Top Tips for TAs

The message is slowly getting out there (this link leads to Maximising TAs, led by the excellent Rob Webster) throwing a TA at a child/group of children is not the best way to get the best out of the situation, either for the adult OR for the child. Deployment (as well as the individual skills of the TA concerned, and the needs of the child/children) is the name of the game, and was the subject of my workshop at Primary Rocks Live.

If I allowed myself, I could easily talk for the entire length of any slot I am given, so, aware that we teachers like to get our own points in – and that there are plenty more experiences than mine to share – I gave over my time to other people, and gathered together their ideas for how to get the best out of TAs in the interests of the children they support, which is mostly, those children with SEND, which I promised I would write up here.

We had intended to discuss how the class teacher could deploy their TA, but the advice was so good on a whole school level, that I promised that I would add in some of my ideas that I outline in my book (out in May), which is for written for class teachers, as opposed to school leaders.

Before I start, however, I want to re-iterate what I seemed to keep repeating a couple of Saturdays ago – the entire education system runs on good will (every teacher spends their own money and time on the job itself), but we need to remember that TAs are paid a fraction of a teacher’s wage (and many of them are teachers who have taken a step back from running the classroom, for a multitude of reasons) and we must be mindful of that, and not exploit them.

So. For school leaders, here are our top tips for the deployment of TAs:

• Make sure that everyone is on board with the school vision for children with SEND. It may seem like a no-brainer, but it never does anyone any harm to go back to first principles and consider what they are doing the job for, and whether or not they are working in the same direction as their colleagues. Don’t forget to include TAs in these discussions, and remember to do them again and again, especially as staff move in and out of the school. Thanks to Michael Tidd.

• Timetabling meetings between teachers and support staff. This is the one that I hear the most and was echoed in the workshop. It’s an incredibly difficult task to take a group of children and ‘just go through blah blah blah with them’ without any prior discussion. If this happens, then getting the best out of the support won’t happen. Simple as. Thanks to Jane Manzone.

• When we talked about meetings, the very excellent Lynn McCann reminded us that our very youngest colleagues would benefit from a structure for any planning meetings being given to them from more senior staff. When you train as a teacher, no one discusses how to work with adults (or they didn’t when I was training, anyway), and deploying an adult who may well be the longest standing member of staff can be intimidating. Doing what we can to support our young colleagues as they enter the profession is time well spent.

• I may have spent some time talking about thinking about where TAs were working with children. Richard Farrow’s comment on the impact of the classroom environment certainly chimed with a lot of my thinking on the issue. We questioned the wisdom of sending the most distractable and challenging children to work in the most distracting environments and with the least qualified people.

• Many thanks to Cherryl and Nichola for giving their expertise from the special school perspective. They reminded us that we work closely with TAs, and when we are writing short term targets, working closely with them is essential. TAs can give us valuable insights and we need to pick their brains and work with them when setting targets.

• We also discussed the training that TAs may or may not have received over the course of the time they have been working in the school. The role in its current widespread form is still relatively new – and yet the TA may well be the longest serving member of staff on the team. She (and it is most likely that she is a she) may well have started out as a mum helper in the late 90s/early 00s, when she thought her role was going to be putting up displays and washing the paint pots. Finding out about her and her expertise, and her life before TA-ing is worth doing, for everyone’s job satisfaction.

Thank you to everyone who contributed – you know who you are.

So, on to my book. It’s written primarily for new class teachers wanting to work in as inclusive a way as possible (hence the title!), and, as the support for included children most often comes in the form of the TA, I spend some time on how class teachers can manage the dynamics. Clearly, I want you all to rush off and buy the book, so I will limit myself to general principles or we shall be here all night.

• When a TA is assigned to work 1-1 with a child, it can be that she feels she is not doing her job properly or earning her money if she steps away from the child and doesn’t offer them constant assistance. We all know that children need to learn to be independent, so, to help her feel that she is not wasting tax payer’s money or getting money for old rope, the class teacher needs to have some alternative work for her to do, while the child is either working with the teacher or on their own. We all like a bit of laminating, don’t we? There’s always extra resources that need making, aren’t there?

• Do take some time to chat and to get to know each other. You never know what skills you will unearth.

• Don’t expect communication to happen by magic. If you don’t have time to chat, try out a notebook for jobs/comments/observations.

• If it’s a class TA, don’t always send her out with the children who need more support. Do give her the highest attainers for a change. Or take the more needy ones yourself.

I’m sure there is more to add – so if that’s you, please do in the comments.

When we work together, we are more powerful. Teaching is a collegiate thing, after all.

10 thoughts on “Top Tips for TAs

  1. Great stuff, my other thought would be to ask about and use your TA’s interests and skills – they may well have expertise in a subject area where you have less. (I’m thinking of my science teacher friend who worked as a TA and ended up running science clubs and forest school sessions.)

  2. I agree that TAs can feel under pressure to ‘look busy’. In recent classroom observations, I’ve repeatedly seen TAs unwittingly interrupt children’s independent problem-solving attempts. Discussions after the lessons have shown TAs can often feel they need to keep directing and steering the child in order to get the task completed. I’d argue that there are times when encouraging (and equipping) TAs to step away and record their observations of the child’s approach to the task would provide valuable insights for them and the class teachers.

  3. These are brilliant suggestions. Having been both a classroom teacher and a TA (actually, our equivalent is titled “special education paraprofessional” – such a mouthful!), I saw where every single one of these suggestions would have been incredibly helpful. Even having had experience teaching my own classroom, I found I had so little training and as a paraprofessional that I constantly wondered if I were doing the right thing, if I should back off from my “target kids,” how much input I should have considering that I had a teaching background. It was a very nebulous position to be in, so I often wondered if I was being effective enough to justify my presence. Being very intentional about training, roles, and relationships would make a huge difference.

    1. Totally agree. Having everything defined rather than expecting people to know, as if by magic, is essential, I think. Thanks for the comment Amy 😊

  4. I work as a TA is in a secondary school, I worked primarily with SEN students and now with a mixture of Sen and crucial students. I think one of the main qualities is a good questioning technique. Whether you are breaking down instructions or encouraging a higher level of thinking. I also reflect with the teachers I work with. Lucky for me I work in a super department who appreciate the work I do :). Reflection brings together the staff, this also encourages and builds relationships. While you are discussing students the questioning can be discussed. Giving directions and reasons if you like why a students needs to be more independent or need more support. Just a thought 🙂

  5. This is a great article. I have been a TA for 22 years and a Learning Support Assistant specialising in SEND children for the last 12 of these. I mainly work with children on the Autistic Spectrum. Cohesion, good communication, good training and well thought out resources and differentiated activities are crucial to allow all children to access the curriculum. Less ticking of boxes and more learning through fun and enjoyment. Less worksheets and more hands on practical activities. Those activities personalised for individuals to effectively engage them in their learning. A happy child can enjoy school so much more.

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