High Quality Professional Learning for Teaching Assistants
Teaching Assistants – some of us have them and some of us don’t. If you do, then consider yourself lucky. I like to view teaching assistants as a second teacher in the classroom. Actually that is how they are introduced at the start of the academic year when I work as a full time teacher. The students learn that they will learn from each other and their teachers. It takes a strong teacher who does not see himself or herself as the sole source of information in the classroom to deliver this message. My first teaching assistant encounter would occur in 1999. It was not the best as I was new in the teaching profession. I was not trained on how to collaborate with teaching assistants during my year-long teaching internship. This experience helped shape my future interaction with teaching assistants I would work alongside in the classroom. Schools afterwards varied in terms of their support for teaching assistants. At some schools they were included in the all staff meetings and professional learning. Then at others they did not have to attend or learning with the staff was optional. So what is high quality professional learning for teaching assistants? Here are three things I have learned.
1. Teaching Assistants should have a professional learning plan just like teachers and administrators. Last year at the American curriculum school I served at in Dubai we created a plan for our teaching assistants. They were included in all school based professional development and worked with me to identify topics for their monthly seminars.
2. The word that comes before assistant is there for a reason…they should be teaching. Some of the best examples of class collaboration, which I have observed include teaching assistants:
- Active in planning meetings
- Conferencing with students one on one
- Facilitating and guiding small groups of students
- Recording student learning, next steps, and giving students feedback
3. Teaching Assistants need time to collaborate and learn from each other. In the same manner that professional learning communities are created for teachers, teaching assistants also need the same opportunity. Visit All Things PLC for more information on professional learning communities – http://www.allthingsplc.info/about/aboutPLC.php.
Below are three notes from elementary teaching assistants KDSL had the opportunity to facilitate professional learning with during the 2012-2013 academic year in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. We were able to rethink their roles and implement the three practices shared above. They were asked to reflect on their learning for the year. Here is what they said.
“We learned from you how to create bulletin boards and how to reteach students. What I would like to work on is how I can impact knowledge easily on the struggling students and which methods I can use.”
“Thanks so much for the training. It was so helpful and you provided easy to use questioning methods. Also, you showed us how to use encouraging words when students do their wok correctly. Finally the bulletin board training made our boards easy to understand and more effective.”
“First of all I need to say thank you for every thing, I really enjoyed our workshops & learned many things.
1) I learned how I can manage our students & the class.
2) How I can teach students without giving them answers and guide them to find the answer on their own.
3) How to create effective bulletin boards.”
What do you think it takes to ensure high quality professional learning for teaching assistants? What have been your experiences?
This blog post is dedicated to Cheryl (USA) and Marilou (Dubai). They are two phenomenal teaching assistants I had the opportunity to collaborate with in the classrooms while working full time as a teacher. They were both quite patient educators who could tolerate my crazy classroom, were open to learning, and taught me lots as a teacher.