Collaborating On School Teams To Support Complex Cases (with BCBA Tina Gunn and M.Ed, Teacher Julie Grundy)

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Tina Gunn (M.Ed., BCBA, DATA Team) and Julie Grundy (M.Ed., Teacher, DATA Team) join Erika to discuss working together to support students with complex needs in school settings. They both serve students and school teams in district support roles and have worked together on teams to design and implement the Practical Functional Assessment and Skill Based Treatment process (PFA-SBT) for some of their learners. Julie and Tina discuss their work with students, how they have collaborated both as a teacher and BCBA but also with large school teams, and finally impart some wisdom that they’ve learned over the years of working in their district-level support roles. This is a conversation not to be missed by teachers, educators, school district staff and behavior analysts working in schools!

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Interview Highlights

  • Tina’s current role is as a district behavior analyst and she works for the District Action Team for Autism, or DATA for short. Her primary role over the last three years has been the project coordinator for practical functional assessment and skill-based treatment within Surrey Schools. [1:10]
  • Julie was in a district-level helping teacher role and she worked collaboratively with school-based integration support teachers and school teams at the elementary school level. She’s now on the DATA team with Tina and other professionals. [2:26]
  • Tina and Julie met each other at the district education center. They started working together when they started doing Practical Functional Assessment and Skill-Based Treatment (PFA-SBT) within the school. That’s where they first started collaborating [3:28]
  • The DATA team works primarily with autistic students, whereas a helping teacher works with a full spectrum of kids including those with autism. [4:44]
  • A referral can be initiated by a classroom teacher. If it gets to a point where they’ve exhausted all of their experience and expertise at the school level, they then send in the collaboration request to the district office to ask for one of the helping teachers, the DATA team or somebody to come in to help problem-solve what’s happening with the individual child. [7:01]
  • Generally, the referrals that come to the DATA team are the students that have quite complex needs. More often than not, there is severe problem behavior, and that is why the DATA team is contacted. [8:05]
  • The criteria for the DATA team to be coming in is really dependent on the needs of the school, where the school is at, and what the skill set of the school is. [8:49]
  • Tina and her team have an application process for accessing PFA-SBT specifically. And that generally is an online form, where people can submit an expression of interest and then once that is submitted, Tina’s team goes through it and they look at the needs of the student, the needs of the school team, what supports they have in place, and if they’re able to support this intensive treatment. [11:11]

“If the specific supports aren’t in place providing the treatment, it just doesn’t work.” — Tina Gunn

  • When their team starts the process, they invite all the stakeholders to the initial meeting where they hold the open-ended interview, gather information, and then they design their IISCA and they start their assessment that way. [11:49]
  • In the PFA-SBT world, they encourage teams to run treatment sessions frequently, because the larger the dosage, the more progress you’re going to see. They have a minimum requirement of at least 30 minutes to an hour sessions daily. [14:56]
  • Tina’s team does an individualized Universal Protocol for out-of-treatment time. They develop that when it’s needed, because usually the business-as-usual model isn’t working outside of sessions. So they need a plan in place that is going to parallel the core values that they’re practicing in treatment. [16:01]

“The safety, televisibility and rapport all need to be happening in session and out of session.” — Tina Gunn

  • Tina explains their work with parents. [17:34]
  • Julie shares her working relationship with Tina and how they collaborate. [19:18]
  • During the PFA-SBT process, a lot of work goes into the rapport that’s built between student and implementer and the school teams and working together in that collaborative manner. They are always trying to meet everybody where they’re at. All of this comes back into having a relationship that you are able to trust in the process and trust in each other. [19:37]

“The idea of being able to brainstorm together and not one person being the holder of the information and being the person that has to be the problem solver, that’s the whole benefit of being on a collaborative team.” — Julie Grundy

  • The nature of Julie and Tina’s job is working towards building a trusting relationship. [23:42]
  • They find it rewarding when they start seeing that momentum and suddenly see an EA that was so burnt out starting seeing some progress with a student. [27:19]
  • One of the main things that Tina has changed in her practice is just really listening to the team first and then working from there and asking how she can help them instead of telling them how she’s going to help them. [29:08]
  • Some schools have a really strong sense of collaboration and it’s easier for them to be freed up to meet together as a team to be able to build a collaborative plan. Other schools where collaboration culture is still in the works, it can take a little bit of time. [33:09]

Meet Our Guests

Tina Gunn is a District Behaviour Analyst and works as part of the District Action Team for Autism (DATA) in the Surrey School District, British Columbia, Canada. She has a Master of Education degree in Special Education with concentration in Autism and other Developmental Disabilities. A Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) since 2013, Tina has 20 years of experience in the education field as a certified teacher and has been providing behavioural and consultative services to children and youth with autism and developmental disabilities in clinic, school, and community settings since 2009. Tina currently serves as the Surrey School District’s PFA-SBT Project Coordinator and participates in designing and delivering training programs to school district staff on the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). As an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia, Tina enjoys helping newly minted educators experience teaching from a place of joy by developing their classroom management skills and learning how to support complex learners in inclusive classroom settings.

