Top 10 Consulting Tips

Tips to use when consulting with educators. Make suggestions related to some practice the consultee already demonstrates whenever possible.

Make suggestions related to some practice the consultee already demonstrates whenever possible.

Key concept: This can be a practice the teacher uses with another student, in another class, or with this student at other times. Change is more likely to be embraced if the consultee believes they already do something you want them to do, only slightly differently now.

Example: "Kayla (consultee), I noticed that the students were all highly engaged when you did that delightful lesson on "short a" sound yesterday. I wonder if some of the ways you got Jayden and Anita (students who required infrequent minor redirection) so involved might be effective for Kai (Student requiring frequent minor redirection). Do you remember the skillful way you cued them? (You have now given a reinforcer to this consultee - praise.) You smiled at Jayden and Anita, tapped the desk, and looked expectant. Let's talk a little bit about your thoughts on using this technique with Kai."

Know the law and be ready to empathetically show how this suggestion is consistent with legal requirements.

Key concept: When resistance to change is discovered, it is important for the consultant to convey their understanding of the consultee's position, yet in a friendly way convey absolute legal requirements. Use a "confidante" demeanor, not an IEP police, judge, compliance documenting demeanor.

Example: "Kayla, I completely understand how difficult and time-consuming it can be to implement IEP accommodations, especially when you have a big class. Let's work together to make it manageable. It's what Kai needs, and I want to help you avoid legal repercussions. I had a friend who was personally sued by a parent. Fortunately for my friend the parent dropped the charges, or she could have been in serious trouble! Especially since "Doe vs. Withers" set the legal precedent for a teacher to be personally liable and forced to pay fines out of his own pocket over failure to implement an IEP. I wouldn't want anything like that to happen to you! So, how can I support you? Do you think these accommodations are ineffective, or do you have alternative ideas? If so, we can hold a new IEP meeting to develop different accommodations. Or I'd be happy to provide you with support in overcoming any barriers you've encountered with allowing Kai to take tests orally."

Involve the student whenever possible in planning, truly valuing and acting upon their input.

Key Concept: When all stakeholders (including the student!) have had a say, commitment to change is enhanced.

Example: "Kai, we are all meeting here today to talk about how to help you learn better in school and we will all be talking about what might help you get better grades, complete more work, and stay on task more easily. We want you to give us your ideas as we talk about strategies we have to help you. Everyone should give their opinions about what might work, and what might not work. First, let's talk about why it is hard to concentrate in school and follow through with your seat work. What is hard about doing this? Are there things that might make it easier for you?"

Make the change seem like the consultee thought of it.

Key Concept: If the consultee thinks of a solution to a problem, even one that requires a lot of shaping to be viable, follow-through is more likely.

Example: "I wonder what we can think of to help us solve this problem, Kayla. Let's think about it together for a moment." (PAUSE and WAIT! Try not to be the first person with an idea. Silence makes many people uncomfortable, and eventually they tend to suggest something to end it. Then take any suggestion offered and help shape it into a viable plan). "That's an interesting idea, Kayla! More reinforcement for getting the work done sounds good to me! Great starting place! Thanks! I wonder how we can do that since Kai isn't completing a lot of work yet. Let's talk about details like when, how often, what it looks like and so forth. I think we are off to a great start!"

Be aware of systemic issues and gather support hierarchically.

Key Concept: Effecting consultee change often requires involvement of others hierarchically above the consultee in the school system, close colleagues, and those the consultee supervises.

Example: (Kayla is struggling to effectively set up a classroom to support students with autism, having had very little training or preparation. You have communicated this with decision makers who would like to find a way to help Kayla develop these skills. They have agreed to let Kayla observe a skillful implementor with you, attend a training, and supervise/reinforce outcomes.)

"Kayla, this afternoon I noticed how attentive the students were to how attentive the students were to your instruction at the start of the math lesson. I wonder how we can get that same kind of attentiveness throughout the day. I was talking to Mr. Park (program specialist) and mentioned this, and they said it would be possible for us to go look at a classroom where attentiveness is at a high level. You and this teacher could share some techniques. What do you think about that idea? Ms. Kennedy (principal) tells me they really want to help you implement any new ideas you observe so the students are more engaged, and suggested funding to send you to a training as well! I certainly know Lee and Dana (colleague teachers) would love to hear about what we observe and would love to see it in action if we find strategies that seem appropriate to implement!"

Separate consulting from supervision or documenting poor performance.

Key concept: If you come in to "help improve outcomes for students" you will find more receptivity than if you come in to "document the problems in this classroom".

