Fielding-Barnsley, Ruth (2005) The attributes of a successful Learning Support Teacher

Fielding-Barnsley, Ruth (2005) The attributes of a successful Learning Support Teacher in Australian inclusive classrooms. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 5(2), pp. 68-76.

This research presented an interesting point that the attributes of a good Learning support Teacher in an inclusive setting are not knowledge and experience but good communication skills.  As models of learning support move away from withdrawal, being able to work collaboratively is crucial to the successful inclusion of students with disability.

The article makes a great point in saying that many teachers complain that Learning Support Teachers talk too much about problems instead of being there to fix them.  In my own personal experience I am seen as doing my job if I am in the class directly assisting students.  This has on occasion undermined the work done outside the classroom empowering teachers to take responsibility. For as soon as I stop supporting and issues arise these are attributed to the lack of support and not the classrooms teacher's responsibility towards the student.  I must add here though that even the best teachers struggle under the demands of meeting the learning needs of a whole class and the requirement to meet the needs of a student with disability. 

Article Abstract

This study used focus groups to investigate 18 general classroom teachers' and 12 learning support teachers' conceptions of the attributes of successful learning support teachers. Based on the attributes emerging from the focus groups, a 20-item questionnaire was designed consisting of statements in four categories: Knowledge and Experience; Organisational Skills; Communication; and Personal Traits. The questionnaire was completed by 117 teachers. Results indicated that there was agreement between the focus groups and teachers who responded to the questionnaire. However, there was a mismatch between learning support teachers and classroom teachers as to what they regarded as being the most important attributes. Learning support teachers indicated that Knowledge and Experience was the most important attribute but this same category was not rated as highly by general classroom teachers. In the total sample of teachers, Personal Traits was rated significantly higher than the other three categories. Communication was ranked second which was significantly higher than Organisational Skills.

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Summary of key points: 

  • There are two distinct groups of students within the special needs area in Australia, namely those with specific disabilities such as intellectual, physical, Autistic Spectrum Disorder, vision, hearing or speech and language impairments and those who have learning difficulties (LD).
  • There is considerable variationin the level of support provided between states and territories in Australia. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) favours a flexible model of delivery including small-group withdrawal, in-class instruction and small alternative classes (Osborne, 1997), but in Queensland support has moved from direct input with students towards a more consultative approach (Forlin, 2000). These changes necessitate a change in the requirements of a successful ST-LD in the consultative role, particularly in an inclusive classroom where the preferred model is to include rather than withdraw students.
  •  It was identified in Australia (Van Kraayenoord, 1996) that there were four major skill areas required
    for effective ST-LDs; namely, (1) the need for detailed sharing of information regarding a student's
    abilities and skills; (2) collaborative planning with the general classroom teacher to focus on
    adaptations and modifications needed by each student; (3) providing support by co-teaching in the
    general classroom: and (4) evaluation of the teaching by examining the effectiveness of both the
    instructional approach and the use of teaching materials.
  • The first recommendation requires that ST-LDs provide direct teaching for students, which may not
    be conducive to an inclusive model of teaching. Forlin (2001) reported that withdrawing students
    from the general class was still the most popular method of support provision; this may be a result
    of the reported problems that these particular teachers experienced in undertaking collaborative
  • The current study identified four major areas of attributes for ST-LDs; namely, (a) knowledge and
    experience; (b) communication; (c) organisational skills; and (d) personal traits.
  • Personal Skills and Communication are seen as being more important by general classroom teachers and this could be an important issue for successful utilization of ST-LDs in an inclusive classroom. The question may be raised, `what is the merit of superior knowledge and experience if you are unable to utilize personal traits to communicate effectively with the classroom teacher?'