Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Managing Staff (Zoning) in a Secondary Life Skills Class

 Back in July I wrote a post on setting up a secondary life skills class.  In that post I talked about the schedule and the needs of the physical environment.  I thought I would take a moment to share with you the way we manage staff in this type of classroom. I always find it amazing that folks who don't teach in self-contained environments (or resource environments) think that having lots of staff in the classroom is such a blessing.  And then I talk with the teachers in those classes and they find it to be more of a burden.  Most teachers went to school to learn to teach and became teachers to work with the students; they often didn't plan to be a personnel manager.  A self-contained or resource classroom is a unique environment because much of what the teacher has to do is organize and work with the staff.  The teacher needs to give direction but also needs to work with the staff members as a team.  Caitlin did an awesome post for teachers on working with paraprofessionals and working as a team, so I'm not going to repeat that here.  But I did want to share a strategy that has been shown to increase organization in the classroom, promote engagement of students, and that I have found to reduce strife in a classroom environment that sometimes feels like an isolation chamber with only a few adults.

Part of a classroom that promotes high levels of engagement is limiting the amount of time that the staff has to spend talking about what they are doing and lessening the time that a teacher has to spend directing the staff.  A staff zoning plan is the answer to that problem.  Here are a few things to know about a zoning plan.

  1. It's called a zoning plan because it was based on a zone defense in basketball (the only sport I actually watch!) when the research was first conducted.  The original researchers found that in a day care environment, students were more engaged if staff was zoned to an area of the room rather than to a group of students.  Students would come and go but the staff would stay in the same place.  For instance, someone manned the bathroom, someone manned the snack table and students went back and forth between the 2 activities.  Then the staff was responsible for who was in their zone.
  2. We use the term zoning even when we "zone" man-to-man --meaning staff is responsible for a set of students or just one student depending on the situation because each person is zoned into his or her responsibilities.
  3. Hopefully everyone has the chance to teach with staff who could be their right arm and anticipates their every need.  However, most teams don't start out that way.  A zoning plan lets everyone know their jobs are.  I've seen contentious classrooms suddenly be much calmer when you just give someone a written schedule of what they need to do with details about who to work with and where to be.
  4. Zoning plans make sure that everything gets done.  You write in data collection, which students to prompt during morning meeting, who is cleaning up the activity, who is setting up the next activity, and who is watching which students when you are walking to the lunch room.  You even include things like who carries the walkie talkie when the class goes on a walk (because otherwise, I thought you had it!).
  5. Zoning plans should be developed by teams collaboratively and responsibilities can be rotated out on a scheduled basis.  This is important because if I had to run art every day all year, I might not be a happy resident of the classroom.
  6. Zoning plans mean that you schedule in lunch and breaks.  I know that teachers frequently emulate Wonder Woman, but really everyone is better off if each person gets to take a break.  I've found over the years that those who don't have breaks scheduled into their day, take them mentally without meaning to while still woring with students. That you do not want. So schedule lunch and schedule breaks according to your policy, but make sure everyone has a chance to go to the bathroom and get out of the room for at least a bit.  And then make sure that they know when to come back and that other's breaks and duties are counting on them being in their place on time.
  7. And finally (yes I do like lists of 7), zoning plans can change and will change as duties change, needs of staff and students change, and as the team evolves.  There is benefit to writing it down and not expecting that everyone in the class knows what you need and it can avoid a lot of conflict when it is clear that the staff schedule exists to support the engagement of the students.

So, below is the zoning plan that goes the schedule I included in the secondary classrooms post.  You'll see the purple blocks are when people are out of the room--everyone likes to be able to see that.  Jenny (not her real name) was the teacher and the other 2 staff were paraprofessionals.  You can see where we wrote in who is taking data in each activity and who is responsible for which students at which time.  Look it over and share any thoughts you have in the comments.  I'll be writing more about zoning plans in my series on setting up classrooms over at Autism Classroom News if you want to look at more examples.  In the meantime, how do you schedule your staff and what has worked for you?

Want to know more about zoning plans?  Check out these resources:
TTAC Newsletter
A presentation out of the Siskin Institute (includes research on zoning)
An article in Young Exceptional Children

Until next time,
Autism Classroom News

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