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The Role of the Resource Teacher in an Inclusive Setting

A time-use inquiry in New Brunswick schools

As part of a provincial review of inclusive education, New Brunswick resource teachers were asked to participate in a three-day time-use inquiry. The resulting information was compiled into categories: working with teachers; working with students; planning and organizing; professional development; meetings; and other. The results of the time-use inquiry reveal that while the participants across the province performed similar tasks, the time spent on each of these tasks varies greatly. It was also found that resource and methods teachers spend little time directly working with classroom teachers. They spend minimal time in the regular classroom observing, modeling, coaching, co-teaching and completing classroom work with students with special needs. A significant amount of their time was spent on tasks unrelated to their resource role. The results of this inquiry reinforce the authors’ view that clearly defined roles and standards of professional practice are needed to ensure that students and teachers get the support they need to make inclusive education a success.

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Today, more and more schools are embracing inclusive beliefs and values and putting into practice structures that will permit each student to learn in an environment that welcomes diversity. If schools are to succeed at including students who present challenging behaviours or diverse learning abilities, regular classroom teachers and students need to be supported by a team of professionals. These educational support teams (EST) should include the resource teacher, the guidance teacher, school intervention/behaviour mentors and others, such as literacy and numeracy teachers. The primary roles of the EST members should be to support the classroom teacher through coaching, co-teaching, co-planning and consultation. Individual team members may have specific assignments for their work, but they should function as a team with a shared vision, a focus on collaboration, peer support, joint problem-solving and strategies/practices that result in teacher and student success. 

The resource teacher is an important member of the EST and must lead the team towards effective overall management of inclusive initiatives. Unlike the method and resource teacher in the outmoded “integrated model,” who in most instances primarily worked directly with students, the role of the resource teacher in an inclusive school must be focused on supporting and working directly with classroom teachers. The resource teacher must be an experienced and knowledgeable teacher who can provide leadership to help build teacher capacity for utilizing differentiated pedagogical strategies in the classroom.

As part of the New Brunswick government’s initiative to conduct a provincewide review of inclusive education in the 2010-2011 school year,[1] a time-use survey was designed to give us a better understanding of how resource teachers spend their time. All resource teachers in both the Anglophone and Francophone sectors were asked to complete the survey on three separate days in October 2011.

How do resource teachers spend their time? This study’s surprising findings reveal the need to set new priorities.

 

Methodology

During each of the three full working days surveyed, the resource teachers completed a form charting their daily work, divided into 15-minute intervals. They were provided with a list of more than 20 validated activities from which to choose, and of course there was provision for “other” actions that might not be anticipated. The activities or tasks were then clustered into the following six categories:

  • working with teachers;
  • working with students;
  • planning and organization;
  • professional development;
  • meetings;
  • other.

Results

The time that was spent by resource teachers on these different tasks and/or activities in the three-day period shows that considerable differences existed between all districts and between various teaching levels (K-8 and 9-12). But in all districts and levels, resource teachers spent most of their time (26.4 percent) “Planning and Organizing” and they spent the least amount of their time “Working with Teachers” (8.3 percent) and working on “Professional Development” (2.7 percent). Let us look more closely at the data collected for each of these categories (Graph 1).

Working with teachers: This category covers the following tasks and/or activities: coaching, mentoring and co-teaching teachers in the common learning environment; meeting with teachers to discuss and plan special education plans, and collaborating or co-planning around programming for students. Resource teachers in general spent less than 10 percent of their day supporting classroom teachers, helping them to better accommodate their students. 

Working with students: The second category reflects the time that resource teachers spent working directly with students. At the K-8 level, they spent from 9.5 percent to 37.1 percent of their time working with students. At the 9-12 level, these percentages were from 8.8 percent to 15.6 percent. In addition to looking at the complete picture, we wanted to report more precisely on where and how resource teachers worked with students. Therefore this category was divided into three parts: resource teachers working with one or a small group of students in the regular classroom, working with a small group of students outside the regular classroom, and working with only one student outside the regular classroom. Both Anglophone and Francophone resource teachers worked more often outside the regular classroom. More precisely, they spent less than 10 percent of their time with students inside the regular classroom. While some of these teachers spent 2.2 percent of their time working with only one student, others spent as much as 16.5 percent doing so. Again, this shows a considerable discrepancy in the tasks performed by these teachers.

Planning and organization: This category covers tasks related to accessing students, preparing special education plans and preparing educational material. It also includes time spent working with or planning schedules for educational assistants. This category seems to be where the resource teachers spent most of their time, with some spending up to 35 percent of their day planning and organizing. The provincial average for this activity is 26.4. A significant portion of this time was spent on developing special educational plans and preparing material for teachers and educational assistants.

Professional development: This category covers the following tasks: facilitating and preparing seminars or after-school professional development sessions, researching instructional strategies and instructional methods, and participating in professional development sessions. Our analysis shows that resource teachers spent little of their time working in this category. Time spent ranged from 1.1 percent to 4.6 percent.

