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5 Tips for Communicating with Paraprofessionals

One part of being a special educator that many are not prepared for is the role of supervising paraprofessionals and other classroom aides.   Since teacher preparation focuses heavily on instruction, there is not much time spent on discussing how to go about managing adults.

It is hard to add the new role of supervisor of other adults when when a special education teacher has so many other areas to focus on.  Also, administrators often do not have the time or even recognize the importance of supporting with clearly defining roles and outlining expectations for paraprofessionals in the classroom.

Often, paraprofessional have many years in their role, may already have relationships with the staff and students, and may already have a process for how they go about doing their job.  However, at the end of the day, it is the special education teacher’s responsibility to lead these individuals and ensure that they play their role in instructing the students with disabilities that are shared.

We are going to go review five tips for managing your adult support professionals:

Get to Know Your Paraprofessional

It is important that you take the time to get to know your paraprofessional, preferably as soon as you begin working with them.  It’s easy to get caught up in beginning of year activities or if they join you mid-year, you are already balancing so much that it’s hard to find the time out for this.

However, you must make time earlier rather than later. You should be ready to ask them following questions: How do you typically support instruction? What do they think their strengths are as far as content and instruction? Behavior? Planning? What are your areas of growth? (i.e. teaching math). How do you deal with difficult parents? What role do you typically have in planning lessons? Tell me about yourself. Your family? Your interests?

And of course you would want to share information about yourself as you work your way through the questions.

Determine Exactly What You Want

The first thing that you must think through is how exactly your paraprofessional can support your special education students.  Think about your day and the goals that you typically want to accomplish. If your overall goal is to have your students meet a particular learning objective, think about the role that your paraprofessional can play in helping meet this goal or objective.   Also, consider how your para can support you with classroom management.  Is your expectation that they assist with small group instruction? Would you prefer that they assist with behaviors and routines? Can they assist with grading papers and assignments?

Clearly Define Assignments and Expectations

Once you have determined how you would like your paraprofessional to support you as a special education teacher. It is important that you clearly define the actions that you will need them to take to support you and your students.

If you are planning a lesson, you may even want to write this out in your lesson plan. “During small group time I will work with a small group on this skill, while Ms. Para works with a small group on this activity, and then we will switch.”

When thinking through the actions that you need your paraprofessional to take, it is important that you determine whether you will need to support them with training. Ask yourself, do they have the capacity to run the small group activity? If not, what training and support do they need from me in order to complete this task successfully?

Check-in Often

It is important to have a check-in scheduled daily, where you can get feedback around the day’s activities. This will ensure that your paraprofessional feels like an integral part of your instructional team and oftentimes their perspective is very valuable when reflecting on how to make the learning more accessible for students.

During these check-ins the feedback should be a give and take. Not only will your paraprofessional need to be open to receiving feedback, but you should be open to receiving feedback as well. I can’t tell you how much I grew during my initial years teaching by consulting with my paraprofessionals. They offered great advice and tips that many administrators would not have been able to provide me with because they were not able to work as closely with students with disabilities.

Thank Your Paraprofessional

We get so caught up in the overwhelm of being a special educator, that sometimes we forget to stop and express our appreciation for all that our paraprofessionals do.

There is so much that I could not have pulled off without my paraprofessionals and I tried to thank them often for always being willing to jump in and respond to whatever I needed. I have had to work with difficult paraprofessionals in the past as well, but I still did my best to find the things that they were doing that were positive and show my appreciation, even if it was small.

For holidays, birthdays, or just because, it is also nice to provide a small token of appreciation. This could be a card, a gift card, a stationary set, or anything else that you think your paraprofessional may enjoy. This definitely isn’t mandatory, but it’s a nice gesture to show someone that you are working with so closely that you recognize the work and support that they are putting into support you and your students.

By starting off  with a plan of communication and collaboration with your paraprofessional and support team, special education teachers are then able to concentrate on what really matters…supporting students with special needs!

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