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UCLA School Mental Health Project
Center for Mental Health in Schools
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Continuing Education: Unit III
|Objectives for Section A|
|A Few Focusing Questions|
|It's not about Collaboration. It's about Being Effective.|
|Differences as a Problem|
|Differences as a Barrier|
|Overcoming Barriers Related to Differences|
|Building Rapport and Connection|
|Accounting for Cultural, Racial, and Other Significant individual and Group Differences|
|One Other Observation|
Move on to
Next Page / Section B
After completing this section of the unit, you should be able to:
identify at least three necessary ingredients in building positive working relationships
identify at least three cultural competence values.
What types of differences might interfere with working
How can barriers to working relationships be overcome?
What is role might cultural competence and cultural values play in enhancing working relationships?
Treat people as if they were
what they ought to be
and you help them become
what they are capable of being.
Most of us know how hard it is to work effectively with a group. Many staff members at a school site have jobs that allow them to carry out their duties each day in relative isolation of other staff. And despite various frustrations they encounter in doing so, they can see little to be gained through joining up with others. In fact, they often can point to many committees and teams that drained their time and energy to little avail.
Despite all this, the fact remains that no organization can be truly effective if everyone works in isolation. And it is a simple truth that there is no way for schools to play their role in addressing barriers to student learning and enhancing healthy development if a critical mass of stakeholders do not work together towards a shared vision. There are policies to advocate for, decisions to make, problems to solve, and interventions to plan, implement, and evaluate.
Obviously, true collaboration involves more than meeting and talking. The point is to work together in ways that produce the type of actions that result in effective programs. For this to happen, steps must be taken to ensure that committees, councils, and teams are formed in ways that ensure they can be effective. This includes providing them with the training, time, support, and authority to carry out their role and functions. It is when such matters are ignored that groups find themselves meeting and meeting, but going nowhere.
There are many committees and teams that those concerned with addressing barriers to learning and promoting healthy development can and should be part of. These include school-site shared decision making bodies, committees that plan programs, teams that review students referred because of problems and that manage care, quality review bodies, and program management teams.
Probably the most common, and ultimately the most damaging, mistake made by those eager to work together as a team or collaborative is moving to create a meeting structure before clearly specifying the ongoing functions that will guide the work. .For example, community collaboratives are a frequently formed structure that brings together leaders from school and community (e.g., public and private service and youth development programs). There is a hope that by having key people meet together significant program and systemic changes will be developed (e.g., changes that will enhance access and availability of services and improve coordination and integration).
Instead what often happens is the following . . .
Because they seldom have time to meet together, the leaders take the opportunity of the first couple of meetings to share what they are doing and to learn more about what others are doing. However, after the first meetings, it becomes evident that the group has no functions beyond communication and sharing. Having done their sharing, the leaders usually decide the meeting is not worth their time, and they begin sending their middle managers.
The middle managers usually are pleased for the chance to meet their counterparts and do some sharing. Again, this usually lasts for a couple of meetings before they decide to send line staff to represent them.
The line staff usually are pleased to come together to learn about each others work and often with a strong desire to see greater collaboration among schools and community institutions and agencies. However, as they discuss matters, it is painfully evident to them that nothing major can be changed because those with decision making power are no longer at the table.
After several more meetings, the participants usually tire of "appreciating the problem" and describing possible solutions that are never heard by those in decision making roles. The result is that attendance drops or becomes sporadic with new faces appearing as one line staff member fills in for another. Sometimes this results in outreach to a new set of institutions/agencies, but the process tends to repeat itself.
The problem arises from setting up structures before there is clarity about functions that require attention. It is the functions that should determine the mechanism (structure) that will be established to address them. The point to remember is that structure follows function. (And, functions should be generated in keeping with the vision that is being pursued. A successful structure is one that is designed to focus relentlessly on carrying out specific functions.
Take for example the need to identify and analyze the resources in the community to decide where the gaps are and how to fill them. This requires several mechanisms. The identification process involves the collection of existing information. This can be done quickly by assigning a couple of individuals to "jump start" the process by preparing a working document. Drafts can be widely circulated so that many stakeholders can review and add to the product. Then, a collaborative body of key leaders is ready to meet and begin the process of analysis and formulation of possible courses of action. The group's next functions would involve discussions with stakeholders to arrive at consensus about which courses of action will be taken.
The figure below emphasizes the relationship between vision, functions, and structures with respect to efforts to develop comprehensive, multifaceted approaches for addressing barriers to learning and promoting healthy development.
