Working With Paraprofessionals in the Special Needs Classroom

working with paraprofessionals in the special needs classroom

Let's be honest, working this closely with other people can certainly have its challenges, but I am here to tell you how I make sure you are working as a close-knit team.  Whether you are working in a self-contained setting or running a general education classroom, communication and having clear expectations are KEY!

Using a simple brochure to start off the year is a sure-fire way to start the year off on the right foot.  Not only will this brochure allow for conversation starters and explain clear expectations, but your paraprofessionals will have it all in writing so they can refer back to it whenever they would like.  Setting expectations in the beginning of the year is crucial to have a successful year.

Use the first weeks of school and schedule yourself NOT to do any teaching.  Use those weeks to teach your Para's EXACTLY how you want them to teach, to record data, to use language, to reward students, ALL THE THINGS!  I promise, if you invest this time at the beginning of the year to train your Para's upfront, you won't have to work so hard throughout the year.  Your self-contained class should be able to run itself.
Something I tell my para's at the beginning of the year is that I won't interfere unless you ask me to.  All too often I see the teachers doing all the things all by themselves, including taking care of all the behaviors.    This usually occurs when the teachers are thinking that they are the only ones that know how to handle it.  You need to teach your para how to handle the behaviors so that you can share the load.  They are, most likely, fully capable of handling all the things.  The burden should not solely rest on the teacher.  If you have to step out for a meeting, the room should not fall apart without you.  Train your para's to run the classroom without you.  I promise you will thank me later.
Hold team meetings.  Whether they are weekly or monthly, schedule a time to meet and collaborate with your team.   Use an agenda and record your meetings.  Celebrate victories, talk about student needs, go over friendly reminders or procedures and talk about stuff that matters!
one of the many sheets in my Editable Teacher Binder resource
In addition, try and get together at least once after school at the beginning of the year to get to know your para's on a more personal level.  You want your para's to trust you, to like you and to believe in what you say, especially if you are younger than them.
Share information when you get it.  When you hear about great professional development, in-district or out of the district, inform your para's and let them decide if they would like to go.  I had a para once pay out of pocket because he was so interested in the subject matter. Advocate to your administrators to get free professional development during training days for your para's.
Be approachable.  Be personable.  You want your para's to feel comfortable enough to come to you about anything.   Paraprofessionals deserve respect from the teacher.  You are not better than them and they should be treated as such.  I started as a paraprofessional and it gives me great perspective on how I treat my support staff.
My classroom on Halloween in 2016 (with all my paraprofessionals)
Utilize the support you have and they will feel valued.  They want to feel needed and they want to work, believe me.  You would be shocked at how often I have seen teaching assistants or aides sitting around doing nothing, playing on their phones.  Monitor their performance and if they aren't doing it right, coach them, teach them.  Don't talk about them behind their backs to other people.
Set a schedule and share it so all support staff know where they are supposed to be at all times.  I have even made tiny schedules and laminated them to be placed on the back of school identification cards.
If you feel like your paraprofessional, TA (teaching assistant) or aide needs more in-depth guidance, you can check out the paraprofessional handbook that I created for more newbies to the field or a change in the population of kids.
Managing and training paraprofessionals (Teaching Assistants, Aides and TA's) can be daunting and never-ending. Coming up with the right expectations or responsibilities can be a headache. Let this manual be your guide to help them get started. This document is 100% editable to make it your own!!
Here is what is included:
  • Welcome Page
  • Roles & Responsibilities –daily duties, cleaning, assisting
  • Confidentiality
  • Accommodations & Modifications
  • tracking data
  • classification list
  • SPED Acronyms
  • BIPs
  • Prompt Hierarchy
  • Training (what is Autism, behaviors, aggression, communication, language, visual schedules reinforcers)
  • signature page
  • paraprofessional information sheet
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I am a High School, self-contained Autism teacher from Central New York, who is passionate about individualizing student learning. I am a mommy of three, lover of all things Disney, married to my best friend and addicted to chocolate!! I hope that you find great ideas and inspiration here, so welcome!!

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