Working with Teaching Assistants and Other Support Staff for Inclusive Education: Volume 4

Cover of Working with Teaching Assistants and Other Support Staff for Inclusive Education

Table of contents

(21 chapters)
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List of Contributors

Pages vii-viii
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Introduction

Pages ix-x
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Section I: Roles and Responsibilities

Abstract

Increasing numbers of support staff are employed in schools to provide services for students identified as requiring extra support. The roles of these staff have changed as a result of a variety of factors, foremost the increased inclusion of students with disabilities in mainstream settings. Compounding this increase is a re-evaluation of roles of staff in schools, shortages of qualified special education teachers, an increasing requirement of teachers to complete large quantities of administrative tasks, including paperwork (Lee, 2003), and the use of support staff, particularly teacher assistants (TAs) to relieve some of the work of teachers (Webster et al., 2010). This chapter will examine these factors and explore the resulting changes in roles and considerations for teachers when working with support staff.

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Special education teachers and paraeducators who generated and analyzed metaphors to describe their relationships uncovered insights into how they perceive their roles and responsibilities, and identified models for a more effective collaboration. The metaphors generated by 67 special education teachers and paraeducators indicate that they value relationships characterized by compatibility (e.g., “peanut butter and jelly”) and coordination of effort (e.g., “well-oiled machine”) and have diverse views on the relative contributions paraeducators make to the instructional program (e.g., “my right arm” vs. “icing on the cake”). Notably absent is acknowledgment of the teacher’s critical role as team leader, responsible for directing the work of paraeducators; metaphors like “two peas in a pod” far outnumber those like “architect and builder.” The chapter includes a description of a process that teachers and paraeducators can use to generate and analyze metaphors to serve as models for a more effective collaboration; examples are provided.

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School Psychologists (SPs) have usually been associated with supporting educators in meeting the needs of students with socio-emotional and learning difficulties and disabilities. This chapter suggests that they can support teacher assistants and other educators within inclusive settings in many other ways too. It highlights that SPs are generally trained in holistic student development and group dynamics, in learning, teaching and assessment processes, and in bringing about individual and social change. The whole chapter is based on the idea that inclusion is a concern for all students and therefore also for all school staff. Teacher assistants in inclusive schools are regarded as part of a commitment of the whole school to adapt its curriculum, the organisation of learning and teaching, and the grouping of students so that each one can be actively engaged in the regular learning and social activities of the school.

Thus SPs can be called to support not only the engagement of an individual student but also to help make the class and school welcoming learning communities for all.

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Over the past three decades, there has been considerable change in the education of children with disabilities in Canada. Children with developmental disabilities attend inclusive classrooms and are educated alongside their non-disabled peers, receiving services and supports to optimize their participation (Hutchinson, 2014; Slee, R. (2001). Social justice and the changing directions in educational research: The case of inclusive education. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 5(2), 167–177). In Canada, occupational therapists have provided services in schools for over three decades with the aim of supporting participation of children with disabilities (Graham, D. R., Kennedy, D., Phibbs, C., & Stewart, D. (1990). Position paper on occupational therapy in schools. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 57(4), 1–6; Reid, Chiu, Sinclair, Wehrmann, & Naseerl, 2006). This chapter presents examples from case study research conducted in Ontario, Canada, on the delivery of school-based occupational therapy (SBOT) for two young children (focal participants) with developmental disabilities. Case study research was used to describe the nature of SBOT service delivery from multiple stakeholder perspectives. Data were gathered over the duration of one school year using a combination of observation, document analysis, and interviews involving participants directly involved in the delivery of SBOT with each focal participant. Common characteristics in these two cases enabled cross-case analysis to identify features of collaborative working that facilitated educational programming and outcomes for students with developmental disability.

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Section II: Participant Perspectives

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As teachers make desperate pleas for more paraeducators to be hired to support a diverse student population, the number of paraeducators working in public and private school classrooms is steadily rising as it reaches nearly half a million in the United States alone (Stockall, 2014). “Teacher shortages, increasing numbers of English language learners and the rising enrollment of students with disabilities and other special needs are just some of the factors that make the need for a dynamic school team more necessary than ever” (National Education Association, 2014, para. 1). Currently, limited research exists on paraeducators’ perceptions of their role in the inclusive classroom. Paraeducators are responsible for many duties throughout the course of the school day, have a high level of responsibility for the quality of services they provide to the students, and have many concerns and challenges related to their work (Downing, Ryndak, & Clark, 2000; Monfore, Lynch, & Erickson, 2013; Rosales, n.d.). This chapter expresses the voices of many paraeducators in the field and highlights their thoughts on best practices and the continued implementation of collaboration, effective teaming, and equality.

