Educational Assistants and Self-Advocacy
As a result of my February 2nd post regarding Educational Assistants (EAs), I was invited by Dina Moati, a professor at Sheridan College in Mississauga Ontario to speak with a class of EA students. It was an open discussion (as I am known for) and was framed by the general topics of challenges or concerns entering the workforce and self-advocacy.
It is important to know that Educational Assistants are seen by many as living low on the food chain in terms of power and influence in the school setting, yet are tasked with working with some of the most vulnerable and at times dangerous students.
The issues raised by the Sheridan College EA students spoke to concern if/when observing harsh treatment of students by other more senior colleagues; how to defend oneself if bringing a claim or issue to management either about a colleague or with regard to a claim of injury; adequacy of training to equip oneself for the role. The predominate feeling state associated with issues raised could easily be identified as anxiety.
These students were coming from a good pace and already speaking to concerns arising from direct observation and experience the result of their placement experiences. Concerns raised were also fully consistent with those identified in my original post with seasoned EAs.
These students are entering the profession seeking to make a difference in the lives of the students they will serve. They are entering the profession on the heels of those already in it, some of whom are influenced by the strain and stress of the work, where the strain and stress may be observed in job performance. These students want to survive and thrive in their role.
I offered strategies to raise concerns directly with colleagues non-judgmentally; to engage colleague informationally and educationally; to be transparent in terms of observations and concerns as well as to remain non-defensive themselves.
We also discussed that their role begins with the job interview and that a job interview is a two-way street.
As the employer is seeking to determine the appropriateness of the candidate for the job, the candidate should also be determining the appropriateness of the setting for themselves. To that end, I suggested they can ask to review the institution’s policies on violence in the workplace specifically as it pertains to student perpetrated violence and if that policy differentiates between students with or without special needs. I also suggested that they can contact the union representative in the setting to ask about issues arsing and the handling of those issues. They can also ask if there is a model for collaboration between the EA and teaching staff.
As for anxiety generally, this was viewed positively. Anxiety isn’t inherently a bad thing.
A modicum of anxiety alerts the individual of potential harm and can propel the individual to seek strategies to address the source of that potential harm. For instance worrying about preparedness for the role can propel the student to learn more and thus increase competence. On this I stressed the importance of being a life-long learner; that I even with my years of experience continue to learn and develop professionally. I shared my experiences when a newly minted social worker and my fears when a child protection worker with inadequate preparation or supervision. After all, we are all born human first and all have experienced scary and challenging times. Transparency and the sharing of personal experiences normalizes fears.
It was nice to see a bright and engaged group looking to get on with their profession. Hopefully they can now embrace any trepidation with the tools provided to raise issues reasonably in the workplace and with a view that learning and development is a life-long process. All tremendous self-advocacy skills.
I must give a shout out to their professor, Dina Moati. She reached out to me to see if I could/would offer something to her class. In process she was seeking to demonstrate that by asking, something may come of it. This is advocacy in action.
Schools: Get ready for this new crop of Educational Assistants.
I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.
Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.
If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.
Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.