Working with paraprofessionals is a gift! There is no way around that! I have had years where I have had NO paraprofessionals or teaching assistants as they are often called. No matter who the person is and what their skills and talents are, they are a gift in the special education classroom. It can be extremely difficult to manage a SPED classroom without these special people.
How well the special relationship between you and the paraprofessional evolves takes communication, teaching, feedback and compromise to make it work well. And just like any relationship, it requires constant attention and care.

So you are new to special education or perhaps you are getting new paraprofessionals because you have changed jobs.

 Where do you start?
One of the most important things in working with adults in the special education classroom is establishing a relationship. Here are a few ideas on how to make the most of YOUR paraprofessionals/teaching assistants in YOUR classroom.

One of the first places I decided to start  was to start was the same place I start for students.
 I knew I wanted to establish a good relationship with them and a safe and friendly environment for everyone to be in.  I wanted them to feel comfortable in the classroom. I wanted them to have a stake in how are kids performed.

Establish a relationship. Get to know the person.

Share your story with them. What makes YOU tick? What goals do you have for the classroom and the kids? Sometimes I did this in a casual way with just chatting with them in getting to know them other times I did this in a more formal way with a kind of get to know you form.

  1. Often I would set up times outside of school where we could meet, have coffee and chat. This usually worked best for me because I could focus on getting acquainted with this new person with whom I was going to work closely.
  2. Set aside time during the school day to get acquainted. Sometimes impromptu chats ended up being interrupted. I found it worked best if we set aside a time to chat. I liked to have the opportunity to share my classroom goals, a little about myself such as likes, dislikes, and expectations. 
  3.  Sometimes its just impossible to get a moment before you and your paraprofessional are working side by side in your classroom. In those circumstances, I occasionally used  a Get Acquainted form. While it sounds stuffy and formal, I found when I had to use it, it gave my parapro time to sit down at their convenience and reflect and give thoughtful answers. This usually gave me a lot of useful information  it gave me information about how they saw themselves, what they felt their strengths and weaknesses were.  I also share an expectations list of things that are expected in their job, not only by me but in our Special Education department and school. If you would like a copy of the form and the expectations I used, you can get yours HERE.

    Introducing students
    This is one of the most important things to do. I liked to have a student information sheet ready to share with the paraprofessional.
    Start with their strengths.  Everybody has strengths and weaknesses and paras are no different. When assigning tasks,  I selected an activity or task I knew would be an area of strength for them. Perhaps it would be something they shared with me they liked to do. The next thing I do is to look at where they think they are weak whether that is in things such as discipline, recording data,  in managing children with severe behavior issues, or changing diapers/pull ups. This might be something I observed or something they had shared with me was weakness.

    STRESS Confidentiality
    One of the first areas I always share with paras, to begin training is the importance of confidentiality. Who we share information with and who we do NOT. The other important area to get to immediately is how to take data. Utilize all your resources at hand whether that is webinars videos one the one teaching training or even on the job training use your resources to give the information you need them to have.

    Share Share Share
    Share your knowledge. Talk out loud. That may sound so funny to say, but how many teachers do so much  of their work mentally?
    Share your kids IEPs with the paras. Explain the goals and objectives. Share  the prompting levels, behavior plans, tokens systems because they are an integral part of your success and the success of your students.
    Another way to share information about your students with teaching assistants is with a STUDENT INFO form. I design a short information form that I complete on each student. It includes things such as a picture of the student, their likes & dislikes, Their medical needs and behavioral issue and reinforcers and techniques that work best for that specific student. I have a few examples of ones I have used in my store FREE. Check them out. Check back often for new additions.

    Assess, reteach, adjust and GIVE FEEDBACK!
    Give positive and constructive feedback to your teaching assistance. Set a time aside to give feedback and guidance to the paraprofessionals. Always be open to hear what they are saying. What is working for them?
    We all like to hear whats going well. Share the good things you see. Share and reteach what isn't going as well.

    Adjust, modify and BE FLEXIBLE!  Of course, we know FLEXIBILITY is key in Special Education!

    I don't you to miss out on this fabulous news!

