The backbone of any successful inclusive school is its paraeducators. Paraeducators are dedicated, generous, and willing to do what it takes to support students. In order to give paraeducators the tools they need to excel in their roles, teachers and administrators need to continue to develop their team to support whatever students come into the classroom.
Schools that partner with All Belong Center for Inclusive Education receive, as part of their partnership, a world-class paraeducator bootcamp that is designed to equip, empower, and encourage paraeducators in all aspects of their roles in the classroom. I have been with All Belong for three years as a Teacher Consultant. It has been a blessing to work with such a wonderful organization that empowers schools on their journey of inclusion for all students. All Belong envisions a world where every student with a disability is known, needed, and experiences belonging in their Christ-centered school. Here, we’ll take a glimpse into some of the topics of the bootcamp and share some resources to consider for developing paraeducators.
It can seem like educators and paraeducators pass like ships in the night, barely seeing each other during the school day.
One topic that we discuss at our paraeducator bootcamp is the importance of communication. It can seem like educators and paraeducators pass like ships in the night, barely seeing each other during the school day. This makes communication so important. If classroom teachers and paraeducators are unable to plan during the school day, a system should be in place to give updates on schedules, student progress or concerns, and upcoming classroom assignments and assessments.
One way to continue to have clear communication with all team members is to have a weekly meeting to discuss upcoming needs in the classrooms and address any student concerns. Paraeducators see students in a variety of settings and have a unique perspective that is very valuable in student-success team meetings as well. For day-to-day communication, using email, text, and even sticky notes work great. Have a system where you know you can communicate with each other quickly and efficiently.
When working together for the first year, it is important to over-communicate. Having multiple educators in the classroom is like a marriage. The best marriages have strong communication. Over time, paraeducators and classroom teachers will begin to anticipate the other educator’s actions. Successful inclusive classrooms do not happen by accident. It takes intentional planning and communication every day!
[W]e have our paraeducators complete a confidence inventory indicating which skills they feel comfortable doing in the classroom and which skills they feel they need more coaching with.
Clear expectations and communication go hand in hand. We all want to know what is expected of us to do our jobs well. The same is true for paraeducators. There are many paraeducators for whom this is their first exposure to working with students in a school. Most did not go to school to become a classroom teacher, but they have a heart for kids. As long as they have that, everything else can be taught! What comes naturally to the classroom teacher will need to be explicitly taught to the paraeducators.
Some areas to consider when discussing expectations with the paraeducators are the following:
- Roles in the classroom
- Small groups—making sure paraeducators are equipped to run these
- Recess—how to supervise
- Discipline—how it is handled in the classroom
- Communication with students and their families
- Confidentiality—the importance of protecting students’ privacy
- Conflict—how to act professionally when conflict arises in the workplace
- Other duties that paraeducators are expected to handle
In the paraeducator bootcamp, we have our paraeducators complete a confidence inventory indicating which skills they feel comfortable doing in the classroom and which skills they feel they need more coaching with. This has been helpful for so many paraeducators and gives them some awareness of the skills they will need to excel in their position.
Learning New Content
Remember when you started off as a new teacher? Each day was spent pouring over content and creating new lesson plans and assessments. It can certainly be an overwhelming and daunting endeavor. This can also be true for paraeducators. Specifically, they may not be content experts in the subject areas that you are teaching. It will be important to communicate with the paraeducator about what subjects they feel confident in and which ones they may need more information on to build their knowledge. This is an abridged version of this article. To read more, subscribe to the print or digital edition of Christian Educators Journal.
Tyler Harms is a teacher consultant for All Belong Center for Inclusive Education in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Tyler writes for many publications annually and is the author of Teaching for God’s Glory—Daily Wisdom and Inspiration for New Teachers (Elm Hill, 2020).