photo of tina gunn

“Everybody on our team is a valued member. It doesn’t matter what your role is. Everybody is important and everybody has something valuable to contribute to the conversation, to the problem solving and the planning.” — Tina Gunn

Julie Grundy is an experienced educator with a Master of Education in Educational Practice, with a focus on inclusive education. Julie also has a BA in History and Learning Disabilities. She has been a teacher with the Surrey School District for 24 years serving as a classroom teacher, Integration Support Teacher, Learning Support Teacher and Special Education Helping teacher. Her role is now on the DATA team, along with Tina, supporting autistic students and their classroom teams. Julie is also a mom and strong advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and people with diverse learning needs.

Julie Grundy (M.Ed., Teacher, DATA Team)

photo of julie gundry

“The idea of that multidisciplinary collaboration is you get to see what other people are doing in their passion.” — Julie Grundy

Resources from this episode:

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Read the Transcript:

We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.

Erika Ng

Welcome to the Behavioral Health Collective Podcast, a community of behavioral health professionals who are passionate about working together across disciplines to improve client outcomes by valuing collaboration, connection, humility, and evidence-based practices in a variety of behavioral health fields.

The goal of the Behavioral Health Collective is to highlight stories of collaboration between practitioners, the work that they’re doing together, and how thoughtful and ethical collaboration between fields can lead to better client outcomes. Thanks for joining me today to dive deeper into stories of professional collaboration.

Julie and Tina, thank you so much for joining me today on the Behavioral Health Collective Podcast. And I’m particularly excited to be talking to you first of all, because schools are in my history and just like in my blood. And so I’m so happy to be hearing the stories of collaboration in the school system and also because you’re the I think second or third group that I’ve had on with this new collaborative focus.

So, thank you so much for being here today. 

Tina Gunn

Very happy to be here. 

Julie Grundy

Thank you for inviting us. 

Erika Ng

So just to get started, can you tell me a little bit about your respective roles at the Surrey School District and maybe just a quick recap of your professional journey to this moment. 

Tina Gunn

So my current role is a district behavior analyst, and I work for the District Action Team for Autism or DATA for short. And my primary role over the last three years has been the project coordinator for practical functional assessment and skill-based treatment within the Surry Schools. And a lot of that role involves training and providing coaching to district staff, as well as working very closely with the FTF consultants to just ensure this overall success of the project within our schools.

I started my career out as a teacher and I taught elementary and high school. I’ve also taught overseas for three years, and when I returned from teaching in Thailand, I really wanted to focus my work in the field of autism. So I actually left the school system for a couple of years and worked in a private ABA clinic, and then I just realized schools, public schools was where my heart was at.

So that’s when I joined Surrey. And when I was in Surrey or my time in Surrey, I’ve started out as an integration support teacher. Then I was a classroom teacher of an intensive intervention program, and now I’m in my current role as a district behavior analyst. 

Erika Ng

Awesome. Thank you. 

And Julie, a little bit about your journey?

Julie Grundy

Yeah, so I am, up until the June of this year, I was a special helping teacher and I worked collaboratively with school-based integration support teachers and school teams at the elementary school level. And I am now going to be starting in September on the DATA team with Tina and the rest of our team, which I’m really excited about.

Previously to that, I was an elementary school, primarily intermediate teacher, a learning support teacher, an integration support teacher, and then my current role at the district as a helping teacher. And I have a huge soft spot for collaboration. I’ve been working on that throughout most of my career, so working in this capacity just makes me really happy.

Erika Ng

Awesome. That’s great. So let’s now chat a little bit about your work, your actual work together. And it sounds like you’re going to be officially on a team this fall, but I know you’ve done other projects and worked together already. So how did it first come about that you started working together and what has your work look like to date so far?

Like the day to day, the goals of projects, kind of like higher level. 

Tina Gunn

Yeah, so I mean we started, we met each other at the district education center, so our main office. And we were kind of in our own roles, but you know, really we started working together when we started doing practical functional assessment and skill-based treatment within the school.

And that’s where we started collaborating more at the district level. 

Erika Ng

Awesome. So for example, you would have a referral of a common student and then be working with that student. Is that how that would work? 

Julie Grundy

Yeah, primarily I would get referrals and I would often reach out to the DATA team to help support if the situation was really complex.

The role that I did was just me when I was going into elementary schools as an individual, and so for the complexity of some of the kids, it just made sense to work collaboratively with others cuz we were able to get a lot more done. 

Erika Ng

Okay. That’s awesome. So just to understand the context of your school board, a referral from a school would come if they were not able to, if they required some outside support, they would initially come to a helping teacher such as yourself, Julie, is that what you’re saying?

And then the DATA team is an additional support that a helping teacher could pull in if that student has autism. 

