Curriculum, or learning support assistants (often abbreviated to CSA or LSA) play a vital role in the life of any Further Education College. Their job is similar to that of a Teaching Assistant in schools and your college may deploy them in various ways. They may be required to work with a single learner with physical, emotional or learning needs, or they may work alongside a particular teacher or with a group of learners. Whatever model your organisation has adopted, an effective LSA can be a huge asset for both teachers and learners. If you find yourself teaching a group of learners with an LSA present, then it is well worth reflecting on the most productive way to build a strong working partnership. There are certain guidelines which can make for a fruitful relationship, which have your learners’ best interests at heart.
- Spend time getting to know your LSA early on. Time may be limited for you to do this, but building up a positive relationship at the outset can pay huge dividends.
- Share expectations honestly at the outset, e.g. do you want their support with behavioural issues? If so, in what way? How much support will they give a learner? A large part of our role is to develop independent learning, so how will support be scaffolded? Will you expect their role to change over time? What support do they need from you? How much information would they like in advance of the lesson? Starting off with a professional dialogue will make it much easier to review and adjust support for learners as the course progresses.
- Respect your LSA’s expertise. They may know your learners, the subject and the curriculum better than you do, so ask them what strategies have worked well for learners in the past.
- Communicate clearly with your LSA before, during and after the lesson. Again, if there is time available for a briefing before and/or afterwards, than this is invaluable. You can ask them how they feel the learners progressed during a session. Their role is not to observe your teaching but they may have ideas or suggestions to share.
- Send them a copy of your lesson plan in advance, or if this is not possible, then at least brief them at the outset as to what the focus of the lesson will be and what their role will be at the various stages of the lesson.
- Thank them regularly. LSAs’ contracts may not be secure and they will almost certainly be on a lower pay scale to you, so a bit of appreciation can help them to feel valued and motivated.
- Ignore the learner they are working with. Make sure you include them when questioning and if you are moving around and monitoring individual learning, then make sure you spend as much time with those allocated one to one support, as you do with other learners. All have an equal right to your attention and feedback.
- Let your LSA answer the questions for or instead of your learners. You may take it as a compliment that your lesson is so interesting that they want to participate too, however this is not what they are there for.
- Be afraid of challenging them, or being directive at times. Your LSA may be older, more experienced and appear more confident than you, but they are there to support both you and the learners.
- Treat them as a glorified personal assistant. If you haven’t brought enough resources, then this is your responsibility, not that of your LSA. They may be happy to help out in an emergency, but this should not be a regular occurrence.
A productive working relationship with a learning support assistant can make all the difference between success and failure for your learners. Effective communication is key at all stages of your relationship. You never know, you may end up working alongside them for years!