Frequently Asked Questions About Education Consultation
Q: What is the role of an early childhood education consultant?
A: The definition of an education consultant varies depending on the source. OEC Regulation has one definition, but that is limited to their specific requirements. Consultative practice often goes well beyond those basic duties. Typically it is a practitioner who offers guidance and support to programs, leads quality improvement initiatives, and manages curriculum development projects in collaboration with program administration and staff. Consultants may also offer coaching and training services if they are qualified. Some serve as mentors to administrators if needed. The role is varied depending on the situation and need, and is probably best defined by the consultants themselves and those that hire them. Remember that the consultant works for the operator of the program; that may be different from the director.
Q: Where do I find and hire a qualified education consultant?
A: Word of mouth, checking with your local RESC, AEYC Chapter, director's groups, Infoline 211, and the Office of Early Childhood have all provided names of individuals who serve as education consultants. Also click "Find a Consultant" on this website.
Q: What is the best way to hire a consultant?
A: Hiring a consultant should be similar to hiring staff. Directors will want to evaluate credentials and experience as well as check references. It is most important to find someone who is a good match in terms of level of knowledge, philosophy, approach, and services offered. Effective consultation is built on long-term, trusting relationships so it may be necessary to interview several consultants before you find one that is a "best fit." Consultants also need to look for best fit and consider carefully whether they can provide a level of expertise and service that meets the program's needs.
Q: What is a fair price to pay for consultants?
A: Fees will be established in a written agreement between the program and consultant. Although arrangements range from bartering and volunteering to $150/hr. and beyond, a fair price is by individual agreement and will depend on budget, frequency of service, level of expertise, experience, and resources the consultant has to offer. Consultation works best when it is planned for within the center's annual budget in an amount that covers services required by regulation as well as professional development and need for support should it arise. The plan for the use of the consultant will define when and how the consultant will be used, and from that a realistic budget can be determined. Competent volunteer consultants may be available - the issue is not cost, but whether they can fulfill the role in a professional manner, with adequate insurance, resources, and availability. Generally, consultation is a professional service, not a favor. In Connecticut, there are some standard rates that apply to consultants: In the past, the AFP rate has been $125/hour inclusive of travel and preparation and the State Department of Education paid coaches at a rate of $100/hour exclusive of travel and preparation work. Competent independent practitioners with advanced degrees, sufficient resources and experience are likely to charge in this range for professional services such as consultation, coaching, and training.
Q: Are formal contracts and liability insurance really necessary to do consulting work?
A: It is no secret that we live in a litigious society. As a consultant, you are accepting the responsibility of entering a program that serves children, staff, and families in order to provide recommendations and other services that will impact their well-being and development. This carries with it the risk of injury, negligence, and malpractice. Good contracts specify terms of service and practice. Liability insurance protects both consultants and programs in the event that an accident or error occurs. It is becoming increasingly common for clients to request proof of insurance from practitioners working on their property. To practice without both a formal contract and liability insurance puts both the program and the consultant at risk in the event of a problem that results in a disagreement or lawsuit.
Q: Do consultants have to report information to licensers?
A: Other than situations of child neglect or abuse where any professional is a mandated reporter, the consultant has no obligation to report program problems or recommendations to any agency unless working under a consent order or special grant circumstances where the consultative process must be documented and submitted to fulfill certain requirements. For basic consultative services required by OEC in the Regulations, the activities and observations provided need to be logged and kept on file at the facility for 2 years.
Q. How can multiple consultants working within one program be managed effectively?
A: It is true that multiple consultants serving programs can be a challenging situation because different practitioners see problems and needs in their own unique way and have their own strategies for solving problems and advising clients. This situation has potential to create confusion, frustration, and feeling overwhelmed - even though that is not the intent of any consultant. This problem not only arises when coordinating the services of a program's team of contracted consultants (education, health, nutrition, social service, and dental) it becomes even more challenging when additional consultation opportunities arise such as when working with NAEYC accreditation facilitation consultants, as part of the School Readiness Grant, or when other funds are granted to programs for specific work. One consultant cannot be an expert in everything, so collaboration and communication are essential. It is important that the program's contracted consultants be utilized for work when they are qualified, or be informed when utilizing additional practitioners. They should have the opportunity to be involved in that work where appropriate. It is the program's contracted consultant who has the long-term relationship with the director and staff and will want to support and sustain work after additional services come to an end. They need to understand the program's development projects even if they are not directly involved. Team meetings can be very useful in coordinating the roles of two or more consultants.