Julie Grundy

Yeah, so it’s different. I think it, it depends on the caseload that all of us have as helping teachers. We’re all helping teachers. It’s just the DATA team works primarily with kids with autism, whereas as a helping teacher, I work with a full spectrum of kids including autism. And so it just depends on sort of which team it’s going to go to.

Some of them will go straight to the DATA team right from the district office. Some of them will come to me and then I reach out to the DATA team because there’s so many great minds on the DATA team and we can work together. 

Erika Ng

Okay. That’s great. Yeah, I mean every school board is different, so I just wanted to kind of understand how that fit together.

So let’s get a little bit more into your specific work and kind of the context of you guys working together. So before we start talking about the work you could do, that you do together I’m wondering if you could just do like a little rundown to some acronyms. So Tina, you did mention already practical functional assessment and skills-based treatment.

So in the future, we’ll call that PFA and SBT. And for listeners, I’ll be linking all the acronyms that we’re using today into the show notes cuz there’s many in education as we know. What are some other important ones that we should maybe go over at the outset? 

Tina Gunn

Well, I guess IISCA might come up as well. And that’s the Interview Informed Contingencies Analysis, which is the assessment piece that is part of the practical functional assessment. So it’s the functional analysis that happens. 

And then don’t know how, what other ones you would like to hear? I guess there’s like Integration Support Teacher we often refer to as an IST. We do have ABA support workers, so that’s Applied Behavior Analysis Support Worker (ABA-SW).

Julie Grundy

EA – Educational Assistants. 

Erika Ng

Okay. Awesome. That’s great. Yeah, cuz I think EA is an interesting one because again, districts all have different names. Like sometimes they’re just educational assistants in other places depending on Canada, US, wherever, different names.

So ABA-SW are specifically trained in ABA, is that correct, to support students? 

Tina Gunn


Erika Ng

who are autistic. Okay. Got it. Great. 

Okay, so you kind of just touched on this, but how are services from helping teachers in the DATA team accessed in the district? And so are you kinda my hope for you to answer this is, you know, what kind of situation are you coming into when there is a referral?

Is it coming from say, the classroom team or is a principal putting this request in? Like kind of where is that coming from? 

Julie Grundy

I think it can come from all exactly what you said. So it can be initiated by a classroom teacher. So at the school level, classroom teachers can go to their school based team, which is comprised of multiple people from the school psychologists, the SLP the administrators, the classroom teachers, childcare workers, sometimes. 

Whoever are the professionals that are working within that building to problem solve through what’s happening with that individual child. And if it gets to a point where they’re like, you know, we sort of exhausted all of our experience and expertise at the school level. We then sent in the collaboration request to the district office to ask for one of the helping teachers or the DATA team or somebody to come in to sort of help problem solve through what that might look like. 

So it can come from, it comes from the school. Again, it depends on who’s initiating it. It can be initiated by an admin. It can be initiated by a classroom teacher.

Most often than not, it’s initiated by a classroom teacher. 

Erika Ng

Okay. And just for context, by the time it gets to you folks, are teams typically in crisis? Is that generally the case or not always? 

Tina Gunn

Generally the case for the DATA team, that’s what’s happened is people are in crisis. I know Julie, you’ve had some other ones that aren’t crisis mode yet, but there’s a potential for it to get there.

Then it generally, the referrals that come to our team, the students have quite complex needs. More often than not, there is severe problem behavior, and that is why our team is contacted. Yeah. 

Erika Ng

Okay. So that’s would you call that, you know, criteria for the DATA team to be coming in? I mean, I guess Julie, not all of yours are crises, so like what is the criteria, I suppose for that extra support?

Just the fact that a team is not able to move forward, like they just don’t, they feel like they need extra support, is the criteria? 

Julie Grundy

Pretty much, yeah. If they’ve reached out, somebody will connect with them in whatever capacity. And so sometimes I can go in and just have conversations, and same thing with the DATA team.

Sometimes it’s just a conversation of like, Okay, you know, what have you done so far? What’s working? What’s not working? You know, what are the next steps? And that conversation is enough to then sometimes it’s like, Okay, we have that initial conversation. We physically actually will go in and meet the school team, meet the child work really closely with that school team.

So it’s really dependent on the needs of the school, where the school is at, what the skill set of the school is. Some of our teams that are really new need more support just because this, the team itself is new versus some of the teams have really experienced teams, and that child is really complex. And so it’s very case-specific.

Erika Ng

Okay, so it’s quite individualized. Now I do wanna hear a little bit about the implementation process of the PFA and skills-based treatment. So generally speaking, what does that process look like? Now I don’t, in this podcast, we don’t need to target like, you know, how to do PFA-SBT. This is more about like your experience going through the process as professionals.

So what does that look like in a school? Because, you know, we know it happens in schools, clinics, homes. So specifically, in the school, and I realize this is a very big question, but it sounds like there’s potentially a lot of players involved if you’ve got, you know, district staff, like administrators, classroom teachers, ABA-SWs, parents. Like lots of people involved, which is maybe a little more complex than say a clinic or a home setting.

