Updated: Jun 16
Educational paraprofessionals play a huge role in education and are an undeniable asset to both students and teachers. Unfortunately, not everyone understands exactly what a para does. There's a pretty big disconnect between what people think paras do versus what they actually do.
Paraprofessionals do far more than cover lunches and conference periods. They're the ones that jump in to help with the nitty-gritty clerical responsibilities of a classroom, team, and/or school, provide personal care services, accommodate & modify content under a teachers direction, provide small group or 1-1 re-teaching of previously taught skills, and support implementation of student IEPs. There are evident boundaries as to what a para can and can not do, but basically, they're a vital catch-all that helps keep schools running. A day without paras would be an absolute nightmare for everyone!
I've had the privilege of working with many paras over the years in my own classrooms & the large majority were absolutely amazing to work with. With the right support and in the right environment, paras can play a huge role in the functioning of a classroom and positively impact student success.
Special education teachers often find themselves working closely with paraprofessionals because the nature of the classroom requires more attention and differentiation. Some teachers even have paras assigned solely to their classroom. However, it can be tricky to establish a successful and healthy working relationship among teachers and paraprofessionals if mishandled or unprepared.
In addition to guidelines that your district has in place, I've found that there are 3 key things to keep in mind when working with paras (in no particular order):
These 3 points will be broken down into individual blog posts, with today's being focused on communication.
Communication: Expectations, Roles & Responsibilites
When working on a team of teachers and paraprofessionals, each person's roles & responsibilities should be clearly defined. Paras bring a lot to the table (see image above) and, in many cases, are used with hands-on reteaching of instruction. Still, boundaries and expectations should be established early to establish a routine of best practices. I'm not talking about being sassy or snarky; I'm talking about a genuine conversation about what the teacher's role will look like, what the paras role will look like, and how both sets of responsibilities merge to impact student learning. Some things to consider related to communicating expectations, roles, & responsibilities are:
What does the teacher need the para to do in the classroom? Be specific and detailed.
Does the para have access to all of the tools & resources that are needed? If not, what do they need? Are they confident in its use?
How will changes in expectations or conflict be addressed?
How frequently, if at all, will expectations, roles and responsibilities need to be revisited and adjusted?
Are there any specific paraprofessional-related pieces of training that would be of benefit?
Are there specific strategies that paras should use with specific students?
What is the expectation of student interaction?
Whether you have a paraprofessional assigned solely to your classroom or work on a team with a designated para, it's important to have a clear method of organization so that all staff can work together with intention.
Consider working with your (or your team's) para to craft a detailed daily schedule that includes:
What individuals to work with at certain times
What small groups to work with at certain times
What individualized supports specific students may need, and
Time to complete any clerical, communication, or other responsibilities
Procedures are how things happen. They're not just for things like fire drills or parent pick-up. Procedures are a foundation that drives a classroom, and because many paras work in several classrooms each day (some, up to 5 classrooms in a single day!), it's important for there to be clear procedures about things that take place in your classroom. Some specific procedural things to consider when discussing classroom procedures with a para might be:
What procedures are in place regarding how paras should handle parent conversations?
What procedures are in place that is related to student behavior? People address behavior in different ways, and depending on the student's need (perhaps he/she has a BIP), there may be some specific things that are not permitted.
Are there classroom procedures where paras can bring forth student progress concerns?
Are there procedures to assign, complete and collect student work done with paras?
Are there grading procedures that paras should be aware of?
What procedures should the para be aware of related teacher absence?
Communication is often the root of many misunderstandings, and when not given proper attention, it can evolve into a huge source of breakdown, strife, and concern when working with others. Being intentional with the time you have with your para and being able to communicate well early on will pay off dividends as the year rolls on!