LATA supports the principle of inclusion
adopted in British Columbia schools, a position that supports equitable
access to learning by all students and the opportunity for students
to pursue their goals in all aspects of education. We believe that
by working together with parents and the community we can give all
students the best opportunities for success.
The principle of inclusion guides education in British Columbia. Inclusion is the belief that all children are welcome in their neighbourhood schools. An inclusive classroom is one in which all students, regardless of performance level, are educated with their chronological peers. Canadians are an increasingly diverse population and, not surprisingly, student diversity is increasing in our classrooms. Picture a “typical” class in any BC school. You can expect that 10% of students have low or high incidence special needs Ministry designations (i.e., autism, chronic health, mental illness, learning disability, intellectual disability, gifted, etc.). Expect to find 20% of students in the “grey area". These students do not have a Ministry tag but are not yet meeting expectations in school. On average, 40% of students are not fully meeting learning outcomes. ESL students can be expected to make up 10% of the class. The remaining 20% of students are fully meeting or exceeding expectations. Therefore, 80% of students in our inclusive classroom have learning differences that affect success in school.
A recent BCTF study (Naylor, 2002) revealed that teachers accept the philosophy of inclusion and continue to support initiatives that make schools more inclusive. But teachers are concerned about a perceived lack of recognition of the practical teaching issues in an inclusive setting. Indeed, 43% of teachers surveyed did not feel confident teaching in inclusive classrooms. One question dominates the professional dialogue of teachers in BC: How do I teach students with such diverse learning differences?
Learning assistance/resource teachers are specialists who provide a coordinated and integrated set of support services for teachers and their students with diverse learning needs. Services include: consulting, collaborative planning, and direct teaching. They also direct teacher assistants, volunteers and peer tutors in instructional procedures. They adapt and modify curriculum and instruction. Their role includes: assessing, evaluating and reporting progress; maintaining records; and facilitating smooth transitions between school levels.
The decision to provide an inclusive educational system to which all children are entitled is not based on economics or legislation -- but on values. What values do we believe in? What kind of people are we? What kind of society do we want for ourselves and our children? What must be done to structure an inclusive educational system dedicated to the elimination of social inequalities? Learning assistance is the vital link between the belief in inclusion and the practical reality of making it happen. Learning assistance/resource specialists must not become the missing link!
Learning Assistance Teachers we believe that all students should
have the opportunity to:
- become more independent, resourceful learners
- realize their potential
- have their individual learning needs met
- learn to set realistic goals and work toward
- develop effective learning strategies that enable
them to adapt to various learning situations
- feel successful with minimum frustration
- develop increasing confidence
- develop the belief that they can succeed and
Updated January 4, 2008
Learning Assistance Teachers’
Provincial Specialist Association
Program and Priorities for 2009-2010
LATA continues to advocate for a fully funded inclusive education system. Unfortunately, given the chronic underfunding of education in this province, we see the continual eroding of the strength of public education. A recent article reports that in Metro Vancouver private education enrollment rates are up with parents quoted as saying that the reason for the switch from public to private was based on the lack of access to resources due to financial restraints. What many fail to realized is “…as goes public education, so goes democracy”. Inclusion is the cornerstone of a democratic education system. As we have outlined in the past, up to 80% of students in our inclusive classrooms have learning differences that require changes to curriculum and instruction if they are to be successful.
British Columbia promotes an inclusive education system in which students with special needs are fully participating members of a community of learners. Inclusion describes the principle that all students are entitled to equitable access to learning, achievement and the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of their educational programs. The practice of inclusion transcends the idea of physical location and incorporates basic values that promote participation, friendship and interaction.
BC Ministry of Education. (1995;2006, p.2).
Special EducationServices: A Manual of Policies ,Procedures and Guidelines.
The philosophy of inclusion promotes the acceptance of all students. Students have a right to be educated with their peers in a meaningful manner. As long as there is a severe lack of funds and a categorical model of funding students, the focus reflects deficits rather than abilities and how to cope rather than address the underlying issues. It is necessary to examine other non-categorical models to move ahead with inclusion. One promising practice comes from examining the principles of Universal Design for Learning. The UDL framework promotes the development of inclusive classroom goals, methods, technologies and materials. LATA continues to be a leader in promoting knowledge regarding UDL, one of our top priorities this year, in order to help teachers bridge the difficult divide between research and practice.
Another area that needs continued examination is declining support for inclusion among teachers. We will continue to advocate for adequate student and teacher supports for program implementation. The demands placed on the teacher to accommodate every learner when using traditional, rigid, print-based curriculum is cumbersome and ineffective. Ironically, while declining enrollment is seen across every district, special education continues to be a growth area. However, the resources needed to support this diverse population continue to disappear at an alarming rate.
