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Collaborating with Therapists and Teaching Assistants

On any preschool assessment, you’re going to see things like “plays well with others,” “shares materials,” and “manages feelings.”  As teachers, we spend the majority of our time teaching our preschoolers how to manage their feelings so that they can get along with their friends.  And guess what? We, the adults, we have to do that too!  Yikes!  I would say that besides keeping everyone safe, working well with others is at the top of the list of skills needed to be a teacher.  It is also something that they don’t really teach you in college.  Sure, we there were group projects, but I never had a class that taught me how to work with my assistants and the therapists that come into the classroom.  So how do we do it?  What is the best way to create an environment where everyone can do their jobs and work together, and most of all model appropriate behavior for the children?  I’ve got some ideas!

  • Regular team meetings, or contact
  • Jointly developing goals and objectives
  • Therapists and assistants should be familiar with classroom lesson plans and goals
  • Allow therapists and assistants to lead lessons or co-teach
  • Keep schedules consistent
  • Communicate in order to ensure carryover
  • Articulate concerns
  • Provide preferred contact method
  • Schedule routine progress updates
  • Notify team members about successful strategies
  • Establish communication notebook

“Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success.” – Unknown

One of the biggest lessons I learned about working with assistants and therapists in my classroom is that I have to know myself and what my expectations are so that I can clearly articulate them.  If you are a person who wants everything in its place, you should share that from the very beginning.  If you are a person who likes to follow the lead of the children, and you rarely stick to a lesson plan, you should definitely tell your assistants and therapists that upfront.  For me, I make sure to tell people I’m working with that if I get quiet, it’s because I’m trying to problem-solve or I’m feeling stressed.  It has been helpful for me to share that “quiet” does not equal “I’m mad at you and I’m telling the principal to fire you at 3:00 as soon as the children leave.”  I also make sure to ask them to let me in on how they work best, and I accommodate wherever possible.

I also try really hard to be appreciative of all that my assistants, in particular, do for me and our students.  A quick thank you note or stop at the donut shop before school can go a long way to boost morale in a classroom.

Empowering assistants to be leaders and decision-makers in the classroom can build their skills and confidence, and it will also make things much easier on you.  I truly believe that when you walk into the best classrooms, you can’t tell who is the lead teacher and who is the assistant.  Capitalize on the strengths of those around you.  I have mentioned before that I had a longtime assistant who was a fantastic storyteller.  Not only was she excellent at it, but she also really enjoyed it, so it made total sense that she led the majority of our literacy circles.  By giving her that responsibility, I was able to focus on helping individual children and taking data.

For me, working with therapists in the classroom changes from year to year.  There have been years when I’ve had therapists who want to come in and join whatever activity the kids are engaged in.  They do “push-in” therapy right there at the table with everyone else.  I’ve even had therapists come in and lead our circle time for the entire class, which can be fantastic for everyone.  And there are times when therapists need to pull kids out of the classroom for therapy to be most effective.  There are lots of opinions on whether push-in or pull-out is better, but I think as long as everyone is doing what that particular child needs, you can’t go wrong.  However therapy happens with your students, it vital that you have an open and respectful relationship with the therapists.  After all, you all want the same thing–for children to learn and grow and feel loved in the process.

Even in the best classroom relationships, disagreements are going to happen.  If there does come a time when I need to speak with an assistant or a therapist about an issue in the classroom, I always make sure that I do it in private, not in front of coworkers or the children.  I also try to communicate any issues when they arise, not after it has gone on for a long time because resentment can grow with time, on both sides.  And most importantly in these situations, be honest, but don’t be emotional.  Always stay professional and remember what’s really most important, the kids!

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a team?  How do you overcome those challenges?


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