Back-to-School: What Makes a Successful Teacher and Assistant Teacher Relationship?

A good relationship between early childhood teachers and assistant teachers is a large part of creating a positive and effective learning environment for young children. A strong and supportive partnership between teachers and assistants can significantly enhance the quality of education and care provided to the children.

Having been a floater teacher, an assistant teacher, and a lead teacher, I feel equal parts qualified and compelled to write about these relationship dynamics that impact nearly every part of classroom operations.

My Experience in a Successful Working Relationship

When I first started teaching, I was so excited to decorate my classroom and build rapport with my students. I hadn’t even considered that I would also need to build a relationship with my assistant teacher!

I was lucky because she had more classroom experience than me and was very knowledgeable about how to divvy up responsibilities. We talked about what each of us liked to do most; I’m a big fan of messy play so supporting students with art activities and science was fun and easy for me. She liked to lead music activities and shared songs and dances with me that became essential parts of our classroom culture.

I was so grateful to have a teaching partner that felt confident discussing our roles together from the start. As we got to know each other, we learned our strengths and how to use them. Without even noticing it, we made each other more effective teachers. When you work alongside others, there’s an element of self scaffolding that happens. Just like students get better at things with teacher support, teachers can also improve with peer assistance. It’s a beautiful thing!

Relationship Building Blocks for Assistants and Teachers Working Together

Communication

Effective communication is essential for any successful team. Teachers and assistants should maintain open and clear lines of communication to share information, discuss concerns, exchange ideas, and plan collaboratively.

Mutual Respect

Both the teacher and assistant should respect each other’s expertise and contributions to the classroom. Recognizing the value each brings to the classroom and acknowledging each other’s strengths can help build a positive working relationship.

Shared Goals and Vision

Teachers and assistants should work together to establish a common vision for the classroom. This alignment helps ensure that everyone is working toward the same goals and outcomes for the children’s learning and development.

Teamwork

Early childhood education is a team effort. Staff should collaborate to create a harmonious and supportive team teaching dynamic. This includes being willing to help and support each other in various tasks and responsibilities.

Clear Roles and Responsibilities

Clarity of roles and responsibilities is essential to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts. Teachers and teaching assistants should have a clear grasp of what is expected of each of them in the classroom.

Professional Development

Encouraging ongoing professional development for both teachers and assistants can enhance their skills and knowledge. Participating in training sessions together can be a great way to improve relationships and strengthen their classroom practices.

Positive Feedback and Room to Improve

Providing and accepting feedback in a respectful manner enhances the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Early childhood settings can be unpredictable, and flexibility is key to managing unexpected situations. Teachers and assistants should be adaptable to changing circumstances and be willing to support each other as needed.

Nurturing a Caring Environment

Teachers and assistants should model positive behavior and interactions with each other, reflecting the caring and nurturing environment they aim to create for the children.

Trust

Building trust is vital in any relationship. Teachers should trust their assistants to carry out their responsibilities effectively, and assistants should trust the guidance and decisions made by the teacher.

A Strengths-based Approach to Shared Responsibilities

We frequently use strengths-based approaches with students, but not as often with other adults and colleagues. A team works best when members feel confident and capable. Teachers and assistants should regularly discuss their strengths, interests, and comfort level with various classroom tasks and responsibilities.

For those tasks that don’t fit into the strengths category, ask for support from leadership and make a plan for how you will share them with your co-teacher. You never know, they may become a strength with time and experience.

Team Building and Bonding Ideas

I’m not just talking about a meeting icebreaker, here! Planned activities where the sole purpose is to develop bonds and get to know each other’s strengths makes a huge difference.

Shared Values

One of my favorite activities to do with a new teaching team is to identify individual values and establish shared values. This process provides space for everyone involved to share opinions, personal beliefs, and craft values they all agree on.

Outdoor Activities

Organize outdoor activities like a picnic, nature walk, or team sports. Outdoor activities promote a relaxed and enjoyable environment for socializing and bonding.

Storytelling Circle

Set up a storytelling circle where teachers and assistants take turns sharing interesting stories from their lives or their experiences in the classroom. This can help create a sense of connection and shared experiences.

Appreciation Days

Celebrate appreciation days where teachers and teaching assistants acknowledge each other’s efforts and contributions. Provide thoughtful notes or small tokens of appreciation to express gratitude.

Team lunches

Plan team lunches or potluck gatherings. Sharing a meal together fosters a sense of community and provides an opportunity to relax and bond outside of the classroom setting.

