Competent Consultation in Schools: Information
for School Psychologists and School
"The greatest distance between people is not space. The greatest distance
between people is culture." Jamake Highwater (Native American
choreographer, author and lecturer, 1932-2001)
As America's schools become increasingly
diverse, school psychologists and educational personnel face the challenge
of providing services that enhance the mental health and educational competence
of all children. In order to succeed with this challenge, school psychologists
and the teams they work with must understand the ways in which cultural and
linguistic differences influence how a child views and interacts with his
or her environment, including how children learn and behave in school.
Over the course of any given school year, a school psychologist may be asked
to consult with school personnel and/or parents of culturally or linguistically
diverse students on issues such as the lack of academic progress of a limited-English proficient
student, or the behavioral difficulties of a student who recently immigrated
to this country. Given the growing diversity in the U.S. student
population, and the fact that the majority of school psychologists are not
culturally or linguistically diverse, it is imperative that school psychologists
utilize culturally competent practices when providing school-based consultation
School psychologists benefit from understanding how communication breakdowns
may interfere with developing and maintaining a positive rapport with others
from diverse backgrounds.
It is imperative that school psychologists recognize when cultural clashes
are responsible for the break down in communication and actively work to
resolve these issues. Several studies suggest the attentiveness and responsiveness
of the consultant to racial issues, and not the consultant's race, determine
ratings of consultant effectiveness and multicultural sensitivity (Ingraham,
2000). This means that all school psychologists and school personnel,
regardless of cultural differences, can increase their effectiveness as consultants
through learning and integrating culturally competent principles into their
The following information will help school psychologists and the teams they
work with to provide effective and culturally sensitive consultation.
- Culture: "An
organized set of thoughts, beliefs, and norms for interaction and communication,
all of which may influence cognitions, behaviors, and perceptions" (Ingraham,
2000, p. 325). Variables that influence an individual's culture include race,
ethnicity, language, age, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status,
educational attainment and level of acculturation.
- Consultation: "A
method of providing preventively oriented psychological and educational services
in which consultants and consultees form cooperative partnerships and engage
in a reciprocal, systematic problem-solving process...to enhance and empower
consultees, thereby promoting students' well-being and performance" (Zins & Erchul,
2002, p. 625).
- Consultant: Refers
to a school psychologist or other related service provider.
- Consultee: In
schools, the consultee is most often a teacher or other school professional
(e.g., reading specialist) seeking help regarding a specific student or classroom-based
problem, though sometimes a family member may be the consultee, or even the
school district or school as a whole when systemic consultation is the focus.
Consultation: "A culturally sensitive, indirect service in which the
consultant adjusts the consultation services to address the needs and cultural
values of the consultee, the client, or both" (Tarver Behring & Ingraham,
1998, p. 58).
Consultation: A subset of multicultural consultation where at least
one consulting triad member (consultant, consultee, client) differs culturally
from the other(s) (Ingraham, 2000).
Section I: Learning and Skill Development
"There are two ways of exerting one's strength: one is pushing down,
the other is pulling up." Booker T. Washington (Post-Civil
War author, educator, and leader, 1856-1915)
In order to practice in a culturally competent manner, consulting school
psychologists must understand their own culture and how it impacts others,
must respect and value other cultures, and must learn how to design and implement
culturally appropriate interventions. School psychologists must also develop
an understanding of how to build bridges across cultural differences while
recognizing that there are individual differences within cultural groups
(Ingraham, 2000). Learning to frame the problem and the consultation process
in a way that values multiple perspectives and creates emotional safety and
motivational support is also a key.
Consulting school psychologists must understand the culture of the school
and the school as a system. This involves developing an awareness of the
school in terms of attitudes and beliefs about culturally and linguistically
diverse children (Lopez & Truesdell, in press). Consultants must also
understand that policies and norms within the system may have a direct influence
on the quality and types of services provided to students. Culturally and
linguistically diverse students are often provided multiple services that
are delivered across programs and staff in schools (e.g., English language
learners may receive English as a second language, bilingual education, and
bilingual special education services). In order to effectively coordinate
service delivery, an understanding of how those services are delivered must
be developed so that consistent interventions and supports can be implemented
School psychologists must not only strive to increase their own knowledge,
skills, and objectivity as they relate to working with culturally diverse
populations, they must also encourage and inspire individuals and the teams
they work with to do the same. The specific goals for consultee learning
and development may vary depending on whether the consultee is a teacher,
family member or administrator.