    Tuesday, August 21st Teachers Pay Teacher is having a Back to School BONUS SALE.

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    Word Families

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    The Teachers Pay Teachers Back to School Sale is here! 
    Wednesday Aug 1st and Thursday Aug. 2nd

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    Mary Ann

    Sometimes I've had kiddos that just "hate" math. For students such as these the beginning of the school week becomes even harder  because they hate coming back to school and then to have to face their dreaded math assignments is more than they can handle. No matter the reason behind their dreaded subject, I was thrilled when I found something that ease their frustrations a bit.  
    Monday Math Marvels was one thing I came up to help with these issues.  I wanted it to be predictable so the kids would know what they would be doing in math that day in hopes of easing their fear of what they would need to do.
    Monday Math Marvels was a little activity package I put together comprised of activity based math games and activities that reinforced skills previously learned.
    Each Monday I selected 6 or 7 math activities. The activities I selected were spread across as many of the different standards domains as possible.
    I wanted to take the "fear" the students had about math and turn it into a time they were practicing the needed skills and perhaps wouldn't recognize they were doing their math assignments.  So I incorporated a Make-A-Monster worksheet. For each math activity they completed in Monday Math Marvels, they could add one design element to their Make-A Monster worksheet. For example, at completion of station 1, they could add eyes, for station 3 they got to glue on some hair. They were totally free to use the material of their choice, from the selection laid out for whatever part of the monster they were making. At the end of the math session, each student had a completed monster face!
    Here's How it went
    The scheduled math time was set up with 6 or 7 different stations for the students to rotate through. When the students completed each station, they got their work checked, then were able to go to the MONSTER STATION! At the Monster Station, each student had a monster face template. Each monster face element was assigned a number on the die. They then rolled the die to determine what part of the monster to add to their worksheet. Click on the picture below to pick up my 6 monster face templates FREE.

    The activities I chose were based on the skill needs of the students involved so what you might choose would be different from mine just as the activities I chose varied from year to year with what the students needs were.

    Here are some activities I included in my MMM and some  new ideas that I thought I would also share with you.
    The student have assigned worksheets with about 10 math problems. They write the problems in the colored sand pan. I use the different colored to visually cue them that one component of the equation goes in a different color. This image is of an older set I used where the colors of the sand were all in one pan BUT, how long do think those colors stayed separated? ...Yes, you are right. So I switch to using
     2. Roll and Answer
    I used both standard dice with dots and dice such as the ones below.  The students used the dice to write out the problem using "fancy" shaped dice. They loved it! What I liked about dice such as these was the different shapes and they have dice with numbers over 6 on them.
    3. Here is a great idea that Pam from Mrs P's Specialties shared. HERE. And its FREE.
    These graphic organizers solving math computations would be an excellent addition to a Monday Math Marvels center. You can pick these up in her store at
    4. Roll and Add
    This cute math wheel is magnetic and can be used for a multitude of math facts from basic 1 -10 through multiplication and division. Given a set of math equations, the students rotate the wheels to complete the problems.

    5. Word Problem Wonders
    Solving written word problems can be really difficult to master for students. Finding the information in the story to construct the problem, deciding what operation to  use and then completing the equation can be overwhelming. I like to include Word Problems in each Monday Math Marvels to get lots of practice in. Here is one such activity I include. 

    The list is really endless as to what you could include in a center time like this but these are just a few. 
    I found the best thing was to have fun with putting it together. Adding the monster component was the best thing I did as the students really loved the creativity of building their  own monsters. 

    SUMMER!  Have you reached that goal we yearned for each day? Summer, the time to relax and rejunvenate. But first, I want my students to have something to work on through the summer so I want to put together a summer kit for each one of them.
    1. First I start with the container. Sometimes I purchase a blank lunch box but I find those difficult to find. Other things I have used are new blank paint can, small colored pails.

