Assistants as Members of the PLC
Schools across the country are generally staffed with highly trained professional administrators, teachers and content specialists. In my work assisting schools with building professional learning communities (PLCs), the staff members closest to the instruction are usually the ones that first come to mind when discussing who the “professionals” are that make up a PLC. However, in my experience as a building principal, I very quickly realized that the work of instructional assistants can be crucial in helping a school meet goals and sustain success.
Instructional assistants are known by various nomenclatures. They may also be called teacher assistants, classified personnel, support staff, student support assistants or even aides. Regardless of their name, these individuals are truly unsung heroes in our schools and classrooms and deserve a voice if our schools are to truly operate as high functioning professional learning communities.
Instructional assistants are generally personnel that are hired to support teachers, grade levels, and students in both instructional and non-instructional capacities. In my work with schools, I have seen some amazing and creative ways school leaders have utilized their assistants that directly impact their focus on collaboration, results, and learning. I have seen instructional assistants be given a seat at the table during each collaborative meeting with grade levels. This allowed these assistants tremendous insight into what their role would be as they support the instructional efforts of the teachers and assist students.
In contrast, I have seen instructional assistants work in total ignorance of the work their grade level teams were doing, leaving them with no sense of relevance into their day to day efforts. In school visits, I have seen assistants relegated to menial tasks such as copying worksheets, monitoring the cafeteria, creating bulletin boards, etc. Now I’m not saying that these types of tasks aren’t important. What I am saying is that our schools’ assistants deserve an opportunity to directly impact instruction.
6 Tips for Including Assistants
I’m hoping that the following six tips will help to ensure that school assistants have the opportunity to work in concert with all staff in building and sustaining school excellence within the PLC framework.
- As leaders, it is very important that we ensure all staff members in our school clearly understand our “why,” which is our vision and mission. We cannot take it for granted that our teams and staff understand our main purpose, and we should reiterate our vision and mission at every opportunity. It is important that the school’s classified staff knows and understands them as clearly as a classroom teacher does. This will help all staff members have a clear sense of purpose and relevance in their day to day work.
- Schedules should be created in a purposeful manner to ensure that instructional assistants have the opportunity to work collaboratively. Often, our assistants are not included in our collaborative meetings due to the monitoring of students, preparing resources, etc. Proactively creating a systematic schedule that allows a school’s assistant to be a part of the crucial conversations grade levels must have will have a tremendous pay off.
- Teaching our assistants the Four Critical Questions will give them valuable insight into the work of our teams. Our support staff need to know where to find our standards and curriculum guides and understand how to interpret them. Instructional assistants should also understand the criteria that will be used to evaluate the students and how they can support teachers with this effort. Giving our assistants insight into how they can support both remediation and enrichment of students would serve as a great benefit to a school.
- Not only do our assistants deserve a place at the tables of their grade levels, but also at the leadership table as well. Assistants have amazing insight into many instructional and non-instructional aspects of a school. Their perspective on a myriad of topics will serve a leadership team very well.
- Financially investing in our assistants can pay huge dividends in the form of higher levels of student learning. Just as it is important to provide high quality professional learning for teachers, instructional assistants greatly benefit from these opportunities. Allowing assistants to learn side by side with instructional staff will greatly empower the entire school community to be on the same page with expectations and new initiatives. Showing that you are willing to invest in your assistants’ professional growth may also be the spark that inspires them to work toward becoming a certified teacher.
- Finally, find meaningful opportunities to give assistants instructional goals to work toward. Even though some assistants aren’t directly delivering instruction, they are serving in support of instruction. Co-creating reasonable SMART goals that are instructional based will show assistants they truly play a vital role in the instructional process and are integral in ensuring each student is making progress and being successful.
Some of the most outstanding and high performing schools make a commitment to invest heavily in their amazing assistants. They know that if they are to function as a true PLC, then every stakeholder will be treated as a professional, be given every opportunity to be a learner and always feel they are part of the school community.