The Importance of Having Assistants in Class

Having trained assistants in class can make a world of difference, not only for your ability to lead the entire class but also for the child who needs additional support. So, who do we look for when filling this vital role, and how do we go about training them? Great question! Keep reading to get our insight on the benefits of having a strong classroom aide.

Training your assistant is beneficial to you, the assistant and your dancers. Having a trained assistant ensures you’re getting exactly what you need from the student, and they understand your expectations. This is especially crucial when teaching individuals with different behavioural and physical needs. Think of yourself and your assistant as a team. Although you’re the one in charge, your aide needs to understand how to navigate planned ignores, positive and negative reinforcement, proper physical alignment and safety skills, and why these modifications are important. Being on the same page allows you to be a strong leader and your assistant to be confident in their role.

Benefits for teachers:
While we all try to be on top of our room at all times, another person can help in any capacity. An assistant can be of use in a variety of ways:
• Provide another set of eyes and ears in the classroom
• This is one of the major benefits of having a classroom aid. Having another set of eyes and ears allows students to be seen, questions answered, and behaviours maintained.
• Keep the flow of the class moving
• We’ve all been there… a young student needs to use the restroom, props need to be dispersed or cleaned up, music doesn’t work, etc., and suddenly our flow has been disrupted. An assistant can easily resolve these “flow disrupters”, so you don’t have to miss a beat!
• Additional visual guidance
• Using an aide allows you to step away from demonstrating and the opportunity to watch your dancers.
• Work one-on-one with students who may require additional assistance
• Extra visual guidance provides added support in large classes for dancers who need another person to watch and for individuals who require one-on-one help.
• Enforce behaviour modifications
• A strong assistant is someone who understands learner types, teaching styles and behaviour strategies. By being on the same page about different behaviour modifications for different dancers, your assistant can help you enforce planned ignores, positive/negative reinforcement, answer questions, give breaks and more.
• Safety
• An additional set of eyes, ears and hands allows you to make sure your students are using the space safely and in the correct alignment.

Assistants do more than just help the instructor.
Having a trained assistant is just as important to your dancers as they are to you. Students enjoy having someone to aspire to and look up to. Their knowledge allows them to give a guiding hand or provide additional tips and tricks. Students who require more visual or verbal assistance may benefit from a hands-on or one-on-one approach. Additionally, an aide can be tasked with providing support in an appropriate way.

So, who do you invite for this important role?
Choosing the right person to become an assistant is incredibly important. You’ll want to confirm the individual can handle the responsibilities and is a strong leader in class.

Older students within the studio are great candidates to become trained assistants. We recommend that you look for someone who has already helped out once or twice in the studio and is at least 16 years old. If you don’t have this option, you may have to advertise to outside parties or to other dance educators who may have assistants looking for more work.
You want to make sure that your assistants know consistency is key. Their buddies will rely on them being in class each week…as do you. If there is a valid reason that they need to miss class, advance notice is critical in alerting the students and the teacher in order to have time to bring in a backup.

How do you train assistants?
Many studios and teachers provide in-studio training and rules. If you’ve never taken on assistants before and would like to start, the first thing to do is ask yourself, “What do my studio and teaching need that assistant could help with?” From there, brainstorm a role profile with tasks and expectations. Create documents that both you and the assistant agree on so everyone starts on the same page. Remember to include things like hours, wage (if any or if voluntary), specific job requirements, some training and key aspects of how to engage with parents and students. Additionally, discuss possible progressions in the role that may include some solo teaching work in the future.
We highly recommend using a certification program when training your assistant. Look for one that’s been created using the best practices in safety, kinesiology and behavioural needs. Not only will this provide your student with all of the information they need to be an effective aide in your class, but you’ll also be able to focus on your students and provide them with the best learning environment. Rhythm Works has an Assistant Certification that includes:
• Sensory Processing and its effect on behaviour and learning
• Behavioral strategies
• Developmental Domains
• Kinesiology
• Movement Safety
• Special Population Considerations
• Learner Types
• Teaching Styles
• Assisting with Learning Choreography

Written by Karly Pierce Lystadin in collaboration with Rebecca Shanhun, RWID Certified Instructor and Advisory Board Member