The Importance of Educational Supports Staff

Educational Supports Staff – Noun  (Plural) – Defined as non-classroom professionals whose goal is providing the emotional, social, and academic supports that allow education to proceed in the classroom where it otherwise would not.

In previous blog I talked about how important it is that we have administrative support, and while the ideal is that we are working collaboratively with those in charge of supervising our career, to be honest that’s in part self-serving because those folks are supervising our career.  A group that is just as important but often overlooked is the educational supports staff.

Definition of “Supports Staff”

First of all let’s clarify who I’m talking about.  While it is important that the custodian is part of your flipped classroom and understand why your desks seem to be absolutely random every night when they come in to clean. Also that the custodians understand why your room looks as if it’s been dusted for fingerprints because of all the Expo marker dust literally covering every surface from students who are teaming, doing board work, or the other million things that we use dry erase markers for. The highly trained professionals that I’m talking about are those folks in the guidance, social work, and learning coaches. These are the folks that are going to be working with your students. Particularly those students who have the highest social, emotional, and academic needs.  These are the people working with the students that are going to have some of the largest barriers to learning in your classroom. While their job may not happen in your classroom, it has a direct effect on your classroom.

Mea Culpa

To be fair, this is a group that I have under valued most of my 20-year career. I will explain if you give me just a moment to share the depth of my ignorance. For most of my career the guidance department, from my perspective, has simply been the people that couldn’t get the kids placed in the right classes. The social worker was just a lady that came and pulled kids out of my classroom that really needed to be in my classroom. Finally, academic liaisons and teaching coaches were just those folks that couldn’t hack it in the classroom but still had 12 or 15 years to go until retirement. As confession is good for the soul, I feel a measure of restoration. However, these unfortunate views similar to those expressed above remain quite prevalent in education.

What changed my perspective? Flipped learning and an administrator focused on meeting the needs of students (See my previous blog on flipped learning and administrators).  

One of the greatest benefits of flipped learning is that it forces, not just the students and parents, but also the teacher to engage in a far deeper reflection then a traditional lecture-quiz-test format requires. As part of my reflection and growth over the past 7 years, I have significantly altered my view of the educational supports staff. Some of you reading may still be saying well you can need to continue to reflect because they’re called “fill in the blank” not educational supports staff but in my mind educational supports staff is the highest compliment as their critical role is providing supports of all types to our students. The function of all the folks listed above is truly to support students across the entire spectrum of student health. Research shows that students in crisis find it nearly impossible to learn. We are quite well aware that students without direction will never find their way, and that learning coaches when functioning effectively are coaching students on learning as much, or more, than they are coaching teachers on teaching.

Education’s First Responders

The highly trained professional in these support areas are also the folks that are the canary in the mine, if you will. They will be the first people that hear about a student struggling with your class. Regardless of whether we would like parents to contact us first, these professionals will be the first to encounter the anxiety, frustration, or anger of parents on our behalf. And these are the folks that are most closely aligned with our desire for students to succeed in the classroom. By the nature of their job principals and dean’s of students are concerned not just with the classroom, but more often with the many other activities of the building and district.  They have responsibility for everything from sports to discipline that is a part of daily life in the public school system. People like the social worker, guidance counselors, and learning coaches are the bridge between many of the areas of daily life for students in the school building.

Flipped Effects Others

Our decision to use the flipped classroom and potentially deviate from the traditional expectation of school will impact the people in these supports offices. As classroom educators, we need to make a conscious and concerted effort to make them part of our flipped learning team, not solely for the self serving reasons we include administrators, but because their role is to support students. So how do we help them understand our classroom? When was the last time you invited a guidance counselor to observe your classroom? If a social worker has been to your classroom lately I would be willing to bet it was to observe a student.  If the social worker or counselor is observing a student they are 100% focused on that task with “time on task” or other observation tools. Invite the social worker into your class not just to see the format but to see how you interact and develop rapport with students.

Another way to open communication is to send them a list of your classroom resources or expectations so that they know what is available to students. This can be particularly helpful as, while shocking, some student do not always tell the whole truth about the classroom. Academic liaisons and teaching coaches likewise would appreciate the opportunity to observe and in some cases participate in your classroom, but at minimum share your resources with them. At a minimum folks send these professionals the same materials you send to students and parents at the beginning of the year.

Walk The Walk

There are many other ways to improve communication and cooperation with these key members of the building and district staff, but I need to end this blog and send some emails and invites to people in my building as I am as guilty of neglecting them as anyone reading this blog.


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