So, yeah. How does everybody contribute and kind of what does that process look like? 

Tina Gunn

Yeah, so the process for accessing that service is a little bit different. So we’re kind of reserving that service for students that we call ’em our Tier 3++. Like, we’ve really tried that other process first and we just haven’t seen the results that we were hoping for.

And, you know, part of this we would love to give it to everyone, but part of this is, you know, targeting the students that need that extra layer of support and that extra intensive treatment. And, you know, we only have so many trained people within our district, like our implementation coaches to support the process in the way that it needs to be supported to be successful.

So we have an application process for accessing PFA-SBT specifically. And that generally is, it’s an online form. They submit an expression of interest and then once that is submitted, our team goes through it and they look at the needs of the student, the needs of the school team, what supports they have in place, are they able to support this intensive treatment?

Cuz one of the lessons that we’ve learned over the years is if those specific supports aren’t in place providing the treatment, it just doesn’t work. So we just, we do kind of like an ecological assessment of the school team and then we can start treatment from there. And generally, once we start treatment, we invite all the stakeholders to the initial meeting where we hold the open ended interview, we gather our information, and then we design our IISCA and you know, we start our assessment that way.

And then we can move into skill based treatment after that. 

Erika Ng

Okay, great. I mean, I love that you mentioned that learning piece that I think sometimes, you know, as just helping professionals who wanna help everybody, there’s a need, let’s fix it. But I love that learning piece of, you know, we need to make sure that it can be supported to be done in the right way with the right coaching, and the right resources. And I think in schools, that’s particularly important to, to question cuz we know that there’s so many variables on a day to day basis.

You know, one staff person is away like, do we have a backup person that can do it today? Or, you know, someone’s off on an injury and then, Oh, we can’t run it. So I love that, that you’re so thoughtful about whether that school team can support it, or not in the district, to everybody. Really, yeah. 

Tina Gunn

There’s the two pieces, right? Like, and this is fairly new in our district, like we’ve just completed our third year, but we need to have our staff trained to competency in order to provide that treatment. You know, just reading an article and maybe listening to a podcast about it, that’s not the training, that is not adequate training.

Like you really do need to have more intensive training and you need to be guided by an expert in order to get really good at it. So we’ve really focused on providing quality treatment versus quantity. Like, you know, everybody gets it, but nobody’s really doing it. Is that right? 

Erika Ng

Yeah. That totally makes sense.

So how have you found having so many people involved, like how has that gone having big teams? Cause it sounds to me like you potentially have like 8, 10, I don’t know, like adult involve supporting one student. Is that correct? Like that many people?

Tina Gunn

Sometimes we have, and sometimes it, it’s smaller, right?

I mean, we really encourage school teams or you know, the implementation coach who’s assigned to that school team to really invite all of the key stakeholders to that meeting. We just found that there’s so much valuable information that is shared when everybody at that team is present and everybody’s allowed to provide some time and some space to share their thoughts, their feelings. 

And you know, it really is a healing process and a bringing together of that team. And we’ve just developed some really amazing plans and for these students and we’re able to move forward. So some teams are quite large and those initial meetings take a bit longer and some teams are a little bit smaller.

It really depends on, you know, the stakeholders availability, their interest, and all that other, you know, factors that, that play into that. 

Erika Ng

Okay. Now, for a student who is in this process, what does their day to day look like in the school? So do they have that same ABA-SW working with them every day? I mean, maybe this is dependent on the team, the child, the school, but kind of what does it generally look like?

Like who’s with them and then how often did they going through SBT and then when is it universal protocols, you know, kind of what’s that, that ratio in the school setting? 

Tina Gunn

So, I mean, it varies. That depends, as we always say in the PFA-SBT world, it really does depend on the student and their needs. We do encourage to run sessions, treatment sessions frequently, cuz obviously the larger the dosage, the more progress you’re going to see.

But we have made it a minimum requirement that they’re running sessions daily for at least 30 minutes to an hour. So some of our students are in session the majority of the day with breaks, you know, for lunch and recess and all that. But others are, they just have one session a day. 

Yeah, so it really does look different, but we have made a minimum requirement because we know if the dosage is too small, we’re not gonna see the progress that we are wanting to see. And we’re investing a lot of time and resources cuz it’s usually at two implementation coaches that are kind of guiding the process. So, you know, we also have other schools that we, we need to get to and visit as well. So we just really wanna make sure that team is able to support the maximum amount of treatment.

And universal protocol, we usually do an individualized universal protocol for that out of treatment time. We develop that when it’s needed, cuz usually the business as usual model isn’t working outside of sessions. So we need a plan in place that is going to parallel the core values that we’re practicing in treatment.

So, you know, the safety, televisibility and rapport all need to be happening in session and out of session. 

Erika Ng

Okay. And how often are you know, say you two have a common student, how often are you on site with these teams working with them? And then also how often are the teams fully coming together throughout the process to work together?