Meetings: This category covers activities such as meetings with different partners, school personnel and parents. We concluded that resource teachers in both Anglophone and Francophone sectors spent an average of 16.9 percent of their day in meetings. More specifically, they spent from 11.3 percent to 23 percent of their day in meetings or corresponding with different agencies, parents or other school staff.

Other: This category refers to a variety of resource teacher activities that range from having to teach a regular class as part of their duties (not part of their resource teacher FTD), to having to deal with unexpected situations or help with administrative tasks. Resource teachers spent from 18 percent to 32.8 percent of their time completing tasks that were not necessarily related to their resource role. The data provided about the same results for the Anglophone and Francophone sectors. In the Anglophone sector, the amount is similar for both the primary and high school levels. In the Francophone sector, this amount is greater at the high school level.

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Conclusion

This three-day survey was sent to all resource teachers. Even though the data does not provide an accurate picture of what these teachers accomplish during a full school year, we can still draw interesting conclusions about their day-to-day tasks and activities in relation to the role that they should be playing alongside teachers of regular classes.

First of all, resource teachers are involved in very different tasks. There does not seem to be a clear definition of what these teachers should be doing. Therefore, we need to ask ourselves what their role should be, and how much time should be allotted for each of their tasks. We are aware that unforeseen circumstances will sometimes occur during the course of a school day, but when resource teachers are spending up to 35 percent of their time working on tasks not directly related to supporting teachers or working with students, we have to question whether the expertise of these teachers is being put to good use. At a time when classroom teachers seek different strategies and innovative teaching methods to work more effectively with their students, the resource teacher’s first priority should be to engage with and support the teacher. It needs to be common practice for all resource teachers to first check the needs of the teachers and their students before working on other duties. Making an inclusive setting a success demands nothing less.

We also underscore the fact that the resource teachers reported spending very little of their time directly supporting classroom teachers. Co-teaching and mentoring, coaching and collaborating, do not seem to be practices that are well used to support teachers. We know that classroom teachers place high value on opportunities to collaborate with colleagues, most especially resource teachers. In an unpublished survey completed by nearly 5,000 educators in the Anglophone school system in New Brunswick in October 2012, participants rated being able to collaborate with resource teachers and other classroom teachers the most important support they can receive. This is illustrated in Graph 2. 

We strongly believe that if schools want to become inclusive and thus recognize the broad scope of individual diversity in each classroom, teachers will need to be supported by members of an educational support team (EST) through coaching, co-teaching, co-planning and consultation. The data clearly indicate that the role of the resource teacher must be more clearly defined. The priority must be for knowledgeable and experienced resource teachers to provide reliable and sustained support to classroom teachers and thus assure the highest possible classroom success for all students. We think that such a definition would help decrease the disparities in practice of resource teachers and focus their time in those areas that get the best results.

How should we go about it? When school cultures are truly inclusive, school administrators will understand and expect the role of the resource teacher to be predominately collaborative. They will insist that resource teachers prioritize coaching and working with classroom teachers. However, until that happens, the role of the resource teacher should be well explained and protected in policy. This will enhance the respect accorded to the role and responsibilities of all resource teachers and increase their capacity to contribute to instructional and school improvement.

First published in Education Canada, March 2013

 

EN BREF - Dans le cadre d’un examen provincial de l’inclusion scolaire, on a demandé aux enseignants-ressources du Nouveau-Brunswick de participer à un sondage portant sur leur emploi du temps sur une période de trois jours. Leurs réponses ont été compilées en différentes catégories : accompagnement des enseignants, interventions auprès des élèves, planification et organisation, perfectionnement professionnel, communication et autres. Les résultats du sondage sur l’emploi du temps révèlent que bien que les participants répartis à travers la province aient effectué des tâches similaires, le temps consacré à chacune d’elles varie considérablement. Il a été constaté que les enseignants-ressources passent peu de temps à travailler directement avec des enseignants des salles de classe. Ils consacrent peu de temps en classe ordinaire à observer, à établir des modèles, à encadrer, à coenseigner et à travailler avec des élèves ayant des besoins particuliers. Beaucoup de leur temps est affecté à des tâches sans lien avec leur rôle en tant que ressources. Les résultats du sondage renforcent l’avis des auteurs selon lequel il faut clairement définir les rôles et les normes de pratique afin que les élèves et les enseignants obtiennent le soutien dont ils ont besoin pour assurer le succès de l’éducation inclusive.


[1] In 2010, New Brunswick’s Education and Early Childhood Development Minister (EECD), Hon. Jody Carr, announced his government’s intention to conduct a province-wide review of inclusive education. The initiative provided a complete synopsis of current inclusive practices at the systemic, district, school and classroom levels. The Minister of EECD asked for an action plan to enhance the implementation of inclusive education in both Francophone and Anglophone schools in New Brunswick. Gordon L. Porter, CM and Angèla AuCoin, PhD, were commissioned to undertake this work and in 2012, their report, Strengthening Inclusion, Strengthening Schools: Report of the review of inclusive education programs and practices in New Brunswick schools: An action plan for growth, was published. It contains a full account of the team’s observations and analysis of the current New Brunswick system of inclusive education, as well as a number of recommendations to better facilitate the process of inclusive education.