Tips for Developing a Partnership with Classroom and Push-In Educators

Providing push-in seamless services is becoming increasingly important in public education. More and more students are requiring specialized support and classroom educators are being asked to co-teach or plan with another educator in the classroom to provide targeted support and enrichment/intervention.  Many support staff, intervention educators, related service providers, and para educators provide push-in education. For this blog will all be included when talking about push-in educators.

The key to make this partnership work is mutual respect, teamwork, and an understanding of common goals. When teachers and push-in educators share the goal of educating students, the student’s interest are at the center of the instruction. At one time push-in educators were thought of as caregivers or personal aid for students or even worse –  keeping students occupied. Today push-in educators support students in a variety of academic, behavioral, social and physical ways that can differ significantly depending upon the needs of the student.

When push-in educators are appropriately trained, and supported, they can be an integral part in a child’s educational growth. To make this partnership work it takes a high level of collaboration that is student-centered and educator driven around agreed upon goals. Push-in educators are in the classroom to work directly with students as support, not as clerical help like the copy machine pro and paperwork collator. Those roles feel demeaning and negative in nature to an educator driven to support students.  To make this a successful partnership the classroom teacher and push-in educators must collaborate, on a regular, timely basis for adjustments in delivery of instruction/support. Having open dialogue that fosters give and take and understanding of each role the educators play keep the students at the center of the prep, planning and instruction of the teaching and learning. Collaborative practices help keep harmony in the classroom.

The foundation for a productive joint classroom environment begins with effective communication between teachers and push-in educators. Before the push-in educators begin supporting in the classroom there should be a meeting with the teacher to allow for communication and shared input. It is also important for the classroom teacher to learn the skills a push-in educator brings to the learning to enhance lessons. It may be information on a student for the current year or past incidents at the school. Often push-in educators have worked with the student for multiple years. At this initial meeting, there could be a plan for the partnership.

As a principal and now district leader, I like to communicate expectations and responsibilities when building a partnership.  I believe there are five qualities a push-in educator must possess to build a successful partnership with a classroom teacher.

  • Dependability. Teachers are dependent upon the execution of the push in educator’s duties and make student plans with the idea of push-in educators are there to assist them in the classroom. The teachers’ plans might include the need for additional supervision or multiple stations with the lesson divided into groups and the push-in educator must be prepared to manage and act accordingly.
  • Communication. Teaching is about interactions, relationship building, and communication. The push-in educator could be interacting with the teacher and students daily.
  • Flexibility. Push-in educators must work with their assigned teacher in the classroom. This requires a degree of flexibility because there are many moving parts in a school and a common occurrence in a classroom.
  • Continuous learning. Content, needs, and materials continually change. Push-in educators must be willing to make the necessary investments in their own learning for the most current strategies to deliver curriculum.
  • Enjoy working with children. Push-in educators will be working with students every day. Therefore, they need to enjoy being around all student and believe that each can succeed. There is no room for negotiation on this because the push in educator must believe that all students can succeed.

A push-in educators’ support is not always limited to students with special needs; the push-in educators can serve whomever needs support if the partnership is built with that goal. Laws or plans may not allow this, but often working with many students is an option. One way is when the classroom teacher takes the lead in the instruction, the push-in educator should move around the classroom, assisting all students. Too often if “their” student is not struggling – they stay stationary and don’t support those students who may need it.

There are other ways a classroom teacher can maximize the push-in educators’ time and skills. Teachers can build a lesson where the class is divided in two groups and the same material is presented simultaneously by both educators. The teacher will create the plan to maximize the success of all students, then both educators facilitate the lesson. Another strategy is for a teacher to create multiple stations or centers. In this case, both educators are actively involved in instruction with students divided into groups and rotate from one station to the next. Often in this lesson design there may be stations with students working independently and each educator are facilitating a station.

This partnership in the classroom requires a shared ownership between the teacher and push-in educator to flourish. This shared ownership should include the below:

  • Respect: Mutual respect is critical to the teacher/push-in educator partnership. Share ideas openly and build lessons together when possible. Most of your time working together is with students, so respecting each other is critical. Words and gestures speak volumes. Both positive (giving thanks) and negative (eye rolls) are seen by students as well as other staff.  Show respect in all you do.
  • Define Roles and Responsibilities: Agreeing (or maybe the teacher assigns) on who does what and when, will prevent either colleague from feeling the other has overstepped a boundary or shirked responsibilities.
  • Be Flexible: Instructional flexibility is equally as important as the scheduling flexibility when meeting student needs. Student needs supersede any adult ones. Sometimes this means one person will have to put aside his or her favorite tried-and-true strategy and try something different.
  • Plan together (when possible): This partnership brings together two people with rich expertise and experiences. Often when general educators plan lessons, they tend to aim for the masses. Push-in educators often have specific students or goals to support. Both perspectives and goals are important and it takes time and communication to work through how to best utilize each educator. Planning must include both instruction and assessment. If there is no time for planning, talk to administration because without time to plan and communicate the partnership will not be as successful.
  • Communicate: When educators are planning together, the focus is around desired student outcomes, physical assistance with students, methods to reinforce appropriate behaviors, and plan for challenging or disruptive behavior. Planning together is one thing; constant communication is another. Not only should you frequently plan for what lesson content will be covered, how the material will be taught, and how students will be assessed, you should also regularly communicate in less formal ways to strengthen the partnership.

At the end of the day we are all in education to support students to grow as learners and people. Working together to maximize the talents and skills of classroom and push-in educators will create a bond and culture of success for students.  And push-in educators work even when classroom teachers may not see them because they are not together all day. Never forget to acknowledge your appreciation for the endless effort and skills that the push-in educator brings to the classroom.

Mother Teresa said, “None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” As educators we should be working together to produce the best education possible for every student and do great thing together – for all of them.

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