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“As a Teaching Assistant you have the ability to make such a difference!

I'll be honest with you, I don't particularly like the term ‘TA’ because it tends to imply that all the work is done by the teacher.

Engagement Officers

However, when another adult in the classroom is most effective is when they're working as a team! At the wonderful Stone Soup (Alternative Provision Academy) where I still do a little bit of work, we don't have TAs, we have ‘Engagement Officers’ and I think if you think of your role as being about engagement then you suddenly realize the potential of what you can do.

Of course, we need the people with subject knowledge helping and organizing our curriculum, but in terms of the actual interaction, we understand what it is, we understand what learning is, we understand what happens in there, we understand that the most important part of learning is the young person's keenness to be involved and how much they're enjoying and interested in the work.

Giving Hooks

Sometimes a really, effective other adult has the ability to see things from perhaps a different perspective to what the teacher does and, for me, it's at its strongest when you don't approach it from exactly the same way the teacher does, but you actually come at it from another angle.

You give a learning hook and you give something that makes them go “Oh yes! Actually, that is interesting!”.

Don’t Ride the Bike For Them

The one thing it is really, important not to do is to do the work for the young person because that's causing a kind of dependency that that actually is not helping them.

If they come to rely that you're going to do the work for them, that's never going to help, but actually helping see the positive and having the ability to just sit by them and go “Wow! Yeah. You didn't get the answer right, but, Gosh, you've nearly got there” and that shows your thinking, picking on little bits of things they've done and gone “Wow! That's the way in!” and helping them reframe questions into something that they understand and get – helping them feel positive!

Never ‘Just’ a TA!

There is a direct link between how a young person feels about the subject and how they are actually achieving in it, so we have to give them that access and, so please never ever label yourself as “Oh, I am just a teaching assistant” because no you're not!

You're actually the one who can light up lights.

I've seen young people who were really writing themselves off in a subject actually completely changing how they see the subject because of the input of another adult, where somebody has actually just helped them realize ‘you know what, I can do this!’.

Help Them See the Beauty

Many young people, when you ask them what subjects they like or they don't like they'll tell you that they don't like a particular subject because “The teacher says I'm no good at it” - I've heard that a number of times.

Young people, if they don't do well in a test or they don't do well in a particular thing, will quite easily write themselves off.

Your role, if you think of yourself as the engagement person, the engagement officer or a person who's going to make a difference, your job suddenly becomes not about being a teacher, but about helping them see the beauty of what they're doing and to see that that they can do it.

Because if a young person believes they can do it, they can do it - it's that simple.

Keep doing what you're doing and enjoy it because if you're enjoying it, the young person's enjoying it and then you are definitely going to be making a difference!”

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About the author

Dave Harris

Dave Harris

Dave is an experienced school leader with a unique international grasp of what makes schools tick. He is the author of Brave Heads and the Leadership Dialogues series with Professor John West Burnham.

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