Julie Grundy

The teams that, like I work with. So I have some teams that I work with other people. The teams that I work with Tina. We’re on site depending again on the nature of the students weekly, if not sometimes two or three times a week. And then we have weekly, for sure, weekly meetings with the whole team to problem solve through sort of what has happened, celebrate the successes, you know, what’s our next steps that kind of thing.

Erika Ng

Okay. I’m really curious about working with parents, cuz that’s obviously a really key part of working with students. So, aside from, you know, having parents at that initial meeting and then keeping them updated and maybe coming to team meetings, what could that potentially look like? Do you often have students who are, you know, maybe a home BCBA is also going through the process with them?

Or what can that look like and what has that look like in terms of collaborating with parents and home teams? 

Tina Gunn

Again, that has varied. Sometimes the home BCBA will be running a separate program. You know, it might not be PFA-SBT, but if they are, we generally want to come together so that we’re running something that is similar and we’re collaborating so that we’re not working against each other.

And that has been very helpful, especially with our community partners that have kind of been involved in the, the process right from, you know, the beginning, right from, you know, three years ago. And they’ve done, they’ve learned alongside us and they’ve done the training and whatnot, so they have been fabulous to, to work with because they understand the process, they have hands on experience and we’re able to collaborate.

They, we invite them to our weekly team meetings and we just kind of moved from there. From our position it’s not really possible to provide direct coaching to parents. Just, yeah, we just don’t have the capacity within our time because we have so many students that we need to, you know, support in school teams that we’re supporting.

Erika Ng

Yeah, I mean, totally understandable and it’s just the reality of the public education system that there’s only so many people and so many hours and funding. But that’s great though that parents and home teams are part of that collaboration, you know, throughout. That’s awesome. 

So I’d like to know a little bit more about your working relationship together and get into that to collaboration piece in a bit greater detail. So are there any times that you’ve been working together where you haven’t agreed on something and maybe someone was suggesting something or putting forward. 

And if the other person thought, Well, this is not gonna work. Or maybe on a team that you’ve been on together, and how did the team or you as a team come to a compromise or some sort of mutually agreeable conclusion?

Julie Grundy

Both of us when we were looking at the questions ahead of time, were like, I don’t think we’ve actually ever not come together. And then, yes. And we’re like, Well, why is that? Because you know, we obviously we’re individuals and we have different takes on things, but we’ve worked really hard at building a connection and a trusting relationship to work together. And I think that’s a really key piece. 

And you know, even when you’re thinking about the PFA-SBT and that rapport that’s built between student and implementer and the school teams and working together in that collaborative manner and meeting everybody where they’re at, all of that kind of comes back into it as well, is having a relationship that you are able to trust in the process and trust in each other. 

So that was kind of like where we were coming from. We’re like, Yeah. So the idea of being able to brainstorm together and not one person being the holder of the information and being the person that has to be the problem solver. I mean, that’s the whole benefit of being on these collaborative teams is you have all of these people that come together with all of these great ideas and we trust that process of like, what do you think about this and what about this?

And we can work our way through any of those different ideas because we can have those conversations. 

Erika Ng

That’s so great. I like what you said about not one person being the problem solver, and I feel like when that pressure is off, when it’s a team, like truly a team where everybody has different expertise to bring, you don’t, nobody as the individual feels like, This is on me, like I have to come in and solve this.

And you know, I think sometimes as district staff it can feel that way. Like even if there are a few district staff on a team, it’s like, okay, well we better have the answers for this problem. But I like that. That’s such, such a great perspective shift of like, let’s just trust each other and it’s not up to one person here.

Like it’s the team. Let’s do it. Let’s do it together. So, thanks for saying that. 

Tina Gunn

Yeah. And I think one of the things too, like at the end of our meetings, we always have like a little action plan and it’s like, I’m gonna do this. Okay, I’ll take this on, and we all take something on. And like Julie said, there’s such a trusting relationship, like we say we’re gonna do it. We do it at such and such a time, right? 

Like that we agreed upon and it gets done. And I think that’s a key difference. Like I know I can trust Julie if she says she’s gonna do it, it’s done, right? We, we work quite well that way. And I think too, just everybody on our team is a valued member.

It doesn’t matter what your role is, or everybody is important and everybody has something valuable to contribute to the conversation, to the problem solving and the planning. And I think that’s really important. And we’ve established that right from the beginning, that everybody is valued at the meeting.

Erika Ng

That’s so great. Yeah, those are really important takeaways I think for anybody working on a school team, cuz it’s true, it’s the school team knows a child so well. You know, if you’re coming in as district staff, like you don’t know this kid, like, you know, you’ve read their file, maybe you’ve done an observation, met them or something, but they are truly experts in the child. 

And like, sure, maybe you have some things to offer that they haven’t thought of yet, which is why they’re calling you in. But they just have so much to offer as well, or maybe things that are right there, you know, that they have the knowledge to share. So yeah. Thank you for mentioning that. 

