Tip #1 Getting Started: Support Teacher Tips Series

Tip #1

Cultivate a Positive Relationship with the Classroom Teacher from the Beginning

It all comes down to the golden rule: Treat others how you want to be treated. If you want to be a respected colleague in the classroom you need to respect the teacher/s with whom you are working.

When establishing a support program my first steps are focused on cultivating positive relationships with the participating teachers.  I begin as a guest in their classroom and work towards becoming an integral part of the classroom landscape. Here is the process I follow.

STEP ONE Introduce yourself and your program

Approach the teacher outside of the classroom to inform them that you have been assigned to support their class and initiate a conversation.

Explain why you have been assigned and the goals of your program or expectations that have been placed on you.  Example: I am assigned to your class because 11 of your 28 students have learning difficulties and 3 of these students have a disability which impacts on their ability to access the curriculum.  My goal is to ensure that these targeted students will improve their results by one level (ie D to C) by the end of the year.

Ask the teacher how they would like to proceed.  If they have worked with support teachers before they might like to use the same process or they may be open to trying something different. Discuss ways that you would like to support them and how you would like to move forward.

STEP TWO Come to an agreement

Decide how you will enter the room and function as a member of the class community (sitting with a specific small group of students, moving among students throughout the lesson, sitting in the corner during direct teaching time and then moving around the room while students work independently).

Discuss and Decide how students will address you and how you (as teachers) will address each other in front of students.  Example: I always refer to male teachers as Mr … (e.g. Smith) or Sir, and female teachers as Ms … (e.g.  Smith). I ask that they refer to me as Ms … (e.g. Jones) in class too.  This shows that we respect each other as teachers and expect students to show us the same respect.


Repeat this conversation after being in the classroom a few times.  Check that what you have planned is working for both of you.


Further steps for keeping the professional relationship positive and functional.

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The Balancing Act: Support Teacher Tips Series

Most Learning Support Teachers are experienced classroom teachers. The move from being the responsible classroom teacher to becoming the ‘support’ teacher requires adjustment and careful navigation. Classroom teachers are responsible for long term curriculum planning, lesson organisation, grouping students, marking classwork and assessment, behaviour and classroom management, reporting and more. It is difficult to let go of those responsibilities when you become a support teacher. This is especially true when the teacher you are supporting does things very differently to you. However, as a supporting teacher it is not your job to take over the classroom, manage behaviour or take responsibility for planning and assessment. You are working in a team and while it might be tempting to lead the team you need to allow the classroom teacher to lead.

The actions of the support teacher are as delicate as a surgeon’s. While it is tempting to sit at the back of the room and shake your head at the (sometimes unbelievable) actions of students in the class and their teacher, it is important that the support teacher does not ‘give up’ when it gets too hard. It might be frustrating when students seem not to respond to your presence and the teacher you are supporting seems to see you as an imposition rather than a knowledgeable colleague. However the collegial teamwork of classroom and support teacher can have a significant impact on student results and it is well worth your effort to build this slowly and focus on the positive.

So Tip #1: Keep the Balance.

Focus on the positive behaviour and actions of students and the classroom teacher/s.

When giving advice or feedback, be sure to highlight positive aspects of a lesson/ resource/ plan.

Make small goals and be hopeful as well as proactive about reaching them.

You can Do it!

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Support Teacher Tips: Series Introduction

In my current role, I support teachers and students in year 9 English and Maths classes.  In past years I have provided similar support in the primary school setting as well as other secondary school subjects including Science and History. This month I will share my tips for supporting in a colleague’s classroom as well as my experiences in my support roles.

This role brings great rewards and can present great challenges.  The support teacher is expected to assist the classroom teacher; work with individual students and small groups; provide resources; modify/ adjust classroom activities; support completion of assessment; and collaborate with the teacher during the planning process.

The success of a support teacher is often measured by student results – there must be improvement in the results of the targeted students.  The attitude of the teacher and the students is not taken into account.  The fact that the target students have low results due to their behaviour and effort is not considered.  Sometimes, the support teacher may be working very hard with little result, simply because of the students’ unwillingness to learn.

As a leader in our learning support program, I am not only expected to improve student results, I am also expected to “build capacity.”  The goal is to increase the capacity of the teachers with whom I work.  Therefore the teacher/s whom I support also need to be open to learning and growing as professionals while wanting to see every one of their students succeed.  While that seems to be completely reasonable – there are still teachers out there who are stuck and quite happy to stay stuck.  These teachers believe that if their students want to learn, they will learn.  These teachers believe that if their students are not learning it is due to the students’ lack of effort and/ poor behaviour.  These teachers believe that how they teach is perfect and should work for every student.  Sometimes the support teacher is expected to get results quickly when working with limited tools.  The tips in this series come from experience of both situations willing students and teachers as well as reluctant learners.

We know the world is not perfect. Stay tuned.

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