    Oriental Trading has some great options for stuff like this. Amazon is another great place to check. Cans

    Using their IEP goals, I focus on skills each student needs to be reviewing over the summer. I definitely want to include math and reading in most of the bundles as my kiddos often required repeated practice. Depending on each student's IEP I tailor the the contents of the summer bundle to each individual.  Here are a few guidelines and ideas from what I did. I'm sure you have some great ideas to add!
    2. The next thing I do is print off some math fact cards. I use whatever the student needs to practice over the summer. I often include the cards divided into several packets so as not to make the task too big. Some kids will have packs of 10 and others, packs of 5.
    3. Next, I include reading sight words. I usually use the words they have mastered immediately prior to the ending of the school year. Often I insert a few half sheet worksheets to provide written practice of the skills. I encourage them to bring these sheets back with them the following year. If they are moving on to another teacher I encourage them to bring them to me just so I can see them.
    4. Other things I have included are a few pencils, pencil grips, fun fidgets and sometimes a small box of crayons.

    On the outside of my summer surprise bundles, I usually decorate them with permanent marker, acrylic paint or just stickers. One of the most prominent things I include to dress up my bundles are pictures of each student through the school year.
    For my final touch of dressing up my bundles, I use letter stickers to spell out their names. I'm a big scrapbook person so I always have stickers around. Plus I am always taking pictures of my students (with their parents permission) and this is a great way to share those memories from the year.

    And I have the finished product; a personalized take home summer work bundle.

     Thanks for joining me today and I will see you next time.

    Just a quick note to let you know about an                         INSTAGRAM GIVEAWAY  A group of us are giving away $40 in Teachers Pay Teacher Gift Cards. Start at my Superteach56 Instagram page.
    Superteach56 Instagram

    Follow the small loop and complete the directions and you could win $40 in TpT gift cards.The winner will be selected at 9PM ET  so you will still have time to cash in on savings at the Teachers Pay Teachers  Sale.

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    Tomorrow and May 9th my entire store will be on sale for 25% off for the Teacher Appreciation TpT Sitewide sale.

    Thank you, thank you thank you!  You are a  special gift to this world to work in education. I want to give you a special thanks by giving you a little something extra as part of Teacher Appreciation week and also for being a follower of Superteach56 and Special Ed Spot.

    In addition to the sale, you get a FREE extra resource from my store as an extra special thank you.

    Buy a bundle from my store and send me an email telling me what FREE product you want and I will send it directly to you. Read below for the directions to get your FREE activity. I look forward to hearing from all of you.

    Pass this on to a friend, have them follow me and they too can get their FREE product!!
    Mary Ann 

    A delightful 1st grader on the autism spectrum entered my classroom and my life one year.  He cried and screamed a lot, but beyond that, had no verbal communication skills. He could sign a few things, but those signs were often poorly executed and difficult for others outside his world to understand.
    He often ran through his repertoire of signs when asked to use them just to see if he "hit" one that will work. Frustrating to say the least...on all sides.
    So here I was,  a new person in his world and I needed to communicate with him and him with me. Where should I start to help this student?

    I chose to start with things he liked. His preferred items.  Luckily, I had most awesome paraprofessional and together we walked this path together to work our way into his world and him into ours.
     and found a variety of activities he demonstrated interest in doing. One of his first was a 2nd hand office chair I had gotten from a fellow teacher. Fortunately, it is very sturdy and safe because we soon discovered he loved to spin. The preferred item we found was through his behavior analyst. He shared that he enjoyed gummy bears.
    Once I had found 2 items he preferred, I made a choice board with those two items. We set up a schedule for him that alternated work time and choice time. At the end of each work time we asked him to "make a choice".

    We started with a board with just two items. A food item of gummy bears and a picture of the chair he LOVES to spin in. It took several weeks to get a good pointing action from him and the moment we got a close proximity of indicating a response as to what he wanted -he got the item.

    It was AMAZING to watch this learning in progress. I worked many years and in many ways with kids with disabilities, but I was in awe and humbled every time when I had the privilege to see learning like this take place.
    The next step was increasing his items. We found he like grapes and jumping, so those were also added to his choice board. The jumping was an fantastic find, as it added to his physical activity and seem to funnel some of his energy into an appropriate physical outlet.
    Here is an example of the 4 item choice board I made.

