Who is a “Support Staff”?
A Support staff is a member of the staff that carries out designated assigned duties specifically outlined to them by their employer. They work either as an administrative, technical, or freelancer. We will be looking at the case of a support staff working as a therapist or as special education needs a teacher in a school to teach or facilitate any child with physical disabilities, learning disabilities or any other additional needs.
We will be looking at the following during this session
1. Roles of a support staff
2. Attributes of a support staff
3. What to look out for in a support staff
4. The job description of a support staff
5. Effect of receiving support from the pupils
6. Attitudes and academic progress
9. How schools should match support staff to students
10. How schools can work with support staff brought into the schools by the parents.
11. Challenges that will be faced when a child with a need is not supported in the classroom.
Roles of Support Staff to Children with Special Needs
The support staff in an inclusive school has an outlined role which is very much dependent on the needs that need to be met. Every support staff performs the following roles:
Supporting Child In The Classroom: The support staff can be employed to assist the child while learning in the mainstream classroom. Support staff can be employed basically as a facilitator for a child with additional needs. Therefore, this person will know a lot about the child’s frame of mind, especially why the child behaves in a particular way. Why learning and assimilation seem difficult. The person helps to make their learning and their level of assimilation easier and faster.
Personal Therapist: A support staff can also be employed as the child’s personal therapist: Aside helping the child with the basis in their academics, a support staff also serves as the child’s personal therapist. The therapist, corrects, re-inform, and reprogram the mind of the child with additional needs. Doing this takes a lot of skills, practice and experience which only a trained personnel can achieve. The life of a therapist is a devoted to their client until success is achieved.
Babysit: In some severe situation taken cerebral palsy as a case study, a support staff does most of the basic things for the child.
Giving Reports and Feedbacks: A support staff constantly check the child’s improvement. One of the most important roles of the support staff is to give a daily, weekly or monthly feedback depending on what has been agreed on. This is necessary to check the improvement of the child.
Attributes of a Support Staff
Compassionate: A support staff must be compassionate and loving. Children living with any type of special need really needs a full doze of compassion and love before anyone can start working with them. You cannot teach or be willing to help who or what you don’t love.
Trust: Anyone who wants to work with children must have an excess dose of honesty as an attribute. Children can only allow you to work with them if they trust you. Trust and honesty are other qualities of support staff.
Problem Solving: One of the major roles of a support staff is to be able to solve any problem or needs as they arise. Therefore anyone in this position must be interested in solving any challenging issues that may arise in the immediate or appear later during the course of working with a particular child.
Good Communication Skills: A support staff must have the ability to communicate well in an understandable and very simplified language.
Patient: Patience as a virtue cannot be overemphasized when working with children. Any support staff must be overly patient while working with these children. Special need children require a lot of patience to deal with them. Therefore, a special need support staff must be very patient.
Empathy: Relating and putting oneself in a shoe must be the mantra a support staff must follow. Support staff must be someone who associates with the feeling of the child and the needs the child has. They must be an individual who takes the special needs children’s case seriously and be determined about it.
Improvision: The ability to improvise is also an attribute to look out for. In cases of not getting an exact material for the special child’s training, a support staff should be able to improvise with other materials that are available at any moment.
What to Look Out For In a Support Staff
Goal and Vision Oriented: Does this support staff believe in the same vision, or can they walk and work with the vision you have for the said child. Support staff must be passionate about the goals and vision of achieving greater milestones of the child.
Passionate: Another thing to look out for is passion. Passion is one characteristic that will help pull one through when they are fainting in the work. Support staff must be passionate about the job.
Expertise: Expertise is all about having a firsthand experience which is another thing to look out for. However, experience should not be a rigid condition for many inexperienced people are ready to learn and become expert.
Teachable: Having the zeal to be taught is another factor yet important thing to look out for in hiring a support staff. No man is an island. The desire to learn and be taught should never be undermined.
Multitasking: The ability to multitask is another factor to consider in employing a support staff. For special need children, support staff must know how to multi-task. The person for this job must be able to “take” instruction and “do” part of the job of a therapist, be an advisor, friend, teacher, etc. They must be able to perform this task without flinching.
The Effect of Receiving Additional Support on Pupils’ Attitudes to Learning and Academic Progress
There is always a rapid effect and tremendous improvement with the introduction of support staff to any child with additional needs most especially in their academics. These effective changes are made possible because
Assimilation becomes very easy once the nature of their disability and needs have been identified.
Pressure: It takes away undue pressure from the class teacher-: When a child is not assimilating well, the effort of the teacher seems to be futile and the teacher becomes too anxious and pressurized. With the presence of a support staff assisting the child, the pressure of not being effective is taken off the shoulders of the teachers.
Improved handwriting: One of the things a support staff work on is the handwriting, hand grip and any other aspect that involves the use of their hands.
Behavior Modifications: Another effect that will be seen is that there is a modification of their behavior and this will affect their comportment in class and participation in class.
The Deployment of Support Staff
Deploying support staff is based on the following factors:
Needs to Be Met: In the deployment of support staff, the nature of the child’s needs is very important to note. This is because expertise and specialty are of importance.
Every therapist has their area of focus. Once the nature of the child’s needs has been identified, then a specialized trained therapist for the identified need is deployed.
