'Utilise teaching assistants with a show of support'

Communication is key in order to both learn from TAs and establish what you want with them

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I got my first job in a special school largely, I was told later, on the strength of one answer I gave in the interview.

“How would you work with the support staff when you first start here?” I was asked.

I said I would spend the first term asking them questions, considering their opinions and watching how they dealt with behaviour.

Only a fool would walk into a school full of experts and think that their job title and apparent seniority meant that they could take charge from day one.

They were – and are – amazing. I learned loads and I learned fast.

Teaching assistants are criminally underpaid, sometimes undervalued and often underutilised. They have a lot to offer in terms of supporting behaviour in our classrooms.

Perhaps you work with the same member of support staff for most or all of the week. If this is the case, you are likely to build up a strong relationship such that, over time, what you want is well established and they can support you effectively. You can work as a real team and they will often act independently or intuitively, knowing how to be deal with situations effectively because you’ve worked together well in the past and trust is well established.

Give your TAs clarity

It is less straightforward if you are a secondary school teacher or if you have a number of different TAs working with you throughout the course of a week. I know that I did not make best use of my TA colleagues when I taught science in a comprehensive.

Give some thought this week to the clarity the TAs who work with you have about your expectations. They can’t support you as effectively as they might if they don’t know where to draw the line. They may work with six teachers a day who may all have differing expectations.

Consider also that the TAs you work with may have some serious expertise in supporting speech, language and communication difficulties or sensory processing difficulties. These difficulties can sometimes manifest themselves in behaviour problems and you could have an adult in your classroom who could offer you some great advice on how to help the child. A win-win-win situation.

Learn from their expertise and you’ll become a better teacher as a result.

Further reading: Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants by Rob Webster, Anthony Russell and Peter Blatchford; Children with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties and Communication Problems: There is Always a Reason by Melanie Cross

Jarlath O’Brien is director for schools at The Eden Academy. His latest book, Better Behaviour: A Guide for Teachers, will be published by Sage in 2018

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