The Learning Support Officer: 5 prompts to share with teachers

This week I returned to Critical Agendas and had a great time facilitating a couple of workshops. The second workshop explored the role of the LSO. This topic is very close to my heart as it is part of my PhD research, of which I have not spoken much about in a while. That’s another story but suffice to say that after much heartbreak and stress I’m getting back on track. I have my wonderful supervisors, my colleagues and mostly my friends and family to thank for that.

Nonetheless, facilitating a workshop about the role of LSOs always makes me happy as I see both teachers and LSOs are open to being challenged. If you know anything about me, you will certainly know I don’t pull any punches when it comes to learning and teaching. I’m passionate about it and I assume everyone else in the most rewarding of all professions is too.

What is my role?

A number of participants approached me after the workshop asking various questions which have prompted this post.

Share the commitment to teaching and learning

 

1. Support the classroom teacher

Schools are very busy places. There are meetings and administration, more meetings and more administration and somewhere in between, we get to do what we really love – teach and learn our students. Rarely do teachers and LSOs get to sit down together and plan lessons for classes, let alone for individual students who might need modified tasks. Hence, many times LSOs are deployed to classes where it is deemed they are most needed.  My advice to LSOs in situations when you arrive at a class and the teacher asks, “Who are you here for?” is very simple. “I’m here to assist you. What would you like me to do?”

2. Effective communication with teachers

There is no doubt that both teachers and LSOs would love more time to collaborate. How and when that happens varies greatly. However, I suggest considering the following when approaching teachers. Communication and collaboration are most effective before class and if they are on-going. I encourage LSOs to continue to make it clear that you are there to support them –the teacher. Arrive with concrete strategies that will assist particular students under your care to learn. Lastly, you need to be accessible.

3. Questions to consider

When LSOs and teachers have an opportunity to collaborate before classes, there are some questions the LSO might consider asking:

What will the students be learning?

What tasks will the students be doing and what will success look like?

How will the lesson/unit be structured and what should I be doing?

What should I watch, listen for and do in the classes?

Collaborating

4. Guide the teacher’s knowledge of the student and how they can best support them in their class.

The teacher brings with them content and pedagogical expertise. The LSO adds information about individual students based on their experience with them across a variety of different classes and situations. This is a wonderful combination which could be enhanced with appropriate questions to pose.

I highly recommend the KUD, that is, what do we want the students to KNOW, UNDERSTAND & DO?

How will we know when ‘Johnny’ understands?

Is it possible to …?

What if …?

What strategies have worked before?

5. The LSO’s role does not include the following:

    • Modifying curriculum
    • Behaviour management
    • Supervising classes
    • Doing the work for students
    • Teaching classes
    • Covering for your students

If you’re interested in exploring this further, please do not hesitate to make contact and organise a workshop for teachers and/or LSOs at your school.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experiences, please comment below.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Suzhou: Voicing your opinion in academic settings

Our students here at SEU/Monash have completed the first seven workshops, beginning with simple concepts such as appropriate greetings, addressing different people, conversation patterns, interjections, and body language and are now moving into more complex areas. Tuesday’s workshops, for example, were all about “Voicing your opinion” in the context of an academic English university classroom.

Suzhou Conversations

In a university environment, where classes are held in English, tutors expect their students to be active learners. One way this is evident is through discussion and voicing opinions about the learning. It is through such activities that tutors get a sense of how students are engaging with the material and how they can critically analyse and formulate opinions about the different concepts and ideas presented.

In our workshops, students were asked to voice their opinions on various scenarios associated with university learning. One such scenario included enforcement of a new rule where homework, assignments and theses would now have to be handwritten to ensure students were completing all their own work. This proclamation was met with surprise, disbelief and awkward shifting in their chairs. In their groups, the students had to formulate arguments for and against the concept and convince others that it was either a good idea or that it needed reviewing. I thought I’d share some of the arguments they wrote down.

