Working with teacher aides at school

Introduction

This article provides information relevant to family/whānau in New Zealand about teacher aides and includes information on the following:

  • What is the teacher aide’s role?
  • Strengthening Learning Support
  • What is important to families when using a teacher aide?
  • How does your child get teacher aide support?
  • Summary of supports available to your child
  • What do teacher aides need?
  • The role of the school and principal?
  • Support checklist for family/whānau, and
  • Useful references.

What is the teacher aide’s role?

One of the biggest misconceptions families have is that the teacher aide is a resource for the student, in fact the teacher aide is a resource for the teacher. It is the responsibility of the teacher to work out how the teacher aide will work with your child.  This resource provides the teacher with more time to spend on tailoring the curriculum and developing resources for your child’s learning needs.

In saying that, there is a huge amount of variety in how these roles play out in different educational settings (ie. early childhood centres, primary, intermediate or secondary school). There may be an opportunity to open-up discussions about how the teacher aide resource can be used to meet the needs of your son/daughter ie. in secondary schools teacher aides might support students on work experiences or as a reader/writer for exams, some schools allow families to pay for a teacher aide and the teacher aide is allocated to the student.

If your child is attending a new school, you can ask to meet with the principal (or a member of the Board of Trustees) and find out about:

  • the school’s values, principles and priorities
  • how they support children with additional learning needs
  • how they create an inclusive environment so the child can take part in all aspects of school life
  • how they utilise their funding, and
  • how they support teacher aides.

A well-structured approach to using a teacher aide provides the best results for the student. Ideally a teacher aide should:

  • have a clearly defined role, tasks and responsibilities
  • work 1:1 or in small groups
  • have a structured work setting
  • have a clear understanding of the learning goals of the student
  • be well supported and up-skilled in techniques that best support your child
  • have a diverse range of skills which are fully utilised, and
  • have access to ongoing professional development.

Teacher aides, particularly in secondary school, are adept at supporting students in multiple subject areas and with making subject material meaningful and accessible (this is called ‘differentiated support’) and refers to things like breaking tasks down, teaching or doing only one part of the task, using accessible language, etc. Different teacher aides will have different strengths.  It is good to consider which teacher aide has the right skill set for the different curriculum subjects as well as who is the right ‘fit’ for the student.

It is crucial that the teacher aide does not become a barrier to the student interacting with other students and teachers. This can happen when the student and teacher aide work exclusively together and form a strong bond. The role of the teacher aide is to encourage ‘natural supports’ with other students and to find ways where they can withdraw or fade out support so as to allow other students or the teacher to work with the student. This assists the student with bulding relationships with others.

Lightbulb with Helpful Tips


Check out if your school has a Learning Support Coordinator – they will be able to help you navigate the education/school system. NB: The Learning Support Coordinator may work across a number of schools, particularly in larger regions (see below).

It is important that time is made available for the Head of Learning Support (or relevant teacher) at your school to meet regularly with the teacher aide so they can plan, monitor and evaluate the students learning and support needs. The teacher aide typically works closely with the student and their views are invaluable. The teacher aide should also be involved in IEP meetings. These meetings should involve the student, family/whānau, teacher, teacher aide, Head of Learning Support (if applicable) and other professionals involved with your child.

Funding for teacher aides is during the school terms, not the school holidays. Any support the family requires during school holidays is found by the family/whānau (ie. holiday programmes and/or respite). Sometimes families/providers employ teacher aides (who have a good relationship with the student) during the school holidays so there is continuity of care.

You can set up a ‘circle of support’ for a student so they have buddies at morning/afternoon tea, lunch breaks, in form classes and in other subject areas or classes.

Strengthening Learning Support

The Ministry of Education is in the process of improving the education system for those who have learning support needs. Strengthening Learning Support will keep you informed about the changes being made.

The reason for changes to the education system are:

  • hard to navigate
  • too many hurdles to get the right support
  • don’t always get the support required early enough.

A new role being created is the ‘Learning Support Coordinator’. This person will be the ‘go to’ person for parents and is it hoped that having this person will help ‘simplify the system’. You may also be interested in the Learning Support Action Plan.

What is important to families when using a teacher aide?

Communication

It is important that everyone involved has a clear understanding of how communication will happen between the student, school, teacher, teacher aide and home. This should be reviewed regularly as communication needs will change over time. It is important that families are informed about events that happen throughout the day, particularly those that may have an impact on the child later on at home ie. seizures.

This also holds true for families; they need to clearly communicate with the school about things that may have an impact on the child while they are at school.

Having good communication is vital for students learning and support

Having good communication processes is especially important for those students who may have no, or limited verbal communication. Some students may go from respite to school or school to respite or take part in before or after school programmes so good communication is essential between all the parties involved.

Sometimes you may not agree with something that is happening at school; know that it’s ok to work through disputes and resolutions. Make sure you are ‘heard’ and have other people support you as you go through this process. Remember you know your child, and your voice and knowledge is important.

