The benefit of a committee and well-trained classroom assistant cannot be over-stated. When properly trained and supported, these members of our school community contribute enormously to the achievement of students. Last week I wrote about the importance of including classroom assistants, parent helpers and families in professional learning to support your whole school approach. If this does not occur, children will receive conflicting advice, instruction and support. For many children this confuses them and sets them on a path of reading failure at worst and mediocre performance at best.
To make sure that all members of your school community are in a good position to support your students well, it is necessary to provide suitable and easily accessible professional learning and information. Very often, the professional learning that teachers attend assumes a certain level of prerequisite knowledge. You may be engaging your classroom assistants in some PL, but if this ‘goes over their heads’ it is not just a waste of time and money, but may leave them doubting their own abilities to understand and implement what you are asking.
In order for Assistants and the wider school community to come on the journey of change with you, I recommend that professional learning follows these guidelines:
- Ensure that the professional learning matches what you are asking the person to actually do. For example, if you won’t expect assistants and parents helpers to assess students, don’t train them in that skill. If you won’t be expecting them to plan for the class, don’t train them in that skill. Keeping PL to a targeted set of skills and knowledge makes sure that you don’t overload your staff.
- As already mentioned, it is important that professional learning for our classroom staff doesn’t assume prerequisite knowledge. Either ensure that staff are appropriately prepared (not just a reading before the session) or support them to access PL that takes in to account their level of existing knowledge and skill.
- Present information in a format that is accessible to those who do not have a university education. Providing academic readings and then asking our classroom assistants to read and reflect on them, will likely set them up for success. Instead, you can provide simpler diagrams and explanations and elaborate on these in person with lots of opportunity for concrete examples and activities.
- Be considerate of the time commitment you are expecting of people, particularly if they are part time employees or even volunteers.
- Present information in small chunks and then give people the opportunity to implement it. This is good practice for all of us, but it is particularly relevant for those members of our school community who might not have the background knowledge of our teachers. You will get a much better outcome when people have the chance to learn a little bit, do a little bit. Then learn a little bit more and do a little bit more.
- Give people the chance to debrief about and share what they know with others. Setting up a group of professional learners in and between schools gives participants the opportunity to talk through their new learning and how it applies to their current situation. It also means that they can ask questions and clarify any points they aren’t sure of.
Setting our classroom support staff and parent helpers up for success is crucial to helping our children learn to read quickly, effectively and without confusion.
I am pleased to announce that in Term 3 I will be running two Teach Alongs: Supercharging Your Phonics Teaching (an introduction to the science of reading) and Text Based Learning. You can learn more about these professional learning opportunities and register your interest here. Take care, Jocelyn.
Are you are school leader, curriculum coordinator or coach or a senior teaching hoping to influence and support the chance to evidence based reading instruction in your school? Then my new Facebook Group, Inspiring Change is for you! I would love you to join this group of dedicated and motivated group of educators to share, support and grow in your own skills in leading and influencing change.