Some guidance for teaching assistants, from Lisa Harwood and Clare Saunders.
When your school invites a new external provider in, how are they welcomed into the school community? The provider is a guest in your school and knows you are the expert on how to get the best out of the children, so they will rely on your expertise and support. While they may be an expert in yoga, or dance, or music, you are the expert on your school and the children in your care. The great thing about having someone external in is that they have a fresh perspective, a different skill set, and so offer you and the children a chance to experience alternative strategies to strengthen, flex, and cope with the myriad challenges of daily life. They can stand back from all the routine tasks you and the students undertake and provide space to listen and respond to the students’ needs. It ring-fences that time for special activities that might otherwise get sidelined.
It’s challenging to prepare the children for a new activity. If possible, ask them for a social story to share with the children ahead of time so you and they are prepared and ready to engage with the exciting new activity. If it’s something you have not tried before, how do you model to the students how to engage? The students will be absorbing your vibe in how they respond to the provider and the provider will be looking to your methods with the students to inform how they themselves engage. This means that you are the beating heart of the session and can influence how the class progresses to success. Can you keep an open mind to experience something new and model to the children how to do this?
Working with these cohorts can be challenging, and workplace injuries are common. You might even feel this prevents you from participating in an activity and resist joining in. Your external provider will understand this and offer a variety of ways of participating effectively, such as using a chair instead of standing or sitting on the floor, and they will invite you to alternative exercises. Your engagement is potent to the children, who look to you for guidance and this will model to them that they don’t have to be good at everything to enjoy it and have fun. Just engaging will benefit you, and them. For example, in a yoga class, you can join in relaxation, breathing, and find new ways to be present. You can use these techniques off the mat or chair and into daily life.
Moving between activities, and locations can be challenging for the children, and for you. Let the provider know the system for moving on, or suggest to them a visual or PECs for encouraging the children to leave for their classroom or activity as calmly as possible. If any student needs to leave early, then alert the provider before class so they can remind them and plan their activity accordingly. Shared experience creates a better bond between you and your students. Over time, this means that your role becomes easier as they enjoy having fun with you, and it gives you alternative strategies to use back in the classroom. Teaching assistants and support workers play a vital role in childrens’ education every day. They are the link for welcoming and integrating external activity providers to their schools. Their knowledge of the school and students are key in ensuring the success of the sessions.