Putting the TA in teamwork

Forming a partnership with your teaching assistant is crucial in the battle for classroom order, says Paul Dix

Paul Dix

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 20 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. The teachers who make time to run through the scheme of work and prepare assistants for the lesson to come. The teachers who understand that their best resource for managing behaviour is another adult - an adult who needs to know they are valued.

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 TAs which teachers they enjoy working with and you will find it is those 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" (a horrible bit of jargon) 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, the classroom quickly becomes divided - and some pupils 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 1,000 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 TA 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. Develop a shared responsibility for managing the behaviour of the class. Encourage your TA to recognise good conduct and reinforce it. Most importantly, make it clear to the pupils that the TA has the power to issue sanctions. Meet up regularly over coffee to talk through the next few lessons and share a copy of the scheme.

Now develop a shared public voice. Talk with them in front of the pupils, 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 pupils 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."

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.

The balance of power changes when there is more than one significant adult in the room. Suddenly there are fewer hiding places for those trying to avoid engaging in the lesson.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto, Cagney and Lacey, Morecambe and Wise: there is no better feeling than adult company in the midst of the chaos of teenagers; than knowing that when the chips are down and your dignity is at risk, someone has got your back.

Paul Dix is touring UK schools with his behaviour Inset days, keynote speeches and one-man behaviour show. His new showreel is at www.pivotaleducation.comkeynotes-2.

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Paul Dix

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