Example: If documentation and/or improvement plans must be developed, trade this role with another. Pair with a colleague who will perform documentation, performance improvement planning, etc. for you, and you do the same for them. Your "partner" will explain your consultant role following the improvement plan development. You then come into the classroom, shaping consultee behavior. Remember shaping means reinforcing closer and closer approximations of a consultee behavior you wish to increase.

Identify barriers to change before you begin your consultation recommendations.

Key concept: There are many valid barriers to implementation of recommendations. Having a discussion about these barriers, developing ideas of ways to potentially work around the barriers, can help support implementation of recommendations.

Money: "You might be thinking, how will we implement some of these recommendations from our team with no additional funding. As we go over each recommendation, let's frankly talk about whether additional funds are necessary, or whether we can do this in lieu of some of the things we have been using that haven't worked."

Time: "Let's talk about the issue of time to do these changes if you think that might be a barrier. You've said that implementing the plan is going to take too much time from your instruction. I'd like to tell you about another teacher who had similar thoughts - they were struggling to implement the reinforcement plan, because they felt like the didn't have time. But, when we talked about it, they realized they were spending an average of 15 minutes per class period redirecting the student and the repercussions of the challenging behavior. When they tried implementing the reinforcement schedule, they realized it took less time than managing the off-task behavior."

Lack of expertise: "In my experience doing some things in a different way is like learning to drive a car. It seems difficult at first, but with practice, it gets easier. I can have Dana come in and model what we are talking about and give you feedback as well until we get this off the ground. That might really help. What do you think, Kayla?"

Lack of commitment to teaching in general, and to individualized supports in particular: "Teaching really has become a challenging career, hasn't it. There are so many changes to keep up with! It sure would be easier if all the students in this class would perform like Jayden, huh. But since they don't, we'll have to put in supports for others until their behavior is up to our expectations, just like we design lessons for students whose academics aren't on grade level yet. I know Ms. Kennedy (principal) is really planning on focusing on how to help teachers better individualize supports for the students so they can reach high academic standards. I can help you really enhance their performance and it will really stand out at this school."

Involve principal, have them thank the teacher in advance for their efforts, communicating compassionately the extent of scrutiny and feedback which will be given by the principal for outcomes.

Lack of monitoring/performance appraisals: "Ms. Kennedy (principal) tells me they will be closely watching outcomes this year for all of our students. Together, I think we may be able to make a difference for your three most challenging students. I'll be able to check in about once a week to see what support you need, and I know Ms. Kennedy will be dropping by your classroom - and no doubt asking me if their behavior is coming along as well."

Philosophical differences: "I understand that in the past you have not wanted to use individualized reinforcers for behavior that you expect all your 4th graders to exhibit, Kayla. I also wish Kai would switch to a new behavior instead of having a tantrum to show displeasure without reinforcement. It would be so much easier for teachers! But what we know about behavior change is this: the student was getting something or avoiding something in the past with this behavior. Until they can get what they want or appropriately express displeasure, using the new behavior we will teach, Kai will fall back on the old behavior. It is such a habit. We need Kai to really recognize the benefits of the new behavior and generalize it to lots of situations. Only reinforcement will do that. Let's talk about how we can do that with minimal disruptions in your class. Once Kai is showing us the behavior consistently, we can begin to slowly back off on reinforcers."

Find ways to cue new behavior.

Key Concept: Consultees need prompting to assure implementation of the plan, and thus their new behavior, really occurs. While the amount of support individuals need will vary, two to three times per week is likely a good place to start in the early phase.


  • Whenever possible in the initial phase, come into the environment and cue using expectant facial expressions, or any gestures you have pre-discussed or you feel confident the teacher will interpret as a cue.
  • Send a short e-mail asking how it is going.
  • Leave a note in their mailbox checking in.
  • Contact by phone during or after school (it is recommended that you set up a phone call time with the consultee, so it does not intrude on their time and other duties)

Provide thoughtful and individualized reinforcement for following through on the plan.

Key Concept: All new behavior is maintained by the reinforcement it receives. Sometimes reinforcement from others are even more powerful than from the consultant (e.g., the principal or other administrator, colleagues, etc.). The consultant arranges reinforcement thoughtfully by discovering what reinforcement will be most valued by the consultee.

The consultant should also consider the frequency, variety, and immediacy of the reinforcement provided to the consultee.

Establish follow-up schedule and persons who may assist with this.

Key concept: The consultant cannot provide recommendations and never come back, nor can they be there every day. As such, the consultant will need to recruit others to support in follow-up and support.


  • Consultee to be observed informally by principal every week (with reinforcement as described above)
  • Consultant to inquire on success during lunch meeting, twice weekly

Consulting Strategies was presented at the PENT Forum by Diana Browning Wright, MS, and has been adapted here to ensure accessibility.