Saturday, February 16, 2013

IEPs and engagement

Students cannot sit and do nothing in my classes.  It's a fundamental of my classes, something introduced to me by an EA when I first started in the school.  She has now gone on to be a teacher, and I'm sure a fine one.  It was an interesting lesson to me at the start of my career.  Listen to those experienced around me and that a good EA is worth gold for what they are paid.

That's not to say all EAs are great.  Some are decidedly ordinary - the issue being how to identify when an EA is being effective or ineffective...  We need to be fair - is it the fault of the EA giving a student individual assistance, the fault of the teacher giving a poor instruction, not adequately meeting the needs of the student or are the expectations of the student/teacher/EA unachievable given a certain circumstance (medical, emotional, developmental, prior learning, attitudinal).

Given a circumstance when a student is not learning - and as HoD I am responsible for learning (where the care team are ultimately responsible for monitoring and improving behaviour/attendance through IBPs), I face a difficult task as often the circumstance of a particular student is "confidential" and the lines of communication are muddied by "who needs to know".  With "at risk" students it is common to assign an EA to assist the student remain in class and learn.  I'm not a believer in withdrawal for extended periods (students in life will rarely have personal tutors), and teachers are overpaid to be babysitters and not have students learning.

What I really need to know as HoD are the strategies that are expected to work (developed in conjunction with the care team), that the teacher involved knows what is necessary to enact the strategy, that they are equipped to do it, they have the required resources (such as an EA) and that the student is on the same page - then I need to monitor that it is in effect and check it's effectiveness. To my mind the performance contract is the IEP.  I don't need to know the condition of the student, just the main effects of it, the strategies in place to ensure learning is happening and whether it is working.

The model I describe is teacher centric and unapologetically so.  If the teacher has responsibility for learning in the classroom, then they are responsible for ensuring learning is adequately occurring - ensuring there is an effective learning programme.  If a student is refusing to work, then it is the responsibility of the EA to make the teacher aware and then the teacher to enact change.  If the assessment is that the EA is not enacting the strategy as designed - then and only then, can the EA be assessed as ineffective.

The EA/teacher role needs to be in synergy, realising that we don't live in a perfect world (things won't always work with difficult students) and with some amount of lookahead as materials will need to be modified by the EA to ensure that they are suitable for the student.  The IEP has it's place here too as it documents the role of the EA and the tasks they need to do in preparing a lesson.

The bottom line is, it costs a lot to assign an EA to a student.  If the cost/benefit analysis is not there - we need to recognise that it is an expensive intervention and that it needs to be given priority to design a new solution.  After all, in a high or mid performing class, with a skilled EA, that person could be helping ten students rather than effectively helping none.

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