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Partnering with Paraeducators
Thank you. Thank you for spending your days with me to support our students. Thanks for being flexible. I know sometimes I ask you to do something differently than we had planned on doing earlier in the day, and still you do it, because it is what the students need at that time. Thank you for noticing in the cafeteria that our student wasn’t eating much at lunch so I could contact his mom for more insight. Thanks for walking with our student to lunch early in order to avoid the noisy cafeteria because it makes him anxious. Thank you for telling me that our student is struggling in social situations at recess so I can create a social story for him. Thank you for going above and beyond every single day. I am so thankful to be able to work with you.
Teamwork. Collaboration. Spend seven-plus hours a day brainstorming with others in order for students to have success. Sign me up! This was one of the reasons I wanted to work in the education field.
What’s amazing about my job is all of the supportive people I work with. In my 15 years as a Special Education teacher, I’ve been blessed to work with amazing paraeducators along the way.
Sometimes navigating the teacher/paraeducator relationship can be tricky. Here are some tips that can help your collaborative work with paraeducators.
1. Respect. I have a teaching degree and some paraeducators also have degrees and education training. It’s essential to treat paraeducators with respect just as we treat students, parents, and administrators with respect. Many of them have been working in schools for a long time, have a valuable catalog of abilities, and their position is as essential to the system as any other.
2. Relationships. Character Strong is an organization that provides resources and trainings for school staff on how to foster relationships in the school setting. In particular, The Staff Character Dare is a free tool that contains 40 days of activities designed to intentionally strengthen relationships within the culture of a school. By building relationships with the paraeducators at our school, we are contributing positively to the culture as well as modeling for students how to work with others.
3. Clear expectations. What is expected from the paraeducator? What is expected from the classroom teacher? Meeting at the beginning of the year to discuss the responsibilities of the team is very important and setting up regular check ins throughout the year can keep open the line of communication. Just like students need clear expectations, so do adults working with schools. We are all there working with kids and want to do the best we can, but if we don’t know what we are supposed to do and the preferred methods for accomplishment, the situation can create tension and misunderstanding. Further, schools can and should provide professional development specific to paraeducator needs.
4. Modeling. Everyone has different learning styles. Most of the paraeducators I have worked with prefer if I demonstrate what I would like them to do before they start the task. For example, if I want them to work with students on reading fluency, I will reteach a mini-lesson with a student while the paraeducator observes in order to learn the methods. Telling is not teaching, and seeing lessons in action is so helpful!
5. Appreciation. Show how thankful you are. Give specific feedback and provide development opportunities that are outside formal evaluations. Honestly, I could not do my job without my paraeducators taking students to breakfast, observing their social interactions at recess, helping them with addition and subtraction, giving students breaks and guiding them through the de-escalation process, taking data on IEP goal progress...the list goes on and on.
If you are a teacher and would like more resources that are helpful for working with paraeducators, my colleagues and I have looked at two books: Effective Strategies for Working with Paraeducators, 2nd edition, by Candice Styer, Ph.d. and Paraprofessionals and Teachers Working Together, 3rd Edition, by Susan Gingras Fitzell M.Ed. The National Education Association also created a list of important points to remember when working with support staff.
If you are a paraeducator, Safe and Civil Schools offers training on how to assist the teacher in the classroom setting. The book Parapro: Supporting the Instructional Process offers strategies to help you monitor independent work periods, work with small groups, and assist the teacher in the classroom.
What have you found helpful when working with paraeducators? How do you strengthen your teacher-paraeducator partnership?