Jun 17, 2013

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3 Keys to Building Lasting Relationships with Teaching Associates

If you work with special education students, you have probably experienced a teaching associate in your classroom at some point.  I worked at a school that housed the entire district’s special education program, so I had associates in my room on a daily basis, often multiple times each day. At first, I found this a little intimidating.  Most of the associates were older than me or had worked in the building for a longer period of time and I felt that I owed them a level of respect.  I would not correct their instruction or tell them how I would like them to work with a particular student.

Over the years, I have learned that I am the teacher and the art professional in the classroom.  As such, it is my job and responsibility to build a rapport with all students and associates so that my room functions in the best possible way and benefits everyone.  Here are 3 things that have helped me to build a positive and beneficial relationship with associates over the years.

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1. Be clear about your expectations for students and adult staff.  I kick off the year with a welcome letter given to each teaching associate.  This letter is extremely welcoming and positive, but it also provides detailed expectations for my art room.  This letter includes goals for specific students and suggestions for appropriate accommodations.  (For example, I absolutely hate it when associates do the art work for the student, but sometimes they feel pressured to produce pleasing work.  This is an area I definitely address in my letter.)  Teachers who have taken AOE’s online class, Autism and Art, were able to write a letter like this for one of their assignments, and have found it very helpful.  In my experience, it is best to begin on a positive note with expectations right up front.

2. Be consistent. Schedule or staffing changes in the special education room means that a different associate might bring a student to art class, or even a substitute associate.  I suggest making a sub folder and keeping it handy.  This folder should contain classroom rules, special accommodations and suggestions for appropriate interventions.  You could even throw your associate welcome letter in!

3. If there is an issue, nip it!  This one is the most challenging, but also the most important pieces.  I have worked with so many different associates over the years and have had all kinds of issues from excessive talking to other associates in the room to leaving students unattended.  I even had an associate bring the SPED class pet (a flying squirrel) to the art room in her sweatshirt pocket.  Not a huge deal, right?  Until you are in the middle of a clay demo and the little guy decides to start making noise.  Student attention…vanished!

My rule of thumb is two occurrences warrants a conversation (except for special circumstances like the flying squirrel.  I let that associate know that he was too much of a distraction after the first offense.)  Just keep the conversation positive, but honest.  It will prevent the problem from spiraling out of control and you will gain respect in the long run.

How do you build lasting relationships with teaching associates? 

Any interesting stories to share? (Please be sure to remain confidential.)

Want to learn more tips about working with special education students?  Check out my presentation for AOE’s 2013 Conference: 5 Adaptations for Students with Autism.

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