Reasons for disagreeing

It’s a waste of time

Waste of paper

Difficult to check spelling mistakes.

Handwriting is not formal.

Unconvenient [sic] for teachers to review and check repeatation [sic].

People can copy the homework by hand also.

Pay more attention on the handwriting rather than content.

Inconvenient to submit your homework by email.

Teachers have difficulty recognizing some hand-writing.

Typewriter will be useless.

Change easily.

Reasons for agreeing

Handwritten show the devotion.

Improve handwriting skills.

Convenient to write some math formulas.

If we forget to save the document, we will lose it.

Improve understanding.

Can’t copy and paste.

Can record our thinking/ideas easily.

Be more sincere.

Good for eyes.

My favourite response was this: Handwriting would mean we have more time to think about it, our attention will be focused. If we write more, we will write more beautiful English.

For me, this is what learning is about. Thinking, feeling, seeing, doing, and most importantly loving it.

Thanks for reading 🙂

 

 

Nervous but excited: Our first day

We got this!

Yesterday was our first official day at South East University / Monash in Suzhou. I left our hotel full of self-doubt and angst. I have never felt so nervous, even though teaching is what I have done for the last 33 years. The welcoming party was wonderful. We met the staff at the university who put on a lovely morning tea but our conversations soon came to an end as it was time for our first sessions.

Gulp – we’ve got this!

Here is Suzhou, we are privileged to be in spacious, well-equipped rooms, the natural light from the giant windows streaming in, everything up and operating AND the students arrive.

Oh what joy!

I’ve discovered that Let’s Chat comes naturally to us and once we start – well, there’s no stopping us. We have a great program and now we get to share it with our partners in Suzhou, China.

I’m with a great team of colleagues who are dedicated and determined to make this work. Our first day was a testament to that!

Greetings from Suzhou, China

It’s been a while since I posted but I feel it’s time to share some learnings again. It’s not that I haven’t been learning in all this time – believe me I have.

The beauty of Suzhou

I’ve been busy planning and writing in consultation with a great bunch of people from English Connect at Monash University. I’m currently writing from my spacious hotel room in Suzhou, China, where my colleagues and I will be for the next 2 weeks, facilitating English Conversational sessions with the students from Southeast University. I’ll be keeping you posted on a regular basis. This is an important alliance and one that I hope will be most successful and more importantly, make me a better learner.

We spent our first day in Suzhou getting our bearings and seeing some of the sights. It’s a delightful and eloquent city. I saw beauty in everything. I have many emotions. I almost feel helpless not knowing the language and with very little English signs and explanations I am lost – but I will be fine.

Over the next 2 weeks I know I will see, hear, feel, think and learn many new things. I can’t wait.

Mentoring pre-service teachers is a privilege and a duty

Last week I attended a professional learning day at ACU, one component of a course on mentoring pre-service teachers (PSTs) which includes both online and face-to-face activities. This post is a reflection on that learning.

View from Daniel Mannix building – ACU Fitzroy Campus

Mentoring Pre-service Teachers is a privilege and a duty

Similar to how teachers connect with their students by way of forming sound relationships, so a mentor needs to ‘learn’ their mentee in an effort to guide and inspire them to learn while also being open to learning themselves. Teaching and mentoring is learned through practice and by teaching, we also become the learner.

This learning partnership is encouraged through active participation in the mentoring of PSTs. While on professional placement, PSTs need and want to learn to be classroom ready. They are brimming with enthusiasm and eager to hone their skills. While in university we can provide the theory and discuss what it’s like in schools. There is no way we can replicate real life; that remains the domain of the school. As possible mentors to PSTs, we need to be mentee ready.

In schools, there is a need to move away from the supervisory model into a more productive and engaging mentoring program for PSTs. For this to succeed schools need to take an active role in providing professional learning for all staff so that quality mentors understand “the specific goals of mentoring in the context in which they are working and is familiar with the tasks to be undertaken by the mentee” (Ambrosetti, 2014, p. 32). Mentoring skills can be learned, so why not have schools and higher education institutions working in partnership to establish professional learning opportunities such as the one offered at ACU last week to enable mentoring skills to develop in school in preparation for PSTs?

