Tips for Effective Special Education Teams

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” This quote from Henry Ford demonstrates an effective teaming process. Effective teams take time, commitment, and trust to work. I’ve had the pleasure of working with amazing special education teams, but those teams didn’t become amazing accidentally.
By Trish Geraghty

Tips for Effective Special Education Teams

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” This quote from Henry Ford demonstrates an effective teaming process. Effective teams take time, commitment, and trust to work. I’ve had the pleasure of working with amazing special education teams, but those teams didn’t become amazing accidentally. Great teams take work and are built on trust. I’ve also observed ineffective teams that resemble strangers coming together to talk about students’ concerns uninterested in solutions, only commiserating about problems. Here are some tips to develop an effective special education team.


Establish clear roles and responsibilities for team meetings

As with any team having a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities is essential. Don’t assume people know their roles or that the team doesn’t need a leader or facilitator. Take time to determine what roles are needed. “Meetings are a team sport. Great team leaders don’t try to do all the work alone” (Keith, 2019). Here are some roles to consider:

  • Facilitator: The facilitator is responsible for creating and sending the agenda out before the meeting, ensuring the meeting is focused on the topics, and aligning the discussion to the overall vision. Alignment to the school or department’s vision is two prong. First, it helps with decision-making and secondly, it keeps the heart of the work and direction present.
  • Note taker: This one speaks for itself. Something to consider is what template will be used for taking concise notes that works in tandem with the agenda and action steps.
  • Time keeper: This role sounds simple enough until it is your responsibility to bring the group back from an entertaining tangent. Time keepers help the facilitator in taking on track and time.
  • Communication liaison: This isn’t one of the standard roles but incredibly helpful in creating effective teams. Everyone cannot or should not attend all meetings, but some stakeholders still need to be made aware of the decisions discussed and made at those meetings. The communication liaison reports back to stakeholders with the necessary information.
  • Norm enforcer: This role also supports the facilitator in adhering to the agenda and reminding team members of the agreed upon norms. Be sure to use objective language and relate all redirections back to those norms.
  • Promise tracker: This is a new one to me and I love it. I found this role at Inc. magazine in 8 Meeting Roles to Assign to Your Team to Inspire More Productive Meetings. “This person keeps track of all the promises made during the meeting as a list of action items or tasks. If you want to make sure your meetings result in action after the meeting, having someone focused explicitly on documenting those actions helps a lot” (Keith, 2019).

Try-out some of those roles or create your own that will help your team stay focused and accomplish the goals.

After roles have been established it is time to move on to developing norms to guide the team’s interaction. “Team norms are used to help guide the behavior of team members and are used to assess how well team members are interacting. These guidelines enable members of a team to call each other out on any behavior that is dysfunctional, disruptive, or that is negatively impacting the success of the team’s work” (Heathfield, 2020).  Norms support the work and vision the team is trying to accomplish while removing the emotional reactions and balancing personalities. Be sure to review the shared norms at the start of each meeting and remind everyone of their roles. Norms and roles cultivate effective teams.



Every effective team must have strong communication. “Communication should be honest in order to develop trust. Teams that fail to communicate effectively will waste time and energy doing things that aren’t necessary” (Dunne, 2021). Communication can take several forms and should be considered based on the content of the message. Not every message can or should be delivered in an email. This overused (in my opinion) form of communication leads to frequent misunderstandings. Avoid misunderstandings by intentionally planning your message and following up to check for understanding.

Here are some tips from High Leverage Practices for Students with Disabilities that highlights communication as an essential skill in collaborating with other professionals to increase student achievement.

• Demonstrate verbal active listening skills (e.g., paraphrasing).

• Demonstrate nonverbal active listening skills (e.g., facial expressions).

• Use open-ended questioning to encourage active participation and sharing of information from other professionals.

• Use statements that are accurate and descriptive rather than vague and evaluative.”

Use these tips to help foster a collaborative environment. Thoughtfully plan your messages around the receiver and choose the most beneficial form of communication.


Maximize strengths

We all join a team with our individual strengths but often do not know how to use those strengths for the betterment of the team. Start with sharing what your strengths are and how those strengths help you accomplish your tasks. Then ask your colleagues about their strengths and how those strengths support their work. “Team members who understand one another’s abilities not only trust one another, they can easily distinguish the areas in which their time and talents are most effectively applied from those better left in the hands of teammates. It’s easy to see how this improves the team’s efficiency” (Gallup, 2021).

