Paraprofessionals are such a valuable asset in the special education classroom setting, but it's important to know how to best utilize their skills and strengths.
Here are some Dos and Don'ts to keep in mind when working with special education paraprofessionals in the resource room.
Working with Paraprofessionals – Do More of This
Get to know your paraprofessional and build a rapport. If you're feeling nervous about this, chances are – so are the paraprofessionals! Take the time to get to know each other and build a positive relationship. These tips are the best ways to communicate effectively and work together as a team.
Provide clearly defined roles and expectations. It's important that both you and the paraprofessional are on the same page about what their role is in the classroom. Imagine trying to do your best in a position when you're not exactly sure what's expected of you – that would feel pretty crummy! Sit down at the beginning of the year (or whenever they start working with you) and discuss expectations, responsibilities, and general best practices for the classroom. While there may not be time for formal professional development or initial training, a staff training binder can make it easier to describe the instructional practices, positive behavior support, and different ways paraprofessionals can support the work of the teacher and support students.
Set Up Paraprofessionals for Success – There's already such a wide scope of responsibilities placed upon classroom teachers and special education paraeducators. What additional resources can special education teachers provide to instructional assistants to help them succeed? A prompt hierarchy reference when working with small groups of students? Access to behavior plans for individual students or different options for classroom management? Data collection and basic skills sheets to track student progress?
Establish and maintain open communication. I know this is much easier said than done, but there should be an open line of communication between you and the paraprofessional at all times. If there are any issues or concerns, they should feel comfortable coming to you so that they can be addressed.
- Pro Tip: ask any staff member you're working with HOW they like to receive feedback. Do they appreciate straightforward or sweetened with reflection on what is going well? Do they like to receive feedback “in the moment” or later on in the day? How do they feel about the current level of support? These are important questions to ask yourself, too!
Working with Paraprofessionals – Don't Do This!
Don't forget they are trained professionals who have a lot to offer in terms of knowledge and expertise. I know you'll treat them with respect, but I also like to make sure other school personnel across educational settings do the same.
Don't micromanage. It is important to give paraprofessionals the autonomy to do their job. Micromanaging feels pretty frustrating and definitely does NOT lead to more effective outcomes. If you're feeling the need to micromanage, ask yourself why. Is there additional training or a crucial conversation that's been overlooked? What's missing that's creating this situation?
Don't be afraid to ask for help. If you're feeling overwhelmed or like classroom control is slipping beyond your control, reach out to the paraprofessional for help! That's what they're there for. It can feel hard to ask for help, but let these angels in disguise provide a helping hand!
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with the dos and don'ts?
Supporting and training paraprofessionals and instructional assistants is an important responsibility. While there's no adequate amount of time in the classroom schedule to support instructional paraprofessionals in all areas, there are some resources designed to make the proper use of paraprofessionals as effective (and efficient) as possible:
Paraprofessional Training Binder
Para Training Manual – From data sheets to building strong connections, this post lists out exactly what you need!
Paraprofessional Appreciation Ideas
Paraprofessional Appreciation Free Sticky Notes – A great way to show your appreciation for a paraprofessional who goes above and beyond!
Paraprofessional Training Course for Special Educators
Ready to stop tip-toeing around support staff? This paraprofessional course and training handbook gets everyone on the same page quickly!
About The Author
I'm Jennifer, your advocate for creative and inclusive education. With years of special education expertise and a heart for mentoring teachers, I'm your go-to for resources that matter. Learn more about my mission for Positively Learning here.