‘Super Bowl of TA training’ brings in hundreds of teacher assistants

“I am doing jumping jacks.”

The woman next in line groaned, and the classroom roared in laughter.

“I have to remember how to do that,” she laughed.

In an effort to learn more about the foundations of morning meetings, a group of about 20 teacher assistants were taking part in various activities that could be used in a morning meeting.

This exercise, known as “Do as I say, not as I do,” had participants stand in a circle. The first in line was to mime a certain activity (for example, reading a book) while saying they were doing a completely different activity (dancing a jig). The next person in line was to then mime the activity the previous person had said they were doing, even though it was not what they were actually doing.

The goal of the session was to show the strengths of the morning meeting and highlight the importance of finding ways to build relationships with students.

As session leader Anna Surratt explained to the group, morning meetings help children understand that “we are part of a community where we feel safe to take risks together.”

The morning meeting course was just one of more than 20 different session offerings specifically tailored for teacher assistants. They deployed to sites all over the city to take part in varying sessions, including those on topics such as student agency, growth mindset, coding instruction, developmentally appropriate practices and conflict management.

It was the first time a division Staff Day was used as an opportunity to provide professional learning just for teacher assistants. The Department of Teaching and Learning (DTAL) and the Office of Professional Growth and Innovation (PGI) had planned such a day for the 2017-18 school year, but it had to be rescheduled in the form of various sessions during the school year after schools and offices were closed due to snow.

This year, anticipation for the event was high, to say the least.

“I just have to say I am very thankful you are here today,” Surratt told her class. “Our phone has been ringing off the hook. I think this has been a long-awaited day for many of you.”

For Feb. 1, PGI and DTAL staff planned 1,400 spaces available for the multiple sessions throughout the day.

In rooms at the Tidewater Community College Higher Education Center, rooms were packed (with some people bringing in extra chairs and doubling up at tables to make room).

“The response from you all this time is overwhelming,” Dr. Paulette France told attendees in her effective communication strategies session. “Over the last couple of years, there have been focus groups, some of your teacher assistant colleagues were in focus groups; there were surveys for you to respond to. We talked to your teachers. We talked to your principals to get feedback on some of the courses or training you would like. Two to three years (of work) has come down to this day.”

Kellam High School Teacher Assistant Kendra Bailey shared that her session not only helped her identify new strategies and techniques, it also helped her see the commonalities and bonds teacher assistants share.

“It’s a good eye opener to learn who you are and your strengths and weaknesses that you didn’t even know you have,” she said. “I do appreciate the development day because it does help us think about different problem-solving skills. To be able to say, it’s not only me, but to hear other aspects from TAs – other teacher assistants – to hear their stories, then it’s ok for me to respond this way or for that situation to happen because it’s not only me. It’s a really nice experience to hear that from different grade levels, different schools.”

Holland Elementary School Teacher Assistant Elsie Class, who attended the morning meeting session, agreed.

“I was like, ‘Oh ok, something new to learn.’ At the same time, it is an opportunity to meet other people and share different experiences. Like, for example, that game we were playing, it was really cute, and that’s something we can do with the children.”

Sessions lasted the full Friday, with some beginning at 8 a.m. and others going all the way through 4 p.m. Instructors included PGI staff as well as teams from DTAL to make the sessions possible. While it was a large undertaking, the enthusiasm for the event was never in doubt.

“Today is like the Super Bowl of TA training and I love it,” France shared.


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