The teacher aides at Rosella Park School give students a voice

We recently had the pleasure to meet Deb Bradshaw and Carmel Pitt, to find out how the dedicated teacher aides at Rosella Park School, in Gladstone, Queensland, help their students to learn and succeed.

Both Deb and Carmel are highly experienced teacher aides, and proud to be making a difference in the lives of their students, who have a variety of needs, including moderate to severe autism, intellectual, and physical impairments.

Deb is a lead teacher aide, and a pivotal part of her role is to facilitate professional learning, and mentor beginning teacher aides. Deb also supports teachers to promote and engage learning in the classroom, is on the PBL (Positive Behaviour for Learning) Committee, and is responsible for the input of data through the school’s internal systems and the state-wide databases for Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA).

Carmel has expertise in augmentative communication, and uses a range of augmentative communication tools to create visual displays, write social stories, design virtual outings, and write menus. 

Above: Joshua and Carmel enjoying shared reading time.

Giving every child a voice
The teacher aides are the students' communication partners, and use a range of augmentative and alternate communication (ACC) tools to give students a voice.

They use PECS, a picture exchange communication system that teaches functional communication, Proloquo2go, a communication app for people who have difficulty speaking, designed for use on the iPad, or iPhone, and PODD, a book or device consisting of symbols and words that supports communication between people with complex communication needs and their communication partners.

“We use PODD to communicate throughout the school day, including class time, lunch breaks, toileting and feeding. We carry individualized PODDs with us to enable students to greet each other, communicate their feelings, express ideas, and to better understand what others are saying.” explained Carmel.

Left: Deb is using the PODD to redirect Chilli back to her classroom. Right: Artemis is answering a yes/no question using eye gaze. By watching Artemis’s eye gaze, Tammy can establish the answer.

Empowerment through professional learning
Five years ago, Kate Hucker, (former principal) at Rosella Park School was fundamental in providing opportunities for their teacher aides to participate in professional development. Kate also wanted to make sure that the professional learning on offer, was suited to the needs of the teacher aides, by investing in a school membership to Australian Teacher Aide, where staff could initiate their own professional learning.

We asked Deb and Carmel to tell us about their experience with ATA and any recent online professional learning they had completed. 

“The resources are comprehensive, easy to understand, and use clear language.  We can access the resources any time, which gives us control over our learning, and as it’s a school membership, we don’t have any out of pocket expenses.”
“The video on How to Avoid and Manage Meltdowns in Students was very beneficial because the 8 S’s were easy to remember, which is useful during a stressful situation, and the Essential Behaviour Support Skills for Schools series reinforced the strategies of a PBL school.” 

Rhonda supports Smithy during his work experience placement

Achieving quality outcomes for students 
Teacher aides working in a K - 12 school such as Rosella Park, require a wide range of support skills including behaviour management, data and record keeping, medical and personal care support, and how to use various communication platforms.

They participate in annual performance planning, and use the Queensland Department of Education competency framework to help them to identify the support practices they need to achieve quality outcomes for the students. 

“First, we reflect on our own professional practice, and then we meet with our teachers to identify what we do well, and determine any areas for professional growth. We then meet with a member of the leadership team who helps us identify and plan our professional learning goals. Once the plan has been approved, the teacher aide is responsible for achieving their professional learning goals.” Deb said.

The teacher aides meet each fortnight to share the essential information staff need to stay compliant, and to discuss professional learning. 

“If there's an interest or a need in professional learning the school enables you to participate. After attending specialised PD, we share our learnings with fellow staff. This is done during formal twilight training sessions, after school meetings, or within our fortnightly TA meetings.” said Deb

Where to next?
We are privileged to have the opportunity to meet with our 5 year member schools and learn how they benefit from professional learning. It is also an opportunity to learn more about the professional learning needs of teacher aides, and plan for new resources.

Next year, we will be adding resources on disability and additional needs, and have already partnered with some amazing experts on these topics. If you would like to provide us with feedback about your professional learning needs, we would love to hear from you via this feedback form.