Patterns of verbal interaction in an interdisciplinary team in a special education school in Israel : an ethnographic case study
This study deals with the description and analysis of patterns of verbal
interaction in an interdisciplinary team in a special school, the aim being to
discover the ongoing processes that occur in the work of the team.
The research examines the team members' perceptions of their role and of
the pupils and explores key concepts that are specific to the various experts in
relating to the pupils and to the roles in an interdisciplinary team. Characteristic
patterns of communication in meetings of the Individual Education Plan team
and the administrative team are investigated. This research is the first of its kind
in investigating interactions in an interdisciplinary team in the Israeli educational
The research was conducted as a case study in a special school during the
years 1997-1998. The research population comprised 65 members of the
interdisciplinary team, consisting of educators, doctors and para-medical
professionals. The research tools employed Included observations, Interviews
and collection of documents. Using the interpretive method, meaningful
processes in the everyday life of the team and its functioning vis-a-vis the pupils
are revealed and analysed.
The work of an interdisciplinary team in the school requires considerable
attention in terms of organisation, since the mere fact of bringing diverse
professionals to work together does not guarantee effective collaboration, and the
question arises as to how the joint work of the experts is performed in practice,
and what are its results and meanings for the participants.
The aims of the research are to reveal knowledge and arrive at a thorough
description of the organisational culture of an interdisciplinary team. The
knowledge revealed can serve as the basis for construction of a cognitive
framework for the development of an explanatory theory, the construction of
practical tools for the work of an interdisciplinary team in the field and the
formulation of questions for future research.
The main findings are that the members of the interdisciplinary team working
from various areas of specialisation, such as education, therapy and medicine,
differ in their role perceptions, definitions of situation and perceptions of the
pupils. Moreover, the concepts used by the team members indicate the existence
in the interdisciplinary team of three worlds of semantic content, between which
there is transferability.
Collaboration and communication in the interdisciplinary team is complex and
takes place on several levels, reflecting the professional knowledge basis of the
team members. The collaboration revolves around the special knowledge of the
different experts. The research identified various categories of knowledge that
serve in the interdisciplinary discourse; for instance, knowledge from personal
experience and knowledge based on professional experience. In the interaction verbal two levels operate concurrently: the overt organisational level, and the
hidden social level.
Work in a special school is rife with potential crisis situations which may lead
to feelings of discontent that are liable to overshadow the work of the
professionals in the school. The findings in this work demonstrate the complexity
of the working relations among various professionals working together as a team.
The main conclusions of the research are that work in an interdisciplinary
team demands a wide range of skills, broad knowledge and extensive resources. Therefore it is important that the team members receive training for
interdisciplinary team work, as well as ongoing in-service training of professionals in the skills of professional teamwork.