The introduction of classroom assistants into Scottish schools through the national classroom assistant initiative has been designed to support teachers in a variety of ways. Classroom assistants are under teachers'
direction as they assist in the supervision of pupils and provide support for children's learning.
Classroom assistants have been welcomed in schools and good models of practice are developing. It's by learning on the job that most teachers are developing their approach to this challenge.
By listening to teachers and classroom assistants talking about their practice and observing the partnerships in action, key elements of teamworking can be identified. Working out the relative roles and responsibilities is an important first step. Discussing who does what and when helps teaching and learning, and helps the classroom organisation run smoothly. It also avoids tension caused either by stepping on each other's toes or by one partner not pulling their weight.
To work effectively, an assistant needs to understand how the classroom works and how decisions are made. The teacher needs to explain how the classroom and groups are organised.
But it takes time to build up good communication. Listening to and valuing each other's contributions is not easy, but makes for a positive working relationship. For instance, do you know what the classroom assistant enjoys and is confident about? One teacher discovered the classroom assistant loved helping with technology. She understood and could explain things well, so she became "a real asset" at technology time.
Modelling is another way to support classroom assistants, particularly when they are less confident. It helps them see how the teacher listens to the children and is positive with their ideas. It also helps the teacher when she's working with a group.
In addition to communicating about the curriculum and what is happening in the classroom, it is important to convey a sense of value and trust in the partnership. Classroom assistants will appreciate being trusted to show some initiative and make appropriate decisions within the agreed plan.
Many classroom assistants have already developed useful skills for working in classrooms and are undertaking further training. It is helpful for teachers to know what's involved in these training courses and how to support the assistants as they continue to develop.
To give teachers more support, a pack of materials has been developed by Strathclyde University and is now available in all Scottish primary schools. Working with Classroom Assistants allows teachers to explore the promotion of positive relationships, the development of effective teamwork and management of other adults in the classroom. The learning materials also provide some practical advice and training in relation to the management and development of assistants.
Sections include activities designed to support discussion and follow-up action, such as reading, searching a website or setting up a new way of working. Some activities are for groups of teachers, some for individuals and some for mixed groups of teachers and classroom assistants.
Since every school has its own needs and character, the materials can be adapted to meet local circumstances. They will also be useful for headteachers as they plan and implement approaches to working with classroom assistants, and will hopefully complement work already undertaken at national, local and school level.
Many teachers now work with classroom assistants, sharing their planning. To work effectively, teachers need to further develop their knowledge and understanding, their skills and attitudes for collaborative work.
Joan Menmuir, Joyce Lindsay and Isobel Calder, of Strathclyde University, talk on Working with Classroom Assistants at 1.30pm, September 13