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Teaching Assistants/Learning Support Assistants and behaviour management – PP7

This time, the topic of the week is Teaching Assistants / Learning Support Assistants and behaviour management


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This week Paul talks about the role of Teaching Assistants / Learning Support Assistants in classroom behaviour management. His main focus is the importance of creating a real teaching partnership between the adults in the room. It’s great to have another person in the room to talk to on an adult level. TAs/LSAs are often under-appreciated and underpaid and yet they can provide an essential link between the school and the community. They do some very difficult things with great care, determination and love for the children. Paul stresses the importance of avoiding having the teacher at the front of the classroom and the TA at the back ‘dealing with issues’. It’s so important to avoid the old hierarchical dominance by the teacher and rather let the children be guided by the two adults who have a voice int he room. Some simple ways of promoting this kind of partnership are:

  • Introduce the TA/LSA by name in every lesson and don’t refer to them as ‘assistant’
  • Ensure the teacher and TA/LSA have dual responsibility over giving rewards and sanctions
  • Sit down together and work out exactly how you are going to work together
  • Develop a shared public voice – talk together in front of the students and bounce ideas off one another
  • Swap responsibilities so the children see it’s a genuine partnership
Paul then goes on to point out that TAs/LSAs need a continuous drip feed of professional development and suggests that the teacher may have to take responsibility for that.

A list of actions for TAs/LSAs could include:

  • Make sure you know what’s going to be taught in the lesson in advance
  • Join in with class discussions gently
  • Be vigilant of the students who are in you ‘radar’
  • Ask the teacher is you can give whole-class instructions
  • Meet and greet pupils at the door
  • Make a point of giving positive notes and phone calls
  • Be available for any pupils to come and show you their work, even if you are working with an individual
  • Raise your status with the student body by taking part in extra-curricular activities like school visits and clubs
  • Resist the temptation of talking negatively about any pupil outside the classroom – don’t broadcast what has happened in one lesson to anyone else
Paul finishes off with three great examples of rewards which shouldn’t work as his best practice of the week and we have a great comment from Fiona, a TA at Newburn Manor Primary School, Newcastle upon Tyne.
Listen to the episode for the full story on all the points above!
Finally, here’s a related article Paul wrote some time ago.

TES Article February 29th 2012

Riding Shotgun

Danielle sits ignored at the back of the classroom. She ought to have been better prepared but there was no time.  She ought to have been introduced but the teacher doesn’t seem to know her name. She should have been told what was happening. No one bothered. Danielle sits next to Ryan (she always does) and tries to stop him chewing the curtains. This is a year 9 lesson and Danielle is 52 years old. Sit with a team of teaching assistants for twenty minutes and you learn a great deal. Not all of it good!

You hear about those teachers who see them as an equal, share responsibility, talk to them in front of the children and share the lead in the lesson. The teachers who understand the impact on the classroom climate that two adults have when they team up. Teachers who make time to run through the scheme of work, prepare assistants for the lesson to come, give them the opportunity to contribute to learning and to take some responsibility for behaviour. Teachers who understand that their best resource for managing behaviour is another adult. An adult who needs to know that they are valued, that they belong. Then you hear the other side of the teaching assistant experience. Those who are regularly ignored, treated as children, never informed of the content or process of the lesson and talked down to.

You hear about lessons where there is no communication between adults at all, where the Teaching Assistant is made to feel utterly redundant, infantilised and worthless. Ask your teaching assistants which teachers they enjoy working with and you will find teachers who treat them as equals and approach teaching in partnership. Ask them where the behaviour issues are and they will tell you quicker than any behaviour software, ‘deep dive’ (arghh) or work trawl.

In behaviour management there is strength in numbers. If the adults within the room are speaking with one voice, are consistent in their application of strategies and are committed to the same goals, the management of behaviour is streamlined. If one is poorly briefed or uses behaviour management techniques that are not in line with the other then the classroom quickly becomes divided. Some students will take advantage of the divide. The way you work with other adults is a model to the children. It says more about your commitment to teamwork than 1000 group work routines.

In most Primary school classrooms it is difficult to see who is the teacher and who the assistant. In a secondary school the roles are more obvious the teams often more divided. Just how often do teenagers have an opportunity to see adults working collaboratively in close proximity. If your teaching assistant is gagged and strapped to the ‘tricky’ table at the back of the room only able to move when escorting Dean to the segregation block, the ‘teamwork’ model is clear. Introduce your teaching assistant by name at the beginning of every lesson. Don’t label them as an assistant but as an equal in a joint endeavour. Two adults determined to lead a group of students to success.

Develop a shared responsibility for managing the behaviour of the class. Encourage them to recognise good conduct and reinforce it. Most importantly make it clear to the students that Mr Jones also has the power to issue sanctions. Spend a few minutes regularly over coffee talking through the next few lessons, share a copy of the scheme and the plan for steering children away from poor conduct and back to learning. Now develop a shared public voice. Talk with them in front of the students, bounce ideas off each other in class, plan to lead different segments of the lesson, laugh with each other in front of the class. Encourage involvement with class discussions, encourage students to show work to either of you and reverse roles now and again ‘I’ll take Dean to ‘the block’ for some intensive wall staring this time Mr Jones, could you open the door so we can leave with the customary swearing, banging and mild physical assault?’ For some it will need to be small steps.

Teaching assistants are not working for the money (try living on it) but for love. Gentle encouragement works, heaping responsibility does not. They will appreciate your steady drip feed of discreet professional development.  The time you invest now will pay off in spades later. Tricky classes will soon realise that there are two sheriff’s in town and they are tag teaming…’Head Chardonnay off at the pass, I’m gonna bust up that poker game at the back table’. The balance of power changes when there is more than one significant adult in the room. You can hear the disappointment in  students’ voices ‘Alright, alright, you twos are getting really annoying now’. Suddenly there are less hiding places for those trying to avoid engaging in the lesson. There are fewer dark corners as the adults work the room, easing Aysha from under the table, unwrapping Kyle from the curtain ; managing behaviour and learning as a team. The lone ranger and Tonto, Cagney and Lacey, Morecombe and Wise if you like. There is no better feeling than adult company in the midst of a chaos of teenagers. Knowing that when the chips are down and your dignity is at risk, someone has got your back.

© Paul Dix 2012

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