Welcome to the first of a three-part link up for Hidden Gems in the Classroom. Teaching isn't just made up of perfect lesson plans and perfect students. We've all relied on assistance, an idea that was just out-there, and a mistake that became a time/lesson you'll never forget. That's what this link up is all about. Over the next four weeks I'll invite you to join in and share your experiences--because it might just be the tip you didn't even realize you were looking for.
We start this first Link-Up with one of my favorites (and nearest and dearest to my heart): Teacher Aide or are they Paraprofessionals or are they Teacher Assistants or are they my favorite: Colleagues and Friends. In every district and every school they have a different name, but the work they do for my students is incredible and I want to share some of the incredible experiences they give my students every day.
Let me start by saying there won't be a lot of wonderful visual in this post. Just stories, ideas, and my perception on the aide/support staff we have in the building. This is a topic I feel pretty strongly about because I work so closely with most of them because they work with students that I service directly. They are in my ear with information and ideas on a daily basis, filling me in on playground, classroom, and overall experiences of the students. But I don't want to get too far ahead so let me go ahead and begin my list.
1. They're proactive. They come and tell me about students who are having difficulty because they want to know if it is okay for them to assist. If they see a student struggling they don't wait to fill out paperwork--they make decisions that are in the best interest of the student. Proactive is a heckuva alternative to being reactive. This is a skill that is actually tougher than it sounds, but they are always ready and willing to work with a student in need.
2. High expectations: This might seem a little silly, but trust me--many of the aides in my building are familiar with all of the students that have IEPs which means they understand what students are capable of becoming. They hold those students to high expectations and want them to succeed.
3. Underground Railroad: A couple of years ago one of our aides in our building had a student create an Underground Railroad blanket with clues for how to escape the South. This was done in conjunction to the class reading about Harriet Tubman, but it also made some of the work and research more engaging for the student. The final result was incredible and this student was beside himself when it was all over.
4. How to Eat Fried Worms: Last year another one created their own booklet for students to read How to Eat Fried Worms during their read-aloud time. Not only that but they created a couple of (gummi) worm recipes to eat themselves. These kids were loving it.
5. Student Removal: There is nothing tougher in the classroom than when you've got to physically remove a student. This is both the emotional and physical struggle because it is a last resort, but I've had to do it quite a few times. Included is the aide of the student/classroom and we work as a complete team to safely and responsibly remove a student (if needed). This requires specific training (CPI) and is not something that is taken lightly by anyone. It's tough to truly articulate how an aide must feel when they've removed a student and then 15 minutes later they are back in the classroom working with that same student. This is difficult and deserves respect, which mine they surely have.
6. Relationships: Although some might bristle at this, the truth is that many aides in my building create strong relationships with the parents of students they work closely with. THIS is Huge! It creates a trust between everyone and makes everyone part of the solution when assisting kids, whether it is behavioral, academic, or anything in between.
7. They Put Up with a Lot of Crap: Many times they are caught in the middle of school changes whether it is lunch duty, RTI, covering students, and they must be able to roll with it and make sure students are safe and accounted for. Many times they're also asked to be in two places at once by two different teachers. The challenges never stop yet they continue to persevere.
8. Care: One of my favorite aspects of the aides that I work with is their ability to feel empathy for the students. So many times they help support kids by bringing in supplies, clothing, or whatever else to make projects and school be successful.
It would be pretty difficult to count the number of times they brought in a box of granola bars because they know a student doesn't have breakfast at home. Or the times they've paid money at a book fair for a student to pick out their favorite book. These things just go on and on.
The holidays are the best because they head out to the stores and pick out jackets or small gifts for the kids. It's one of the reasons I love working with all of them so much because when an aide/friend cares about a kid then things are going to get done. No doubt about it.
**Also, at my school we don't have any students with 1:1 aide support. We are full inclusion and most of the support staff works with a few different students (many times this is over multiple rooms and grade levels). They also assist in facilitating RTI groups around the building. In our district the support staff also does lunch or recess duty, which I know is different than a lot of others.
I'd love to know more about what your support staff look like and how they've made a difference in your day-to-day school life.