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Work More Effectively with Your Paraeducator

By: Jill Morgan and Betty Y. Ashbaker

  1. Set aside a regular time to meet with your paraeducator and plan your work together: Situations change, so schedules need to be adjusted to allow for ongoing meetings throughout the school year.
  2. Be sure that you have a clear idea of what you wish to accomplish with your students before you share your plans with your paraeducator and ask for her suggestions (see Note 1). Keep an open mind and be prepared to incorporate her suggestions, as she will bring a new perspective and her own rich experience to your work together for student success.
  3. Prepare a written job description for your paraeducator. For each role you assign her, include details of what the role includes and what it does not include so that she knows exactly what the limits of her responsibilities are.
  4. Check school and district policies and procedures regarding the employment and supervision of paraeducators to ensure that you are not assigning responsibilities that your paraeducator should not assume.
  5. Clearly explain to your paraeducator what her role is in relation to parents--what information she should or should not share with them--and whether she will be invited to parent-teacher conferences. It may be useful to put this in writing so that she can refer to it during the school year.
  6. Ask your paraeducator to list her previous experience and what skills/assets she thinks she brings to the job. Ask her if there are additional responsibilities she believes she could take on in the light of these skills/assets.
  7. Check whether your paraeducator has the necessary skills before you assign her roles. This may mean that initially you assign simple tasks and then add more complex roles as you observe her work and see how well she handles each additional responsibility.
  8. Be aware of your paraeducator's strengths and preferences. For example, some people prefer to have things written down. They may not tell you, but you will notice that tasks do not get done if they are not written down. Other people may need to have Instructions explained several times. Express your needs and preferences to your paraeducator so that you can both respect each other's strengths.
  9. If a task or teaching assignment is not performed the way you expected, before you challenge your paraeducator, ask yourself "Did I give clear directions? Did I misunderstand what she said she would do? or Were there other factors I was not aware of that prevented her completing the assignment?"
  10. Be honest with your paraeducator. If you do not agree with the way that she does something in particular, then let her know. But remember to also let her know about what she does that you do like and agree with.
  11. Be specific in the feedback you give your paraeducator. If she has done something particularly well, tell her exactly what it is rather than expressing your approval in general terms. If you need to ask her to change what she does, be specific about what you would like her to do instead and provide a rationale for the new behavior or method.
  12. Ask your paraeducator to observe you as you teach so that you can model effective instructional practices for her. In order to focus her attention on one specific aspect at a time, ask her to take data on your performance so that you can discuss the data afterwards and explain why you do certain things that you would also like her to do.
  13. Although you may feel that you cannot do without your paraeducator, even for a day, remember that you will not be able to provide all of the training she needs. Do what is necessary to ensure that she can take advantage of training opportunities offered outside your classroom.
  14. Get in the habit of holding 'professional dialogue' with your paraeducator: Her relationship with the students may be different from yours, and she may see them in a different context if they live in the same community or she supervises recess. Seek her perspective on students' strengths and abilities and on new ways of meeting their individual needs.
  15. Be supportive of your paraeducator, especially in front of students. As far as is possible, uphold her decisions. If you disagree or feel that you need to correct or change what she does, do it privately and in an appropriate manner.
  16. Get into the personal habit of monitoring your own classroom practices and setting goals for improvement. This will set an excellent example for your paraeducator of the need to constantly seek better ways to meet student needs.
  17. Be an advocate for your paraeducator with the school administration. Do what you can to see that she has a mailbox (or that her name is put on yours) so that any information that comes to the school relating to paraeducators can be routed to her; find out what training opportunities may be available for her; ask that she be allowed planning time or be paid to attend IEP meetings or parent-teacher conferences.
  18. Share items from your professional journals and publications with your paraeducator: Let her know that the school subscribes to journals, and tell her how she can access them.
  19. If you work with more than one paraeducator, make sure that they all understand the others' roles and responsibilities and what they can expect of each other.
  20. Remember that the students' best interests come first. All of the decisions you make with and in regard to your paraeducator and her work should be based on considerations of whether or not they will enhance student success.

Persons interested in submitting material for 20 Ways To ... should contact Robin H. Lock, College of Education, Box 41071, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX 76409-1701.

Note: More than 90% of paraeducators nationwide are female. We have therefore used the pronouns "her" and "she."

About the authors

Jill Morgan, PhD, is a research associate at Utah State University's Center for Persons with Disabilities. Having taught both general and special education in elementary schools in the United Kingdom, she has a particular interest in providing training for teachers and paraeducators so that they can work more effectively together. Betty Y. Ashbaker, PhD, is assistant professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Special Education at Brigham Young University. As a teacher and school district administrator, she has extensive experience providing inservice training and firsthand knowledge of the resources that paraeducators represent in the classroom.

Address: Jill Morgan, Center for Persons with Disabilities, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322-6800; e-mail: Jmorgan@cc.usu.edu

Jill Morgan and Betty Y. Ashbaker Intervention in School and Clinic, Vol. 36, No. 4, march 2001 (pp230-231)