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This chapter reports on teachers’ views working with support staff to include students with disabilities in Australian schools. To ensure students with disabilities are engaging in educational activities best suited to their needs it is imperative that the classroom teacher is at the forefront of the student’s education. In order for teachers to achieve inclusive practices they need to be confident in their capabilities. Research by Boyle, Topping, Jindal-Snape, and Norwich (2011) identified that teachers viewed the support of their ‘peers and colleagues’ (p. 178) as being the most important aspect in assisting them to gain an understanding of working with students with disabilities. Therefore, it is beneficial to identify the efficacy of the interactions between teachers and others to ensure inclusion is successful.

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Teacher assistants and support staff play a critical role in the educational outcomes of Indigenous students. Small steps are being made in ‘Closing the Gap’ in Australia between Indigenous and non-Indigenous educational outcomes (Australian Government, 2013), and the trends are similar throughout other Indigenous populations. However, there is still much that needs to be done. This chapter will describe the role of teacher assistants and other support staff, and share pedagogy and practices that have been successful in engaging Indigenous students within an inclusive and responsive curriculum. The chapter will conclude with a summary of key concepts and recommendations for further research.

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This chapter looks at two stories from visiting teachers/consultants in settings that were extremely diverse; one situated in a remote community with indigenous students in Western Australia, and the other in suburban schools in two capital cities in Australia. Even though the settings and experiences of the visiting teachers/consultants varied greatly, several themes around working with teachers and teacher assistants in inclusive education emerged. As the visiting teachers/consultants were invited into many schools they had the opportunity to view practices in a range of settings. They came with few preconceived ideas about the constraints of particular workplaces and consequently were in a position to offer objective and pragmatic advice. The visiting teachers/consultants found that they were in a position to foster relationships between teachers and teacher assistants that led to practices which had the potential to improve educational outcomes for the students in the schools.

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Section III: Strategies in Practice

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The paradigm shift to an inclusion model of education demands strategic planning and programming by teachers to ensure individualized instruction for students with disabilities. Paraeducators or teacher assistants are increasingly being used in the delivery of instruction to students with disabilities; therefore, directing or supervising the work of the paraeducator is an integral part of planning and programming for inclusive classrooms. Research-based elements and components of paraeducator supervision are shared to help teachers and other professionals utilize paraeducators effectively in supporting instructional needs of students with disabilities.

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Teachers play a vital role in the structure of their classrooms. Part of this structure is having a clear understanding of the importance of not only supporting their students, but also the teacher assistants/support staff with whom they collaborate. Providing teacher assistants/support staff with guidance, information on student needs and classroom structures, team-building strategies, training, and supervision sets the stage for a positive climate for collaboration, teamwork, and learning. Consequently, teachers should be proactive and diligent to ensure high-quality training and supervision for teacher assistants/support staff, as this will have a direct impact on the services and learning opportunities being provided to the students.

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This chapter focuses on the increasing use of both assistive technology (AT) and teacher assistants (TAs) to support students with disabilities within the inclusive classroom, and why it is vital that teacher assistants have appropriate training in the area of AT. A description of assistive technology and its role in inclusion of students with special needs is provided along with a description of training in assistive technology that was undertaken with teacher assistants. Implications for training and support of teacher assistants in the area of assistive technology are also discussed.

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Training, particularly in the form of comprehensive professional development, continues to be a need for paraeducators (also known as teacher assistants). Training needs begin with an initial set of knowledge and skills and is built based upon the paraeducator’s role with individual students and the educational settings. Standards or guidance documents are available from a few individual states within the United States, higher education systems, and professional organizations that serve individuals with exceptional needs and agencies. An international professional organization, Council for Exceptional Children [CEC] (2011), identified a common skill set that reinforces standards for defining curricula when providing training to paraeducators. Key to their ongoing professional development is the on-the-job coaching by the education professional (teacher), to support the application of skills into the inclusive setting. Various forms of professional development are available including online trainings in addition to face-to-face.

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This chapter explores the benefits of reflective practice in learning environments and discusses the conditions that can impede and facilitate reflection for teachers and teaching assistants. Various strategies and tools to support teaching teams to reflect collaboratively are discussed and recommendations about how to introduce reflective practice are outlined.

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About the Authors

Pages 289-293
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Index

Pages 295-300
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Cover of Working with Teaching Assistants and Other Support Staff for Inclusive Education
DOI
10.1108/S1479-363620154
Publication date
2015-02-03
Book series
International Perspectives on Inclusive Education
Editor
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78441-611-9
Book series ISSN
1479-3636