The level of passive resistance to change can be very high in education. Everyone has seen initiatives that have come and gone, and it is easy to become cynical, to believe that this new challenge being proposed may similarly disappear. Schools are full of passionate leaders trying to break new ground. It is all too easy for them to assume that all team members are aligned and both acting and advocating for the change. Therefore it is important to consider three common obstacles you might face when making changes to TA deployment, and how to overcome these.
Obstacle One: We’ve always done it this way…
This is a common refrain that can be heard in any organisation when change is afoot. Sometimes it is an involuntary reaction to change; sometimes it is a signal of uncertainty; at other times it can be a defensive gesture designed to derail change.
Three techniques for overcoming the obstacle are as follows. First, talk in terms of the positive impact on pupils. This is hard to argue against. Everyone in school has pupil welfare and achievement at the front of their minds. Couching change in these terms connects it to people’s core motivation and values.
Second, take people with you. Talk about development instead of change. Highlight how everyone can develop their practice – including the leadership team – and make people feel part of the journey. Three, focus on reason and evidence rather than emotion. Refer back to the recommendations and stress their basis in research. Use the videos in the course to demonstrate the journey another school (Pye Bank CE School) has been on. Use the existing good practice in your school to model different ways of working.
Obstacle Two: Concern over scapegoating/apportioning blame
Some teaching assistants may feel changes to deployment suggest they are not doing their jobs ineffectively. They may feel vulnerable and have genuine concerns that they are being blamed for something over which they have little control.
Overcome this obstacle by dealing with it head on and giving TAs a sense of control by heavily involving them in the process of change. Make it clear from the off that blame is off the agenda. This is simply a matter of looking at what is happening in school and asking how everybody – senior leadership, teachers and teaching assistants – can do things better, with pupils being the ultimate beneficiaries of any changes.
Ensure TAs are a full part of the process – by bringing them into the self-assessment process, give them an equal voice in the TA Development Team, by including them in discussions, training and so on. This serves to tie TAs into the process and develop positive connotations, minimising the possibility of negative feelings arising.
Obstacle Three: Contractual Issues
Be prepared to look at contracts and adjust them/renegotiate them if necessary. For example, TAs might work contracted hours which allow no time at the start and end of the day for liaising with the teacher. Asking them to do this unpaid is not fair. You will need to adjust contracts to take account of the changed practices. As in the examples above, aim to do this in a consultative, collaborative way which engages TAs in the process and invites their suggestions makes them feel a positive part of the change (as opposed to feeling that the change is being thrust upon them).