Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Successful Teamwork with Paraprofessionals

Businesswoman consulting a partnerIn Jerry: (Para) Professionals, Part One from CEC Blog, Jerry shares,

“Many paraprofessionals who assist with instructional tasks do not receive the training that they need so that they can be successful at these tasks.” (Keller, Bucholz, Brady, 2007).

Then he asks,

“…reflect upon your own relationship with the adults in your classroom. Have you encouraged them to be everything they can be? Have you set them up for success or failure? Have you communicated clearly what you expect of them every day? Are they props? Are they copy machine jockeys? Or are they valued members of your team who are treated as professionals, are expected to work, and understand the importance of the work you are doing?:

The relationship between teacher and paraprofessionals has always been important to me. It is important because it makes an impact on my students and may determine the success of the classroom.

I started fresh out of college teaching my first special ed self contained class. This poor class had suffered through three teachers in one year and the only constant they had was the paraprofessional who had been there for the past seven years. Needless to say, students (and possibly the administration) felt the real authority in the classroom was this paraprofessional who they felt they could count on. Here I come with brand newfangled ideas and no experience to “cure the ills of the world!” Or so I thought. Thankfully I had an extremely patient paraprofessional who was patient and supportive enough to let me try my new ideas. Some worked and some didn’t but not once did she ever say “I told you so!” But I know that I was one of the lucky new teachers. Not everyone had someone like this to begin their career with and support them.

Fast forward to many years later when I became the department head for the largest special ed department in the county and was involved in the hiring process. I was involved in interviewing teachers and paraprofessionals for the department. (I just interviewed and gave my recommendations but didn’t make the final decision of course). Before interviewing the paraprofessionals, I sat down with the teacher(s) and asked what their expectations were. What did they want this person to do? What did they need this person to do? What characteristics were important to them? How did they expect this person to deal with conflicts with the students or the teacher? These are important things to hash out before you hire a paraprofessional. It is important for the person coming into the job to know what to expect.

Many people think that paraprofessionals are just babysitters and that is absolutely untrue. I was lucky enough throughout my career to have awesome paraprofessionals who were supportive and extremely vital to the success of my program.

I think it is important for a teacher to become the leader or guide for the paraprofessional but not be a dictator. Each morning I had a list of things I needed this person to do. I put stars besides the things that were the most important or needed to be done immediately. This helped the person know the plans for the day.

It is important not to take for granted that this person knows how to do what I ask. I need to make sure I train this person to do things the way I want them to do it but not be condescending as I train them. Usually the requirements for the paraprofessional are not very high (usually a high school diploma and no criminal record get them the job). Basic educational level does not indicate low intelligence and teachers should not treat them this way. Different teachers have certain ways of doing things and it is important to train the paraprofessionals for doing this. We cannot expect them to be mind readers.

I also made sure I had time each day for the parapro to give me input. Sometimes this person would see things from a different perspective and asking for input shows that I valued this person as a member of the team.

I also made sure that this person knew how much I appreciated all that was being done. I was aware of the pay scale and knew this person was not getting paid enough for all that I asked but they chose to do the job anyway. A little appreciation can go a long way.

Image: 'Businesswoman consulting a partner'
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