Q: Who credentials, approves, registers, and oversees the consultants and their training?
A: The OEC Licensing Regulations define the qualifications for education consultants who fulfill licensing requirements. The responsibility of approving education consultants is that of the OEC. CEECN provides a listing of education consultants who self-report that they meet OEC qualifications to serve as an education consultant on a license and who agree to follow the Standards of Professional Practice. At this time, education consultants have only voluntary responsibility to keep current their continuing education and competency in their field. Many consultants are acting as independent practitioners and do not answer to a supervisor or agency - though they have responsibility to to act according to the professional ethics of their discipline and regulations or initiatives that govern their services. Program directors will want to ask about the training, credentials, and professional affiliations of any consultant they wish to hire.
Q: What about "ghost" consultants?"
A: "I don't really need a consultant; I just have to have someone listed to get a license..." Directors and consultants frequently talk about the situation where the consultant is listed on the license, but has no relationship with the program. It is the responsibility of both the program operator and consultant to communicate enough to develop and implement an annual contract and written plan for consultative services that at least meets OEC regulations. If the program and consultant do not have a working relationship that reflects the regulations, it is probably necessary to examine that relationship and make changes in order to correct the situation. Effective and useful consultation is based on a collaborative and respectful relationship that develops over time. While some programs utilize their education consultants extensively and others minimally, it is not ethical or lawful to retain a consultant in name only. Consultants should not want their name affiliated with a program where they have no relationship or knowledge of their policies and practices.
Q: What if a consultant and operator disagree on practices or recommendations given?
A: Consultants have the responsibility to advise and educate according to widely accepted, effective practice. Typically this means making recommendations that are consistent with documents and criteria from the NAEYC, American Academy of Pediatrics, scientifically research-based practice, state regulations and initiatives, and philosophy-specific guidelines. Consultants have the responsibility to make recommendations that take into account legal and political considerations as well. Should disagreements arise between a director and consultant, the director should feel justified in asking for the basis for the recommendations and verify that it is consistent with national and local standards of practice. Published national and state standards for health, safety, curriculum, behavioral health, management, and ethics are valuable and reliable resources for both directors and consultants in planning program improvements and professional development. In the end, it is always the operator's decision as to whether to implement the recommendations of the consultant, and it is important that consultants accept those decisions. If frequent disagreements and difficulty in advancing improvements compromise the consultant-client relationship, then a discussion to that effect must be brought to the table to discuss whether the relationship is a good fit.
Q: What do I do if my consultant isn't doing a good job? Who do I report this to?
A: This depends on what capacity the consultant is working in. If it is for basic licensing requirements, then report a problem to the program licesnser at the OEC. If the consultant is working under an agency-funded quality enhancement initiative such as NAEYC accreditation, report the problem to the agency representative who arranged the consultative services. If the consultant is provided by the OEC as part of a School Readiness initiative, report problems to the local School Readiness Grant Manager or Coordinator. Please do not report problems with consultant competency to this Network since we have no authority to supervise or manage practitioner services.
Q: Where can education consultants obtain relevant professional development?
A: Although it is a goal of this Network to provide some professional development opportunities for its members, at this time they are limited to informational networking and introductory training regarding the role of consultants that is offered approximately once annually somewhere in the state. Such events are posted on the home page of this website. It can be challenging to find continuing education specific to consultation, coaching, and training. The OEC has in the past offered training on adult learning, consultation, coaching, and CT Early Learning and Development Standards. Contact them directly for more information. Sometimes looking outside of the field of education is worthwhile - particularly for training in change management and organizational change/learning - important knowledge for a consultant. Also click on the Resources for Consultants page of this website for recommended reading. It is important that consultants have knowledge beyond early childhood education that includes change facilitation, organizational behavior, overcoming resistance, coaching, program assessment, and project management. The Professional Development Institute of the NAEYC, various universities, and organizations such as ASCD and School Reform Initiative often have professional development opportunities that are relevant to educational consultation.