What are the Duties Of Teaching Assistants

Negotiating Communication in the classroom ‘What does she expect me to do, when she didn’t even tell me? ’ (Learning Journal Entry, 18th October 2012) Meltzoff (1994) suggests that a key component in the classroom is communication. Through thorough exploration of our Learning Journal extracts, we have identified the value of negotiating communication in the classroom to be a crucial element of our experiences in school. We will explore this further through reflection, evaluation and wider reading. Meltzoff (1994) recognises that ‘Teachers and students share ‘ownership’ of the space, time, language, and curricular content of the class. (1994:263) As a result, we evaluated the distribution of responsibility, and questioned, should teachers be the main communicator within the classroom? On reflection we acknowledged the requirement for a balance and compromise between the control and responsibility of communication. Cleary (2003) identifies communication as being ‘a two-way process that results in a shared meaning or common understanding between the sender and the receiver. ’ (2003:11) This two-way process pivots on the relationship between communicators. Murdoch and Wilson (2008) identify that ‘two important communication skills are active listening and assertive speaking. (2008:12) In order to negotiate communication successfully we have acknowledged the need for a balance of speaking and listening within the classroom, between both teacher-teaching assistant and teacher-pupil. Kay (2005) states that ‘Teaching assistants need to be competent and effective communicators’ (2005:46) this is paramount when working with pupils, ensuring the teacher is aware of any arising concerns. However the accountability remains with the teacher to negotiate and set firm foundations in order for effective communication between the teacher and teaching assistant.
This is supported by Briggs and Cunningham (2013) who draw attention to the responsibility of the teacher emphasising that teaching assistants ‘cannot read your mind, and if you don’t tell her what you require, she will do what she thinks you want’ (2013:26) and this lack of communication can create a negative learning environment. Therefore, it is imperative that a well-built communication partnership is negotiated by the teacher; ensuring the teaching assistant is informed at all times. Farrell (2003) suggests one way in which to uphold this idea is that, ‘the eacher should convey to the teaching assistant the learning objectives of the lesson and the learning outcomes expected. ’ (2003: 138) Whitby (2005) stated the largest concern from teachers was ‘the need to improve communication between teachers and teaching assistants. ’ (2005:45) Therefore the requirement to negotiate communication must be recognised by teachers, and is fundamental because of the variety of roles that teaching assistants perform in the classroom (Ofsted:2002), thus creating difficulties for teachers in establishing communication.
Quicke (2003) suggests that teaching assistants have ‘no clear boundaries. ’ (2003:72) Consequently, boundaries must be negotiated by the teacher in order to have mutual understanding and successful communication within the classroom. Furthermore, communication between teachers and teaching assistants is about collaboration and inclusion, which in turn, ‘empowers all members of school communities. ’ (Quicke, 2003:73). Time is a necessary factor for effective communication between teachers and teaching assistants. However, issues concerning the timing, pay and teacher workload, impact upon this. Wilson and Bedford, 2008:140) Once key skills such as organisation and time management are achieved, then effective communication will become more manageable within the classroom between teachers and teaching assistants. (Wilson and Bedford, 2008:144). Ahnert et al (2012) highlights the importance of building strong relationships through active communication therefore creating a purposeful learning environment and states that, ‘(those who form close relationships) might succeed better in their teaching processes than teachers who have established distant relations with children. (2012:2) This is supported by Dawes (2010) who explores the importance of children’s dialogue within the classroom, and stated that ‘Children need to say things aloud if they are to check their own understanding and that of others. ’ (2010:1) This demonstrates the impact that communication has on children’s learning. Powell and Powell (2010) believe ‘that effective communication is at the heart of the teaching process. ’ (2010:1) From this we agreed that effective communication should be a central component to an effective learning environment.

When children experience a breakdown in communication as a result of miscommunication from the teacher, this can present a barrier to learning. In addition, Cleary (2003) presents the theory that communication is determined by people’s unique perception, therefore we need to ‘take the necessary steps to prevent these differing perceptions from causing a communication barrier. ’ (2013:12) To conclude, it is evident that to negotiate communication successfully within the classroom a positive relationship should be present.
When communication is clear and concise, the receiver has a greater understanding of what is expected, leading to the development of a positive relationship. Teachers have a crucial role in developing this relationship, which underpin a productive classroom environment. ‘Close teacher– child relationships have especially proved to be related to various aspects of school adjustment, better learning attitudes, and more self-directedness’ (Birch & Ladd 1998:2 cited in Ahnert et al 2012).
Relationships form the basis of constructive communication, not only does it stem from teacher-child communication but can also expand to teacher-teaching assistant and teacher-parents. In support Brophy et al. (2013) states ‘This holistic view of the teacher-child relationship is echoed by new conceptions of parent-child and professional-client relationships. ’ (2013:112) As a result of our reflection, evaluation and wider reading we have identified that negotiation is crucial for the communication needs to be at the heart of the learning environment.
In acknowledgement of this, we need to recognise where the negotiation of communication begins; as the teacher in the classroom we feel this responsibility falls to us; and therefore it is vital that we negotiate the negotiation of communication to cultivate the most effective classroom for all involved. After presenting our symposium paper and following further discussions, as a group, we have acknowledged the difficulties in negotiating communication.
Our presentation made us question whether we had truly negotiated communication in the classroom and we have now realised negotiation is not just about telling and directing. This has implications on our future practice, as when we use the term negotiation it is vital that an exchange of communication within a professional relationship is present. In order to develop our negotiation skills we need to allow for a positive learning environment, where both children and teaching assistants feel comfortable to express themselves and speak freely.

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