The Learning Assistance Teacher position that was originally created to address the “grey-area” students has shifted to a Learning Resource Teacher model. Prior to 1973, remedial reading teachers supported students in the grey area who struggled with learning to read. In 1973, the ministry broadened the job description so that students in the grey area who were struggling to learn could be helped in more ways than just learning to read. The title “Learning Assistance Teacher” was created and a significant budget was granted to purchase materials and fund the program.
The current model, as outlined in The Ministry of Education Special Education Manual of Policies, Procedures and Guidelines, states that Learning Assistance Teachers provide “school-based, non-categorical resource services designed to support classroom teachers and their students who have mild to moderate difficulties in learning and behavior.” That is no longer an accurate picture. Over the past three decades and in the last five years in particular, the role of the learning assistance teacher has altered dramatically. Learning assistance teachers in many school districts have become blended into a generalist role that serves the needs of all students with learning needs, regardless of category. These changes come at a high cost.
This current model incorporates a large area of responsibility with no class size limits. Reports of Learning Resource Teachers who have caseloads of over 100 students are common. Add to this the fact that large numbers of these teachers are not employed in a full-time capacity in this role and the situation becomes more difficult—so much so, in fact, that a significant number of experienced teachers are leaving the role (Naylor, 2003). These positions often become filled by beginning teachers with fragmented assignments. The role that was once filled with individuals who had amassed a wealth of knowledge to support teachers, students and parents has become an entry level position. Reports from school districts around the province reveal a severe shortage of qualified, experienced teachers willing to accept learning assistance positions.
The principles of support as outlined in the paper Grey Area Students: What’s missing in the discussion of class composition? (Sparks, Myrtle and Fewster) offers up a useful integrated model of support. These principles include:
- professional development to extend teacher knowledge of effective classroom practices;
- manageable class sizes;
- prompt assessment procedures to identify and respond to student difficulties earlier;
- appropriate interventions; and
- access to services from qualified specialist teachers.
Supporting these principles requires the following resources and opportunities:
- Providing ongoing professional development and mentoring opportunities that meet the needs of both new and career teachers.
- Providing access to quality programs that enhance knowledge about diverse needs as well as supporting teachers in developing effective programs that reflect current research.
- Reinstating non-enrolling teacher limits. Establishing realistic case size limits would enable Learning Assistance Teachers to move away from the fragmented service model that is currently the situation. It may also help with making the role more appealing for teachers.
- Ensuring that assessment materials are current and available to all schools.
- Ensuring that minimal qualifications for Learning Assistance Teachers are developed and maintained in all school districts.
Why is this so important to Learning Assistance Teachers? It is important because all students require a classroom placement that addresses their instructional needs. This situation can be successfully managed if the conditions described above are met. This requires a commitment and partnership from all parties. Reclaiming the role of learning assistance teacher requires actively reclaiming our own teacher professionalism. To enable learning assistance teachers to work effectively with diverse children and the complex learning needs in our inclusive schools, we must empower teachers. To empower teachers we must promote professional development for teachers and not professional development of teachers.
LATA Goals for 2009-2010
With the concerns and the directions listed above as a guide, LATA has two main goals for 2009-2010. They are:
Goal # 1: Provide opportunities for professional development, professional support and mentoring opportunities for our members and colleagues.
- Contribute to the professional development and professional support of learning assistance specialists’ and classroom teachers’ knowledge of current research and best practice.
- Advocate for teacher autonomy in professional development matters.
- Collaborate and share resources, expertise and conferences with partner groups, including PSA’s (provincial specialist associations), local PD chairs and provincial organizations such as SET-BC.
- Annual Vital Link conference:
Vital Link journals:
- Our upcoming fall conference “Why Math is Failing Our Children” will be hosted in Burnaby, October 23, 2009. The featured speaker is Shad Moarif Shad was a student of Dr. David Rose (Professor at Harvard and founder of CAST where Dr. Rose developed the theory and practice of UDL). Guided by UDL principles, Shad has developed a math program called Karismath. For more information on this conference, or to register, please visit the LATA website.
Provide professional development that is responsive to our membership needs.
Collect data through questionnaires and e-mails.
Investigate the updating of The Vital Link CD.
Support online outreach presentations such as the Teaching to Diversity website.
- Produce Volume 14, 2009 and Volume 15, 2010.
- Encourage the reprinting of articles from the Vital Link in other publications (i.e. Teacher Magazine; other PSA publications). The Fall 2007 journal was a collaborative effort with PITA on grey area students.
- Investigate offering on-line and CD versions of our journals in order to be environmentally friendly as well as addressing the loss of BCTF Lesson Aids to circulate our journals.
