware that successful collaboration and problem solving require respect and trust and that they are challenging to achieve but can lead to significant change.

"Collaborative problem solving and decision making focused on teaching and learning for students with disabilities have the potential to create fundamental change in the ways that teachers teach and students learn."

Clark, 2000, page 66

All teams will experience disagreements, conflicts, and challenges. These can be overcome when a team works together to focus on the student’s well-being, to respect each other’s views, and to establish open communication.

"If there is a golden rule of inclusion, it is problem solving. When we think about all the factors in the child’s life, we know there is unlikely to be a single solution to a given problem. We need to have the confidence and humility to reach out and say, 'OK, let’s open this up and approach it as a team.' If we don’t, and there is a lack of respect between team members, things can go wrong and there will be gaps."

Academic, project interview, 2013


IEP Online presents strategies for building and maintaining successful ways of working together. For information on problem solving, conflict resolution, and maintaining strong team relationships, see How to Succeed: Working Together and Working Together: Tools.

Roles and responsibilities

Discussing and agreeing on the roles and responsibilities of members is an important first step in creating an effective team. Each team is different: role definitions don’t need to be set rigidly, but there are some important considerations to be noted in working towards an inclusive classroom curriculum:

  • The role of the classroom teacher involves responsibility for the learning of every student in the class. The teacher’s aide is an integral part of the classroom team; the teacher must ensure that they are not left without direction and support.
  • While whānau will be involved, they are not expected to take direct responsibility for their child’s education. The school’s expectations of them should be fair and realistic, respecting their work and family commitments.
  • For students who receive additional support, the ways in which the classroom teacher and specialist teacher(s) work together need to be negotiated and clarified. The Learning Support Coordinator will often help in this process. The purpose of this additional teacher resource is to support the student and their team. If support roles are not clearly defined, responsibility can fall between the teachers, leaving teachers’ aides to oversee learning without clear guidance.
  • The role of educational specialists should be discussed and agreed. Specialists such as speech language therapists and educational psychologists work collaboratively to assist the school-based team to support the student. They can respond to questions and challenges raised by the school, and work to support presence, participation, and achievement.
  • It is helpful to have some overlapping responsibilities, so that when one person is not available someone else can step in. When schools have plans in place for situations such as staff illness or staff on leave, support for students is managed more effectively.

The examples below show how a specialist teacher works flexibly as a team member to ensure the needs of all students are met.

"In one school, the teacher does all the planning and I work with groups of students in the class, not always the verified student. The teacher takes responsibility for the teaching, and I support him by teaching the other students and making resources.

In another school, the teacher’s aide, the teacher, and I meet for 30 minutes every two weeks to discuss the direction for the following two weeks. If the teacher’s aide has any questions, we can discuss these at this point. We can also discuss what might be stressful for the student and plan how we can change the programme if necessary. This is working well.

In another school, the teacher is great at planning. Everything is written in a timetable in a book so the teacher’s aide knows what support the teacher requires. Again, this approach works really well."

Specialist teacher, project interview, 2013

The role of the Learning Support Coordinator or Special Education Needs Coordinator

The Learning Support Coordinator (LSC) or Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO) is appointed by the school. They work with teachers and leaders to identify, agree on, and organise supports for students with special education needs so that they have equal access to learning opportunities. They work with students, whānau, and teachers to develop learner profiles that include student voice and that support choice and self determination in IEPs and transition plans.

The LSC or SENCO coordinates relevant information and monitors progress with teachers to review if students’ needs are being met. They also coordinate and monitor teacher’s aide support and may provide professional development opportunities.

In secondary schools, the LSC is usually a point of contact for both parents and outside agencies such as specialist services and transition support providers. They liaise with subject teachers to discuss lesson content and how material is going to be taught and to suggest possible adaptations, resources, and strategies. 

Next – Shared planning

Published on: 19 May 2015