Art and Craft Sessions

Engage in art and craft sessions where teachers and assistants can collaborate on creative projects. This can be a fun and light-hearted way to bond while tapping into their creativity.

Reflection and Vision Boarding

Take time together to reflect on the past and set goals for the future. Create a vision board as a team, illustrating your shared aspirations and plans for the classroom.

Remember, the key to successful bonding activities is to ensure they are enjoyable, inclusive, and promote teamwork. Also, be mindful of individual preferences and needs, as some people may be more introverted or have different interests.

Communication Strategies and Tips

Regular Meetings

Schedule regular meetings to discuss classroom plans, curriculum, and upcoming activities.

Clear Expectations

Define roles and responsibilities clearly, so both the teacher and assistant know what is expected of them.

Active Listening

Give each other your full attention, and validate each other’s thoughts and opinions.

Be Approachable

Create an open and approachable atmosphere where both the teacher and assistant feel comfortable discussing any issues or concerns.

Use Technology

Utilize tools like email, messaging apps, or shared digital calendars to communicate about important updates, reminders, or changes to schedules.

Share Notes

If one person is away from the classroom for any reason, ensure that notes are left behind to inform the other person about any developments or incidents that occurred during their absence.

Encourage Feedback

Encourage both teachers and assistants to provide feedback to each other about the classroom dynamics, teaching strategies, and any areas for improvement.

Use Positive Language

Choose positive and constructive language when providing feedback or discussing challenges.

Non-Verbal Communication

Pay attention to non-verbal cues and body language, as they can convey a lot of information. Be mindful of your own non-verbal communication as well.

Handle Conflicts Respectfully

In the event of conflicts or disagreements, address them respectfully and in private. Avoid blaming or becoming defensive, and focus on finding a solution together.

Celebrate Achievements

Celebrate successes and achievements, both big and small, as a team. Acknowledging each other’s efforts boosts morale and strengthens the working relationship.

Professional Development

Participate in joint professional development opportunities to grow and learn together. This shared experience can foster a sense of camaraderie.

Daily Briefings and Debriefings

Begin and end each day with a brief meeting to discuss the schedule, any changes, and plan for the day. Use the end of the day as an opportunity to reflect on the day’s events and discuss any important matters for the next day.

Remember that effective communication is a two-way street, and both teachers and assistants should be actively engaged in the process. By fostering open and respectful communication, you can create a positive working relationship that benefits not only the educators but also the children in your care.

Impacts of a Positive Teacher and Teacher Assistant Relationship

A strong teacher-assistant relationship has a positive impact on the children’s well-being and development. The adults in the classroom serve as role models for the children, showcasing effective communication, teamwork, and mutual respect, which the children can learn from and emulate.

For example, when children watch a teacher and assistant talk through an issue, they gain knowledge about problem solving strategies, conflict resolution skills, and other important social-emotional lessons. Using respectful language and positive feedback shows students how to communicate effectively and kindly.

How School Leaders and Program Administrators Can Help

Early childhood education program leaders and administrators play a big role in the success of their teaching teams. Here are some ways to support positive working relationships between assistants and teachers working together.

  • Choose job titles that respect the individuals and their positions.
  • Edit job descriptions to set clear expectations of every staff member. If a teacher is expected to contribute to classroom cleaning responsibilities, be sure to include that. Assistant teachers should know if they are expected to participate in child assessment or parent conferences. Updated job descriptions assure mutual understanding between leaders, teachers, and support staff.
  • Carve out team bonding and relationship building during pre-service and professional development opportunities. Staff need to know you care about and support their relationships. Try some of these reflections and practices.
  • Lead by example. Communicate clearly, effectively, and respectfully with every staff member, parent, visitor, and child.
  • Provide planning time where staff can work together, outside of caring for the children. This one to one time can be used to craft the lesson plan and classroom activities, strategize behavior management, or document student progress. Shared planning time is linked to better relationships and smoother operating classrooms.
  • Engage in reflective supervision practices with each member of your team. Share resources, solutions, and encourage reciprocal, constructive feedback.

Teaching Team Relationships Take Work

It is completely natural and expected that two professionals will have some conflicts. Remember that our differences are what make us unique. Withhold judgment and ask questions to better understand the situation. In the words of Tucker Turtle, “Stop, breathe, and think!”

With open communication, clear expectations, and leaning into each other’s strengths, teacher and assistant teacher roles complement each other and contribute to the overall success of early childhood programs.

Additional Resources

Check out our other Back-to-School blogs for more ways to support your staff, children, and families.

2 Comments

Brooke Alexander

Thanks for reading, Dani! Please share with anyone who might benefit!

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