This post is more about reflection and observations than unlocking any grand mystery. It's been inspired by this week’s #SpEdSC slow chat topic “Support Staff are a vital resource, how do you best make use of them in class?” hosted weekly on Twitter by @JW_Teach.
I work in an organisation which only grades lessons for teachers who are in their probationary period or as a trainee. We have developed a culture of ‘open door’ and there is an expectation that department heads engage with their teams by completing learning walks.
I manage a team of 120 Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) who work with students who have a range of special educational needs, disabilities and learning differences. Over the last few months I have found an effective partnership in paired learning walks – joining with department heads to explore teaching, learning and assessment in the classroom and share an open dialogue around the utilisation and effectiveness of the support within the class.
It goes without saying that the synergy between teacher and LSA (or TA) is essential and requires a culture of open communication, direction, professionalism and a proactive approach. More than this, both partners need to share the common values of high expectations, engaging inclusive and accessible delivery where low performance and expectation is challenged.
Some months ago I developed an LSA Code of Conduct which sits alongside my departmental handbook. Neither document is designed to supersede our organisational handbook, but to instead compliment and provide a benchmark from which LSAs are clear of what is expected of them, confident in the clarity of their role and all have access to a consistent benchmark of non-negotiable behaviours linked to our organisational values. For me, these documents also serve as a baseline in which to raise standards through performance management.
Last academic year I tasked an excellent teacher to pair with an experienced LSA to create a training session for staff (teachers and LSAs) on the effective utilisation of classroom support. This was initially road-tested with some LSAs and the feedback was varied. Most felt that the training needed to be targeted to teachers, with others feeling the training was patronising or suggesting that LSAs were inadequate or unable to do their role effectively. We delivered the training to a group of teachers and the feedback was virtually the same! The feeling that actually it was the LSAs who needed the training. Clearly there is work to be done to breakdown pockets of practice which seem to have forged an ‘us and them’ culture and nurture synergy between the teacher and support.
I receive feedback from staff across the organisation, generally citing a concern (or complaint!) about the conduct of an LSA and I am always amazed that on the whole, this hasn’t been challenged or managed at the root. In the same way we would challenge poor behaviour or unacceptable conduct of students, surely colleagues within a professinonal environment need to feel confident and empowered to do the same?