Working with Paraprofessionals



Welcome back to week 4 of our Special Education Summer Blog Hop.  This week we are talking about working with paraprofessionals.  I remember how nervous I was the summer before my first year of teaching Special Education.  I was completely unsure how it would feel to work so closely with other adults (all of whom were older than me and had many more years of experience than I had at the time).  It was one of the scariest parts I faced as a first time teacher, and still presents its challenges these few years later.  So, I am here to share with you all today the tips I wish someone had given me when I first started working with teaching assistants.

Please understand that although you may have more formal training in working with your special learners, and you are the driving force behind what will happen in your classroom, your paraprofessionals do not work for you.  Yes, absolutely, we are responsible for delegating work to the staff in the room, but it is not our job to boss around coworkers.  This can present as rather challenging if you have a staff member who maybe texts on the phone throughout the day, or is not working with a student in the way you envisioned.  Regardless of the difficult situations you will come across, always maintain a high level of respect for your paraprofessionals.  Let's face it...you are not always going to agree.  Nonetheless, the more respect you provide to your assistants, the more they will respect you and the students, hopefully resulting in a strong team.

I have worked with many teaching assistants whose negative attitude could really drag even the happiest person into a black hole.  Don't let this be you.  You are responsible for the learning that goes on within the classroom.  Model the behavior you want happening in the classroom.  Setting your tone is excellent for both the students and your TA's because it will help to create a cohesive and well organized learning environment.  The individuals in the room will learn to follow your lead.

I have daily, weekly, and quarterly meetings with the staff in my classroom.  The past two years I had one Teaching Assistant that worked with me all day, a nurse, and then 2-3 one-to-one aids who pushed in when we departmentalized.  I met with my teaching assistant every morning to go over expectations for ourselves and students throughout the day.  Every Friday was my planning day...and as I prepared my lesson plans for the week, I would develop weekly goals for my students, my assistant, and myself.  Then, Monday morning, I would share and discuss those with the staff.  Every quarter is when I would sit down and look over IEPs to make sure we were making progress on all of our goals for students.  I have been extremely fortunate that my aid is fabulous.  I rarely need to write things down or hold very formal meetings; however, in the past, I have used lists and communication journals as a means for building communication with staff.  Sometimes if you have a particularly difficult aid you are working with, one that perhaps doesn't take well to directions or constructive criticism, using checklists or journals is a less "confrontational" approach to communicating.

Ask for your paras' opinions.  They have been working in the field for a long time as well.  Although they are not responsible for creating the lesson plans, ask for their advice and see what input they may have about a particular lesson or approach you are using.  They are an extra pair of eyes looking in on the teaching and they may pick up on things that you might not. 

As rewarding as our job may be, it can also be very demanding and stressful.  Be sure to work breaks into your schedule.  In my school, when the students go to their specials, I am given a prep; however, the assistants must still go with the students.  We also eat lunch with our kiddos because it is part of developing their socialization.  The teaching assistants are expected to be with the students all day long.  Who has the stamina for that??  No one...and don't forget it.  Please work breaks into the schedule to prevent burn out.  Often I will go to the specials with my students, even if it is only for 15 minutes of the period, just to allow time for other staff members to use the restroom, eat a snack, or just take that very necessary breather.

Well, that's all I have for today, folks.  Please be sure to continue on through the hop by bouncing over to the Super Teach's page.
Superteach's Special Ed Spot


12 comments

  1. First of all, I love your blog design! Secondly, great tips! I couldn't agree more with you on all of them! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks so much! I am planning on offering blog design services soon. :) I am heading over to read your post now.

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  2. Wonderful post! I agree that it is extremely important to collaborate with paras. Many times, my students act differently at specials when only the paras are with them. Paras have very valuable information!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Pam
    Mrs. P’s Specialties

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    1. Oh my goodness...I dread some of the stories my TA comes back with after leaving specials! Haha :)

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  3. I've been lucky, too, to have a great para, but I liked your idea of a journal or checklists because it is less confrontational. I totally shy away from confrontation, which can make working with adult staff difficult!
    Kim
    Mrs. H's Resource Room

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    1. It is true...even working with wonderful staff, you still have those moments where behaviors or habits must be addressed. It can be intimidating.

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  4. What fabulous tips! I love how you made sure to incorporate wind down time into your tips. My IAs do get a scheduled lunch and break daily, but on Wednesday's when the kiddos go home early I will sometimes take my IAs out to lunch. It's nice to have a chance to unwind together sometimes.

    Erin
    You AUT-a Know

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    1. I know, it is rare we can spend some down time to just have adult conversations with the staff. It's sort of like parenting! Haha

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  5. So awesome! I like how you set goals for your aides! Thank you!

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    1. Thanks. I appreciate you stopping by!

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  6. These are great tips. I have been very fortunate to work with amazing paras. I do love your idea of building strong communication. We often get so busy with what we are doing we forget to keep the para in the loop. Setting aside time to meet is a great way to keep everyone up to date.

    Kim
    Quinnessential Lessons

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    1. I agree, Kim. Thanks for reading! :)

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