    As you can see I try and use real pictures when at all possible, but sometimes, its quicker and easier to use clip art.
    Now we have built up to a choice board with 12 items on it. 

    Here are some other examples of choice boards. 
    Here is one for the same student much later in the year with multiple choices on it.

    Tabbed Choice Boards
     Choice Boards

    Here is a First/Then card I often used. The student can pick choice cards from the board and use them here.

    For this student choices and alternating work and choice activities were the key to helping him begin integrating into our classroom. 
    Remember, when you have those problem kiddos, take it slow, progress in small steps and listen to the students too. Sometimes they will tell you what they like and needs.

    Thanks for stopping by. Check out our Freebie using the link below.

    Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

    One of the best tools a special educator can have is an treasure chest of visual supports.
    Visual supports cover a large range of student needs. For students who have difficulty communicating with others and difficulty understanding what others are communicating to them, visual supports can be a life saver. I know they have saved me many times.
    Visual supports present information in a way that is easier for kids to comprehend. They can be customized to meet the individualized learning style of each student. Sometimes they can be that one thing that gets the message across.

    A wide range of needs can be met by using visual supports such as increase independence, understanding classroom and school rules, provide a system to organize tasks needing to be completed, aid in making choices, facilitate transitions from one task to another, clarifying what work is to be completed and in what order that work should be done. These are just a few of the things visual supports can do.

    In the special education classroom, we constantly work with students exhibiting challenging behaviors such as anxiety, anger, frustration, eloping, and more. Visual supports are a great way to present behavior expectations and direction while diminishing some of these challenging behaviors.

    There are many different kinds of visual supports. Today I will touch on just a few.

    1) Visual schedules are a great way to communicate many different types of activities in a classroom. This can be done for the entire class or group within the class. For me, using them individually has worked the best.
    One year I had a lot of students that were able to transition from center to center in the classroom. I needed something to help them understand what was on their schedule next and where they would be going.

    With this type of visual support, they were able know the order of the work centers using the number on the cards and then they could also tell which center they should be doing. They matched the sea creature on the card with the matching sign at the center. In addition to helping the student it also was great for me because it controled the number of participants at each center.

    2) Checklists and organizers can help by breaking down larger tasks into smaller more manageable steps. Checklists can contain pictures or pictures and text to aid the student in completing the correct steps in things such as arriving at school or preparing materials to go home at the end of a day.
    Here are a few examples of checklist and organizer visual supports. Thanks to Chris at Autism Classroom News and Resources for sharing this.


    3) Behavioral supports can help
    manage and prevent challenging behaviors. These could include rules and guidelines of what to do in certain social situations such as fire drills, or asking someone to play. These are particularly useful in preparing the child for what comes next, and what will happen when challenging behaviors occur. Behavior supports can tell the student how to complete steps such as going to the bathroom, taking a break or asking for help.

     Check out how this next idea has designated partitions on the table to show the space for each person.  These spaces also have a reminder at each spot for the behavior expected while at the table.

    LOVE THIS! Thanks to Autumn for sharing these great ideas. You can check out her blog post about these here

    4) Routines in the classroom are another  great use of visuals. These great visuals  from Nicole Chavanne show a visual indicating when bathroom passes are available provide a great way to communicate using pictures. Visuals such as these can cut down on interruptions of the classroom and help students know when its okay to use the facilities. Check out these BATHROOM VISUALS
    The visual at the bottom is a great reminder for students about the noise level in the classroom. 

     First/Then boards can be a simple type of schedule we can use to communicate. You can use these for schedule issues and behavior issues. The great thing about First Then boards is they can be used for the even the smallest behavior you are reinforcing. In the picture below, the student is being asked to FIRST raise their hand. THEN they can have their preferred activity such as the puzzle card shown here.

    I found it worth my time and effort to spend some time making as much of the visuals ahead of time. For instance, I liked to make the first/then boards and the cards to go with them, get them all organized. Then when the need arises in the classroom you can pull the needed visuals and implement them quickly. 
    Make sure your visual support tool box is well stocked and ready to go at any time. 

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