Collaborating Effectively with Paraprofessionals with these 5 Ideas

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!


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    4. As educators, it is imperative that we work well with all staff within the school. I strive to keep a good relationship with the paraprofessionals within my school as I believe this increases student progress and productivity.
      I completely agree with sharing any needed information with the paraprofessionals but I struggle with finding when to do this. Many paraprofessionals do not return the following year due to the stress, small pay, and challenges faced in the school. With the high turnover of staff, it is a challenge to find the time within the day to share the full breakdown of everything. Many support staff do not return until the same day as students, so there has not been time prior to school starting to meet and review everything they need to know. Then when they do start, everyone is in the stress of back to school time and establishing routines with the students. It is definitely a struggle.