Tina Gunn

And you know, not just the expert in the student, they’re the expert in their school culture. They’re the expert in, you know, the programming that has happened.

They’re the ones that have the relationship with the parents and I’m like, I’m not the expert. I’m just here to kind of guide you and coach you. I can teach you some new strategies and, you know, maybe help you change things a little bit. But you’re the holder of all the information, I’m just gonna draw it out and help you develop the plan. Right? 

Erika Ng

Exactly. Yeah, like sometimes it’s through that, well, that term coaching even, right? Like through that coaching process, it’s drawing out maybe what is already there or just kind of like reordering things or reframing it a little bit. And the answers are often right there. 

I’m curious if either of you had experiences working with people outside of your trusting team that you’ve worked with before and times you’ve had to kind of finesse a situation to come to an agreeable solution on a team, where there maybe have been differences of opinion. 

Because that, you know, trust is earned, right? Like if there isn’t that trust there, it is a little bit harder. And like of course you wanna go into situations trusting people, but if you don’t already have a pre-existing relationship, do you have any examples from that?

Julie Grundy

Yeah, I think it’s, I mean that’s the nature of what I love actually about our job is that is working towards building that trusting relationship. And you sort of, I look at it the same way I look at us working with kids, like that trust has to be earned and it’s not automatic. And so we meet the people that we’re working with, whether they’re kids or adults, where they’re at. And so you can sort of get a read on that and you sort of collaborate at the speed and rate with which they’re able and willing to do. 

Sometimes we can make leaps and bounds and sometimes we have to take really little baby steps. And, you know, what is our common goal? And always going back to, well, our common goal is to make the situation as the best possible for this child.

And that common goal is the center of it. So what can we do to help support you? What can you do to help support them? And really work at a pace and have those expectations at a rate that they’re able to make those gains. Sometimes it’s small, but we celebrate those. And you know, at some of our weekly meetings that we have with our teams, that’s where we start is what was the success this week?

And it could be very small, but this is what you guys did and that’s build on that momentum. So absolutely, there’s definitely some times where we have to work on, you know, building that relationship and sometimes it just goes slowly.

Tina Gunn

Flexibility on our part as well. Like coming, cuz you know, Julie and I might talk after school or we’re messaging each other and we’re like, Okay, this is our plan for tomorrow.

Julie’s like, Oh, I’m gonna be on site. This is, you know, I’ll help implement it. And she gets there and you know, reads the situation. She’s like, Ooh, this isn’t gonna work. Right? And just being able to change things in the moment, and like Julie said, meet the team where they’re at and make those small steps and you know, your small wins.

Erika Ng

Yeah, I really like that because I think, you know, in these like helping roles, you can feel like, okay, great, like let’s go and like have like 10 different action items of like, let’s get this done. But yeah, often a team is exhausted and you know, if they are in crisis and yeah. So I really like that reminder of just like start small.

What is the one little collaborative piece, or if you’re in a gridlock, like some teams are just, there’s so many opinions and difference of opinion and maybe there’s gridlock. So where is that, like one small shred of common ground that we can start with? 

Tina Gunn

That common goal, right? Like just finding out what the priorities are for that team or that teacher or that EA or whoever you’re working with. What is the priority in just, you know, making some small gains towards what they value, right? 

Erika Ng

I’m curious about if there’s anything that you’ve learned over the years or things that you would’ve done differently in terms of collaborating interprofessionally with different, like you’re both teachers and I know like Tina, you’re a behavior analyst, but like you’re both teachers, you have that common ground, so with other professionals. Any takeaways over the years or? 

Julie Grundy

I mean, I’ve learned a ton. I have to say, not just through that my job is teaching and through our PFA-SBT and all of these aspects of collaboration over time is, there’s been so many benefits. And, again, I think it, for me, it always goes back to, you know, what is our goal of coming in?

You know, checking the ego at the door. This is not about me. This is not about you. This is about our common goal together and how can we work towards that so that we can build on something. And I think the thing that we’ve, when Tina and I were speaking earlier, the thing that we both have pulled out of the SBT process is when you start to see that momentum coming forward and all of a sudden you have that EA that was so burnt out and just at, you know, just like this is so hard. 

And they start to see some progress and they start to have a bit of that job satisfaction and that like, that pride of like, and that the mutually exclusive benefit of working with these kids that you can’t even describe it. And they’re like, Yeah, this is amazing. And you build on those little small momentum and then it sort of spills out over into all areas. Yeah. I can’t articulate it to like one specific thing, but Tina, help me out here. 

Tina Gunn

Well, I was just thinking, I think, and I remember this even from, you know, back in my teacher education and one of the things that was really drilled into me from my practicum advisor was be reflective of your practice.

And I think that’s something that has helped me to change my practice over the years. And, you know, I reflect, okay, how did that meeting go? And sometimes I ask for feedback from, you know, like, is there anything that I could do to help you? Like, you know, what can I help you with? Because I think previously when I first started this role, you know, I would come in and I’m like, Okay, this is what you need to do.

