Problems in Implementing Resource Programs in Rural Schools WALTER J. HARRIS CAROLYN MAHAR
Abstract: The resource program has been widely accepted as an effectiveway to providespecial education services to mildlyand moderately handicapped children in regular classrooms. The -purpose of this article is to identify and discuss problems which impede the development and effectiveness of resource programs in rural schools. Lack of organizational readiness, system shock, interpersonal roadblocks, and the lack of trained personnel are the problem areas discussed. Suggestions for the resolution of these problems are proposed.
WALTER J. HARRIS is Assistant Professor of Special Education and Chairman of the Exceptional Child Research Institute at the University of Maine, Orono; and CAROLYN F. MAHAR is a doctoral student, Department of Special Education, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
The resource model is gaining widespread acceptance as a special education delivery system in rural communities. Recent legislation mandating educational services for handicapped children, a paucity of existing resources in the face of apparent need, and a professional commitment to main streaming have fostered the development of resource programs in place of, and occasionally in addition to, the more traditional self contained special class model. The resource concept has appeared in many different forms (Reger & Koppman, 1971). The resource teacher, resource consultant, resource room, resource center, and the diagnostic-prescriptive teacher are all related to the same basic goal of "helping others meet the educational needs of all pupils, wherever and whenever they are being instructed" (Adelman, 1972, p. 364). Many rural school districts, having no previous special education services, are implementing the noncategorical resource model described by Hammill and Weiderholt (1972). In this model the role of the resource teacher is filled by a broadly trained educational specialist with cross categorical knowledge and competencies. By maintaining maximum role flexibility and employing specific diagnostic skills, this specialist is expected to detect educational needs and to create or identify resources within a system to meet those needs. Of critical importance is the suggestion that the flexibility of the resource teacher allows him to serve many more children than a special class teacher would be able to serve. This economic factor might outweigh more child centered rationalizations for resource programs in many rural communities. Regardless of motivational factors, it seems
clear that the number of existing resource programs is increasing greatly. The recent proliferation of research, diagnosticprescriptive instructional material, and general descriptive literature attests to the growing popularity of the resource approach (Reger & Koppman, 1971; Affleck, Lehning, & Brow, 1972; Jenkins & Mayhall, 1973; Hammill & Wiederholt, 1972; Weiderholt, 1974). Although Hammill and Wiederholt (1972) focused briefly on critical areas to be considered in the implementation of resource programs, no comprehensive surveys of common problems have appeared in the literature. As teacher trainers in a graduate level resource teacher training program, we have witnessed and experienced the growth and development of the resource concept in rural school districts. While the efficacy of these programs is still to be determined, a pattern of problems has emerged which seem noteworthy, especially to those anticipating the implementation of resource programs. These problem areas are described below. For descriptive simplicity they have been labeled (a) lack of organizational readiness, (b) system shock; (c) competency crisis, and (d) interpersonal roadblocks. Although these pro blem areas are common to other rural school districts, the solutions proposed here are more closely related to particular local variables.
providing many direct and indirect services to children, but he cannot provide services to meet all special needs. There will always be children in need of extensive counseling or special class placement. In the face of such needs, and in the absence of other services, the resource teacher has two alternatives. First, he might provide "make do" guidelines to classroom teachers; second, he might work directly and extensively with the children in need. Both alternatives could be defended as being better than no service at all. However, both choices compromise the maximum effectiveness of a resource program. Clearly, resource programs should not be developed in isolation and totally occupied with high priority children who demand immediate and intensive services. Resource programs function most effectively when they serve to coordinate services to the severely handicapped child, and to provide direct and indirect services to the mildly handicapped child. Program development parallel to and closely intertwined with other supportive services will yield a more effective range of services than will the development of resource programs in isolation. Preconceived Role Rigidity
Just as a child must develop specific visual and motor coordination skills before he can use a pencil correctly, so must a school system develop conditions of organizational readiness before it can effectively implement a new program. Organizational readiness refers to the existence of a well developed need for change, together with a positive attitude toward the resource concept. The legislative pressure to provide services where none before existed, and the economic advantages of the resource approach, have caused frequent implementation without consideration of these critical readiness variables. There are four primary components involved in a lack of organizational readiness.
