8 Key Elements to an Effective TA Training Program

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It’s easy for educators to think about all the resources we wish we had. What’s more constructive is to consider how we can make the most of the resources already in place. Our teaching assistants are valuable resources that are often misused. In a previous post, we explored the importance and benefits of implementing a comprehensive teaching assistant training program in international schools. But what exactly should that training be? Including these eight topics in your TA training will build a solid foundation for your assistant teachers to feel prepared, empowered, and invaluable in their classrooms.  

Element #1: The purpose and history of inclusion 

Where has inclusion come from, and how has it evolved through the years? A fundamental idea in education is that students understand concepts better when taught the “why” rather than just the “how.” This idea applies to adults as well. By knowing the history of inclusion in the classroom, TAs will have a deeper understanding of the principles of inclusion and be more likely to use them effectively. For example, we can simply hope a kindergarten TA sees how circle time activities alternate between sitting and standing — or we could explain to them that in an inclusive classroom, activities are designed to promote learning for all in the least restrictive environment. By implementing this strategy, we’re allowing all students to participate.

Element #2: Overview of common disabilities & SEN language

We throw a lot of jargon around in the world of learning support, but we need to ensure that all of our staff members have the same definition of these words. I had a very brave 7th-grade teacher once pull me aside to tell me that he didn’t understand what I kept referring to as the “EF skills” his students were struggling with. I felt terrible; I had assumed “executive functioning skills” was a commonly understood term. I was very grateful that he let me know he didn’t understand, and I quickly brought him up to speed and provided some further reading. But we aren’t always so lucky. Admitting that you don’t know the meaning of something can be ego-crushing. It’s our job to be sure everyone is on the same page — even the teaching assistants.

Element #3: Behavior management strategies

Most schools explain their school-wide, classroom, and student-specific behavior management procedures to TAs — but TAs also need to understand what those student behaviors are telling us. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A properly trained TA will be more likely to recognize signals that indicate a problem before it becomes unmanageable.  

I was once in a classroom where a student with sound sensitivity kept turning the lights off in the room while the class was busy working in small groups. The assistant teacher’s first instinct was to reprimand this student for being “naughty,” but the classroom teacher stopped her and explained that the combination of extra activity and talking in the room with the buzzing of the lights was pushing him over the edge. A more appropriate action would be to take a break somewhere quiet or ask the other students to lower their volume. 

Element #4: Data collection & observations

It is common for learning support teachers to ask TAs to collect data while observing a student in the classroom — but we cannot assume everyone knows how. Teaching TAs to document factually accurate observations without putting their opinions into the observation is key. Other key ideas include effective notetaking and organization strategies, behaviors to watch for (signals of frustration or levels of engagement), and how to be selective and specific with observations. 

Element #5: Promoting friendship & social interactions

Building a strong classroom community is vital for classroom management and creating a positive learning environment, especially for international school students who often change schools frequently. Therefore, helping TAs gain skills that promote socialization and friendships within the classroom should be a foundational topic in TA training. This element of TA training could include topics such as:

  • Proximity
  • The benefits of peer support
  • What TAs can do to model working together
  • Effectively using peers

Element #6: Promoting positive transitions and routines

In all educational settings, behavior problems can come up during transitions. TAs should be trained in transition strategies like how to effectively line up and warn students before changes in activity, as well as how to watch for signals for attention. Maintaining positive transitions empowers TAs to keep these parts of the day running smoothly without incident or interruption. TAs should also be educated on the importance of consistent, predictable routines to help students feel calm and secure and be asked to be part of planning them. 

Element #7: Classroom management techniques & instruction strategies

Many international schools assign TAs to work solely with the students who need the most help, but this approach is short-sighted. Instead, TAs should be trained to take over with general tasks for the whole class. Teaching classroom management techniques and instructional strategies will help build the capacity of our TAs so that we can start to use them in a way that will allow general, EAL, and learning support professionals to collaborate. This way, classroom teachers can spend more time directly instructing students that need extension and review and TAs are more capable of handling diverse situations.

The TAs in your school are eager to help and want to make a difference in their classrooms. It’s time to give them the tools they need to do their job more effectively while reducing the stress levels of everyone involved. Educating them on these topics is the first step to a more positive educational experience for teachers and students. If you’d like more information on this topic or need help implementing a TA training program in your school, let’s chat! I look forward to hearing from you. 

TA training can be tough — I’ve made it simple. Enroll in my Eduspark course: Inclusive Teaching Assistant Training, where we’ll dive into these elements and more to empower your TAs and improve student outcomes.