Lightbulb with Helpful Tips


Community Law provides some useful advice for common problems at school: Information for parents and whānau for students who require additional learning support.

The school needs to provide family/whānau with feedback on the childs learning and achievements (this can be set out clearly in IEP meetings). The teacher and teacher aides can be creative about how they record progress, particularly when a student is not working towards typical curriculum standards. Get the teacher aide to record what they do (and the time allocated) in a diary. They could provide observations, photos or videos to document their interactions with your child and your child’s learning.

Building good relationships

The relationship the child develops with the teacher aide is a crucial one. As a family having good working relationships with all those involved with your child is essential.

In order to have good relationships there must be mutual respect, belonging and trust. Typically, the focus to ‘belong’ is on the child, but the family/whānau also need to feel they belong. Feeling comfortable, welcomed and valued for their contribution enables family/whānau to fully participate and engage with the school.

From the school’s perspective, having a good relationship with family/whānau fosters learning and wellbeing for the student. It also helps teachers have a better understanding of the child’s needs, interests, and experiences.

Consistency and shared values

There may be several different professionals working with your child at school, as well as those who work with your child outside of school. When working with multiple professionals, they need to:

  • share information
  • be on the same page
  • attend your child’s IEP, and
  • take part in regular meetings as needed.

The teacher aide needs to have a diverse range of skills and knowledge, including a good understanding of the core values and principles that underpin good practice when it comes to working with and supporting a disabled child or adult. It is the responsibility of the school to ensure teacher aides have the relevant training they need and that the role of the teacher aide is valued.

It is important to family/whānau that there is an awareness of core values and principles, such as:

The principles that underpin the teacher aide’s practice will impact the way they support your son or daughter. Understanding these core principles can prevent inappropriate support, for example “a child in our local school was a runner so they put her in baby leading reins, and the school didn’t seem to understand why the child’s caregivers were upset”.

Attitudes

One of the greatest challenges for the child and family are judgements made by other students, teachers and the wider school community. Negative ‘stereotyping’ can adversely affect attitudes and can increase the likelihood of isolation of the student (and family). The school needs to have policies and principles that ensure the child (and family) are included in the life of the school and to proactively deal with negative assumptions, stereotyping and bullying.

One way to help with this is to ensure the school has accurate information about your son or daughter. When inaccurate assumptions are made about the child or family this can have a negative impact on the relationship between the home and school. Families tell us that having a ‘trusting relationship’ with the school helps ensure a positive school experience.

How does your child get Teacher Aide support?

To be eligible for teacher aide support your child needs to be verified as having high or very high needs and receive funding through ORS (Ongoing Resource Scheme) or the SHHNF (School High Health Needs Fund). The school also receives a Special Education Grant (SEG) and it is up to the school’s discretion as to how this is used. Any SEG funding is paid direct to the school or fund holder.

If your child is assessed as having High or Very High needs this determines the level of funding and support they will receive. If you are not satisfied with the level of funding, you can request a formal review (refer to the Community Law link in the section on Communication as this provides family/whānau with information on the review process).

There are several resources that can assist you when exploring this topic, including:

Summary of supports available to your child

Listed below is a summary of the types of support your child may be eligible for if they receive ORS or SHHNF. The information below is from the Ministry of Education’s resources for students with ORS:

Type of Support

Explanation

Amount

Additional teacher support

Additional time to co-ordinate effective use of supports, work directly with your child and prepare resources to be used by your child.

If the student has high needs your school will receive funding for 0.1 full time equivalent additional teacher time.

If the student has very high needs your school will receive funding for 0.2 full time equivalent additional teacher time.

Teacher aide support

Supports the child’s teacher and works directly with the student (with structured learning goals)

Will vary as depends on funding level and support needed.

Schools can use teacher aide funding flexibly to support the well-being, learning, and inclusion of students.

NB: There is widespread concern over the hourly rate paid by the Ministry which is $18.47 or $19.25 depending on the type of school.

A consumables grant

A small grant to cover costs of items your child needs (these should remain with the child until they leave school or no longer need it).

This annual amount is paid to the school in quarterly payments.

For each student who is verified as very high needs, the annual grant is $561.19 (GST inclusive).

For each student verified as high needs, the annual grant is $280.56 (GST inclusive).

Specialist services

Depending on the student’s needs, they may also be eligible to access specialist support services, such as:

  • psychologists
  • special education advisors
  • music therapy
  • orientation and mobility
  • occupational therapy, physiotherapy
  • advisers on deaf children, speech-language therapists, kaitakawaenga (Mäori cultural advisors).

Note that although these are the approved specialists for ORS, this does not automatically mean they are available across the country.

Access to approved specialists is based on individual need and availability.

Other support

The student may be eligible for transport assistance (SESTA)

Funding varies from student to student.

The student may be eligible for Assistive Technology Support

Funding for equipment, such as special keyboards and software, etc.