In rural districts resource teachers are frequently hired to administer educational and psychological tests and to provide extensive tutoring in reading and arithmetic. The high frequency of requests for these services undoubtedly indicates valid needs. Tutoring and testing as primary activities of a resource teacher, however, reflect a narrow and inefficient use of the resource role. When his role has been properly conceived, the resource teacher will use the flexibility provided for to be familiar with all grade levels and subject areas. Familiarity with the methods and materials used in every classroom and with the personality characteristics of every teacher are useful capabilities of the resource teacher. Acquiring this perspective and using it to match educational environments and teacher strengths with childrens' needs are far more valuable and comprehensive functions than merely testing and tutoring.
Lack of Complementary Services
The addition of a resource program to a rural school district in which few or no other supportive services exist can lead to an extremely frustrating and self defeating experience. A well trained resource teacher is capable of
Child study teams, or systematic attempts to mobilize available expertise, seems notably lacking in rural schools. Decisions regarding the educational programs of children with special needs are often made informally and
Lack of Organizational Readiness
unilaterally by principals or guidance counselors. The addition of a resource program does not automatically alter the existing decision making process. A deliberate attempt must be made, usually by the resource teacher, to incorporate his assessment skills and knowledge of the school into the process. The inertia of existing administrative systems often makes this a difficult change. It is unfortunately common for rural schools to hire trained resource teachers and then ignore their ability to provide valuable input to decisions about educational programs for handicapped children. Suggestions for Prevention
Organizational readiness might be viewed as the degree of understanding, support, and commi tmen t tha t teachers and adminis tra tors give to a new program. Without this readiness, a resource program cannot function effectively. Ideally, a system should be in an advanced state of readiness before adding a resource program. A wise administrator might emphasize the need for such a program and prepare his staff and systems six months or a year previous to implementation. Realistically, this is seldom the case. The ultimate responsibility for the effective use of the resource model must be with its chief proponent-the resource teacher. Effective service to children through teachers and administrators might begin as early as the resource teacher's employment interview. During these initial stages the resource teacher has the opportunity to assess the level of organizational readiness. He might suggest how a resource program could be used most effectively, and consciously avoid limitations which detract from the flexibility of the role.
System Shock System shock occurs when the delicate balance of role functions and relationships within a system must be readjusted to include a previously unfamiliar, undefined, and potentially threatening role. The addition of a resource teacher to a rural school district requires such readjustments throughout the system. School systems in rural areas have long managed, or mismanaged, exceptional children without resident educational specialists. Self contained classes for the educable mentally retarded, maintained on a Exceptional Children
regional basis, have been the primary form of services to exceptional children. Other types of special classes, school psychologists, guidance counselors, speech therapists, and remedial reading teachers have been either nonexistent or spread thinly over herculean case loads. The addition of a resource teacher to such systems must force a redefinition of the ways in which the system deals with handicapped children. These adjustments are apparent in three basic factors which contribute to and support system shock. Role Conflict
The addition of resource teachers to rural schools most frequently causes a reexamination of the roles of guidance counselors and remedial reading teachers. Generally, the overlap in methods, materials, and target populations sparks conflict and defensiveness among specialists. Unfortunately, these conditions may continue until some intervention is made by a principal or superintendent who is concerned about the inefficient use of professional talent. Certainly, in districts where all three specialists exist, the potential for a wide range of complementary services is maximized. Until conflicting roles are aligned and coordinated, this potential will not be achieved. Inaccurate Expectations
System shock is also indicated when, during the first few weeks, the -resource teacher receives either very few referrals or is completely overwhelmed by them. Too few referrals indicates that either the program lacks credibility in the teachers' view, or that teachers have been the last to be informed of the existence or identity of a new service, and how to use it. On the other hand, an overwhelming number of referrals most commonly indicates that the program has been oversold. Resource teachers, like other special educators, carry with them the mystical aura of the specialist. This is the opposite to a lack of credibility, but is potentially more damaging to a new program Power Struggles