Teachers: It is vitally important that
teachers and other school personnel begin to recognize and decrease the tendency
to filter perceptions through stereotypes, overemphasize culture, or take
a color-blind approach (Ingraham, 2000). One way consulting school psychologists
can help school personnel grow in this area is to point out inaccurate perceptions
that are held about the child or family. For instance, a teacher may comment
that a student with limited English proficiency is not making sufficient
reading progress because nobody at home is reading to the student. Comments
such as these imply that the family does not want to help the child, when
in fact it may be that parents feel uncomfortable reading to the child due
to linguistic differences or do not understand the teacher's expectations
for working with the child at home. In cases such as these, school psychologists
and teachers can work together to find creative ways that family members
can become more involved in the child's educational efforts.
Families: Consultants should help families gain
the knowledge and skills they need to be a proactive force in the educational
success of their children. Often families want to do more to help their child
succeed in school but lack specific knowledge regarding how to help or have
had negative experiences with schooling here or in their home culture that
make them more likely to avoid home-school collaboration. In addition, families
often need information to help bridge the gap between home and school in
terms of academic expectations, homework, and philosophies about school-home
interaction. Families who have newly immigrated to the U.S. also
may need specific information about the educational system and the district's
standards before fully understanding how to work with the school to best
help their child.
Administrators: Consultants periodically consult
with administrators on systemic issues related to cultural diversity. Traditionally,
school success has been defined in terms of a White, middle class norm and
students whose realities differ from this norm are generally required to
make adjustments to achieve educational success (Lee, 2001). When culturally
diverse students are not meeting school norms on a regular basis, consultants
should help administrators look for systemic barriers such as policies, norms,
and communication patterns that may be interfering with a high quality education
for all children. One way to overcome these barriers is to implement professional
development experiences for teachers and other school personnel on culturally
competent practices. Another potential intervention is to collaborate with
administrators and community stakeholders on joint initiatives. For instance,
culturally diverse individuals from the community could come into the school
as tutors, classroom presenters, assembly speakers, or experts for professional
Section II: Culturally Competent Consultation Across Problem-Solving
The problem-solving process is the essence of consultation and typically
follows five stages (Zins & Erchul, 2000). First, a strong collaborative
relationship is established. Second, the problem is defined in clear, concise,
and measurable terms. Third, goals for intervention are established and the
intervention is designed. Fourth, the intervention is implemented. Fifth,
the effectiveness of the intervention is monitored and altered as necessary.
Cultural issues may emerge during any of these stages. The following points
were adapted from Sheridan (2000) unless otherwise noted.
Establish a Cooperative Partnership
- A key aspect for creating a strong partnership is developing a mutual
sense of trust and respect, which requires valuing cultural differences
- It is important to develop a sense of shared ownership. This may be difficult
for individuals whose cultural background has taught them to defer to authority.
For instance, Hispanic parents, due to their respect for authority, often
have difficulty collaboratively participating in the educational decision
making process and sometimes go along with suggestions they do not agree
with or do not fully understand (Correa & Tulbert, 1993).
- When collaborating, take into consideration how parents from diverse
cultures view collaboration in schools. Parents may define collaboration
differently ranging from cooperating to becoming full decision-making partners
in the process (Lopez & Truesdell, in press).
Problem Definition & Analysis
- It is vitally important to not allow cultural differences to be construed
as the problem. However, cultural differences must be recognized and acknowledged
during the problem definition stage so that appropriate interventions can
- Recognize that differences in values may influence the perception of
the problem behavior and that a traditional viewpoint that the problem
rests within the child may cause discomfort. Avoid labeling or categorizing
deficiencies. Instead, focus on specific behaviors and reframe the problem
as a "mismatch" between the child, home and school.
- The consultant and consultee must look at the learner's cultural and
linguistic background as well as their educational background. For example,
within an instructional context, the consultant and consultee should look
at the delivery of instruction within a multicultural context and examine
whether the learner has the background knowledge required to complete the
task (Lopez & Truesdell, in press).
- When working with families who
are not proficient in English, allow additional time to communicate through
interpreters to determine families' concerns,
priorities and resources (Lopez, 2000).
- It is important to recognize that
the behavioral scrutiny often required in data collection may be viewed
as an invasion of privacy in some cultures. Consultants should openly discuss
the contribution data make toward identifying the problem in concise and
measurable terms and adjust the data collection process to align with a
view when possible.