Forming a Working Group
Differences as a Problem
In pursuing mental health functions, a school's staff must be sensitive to a variety of human, community, and institutional differences and learn strategies for dealing with them.
With respect to working with students and their parents, staff members encounter
and much more.
In addition, there are differences related to power, status, and orientation.
And, for many newcomers to a school, the culture of schools in general and that of a specific school and community may differ greatly from other settings where they have lived and worked.
For school staff, existing differences may make it difficult to establish effective working relationships with students and others who effect the student. For example, many schools do not have staff who can reach out to students whose primary language is Spanish, Korean, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Armenian, and so forth. And although workshops and presentations are offered in an effort to increase specific cultural awareness, what can be learned in this way is limited, especially when one is in a school of many cultures.
There also is a danger in prejudgments based on apparent cultural awareness. There are many reports of students who have been victimized by professionals who are so sensitized to cultural differences that they treat fourth generation Americans as if they had just migrated from their cultural homeland. Obviously, it is desirable to hire staff who have the needed language skills and cultural awareness and who do not rush to prejudge.
Given the realities of budgets and staff recruitment, however, schools cannot hire a separate specialist for all the major language, cultural, and skin color differences that exist in a school and community.
Nevertheless, the objectives of accounting for relevant differences while respecting individuality can be appreciated and addressed.
"A 14 year old Filipino wanted help, but his mother told me her culture doesn't recognize the need for counseling."
"Despite the parents' resistance to accepting the need for treatment, we decided the student had to be sent to the emergency room after the suicide attempt."
"A 15 year old Vietnamese attempted suicide because her parents were forcing her into an arranged marriage."
"An 18 year old Latina student reported suicidal ideation; she expressed extreme resentment toward her father for being so strict that he would not allow her to date."
As these cases illustrate, differences can result in problems for students, parents, and staff. Although such problems are not easily resolved, they are solvable as long as everyone works in the best interests of the student, and the differences are not allowed to become barriers to relating with others.
As part of a working relationship, differences can be complementary and helpful -- as when staff from different disciplines work with and learn from each other.
Differences become a barrier to establishing effective working relationships when negative attitudes are allowed to prevail. Interpersonally, the result generally is conflict and poor communication.
For example, differences in status, skin color, power, orientation, and so forth can cause one or more persons to enter the situation with negative (including competitive) feelings. And such feelings often motivate conflict.
Many individuals (students, staff) who have been treated unfairly, been discriminated against, been deprived of opportunity and status at school, on the job, and in society use whatever means they can to seek redress and sometimes to strike back. Such an individual may promote conflict in hopes of correcting power imbalances or at least to call attention to a problem.
Often, however, power differentials are so institutionalized that individual action has little impact.
It is hard and frustrating to fight an institution.
It is much easier and immediately satisfying to fight with other individuals one sees as representing that institution.
However, when this occurs where individuals are supposed to work together, those with negative feelings may act and say things in ways that produce significant barriers to establishing a working relationship. Often, the underlying message is "you don't understand," or worse yet "you probably don't want to understand." Or, even worse, "you are my enemy."
It is unfortunate when such barriers arise between students and those trying to help them; it is a travesty when such barriers interfere with the helpers working together effectively. Staff conflicts detract from accomplishing goals and contribute in a major way to "burn out."
Understanding Barriers to Effective Working Relationships
Barriers to Motivational Readiness
**Riger also cautions: "If empowerment of the disenfranchised is the primary value, then what is to hold together societies made up of different groups? Competition among groups for dominance and control without the simultaneous acknowledgement of common interests can lead to a conflict like we see today in the former Yugoslavia. . . . Does empowerment of disenfranchised people and groups simultaneously bring about a greater sense of community and strengthen the ties that hold our society together,or does it promote certain individuals or groups at the expense of others, increasing competitiveness and lack of cohesion?"
Overcoming Barriers Related to Differences
When the problem is only one of poor skills, it is relatively easy to overcome. Most motivated professionals can be directly taught ways to improve communication and avoid or resolve conflicts that interfere with working relationships.
There are, however, no easy solutions to overcoming deeply embedded negative attitudes. Certainly, a first step is to understand that the nature of the problem is not differences per se but negative perceptions stemming from the politics and psychology of the situation.
It is these perceptions that lead to
To find ways
Building Rapport and Connection
To be effective in working with another person (student, parent, staff), you need to build a positive relationship around the tasks at hand.
Necessary ingredients in building a working relationship are
specific respect to building relationships and effective communication,
three things you can do are:
Finally, watch out for ego-oriented behavior (yours and theirs) -- it tends to get in the way of accomplishing the task at hand.Move on to:
Contents of Section A