We aren’t their supervisors but we are the leader of the classroom. Instructional Assistants (sometimes referred to as IAs or Paras) can at first seem like just another thing to manage. But if I do a little work up front, these educators can help me capitalize on the little time I have with students. Most IAs welcome the direction and are happy to have a clear purpose in the classroom.
Here’s what I do:
1. Brainstorm ways I think my IA can help me or my students. Before doing this step, it is important to talk to the special ed, ELL or other department leader who assigned the IA to my class. A lot of clarity and direction can come from one conversation with this leader on the intention of the IA placement.
2. Schedule a meeting with my IA.
3. Create a document for my IA detailing their roles and responsibilities. I place mine on a clipboard in an easy location for the IA to grab.
4. Schedule regular check-ins with my IAs and put these on my calendar.
Want examples of what some of this might look like? IA and Para Management
Here’s what I do when a student is mildly disruptive, disrespectful, or avoiding work.
Stop: I stop near them without saying anything and give them a chance to correct themselves. This works most of the time. Students inherently want to be good.
Drop: If stopping doesn’t work, then I privately drop a firm and polite statement that redirects the unexpected behavior: “Please get to work on your assignment. I’ll check back in a few minutes if I notice that you still need support.”
Roll: I roll on immediately after the redirect is given and return to check in with the student in 3-5 minutes if the behavior continues (most of the time it doesn’t).
Note 1: I like to make classroom management strategies like these apparent to my students. I tell them: “This is what I do when I notice that a student needs support…”
Note 2: Special thanks to the amazing teacher-turned-principal that taught me this strategy during a graduate class at Seattle University.
I golf. I rarely get invited to golf because I’m a girl but that’s talk for a different day. A golf instructor once gave me excellent advice at the driving range. She said, “Your first 8 balls don’t count. Don’t get too frustrated or stressed and definitely don’t lose hope. Just swing, take note of how you felt, and swing again.” The parallels between this comment and the first month of school are extraordinary. Rather than 8, I would say I usually need 20-30 days to get my groove and even then I might lose it and need to re-evaluate my swing. I try to be kind to myself that first month. I go in each day, swing, and then step back and note how I feel. At the end of 30 days, or sometimes sooner, I start to see patterns of things that are working and things that aren’t. This is when I make big moves. But I have to give myself some days that don’t count in the beginning. I have to get warmed up. There are more balls in my bucket; I’ll focus on those.
I didn’t figure out how to efficiently contact home until year 4. I integrate phone calls into my classroom management plan. If students are seen behaving in an expected or leader-like way, I acknowledge them in front of the class and tell them I will be calling home to say how awesome they are. I keep a simple log: name, date, who I talked to or if I left a message, and a plus sign to symbolize that I called for a positive reason. My original thoughts about calls home were that they were too time-consuming. But 2-3 calls can be achieved in 5-10 minutes. I really do try to keep them as short as possible. The purpose is to quickly praise their student. If a phone number I have doesn’t work, I try email or send home a hand-written note. I love ending my day thinking about how awesome kids are.
Back-to-school night has the tendency to cause lots of stress. Here are some ideas that help me feel prepared:
- Put your students to work. I turn on some music at the end of each period and have them help me tidy up or organize. I also ask for volunteers to help me with some organizing/set up after school (I bribe them with the sweet promise of a sucker).
- Have some 3X5 note cards available. On one side, parents write a strength they see in their student and on the other side they write an opportunity for more learning, a question, a hope, etc.
- Prepare a presentation. I include the following in mine:
- Who I am, where I come from/my background, and why I teach
- What students will know by the end of the year (it’s OK if this is vague)
- Communication, tech, grading, and homework information
- Directions for note cards with an example for clarification
I want my principal to know me, know what I do, and give me feedback. Here is what I do:
- Visit their office in the morning to say hello. Most of the time it’s super quick as I grab copies or check my mailbox. I don’t make this a time to talk shop unless they initiate it.
- Invite them into the classroom within the first 6 weeks and then try to make a habit out of it. I send a short email invite. They don’t come every time but they do when they can.
- Ask for feedback after each visit.