Right? Whereas now I just approach it. I, you know, I ask some questions, I get them talking, there’s some storytelling and whatnot, and I, you know, kind of set the tone and I’m like, How can I help you? Right? And just being okay with that. So their goals and their priorities might not be the same as mine. 

I’m like, but just being, Okay, well that’s where we can start, right? And I can help you achieve that. Let’s build a plan together. So I think that’s one of the main things that I’ve really changed in my practice is just really listening to the team first and then working from there and asking how I can help them instead of telling them how I’m going to help them.

Erika Ng

That’s very good advice. Yeah, so true. 

Do you have any practical strategies, I suppose, when you are in those situations listening to teams and you know, I’ve been there on the team where you’re just so, you don’t know what to do with a student, like you’re kind of at your wit’s end. Unsure and yeah, the storytelling, you know, which is like really cathartic in that moment for, you know, classroom teachers, EAs to be like, and this happened, you know, like you’re letting it out.

But then, yeah, any practical strategies kind of when you’re going down that road and like when to kind of make that shift so it doesn’t like remain in the negative?

Tina Gunn

I’ve found that using the open-ended interview has been very helpful cuz there are some guided questions there and you can kind of move it, move the conversation along.

But with a neat section, there is a little bit of storytelling and you know, we don’t dwell there cuz we wanna move forward. But I find that structure to help guide through the process. And you know, yeah, we do need that little bit of time and space to get everything off our chest. And so everybody on the team understands where you’re coming from, but we also can’t stay there, like you said, we need to move forward.

So I do find that having kind of a plan or a structure is very helpful. And you know, it’s, I’ve kind of refined that over the last seven years in this position on how I like, you know, approach teams for the first meeting and, you know, just kind of guide through that process. 

Erika Ng

Now, would you recommend using that open-ended interview even if you are not, like, even if you know you’re not going down the road of the PFA-SBT for whatever support you’re gonna give, so like Julie, you would use it?

Yeah? Okay. 

Tina Gunn

I’ve actually, cuz we have like a form that we have for you know, when we go into schools and, you know, our initial contact or if we’re doing an observation, we have a specific form. So I’ve actually embedded those questions right into our form and I’ve also added a few other questions. So like, I always ask, Well, what strategies have been tried?

Which ones are the most helpful? Or, which ones have you seen progress? And sometimes, you know, we can identify some stuff that’s already working and then I’m just able to kind of build upon that. So I’m shaping some behavior versus like, Ah, that’s awful. Here’s a new one, right? And then it just opens that door to building the plan together.

Cuz that’s one of the other things that I’ve really learned is that these plans have to be developed in collaboration. It has never worked for me to walk in and say, Here’s the plan. Cuz they’re like, Oh, great. In the filing cabinet it goes and never to be seen again, right? And it’s not just you’re giving them the plan or you’re developing the plan together, but then you also provide that support and implementation as well.

Erika Ng

I also find that it’s quite, I had a question about like time and efficiency after it. Like I also find it’s like quite efficient compared to like if you’re gonna do like a functional behavior assessment, like the old, like FBA. That’s like really lengthy and you know, it’s hard to get an entire team together, but it’s like so efficient because you, it’s so rich.

You get such rich information in a potentially short, very short period of time. That’s really great advice. I like that. 

I wanted to ask about practical tips when you have a team where you need to collaborate, you wanna take this time to build a plan together, whether it’s the interview or you know, then getting into the action items and making the plan. In a school system, every board is different. We know this with scheduling and such. How do you guys do it? And sorry, I’m just curious, like when do you find those times to pull teams together? 

Julie Grundy

It depends on the school setting and the situation, the staffing and how school teams have sort of that embedded collaboration built into their school culture.

Some schools have a really strong sense of collaboration and it’s easier for them to be freed up to meet together as a team to be able to build that collaborative plan. Other schools where things are sort of passed around and maybe that collaboration culture is still in the works, it does take a little bit of time. 

And I find that if we can get the administrators on boards to help through some of that problem solving stage of like, how can we get these really important people together and why is it so important that they’re all together and have them on board to see the importance of it.

Because they’re the ones that can help make it happen at the school level, is a really key piece. And like I said, like some schools, it’s there and there’s not those same roadblocks. But for the ones that’s it’s still being sort of meshed out, for me the administrator is a key partner in it. 

Erika Ng: Yeah. Okay.

Tina Gunn

And I find too, like we now have the technology to meet online, which has been super helpful in getting everybody together for that initial meeting. And I actually found, like when I go in person, they’d be like, Okay, there, you can talk to this person for this amount of time, then you can talk to this person for that amount of time, and so on.

And I found now, because I mean, our time is so limited now. I’m just like, Okay, I have this amount of time, I can do it on, you know, I give them some options and I’m like, Can you get the maximum number of people together from the team so that we can meet together? And I just find it’s the conversations are so much richer. 