Special Education Grant

Schools can use this grant with students who may or may not be getting other support or funding, and can be used for:

  • resources
  • teacher training
  • teacher aides
  • Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour and other specialists.

You might be interested in looking at ‘Managing the Special Education Grant – A Handbook for Schools’.

All schools receive a grant called the special education grant (SEG) and can access school-based resource teachers such as RTLBs.

The level of funding depends on the number of students with learning support needs.

This is part of the school’s operational funding – and is up to the school as to how this is spent, other operational money can also be spent on learning support needs.

In-Class Support (ICS) provides a contribution towards teacher aide support to students with continuing high learning needs, who are not funded through the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS).

It is recognized widely that the level of support needed isn’t always covered by government funding. In a Survey of Special Education Needs Coordinators (2018) the report stated that “sixty nine percent of respondents either disagree or strongly disagree that their school has the resources needed to ensure that all students can participate fully in school”. A lot of time and energy can be spent on getting the right funding and support by both the parents and the school.

Lightbulb with Helpful Tips



Sometimes it can be hard to find out about how the level of funding was decided, and how the school is using that allocation. You do have a right to know how the funding is being spent. A good idea is to agree to some level of transparency before the child starts school, so you agree with the amount and level of information the school shares with you.

What do Teacher aides need?

Schools can be hierarchical in structure and support staff may not be as valued as they should be. It is important that the teacher aide feels valued in their role, and has adequate access to ongoing professional development.

The teacher aides’ role can be complex and they may be required to work across different curriculum subjects as well as have a range of specialist skills such as being able to use adaptive equipment or technology, administer medication, personal care, and manage challenging behavior.

Although communication about the child’s learning needs to go through the teacher or Head of Learning Support the teacher aide also needs to have good communication skills as they are often the person the family has the most direct day to day contact with (ie. pick up and drop off times).

The teacher aide needs training to handle extreme behaviours compassionately and effectively, e.g. meltdowns. The types of skills required is often not reflected in their pay rate.  From a family’s perspective, the teacher aide may also need to understand different learning styles – so that if a teacher is too busy to alter their lesson plan for the disabled child the teacher aide can do so.

It is important that teacher aides are trained to use a wide range of learning aides (that allows the student to grow as a learner) such as a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). PECS can be used to allow people with little or no verbal communication to communicate using pictures (ie. visual timetable or scheduling board).  There are a wide range of other tools that can be used such as maths, writing and technological aids and devices (that vary in complexity). Any learning aide needs to be tailored to the child and their learning needs.

The role of the school and principal?

The school needs to prioritise the role of the teacher aide and have good structures in place to support this role. The principal and Board of Trustees have overall authority over the teacher aide’s role and job description – it is important that the teacher aide’s role is well defined and clearly communicated.

The principal allocates funding for students learning support needs (ie. ORS, SHNNF and SEG funding) and approves funding for professional development and the weekly meetings between the teacher and teacher aide. Some funding is at the principal’s discretion ie. SEG funding, so chat with the principal about how the school plans on using that money.

The Head of Learning Support (or teacher) should meet with your child’s teacher aide weekly to go over your child’s programme/learning goals and provide them with the strategies they need to support your child’s learning.

The principal influences the values/culture of the school and this impacts the learning environment. Schools need to be inclusive and supportive of families. Families may be under huge amounts of stress which the school may or may not be aware of. Secondary schools have counsellors who can be a great resource for families.

Your child will have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) where goals will be set and regularly reviewed.  The people who typically attend an IEP include the student, teacher, teacher aide/s, other professionals and the family/whānau. It is important for family/whānau to input into the IEP. How much they are involved and how they input may vary over time, depending on the age of the student.

If the school has a Learning Support Coordinator – find out who they are and how the school uses them. If the school doesn’t have a Learning Support Coordinator (often referred to as a SENCO – Special Education Needs Coordinator) find out who the person is who oversees children with learning support needs (sometimes this role may be shared between schools). They will be a valuable resource to you.

If you have concerns, and these are not being addressed by the class teacher, you can talk with the principal.

Lightbulb with Helpful Tips



You can ask if you can be involved in the employment selection of the teacher aide who will work with your son or daughter (different schools will have different policies on this).

If your child needs personal care, make sure you talk with the school about what they should/should not do, and ensure this is done with dignity and respect.

Support Checklist for family/whānau

Have you discussed with the school how your child will be supported with …

  • their learning and/or curriculum goals
  • moving between classes
  • taking part in activities at morning tea and lunchtime
  • eating and drinking
  • going to the toilet
  • taking medications
  • going on school trips
  • accessing playgrounds and buildings
  • supporting independence
  • social interactions and building friendships
  • transition from primary to intermediate or intermediate to secondary school
  • transition from secondary school to life after school (it is a good policy to start talking about this early on in their secondary schooling)
Print Friendly, PDF & Email