In Articles, Professional Development

State of PD for School Support Staff

Support staff, like teacher’s assistants, bursars, and maintenance managers are an essential part of a successful education plan. They provide the structure, organisation and physical assistance that allows teachers to do their most effective work. Often, professional development in education dismisses the importance of this vital role. However, school leaders who invest in professional development for their support staff realise the most positive impact on the student experience. 

The Role of Support Staff in Education

In 2011, the Ministry of Education, in conjunction with the School Trustees Association and the New Zealand Educational Institute Te Riu Roa (NZEI), sought to define and analyse support roles in education. The Support Staff Working Group published a document that detailed their findings on the responsibilities, challenges, and potential for support staff in modern education. Their conclusions highlight the importance of these positions in student achievement.

  • Support staff, like in-class assistants, increase teacher effectiveness in multiple ways. Besides direct back-up during instruction, they assist in resource management and responding to student needs. Assistants are often responsible for setting up equipment for experiments and projects. This allows instructors to focus on lesson planning and student interaction, which positively impacts the student experience.
  • Administrative and office staff do more than keep records and organise paperwork. They are often the first face visitors encounter, which makes them a critical component of a school’s public image. More technical duties like database management ensure that students and teachers can access the information necessary to facilitate testing, assessments and placement.
  • Plans for professional development in education should include maintenance and sanitary staff members. These workers are an important part of a school’s daily operations. While keeping the grounds clean and equipment functioning properly, maintenance team members also interact with students and teaching staff. They can be a source of emotional support, informal guidance, and encouragement.

Common Challenges with Support Staff

The study from the Support Staff Working Group noted these common challenges with support staff in education.

  • Staff members that are unwilling to change their personal habits or work style to better fit the needs of their school.
  • Inconsistencies in how support staff and teachers interact with each other.
  • Lack of mentorships and other growth opportunities for support staff.
  • Difficulty in securing relevant and useful training to expand the skills of support staff.

Support staff also reported feeling undervalued in their daily duties. A systemic approach to professional development for these team members is the best way to address these issues.

Professional Development for Support Staff

What does professional development for school support staff look like? These questions help evaluate the effectiveness and potential of individual support staff members.

  • What is important? Examine how the position supports the defining characteristics of the school. Take the time to consider how this support position is related to student achievement.
  • What do I do well? Communication, teamwork and technical proficiency are essential parts of every support position. This question explores the individual’s strengths and weaknesses in relation to these characteristics.
  • What strategies and work practices will make this position most effective? Analyse organisation, flexibility and professional skills to determine the best way to integrate individuals into the group.

Through self-examination and structured feedback from students and coworkers, support staff can use these questions to increase the effectiveness of these roles.

Professional Development in Education: Think Beyond Teachers and Students

Nurses, librarians, and other support staff help teachers and students locate and secure resources, maintain buildings and equipment and stay on-schedule and on-budget. They also provide informal emotional support for students and other staff members. Support staff are an indispensable part of the framework of an education organisation. Including these positions in your professional development efforts allows your entire organisation to function more effectively.

Educator Impact for School Support Staff

Do you want to learn more about how all support staff can add value to the overall school experience? 

Educator Impact, the team behind 360-feedback for schools, explains in clear language the core concepts behind building your effectiveness as a support staff member in this free ebook; “The 8 habits of highly effective professional support staff in schools”.

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