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 don’t appreciate people enough. The janitor who chats with me after a long day while sweeping my messy middle school classroom. The counselor who rushes to my class moments after I call with an issue. The librarian who allows me to send kids to her library on a whim. The special education teacher who is a tireless advocate and expert listener. The nurse who makes my students feel cared for. The mentor teacher who puts things in perspective. The principal who asks me how I’m doing. The student who comes in early to take down the chairs. The office assistant who makes my copies when I’m in a bind. The sports coach who holds my students to the highest of standards. The PLC that asks big questions. The co-teacher who is my balance, my strength, and my inspiration. So how do I share my gratitude? I make it a priority. I put it on my to-do list. I stop when I see them in the hall to say thank you. Or I leave a small gift. Or I write a quick note, email or text. These people make all the difference in my school community and deserve to know.
I have been fortunate to be a member of productive PLCs with thoughtful people. PLC meetings make me a better teacher if we are doing these three things:
- We agree on an agenda at least 2 full days before the meeting.
- Our agenda focuses on student work or student behavior.
- We all come prepared and leave with an action item.
Middle school librarians are a special kind of superhero.
The first librarian I worked with has powers of high emotional intelligence. She had visited my class during my first year of teaching to run a book pass. Later that day, she sent me the most affirming email I have ever received as an educator. And she copied the principal. Librarians get it.
The librarian I’ve known the longest is purely magical. She has planned lessons for me. She has taught my class with me. She has created step-by-step directions for using technology I didn’t know how to use. And, the most magical, she integrated theater into my class on multiple occasions in order to help students (many who had disabilities) better understand what they were reading. Librarians get it.
Librarian super hero #3 has matchmaking powers. I would email or call or slip a note in her box with a student name and list of interests. Oftentimes within that very hour, a stack of books chosen for that particular student would appear. Her powers to make readers out of the most reluctant students is awe-inspiring. Librarians get it.
Making friends with these school heroes has been a life saver. So grateful.
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.
“Don’t stay too late.” “Don’t go in too early.” “Don’t work weekends.” “Keep your balance.” Yeah. Right. My first year I stayed late, went in early, and worked weekends. I wanted to do a good job and that meant working a lot. I had to redefine balance. I needed a definition that worked for me.
Balance: attending happy hour on Fridays
My first few years of teaching I went to happy hour every Friday. I was filled with more than just greasy food and cheap beer at these soul-saving events; I received validation, laughter, encouragement, and release. Taking some time to decompress with my comrades was essential to my happiness. Friday would end, the kids would be gone, and I would be exhausted. But I never once regretted mustering the energy to go to happy hour. And let’s be real, I was home and in bed by 9 at the latest.
The first time I got an email from a parent with a pointed concern, my internal temperature rose and I immediately got defensive. I spent well over an hour crafting the perfect email back.What a waste of time! I never even sent that email. Eventually I developed this template for all parent emails, and it has proved the ultimate time saver. parent-email-template
(Insert student name) is (describe positive characteristics you’ve noticed about their student). He/She is a wonderful addition to our classroom community.
(Address concern, question, or other comment here in 2-5 sentences – keep it brief!)
(Insert student name) is lucky to have a parent that cares about him/her and his/her education.
Thank you for your support,
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.