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Letting It Go…Role Release and Why It Can Be Hard

Maybe you’ve been working in early intervention for many years and you’re great at what you do. Or perhaps, you’re brand new to the field andMC900363494MC900363494 eager to try out your skills. In either position, it can be a struggle to get out there and find that you need to release your role to someone else, whether it be to a colleague who’s acting as a primary service provider (PSP) or to the parent. Role release can be a struggle for even the most confident of early interventionists.

Why is Role Release a Struggle?8268837656_9b71fd6393

We love to play with babies. This was probably the hardest thing for me to let go of as I learned role release. Teaching someone else how to do what I knew I could do really well was hard. Plus, it meant that I wasn’t necessarily the one who would get to interact with that cute little person, and that felt like a bit of a loss.

We worked hard to develop our knowledge and skills. At my very first conference presentation, I was teaching about collaborating with other professionals and families and a woman approached me afterwards, clearly shaken and unhappy. She waited in line for her turn to demand how she was supposed to teach a parent everything it took her years of graduate school to learn. Clearly she was struggling, but that was actually a good thing because the presentation made her think. We have worked very hard to hone our skills and knowledge, but we are only with the family for what amounts to 1-2% of their week. If we can’t share what we know with the parent, then the work that we are so dedicated to won’t really have much of an effect on the child’s development. Sharing what we know spreads the possibilities out and increases the chances of farther reaching effects, which is REALLY what we trained for.

We don’t always trust that others can do what we can do. It’s a difficult thing to trust. Trusting in someone else to take what you know and implement it is pivotal to the early intervention relationship – between the PSP and the consultant, between the provider and the parent. Without trust, there’s an assumption of expertise that can only be provided by the expert. This, again, is limiting and most often just plain wrong. When it all comes down to it, there is no real magic. What works in early intervention is working together, learning about families, and problem-solving to develop intervention strategies that fit the child’s abilities and the family’s life. What you learned in graduate school were techniques and information; when you share your role with others, you take what you learned and adapt it to the uniqueness of the child and family. You can’t do that if you don’t trust and share.

So How Do We Get More Comfortable with Role Release?

Here are a few ideas:

1. Get to know your colleagues – Spend time together. Talk about your experiences and backgrounds. Join visits, observe, and learn from each other. Build trust and rapport with your fellow interventionists, just like you do with families.

2. Trust families – They really do know their children best and know what happens in their everyday life better than you ever could. Build a partnership and, if you have even an ounce of it, let go of the “…but I’m the expert” attitude. Your job will be so much more meaningful and impactful if you trust those you trained to collaborate with.

3. Practice sharing what you know – Be there for your colleagues and families as a consultant when needed. Practice sharing and teaching others. I truly believe that all of us in early intervention are teachers, regardless of our disciplines. We teach each other and parents teach us.

4. Understand that role release really means role sharing – Maybe “release” isn’t really the best term because it implies that you’re giving away something you might not get back. My professor (I’m in grad school) likes the term “role sharing” and maybe that’s a softer way of emphasizing the give-and-take of the collaboration. We aren’t trying to turn parents into therapists and I wasn’t trying to turncolleagues into early childhood special educators. We were sharing what we knew to build meaningful intervention strategies that worked for families by sharing our knowledge and skills.

Role release is a critical component of successful early intervention. Take a moment to reflect on your own feelings about releasing your role, or sharing it with others. Why is it hard?

What strategies have you used for collaborating with others and sharing your wealth of knowledge? Do you have an example to share of when role release was a challenge or when it was a great success? Let us know!

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17 Comments to “Letting It Go…Role Release and Why It Can Be Hard”

  1. I enjoyed this article. I think it is difficult to “role share” because we were taught such a different role in school and practiced such a different way for years. We treat and parents watch and we do love to play with babies!! But to see a parent empowered and learn a new way to play with their child and promote increased independence and participation in the family routine is truly priceless 🙂

    • Yes, Lisa, that’s just it. It’s really challenging to learn to do intervention one way then get out in the field and find that you are actually supposed to do it another way. I was presenting at a conference last friday and the SLPs in the audience made the same point. I think many university programs are trying to teach EI as it really needs to be but there’s still a big gap there. And for those of us who trained many years ago, closing that gap is really up to us and our commitment. In your comments on the blog in this post and others, it sounds like you have made that commitment which is wonderful!

    • I have heard the term “empowering parents” throughout my classes recently, and think this is a great way to approach parents. Provide the parents with the assurance that they have all that their child needs, and your role is to enhance the many skills that they already posses!

  2. Here is a note I wrote to the home visiting nurse. The OT shared an idea with her and left a message about it for me. I responded to the nurse, who then thought I was the “specialist.

    Hi Lisa,

    I just want to clarify that feeding is also Jan’s specialty.

    Jan and I enjoy a very collaborative relationship in the scope of which we ask questions freely and share information in a role release model. My email was not to imply in anyway that Jan was not knowledgeable. In fact, because of her inquiry, I found the special pacifier that may eventually be just the thing one of our babies needs. Jan sharing her thoughts with you and my including you on that email was more of an invitation to join our collaborative model.

