Teaching assistants: Support in action (Wales)
Teaching assistants: Support in action (Wales)

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Teaching assistants: Support in action (Wales)

1.3 Professional and personal skills

Jean Ionta works as a pupil support assistant at St Patrick’s Primary School in Glasgow. ‘Pupil support assistant’ has been the preferred name for teaching assistants in Scotland. They often provide both specialist learning support and more general support to teachers. When filming the videos for this unit at the school we focused on Jean as she went about her work with children and staff. We put these aspects of her work together to give a sense of her day and the professional and personal skills she brings to her role.

Activity 1 A day in the life

Timing: Allow about 1 hour
Described image
Figure 2 Jean Ionta, St Patrick’s Primary School, Glasgow

As you watch the following video note in the box below how Jean goes about her work, how she describes it and how others portray her contribution. In particular, make notes on how she puts an emphasis on children’s social and personal development and her part in this. How would you describe the way she is with children and her approach to supporting learning?

Download this video clip.Video player: e111r_b1_2012j_v002_640x360.mp4
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Transcript

JEAN
What's wrong? What's up?
THOMAS
Dominic was following me.
JEAN IONTA
Dominic's following you? And what is he ...
THOMAS
He's copying me as well.
JEAN IONTA
I think he just wants to play with you and be your friend.
SUSAN O'DONNELL
Jean is one of our PSAs here. She's in the yard every morning at a quarter to 9:00. Two mornings a week, she starts at 8:00 and picks up all the photocopying before she goes out into the yard.
JEAN
Dominic, I need you to come to me. OK. Thomas wants to be your friend. So what do you do? Shake hands. Shake hands.
DOMINIC
Sorry.
JEAN
Sorry? OK. On you go. All right?
JEAN IONTA
The value for the children is they're getting a chance to meet their friends before they come into the school, play with their friends, relax a wee bit. So they're coming in to a fun situation in the yard. They're coming in to meet their friends, play, chat, talk about what they did last night. And they're coming in. They're going to be happy by the time they go into class. Nice and chilled out, and in a good frame of mind to start the day.
What was his problem with it?
SPEAKER 1
That ball was over there.
JEAN IONTA
They're playing with that ball.
Got to be very calm, because there's a lot going on out there, and they do get into all these arguments. But you have to keep the peace, because the children have to be able to rely on you and trust you. And they've got to know that you're listening.
THOMAS
Good.
JEAN IONTA
Wish I had your umbrella this morning. Mrs. Ionta's getting soaked this morning.
SUSAN O'DONNELL
We thank God for our morning, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen. Stand in a nice prayerful position, please.
JEAN IONTA
Her main duty is that Jean is an additional support for learning, PSA. Jean has a Nurture qualification, and she works point 7 in the Nurture rooms.
JACQUELINE WHITE
This morning is we're going to finish our puppets that we started yesterday. Now Michael, you were off, but we've sorted that for you, OK? So I wonder, Mrs. Ionta, could you get the puppets?
JEAN IONTA
Certainly.
JACQUELINE WHITE
Michael could you go and get five paper towels? Could you go and get seven glue sticks, please.
JEAN IONTA
Oh. Somewhere there, Aidan.
JACQUELINE WHITE
Jean takes on an awful lot of the responsibility that I could do, but she's very good and she's very capable. And it's through years of experience in working together and developing that team that we've got to where we are.
SPEAKER 2
A double six.
JEAN IONTA
That's a really good, that's a good thing to share your place piece with her. I think she's going to be changing from that sad face to happy face.
You've got to work very well together. You get to know each other pretty well, each other's strengths. When I'm in the Nurture room, it's teamwork.
All right, have a seat where you were sitting. I'll come over here. Oh, he doesn't mind having a paper plate, do you, Michael?
ANTON GALLAGHER
OK, let's look at the number two.
JEAN IONTA
But when I'm in a class situation, I'm really there just to support the children.
ANTON GALLAGHER
Odd or even. Don't call out. Who can tell me why it is even. Melissa?
MELISSA
Because two is an even number.
ANTON GALLAGHER
That's right. Two is the last number, isn't it? And that's an even number. And any number that ends with two is?
CHILDREN
Even.
ANTON GALLAGHER
Even, that's right.
JEAN IONTA
We've got a new boy who's just joined us and is from Chinese background. English is his second language. So he's needing a wee bit of extra help, 'cause he may not fully understand what the class teacher is explaining. So I'll be there just to sort of explain, just really help in any way I can.
ANTON GALLAGHER
Once you've done that, fold your arms to show me you're ready.
SPEAKER 3
Three?
JEAN IONTA
Four. Put four. Number four.
ANTON GALLAGHER
I think that we worked well together. We were able beforehand to discuss which children could do with a little bit of support. And I think that was carried out well.
Once you've done that, fold your arms to show me you're ready. If you think it's even ...
SUSAN O'DONNELL
At lunchtime, Jean also does the toothbrushing in a conjunction with a toothbrushing project for primaries one and two. And at the end of the day on a Tuesday, she stays behind and she helps with the drama and dance.
JEAN IONTA
'We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted to Be?' I don't know the dance. I think that Laura's been doing the dance.
SPEAKER 4
Not well. Not well.
JEAN IONTA
I think they're getting to know it, though. They were practising it earlier on.
SPEAKER 4
Right. [HUMMING MELODY]
JEAN IONTA
Where do they stand, Mrs. O'Donnell? Are they all to stand just ...
SUSAN O'DONNELL
Er, no.
JEAN IONTA
I've been chosen to help because from my recreational time, I do a wee bit of dancing. I do line dancing.
You're helping out with the singing. You're helping out with the singing.
SUSAN O'DONNELL
Three, four, and ...

[CHILDREN SINGING – "WE COULD HAVE BEEN ANYTHING THAT WE WANTED TO BE"]

JEAN IONTA
I think it's just a great outlet for them. Great way of letting off steam and just feeling good about themselves, because it's a good fun thing to do. I think the difference between myself and the teacher is the children are more relaxed with me. So I maybe see the children a different way. And I'm there to just support them.

[CHILDREN SINGING – "WE COULD HAVE BEEN ANYTHING THAT WE WANTED TO BE"]

End transcript
 
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Comment

Near the very end of the video Jean states that she feels ‘the children are relaxed with me’. This is a comment that appears to point to the many relationship-making opportunities that are shown in this video. Learning support work affords the making of relationships with children, perhaps in a way that is not often possible for qualified teachers. They often need to stand back to adopt an ‘overseeing’ and leadership role for large groups of children. In their close work with children, teaching assistants can have important different teaching opportunities. We would argue that, perhaps more than teachers, assistants have openings to develop approaches that are ‘intuitive’ (Houssart, 2011) and ‘nurturing’ (Hancock, 2012).

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