School Management: In deploying a support staff to any school, the management needs to be aware about making their school an inclusive school in order to be able to accommodate special needs children. This will enlighten them to make the necessary provision for such kids in their school district.
Client’s Location: The location of the client is also a factor in the deployment of support staff. The life of any support staff is to be l devoted to the child being supported.
Therefore, location is a considerable factor for availability, punctuality, and reliability.
The Training and Development of Support Staff
A support staff should be an individual who is skillfully trained about the job ahead and they can either be someone who has any academic qualification ABA specialist, psychologist, physiotherapist speech/Language therapist, etc. or someone who for the love of special needs dabble into the profession. However, experience, qualification, and learning on the job are very paramount.
Internal Training: Internal training is very crucial in the development of the support staff. Once or twice training monthly is essential. This internal training helps them to keep abreast of the job, to learn about new innovations, new ideas or methods, discuss issues concerning any child they are handling and get clarification on the said issue.
Work Shadowing: The success, growth, and effectiveness of any support staff are also dependent on this work shadowing. To work shadow is a form of training and development a support staff gets by following an experienced person in their line of duty. It is more of apprenticeship whereby they get to look, learn and assist whenever the professional is working. Doing this constantly, they get to learn the basics of the job.
Seminars and Symposiums: Another way a support staff is trained and developed is by attending seminars and symposium. These programs, expose the support staff to a whole new idea about their chosen profession.
How Schools Should Match Support Staff to Students
Children living with one form of disability or other experience difficulties in different forms. Some might just need a facilitator while some might be needing both a caregiver and a facilitator. While some will be needing only a caregiver.
The challenges the child is having will determine the type of support the child will be needing in the classroom.
A child who is living with blindness for instance will be needing a facilitator that is very good at reading and teaching how to read and use the braille machine and the cane to move around. A child who is living with deafness will be needing a sign language instructor as a facilitator.
A child who has behavior challenges will be needing a behavior therapist as a facilitator.
A child with learning disabilities should have a SEN teacher as a facilitator.
In essence, what is bring projected is that the type of disability a child is facing determines the type of help or assistance or modification the child with be needing in the mainstream classroom?
In matching a support staff consideration has to be made looking at the age of the child. A support staff that is trained to work with early years will not fit in if placed in to work with older children – that particular support staff can only work in the early years class e.g if you are going to support a child in lets say grade 3, the child must be supported by a support staff who has a good understanding of the grade 3 curriculum.
The gender of the child to be supported too sometimes might be very important. Some kids will do better if matched with a support staff that is same sex with them.
However, I usually prefer female support staff for the early years because of the tenderness of the age group. Sometimes, when there is a need to teach social skills, it is better to have a support staff of a different gender – this is if the child accepts that option though.
The child’s current baseline to is very important – choosing the tight support staff can help increase those goals that the child need to achieve. Wrong support staff can crash all efforts and progress of that child. “E.g let’s look at it like a tailor wants to make a dress for you. The tailor takes your measurement first by putting your preferred style into consideration before the sewing begins”. Therefore, all these considerations are to be put in place first before a support teacher can be attached to a child.
How Schools Can Work With Support Staff Brought Into the School By The Parents
The school must value, respect and love any support staff in and around their school district. They must make that support staff feel comfortable while working in their school. The productivity of the support staff attached to your school lies in the hands of the school management.
For a working relationship to take place, there has to be a commitment and understanding on all sides.
1. Create an enabling environment – be receptive
2. Extend a hand of friendship and positive collaboration with the said staff
3. Effect the right change, transitions, and routine and be the go-between for your client
4. Be of assistance at all times
5. Ensure you have keen eyes on the staff so s/he does the right thing and follow terms and conditions to the letter to protect the client and your school
6. Ensure you have a schedule that all follow through with without issues
7. Sometimes, assist with materials if need be -stationaries, materials, etc.
8. Set boundaries, be the boss, protect your client and your school against litigation if need be
9. Get necessary clearance to know where the said staff stopped and where the school should continue from
10. Have a day-to-day log of activities the staff does i.e. clocking in and out
Challenges Schools Face When a Child with Special Needs Is Not Supported In the Classroom
Lack of Experience: One of the most challenges is that the class teacher having no experience in dealing with special needs children. Most times they see them as a distraction to them and other kids in the classroom.
Timing: Timing is another challenge faced by the special need child who is not supported in the classroom. The time allocated by the class teacher for the support staff is not enough nor convenient for learning. Thus the support staff’s work has little or no effect because of the time allocated.
Lack of Cooperation: Most times, class teachers see support staff as a competitor. This leads to some level of distance and friction between the two parties. In some cases, there is usually no cooperation from the class teacher for they feel that the support staff is there to usurp their work or prove that they are inadequate in teaching and impacting the required knowledge. Thereby making the environment less conducive, favorable and accommodating.
Choosing the right support staff most especially to fill up a therapy position takes a whole lot of mental work from the employer. There is a need to carefully select the right person for the job. Check for certain attributes the position or applicant will possess. Note the job descriptions to be performed by the support staff in relation to their place of deployment. Moreso, the training of support staff cannot be overemphasized for improvement, innovation and personal updates about the latest teaching method, skills or various approach to help in delivering their assignment or there would be assigned duties. Most importantly is the remuneration to be paid.