- Investigate possibility of joint publications with other PSA’s.
- Encourage new teachers to take advantage of the new BCTF policy of providing a one-year free PSA membership to each new teacher.
- Maintain current fees.
- Encourage locals to permit the use of professional development funds to purchase LATA memberships.
- Continue to assist local chapters with start-up assistance by providing an initial complimentary registration for the incoming LSA president.
- Offer two complementary LATA memberships at the Beginning Teachers’ Conference.
Special Collaborative Projects:
- Operate LATA Website to provide current information.
- Maintain LATA contacts within each district.
- Facilitate LATA executive communication by e-mail and conference calls following each PSA council meeting as well as workdays on the Thursday prior to and Saturday following the LATA conference.
- BC CASE Module support and advisement.
- Ministry of Education development of a new document for teachers in IEP planning.
- Ministry of Education development of a new document for teachers: Learning Disabilities: A Resource Guide.
- Ministry of Education development of a new definition and application of modified and adapted programming.
- BCTF/CUPE joint project to rewrite the Roles & Responsibilities of Teacher Assistants document.
- Reciprocal conference registrations with other PSA presidents.
- Pursue mutual publications with other interested PSA’s.
Goal #2: Inform, advise and advocate on behalf of learning assistance teachers in particular and public education in general.
- Increase LATA’s effectiveness as a collective voice reflective of the role.
- Provide advice on professional issues, professional development education policy matters, teacher education issues, and career development needs of members.
- Participate in research to document the efficacy of learning assistance intervention.
- Provide leadership in advocating the acceptance of the Charter for Public Education.
- Working through the BCTF, influence Ministry of Education policies and practices. Be proactive with parents, trustees, MLA’s and educators about policies and practices:
- Continue to provide support and advice for the Ministry of Education’s work on adaptations & modifications.
- Continue to provide support and advice for the IEP planning document for teachers.
- Speak at PAC, school board and staff meetings.
- Utilize the LATA website to provide links to other sites of interest (e.g. Teaching to Diversity; other PSA’s; MLA’s contact information, etc.).
- Continue to distribute outreach materials to inform teachers about the issues concerning student retention. The brochure on student retention published in August, 2008 was created in response to concerns raised at the Teacher’s Congress.
- Describe appropriate learning and working conditions for LAT’s.
- Build relationships with partner groups (PITA, Special Ed, ESL, Pro-D chairs, SET BC, etc.)
- Participate in BCTF committees, focus groups and panels addressing matters related to learning assistance and special education (e.g. BCTF/CUPE joint committee work on Roles & Responsibilities of Teacher Assistants, due out in the fall of 2009.
- Provide advice on curriculum, resources and best practice for the education of all children, including those with learning differences.
- Contribute to the development of post-baccalaureate certificate programs and graduate specializations; advise universities & college boards regarding programming (e.g. LATA has participated in TRU’s reorganization of its special education diploma and certificates).
Evaluation of LATA's 2009-2010 Programs
LATA will use qualitative as well as quantitative data to evaluate the success of its program.
Goal # 1: Provide opportunities for professional development, professional support and mentoring opportunities for our members and colleagues
- Number of LATA memberships
- One conference located in Burnaby
- Analysis of the responses and comments of participants at the LATA conference
- Publications of one issue of The Vital Link and one issue of eLink
- Analysis of letters to the Editor, Vital Link
- Current postings on the LATA Website
- List of district contacts
- Presentation of two complementary LATA memberships at the Beginning Teachers’ Conference
Goal # 2: Inform, advise and advocate on behalf of learning assistance teachers in particular and public education in general
- Reports from members of presentations to teachers, parents, trustees and MLA’s
- Frequency of feedback regarding LATA website and response to information sent out to listserv members
- Participation in committees, panels and ministry documents about our specialist areas
- Number of requests for brochure on retention and feedback from teachers and parents
Outside Representation during the 2008-2009School Year
- Participation in Ministry Committees on IEP Development Document for Teachers (due out Fall 2009)
- Participation in Ministry Think-Tank on revisiting Adaptations and Modifications for students. New guidelines can be accessed by visiting www.bced.gov.bc.ca/specialed/adaptationsandmodifcationsguide.pdf
- Participation in the Ministry of Education’s Committee work on “Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities: A Resource Guide” (selection process through the BCTF).
- Committee work with SEA, CUPE and the BCTF to rewrite Roles and Responsibilities of Teacher Assistants.
- Participation in advising committee member to the BC CASE Special Project
- Participated in Thompson Rivers University committee meetings to reorganize Special Education Department offerings towards a certificate or diploma
- Gave address to university teachers from South Korea on the state of education in British Columbia (class size limits, composition concerns)
Janice Neden, B.G.S./M.Ed.