A third common indication of system shock is the power struggle in which resource teachers and classroom teachers subtly dispute the rights to child management. Responsibility for grading and discipline are of most frequent concern. Such power struggles seem symptomatic of the lack of clear role defini97
tion which exist in the early stages of a new resource program. Suggestions for Prevention
The passage of time and gradual confrontation of issues are sure cures for the symptoms of system shock. The cure might be hastened substantially, however, by some well planned public relations efforts. Inaccurate expectations and power struggles might be avoided by clear and definite public statements regarding each of these issues. Role conflicts must be settled among specialists and administrators. A "child study team" approach might serve to defuse potential or existing conflicts as well as to align and coordinate the efforts of all specialists. Interpersonal Roadblocks The primary objective of the resource teacher is to help teachers better serve children with special needs. In spite of the best intentions and a high degree of technical competence, there are often instances where the help offered does not reach the child for whom it is intended. In more sophisticated school systems where "readiness" and "shock" are not factors, interpersonal qualities may be the roadblocks. Classroom teachers with whom the resource teachers most often fail are possessive of their pupils, defensive about their teaching, and unwilling to expand beyond traditional routines. Resource teachers, too, are not all without fault. Those who play the expert role lose credibility when their solutions do not work or are impractical. Others do not possess the tact and ego strengths necessary to enter mutual problem solving relationships with classroom teachers which will ultimately benefit children. Finally, lack of classroom teaching experience, knowledge of common methods and materials, and experience with children of different ages and development levels seem to impair the credibility and therefore the effectiveness of resource teachers. Competency Crisis The role of the resource teacher is a complex one which requires a high degree of technical competence, a broad knowledge of methods and materials, as well as how to work in school situations with many teachers and children. It is reasonable to expect some diffi-
culty in finding adequately trained and experienced personnel to fill resource positions in any area. In rural communities, however, this problem is magnified intensely. It seems ironic that in rural schools where voids of supportive services are extreme, untrained and inexperienced teachers are frequently hired as resource teachers. Willingness and availability are often the primary prerequisites. The hiring of untrained personnel, however, is an indication of a school system's recognition of the need for such services and/or their desire to comply with legislation mandating services for handicapped children. Certainly, public schools should not be faulted for such positive movement. It must be recognized that there is a marked shortage of trained resource teachers who are attracted to rural areas. In such instances inservice training becomes essential. It is a responsibility which must be shared by public schools, state departments of education, and teacher training institutions. Only with their mutual, intense efforts can those who are willing and available obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to function effectively. Concluding Comments The resource model is gaining increasing acceptance as an efficacious means of meeting the needs of mildly handicapped children within the educational mainstream. Certain common implementation problems. in rural school districts suggest that specific prerequisites must be considered. The expectations of a resource program must be formulated with due consideration given to the quantity and quality of already existing services. Where no other supportive programs exist, resource teachers generally focus on only a few severely handicapped children. In districts where guidance counseling, remedial reading programs, and other services exist, the severely handicapped are served by these specialists while the resource teacher more effectively serves mildly handicapped children directly or indirectly. Successful resource programs require that both administrative and front line ground work be carefully laid. Changes in referral systems, the formulation of child study teams, and a clear and public delineation of roles between the resource teacher and other specialists are essential. Finally, an impactful and accurate public relations effort October 1975
must be made to inform parents. teachers. and administrators about the goals and functions of a resource program.
References Adelman, H. S. The resource concept: Bigger than a room! The Journal of Special Education. 1972.6. 361-367. Affleck. J. Q.. Lehning, T. W.. & Brow. K. D. Expanding the resource concept: The resource school. Exceptional Children. 1973.39,446-453. Hammill. D. D.. & Wiederholt, J. L. The resource room: Rationale and lmplemenmuon. Philadelphia. PA: Buttonwood Farms. Inc .. 1972. Mayhall. F.. Peschka, C.• & Jenkins. L. Comparing small group and tutorial instruction in resource rooms. Exceptional Children, 1974.40.245-250. Reger. R. & Kopprnann. M. The child oriented resource room program. Exceptional Children. 1971.37.460-462.
Wiederholt. J. L. Planning resource rooms for the mildly handicapped. Focus on Exceptional Children. 1~74. 5, 2-10.
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