Special Education Teachers and Instructional Assistants: How to Work Together Effectively

If you are fortunate enough to have an assistant, one of the first things you need to do is learn how to work with your assistant in a professional, yet supervisory manner. In you are freshly out of college, it is likely that you are younger than your assistant, he/she has more experience that you do in working in the field of children with special needs, and he/she might already know the students.

It is very important that you establish right away that you are the teacher and it is you who are ultimately responsible for everything that goes on in the classroom. When there is an issue, the parents/principal/other teachers will come to you, not the assistant. Remember that.

It took me a couple of years to learn that miscommunication often happens because of lack of communication. In my third year of teaching, I began sitting down with my assistants before the students came and talked with them about my expectations. After doing that, it was clear what I wanted and any problems which arose could be referred back to that opening meeting.

Here is a copy of the expectations I gave to my assistants last year.

Classroom Expectations for the Team

The teacher will:

1. Love the children. Their needs ALWAYS come first.

2. Treat you as a colleague.

3. Not expect anyone to do a task I would not do or do not do myself.

4. Prepare and inform the team ahead of a time our plans or changes in plans for the school day (to the best of my ability).

5. Listen and consider others’ ideas. Even if I do not go with the idea, I will consider the pros and cons of the idea.

6. However, remember that I am ultimately responsible for teaching these children and for everything that goes on in this classroom, so I will make the final decisions on an issue. I am not your evaluator, but you are working under my direction as my assistants.

7. I am going to try not to talk about the past, or what is currently going on with our previous place of employment, and I need you to do the same.

8. I will train you to the best of my ability.

9. Create roles and responsibilities chart and a schedule for each staff member.

10. Have team members lead specific lessons with direction from the classroom teacher regarding elements to include in the lesson.

11. Ask team members to become the expert or lead for the year in certain areas of classroom (visual supports, independent work tasks, Art time, Read Aloud)

12. Commend you for a job well done.

Expectations for Instructional Assistants

1. We are a team. I believe we have the ability to be one of the most powerful teams I have worked with.

2. We can make a real difference in the lives of these children.

3. Strive to maintain a positive view of our team from other staff members, parents and even community. This is accomplished by stating positive things about our classroom and students to those outside our classroom, dressing neatly, keeping the classroom neat and clean, and refraining from gossip and criticism, keeping tight control of our students when out of the classroom (good behavior, clean/neat)

4. Complete assignments as directed.

5. Keep room neat, clean and organized.

6. Call me on my cell phone in the event of an emergency. I’d like you to call me if you are going to be out, but I can’t require it. Cell phone # – 301-4075

7. Keep distractions in the classroom to a minimum ‘” cell phones, side conversations (family and so forth).

8. Maintain a positive attitude. If we can’t say something good, let’s not say anything at all.

9. Confidentiality ‘” Things that happen in our classroom or information about specific students must remain confidential. They should not be talked about with any other staff member, parent, etc. without talking to me first. This includes other MD staff.

10. If you have a problem or concern with someone, go directly to them and discuss it. If you have an issue with me, come to me.

11. Truly understand that you need each other to make the classroom work.

12. We must get along with each other. We are together in one room (awake) more than you are with anyone else in your life.

13. Say “Please” and “Thank you.” (Linton, S.B, 2011)

14. Use the terms “we,”, “let’s,” “team” and “our.”

15. Discuss problem situations as a team.

16. Debrief crisis situations.

17. Learn from each other and other specialist on the team.

18. Teach every skill a student needs to learn. Don’t expect that they already know how to do it. Children with autism, in particular, need to be talk how to play and interact with others.

19. Follow classroom and individual behavior management systems.

20. Rarely use food as a reward.

21. Try intrinsic motivation rather than tangibles. My prize box is now called a “Gift Box” because I am going to give students presents because I care about them and are proud of them, not for “being good.”

22. If you have a question, ask it, write it down.

23. Keep learning ‘”books, Internet, etc.

24. Attend team planning. I would like us to meet Tuesdays from 8:00 to 8:30 if it’s o.k. with you and ask the principal to give you flex time (coming in at 8:30 two days per week).

25. Friday ‘” Debriefing Meeting at 8:15.

26. Collect data as assigned.

27. When conducting lessons, state and write topic/goal at beginning and restate at the end of the lesson.

28. Classroom Management Expectations ‘”

a. Brace yourself ‘” You may hear/see things you have never before and didn’t expect to ever witness.

b. Teach yourself how to remain calm when the rest of the world seems to be falling apart.

c. Maintain and calm and neutral tone of voice. Save loud voice for very serious and dangerous situations.

d. Use as few words as possible to communicate what you need to the students.

e. Use positive body language. Try not to stand over student or used frustrated facial expressions. Be firm but consistent.

f. Be aware of the “function” of the behavior ‘” escape/avoidance, attention seeking, access to a tangible item (typically learns that if he/she misbehaves, then calms down, he/she will get a reward, sensory).

g. Be aware and educate yourself about sensory issues. Behavior is a sensory issue when student:

Student engages in behavior when no one else around.

Engaging in behavior because they need sensory input.

Enjoying the behavior.

h. Follow behavior plan. Use CPI restraints as little as possible. Complete documentation after and debrief situation.


Hinton, S.B. Setting Up Classrooms for Children with Autism. www.autismclassroom.com . 2010.