    When one of our clients go to see specialists, they get cut up into GI, ENT, Pulmonary, craniofacial, etc. One of the services we provide is to help put the baby back together to order to provide an holistic intervention approach. Your expertise is much valued and we would love to include you any time you feel comfortable with this model. We are having more fun with collaborative role release than we’ve had in years, and are learning so much as a result!!


    • Thanks for this example, Janet! I really like how you said that one of EI’s jobs is to put the baby back together. I also like how you extended the offer to join your collaboration. How did the nurse respond? Just curious… 🙂

    • I think this a great example of involving a nurse that is helping the family and role-releasing with someone who can help the team. I think it is important to have collaborative role release with every member that helps the family.

      • Absolutely, Mariya! I agree that when we are all comfortable with sharing roles, services are more seamless and supportive of families. Role release isn’t always easy but is so effective when it works well.

  3. One of the parts of EI that I really like is that we are educators, and we are educating families on how they help their children. I liked this article and how it does bring up a great point of how role release can be hard and giving up control of the situation is hard because you may think If I am not doing it then will it get done or will it be right? I agree with you that without letting go and collaboration then we can’t make the best difference in the child’s life. I like the term “role-sharing that you used.” It is something I will think about when I have to share or give up a role and may be struggling with accepting it.

    • Isn’t it great how a minor shift in terminology can help us think a little differently? Sharing roles with confidence is really built on trust – trusting your colleagues and trusting the families. Working with colleagues that keep their knowledge and skills current is so important too. In the end, if we’re doing EI right, we’re all sharing our roles, knowledge and skills with families. That’s the ultimate in role sharing!

  4. Being that I am just beginning my journey in education, and I have not yet experienced “the day in the life of an Early Interventionist,” I am not yet able to reflect on the difficulty that many current educators may have when working to release their roles and trust in parents and families. In my current program, we are taught the importance of family-based, or routines-based intervention. Fortunately for me, I have never known another way, and I hope, one day, I will find ease in coaching parents and families and to in order to benefit their little one!

    • Great point, Megan! I’m so happy to hear that you are learning great practices. It’s so much easier to grow into good practices than out of those that you’ve been using for ages that are no longer recommended. Of course, this is early intervention, so once you’ve got the “hang” of it, something new or improved will come along. Learning to be flexible and keep the learning going long after you graduate will be so important to anyone, like you, who’s entering the field! Good luck with your studies!

    • Megan
      I too am just starting my journey in education (although I see sometime has passed since you posted!). I can imagine just how difficult it could be as an Early Interventionist. I too have been taught nothing other than family and routine-based intervention and honestly cannot see looking at intervention any other way. If you can provide assistance to both the child and the family, why would you want too? I look forward to having my own experiences. Have you felt success thus far in this method of intervention?

  5. I recently took a course about instructional coaching by Jim Knight, and he stresses the importance of building relationships, being an empathetic listener, and giving those you collaborate with a sense of autonomy. I think those messages would be very helpful to those working in EI because you are an expert, but your goal is really to “coach” the family, so they are confident in caring for their child. I highly recommend his books/workshops to professionals who have to collaborate on a regular basis.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Jennifer. I’ve read some about instructional coaching too and it definitely overlaps with early childhood coaching. When you think about the idea of giving a sense of autonomy, how do you see that helping with role release? I’d love to know your thoughts because I think there is a great connection there.

  6. New to the field of early intervention and not yet having my own experiences, I would guess that one of the big challenges providers’ face is leaving his or her title at the door. Being as they spent many years earning it and feeling equipped with the knowledge it takes to help a family with expertise, I could imagine it is hard to put per-judgements and opinions aside and allow the family to direct the course of action for services. I can see it being very difficult to put the needs selected by the family in the forefront even though you believe other things are more pressing. Are there any EI veterans that can provide some advice or past experiences to someone like myself worrying about how I can best fit the needs of differing families?

    • Such a great question, Hollie. I think our role as early interventionists is to let the family priorities and daily routines provide the context for intervention. We join the family in that context to address what’s important to them. We share and adapt our expertise to build on what they are already doing and help them meet their needs. It can be quite a challenge to step back and NOT be the one interacting with the child the whole visit. Keep in mind, though, that the majority of the intervention the child will receive happens when you are not even there. With that perspective guiding everything you do, it becomes easier to act as a coach and collaborator with the parent and to focus on everyday activities. That’s when and where most learning occur, and if, as a provider, you want to make the biggest difference, then it makes so much sense to use your time with the family as wisely as possible – by supporting the parent’s learning and helping him/her confidently know what to do when you aren’t there. It takes practice to develop your knowledge and skills and be able to translate them into meaningful strategies families can use. You’ll get there. The best early intervention is a wonderful mix of sharing – the parent shares what she knows, what she’s tried, and what she wants her child to do, and you share your expertise to help her adapt her knowledge, her daily interactions with the child, and their family activities to achieve those goals so that the child is progressing and participating and learning!

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