In this post
The average primary school class in the UK contains 26.6 pupils. With so many children in each classroom, teaching assistants play a vital role in helping to support teachers. They provide an extra pair of eyes and ears, support learning, help with classroom preparation, and make learning more accessible for all of the students in the classroom.
Teaching assistants play an important role in classroom management for children of all ages. But how can teaching assistants help to implement effective classroom management strategies? How can teaching assistants build an effective and collaborative relationship with the teacher or classroom educational leader? And what role does student behaviour play in classroom management?
Introduction to the Role of Teaching Assistants in Classroom Management
Teaching assistants have a significant impact on classroom dynamics and student success. One study found that teaching assistants in mainstream schools improve pupils’ learning experience, boost pupil motivation and self-esteem, establish good relationships with children and are largely favoured by parents. What’s more, evidence shows that targeted interventions delivered by trained TAs can help bridge the attainment gap between at-risk pupils and their peers. In short, students are more likely to succeed when they are supported by a teaching assistant in the classroom.
Classroom management is the process teachers use to ensure that classroom lessons run smoothly without disruptive behaviour from students compromising the delivery of instruction. There are a wide variety of skills and techniques involved in effective classroom management. Teaching assistants can play an important role in implementing classroom management strategies and often provide one-on-one support for those students who find conforming to these strategies challenging.
For optimal classroom management, it is important that teachers and teaching assistants work together. Where there is partnership and friendship between teacher and teaching assistant, the relationship is often stronger and this has a positive impact on classroom relationships and class management. Teachers should teach their teaching assistants as equals, as valued colleagues, rather than as general dogsbodies. Whilst responsibility for planning lessons and creating classroom management plans falls on the teacher, teaching assistants need to be able to see, share and understand the lesson plan before the lesson begins in order to support the teacher and ensure they can teach the lesson effectively.
It’s important that teaching assistants and lead educators build a relationship, and that they understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as their own. Teachers should trust their teaching assistants and allow them to lead certain elements within the classroom that ‘play to their strengths’ such as music classes, storytime, or circle time. By building this relationship, implementing effective classroom management strategies will be much more straightforward and efficient.
Understanding the Principles of Effective Classroom Management
Effective classroom management is key to successful teaching. Students should be aware of their teachers’ expectations, and these expectations should be both clear and attainable. Some of the key principles of successful classroom management include consistency, fairness, and respect.
Classroom management can improve the behaviour of your students and cultivate a positive classroom environment. Common classroom management techniques that teaching assistants can adopt and support include:
- Modelling behaviour. Showing pupils the behaviour you expect from them, such as using polite language, communicating clearly if something has upset you or if you are finding something difficult, and taking the time to listen to others and let them speak rather than speaking over them.
- Work with the teacher and the children in your class to create a class charter. This should include simple rules that are collaboratively agreed upon and that all members of the classroom will be expected to follow.
- Use positive reinforcement instead of negative reinforcement. Children respond much more favourably to praise for positive behaviour than to punishment for negative behaviour. For example, if a child is swinging in their chair, praise the other children around them for sitting nicely rather than draw attention to the negative behaviour.
Building a Collaborative Relationship With the Lead Educator
As we already mentioned above, the best classrooms are those in which there are open lines of communication and collaboration between the teaching assistants and the lead educators.
There are many ways in which the teaching assistant can support the teacher, and this in turn will have a positive impact on the classroom environment. Headteacher Update defines the Four Cs of effective teaching assistants. These are consistency, communication, clarity and connections.
Children will often ask one adult a question and, if they don’t get the answer that they want, they will seek out another adult. Consistency of approach and response between the teacher and the teaching assistant is a great example of why consistency is so important to classroom management. Clear communication between the teacher and the teaching assistant is also important if the teaching assistant is to be an effective additional resource in the room. Communication should be frequent, and formal communication will also have a vital role to play in ensuring that there is a clear understanding between the two parties.
As part of this formal communication, the class teacher must also make clear what role they want the teaching assistant to play in the lesson. Different teachers look for their teaching assistants to fill different roles in the classroom: it is a very diverse position that can vary not only from school to school but from classroom to classroom. Understanding what the teacher wants from the teaching assistant will enable them to play a meaningful role in classroom management. Finally, forming connections assists when interventions are needed for certain students and forming relationships with those students. Encouraging students to consistently identify and make sense of classroom management approaches can help students form links between their behaviour and their learning objectives.
Teaching assistants can support the lead educator’s goals and strategies by listening to their needs, providing support when it is necessary, and anticipating their needs. A good teaching assistant will know when to prepare the classroom for certain lessons, for example.
