"Smile big and the world will smile along with you"
~ Patty Lovell
The Other Experts in Our Schools
By Lauren F. Nichols, Berlin Teachers Association, National Board Certified Teacher, NYSUT Effective Teaching Program Instructor
As a new teacher there is so much for you do, but one tip that will pay off for you in the long run and make your job easier is to learn how your colleagues can help you. You may have to step beyond your initial comfort zone to approach them, but there are people all around you whose knowledge and skill can aid you in becoming the best teacher you can be.
As an example, working with a speech/language pathologist provides you with ideas and best practices that are central to and complement the teaching of reading and writing. For primary teachers, information and strategies for teaching phonemic awareness and understanding language development will help your students get ready to "break the code." Elementary teachers can discover strategies so students learn to listen and follow directions and learn about performance tasks and word analysis practice. Middle level and high school teachers working closely with speech pathologists can benefit from their knowledge, skill, and experience with language, literacy and communication. Applying these practices in your classroom supports the work of the speech/language pathologist for individuals in your class and encourages generalization of the learned skill in a “natural” environment with the students' peers--providing a double dose of exactly what individual children need in order to achieve.
Occupational therapists help students improve their ability to perform tasks in their personal and school environments by addressing needs related to basic motor functions, reasoning abilities, decision making, problem solving, perceptual skills, memory, sequencing, and coordination. OTs offer us a wealth of knowledge and strategies centered on sensory processing and motor planning. Tapping into the occupational therapist's expertise enables you to access best practice, and apply it in your classroom to meet your students’ developmental needs. We work with many children who struggle with focusing, who are easily distracted, and who become disruptive in the classroom. Students experiencing these difficulties also have problems with learning, social skills and self -esteem. Applying a few of the OT's’ strategies helps with classroom management and ensures that the struggling student will be more able to pay attention behave less disruptively.
Work closely with your school psychologist or student assistance counselor. These specialists have information and insights about child development, learning styles, group dynamics, individual and group behaviors, social-emotional development and student skill and aptitude. Not only can the psychologists and counselors evaluate and assess students and the program, they can suggest strategies and techniques that will help all students. They look forward to helping you ensure that the environment is conducive to learning for the diverse students in your classroom. This resource also comes in handy for preventing and managing crisis and consultation with parents and teachers.
Special educators and academic intervention support teachers have their finger on the pulse of what works with all students. These specialists have a repertoire of practices and strategies for struggling learners that work for even our highest level students. They break down the concept into steps, spiraling the learning. Visual models, hands on material, effective strategies, knowledge of learning differences, evaluation and assessment tools and ideas, and differentiated instruction practices abound. Applying these practices when you have students with individual education plans (IEPs) is essential and is beneficial to all students as you provide learning experiences using the many modalities of learning creating an environment in which all can succeed.
Veteran teachers are all around you! Benefit from their experiences and expertise by getting to know them and asking for their ideas on an array of topics: learning standards; classroom management; parent conferences; instructional practice; effective assessment. You can obtain terrific ideas by asking even such basic questions as, "What's a good resource or strategy for teaching basic multiplication?" or "Do you have a rubric for assessing persuasive essays?" Why reinvent the wheel when good work exists from which you can draw?
Parents and school community members can be effective partners to help you and your students achieve. Strengthening the connection between home and school can be a powerful support as it provides an opportunity for consistency between home and school. Regular communication to parents bridges the gap between home and school, lessens concerns and misunderstandings, and taps into parental support and understanding. Parents know their child best and getting them on board can have very positive results. You may even seek the help of willing parents for classroom tasks as cutting out material, binding books, and reading to students.
Secretaries can lead you to the right personnel, help you with the copier, and find you the right paperwork. Custodial staff will keep your room the way you want it if you connect with them and they can find you furniture that's not being used. Teaching assistants have the inside scoop, often working in many classrooms seeing excellent practice everyday. Technology integration specialists
can lead you to better usage of your computers and can share the multiple options of technology. There are people everywhere that can support you if you choose to access them.
Okay, it doesn't always work this easily. Some of us have had different experiences with their colleagues than I have, but an open mind seeking support will find many opportunities for professional resources and support without leaving the school building. Now is the time to build collegial relationships that pay dividends for kids and teachers. Accessing powerful resources in your own school can help maximize each student’'s growth and individual success as well as your own.