  • Create a list of team functions, then allocate responsibility for each according to team members’ strengths.
  • Ask team members to consciously consider: “Who am I, and what do I contribute?”
  • Distribute leadership and responsibility according to strengths.
  • Remember that consistency and practice are the keys.”

All the meetings in my unit have the team members’ strengths included in the meeting agenda and aligned to the roles assigned for the meeting (e.g. Trish, achiever, facilitator). This streamlines the meeting because each member is operating from an area of strength and allows us to flex those strengths to accomplish the work. We also use this strategy when assigning projects and determining powerful pairs for tasks. I always pair myself with a colleague that has Communication when working on strategic planning. If attending a networking event is on my schedule I solicit the help of a colleague with WOO (winning others over). Powerful pairing alleviates my concerns of operating from a point of weakness to maximizing strengths through partnerships. Try it at your next meeting.


Schedule frequent meetings

This concept goes hand-in-hand with communication. Short frequent meetings that are student-focus and aligned with the vision is a powerful tool in effective teams. The last thing people want to do is attend another meeting at the end of the day that could have been sent in an email. If you are the facilitator for these meetings remember if it can be said in an email, you do not need to meet. That being said, there are topics that require discussions and decision making, focus your meetings on those topics. The most successful teams I’ve worked with meet weekly for no longer than 45 minutes to discuss upcoming student meetings, concerns, and collaboration.

  • Start with a short SEL check-in to center the team on the work or celebration

This really helps to set the tone of the meeting in a positive manner.

  • Send out the agenda several days before the meeting
  • Clearly define roles (incorporate Strengths when you can)
  • Break down tasks into manageable action steps

This suggestion comes from Thrive Global. “A good exercise to cut away any unnecessary and boring meeting content is to ask yourself, ‘Can we break down a complex task into one actionable goal, and then follow up on it at the next meeting, next week?’ Asking this question helps keep the meeting concise and actionable” (Khidekel, 2020).


Sharing is caring

One of the most beautiful aspects of working with a team is collaboration and co-planning. Why recreate the wheel when your colleague already has one?



C. Dunne. Tameday. 40 team communication quotes to inspire your team. 2021. https://www.tameday.com/team-communication-quotes/

S. Heathfield. The Balance Careers. How and why to create team norms. (2020). https://www.thebalancecareers.com/how-and-why-to-create-team-norms-1919229#:~:text=Once%20developed%2C%20team%20norms%20are,success%20of%20the%20team’s%20work.

High Leverage Practices for Students with Disabilities. HLP1: Collaborate with professionals to increase student success. (2017). https://highleveragepractices.org/introducing-high-leverage-practices-special-education-professional-development-guide-school-leaders

Gallup. Building a team with talent. (2021). https://my.gallup.com/direct/app/3?refTarget=article&rqp_itemId=385&rqp_itemVersion=14&rqp_languageCode=en-US&rqp_mediaType=Article&rqp_spaceCodeName=GSSLEARN

E. Keith. Inc. 8 Meeting Roles to Assign to Your Team to Inspire More Productive Meetings. 2019. https://www.inc.com/jelise-keith/8-meeting-roles-to-assign-to-your-team-to-inspire-more-productive-meetings.html

D. Kerpen. Inc. 15 Quotes to inspire great teamwork. (2014). https://www.inc.com/dave-kerpen/15-quotes-to-inspire-great-team-work.html

M. Khidekel. Work Smarter. How to keep meetings focused, efficient, and productive. 2020. https://thriveglobal.com/stories/how-to-keep-meetings-focused-productive-work-tips/

Trish Geraghty
Trish Geraghty, an accomplished educational leader with 20+ years of experience, excels in curriculum development, instructional design, and professional development. Her proven track record includes successful support for schools, districts, educators, and students. Committed to ensuring universal access to high-quality learning, Trish is a visionary advocate for inclusive education. Her innovative approach to curriculum development reflects a keen understanding of evolving standards. Trish's transformative influence extends beyond traditional boundaries, actively contributing to the broader advancement of education. A catalyst for positive change, she inspires excellence in others, shaping the future of education through unwavering commitment and visionary leadership.

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