How to Work Effectively with School Support Staff

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How to Work Effectively with School Support Staff

This is a guest post written by experienced teacher Lucy and is aimed at NQTs, RQTs or just those wanting a quick refresher.

The relationship you develop with your teaching assistant and support staff will not only affect your day-to-day job success but it will also have a hugely positive effect on your mental health – if you get this right. Effective teaching assistants can make a huge difference to the progress that children make and can be an amazing resource. Like anything, it’s all about relationships and making sure that you are both on the same page and working together effectively. As the teacher, it will fall to you to best manage this and to set expectations. That said, experienced teaching assistants are often easily capable of being the class teacher, though the ultimate responsibility for the children does always lie with the teacher.

Read on to find our tips on how to make the most of this key relationship:

  1. Set expectations. Setting the expectations early on for both of you about the methods and frequency of communication will make everything a lot easier. For example start with a discussion about how happy your TA is to access information via email, if you are able to forward useful information you receive this will save a lot of time. Many classrooms have a ‘communication book’ where you can leave messages for each other. Some teams find having a weekly sheet that can later be filed into a planning file useful, (have a look at our template as an idea). If there is an event that is coming up that will require their involvement in a different way to their usual role (e.g. staying late for a trip or some training) make sure you give them as much notice as possible. Remember that you are the one in charge, and the buck stops at you.
  2. Have systems in place. Setting up systems that you can both use so that your resources are organised and ready makes life easier for everyone. An example of this could be having a tray with resources in that need preparing (e.g. an original copy of a worksheet that needs photocopying, laminating or trimming). On the original resource if you leave a post-it note saying what needs doing and which day it is for it makes it easier for your TA to prioritise which jobs are most urgent. Then you could make a box file for each day (labelled!) so that all completed resources can be stored ready to use. This also makes life much easier for everyone if you are unexpectedly away so that resources can be located quickly. You could make some days of the week labels from our editable pastel labels.
  3. Take on different roles. In some classrooms you will find the TA working lesson after lesson with the same low ability group. For some children this will reinforce their assumption that they can’t do anything without the support of that adult and they will stop trying to be independent. If you look at your class from a data perspective then the children who are the furthest behind should undoubtedly have the most support from you as the teacher. Best practice is that every adult in the classroom should work with all the children over the course of a week unless one of the adults is assigned to an individual child in a 1:1 capacity (for example if they have an EHCP).
  4. Talk about how to ensure effective learning for all. Discuss with your TA how you (and they) see their role, there is a huge continuum of support that can be provided and knowing the right amount to provide different children is an evolving process. One technique that is helpful is on your planning making it clear how much help you want children to have and then your TA commenting on how much help was given as part of their feedback. Many schools encourage TAs to mark and comment in children’s books in a specific colour so that it is clear the input they have given. If you don’t know how much support is given then you might believe that a child has a better understanding or has made more progress than reality. It’s important to get an accurate picture of this for ‘assessment for learning’.
  5. Creative thinking. You need to be able to trust your TA as an expert in the needs of your children. They need to have your support and understanding if they have to abandon your planning because children have failed to grasp a previous concept which is important for that lesson. Embrace their experience and ideas so that everyone can benefit from it, this will include getting their input in your planning.
  6. Explain your reasoning behind making changes. When you are new to a school or a class it is tempting to go in and make sweeping changes to try and make everything work in the way you feel it should. Making changes is fine as this is your classroom after all, but just take the time to explain to the other adults who work in your classroom why you have made the changes. Your TA may have been doing something the same way for a long time and they need to understand why the changes are being made and how it will impact on progress for the children.
  7. Building a relationship. Just like you do with a new class take the time to build a relationship with your TA. Getting to know them as a person not just a colleague will help you get along better. If your relationship gets difficult then ask for support early on rather than assuming things will just get better on their own.
  8. Show your appreciation. A thank you goes a long way! Taking the time to appreciate the time and effort your TA puts in will be much appreciated.
  9. Stick to time. Teaching Assistants are a hugely undervalued resource in our schools and as such, their pay is way below what it should be. With this in mind, it’s not fair to ask teaching assistants to work beyond their contracted hours or take work home. That said, it’s also fair to expect all staff (not just support staff) to come to the classroom on time and be prepared for each lesson.
  10. Play to your teaching assistant’s strengths. If your teaching assistant is particularly strong at arts and creative tasks then draw on this expertise, as this make their role more pleasurable and will positively impact the children.  Maybe they’ve got a great idea for a Christmas calendar, or a Great Fire of London montage. Asking your teaching assistant to do something they really don’t enjoy, like washing out art pots etc is a waste of their time and is something that can easily be done by the children.

Above all it’s important to remember that when dealing with other humans that we should all treat others as we would wish to be treated. A little humility, kindness and thankfulness goes a long way!

What are your top tips for managing support staff?

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