I encourage educators to put aside concerns about time and extra workloads and instead, begin prioritising activities and tasks most close to our educative hearts. For me, at this point in time, they would be – inclusion, coaching and mentoring PSTs. These three priorities are linked and attention to them may just make a difference.

1: Inclusion

For those who read my blog, you would be aware that I am currently in the midst of a PhD seeking to learn more about special needs and inclusive practices, through collaborative partnerships between teachers and learning support officers (LSOs, AKA as teacher aides, paraprofessionals). Inclusion for me is belonging, not just a body in the classroom but feeling as if the person can and will succeed and is an integral member of the community in which they find themselves. Everyone has something to offer and would relish any opportunity to reveal it to us.

This idea is reflective of mentoring and coaching. Mentoring should be a positive learning experience for both mentor and mentee (Ehrich, Hansford & Ehrich, 2011). It empowers us to “see a possible future and believe it can be obtained” (Shawn Hitchcock), much like the idea of inclusion.

Quote – Shawn Hitchcock

2: Coaching

There is a fine line between mentoring and coaching – while I agree that mentoring is reciprocal learning, it is still very much a hierarchical relationship. As John C. Crosby states, “Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction.” Mentee seeks mentor expertise, guidance, and feedback but similarly, there is room for a coaching relationship to also develop, not only between peers but also between mentor and PST. Coaching doesn’t provide answers but rather, a coaching conversation is one where the coachee is guided through questioning so they may come to the solution themselves. Parker (2012) discusses the roles of listening and questioning in his book The Negotiator’s Toolkit, where he encourages us to listen attentively and question with intent. This is an integral process of a coaching conversation and hence is valuable in a mentor/mentee relationship. While the mentee seeks answers during the conversation or observation, the process should also become an opportunity to figure it out for themselves. Our role as mentors should be to create safe havens in which PSTs can take risks, fail and gather themselves to go again, an “opportunity to create [and re-create] themselves” (Spielberg).

Collaborating

3: Mentoring PSTs

As educators, I think we should view mentoring PSTs as a privilege. It becomes a chance to fine tune and develop our own skills. It just may be an opportunity to see things differently, to be challenged and reflect deeply on our own practice. More importantly, it places us in an extraordinary situation where we get to imbue passion and love for teaching and learning to a new generation of educators. We are privileged to meet those on the cusp of a new career and as such should remember the words of Dewey (1933) who identified three key attributes of reflective people: open mindedness, responsibility and wholeheartedness (Yost, Sentner & Forlenza-Bailey, 2000). As educators, coaches and mentors we must be open to new possibilities through listening and observing others. We ought to take responsibility in seeking the truth and apply it to problem solve and overcome our fears and uncertainties in order to make meaningful change. As reflective practitioners, we need to critically analyse and evaluate ourselves and others, as well as our educational institutions and communities in general. As mentors, we have the possibility to instil this in our PSTs and offer them every opportunity to become great educators. We must prepare them to continue the great work we have started, teaching and learning with future generations. This is our responsibility to PSTs and to our future children.

Thanks for reading 🙂

References

Ambrosetti, A. (2014). Are You Ready to be a Mentor? Preparing Teachers for Mentoring Pre-service Teachers. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(6), pp.30-42.

Ehrich, L. C., Hansford, B. C., & Tennent, L. (2004). Formal Mentoring Programs in Education and other Professions: A Review of the Literature. Educational Administration Quarterly, 40(4), pp. 518-540.

Yost, D. S., Sentner, S. M., & Forlenza-Bailey, A. (2000). An Examination of the Construct of Critical Reflection: Implications for Teacher Education Programming in the 21st Century. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(1), pp. 39-49.