Establishing Clear Roles and Responsibilities
It is important to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of teaching assistants in the classroom. Students learn best in a safe, nurturing, and happy environment. And teaching assistants work best when they know exactly what is expected of them, and what roles they will need to perform each day.
As we have already discussed, not all teaching assistants will be expected to fulfil exactly the same role. However, some of the most common tasks that teaching assistants can expect to take include assisting with administrative tasks, student support, and classroom organisation. Teaching assistants should be provided clear direction, and clear expectations of their role should be established by the lead educator before the partnership begins.
Teaching assistants should never be left with nothing to do, but this is often the case when the lead educator has not properly prepared and defined roles in the classroom. Lead educators should ensure they are making the best use of teaching assistants when they are providing whole class input. For example, as teachers are leading a lesson teaching assistants could
- Model the task and expected learning behaviours or support students to keep focused
- Reword instructions or questions for students who find language difficult
- Write observational notes to support assessment
Supporting Student Engagement and Behaviour Management
Effective communication and task coordination are essential to avoid confusion and redundancy in the classroom. This applies not only to communication between the teacher and the teaching assistants but also between the teaching assistants and the students in the classroom.
Teaching assistants can actively engage students in the learning process by
- Starting each lesson with a brief but fun group warm-up
- Using tech as an educational tool. Work with it rather than against it, particularly if you have reluctant students who are excited about using tech or learning via screen interaction.
- Test students regularly. This doesn’t have to be formal testing but actively quizzing students can be fun and interactive, and is a great way to understand how much of each lesson students are retaining.
- Promote self-assessment. Depending on the age of your students they can be encouraged to mark or correct their own work, helping them to engage more effectively. This also makes it easier for students to learn at their own pace, removing any barriers or frustrations at a learning speed that doesn’t suit every student.
Implementing Proactive and Preventive Approaches
Even with a robust classroom management policy in place, sometimes there will be behavioural challenges in the classroom. These can be posed by just one or by a group of students. It is important that teaching assistants anticipate any potential challenges that may arise and implement preventive strategies when they notice that a child may be triggered to display challenging behaviours.
Studies have shown that about one in twenty (4.6%) 5 to 19-year-olds had a behavioural disorder, with rates higher in boys (5.8%) than girls (3.4%). This means that it is likely that all classrooms will experience some kind of behavioural challenges.
Teaching assistants can contribute to a proactive and positive learning environment by using the following behavioural management strategies
- Praising positive behaviour
- Using calming language and clear instructions
- Building meaningful relationships with the students to ensure you understand their unique wants and needs
- Observe and analyse the students regularly so that you are aware when their attitude or behaviour is dipping or changing
These approaches will all ensure that the classroom is primed for success and will address not only the needs of the class as a whole but the needs of individual students too.
Communication and Coordination Among Teaching Assistants
In some mainstream schools teaching assistants will work alone in the classroom alongside the lead educator. But in other mainstream schools teaching assistants will work alongside other teaching assistants as part of a multi-TA classroom environment.
Whole-class teaching assistants are used to provide an extra adult within the classroom to support the teacher to meet the wide range of needs and abilities in a group of young children. Meanwhile, students who have special educational needs may have their own dedicated teaching assistant within the classroom. These teaching assistants may work independently with the child they are supporting or they may work more collaboratively with the other staff members in their classroom.
Whether they will work together or independently within the classroom, teaching assistants should still ensure that they support each other and collaborate to ensure consistency in classroom management. Each teaching assistant should follow the same classroom management approaches and adopt the same techniques. Often these will be set by the teacher or lead educator within the classroom.
One of the best ways to ensure that all of the educators within the classroom are on the same page regarding classroom management approaches is to hold regular team meetings and share best practices in an open and non-judgemental way. Good ideas should be shared and celebrated. Effective communication is one of the most valuable qualities that a good teaching assistant can possess.
However, it is important that as part of this path to open communication, teaching assistants don’t crowd the children they are supporting. There is a fine line between helping a child to understand a lesson and completing the lesson for them. This is emphasised by research carried out by the UCL Institute of Education (IoE) which showed that students who have the most support from teaching assistants often make the least amount of progress. This is a sign that sometimes, teaching assistants should be encouraged to take a step back and allow students to understand what they are able to do independently. Often those students will thrive.
Teaching assistants play a vital role in the classroom and when teaching assistants work alongside teachers, this is the best way to achieve the most successful classroom management approach. Teaching assistants work closely with their students, meaning that they have a significant impact on their learning experiences. When teaching assistants collaborate with lead educators, this can improve the learning experience and learning outcomes for students, particularly those students in need of additional assistance. Teaching assistants are encouraged to implement effective classroom management strategies to create a harmonious and enriching learning environment for all students.