The information that has come out of those meetings just helps expedite the process. You know, sometimes having a meeting that way we can develop or start that plan within that one meeting. And some, I’ve had some that are like, Okay, that’s all we needed. Thank you. And then like, I’m like, Do you want me to do a follow up?

And they’re like, No, we’re good. We just needed help developing a plan. So it’s, you know, those conversations are super helpful and I firmly believe, like having a meeting with everyone together is super helpful versus the one-on-one meeting with this person and meeting with this person and so on.

Julie Grundy

I think that was one of the benefits of Covid actually was our push into technology and meeting online because yeah, now I can have six meetings in a day, whereas before I was having three because I would have to travel between schools. And it’s been a huge benefit that way.

Erika Ng

And like you mentioned, like even getting parents in, like you can just get the maximum number of people, it seems. Like if okay, we have 50 minutes, like how can we get everybody here online together. Yeah. That’s awesome. 

Yeah, I was just curious about that cuz I think that’s a constant struggle in the school system because you’re also dealing with like unions. And you know, and rightly so, right?

Like people have work hours and breaks that need to happen and stuff like that. And that’s really important. So it sounds to me like time is carved out in the school day. That’s like the common thing. Yeah. That’s great. 

Tina Gunn

And like Julie said, usually the administrator can make that happen. Right? And by the time, you know, the collaboration request has gone through the process, they’ve been waiting quite a while to see us, so they’re usually pretty good at making it happen if it’s an emergency. Right? So, yeah. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. That’s great. The last thing I wanted to ask about were just generally like, what are some benefits or highlights like, some like great successes you’ve seen with collaboration as a team? Like are there any like moments that stand out or highlights?

Tina Gunn

Oh gosh, there’s lots. I mean for my, for myself personally, like I have way greater job satisfaction. Like I just love working with my team members and I’ve learned so much. And like we mentioned earlier, that pressure of having to be the expert in everything is kind of lifted, cause you have a team to support you. 

You know, and seeing some of our really complex students that have kind of exhausted all of the traditional school resources and they’ve also exhausted, you know, community resources as well, making progress and seeing people happy. And, you know, they join us online and they’re like, Guess what happened?

Guess what my student did today? And you know, the, just seeing that joy it’s just, it’s lovely. Whereas before we were always going in, it was always like, nothing’s working. And now it’s like, look at what’s happened and you know, that excitement. So that’s been really great. And I think just, I’ve developed so many partnerships with community partners, both like locally and internationally.

So, and you know, we’re learning from each other and we’re all facing similar challenges and, you know, we’re working together to kinda brainstorm and how we can overcome those challenges. So that’s been really great.

Julie Grundy

And I think the idea of that multidisciplinary collaboration is you get to see what other people are doing in their passion.

So looking at and working with behavior consultants and SLPs and parents and they all bring something to the table that they’re passionate about and you have this shared experience that they can then share out on that passion. And like Tina said, like when you go back to a school and you have people running up to you and they’re like, celebrating this joy and like, this is like pure joy on their face of the successes of this student that has been struggling for so long.

Like you just can’t, you can’t replace that feeling and that experience. It’s just amazing. 

Erika Ng

That’s awesome. Ugh. That is really beautiful. What a great way to end this conversation. 

Tina Gunn

I know. When a support worker says, I love my student again. Right? Like, it’s just it. I know. I know. It’s, yeah. 

Erika Ng

That’s really powerful.

And it just makes me think, you know, of that phrase like ‘Teach from Joy’, which is like what the SBT process is all about teaching from the joy and like that just overflows. Like if the student is happy, like the staff are gonna be happy too. And I think both are important, right? Like we want staff to also be, yeah, have that job satisfaction working with their kids and like have that great relationship again.

So that’s great to hear.

Thank you so much for sharing. Wow. Such great stories and amazing insights on working together in school teams. And I think that’s such a cool thing about the process that you’re using is that it’s inherently multidisciplinary because you’re trying to get all the stakeholders in. And in a school, there’s so many stakeholders.

So it’s it’s such a great example of collaboration. So thank you so much for sharing. 

Julie Grundy

Thanks for having us. 

Tina Gunn

Thank you.

Erika Ng

The comments and views expressed in this podcast do not constitute or replace contractual behavior, analytic consultation, or professional advice. Views express are solely the perspective of the speaker and do not represent the views or position of their colleagues, employer, or other associates. Please seek out a behavior analyst through BACB website if you would like to receive further behavior consultation. 

Until next time, take care.

  1. Could I get a glimpse at the electronic application? Right now, people can just email me and it’s getting out of control. I’m the only BCBA in my district of 37 schools. And I’m tired!
    I need to create a request process.

    1. Hi Karen,
      I’d try joining the Facebook group called PFA/SBT Community. There are MANY BCBAs that work in school districts there and I’m sure someone could provide it for you! OR joining the Facebook group School-Based ABA. I personally don’t have a form as the district I was working with had a cumbersome paper method. I hope that helps!

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