Building the capability of education support staff in schools - Education Matters Magazine
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Building the capability of education support staff in schools

How prepared are education support staff for their role at your school?  Australian Teacher Aide, a national professional learning organisation, examines the research on the preparedness of education support staff, and highlights how three Australian schools are building the capability of their support teams.

Australian Teacher Aide was established in 2015 by Mandy Bell and Stella Liliendal to help schools improve the effectiveness of support staff in schools.

“We established ATA to help teachers and teacher aides to work collaboratively for the benefit of all students. From previous work done in the training sector, we realised that there was a massive gap in opportunity for ongoing professional development for teacher aides in schools, and little guidance for teachers and support staff on how to work together effectively,” Bell says. 

“From the start we planned to develop a signature program that was driven by evidence-based data on high impact teaching and learning practices that schools could use to improve the effectiveness of their teacher aide teams,” Liliendal explains.

This led to the development of Effective Teacher Aide Practices for Schools (eTAPS), an online professional learning program developed specifically to prepare support staff for their role in the classroom.

The writing of eTAPS coincided with the world’s largest study on the impact of support staff on student learning, the DISS (Deployment and Impact of Support Staff) project in the UK.

“We knew we were on the right track with eTAPS when the data showed that teacher aides who are prepared for their support role can make a significant and positive impact on student learning, whereas support staff who are not prepared may be hindering the progress of students!” Liliendal says.

The study recommended how school leaders can improve the effectiveness of support staff, by considering how well they are prepared for their role in the classroom, and by providing them with relevant training.

Last year, Sally Dick, Director of Learning Support at Sacred Heart College in Kyneton, Victoria, decided to deliver eTAPs to all the learning support officers (LSOs) at the college after researching the program.

The four modules were originally scheduled to be delivered to the LSOs over two semesters, however with the impact of COVID-19, the team had to shift from face-to-face delivery to self-paced learning from home.

“Although the delivery mode changed, eTAPS has improved the team’s understanding of pedagogy and effective teaching and learning practices,” Dick says. “The feedback showed that the team had gained a better understanding of the role of learning intentions and success criteria, and the impact of prior knowledge on learning.”

Five years down the track, ATA now has an online professional development library of more than one hundred curriculum-based resources that are used by schools across Australia.

The opportunity to access online professional learning has enabled regional schools such as Longreach State School and Oak Flats High School to provide timely training to their support staff, without the budget constraints usually associated with attending off site workshops.

This is the fifth year that Tracey Hart, Head of Curriculum at Longreach State School, located in outback Queensland, has been providing their teacher aides with ATA online professional learning.

Tracey schedules one hour a week for the teacher aides to meet, collaborate, and do their professional learning together, based on their annual performance and development planning goals.

“This values teacher aides as paraprofessionals and gives everyone the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge the teacher aides need for their diverse job roles,” Hart told ATA.

At Oak Flats High School in New South Wales, Head Teacher Jo Opie actively promotes a collaborative school culture by building the expertise of all staff and believes that although teachers and SLSOs may do different work, together they make a team!

They have been using the ATA professional learning resources to develop the knowledge and skills of the team.

“I have seen amazing growth in the support skills, communication, and research skills of the SLSOs, which has benefited the way they work with students,” Opie says.

As well as offering an online library of video resources, ATA also works in partnership with education experts to host live monthly web events.

During 2021, school leaders will share how they are building the capability of their support teams to provide explicit reading instruction, support students with hearing loss, avoid or minimise meltdowns in students who live with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and how to support gifted and talented learners.

“We are also delighted to have the 2020 Australian Teacher Aide of the Year, Taryn Riles, a school learning support officer at Boorowa Central School in New South Wales, share her insights on how to empower teacher aides to take ownership and pride in their profession,” says Bell. 

Julie Murray, Director of Primary and National Head of Learning Support at OneSchool Global in Western Australia highlights that the Australian Teacher Aide site has been a wonderful find for its school.

“The resources are excellent, as is having access to such high-quality webinars and speakers. It is excellent value for money and something we will continue to invest in for the future,” she says.