- Finally, recognize that a consulting school psychologist's
attempts to self-monitor their actions may be seen as inappropriate. While
a consulting school psychologist may wish to acknowledge a lack of cultural
knowledge or potential bias related to the case, this information may not
be well received by those who frown on sharing perceived weaknesses outside
of one's family.
Goal and Intervention Development
- Cultural differences may lead to mismatched goals and expectations. Offer
school personnel and parents opportunities to develop goals that compliment
one another, yet at the same time are consistent with their preferred goals.
- Explore the possibility of a mismatch between common behavioral interventions
and the consultee's acceptance of those procedures. For example, a teacher
and school psychologist may wish to implement a behavioral plan in the
home and school that includes reinforcers for appropriate behavior, but
the parents, due to cultural differences, disagree with the use of reinforcers.
This intervention will not be successful unless all parties reach a compromise
regarding the use of reinforcers.
- Recognize that successful implementation of an intervention is linked
to the match between the design of the intervention and the cultural realities
of the home and/or school. Considerations such as time and material resources
must be taken into account during intervention development in order for
the intervention to be successful.
integrity will be maximized if the intervention's goals and plan are developed
in a culturally sensitive and cooperative manner.
with implementation may be linked to unidentified variables. Even careful,
culturally competent consultants will sometimes overlook an implementation
barrier that is linked to a cultural or linguistic difference. When interventions
are not being implemented according to plan, potential barriers should be
- It is vitally important to ensure consultees do not feel judged negatively
if goals are not met. Instead, acknowledge that the goals have not yet
been met and collectively consider barriers to treatment success, and whether
strategies should be modified or if new interventions should be designed
- At the conclusion of the consultation, work to
establish systems of support that will help sustain intervention success
over time. This is particularly important when working with families. Families
should be left with the sense that they are a collaborative partner with
the school in the education of their child and that their input will be
valued in the future.
Given the growing diversity of the U.S. population,
it is imperative that school psychologists and other educational professionals
engage in culturally competent practices. This is particularly true during
the provision of consultative services because the outcome of a specific
consultation and the strength of the relationships established can have profound
implications for a child's present and future success in school. All educational
stakeholders, including school personnel, parents and community members working
in the schools, have a responsibility to examine and increase their cultural
competence so that our efforts meet the needs of all of our children.
Correa, V. I., & Tulbert, B. (1993). Collaboration
between school personnel in special education and Hispanic families. Journal
of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 4, 253-265.
Ingraham, C. L. (2000). Consultation through a multicultural lens: Multicultural
and cross-cultural consultation in schools. School Psychology Review,
Lee, C. C. (2001). Culturally responsive school counselors and programs:
Addressing the needs of all students. Professional School Counseling,
Lopez, E. (2000). Conducting instructional consultation
through interpreters. School Psychology Review, 29, 378-388.
Lopez, E. C., & Truesdell, L. (In press). Multicultural issues
in instructional consultation for English language learners. In
G. Esquivel, E. C. Lopez & S. Nahari (Eds.), Handbook on multicultural
school psychology. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Sheridan, S. M. (2000). Considerations of multiculturalism
and diversity in behavioral consultation with parents and teachers. School
Psychology Review, 29, 389-400.
Tarver Behring, S., & Ingraham, C. L. (1998). Culture
as a central component to consultation: A call to the field. Journal of
Educational and Psychological Consultation, 9, 57-72.
Zins, J. E., & Erchul, W. P. (2002). Best practices
in school consultation. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices
in school psychology (4th ed., pp. 625-643). Bethesda, MD. National
Association of School Psychologists.
Practicing the Three C's: Cross Cultural Competence in School
Promoting Cultural Diversity and Cultural Competency: Self-Assessment
Checklist for Personnel Providing Services and Supports to Children and
Karen L. Nuijens, MA is a doctoral student in the school psychology program
at the University of Maryland and a 2004-2005 intern at NASP
Headquarters. Mary Beth Klotz, PhD, NCSP is NASP Director
of IDEA Projects and Technical Assistance.
Emilia C. Lopez, PhD, NCSP is an Associate Professor
of School Psychology, and Co-Director of the Bilingual Psychological
and Educational Support Center, Queens College, CUNY.
©2004, National Association of School
Psychologists, 4340 East West Hwy. #402; Bethesda, MD 20814, www.nasponline.org, phone (301) 657-0270,
fax (301) 657-0275, TTY (301) 657-4155