As a special education teacher, you know firsthand how important it is to have strong, positive relationships with your paraprofessionals. Not only do these relationships help create a positive, supportive classroom environment, but they are also essential for ensuring the best possible outcomes for your students. Paraprofessional relationships can be so hard.
Unfortunately, building and maintaining these relationships isn't always easy. Paraprofessionals may have different backgrounds, experiences, and approaches to teaching, which can sometimes lead to conflicts or misunderstandings.
If you're struggling to fix the relationships between you and your paraprofessionals in the special education classroom, here are 10 tips that can help:
1. Communicate Openly and Honestly
One of the most important things you can do to fix the relationships between you and your paraprofessionals is to make sure you are communicating openly and honestly with one another. This means sharing your thoughts, concerns, and ideas, as well as being open to feedback and criticism. Paraprofessional relationships can be hard to maintain.
2. Establish Clear Roles and Responsibilities
Make sure everyone knows what is expected of them by establishing clear roles and responsibilities for both you and your paraprofessionals. This will help reduce confusion and ensure that everyone is working together effectively. Something that I use at the beginning of the year with my own paraprofessionals is by giving them this editable paraprofessional handbook that has all of the information in it.
3. Foster a sense of teamwork
Special education classrooms often require a team approach, so it's important to foster a sense of teamwork among you and your paraprofessionals. Encourage collaboration and support one another in the work you do with your students. I like to meet with my paraprofessionals at least once a week to touch base with them.
4. Use positive reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for building strong relationships. Make sure to recognize and praise your paraprofessionals for their hard work and contributions to the classroom. I have a tip for you though, make sure you ask them beforehand which way they would like to receive this reinforcement as some people do not like to be praised publicly.
5. Show Appreciation and Gratitude
A little gratitude can go a long way in strengthening relationships. Make sure to show your appreciation for your paraprofessionals and let them know how much you value their contributions to the classroom. I often will buy my para's lunch or bring in some scratch-offs. Sometimes we even meet for dinner and I would cover the bill. You would be surprised at how well your relationships will blossom doing this.
6. Offer Support and Guidance
As the special education teacher, it's your job to provide support and guidance to your paraprofessionals. Make sure to be available to answer questions, offer advice, and provide feedback when needed. Often times paraprofessionals were never explicitly taught how to do what it is you are asking them to do, and they need the extra support.
7. Seek Out Professional Development Opportunities
Professional development opportunities can be a great way to improve your skills and knowledge as a special education teacher, and they can also be a great way to bond with your paraprofessionals. Consider seeking out opportunities to attend conferences or workshops together. If you are looking for some professional development, you can check out my free online training and the Independent Work Systems online course. I talk a lot about classroom management and tips for paraprofessionals.
8. Take Time to get to Know Each Other
Building strong relationships requires getting to know one another on a personal level. Take time to get to know your paraprofessionals as individuals and learn more about their interests and passions. I have had many paraprofessionals in my career and often times we would take the time out to hang out after school or even on a weekend to get to know each other, blow off steam or just vent about the school day. I think that this one is the most powerful tool that you can use to strengthen these relationships.
9. Be Open to Compromise
No relationship is perfect, and conflicts are bound to arise from time to time. When conflicts do arise, it's important to be open to compromise and find ways to resolve them in a way that works for everyone. Try not to get into power struggles with your support staff. Sometimes you have to just choose your battles.
10. Seek Support When Needed
If you're struggling to fix the relationships between you and your paraprofessionals, don't be afraid to seek support from your school's administration or other educators. Sometimes, an outside perspective can be just what you need to get things back on track.
In conclusion, building and maintaining strong relationships with your paraprofessionals in the special education classroom is essential for ensuring the best possible outcomes for your students. By following these 10 tips, you can work to strengthen these relationships and create a positive, supportive classroom environment for everyone. If you would like to read more on how to effectively train your paraprofessionals, you can do that here.