Rethinking the Role of Educational Assistants to Better Support Inclusive Education in Ontario Secondary Schools
The purpose of this project was to review how educational assistants support students with significant support needs (SSN), such as, developmental disabilities, autism, and multiple disabilities in inclusive secondary school classrooms, and to create learning guides for administrators to use when providing professional development to educational assistants. The learning guides focus on collaboration and research-based practices that close student learning gaps, improve student achievement, and foster inclusive classrooms. Research has shown the role of the school principal to be pivotal for fostering new meaning, promoting inclusive school cultures and instructional programs as well as building relationships between schools and communities (Riehl, 2000). Educational assistants support the emotional, social, and academic success of all students, but particularly for those with special education needs. Administration and educational assistants both play important roles in student success and in creating inclusive classrooms; therefore, it is essential that they both learn alongside each other with a shared goal of student success. This project is in response to my work within the Upper Canada District School Board as a classroom teacher, special education teacher, secondary learning resource coach, student engagement teacher, vice principal, and principal. Throughout my career I have been dedicated to creating a positive, caring, and inclusive learning environment where all students are encouraged, supported, and given the opportunity to reach their full potential. I have had the privilege of working with many highly effective educational assistants who shared my vision, and working together, along with the help of other dedicated staff, parents, and families, many of my students with significant support needs went on to earn their Ontario Secondary School Diploma. When I moved to administration nine years ago, I made listening to and honouring educational assistants’ voices and their professional development a priority. I have made it a practice to have weekly team meetings with educational assistants with professional development as the focus. I discovered that this practice is not widely adopted throughout our school district, nor are there resources to support this practice. This resource guide was designed, edited, and revised based on informal feedback from many stakeholders, including administrators, classroom teachers, special education teachers, student success teachers, guidance teachers, and educational assistants. This project may be valuable to administrators who are interested in providing professional development to their school’s educational assistants and are looking for resources to support them. These learning guides are based on five topics, that include current research and how to put learning into action compiled into easily accessible documents with links to resources.