I have had the pleasure of working with some amazing education assistants in my teaching life. In my classroom, an education assistant is called a teacher. We are all teachers. Sure, I have a different level of responsibility and decision making from an assistant, but never the less, our children are taught by them and by me and I am a strong believer in according assistants the respect that they deserve.
The role of assistants has changed over time from a general classroom support person to an active teaching participant. In the jurisdiction I currently work in, assistants teach phonics lessons daily. They receive the same level of support, training and coaching as our classroom teachers and we see wonderful results from their work. This is possible because we use an evidence based, structured program which gives really clear steps for teaching and ensures that all are well supported. We also provide coaching, observation, practice sessions and ongoing training to support all teachers and assistants in the school.
So, how do we support our assistants to maximise the impact of their time in classrooms?
- Take your roles seriously.
As a classroom teacher you have a responsibility to support students, but you also have a responsibility to support the education assistants in your classroom too. Taking the time to share information, learning and feedback treats assistants as valued members of the teaching team. Just as your role is a serious one, so is theirs Involve assistants in meaningful work at all times. It is not appropriate for you to leave your laminating and photocopying for an assistant to do or have them sit idly at the back of the classroom while you teach a 40 minute lesson. It is a much better use of school resources and their skills to plan for extra support session for students who need additional help than having an assistant spending time on administrative duties.
- Be clear, straight up
We sometimes feel awkward giving instruction to another adult, but being clear about your expectations right from the start can mean avoiding difficult conversations down the track. It can also go a way to setting your assistant up for success. We all need to know what is expected of us and as Brene Brown says, “Clear is kind”.
- Share data and achievements
I have never worked with anyone who didn’t get excited by student growth. Help foster a sense of accomplishment by sharing the wins and growth.
- Include your colleague in planning
Assistants often spend a large amount of time working with our most at-risk students and can get to know them really well. Share the process of examining data and planning for next learning steps to help them feel secure in what comes next. All too often an assistant comes to school only to be handed an activity and left with a group of children. Giving prior notice (and even sharing planning) gives the assistant the chance to fully understand what you want them to do and share their ideas. Experienced assistants have great ideas about how to support kids. Spend at least 15 minutes with your education assistant each week going through the program and talking over classroom issues.
- Don’t give them the hard kids every time
While our assistants do spend a lot of time with our at-risk or challenging students it doesn’t make sense to have them work with the most vulnerable children all the time. Those children need the expertise of the classroom teacher regularly. It is perfectly appropriate to have an assistant read to the class or indeed lead an activity that is within their skill-set while you spend 10 minutes working with vulnerable learners two to three times each week.
- Give Feedback
Show assistants that you are interested in their development by giving regular feedback. When giving positive feedback, be specific. Instead of saying ‘you did a good job today’ you could say, “I really liked it when you ________. It was great for the students because ______. Thank you.”
There are also times when we need to provide redirection about something that needs to change. Rather than silently stewing on what might be bothering you, address issues as they occur. Make sure that this is not in hearing of students or other staff. A format that you could find useful is
This might look like this:
(name), I’d like to talk with you about what happened in our reading lesson today. When a student is stumbles on a word it’s important that we encourage them to read the word rather than look at the pictures. I am sorry that I haven’t had a chance to go through this properly with you yet. I’d like us to both be using the same strategies in the children’s reading instruction so that we can keep their learning on track. We can say “sound out all through the word”. If the student still can’t read the word we will model how to sound it out and write down the sound or word that they were stuck on. How does that sound? I am really enjoying the work we are doing together and am looking forward to the goals we’re going to kick together over this year.”
- Support Education Assistants with their out of school study
Make yourself available to look over assignments and questions and give feedback if that is welcomed by your colleague. This will also give you the opportunity to learn about what skills your assistant is working on.
- Provide links and readings to support learning in the key points of your program
To ensure that practice in your classroom is on track and consistent, make sure that you share information with assistants who work in your classroom. This could take the form of a document outlining the key points.
This information doesn’t have be lengthy. See this example from the Reading Science in Schools Facebook Page.
You could also model approaches or activities for assistants before asking them to do the activity on their own. You can use the same I do, We do, You do approach that we use to teach children. After all, it works for us all!
Education assistants perform an incredibly important role in our schools, but they are more than simply administrative supports. Respecting assistants and their roles means that we can maximise learning for all students and help them achieve their goals quicker.
Do you work with an amazing education assistant? Give them a shout out in the comments below or at https://www.facebook.com/JocelynSeamerEducation
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